Freedom Speaks Diaspora: I had to think about where to start and I’ve left a bunch out. I am a dancer. I was trained at Bernice Johnson’s Cultural Arts Center in Jamaica, Queens (NY), beginning at age three and was in the professional class (meaning we were being trained to dance for a living). I took tap, jazz, African, modern, and ballet. I stopped at about 10 or 11 years old when my class was starting Pointe. Nonetheless, this dance foundation was my foundation for excellence, culture, and leadership—being on stage. We were trained by some of the world’s greatest dancers—legends, in fact. Subsequently, BJ’s has trained some of today’s dance and music superstars. I don’t want to name drop (BJ taught us we are the stars so never lose your mind over celebrities) but suffice to say that Michael Jackson came to see us perform at Avery Fisher Call in Lincoln Center one year! We went to meet him in the balcony after the show (he was with Emmanuel Lewis). I will never forget that!
Anyhow, I really enjoyed African dance and danced at community functions when I quit BJ’s. I stopped because I felt I was missing out on school parties—the one regret I have in life was stopping dancing. But I do believe the African dance portion of my training is what sparked my love for African culture and Black people, because we are African, no matter how much people try to deny it by saying they were born in the United States and “don’t speak African” (African is not a language because Africa is not a country).
Nonetheless, I was always down for the community. One of my accomplishments is that I was the New York State NAACP Youth and College Division President at the end of high school and beginning of college (Hampton University). That had me attend the board of directors meetings and national conferences for the NAACP with people like Kwesi Mfume, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Hazel Dukes, Maxine Waters, Percy Sutton, Rev. Jamal Bryant, etc. but that ended when I got pregnant while away at college. I embarrassed and enraged the elders who had been grooming me.
My mother worked in a library my whole life, so when I was little, she would bring me there and I would sit in the children’s room and read—four to eight hours when she worked, depending on if I was in school or if it was on the weekend, etc. This is probably the foundation for my love of books. I used to read during school while my teachers were teaching, holding the book in my lap under the table and glancing up, trying to act like I was paying attention. I wasn’t fooling them though but my teachers never really protested because I was reading.
Most of my report cards said that I was a “social butterfly”. I loved laughing, talking, and giving my outspoken, pro-Black opinion. I had appointed myself at very young age as what my grandmother called “everybody’s lawyer”. If I thought a teacher was being mean (i.e. racist) or that our school should have something we didn’t have, I was the one to talk to the teacher, principal, or superintendent, or to bring it to the NAACP. But I was also wild (because my mother and grandmother were overprotective) when away from home. My extracurricular activities included singing in choirs, competitions, and performance groups, being in the school plays (and helping with choreography), cheerleading (I founded the kick line at my high school with some friends) trying my hand at percussion in the band, etc. I also had private piano lessons at two points in my childhood but eventually quit because my teacher valued classical music over jazz, and I wanted to play jazz. Even then, I couldn’t see why any Black teacher felt like my foundation as a musician should be in anything other than #1-what I enjoyed and #2-something Black. Basically, I told her she can keep her classical music, and just hoped my father would come over more and teach me. He’s the one who bought the piano.
I had always been great at creative writing, impressing my English teachers throughout my entire school career. I won awards for it, published in school publications, and wrote dynamic essays. Years later, I would become a full-time poet based on attending readings and enjoying other poets, and wanting to express myself and impact people the way they did. My co-worker and friend, Malikah Hameen, whom I met working at Bank of America’s EquiCredit (sub-prime mortgage division) invited me out to a poetry reading and I got hooked. I fell in love with the work and style of Taalam Acey, Queen Sheba, L.I.F.E., Lizz Straight, Will Da Real One, Heru, Khafra, and so many more. So I wrote some fire poems, recorded them, sold some CDs, wrote two poetry books, and performed everywhere—working my way up to “a couple of thousand dollars” college gigs.
PNR: What genre do you write in?
FSD: I write African-American fiction that is geared toward people who consider themselves to be “conscious”, as in socially conscious, politically conscious, spiritually conscious, and perhaps health conscious! I also write erotica under a different name – I try to make it as conscious as possible – and have been published several times by Zane. Of course, I write poems. I am just now getting into selling my songs. I am working on movies and TV shows. I write non-fiction on a variety of topics in a variety of platforms.
PNR: So Freedom Speaks Diaspora wasn’t PC enough for the corporate/business/entrepreneur world? You sold out… like in the book, you realized the struggle had been televised, co-opt, and, like Magruder, you “don’t trust dem new niggas over there?” Did you perm your hair yet? How can you write a book like Manjani, only to revert?
FSD: I had struggled with self-esteem and approval issues for many years and no, I was not strong enough to take the backlash. Manjani, at the time, was a rant, but I cringed at the idea of people not liking me. I am so over that now, and I understand why I was like that, which is why I focus on that in my coaching business. Concerning my hair, I have always wanted to be natural. Nothing can make me perm my hair. The two are not the same.
There was also the issue of there being crickets when it came to Manjani, so I didn’t have anyone like you saying, “Sistah, keep going. Don’t be scared. Don’t sell out. We got your back.” I felt alone.
I was in an environment – I had left Atlanta – where “Freedom Speaks” was not embraced and Manjani certainly didn’t have many sales, so who would miss it but you?
Plus, I couldn’t separate myself – the author – from the narrator who used harsh language to describe white people, and I had stopped hating, so I felt like those few who did see the book were judging me.
Bottom line is yes, I was scared as hell. Nothing that powerful had come through me, since my son was born. With no “conscious” community…and even criticizing the conscious community I was once a part of, I got paranoid. My husband tried to help, but I wouldn’t listen to him, because I felt he was “supposed” to say the things he did.
Now, I know what that time was for and I’ll never revert back. But I don’t regret it. It was vital to my evolution and my ability to help people who have something grand to say or do but are afraid to say or do it.
I stopped my entire spoken word career over one comment from a sista who I respected. My inner resolve was not firm, so yes, in lots of ways I was like Manjani. But I’ve grown.
I assumed what “revert” meant (to me it meant to take the book off the shelves) but as a person I have not reverted in any way. I’m so glad that you are real enough to even say what you just did. That’s what’s missing. Had anyone gave enough of a damn to be real with me, I would have been able to use collective strength instead of just my own.
PNR: I dig. Manjani was the most conscious book I’d read in a long time up to that point. And we (readers) do hold the writer up to a standard, we expect for them to be omnipotent. I don’t think I expected you to save the black race. You resolved that in the book. But I am always interested in the price of the ticket, as Baldwin would say, and I guess I understand now. Manjani is coldblooded because of the timeless issues the book raises and grapples with, beyond race even. That’s why it has classic possibilities.
FSD: Excellent. This is exciting! And yes, I wanted it to be a classic. It is in my mind.
PNR: So what was the “one comment” that shook your dungeon?
FSD: We were at Kalamu Ya Saalam’s workshop at Spelman in like 2005 or 2006 and she said that my poetry scared her. It threw me off because at the time I was “for the people” and was trying to “uplift the people” so when she said I scared her, I thought “I’m taking the wrong approach. I’m doing the opposite of what I meant to do with this work. I am misusing the gift”. Using it for hate.
Subsequently, I wrote a poem called “If My Poetry Scares You” and published it in my book, Speak, Poet! to come to peace with what she said, but it still stung me even after I “retaliated”.
I let the word of one speak for the supposed opinion of all. Again, it was my self-doubt because so many people said they started businesses because of my work; they home-school their kids because of my work; they dropped the religious dogma because of my work, they love their people because of my work, but my style was often harsh like Manjani was so when she said, and I was a few years older and wiser, I thought maybe I wasn’t being loving enough in my messages.
Part of the influence of Manjani was that I started to hate some people in the RBG community, so I didn’t want to come off like them, calling other Black people ignorant and talking down to them because they were Xtian or they ate meat or they were gay, or they had perms, or they had 9-5 jobs, and I think her comment made me think that I was viewed like that. No doubt, I was an agitator, but that’s not all I was and it made me question everything about my gift, my message, and my career. This came up again with Manjani. I didn’t want people to think I was spreading hate.
PNR: Baldwin says the job of the writer is to unnerve and unsettle, to disrupt the peace (or something like that). So do you still run with the revolutionary crowd? What did your husband think about your change?
FSD: I’m friends with some RBG people. They’re everywhere! But most of my friends, like me, agree that our people need healing, and that we should uplift them, not demean them, and that the whole “white devil” rant is not the best approach. Honestly, it turns me off.
My husband has always felt that I should be who I am and who I want to be. He loves Freedom Speaks and for Manjani I just added Diaspora on the end, because there’s already someone out there named Freedom Speaks who has a platform. Anyway, he wasn’t happy about me taking Manjani down, especially since we drove to California from Georgia to sell at Book Expo America, but he wants me to find my way in the world. He feels like I hide my best stuff. He’s heard work no one has ever heard. He knows all of me. And he wants me to be proud of it all, and I’m just now finding the strength to do it.
You could ask him what he thinks though, because he’s the one person who knows nearly everything, and he’s excited about this discussion too. He said he thinks it will be great for me and that he’s looking forward to learning things too! He said I didn’t really talk much about my decision to take it down, but I thought I did.
He’s been there from the beginning, when I came up with the name “Freedom Speaks” he was in my living room. It was before we were even dating. Then we would travel and do poetry together as “Freedom Speaks & Trevvalution.” Those were the days!
PNR: The revolutionary movement reminds me of an old Rod Serling Twilight zone clip where the old lady was dead and didn’t know it. Death had even resided next to her all the long and she did not know it until she looked in the mirror. This is why your change is so fascinating for me.
FSD: Honestly, I think you see one pic, the business pic which was taken in like June, and think the change was so significant but it’s really not. It’s only one aspect of me. Catch me at a bembe or in the community, I won’t be dressed like that. My hair is still an Afro; just in that pic, I had twisted it and kept it twisted for a few days then took the twists out! It’s called a “twist-out”. Yes, I’m wearing makeup, but I’d never worn it my whole life, so at 33, I was “playing” with it, and I still do sometimes. Freedom is the name I feel is my “real” name (or should have been). Freedom Speaks is a poetry name but I don’t perform anymore. Diaspora was a name that I added to my poetry name only when I published Manjani. On my Amazon author page, I’m still Freedom Speaks Diaspora, but this is not my author page, this is my everything page!
PNR: My friend wears her hair the same way. She braid it at night then unbraid in the morning and go. But it is fascinating, your change, in the sense of the then and now of black American revolutionaries. I even think about the post-Panther Huey, and how he ultimately died. I understand the pics represent to different realities for you, but the question is still why? Being a revolutionary is a great responsibility. So maybe this is important in the sense of where “Manjani” is now.
FSD: I’m still Freedom. That’s not going away. But I’m not a revolutionary, I am a teacher and an artist. But people have to be able to relate to you before you can help them. You can’t help them or make change from outside the group; it has to be from inside the group. If I’m so “over the top” (which I didn’t really think I was, but anyway) then people can dismiss me because they don’t understand what I’m talking about or they get scared. But if I look professional when doing professional things (we still gotta eat), then I can help and drop tidbits and jewels in the process. The whole thing is now my whole life is not about “exposing the white man”. To me, it’s old. Now my whole life is about using personal power so that even history can’t hold me back. If you’re still talking about the white man and you call yourself God, then you’re a weak God. If you’re God, pull yourself up and create the life you want, period. That’s what I’m doing.
PNR: Wow! That’s heavy. Have you read Marable’s new Malcolm bio?
FSD: No, it’s on my list! One thing must be understood (that I feel like you’re not responding to), which makes me think the truth about “my change” is not being thought about or portrayed correctly. “Hunt” is for professional purposes. The yellow pic is for professional purposes (but spiritually, it is for Oshun). But I just as soon will wear my African garb out or you’ll see me wearing all white for a few days (Obatala), so it is incorrect to believe or portray that now I am simply corporate, or just one way. It ain’t so. But again, I am very much still into African culture, knowledge of self, and indigenous spirituality. I have many sides, not just one as a coach. While I realize there’s more to life than “the revolution”, I don’t want it to be portrayed that I am completely removed, or all business, because that’s not correct.
PNR: I do understand that Freedom. But for me it’s about the process. I’m very interested in that. But that’s why I pursue a dialogue to allow you to explain, to demystify what you think are my false assumptions.
FSD: Now I get it. Thanks for explaining. What is your thesis on?
PNR: “All Novels Require Historical Accountability and a Moral Reckoning: The Problem With Baldwin and Faulkner,” or something along those lines.
FSD: Historical Accountability?
PNR: Yes, historical accountability. Like Carson McCullers Ballad of the Sad Cafe, when, in the novel, which is unavoidably set in pre WW II rural south, she never observes anything remotely connect to the reality of the times. Faulkner, too, with As I Lay Dying. Novels are supposed to capture time and place too. But that’s essentially my beef, some Derridian critique, of sorts, on the whole canon hoax. See my top ten list for the Carson piece. What kind of people read your material?
FSD: The people who read (and enjoy) my material are people who care about the ramifications of living and being as we do, not just as Black people, but as human beings. These are people who know and care that our history did not start in slavery—that we had built kingdoms before that. These are people who have pride in us as a race and know that we are better and can do better that what we see in the mainstream.
Often, these people are frustrated because they read lots of non-fiction (as I do), and have resolved themselves to not reading contemporary fiction because they don’t see themselves depicted or because they’re not getting anything out of it. They are aware of the gang wars, drug lords, pimps, and hoes, but they want to read about something else—at least not with them as the heroes. They feel saturated with mainstream media bullshit. Like the poet Khafra said in one of his poems: “I and I refuse to be demeaned, by drinking the polluted waters of the mainstream”
My audience wants to learn from what they read, or to at least walk away with a jewel to carry with them, and they want to see characters who represent a different aspect of the Black community—not just the corporate go-getter, or the woman looking for Mr. Right—but the people who have always taken the position of empowering (if not “saving”) the community. It might not sound fascinating, but when you put some creativity behind it, you come up with storylines that are just as engaging as the “shoot em up” and “feel em up” plot lines.
But here’s the catch: my ideal audience is born between the mid-60’s to the mid-80’s so they’re familiar with the original hip hop (positive way of teaching self-love, knowledge of self, and culture), and they’re not afraid of cuss words, and they’re fine with challenging the status quo.
If you’re “holier than thou” you won’t enjoy my books because my characters are not always pure—they cuss, they make crude jokes, they have sex, they do all the things real people do—which is why or how lovers of urban books can appreciate my work because it is not preachy or diluted.
PNR: Why didn’t’ Manjani receive the attention I feel it should have, yet, urban lit, gangsta/street lit seems to have a steady increase in readership?
FSD: Part of the reason it didn’t receive the attention was because I didn’t market it successfully, then I made it unavailable. The other part, which is still marketing, is that the cover did not have a picture on it; I made it myself using a software program and could only figure out how to make blocks, so I made blocks of red, black, and green. I thought it wouldn’t matter because Invisible Man didn’t have a photo, but I think in this day an audience needs a character photo to identify with. Maybe later, when it is recognized as a classic, it can be sold without a photo on name and author alone, but Manjani was too new and 21st century for that.
PNR: What does this say/reveal about the current state of black intellectuality, the black community, inasmuch as what we are reading?
FSD: We all know that many people read bullshit, but I don’t attribute the sales of Manjani to that. I believe I simply did not make enough people aware of it. I printed 50 copies, sold 30, and the rest were sold on Amazon…not many.
PNR: Has the conscious state of the black community experienced a state of arrested development?
FSD: Yes, I do believe we have because we have a lot invested in entertainment instead of education. We spend a lot of time socializing online. We live vicariously through others and when we have problems we numb them with distractions. When it is a big enough problem—let’s say a community problem like a falsely imprisoned or executed brother—we get mad for a while and then things die down. We’re very reactive “in the moment”. Like in “bursts”. In fact, when I read the book about bursts I thought about this. Anyway, we are very much individualist instead of communal too (i.e. “That’s his problem. I feel sorry for him but so glad it ain’t me and I ain’t gonna mess myself up fighting for him.) Perhaps this was a sentiment during and after slavery, but I do believe that during the 60s we got out of that, but we’ve returned because we’re just so damned comfortable. Why ruin it with a revolution?
PNR: Who are some of your major influences in literature?
FSD: I had to think about my answer for a while because it is hard to say. I’m the type who reads books and forgets the title or the author; has a favorite song but doesn’t know half the words or the artist; watches movies but forgets the title of the movie and can never remember who stars in its. The exception is when something or someone is really big so there is no way I can forget or if it has made a huge impression on me! I am more impressed with the work itself than the person who created it, so I am really bad about the names of things/people. Those who are close to me usually hate this at first, then they come to accept that it is me—I jokingly attribute this to when BJ told us not to be star-struck. At that point, I erased names and titles and focused on the art!
Nonetheless, I believe that Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man influenced Manjani, in terms of how both books have aspects that are surreal. This was not done on purpose. I have not read Invisible Man since 1996, but I believe that story stayed in my subconscious, helping to create an energy that runs throughout both books, though I can’t put a name to it. I know Invisible Man also deals with institutions, as does Manjani. I’ll need to read Invisible Man again to really be able to see if what I’m saying is true because now I just have a sense of it. I know I was influenced by Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever. I love that book. I thought it was well-written, from characters to plot to “consciousness”. Everything! It’s what inspired me to write Manjani. I thought, what if Winter Santiaga was “conscious”? Let’s keep her a spoiled brat; let’s keep her in New York (since that’s where I’m from and can write about) and let’s keep the sexuality—in fact, let’s pump it up a notch— but instead of the character trying to get money, she’s trying to liberate herself and her people. What does that look like? What kinds of obstacles stand in the way of that? What would a revolutionary Winter Santiaga look like? Of course, Manjani morphed into her own character, so she in no way resembles Winter.
I am also heavily influenced by the things I learned when I started learning the teachings of different spiritual and religious groups like: The Five Percenters – now called The Nation of Gods and Earths, The Nation of Islam, Orthodox Islam, The Nuwaupian Nation of Moors, Ifa/Orisha/Vodun, Native American spirituality, Metaphysical Christianity, Buddhism, Tantra – meditation; not necessarily sex, etc. I learned through their teachings and texts a different way of looking at spirituality, to where I am able to grab spiritual food and ignore or reject spiritual waste. Therefore, anything I write will have wisdom from a variety of spiritual systems, which I use to try to feed people.
I read a lot of white fiction growing up (Judy Blume, The Fabulous Five, Sweet Valley Twins, etc.), but I eventually got into Omar Tyree, Eric Jerome Dickey, and some others when I was about 18/19.
And as I stated before, spoken word artists started influencing me around age 23. Beyond that, I’ve read a lot so I can’t really say whose work finds itself into my own, but since everything marinate in the subconscious until it’s ready to come out, I’m sure it’s there.
Lastly, I discovered adult (sexual) material at an early age and would sneak to read it, because, well, you know why…so good or bad, erotica/porn is one of my literary influences. Like it or not, it is the truth.
PNR: Who are some of your favorite authors/writers?
FSD: Even though I haven’t read much of Gloria Naylor’s work, I absolutely love the book, Conversations with Gloria Naylor, which made me know that I needed to finish writing Manjani. Her interviews allowed me to see that this story needed to be told and helped me get through the fears of writing it.
As I said earlier about names of titles and authors, another “eccentric” thing about me is that I don’t necessarily have favorite authors (with the exception of Souljah and Alice Walker), I have favorite books. I’m picky; always have been, so I look to try to find “the perfect book” for my tastes at any given moment, which means an author’s entire catalogue might not work for me and I mostly read non-fiction on a regular basis, since it’s hard for me to track down fiction I like.
In non-fiction, my favorites are (to name a few): The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Devil & Dave Chappelle, The Fire Next Time, Alice Walker’s Anything We Love Can Be Saved, Living By the Word, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, and even women’s mythology like Women Who Run With the Wolves.
The short list of my favorite fiction books include: The Coldest Winter Ever and Midnight by Sister Souljah; Scenes of a Sistah by Lolita Files; Ida B by Karen Quinones Miller; Upstate by Kalisha Buchanon; Soulmate by Deepak Chopra; The Accidental Santera by Irete Lazo; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; 1996 by Gloria Naylor; Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; All of The Celestine Prophecy books; Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, and The Sistah Hood by E-Fierce.
And I like what I read of Picture Me Rollin by Black Artemis but I never finished the book. Nonetheless, I think our writing styles and audiences are similar and I applaud her using fiction to bring consciousness to the community, especially the Black and Latino community. I also appreciate the work of my good friend, Kat Williams – lesbian writer; not the comedian, who hosts the internet radio show Sippin on Ink, because not only has she supported my work as a poet and writer, she markets, promotes, and gives a platform to Black LGBTQ writers, who might otherwise not be heard. A few months ago I read her anthology, Black Girl Love, and enjoyed it.
PNR: What was the last good book you read and why?
FSD: The last good book I read was Black Business Secrets by Dante Lee, founder of many businesses including BlackPR.com. I loved the book because it kept it real about what is necessary to make a business work, whether it is as a writer, a business consultant, or anything else. He didn’t make it seem “easy” with “all you gotta do is…” but he let you know that it can be done and that it’s about marketing and promotions. I’ve worked for myself since 2003, and read a million business books and invested in lots of coaching and training products, programs, and events, but what I liked about his book was it finally helped me “get” that those simple things I had avoided could go a long way (such as press releases, direct mailing cards, etc.) and it gave a lot of resources for support. I had taken lots of business advice from people outside the community, but the reality is that there is a specific culture we (Black people) have and a way that we think and a way we need to approach each other, so when I read his book geared toward Black entrepreneurs it fed something that had been starved and put me back in balance.
PNR: You mentioned that some of your favorite authors are Ellison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, yet, the last good book you read is essentially a marketing/entrepreneurial kind of book. That’s interesting. Makes me think about the Gil Scott poem about “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” What do you think Gil Scott would say about current revolutionary initiatives, or the consciousness of the black community, particularly as it is expresses in current various modes of expression i.e. rap, spoken word, R & B, poetry, novels (including urban/street lit) etc.?
FSD: I can’t say what Gil Scott would say but I do know that a lot of our art is being used purely for profit and has no educational or cultural value—and let me be clear here that I’m not criticizing this because I do think that some responsibility for what our youth, who become adults, accept as truth and culture must be taught at home and should not be up to the artists—I also know that those who put out conscious music are still doing it; they’re just not as exposed as mainstream artists. I’ll give Dead Prez as an example, but there are many, who are much less recognized than even they are , who are teaching and uplifting with their art. So just because most people are not aware of these artists do not mean they don’t exist. Thankfully, artists can get their work out free or at a low-cost through the Internet, but it still doesn’t rival being able to play at the televised awards shows or on the popular FM radio stations instead of on local public radio and midnight college radio. Those who seek that type of art/music, though, do find it. Spoken word became commercialized which was part of the reason when I stopped, it was a relief. I didn’t want to hear another stupid-ass, not-thought-out poem, in a nasty, dirty club. When I was introduced to spoken word, it was at Soul Release, in Jacksonville, Florida, and there were African drums and dim lights, and natural hair and African clothes and babies and candles and elders. Nostalgic, yes, but the atmosphere was warm, and I knew we were doing more than feeding our egos and pushing CDs; we were feeding our Ancestors and the community and pushing away mis-education and inferiority. When I got to Atlanta and traveled to other places, it was not the same, and over time the spoken word scene that I was exposed to became more and more ridiculous. That’s why I started my venue, Griotsville “The Village Venue” and we had a small but steady crowd of 40 people plus children, every first Friday, but it didn’t last because I couldn’t afford the venue and I refused to have it in a club. But again, there are those who continue to teach and uplift through spoken word. You will always have those people, even in literature, but they won’t be handed to you by the mainstream, they’ll be handed to you by another socially or culturally “conscious” person.
PNR: It’s interesting that you don’t note Du Bois as having influenced your writing/reading, yet, the beginning of your book – as I noted in my review – is very Du Boisian. What do you think?
FSD: It is wonderful that you mentioned that because you just taught me something. I’ve read more about Du Bois than reading Du Bois himself, so I have no idea what his style was. It is possible that I read Souls of Black Folk in the 1990’s but by this time I don’t even remember and I almost doubt it.
PNR: What would you say to the aspiring revolutionary writer? Is there need for this type of genre? Why/Why not?
FSD: I don’t think this it is a genre (remember a time when most Black writing was about the Black experience and what needed to be done about it?…that’s what people wanted to read), but in terms of revolutionary writing, I called it African American friction – instead of fiction – when I wrote Manjani. As far as there being a need for it, I’ve never looked at it as a need, just something that wasn’t out there for my generation and those who came after me that would be good to have. We have to teach, and writing books that blend Black Studies and “urban” fiction is like giving medicine hidden inside of something sweet to make it palatable. It shouldn’t be considered something that is “bitter” but some of it is. Even so, people need to know their history and understand their environment, but even I don’t really want to sit through a lecture unless it’s a damn good one that is funny, relatable, and has interesting slides and take-out nuggets of information I can use right away. As much as I love education, I am finicky, impatient about it, and not easily impressed, so presentation and medium are essential to keeping my attention—I think it’s like that for many if not most of us.
PNR: Well, reveloutionary writing is certainly a genre. Wright, DuBois, and perhaps Alaine Locke would probably say that all black writers are by default revolutionary writers. I think Ishmael Reed wrote a book titled Writin’ Is Fightin’: Thirty-Seven Years of Boxing on Paper. You said, “I wrote another novel and sent it to a few people to read, but never implemented their suggestions, especially when I got one really nasty comment from a someone I respected…” What was the nasty comment?
FSD: I don’t remember at this point what the person said about my second novel. About Manjani, this person said they didn’t like it at all because it was just too dysfunctional and the character had too many problems. Actually, a recognized Black book club said the same thing about dysfunction in Manjani and refused to post a review because they gave it 2 stars for being dysfunctional and being incomprehensive. You can say a lot of things about the book, but you definitely can’t say it doesn’t make sense. Yes, it’s dysfunctional, but that’s the point. Anyway…back to the person…I want to say the person said they didn’t read it because they don’t like my writing or something like that. Doesn’t really matter because I don’t let stuff like that stop me anymore, but at the time I was desperate for approval so I stopped when it seemed I wouldn’t get it. This is what happens when you don’t appreciate and validate yourself. You become a slave to people’s opinions and they hold the keys to your creativity, the distribution of your message, and your view of your own Sacred Work.
PNR: What is the hardest part about the writing business?
FSD: The hardest part about the writing business is that it is a business—that you cannot sell something to a publisher (or get an agent) on passion alone; you’ve got to market it. You need an audience. You need a plan. You need to sell. This is not about “look what I did, isn’t it pretty?”; this is about“look what I can sell, look at how much money!”
Truthfully, this is the hardest part about being in any business. It’s just that authors get confused since it’s art, they think that art should be sold on its own merit and that because they are artists, they don’t need to be marketers or salespeople and that’s not true. If you want to write for your own enjoyment, then you don’t have to market or sell. But if you want a contract to write, writing the book is just the beginning—the bare minimum you have to do—and that can be intimidating.
Plus, it’s really up to individual people’s tastes—one agent or editor or reader can love it and another can hate it for the same reason or for other reasons. If you’re not secure in your ability, your story, or your sales potential, you will be at the whim of all these people’s opinions, doubting yourself. But you shouldn’t, because taste is subjective. I love tofu; you hate tofu, which one of us is “right”? Well, see, it’s not a matter of right or wrong; it’s a matter of taste, so if you’re selling tofu, you need to go to someone who loves tofu—in fact, someone who loves, your tofu, but it might take you a while to find that person/company/opportunity, and you’ve got to be okay with how long it takes.
PNR: What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
FSD: That in fiction, even though I might share similarities with my characters, the characters are not me or you, and I am not necessarily sharing my opinion through the filter of a character. Even if the intention is to use characters to promote a personal view, the characters take on their own “thoughts” and “missions” and become their own “people” and when that happens, as a writer, you have to drop your agenda and go with your characters’ agendas, so what you have in the end, is very often, not what you intended and not a result of a meticulously crafted agenda, but still something very good. Because I am the writer, sure, some of my views will come out, but because the characters are organic, theirs will too. So don’t blame me; blame the characters! Similarly, don’t praise me, praise Spirit!
PNR: What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
FSD: Here’s the thing: I haven’t discovered anything new; I’ve only just accepted the truth that I had already “known” from reading the writer’s magazines, but because I thought that I was the exception to what I’d learned/heard I didn’t take it the advice seriously.
So I wish I had accepted that I had to market my butt off in order to sell, so that I wouldn’t be thinking no one wanted my story, when in reality, no one knew about it. I wish I had accepted that it might take 2 years or more to get an agent, or to get someone in publishing to look at my book. Had I accepted that, I wouldn’t have given up after four queries that weren’t even good sales letters. I wish I had accepted that sending the manuscript to publishing houses other than the big ones in New York City would be viable, because I limited myself when I would only consider them, thinking smaller houses wouldn’t be able to “do anything for me”. I wish I had accepted that I might work well with a male agent or a white agent, but I wanted a black female agent only, and I heard about three “noes” and that was it. In reality, I wish I’d known to open myself more to the many possibilities and variations of success, and to keep going until I saw those possibilities manifest, instead of having a closed off view, which resulted in a quick defeat (1-2-3, I’m out the game) and using that as “proof” that no one wanted my work. We’ve all heard how long it takes and what we’ve gotta do, but I thought I was different. That Manjani was different. I didn’t want to pay my dues.
PNR: Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
FSD: Yes, and I did— at least as far as promoting my book. I took the book off the market, in fact. I wrote another novel and sent it to a few people to read, but never implemented their suggestions, especially when I got one really nasty comment from a someone I respected (this has been a pattern in my life that I have broken). This person doesn’t like Manjani either. I figured let me go on to other things. I still did get my erotica under another name published mainstream but as far as major literary projects, I just have files on my computer, book ideas, unfinished work; abandoned projects. I am just now starting to write again, to show the world what I have again, and love myself and my work again.
PNR: What is the best lesson you have learned from another writer?
FSD: It is not necessarily a lesson and it’s not necessarily from a particular writer, but it is common advice that can’t steer you wrong, especially if you are an individual (not part of the herd). The advice is to write what you want to read. I want to read about people who care about Black cultural, social, or spiritual issues (not too much present-day political) but who are also part of the original hip hop generation. They are down-to-earth but they have contradictions that we can enjoy reading about. I also want to read about Black bi and lesbian women interacting in these books, so those elements or themes are in whatever I write.
PNR: What motivates you to write, and what makes your writing unique?
FSD: I just want to read a really good story, sometimes I’m the only one who can provide that for me because of how picky I can be. But on a deeper level, the most important level, I know that writing is my healing and my personal spiritual guidance system. I love studying spirituality, but I do believe there is a knowing inside all of us—directly from the Creator—but we need to know how to get access to it. People always say meditation is how you access it and I believe that is true, however I believe writing fiction is how I come to know truth—it is my meditation, it is the way I meditate. When it comes to what most people see as meditation (silence) I do walking meditations best. It is hard for me to sit and meditate unless it is in a group, where I can be held accountable for showing up, but when I write, all the wisdom comes up and out. The answers are told. The mysteries unfold. The truth of how it is, what it is, where it is, and most importantly, what to do becomes clear. So it is my thirst for wisdom, problem solving, and to know the real answers—the truth—that motivates me to write. The problem is when I feel complacent with what I now know—when that happens, I don’t write. In fact, I’ve come to believe that sometimes I don’t sit down to write because I subconsciously don’t want to know the truth. For me, that is the cause of writer’s block. It’s deep.
My writing is unique because it is not about the mainstream but is often set in the mainstream or interacting with the mainstream so that both audiences can enjoy it. My writing often features a sub-culture of the African-American community that rebels against misinformation about Black history, Black people, African culture, God, social and political motives and events, etc. My writing sheds light on this subculture’s ideas. Instead of dismissing them or having these people continue to be seen as weird, Black sheep that mainstream Black people don’t understand or are embarrassed of (which is also how many of them they feel about their mainstream brother and sisters), my writing looks into both worlds and finds the point of intersection, the common experience. And yes, my writing will have women loving each other in the different ways love can manifest.
PNR: Do you have any advice for the aspiring writer?
FSD: I can only say what all great mentors say. It is the main message of one of my favorite movies, Meet The Robinsons: “Keep moving forward!” Can’t get an agent? Keep moving forward. Family doesn’t like your writing? Keep moving forward. Got writer’s block? Keep moving forward. Running out of marketing money? Keep moving forward. “Keep moving forward” is the solution to any problem you will ever have in anything you seek to achieve simply because you can’t achieve it by stopping (unless of course, it is to regroup so that you can keep going). When there is an obstacle in your way, ask yourself, “What do I have to do in order to keep moving forward?” That’s what you do, without excuses and without delay. As Marcus Garvey said, “Forward ever, backward never!”