Why We Do What We Do
Why We Do What We Do
Hey, y’all! Welcome to the new followers of this newsletter. I’m writing the first draft of this on Juneteenth. Sitting on a back porch at Randolph College, where I teach creative writing this week. I’m thinking about the ancestors. I’m thinking about what they were up against. I’m thinking about what they dreamt of. What they wanted for you. What they wanted for me.
Welcome to Sitting in Silence: a writing life, the newsletter on creativity, writing, joy, and worry.
This will be a shorter post because a lot of exciting things are happening right now. The paperback of my second book, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You, is out today! I’ve had many gorgeous covers on my books, but this one feels so special. This book tells the stories of Black folk in my hometown, New Orleans. These are underrepresented people in a place everyone thinks they know because they went there for a weekend. But the book gives readers an insider’s view on who we actually are. And, there’s something about the interplay between the tales in the book and the image on the book that really works for me. Sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover.
It’s a busy time. I’ll be touring, doing talks, and teaching all over the country. To have me visit your organization, contact Leslie Shipman.
Big love to the great Son of Baldwin. He just ended a 14-year run as the preeminent. I’ll miss him on social media, but he did his work in a pristine way. Also, he’s still around here. Also, I interviewed him for this newsletter. Many of you read that fantastic interview, but if not, it’s here.
Do you remember the first time someone told you that you were good at something?
Think on it.
What was it? Singing? Running? Shooting a ball? Dancing? Now, do you remember the first time someone told you that you were good at something you wanted to dedicate yourself to? How did that make you feel?
Being a writer is strange because it’s one of the few professions that maintains an air of mystery. No one questions how to become a doctor. You must go to school and get a medical license. We understand how to make ends meet driving for Uber. You download the app and make sure your car isn’t busted. You’re good to go. But plenty of writers go to school and never publish the story in their head. No app can make you a writer. The creative life is something that comes from the spirit. It’s the kind of thing your mama or a beloved teacher sees in you when you’re young.
“She can write,” they say. Your face gets hot, but inside you’re feeling a reasonable pride because you really can write. You really can shock. You can make beauty.
When I was a junior at McDonogh #35 College Preparatory High School, I was asked to write a theme to read in front of the student body for Thanksgiving. I was terrified. I just knew my classmates would make fun of me. Also, why pick me? Who was I to do this anyway?
But I was a good student. I liked to do what I was told, so I wrote a little something about what it feels like to gather around the table with the people you love: parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, fake cousins, nephews, and so on. I mean the loud mouths, saints, hypocrites and liars, holy thieves, comforters, protectors, two-timers, healers, living ghosts, and innocent youths.
Our table was so pretty with turkey, dressing, ham, greens, sweet peas, mac and cheese, and pies. So many pies. Succulent sweet potato pies, crunchy pecan pies, frosty lemon meringue pies, and a pumpkin pie somebody bought at the store by mistake.
When I read in front of my classmates, my hands shook, and my voice wobbled, and my stomach. I was nervous, yes. But I wasn’t afraid. I love writing about my people, and I had fun writing that little two-page essay. So much fun that I forgot I wasn’t comfortable reading in public. The pleasure of sharing my work made up for the anxiety I felt. My reading flew by, and some of my classmates really liked it. Teachers too.
Today, thinking about the paperback that’s in stores now, I admit had a lot of anxiety writing it. First, it took forever. I started writing the oldest story in 2007. Also, somehow, there wasn’t enough time. I barely got the newest stories in the book in time for publication. Over the years, I submitted many of the stories to magazines. All of them were rejected at one time or another. The prize-winning title story was turned down 15 or so times. The fan favorite story (“Ghetto University”) never found an individual publisher. Yet, I get more comments about that story monthly than all the others combined.
It's water under the bridge now, but it was an uncomfortable journey at times.
I guess that’s why today feels so good. All the stories have found a home in this book. All I ever wanted to be the kind of writer who could entertain readers and distract them from their daily stresses. Maybe even I could teach people something.
When I was on this writing path, I couldn’t have known that I would make it. But I had faith. I love what I wrote. I’m proud the book has an audience. But I’m also overjoyed to know that things can really work out if you bet on yourself.
Feel free to leave questions for me about writing, life, etc. I try to answer everyone.