The rest of my year is shaping up to be full of writing activities, time with family, work and moving regularly. I am actively exploring Kemetic Yoga and dancing around in my own house for these options. I also decided to spend more time reading. One of my current reads, “Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life” is about a 40-something journalist and divorcee who challenges herself to become a surfer. It reminds me of my goal to continue competing as a Strongwoman. This is no surprise as reading has always made me want to dip my toes into worlds I have yet to explore be that with travel, athletics or activism.
I have a tendency to pile on but letting reading take me somewhere else never leaves me feeling like that. It inspires me to write better, look for the detail and cultivate understanding. I attended James River Writers Conference over the weekend and served as a ShopTalk expert with the topic “How to Own Your Story: Getting Your Truth on the Page.” It was invigorating to listen and dispense advice to other writers and part of me wished I could jet off to the future to hold their finished works in my hands.
We were told at the conference that being a literary citizen is writing, reading is writing and good conversation can be writing. I believe this to be true because when I am engaged in any of these things, I find spirit lifted and I feel nudged to get to a pen and jot these experiences down.
I am hosting the second session of the virtual open mic poetry series “From the Page to the Mic” with Henrico County Public Library this Saturday and the last on November 13th. I am attending a showcase at my sister’s pole studio next weekend and an author’s signing in December. I will be bending, stretching, dancing, writing, reading, listening, supporting and watching others’ art. I can’t think of a better way to grow into the kind of writer I want to be.
These past 2 weekends have been filled with some of the most beautiful people, poetry, truth and art. I had the honor of co-facilitating a writing and yoga workshop entitled “Our Whole Black Selves” with my dear friend, poet and yogi Kisha Hughes on September 12th. We had planned this event for well over a year. When COVID hit, our plans came to a standstill but they were not forgotten.
We held it at The Baresoul Yoga studio with the Well Collective (gorgeous space!). Because it was a BIPOC yoga only event, the space created was void of the tension that comes with having to explain yourself and of apology. There is such a special freedom in spaces like that and I am proud Kisha and I facilitated it. The event was 45 minutes of yoga (which I desperately needed to focus and center myself) and the rest of the time was devoted to journaling, sharing and witnessing the truths spoken from each of the women who attended. Each participant was given a copy of my book “She Lives Here” and two of my pieces were read and served as inspiration for journaling prompts. On the drive back home, I felt many things but this overall: an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Throughout the week, I held onto small moments of the event: the sound of our collective breathing, knowing smiles from one woman to the other and the smell of the herbs and flowers wrapped in twine gifted to me and Kisha.
I held on as I prepared for the next event—a vision I had since early spring—to bring an open mic poetry event to my local library. In March of 2021, celebrated poet Brian Voice Porter Hawkins reached out to find female poets to honor Women’s History Month during his event “Bards and Brews” with Birmingham Public Library. I answered the call and my exchanges with Brian and the lovely experience of the event inspired me to forge ahead with my idea to bring an open mic to our library. It was of the highest importance to me to have poets (both novice and veteran) share their art in an open, supportive, uplifting and diverse environment.
After the library said yes and months of planning, our first session in the series, “From the Page to the Mic” made it’s debut this past Saturday. This was my first time hosting an open mic so the nerves were present but I trusted all the work, prayer and good intentions. It surpassed all expectations for me. All of the poets were celebrating one another and read personal, powerful pieces. I now have an even deeper understanding of how vital it is to bring a beautifully inclusive community together to honor the art of poetry.
Now that the first session is over, my excitement is only building for the next 2: October 16th (amplifying BIPOC voices) and in November 13th (work reflecting our origin stories) with Henrico County Public Library.
In the midst of this, I am also honored to participate in the James River Writers Conference for the first time answering questions about “How to Own Your Story” as a ShopTalk presenter. As I give all of you these updates, I am remembering a shyer, slightly quieter and less confident version of myself who chose to only dream about these realities. I am not reaching that far back. I hope this serves as inspiration to stand in the truth if who you are, who you want to be and rest with the knowledge there is a community of people who were waiting for you all along.
This past weekend, I attended the 2019 James River Writers Conference. I walked in this year feeling different. I didn’t care I didn’t have a book to pitch and all I wanted was to hear about was quality writing in all of the many forms it takes. I took some notes but I realized what I needed was to be around other writers.
I needed to catch up and laugh with some of my friends.
I needed to be reminded to set aside time for myself each week to put pen to paper and let this particular truth deliver a gut punch: I shouldn’t be devoting more time to my blog than to all my other writing.
Which is exactly what I have been doing for several months now.
Every novelist, screenwriter, memoirist, short story writer, journalist, poet and agent reminded me that there was story still beating inside of me.
The keynote speaker, the incomparable Marita Golden, emboldened us to celebrate ourselves as writers even if we are not published or under contract. This wise woman had me at the edge of my seat telling us how she had been birthed twice. Once on the day of her actual birth and again when her mother told her she was a writer. I also was blessed to hear her on the panel discussing memoir.
Marita shared that sometimes you need to write the memoir to free yourself to write fiction. The vulnerability in memoir panel impacted me emotionally the most. I love how they brought three writers with wildly different tales to share their points of view. I wish I could take classes regularly from Marita Golden (Migrations of the Heart), Mary Bonina (My Father’s Eyes) and Jon Pineda (Sleep in Me).
A special note about this year’s conference: It was beautiful to see the level of cultural diversity this year. James River Writers Conference has come light years in this respect, especially since my first year as an attendee in 2016. Thanks to the chair, Robin Farmer and co-chair Sonia Johnston for not only creating a conference that ignited my fire to devote more time to my craft but for creating an experience where I had the distinct pleasure of seeing faces that reflected the real world around us.
At the James River Writer’s Conference in 2016, The Library of Virginia honored Nikki Giovanni. During her interview, she said something that has stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words but the sentiment was if we were to take a team to explore a new planet, a writer should be aboard the ship to document everything, to tell the story.
She said it so matter-of-fact and passionately. Without a doubt, there needs to be a creative soul to give voice to the uncharted. It made me think of how important writers are, how important the art of storytelling will always be.
It is how we convey who we are, on Earth and maybe someday floating into space.
I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual James River Writers Conference 2017 which started with Master Classes held on Friday, October 13th. I did not attend the master classes but I was there on Saturday and Sunday. The conference offered one-on-one meetings with an agent or an editor, panels on writing (both the business and the craft), Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon featuring an interview with honoree and Richmond native David Baldacci, an opportunity to play the Agent Dating Game and First Pages panel.
Day 1, ready to connect with my fellow writers!
James RIver Writers Conference celebrating 15 years!
There were several sessions running concurrently so I could only go to three each day. The first session was a panel of agents answering questions about paths to publication. One agent, Cherise Fisher, made a striking point that as writers, that we should understand our dreams. The consistent message was that we should be self-aware. We should know our genre, be able to name realistic but comparable titles and take time to research the agents-their Twitter, other authors they represent and books they have sold. Ms. Fisher from Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. also reminded us not to forget about the smaller publishing houses. I particularly enjoyed the tip that we should write such a dynamic query letter that they should have to do little else before sending it to a publishing house/editor.
The social media panel gave insight into how authors Sadeqa Johnson, Sonia Yoerg and Panio Gianopoulos manage their social media. They covered topics such as when to post, scheduling apps used, blogging and the major importance of a newsletter in reaching your audience. I admired how they didn’t pretend to have it all figured out and advised if you don’t, then seek counsel! A solid piece of advice given by Sadeqa was to know your lane and build from there when posting on your media sites. For example, if you like gardening, post pictures and video of yourself doing things related to that along with content about your writing. They all acknowledged that readers like to feel as if they know you, not just your work.
The Literary Luncheon was fun and the food was tasty. I was grateful they had a real vegetarian option (a flavorful Portobello mushroom and peppers dish). It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the day with friends (my awesome writing tribe!) and meet new ones. David Baldacci’s interview was engaging and although emerging authors like myself can’t relate to his meteoric rise, I believe it gave us all a dream to aspire to.
The third panel was moderated by a local writer friend of mine, David Streever. It featured Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’ Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed. Belle Boggs recited a quote I liked: “Writing won’t make you a living but it will make you a life.” They shed light on what it is like to devote copious amounts of time to research, interviewing and unearthing untold stories that were long overdue for its place in the sun.
The end of Day 1 was fascinating: an interview with “Hidden Figures” author Margot Lee Shetterly. Getting to hear how she grew up in a neighborhood full of engineers, professors and mathematicians in Hampton and had no idea the greatness she was in the presence of astounded me. I loved hearing about her professional background which included founding an expatriate magazine in Mexico with her husband and working on Wall Street. I believe we all gasped about how quickly the book and the movie deal came together after the book proposal was accepted. Listening to this woman was a sonic delight I will not soon forget.
The second day was introduced by highlighting Richmond Young Writers’ books. I was inspired by the literary talent of Richmond’s youth led by Bird Cox. After the opening ceremonies, the First Pages panel began. I commend all of these people who submitted their first pages and were willing to be judged. I submitted my first page last year. Although it did not get selected for reading, I remember the anxiety I felt waiting to hear my words read in front of a crowd of strangers.
There was a Lunch and Learn session. I attended the one about content marketing. Phaedra Hise of Legacy Navigator explained in detail what it takes to succeed in that field. She was blunt in what we should expect and be asking for with content marketing. The session was a welcome departure from the long form writing heavily discussed throughout the conference. It opened my eyes to revenue streams with writing that do not get enough attention at events like these.
One of the more notable panels was Sexy Narratives moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Tia Williams and Marguerite Bennett. The way writers describe flirtation, sex and the buildup between two people is more than titillating conversation. Tia Williams referred to it as a “careful, slow manipulation.” I love this advice! We all had a good laugh at their blanket condemnation of clichéd scenes with heaving bosoms and throbbing body parts.
My last panel before the Agent Dating Game was Family Stories: For Your Family or the World? My book draws so much from both mine and my grandmother’s life that I knew I needed to hear whatever the panel had to say about this subject matter. I did come to a realization that since there are many details about my grandmother’s life in Haiti that I cannot corroborate, it is best to keep my work as fiction.
The final event was the Agent Dating Game. It was a rendition of the throwback TV show. This time an agent asks his/her bachelors (or writers in this case) the same three questions about themselves, story lines or characters and based on their answers, determines which author they want to learn more about. The segment even had a corny but hilarious host.
I need to say a few words about this year compared to last year. Outside of the crowd being bigger (they sold out this year!), it was much more diverse. The authors were more of a representation of what I like to see, which is a healthy sprinkling of what this world already has to offer. I hope they continue this inclusion for years to come. No one likes to feel like they are the only, or one of a few.
All in all, I am excited about returning next year. I will definitely be ready to pitch my novel and get to know more of the smiling, nervous, pensive, curious faces I see roaming the Greater Richmond Convention Center in 2018.