The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘African American women

One of my writing joys in 2020 was producing a monthly column on creativity for the Chatham County Line. It’s always been a strong publication and great community resource, but under the recent leadership of Randy Voller and Lesley Landis it has flourished. The layout and design is fantastic.

In the summer, I began a three part series about how publishing and writing will change during this decade. The last installment of the series spotlights diversity and is now available. Documenting the ugly things about publishing and its lack of diversity was painful. For a while I had writer’s block (which is atypical for me) because I had to relive and remember the ways I’ve been affected by the cumulative effects of multiple ‘isms’ in publishing’s history. In the end, I found a way to strike a balance between talking about the structural obstacles and point to the tentative positive direction of change. That felt like a win as it gives the average reader a way to understand the issues without overwhelming them. And, I took some of the most charged parts of my experience out to explore in a future long-form essay, so that’s a win, too. Writing always leads to more writing!

You can read it (and parts 1 & 2) on the updated website. I look forward to writing more columns this year. And, if you’ve got a topic you’d like to see me explore, please let me know!

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Writing and Publishing in the 2020s-Part 3

Coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, I never read a commercial novel that featured a character that was anything like me: African American, female, wickedly smart, urban, and geeky. The children’s and young adult market was dominated by white heroes, white heroines and white authors. If I came across an African American character, they were typically described by the color of their skin (in contrast to white characters who were never described by skin tone) and simplistically rendered. They functioned as a sidekick, devoid of cultural experiences that connected them to the rich kaleidoscope of African American life. It wasn’t until college (!) that I discovered commercial (and literary) novels that reflected some of my life experiences back to me. This was a result of two factors. One was the success of small independent presses begun by second wave feminists that published new work by a diversity of women writers. The second was that by the mid-1980s traditional publishing briefly opened up to a few African American female writers, including Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor.

Read the rest here

Happy holidays everyone! I hope you are safe and well!

I wanted to share some EXCELLENT news!

I recently discovered that my novelette “Doll Seed” published last year (in FIYAH: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction) has won the Carl Brandon Kindred Award from the Carl Brandon Society.

It carries with it a $1,000 cash prize.

The Carl Brandon Society is composed of fans and writers of speculative fiction and their mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.

I’m thrilled, honored and a little breathless!

My story is about dolls, magic, and civil rights. It even imagines what happened to those black and white dolls that were used in psychology experiments leading up to the famous Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case.

Persistence and belief in one’s ideas is everything—I worked on and submitted this story for YEARS before it found a fantastic home!

My thanks goes to Marjorie Hudson who gave me great editorial advice on the story, many moons ago, and Val Nieman who was an early and enthusiastic reader.

Congrats to Akwaeke Emezi for winning the Parallax Award for their YA novel Pet (Random House) & all the amazing writers on the Honors Lists!

More about the Carl Brandon Society and the awards here.

“Doll Seed” appeared last summer in FIYAH. I’d love for people to support this wonderful magazine, so if interested, you can purchase the issue here.

 

 

 

When I was asked by Nicole Givens Kurtz to contribute to her anthology about vampires and their slayers across the African diaspora, I was both thrilled and terrified. Thrilled in that I would get to pen a new story and be in a collection with many established and well-known writers in speculative fiction. Terrified in that I hadn’t ever written a story about vampires nor was I steeped in vampire lore. But, when you get a great writing opportunity, you always say yes!



SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire launches on Tuesday. SLAY includes twenty-nine stories, plus original illustrations. It’s a big book!

Here’s an overview: Few creatures in contemporary horror are as compelling as the vampire, who manages to captivate us in a simultaneous state of fear and desire. Drawing from a variety of cultural and mythological backgrounds, SLAY dares to imagine a world of horror and wonder where Black protagonists take center stage — as vampires, as hunters, as heroes. From immortal African deities to resistance fighters; matriarchal vampire broods to monster hunting fathers; coming of age stories to end of life stories, SLAY is a groundbreaking Afrocentric vampire anthology celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the African Diaspora.

SLAY has already received positive reviews from early reviewers!

I loved working on my story and digging into urban fantasy, a new genre for me. I knew that I wanted the story to center on contemporary vampires. My story “Blood Saviors” features a conflict between Fae, humans and vampires–and a virus to boot (I couldn’t help myself). It’s the first story I ever wrote where I began with a theme. I wanted that theme to resonate and I wanted the reader to feel the weight of the moral choices that confront the main character, Shonda. The story explores the question: What would someone be willing to do to save their own kind? Would they be willing to sacrifice another race to save their own?

This collection is important in a couple of different ways: SLAY will be a touchstone for readers of color who love horror and are aficionados of vampire stories but never really saw themselves reflected in mainstream narratives. It offers white readers something unique in the vampire subgenre because the anthology isn’t centered in white and/or male characters. It’s important for the genre in that until now no one has attempted to retell the vampire mythology through and about the experiences of people across the African diaspora.

Pre-order link for SLAY is here

Below is a sampler of AWESOMENESS about SLAY that includes my participation on Alicia McCalla’s Diverse Sci-Fi & Fantasy podcast. We had an outstanding time talking about my story, vampires and subverting conventional tropes in speculative fiction. 

Milton Davis one of the contributors (and small press publisher in his own right) has been hosting many of SLAY’s authors on his blog for short interviews where we ‘SLAY 11 Questions’. They are fabulous. I have enjoyed reading more about the other contributors. You can check out my interview here and learn why I name Shori from Octavia Butler’s Fledgling as one of my favorite vampires.

Check out contributor John Linwood Grant’s excellent posts on ‘Black Vampire’ week on his Grey Dog Tales blog. He covers African vampires, movies with Black vampires and more.

I’d appreciate any signal boosting that you can do for this collection. Thanks in advance.

And, if you are a writer struggling with your productivity and motivation, you might like my ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’. Click here to receive it.

 

June is my birthday month and what a month it has been. Fifty-two years ago, I was born during a time of civil unrest and great transition in the U.S. Martin Luther King was assassinated two months before I was born and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated the day after my birthday. The second wave women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the Black Arts movement, the peace movement, and the LGBTQ movement were all well underway by the time I was a few years old. I’ve always known that my life as a scholar and creative person is predicated on the sacrifice of many nameless activists and change makers who helped pave the way for me. During the first week of June 2020, protests against police brutality directed toward Black and Brown bodies erupted in the United States and around the world. Over the past few weeks I have felt a gamut of emotions as many in the United States are wrestling with our deep legacies of racial injustice. I have felt stunned, uplifted, numb, exhausted, saddened, angered and empowered. I’ve tried to allow myself the time and space to experience all of those feelings.

It is rare that I miss a week communicating with you. Lately though, I’ve wrestled with what to say from one creator to another. Despite all the challenges happening in this moment, my creativity has never felt more solid, deeper or richer. During the past several months, I have dug even deeper into my creative urges and projects.  And, many seeds that I’ve been planting in my author garden have started to bloom. I’ve felt guilt though about sharing some of the recent joys and successes. I’ve wondered if readers would wonder why I wasn’t addressing the current moment more. As a creator of color, I am always navigating a complex, inner set of conversations that arise from the complexities of living in a racially stratified world. For example, I wondered should I address the conversations happening in publishing as a result of Black Lives Matter? Should I provide a list of resources about anti-racism for readers? Do I want to provide such lists? How much do I wish to talk about social justice and writing? By not talking about social justice and writing will people think I don’t care about the present moment?

Such questions left me tired.

Historically, writers from dominant communities have had the luxury of not thinking about these issues, or choosing to engage with them as they see fit. The good news is that is changing.

Here’s what I want to say to you, dear reader: I’m thinking about you. If you are struggling as the world is changing around you, you’re not alone. Your creativity and work, however, in the world matters. So does, in my opinion, trying to make the world more just. We as writers and creatives are being called on to undertake more visible and transformative social justice work in the world. This means exploring injustice at the micro and macro levels. In the writing world, this could mean looking at the leadership and structure of the writing organizations we support, the kinds of books we review, and the authors we network with. I believe this is a good thing. I hope you have the energy to do something to make the world more just in your sphere of life. It’s messy. It’s tiring and it sure isn’t pretty. If you don’t have the tools, find kind people that will share their tools with you. Doing this work in community makes the work more joyous.

Also, I have always known that my role on the earth is to uplift and inspire others. I do that in multiple ways as a coach and writer. It does no good for me to play small and hide in the shadows. There are a million ways to resist interrelated systems of oppression and for me, one of them is creating. It does no good for you to play small, either. I will write and share about whatever moves me. That’s basically what I have been doing for the last decade on this blog. I’m saying it here so that I remember it, too.

I’m sharing with you some recent writing joys. I’d love to hear yours, too.

My noir-ish story, “Miss Black Little Hill of 1965” appeared in the recent issue of Blood and Bourbon, a Canadian literary journal. I can now say that I am an internationally published author! A snippet below.

Miss Black Little Hill of 1965

Isabel fingered the teardrop emerald earrings while waiting for her husband to open the passenger door of their car. Two weeks into their marriage, and his gifts kept coming. And, he promised more! She smiled at her good fortune.

He’d caught her eye at church. Strangers at church always do. He said he was visiting his distant cousin. Smooth dark skin, wavy hair, a fine new peanut-brown cashmere coat. Ruby rings on his fingers. From Pensacola, the big city.

A smarter woman would have noticed different things about this man, asked pointed questions. But she didn’t need to be smart, did she? She was, after all, recently crowned Miss Black Little Hill. 1965 was her year, she could feel it.

 

I shared last November that I attended the Hay House Writers Workshop in Houston. It is hosted by Hay House Publishing, a leading giant in the publishing field on health, spirituality and personal transformation books. In the workshop, they teach you about the publishing business, especially how to write and pitch nonfiction book proposals. Unlike fiction manuscripts where you complete the entire book and then pitch your work, in nonfiction, you write a proposal *before the book* and pitch the idea.


I had wanted to attend this conference for years as I have been working on a book about creativity for some time. So, I made the commitment to go. It was a gift to myself. One of the wonderful things about the workshop is that attendees can submit their book proposals six months later to HH in consideration for publication and you only “compete” with the other attendees. How cool is that? There were about 250 people in attendance and about 75 people submitted proposals. They provide three publishing prizes. Although I didn’t win one of them, I did receive HONORABLE MENTION for my book proposal: The Creative Tickle: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity!!! And with honorable mention (which I didn’t even know they did) I got SPECIALIZED FEEDBACK on my proposal from the Acquisitions editors. How cool is that? I’m that much closer to getting my ideas into the world. I’m so glad that I didn’t talk myself out of going to the conference (which would have been easy to do for a million reasons) and also of submitting my work (ditto!).

 

I gathered some of the many wonderful authors together to do a virtual reading from Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, a collection that was released last year, edited by Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge.

I shared some insights from the introduction and then several amazing contributors read an excerpt of their piece. I read a snippet from my essay, “The Poisons Our Mothers and Grandmothers Drank”. The anthology was published last year and there were a few live readings. Timing is a funny thing though, many of us had hoped for the collection to be more visible and despite their being more than 70+ authors, it was hard to get the marketing efforts off the ground. Then the readings that were scheduled for this spring were cancelled due to the pandemic. I decided to reach out to the editors and suggest hosting some virtual readings. They loved the idea and I ran with it. I’ll probably host two more. It was fun and I always learn something new using Zoom. Writers and readers are all desperately seeking community and to feel connected and virtual readings help. I also think that this collection gets timelier every single day.

  • Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

In late April, I started a YouTube channel. I have been populating it with short excerpts of me reading from recently published fiction. It’s been fun!

 

Reminder: Last Write-IN happening tomorrow: Thursday, May 28 (3-5 pm and 8-9 pm EST).

How it works:

You log on through a Zoom link, see me on Zoom (everyone one is muted, and video off) and I lead you through a 5 minute writing prompt, mindfulness exercise or gentle stretch.

After that, I turn on an online timer for 45 minutes. You write. At the end of 45 minutes, I come on and encourage you to take a break before the next session (i.e. stretch, drink some water, etc.). We do the same thing during the second hour.

To get the Zoom links for tomorrow’s Write-IN, go here.

 

Creative peeps, what are you doing Friday (tomorrow!), 10am-12pm EST?

I’ll be a virtual guest for the Wonderland Book Club, co-sponsored by the NC Writer’s Network. I’ll do a short reading from my sci-fi novella Reenu-You recently published by Falstaff Books. This book club is known for digging deep into craft which I’m looking forward to. The group will have questions and I’ll take yours, too. It will be interesting to discuss this story set in the 1990s about a virus that exploits racial and gender health disparities given current events. I also hope to say a few words about staying creative during a crisis and share thoughts about the writing life.

I’m so grateful to organizer Alice Osborn for suggesting a virtual meet up since Quail Ridge Books is closed.

I hope you’ll join me (whether you have read the book or not) for some of the time. I think it will be fun and nourishing for all.

The novella is available at all online booksellers.

Zoom link is available here.  Two step registration process.

Art credit

I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve been recovering from crazy deadlines and intense creative output. In October, I shared that I attended the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and learned much about book proposal writing. Hay House Publishing is known for publishing leading self-help, health and wellness, and personal transformation books and has a very successful thirty-year track record.

The attendees to each of the Hay House WWs are able to submit their book proposal into a subsequent contest for one of the three publishing prizes that they sponsor between Hay House and Balboa Press, their smaller imprint. The cool thing is that you are only competing with people who attended that particular conference, in that particular city. Usually about 250 people attend each conference and Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House reminded us that typically 80-100 people actually are able to get the book proposal in on time. I liked those odds which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend.

Super inspiring to hear Rebekah Borucki’s journey. She attended a HH Writer’s workshop a few years ago but didn’t submit a proposal. She then worked on the book proposal for ‘You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life’ and platform. She submitted her proposal to Hay House via the traditional route and it got acquired and it is now out. She talked about writing the book of your heart. I also appreciated that they showcased an up and coming author and one who identifies as bi-racial.

I’ve been working on a creativity book for some time and so had a draft proposal. I was determined to be in the group of people who submitted their work (see my post about the importance of submitting your work and not self-rejecting) by the due date which was April 5. However, despite my best intentions, I didn’t start the revision process until January. And, although they gave us an invaluable handbook and worksheet of what to include in the proposal, I started the revising later than I had wanted. I had a lot more to add in the marketing and competing books sections. During Jan and Feb, I also attended to other pressing deadlines. Oh, and then COVID-19 happened. And, everything became harder and more chaotic.

And, as they do, my excuses glommed together and created a wonderful home for resistance to take hold.

Deep resistance kicked in just days before I was due to submit the proposal. I kept telling myself that on closer inspection my idea was dumb, had all been said before, unworthy, etc. Yup, the inner critics were phenomenally loud. And, to top it all off, I waited until the last minute to create a short video which was a mandatory part of the package! They asked applicants to create a video to provide some background about ourselves and our book idea. Since marketing and promotion often requires authors to create short videos, they want to see our comfort and skill level with video. We had to post it to our YouTube channel. I do have a YouTube channel, but had forgotten the password, how to login, etc. Resolving that took a good twenty minutes.

As we all know, perfect is the enemy of the good, so after I was pretty happy with the proposal, I got busy on the video. I really tried to not overly script the video and to just enjoy myself. I probably did at least twenty takes before I said, OK, I’ve got to go with the strongest one so far. It’s not perfect.

Looking at the video now, there are lots of things I would do differently and will do differently in the future. I decided though to hold off on judgement for a good 24 hours. I learned long ago from Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft, how important it is to not judge yourself for at least for 24 hours after you do something creative in public.

The most important thing is that the book proposal package was sent a few hours before the deadline. It got done!

I learned so much from attending the workshop, revising the proposal and submitting it. No matter what the outcome, I feel like a winner.

In my notes from the conference, I wrote down something that Reid said that we should all remember (paraphrased): “The challenge for most writers is to remind yourself…the work doesn’t feel new to you, but it is new to other people.” (emphasis mine)

That was the crux of my resistance–I’d been looking at and living with aspects of the book idea forever, so it didn’t feel exciting or new anymore. That’s why those voices were on hyperdrive. I’d forgotten what that type of resistance felt like.

In the video, I talk about my book proposal for The Creative Tickle®: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity and a little about myself.  

If you’re so inclined, check out my video and feel free to leave a thumbs up or a nice comment (y’all are kind people, I know!).

It’s been a weird few days for all of us, huh? About two weeks ago, I left for Copenhagen and by the time I got back (with some difficulty), COVID-19 was in full swing. Later this week, I’ll share some reflections about that trip and how we can keep writing some during this difficult moment.

In the meantime, I’m sharing something that I’d love your help supporting and/or signal boosting. This is my second invitation to a crowdfunded anthology and I’m super excited about it! [BTW, I am working on the edits to my story that I wrote for the successfully funded Witches, Warriors and Wise Women, due out in June]

LET’S SLAY!

Do you like vampires? Vampire slayers? A fresh take on vampires and vampire slayers? Mocha Memories Press is crowdfunding Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, an anthology which will be groundbreaking as it explores vampires of the African Diaspora. I’m one of the invited authors that will be submitting a story along with Sheree Renee Thomas, Steven Van Patten, and Teri Clarke! Mocha Memoirs Press is run by the incredible Nicole Smith and has been a force in amplifying the work of diverse voices in speculative fiction.


We’re almost halfway funded! Please consider supporting this anthology, there are lots of great perks available (with great names like hunters, slayers, stakes and blood drinkers). $1 perks available! Feel free to share with others! TY!

 

Stay safe and healthy!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my feelings and relationship to the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in this recent essay for the online quarterly magazine South Write Large: Stories, Arts and Ideas for the Global South. Is this a term that you have heard a lot about? How do you engage with Afrofuturism?

My Unlikely Path to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is everywhere these days. From the staggering success of Black Panther to the revival of Octavia Butler’s works, especially the prescient Parable of the Sower written in 1993, to the award-winning novels by N. K. Jemisin, these books have ushered in a new moment. We’re not just talking about literature or film, but music, fashion design, visual arts, and social activism as well. What often gets lost or flattened, however, when a phenomenon enters the mainstream, is the nuance, history, and multiple viewpoints on said phenomenon. Read the rest of the essay here.

February has been a rich and wonderful month. It felt as if I was in deep communion with the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). For many years, I’ve been fascinated by her life. ZNH was ahead of her time as a writer and scholar (she was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in anthropology). She was also a cultural icon and transgressive artist.

Zora Neale Hurston

In 2016, I started a story, “Etta, Zora and the First Serpent” that takes place in the 1930s. Etta, a dancer at the Cotton Club, meets the charismatic ZNH and gets entangled in one of Zora’s schemes to conjure secrets from an old spirit. As you might imagine, trouble ensues.

I am generally fascinated by the time period of the 1920s-1940s and have always been interested in the Cotton Club as my maternal grandmother danced there for a brief period. In the story, I get to explore the race, class and gender dynamics of the day as the Cotton Club practiced segregation (only white patrons were seated) and colorism (i.e. African American female dancers that were hired were typically “light-skinned” or with a “cafe au lait” complexion).

Several Cotton Club dancers

The Apollo Dancers at the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald

I was inspired to finish this historically themed horror story (with a twinge of fantasy), and then submit it in 2018 for a specific anthology. It got rejected from that anthology and I went to work on it some more. Last year I submitted it to AfroMyth: Volume 2-A Fantasy Collection and it was accepted!

I went through intensive edits on the story. What was refreshing, however, was that I didn’t have to work much on the structure of the story (I often struggle with plotting), but instead needed to beef up description in the last quarter of the story. It was one of the shorter stories I have written, submitted at 5,000 words (which was the maximum word length). In the revisions, however, I wound up adding another 500 words.

AfroMyth: Volume 2 was released today! It features fourteen fantasy stories featuring characters of the African Diaspora.

I love the cover of this collection!

Zora had her spirit fingerprints all over my life this month. I was invited to attend the 31st annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. It took place in early February in Eatonville, FL.  Eatonville, a historically all Black town is where Zora grew up. The Festival spans multiple days. This year the theme was the multiverse and Afrofuturism! There was an academic conference, an outdoor festival and tons of activities and festivities.  I was with an amazing group of speculative friction writers, all paying tribute to ZNH, her genius and legacy.

Standing, left to right P. Djeli Clark, Nwatchukwu Iheoma, Bill Campbell, Tenea Johnson. Seated: Maurice Broaddus and Chesya Burke. We are all looking very writerly!

It’s rare that I have the opportunity to read with and connect to other Black writers, especially in the field of speculative fiction, so my time at the ZNH Festival felt pretty magical.

If you are a speculative fiction reader, I hope you check out the collection. You can find it at all online sellers. Amazon link is here. Here’s the book trailer to check out, too.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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