Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 9 · 2 months ago

WB S1E9: Ron Block with Lisa Donovan and Wayetu Moore

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK: Ron Block in conversation with acclaimed Memoirists Lisa Donovan (Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger) and Wayetu Moore (The Dragons, The Giant, The Women)

...you know, outside of my family, theresponse has been powerfully strong with the women that I have included inthe story and both positive and negative ways. I think there's ageneration of women that don't quite understand that I was doing mydamnedest to provide their story space in my story. Mm Welcome to the Friends and FictionWriter's Block podcast. Five new york times, bestselling authors, one rockstar librarian and endless stories joined mary Kay andrews, Kristin Harmel,Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry Mary, Alice Munro andRon Block as novelists. We are five longtime friends with 85 books betweenus. I am Ron Block. I am so glad you've joined us for fascinating authorinterviews along with insider. Talk about publishing and writing. If youlove books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the rightplace. Welcome to a new episode of Friends and Fiction Writer's Blockpodcast. I'm Ron Block and I cannot tell you how excited we are to presentthis particular episode not only to talk about memoir, but to really diveinto two highly regarded examples written by two of the most fascinatingand talented writers out there, lisa Donovan and way into more first, whatis the memoir as Jessica Dukes from Saladin books? Writes the memoir genresatisfies two of our most human desires to be known and to know others. Amemoir is a narrative written from the perspective of the author about animportant part of their life. I'm going to add though, that there's so muchmore than that our guests today epitomize the pinnacle of what amemoir can be. They're relatable, they're important, they're honest,they're beautifully written and extremely relevant and I am so honoredto be speaking with both of them. My first guest today is lisa Donovan,author of the Searing and vividly honest Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, amemoir which is out in paperback on august the third lisa is a James Beardaward winning writer who has redefined what it means to be a southern baker asthe pastry chef to some of the south's most influential chefs. She's beenformative in developing writing and establishing a technique driven andhistorically rich narrative of traditional southern pastry. Donovan isa regular contributor to food and wine and she has been a featured speaker atRenee Red Zepce, globally renowned mad symposium. Her work has appeared in theWashington post Eater lit hub and saveur Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger isher first book, lisa welcome, thanks Ron I'm so glad to be here, I'm sohappy to have you here. Your book is so powerful and so personal. What droveyou to tell the story and your story specifically? Um thank you first, youknow, I think the timing was right for me personally, I think I was sort ofgetting to a phase in my writing career where I wanted to finally be able tosort of cross a threshold from writing personal stories about the ways inwhich I bake and cook to personal stories about my life in general, whichhave many, many iterations of, if you've read the book, you know, thereare different, very, very many different chapters of my life that Ithink as a as someone who has always aimed to make a career out of writing,I felt like I almost kind of needed to address before I could give myselfpermission to write about anything else. It was sort of the every time I satdown to write these were the stories that we're sitting there needing to bewritten for me personally. And it just...

...so happened that at the same time theworld was changing, ready for providing those stories about really personalstories of women, the world was finally ready to provide an actual paying spacefor that, you know, an actual platform for women too, make their work out ofwriting these stories. And so I took that opportunity and I, you know, whatI really aimed to do was to not just sort of exploit a moment of, you know,national and international reckoning in the media movement, but to really trymy best to establish my goals as a writer, meaning, you know, trying tosort of make this a little less about being chef lisa Donovan and more aboutthis being writer, lisa Donovan. So those were sort of my personal reasonsfor this happening now, and I felt like I needed to address a lot of thesestories before I finally moved into writing as a full time experience formyself. And if that was your goal man, it came across in flying colors, I'mtelling you. I think one of the aspects of it is, it turns out that it's notquite just your story, but it's a story of many, many women in the culinaryindustry and the hospitality industry. What has been their reaction to youtelling this story? Oh, interesting. It's been on some in some ways, I thinkit's done the work that I meant to do, which was to provide, you know, I thinkmy goal all along has has been to provide a space for like the tediousparts of women's life that don't often get told the ways in which we work theways in which so my goal with this was to really provide a platform to tellwomen's stories in a way that I felt like they don't get a lot of air time,you know, the ways in which we build industry, the ways in which we buildlives, the ways in which we contribute to other people building their lives.And so there was an element of response that was really powerful and reallystrong and really positive. It was it was tricky, you know, there was a lotof personal things about me and my mother, for instance, that regardlessof how intimate I feel my relationship is with my mother was shocking for her.You know, it's really it's a very different, it's a very differentexperience hearing, I think someone say things to you over the history of along relationship versus being in print. And so there was a lot of those sortsof hard, complicated conversations to have about the ways in which maybe weweren't communicating our best and then outside of my family, the response hasbeen powerfully strong with, you know, the women that I have included in thestory um, in both positive and negative ways. I think there's a generation ofwomen that don't quite understand that I was doing my damndest to to providetheir story space in my story. And that's been a little painful. Therehave been a couple of women who I've spoken about in the book that have notresponded well, even though, you know, I spent uh yeah, it's reallyinteresting. And and the only thing I can sort of, I've definitely spent sometime thinking about it over the past year of like, memoir, such a personallyinvasive thing for other people. And so that has sort of been, my takeaway isjust trying to hold the kind of space for them in that I think overexposedfeeling that they might be carrying with them. So it's been interesting.It's been, you know, the the year, the year between when the hardback comesout and the paperback comes out. I feel like I'm a totally different persontalking about this book at this point. It's really interesting. But I will saythe response from women in general...

...readers especially has beenmagnificently overwhelming. And to know that this is resonated with even justone woman is um is really spectacular as a writer. And you hope that you canjust sort of make any kind of impact on anybody and make that kind ofconnection with someone. Uh and this has been a way to connect with asignificant amount of women, which, you know, nothing nothing feels better thanwhen I get an email from a mother and daughter team, that this has been ashared experience for them because that was a really unintentional goal of mine.I think now I realize how important these conversations are between womenof a certain generation and my generation especially. Well hopefullyit's also a conversation starter for the people that are kind of running theindustry because that seems to be where that the changes really do need tohappen and much like Kwamie Onwachi's book when he talked about the racialdisparity that I pair these two together to kind of be a almost like achalkboard of like what to do going forward. Yeah, hopefully,hopefully, yes. Um so deciding to bare it all as you did is really a bravedecision and I know that your family is really important to you. So how did youkind of talk to them about like going forward with this project specifically?Like my Children? Maggie Donovan? I just love whenever I read Maggie Donovan. MaggieDonovan, I love it. Yeah. I never know if that's going to translate outside ofthe south. But then the south, when you really love somebody, you say theirfull name, it's a sign of respect in the south. Yeah. It's interesting myChildren were younger obviously when this whole project started, you know,my son is an adult now and my daughter is well on her way to becoming a youngadult now. And I think I was uh you know, the interesting thing about thefour of us, my husband and my two Children is that we, you know, we'vebuilt this life together. My kids have not been separate from any of our work,be a, you know, the work that I've had to do in the kitchen or the work thatwe do here, everything is centered from this place for all four of us. And it'sa really powerful, it's a really powerful feeling to know that we're allkind of communicating even when words aren't being spoken sometimes. And Ifeel really proud of that. I feel like, you know, I can't take most of thecredit for that. I think that's just a conglomeration of the four of ourpersonalities feeling really strong together. And so they've, you know,they've never been separate from my work. And so when all of these thingsstarted to unfold in the book deals were being talked about and the memoirwas being talked about and then the memoir was being written, it was Ithink the center of our life changed so much that they became very much a partof that process, even in the periphery of this project, because it was deeplyprivate for me, they were still engaged in caretaking of me. And so they becamepart of the process of me getting this incredibly, you know, heavy load outonto page. And so we did sit and talk. But they were so much a part of it thatI think I could feel, I could feel when I was crossing boundaries for my ownlife because we all uh I think share the same boundaries and are of the fourof us, you know, and um and I knew one of my best friends whose, you know, Theclosest person, one of the closest people to the four of us, she's overhere, you know, all of the time bringing the herbs, she celebrated theopening with me. She's just part of our family. She said to me, you know, myfavorite thing about the book because I've known her for coming up on 20years now. It's my favorite thing about...

...the book. It's the things you didn'ttell because she said the things that I know that you that you saved that youprotected is really important. And that was a really important thing for me tohear because I was very protective of the people that I wrote about. Reallyprotective. And I did, I did I think more work making certain that Iprotected the parts of them that you know, I think a good example is therewas so much about my son's prehistory of his life that I was really awarethat it wasn't going to serve him for me to really bring him into the laborof the rest of the book. And I and I know him well enough to know that heneeded that space after sort of having this amount of his prehistory included.And so I I really tried to make measures of being truthful withprotecting especially my kids and my husband. So it was interesting and they,you know, I don't I don't know. I think both of my kids have read parts. Ithink there they they haven't wholly committed. I think, you know, it's alot to know everything about your mom or or most things about your mom all atonce. Right. I think most of us have the most of us have the benefit oflearning. Our parents are Very separate from us when we're in our 40s. You know,my kids are getting it much younger than I I did. You know, like it took mesome time to recognize my own parents as individual humans outside of me. Yes.What a great perspective you have on it to. Some people would be feeling likethey could cash in and tell everything about everybody, but you really justfocused on yourself and you did protect people. So appreciate that it was justa priority for me. And I there when when when things would kick up. Ireally with people who were included in the book and they may be felt likesomething wasn't fair towards them. I I spent a lot of time really ruminatingon that thinking, well here are the ways in which I experienced that and itreally does become sort of a game of acknowledging at any point in in theprocess of this that, you know, my experience is going to be differentthan maybe the way someone, especially someone who is in power over me at thetime, my experience that so it became became an interesting sort ofsociological lesson for me as well. Yes. Yes. But of course not everybody wasfully spared from your writing. I think you you talked pretty openly about someof the chefs that you've worked with. Do you mind talking about some of those?I'm sure, you know, my goal again was to not disparage or have any kind ofexpose sort of effect of this book. What I really wanted to communicate wasthe difficulty of a woman who happens to be a mother and a wife and raising afamily and the near impossibility of working in the restaurant industry as alivelihood and all of the layers of that, you know, you know, the misogynyis one thing, you know, that's that's a culture we live in also, you know,there are glaring financial disparities that happen in restaurants and you know,I think we're finally addressing that now and it's going to be reallyinteresting to see the ways in which people come back from this. I thinkthat you know, a lot of great chefs who have done their best buy, theiremployees are even today, still having a hard time finding staff, because Ithink, I think people are done working for less than the job requires and youknow, you miss out on a lot of passion...

...and talent and skill because this jobcannot support, you know, basically it becomes it becomes it becomes a muchbigger conversation than my own experience, but I think if you addenough of these small stories of how impossible it is for most working classpeople to survive even in a two income household in this country at this pointwith Children, that was sort of my bigger conversation. At first it was my,I wanted to address sort of my personal experiences, then the next level wasaddressing the restaurant culture and then the final level of that is reallyaddressing the ways in which american culture doesn't support the middleclass at all anymore. And it's a real, real hardship to be in this country andtry to raise a family even when both parents are working more than full time,and while I was very dedicated to trying to make work, my husband and Iboth trying to stay the course of being the people we are, which is a writerand a sculptor. We were very dedicated to those end goals. We weren'tforsaking work because we were too good for it. You know, we were never turningaway work because we were a writer, we were saying yes to everything, andoftentimes myself in particular creating work for myself, creatingopportunities to try to make money to try to make something work. And so, youknow, I think there's a bigger conversation here that I really want toaddress about how difficult it has been for 20 years and how impossible. Ithink it's becoming to finance, manage and run a household where, I mean, wejust have two Children, were very nuclear, were very basic. We don't, youknow, we live in a very modest home, we live in, you know, now our city isgetting more expensive if we didn't. I mean, if we did not have the abilityand the gift of this book was that we finally could sort of have a little bitof a moment where we weren't just playing catch up financially. If we hadnot purchased a home Seven years ago, we would have had to have leftNashville 10 times over by now. You know, if we were still renting, if wewere still we wouldn't it's not sustainable, this culture for a familyof four. So, you know, we don't have a trust fund that we're pulling from oryou know, and I think I was going to hit you up for a loan. You're so right,you're so right about how things are going. And I think the assumption thatpeople just want to stay home and collect more unemployment right now isa little disingenuous because it's really about the work that they did andhow they were treated. And I hear that story over and over again and I hopethat that becomes a bigger part of the conversation in the country. Same, it'sit's incredibly frustrating to hear people say, I have heard people I lovesay that, you know, dismissively say, you know, well no one wants to, youknow, come make money because they're getting too big and I'm like I disagree.I wholly disagree. And I think it has to be a bigger conversation than thisone moment of trying to get people, you know back on the on the on the line asit were, you know. Right, right. I think things need to change. It's anopportunity that I hope we don't blow well. Do you have thoughts about thefuture of restaurants? Like what would you recommend? No, I don't I can't evenpretend to know. I mean, you know I have a pie in the sky like optimismabout it. I think that um I know that chefs are by and large, the mostindustrious, hardworking and hopeful people that I've ever met in my life. Iknow if anyone can do it, they can do it. I know that it is a large burdenfor them to be doing alone. I think the...

...government needs to step up andcontinue to step up for many years, not just in the heat of this moment. The,you know that we're there right now pushing incredibly hard for morefunding and you know, hopefully people will, our elected officials will doright by them and what they've done so far is nice, but it is, it is justscratching the surface and they need to continue with federal support untilrestaurants can actually make these changes. There are ways in which peopleare changing and moving the right direction, but they cannot do it andsustain that for very long. No, no. And I'm connected to a lot of independentrestaurants here in Cleveland and I just see the struggle every day, everyday, the closings and the readjustments and all of the challenges that theyface. So I want to go back to the book for just a second. Like you releasedthe book last year and now you're about to release the paperback. Um it almostfeels like they're being released in two different eras because we'rehopefully seeing some light at the end of the tunnel now. And how does thatfeel for you? It's nice. It's also I, you know, after the book, the book cameout in August of 2020, just feels like in the in the history of the worldthat's going to Yeah, I mean like it just feels like such a long lifetimeago and this is sort of a nice rebirth for for me personally, for the book, Ithink I think I feel to be really transparent, it felt not only like ahard time to release the book, but a hard time to really center myself inany conversation at all. So I felt I felt a really, really greatresponsibility to be quiet last year, both culturally publicly and for myself.I feel like I needed to give myself the permission to not be feverishly writingopinion pieces about anything, you know, And so everything sort of goteverything kind of stopped for me. I really just sort of hunkered. I think alot of us did. I think a lot of us just sort of tucked in, but what I did inthose in those months after, I really, you know, did I think, you know,penguin press and me and my, you know, my community and the readers,everyone to come to this book and support this book. And it was it wasreally beautiful experience, if not incredibly complicated um, in thatmoment, but you know, come january of this year, I was really ready to justtuck in and and center in in the walls of this house and the company of justthe three people that you know, that are my family and and I did that, I Igave myself that I gave myself time to read, to write irresponsibly, you know,just write whatever my heart desired, knowing I would never let it see thelight of day, just you know, practicing, you never know, my work was so you know,I uh this in this moment, you know, I think I had gotten so sort of tuckedinto that space that when the paper bags, I got 2 boxes of the paper bagsjust last week, it actually kind of was a surprise. I was like, I kind offorgot, I kind of forgot that this moment was, you know, coming. So it hasbeen, I feel I feel clearer, I feel way more contained I think, than I did InAugust of 2028's and I'm excited to talk about some of the parts of thebook that felt like the world was too complicated for last year or notcomplicated for just two. I'm not quite sure what the word is I'm lookingforward to. It was unfocused and I think you can really focus on somespecific things because it's full of so...

...many lessons that you've learned though,but they're so easily shared with others and people can relate to those.So that's one of the big celebrations of the book, in my opinion. It's reallyuniversal. Universal, could you share quickly what you're working on nextcouple of things? Yeah, I mean, I I've been sort of collecting some essays andsome, you know, trying to stay in the food narrative space just enough. Andalso, you know, I think I'm always perpetually trying to push what I'mallowed to do in the public arena and each work that I do and you know,eventually, you know what, I would love to be sort of moving into short storyspace and that kind of space. But right now I'm very comfortable in that foodnarrative space. And I'm working on just some pieces that I hope, you know,can land somewhere in the second book hopefully. And big focus for me iswriting some content for film. I'm really excited about. Really, I don't Iwill never option our lady, I don't think um even though I had fingerwagged at me for saying that publicly before, but you know, my personal storyis not something that I am willing to put out onto screen. I think that wouldbe a little bit too invasive for myself and my family. Um, but there areopportunities in those and our lady that I think afford me some space toreally film has always been something I love. You know, I'm really, I'm kind ofputting myself through my own graduate program of film study right now, since,you know, there's there's so much I'm getting to do right now, as a human, aslike a human, that's not a mother, not a wife, not a daughter, not anything,but as a, as my own personal self. I am, I really want to learn so much aboutfilm. I think that probably would have been a very easy assumption for me tomake at this point in my life, that if, you know, my life had been a littledifferent, I would have been working in um in film and I really, really, I mean,I just went to this Fellini Festival that the Belcourt find it was the firstthing that they did. The Belcourt is our local independent historic theaterin Nashville and it's beautiful and they had the smarts to do a FelliniFestival as their first sort of welcome to people coming back into the theater.And it was just the thing, it was just this beautiful, you know, circus oflove and passion and sadness and heartbreak. And it was all the thingsthat you wanted to feel, that you needed to feel them through the eyes of,you know, that wonderful actress. Oh my gosh, I can't think, I can't rememberher name at the moment, anyway, is beautiful and, and like being able tosort of have that other level of storytelling as in in that incrediblevisual space is something that I aspire to, and and I've got, you know,hopefully knock on wood, uh you know, maybe it will be something I'm doing inmy sixties, but I'm working my way sort of up to this, like, big picture ofwhat I want to try to, where I kind of want to see my words and I would loveto see my words on screen someday. That would be amazing. And like afterreading your story and all of the hard work and things that you and yourfamily put into this, it's great to see you being able to slow down and reallykind of take the time to think about it again, because you reinvented yourselfseveral times and I can't wait to see what comes next. Thank you. It's nice,it feels great. So, thank you so much for joining us, lisa I have. It's beeneven better than I imagined talking to you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it. Ihope we get to meet in person someday. Oh gosh, me too. Me too. I'd be allover but make sure that you go out everybody and grab the paperback of OurLady of Perpetual Hunger. It's amazing.

You're going to love it. There's lotsto talk about, but also follow lisa on twitter and instagram. It's amazing.She said she's a social media pro. So, so I'm excited to see what happens nextfor you lisa and thank you again for joining us. This is really fun. Mhm My next guest is Wayetu Moore 2 moreis the author of she would be king, which was released by Greywolf Press inSeptember 2018. Her memoir, The Dragons The Giant The Women, was also releasedwith Gray Wolf on June 2, 2020 and has just recently been released inpaperback. She is the recipient of the 2019 Lannan Literary Fellowship forFiction. Her first book, she would Be King, which was amazing. And if youhaven't read it you have to pick it up. It was named a Best Book of 2018 byPublishers Weekly Booklist, Entertainment Weekly and Buzzfeed. Itwas also selected as Sarah, Jessica Parker Book Club selection and a baby aBuzz panel book, a number one indie Next pick and a finalist for theHurston Wright Award. The Dragons The Giant the Women was a 2020 new yorktimes, Notable Book Time magazine, 10 best nonfiction books of 2020publishers, weekly, Top five nonfiction book of 2020 and long listed for the L.A. Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence and Nonfiction and the finalist for theNational Book Critics Circle Award. In addition, Moore is the founder of OneMoore Book, a nonprofit organization that creates and distributes culturallyrelevant book for underrepresented readers. Her writing can be found inthe new york Times, the paris review Free as magazine, Guernica, theatlantic magazine and other publications. She's been featured inthe economist magazine, NPR and Vogue magazine, among others for her work andadvocacy for diverse Children's literature. She is a graduate of HowardUniversity, University of southern California and Columbia University. Shelives in new york and after all that, I can't believe how honored we are tohave our guest here. Today we get two more. Welcome. Thank you so much forthe gracious introduction please. Please. It always feels strange hearingand I have to admit it does, it does still feel strange because when you'rein the midst of it and working towards something, I guess I don't stop as muchas I should just be grateful that those things that I wanted for so long werehave materialized, have materialized and gratefully. So and they keep going.I know it's still going, yep, I think it's great. So, your book, just out inpaperback is gorgeous from beginning to end, its it's not of course, an easystory to read, but there's a lot of hope in it and there's a lot of, a lotof yourself that you kind of like layout on the page. So, can you telleverybody just an overview of the memoir? Sure, so I am, I'm Liberia. AndI was born in Liberia. My family moved to the United States when I was fiveyears old And we moved because of the circumstances of the first civil war atthe time, which started in 1989, when the war began. My mother was actuallyalready in America. She was a full ride at Columbia and we lost touch with herbecause we had to escape our home and through a series of really dynamic anddivine events. She was able to find out where we were hiding and went to returnto the west coast of Africa to get us out. And the book explores or recoversour escape from Liberia and the circumstances that led to us moving toAmerica, as well as my formative years...

...in the United States and myexplorations, personal explorations of identity as a black woman in America.That's very well said, very well said, this is quite a powerful story. So whyis it important for it to be a memoir? And you could have easily createdanother book of fiction. You know, I every time that I my my novel came outbefore my memoir, and every time that I went on tour or or had a conversationabout my novel, I felt that I would get questions about my personal background.I do think that with people who assume certain identities and have certainbackgrounds, your back story is just a part of the dialogue around yourcreativity and the dialogue around your art and my family. It is anything thatbothered me or offended me because my family, I feel like we had beenexplaining where we were from for so long being Liberians in a town likespring texas, which was at the time, or you're white, very conservative, veryhomogeneous. And so we even would call it the war story and over dinner, ifwe're talking and we're talking about someone who we met or a long friendshipor or just examining the intimacy that we have outside of our family withsomeone, it wasn't rare that the question would be asked. Well, do theyknow the war story? So we we have labeled it ourselves. And so it was apart of of my understanding of of my family's identity here, and certainlymy identity, even though it wasn't something that we discussed muchoutside of the home until my adulthood when I, when I became an artist,started writing, and so much of what people wanted to talk about was themore sensational aspects of my upbringing. And so I had been workedwriting some version of this book for for for my entire life, I would say. And itjust so happens that it culminated when I Returned to Liberia after 25 years ofbeing away and I knew that I wanted to package it, put it together and shareit because in addition to my creative writing, I did write quite a few essays,uh, maybe like five or six years ago, I would go home really interviewdifferent people in Liberia. And I did a series of interviews with formerchild soldiers because I was always interested in the woman who played arole in our escape from Liberia and stories around child soldiers. Anythingthat features child soldiers, they heavily center around the young boysand the men who were involved in and not the women who were involved inthese conflicts. And so as part of my journalism, that was definitely aproject that I believed in. And I wanted to make a home for the storiesof these women through the one individual who helped my family. Thatand it's just glaringly enlightening if that's the right word to read aboutthat. Because being, you know, never having never lived anywhere, but in theStates, I don't know a lot of what goes on and we only know what we're fed andwhat we hear. And so it's so wonderful to hear the story of the bravery of theyoung women and the women soldiers that were there. Do you mind just going backa second and let people have an overview of what the conflict was about?Because a lot of us were never taught. Yeah, I know, I know. And a lot ofLiberians even there's like some misunderstanding, because there is areally, there's a tendency to tell Liberia's history in the binary, likeit's the settlers versus the native settlers versus the native and thecountry's history and story and...

...trajectory is just so much more dynamicand complex than that. The war in the two warring factions were actually twogroups that were from two groups that had been fighting for centuries. Thesettler dynamic was mixed in there somehow. But essentially, the SamuelDoe was the president of Liberia at the time. He was from the Krahn ethnicgroup. The individuals who felt that they could perhaps become betterpresident or better presidents are better leaders for the country, mainlyPrince johnson Charles taylor was in there as well. They were not onlykilling government soldiers and trying to take over the executive mansion atthe time and kill Samuel Doe, but they were killing all Cron people. And sothose who were part of the rebel factions, a large number of them orfrom the man, Dingo ethnic groups. And so the Mandigo ethnic groups were alsobeing killed, the Geo ethnic groups. And so I think what happens in thetelling of the story, we sort of, we go to our basic understanding ofstorytelling, good versus evil, which is in the binary, but a lot of theseconflicts specifically in that region, There are a lot of times, you know,dozens of ethnic groups that you have micro and macro situations and elementsto it. And that, that was definitely the case with Liberia. And so you havepeople who were obviously tired of being ignored for a very long time.Those frustrations were, were part of the conflict as well. But theoverwhelming majority of what was going on, we're was that you have groups whowere armed and once they were able to get arms, they went after whomever theyhad conflicts with. And that dates back for hundreds and hundreds and hundredsof years. That's a lot of what was going on. People were fighting forpower and each group was fighting for power and the way that I actuallyexplain it to a lot of people When I get asked the question specifically,even when I'm teaching in um topics of africa and studies is, well, why arethese ethnic groups in that region are, are on the continent always fighting?And I say, okay, so what if someone comes some, some dominant power comesover to the United States and they draw a vertical law or a vertical circle andit's, it has parts of the midwest, parts of the american, south, parts ofCentral Canada and parts of Central Mexico. And they say, you're a country,right? What's going to happen as a function of that is you're going tohave all of these groups, all of us, you know, both those of us in America,those in Canada, those in Mexico. Trying to determine what's our officiallanguages french english or is it spanish And so they're going to fightover that, you know, who are we getting to represent us? The americans aregoing to want to get let go of our laws and the systems that we've been used to.So we're going to fight for that and we want to dominate and we want theCanadians and Mexicans to defer to our system of law. And the Canadians willdo the same and the Mexicans would do the same. That is largely what's goingon in those regions is you have these people that they didn't draw thoselines that determine their countries. This was driven at the conference inBelgium in 18 hundreds, You know, and so what happened as a function of thatis, you have so many countries, quote unquote countries of people of thesenations and these ethnic groups that consider ethnic groups that considerthemselves as they should their own nations. Because these are the nationsthat they've been honoring for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years allof a sudden say, okay now, I guess I guess we're calling ourselves Gannon,but Ghana has been around for maybe 100...

...years or so. Right? So you're alwaysgoing to prefer and privilege America in that context, right? Just as theCanadians would prefer and privilege Canada. Just as the Mexicans wouldprefer and privilege Mexico and you're going to continue fighting over everylittle thing because you want whatever is the most comfortable to you, themost familiar to you to be king and to be the chief of things. And that iswhat's going on. That's so perfectly said, perfectly said. And it just givesme the right picture. And that's one of the things your book did really wasmake me want to know more. And I hope everybody who has read it or it gets toread it. We'll do some digging and learn more because we we can never knowwhat's going on somewhere else. Uh, until we hear the stories from thepeople that lived it. Let's talk about the title, the title of the book. Let'sgive everybody a taste of what that means. Absolutely. So, I wanted to I'ma sucker for titles. I do, I do like a good title. So I definitely, when thebook was complete actually, I wanted to just honor what I felt the book wasabout because that's the main question, right? We always said, well what is itthey ask you, what would you say? It's about, what are the recurring themes?Um what are you trying to say is the question that we get asked quite a bit.And my answer in a lot of the conversations that I was havingactually with myself or a lot of my meditations was I want this book to beabout the people, Liberian people and the people in my life that have sogreatly contributed to where I am now and the joys that I was able toexperience as a child because I think something that people don't really knowis that when my family immigrated here when I was five years old and We movedaround for a few years, but we settled in Texas when I was eight and myparents worked so hard to give us what I would consider a pretty standardmiddle class upbringing in the suburbs of Houston. And that's not lost on me.I remain so grateful to my parents for for giving us an opportunity at a lifethat was so full and rewarding and beautiful and so I wanted to honor them.You know the giant is my dad, the women. My mother is one of the women. Theother woman is sata who is the rebel soldier who actually trafficked myfamily across the Liberian border into Sierra Leone where my mother waswaiting. And then the dragons, although it's on the negative end of thatspectrum, the dragons were the dragon is power, right man's thirst and andgreed for power. And the dragon is always also love love that is uh thatcan somehow go wrong but also have a silver lining because it was actuallyreally horrible breakup that led to my my initial return to Liberia afterbeing away for almost three decades. So it was it's the exploration of thosethree things and I definitely wanted to to make sure that they were a part ofthe title and a part of the readers introduction to the book. I wanted tomake sure it was in the title. It's really powerful to I thought, I thoughtin the beginning when you mentioned that the soldiers and the fighters inLiberia where the dragons, I thought, okay, well that's the dragons of thetitle. But as the book goes on, you know, that there's so many others thatfall into that category. And especially uh, the women in the book, I'd like thewomen in the book are just so, so much...

...a part of you, but also so much part ofthe reader and we can relate to them and we think about people in our ownlives that are are are that for us. But what is your family thought about thebook? They must be they must feel honored by it. Yeah. So I I love thisquestion because so my, my family, my family is a type of family where I will,I would, I was in a drama and debate in high school and you know, I would comehome with all these trophies and my parents. So that's good. That's good,go do the dishes. So just largely unimpressed with anything that I do. Soso in more fashion. I, they knew that I was working on a memoir and you know, Iwas working on a book, knew that I was working on a book about like the warstory, going back to what I said at the beginning. And so it was like, theywere though, that's good. That's good. So what did you eat today type of thing?Right. And so and that's I'm grateful for that because what it does is itallowed me it gives me an opportunity to keep that first draft sacred, whichI I think it's important in memoir because obviously memories so so fickle.Um, and I wanted the first draft to be as true as possible to my understandingof our life before America. Right? And, and that's not saying that obviouslyare, our memories are impacted by things that we've heard inconversations we've we might have experienced or overheard and thingsthat we are somehow adjacent to or that are in the periphery. Right? So ourmemories are affected by by things that we absorb over time. But I knew that ifthe story was going to be true to me and true to my understanding that thatfirst draft had to remain sacred. So after I wrote the first draft, I didthen go to the moors and say it And does anyone want to read this? Andobviously some of them are like, well just wait until it comes out. Mybrothers, my older sister, even my parents to some extent. My youngersister read it and she, there was only one instance where she said, oh wellthat's I and I and I'll talk about it actually. So there is she, she gotreally sick when we were in hiding and my dad had to he left the village andwent into the city to find antibiotics. And my my my my understanding of thesituation was that dad went and got the antibiotics and the antibiotics savedher life. It was him going out and risking his life that saved her life.Whereas her understanding of what had happened and what she says is the basisof her faith is that it was prayers that saved her, right? Yeah. It wasprayers. It had nothing to do with medicine that we were just in themiddle of nowhere and all these people were praying. You know, people in thevillage, they had tried to bathe her in a certain type of leaf that theythought would lower her fever, different things like that. They said,you know, she, so she told me, hey, I really, this is important to me. Myunderstanding of what happened was that i, it was prayers, it wasn't medicineand that's important that that's in the book. So then we went to, I was like,well it's not gonna be in the book. Cause that's my, it's my understandingof what happened when we did. We went to my dad and obviously this is anamicably because my sister, my siblings, my family members are my best friends.So there was no tension or anything. It was just like, let's go to dad and seewhat he says. And he said that he did leave to get antibiotics. But by thetime that he returned, she was already recovering. She was already a littlebetter before she was able to get the antibiotic uh before they administeredthe antibiotics. And so which of those are the truth, right? Aren't all ofthose, like a bit of the truth. And so we were we were actually at at animpasse of okay, which version of this? And that was the only instance in thebook where this had happened. And so we...

...talked about it and I and I think wehad settled on him going and then it sort of stops stops there. Or there's areference to her already beginning to recover just to be true to herunderstanding as well and trying to exercise generosity in that way. Butsituations like that if I were to I think if there weren't because I thinkalso what contributes to that is we all had an understanding of what happenedand as I told you, like we refer to it as the war story and I feel like if wedidn't, It would be the opposite. I would have 50 instances of antibioticgate, you know, But that was that wasn't the case. And I think that'slike but there to answer your question, they are and have always been sosupportive and understanding and wanting to and giving me the freedom toexplore my art and my truth in my way. And so I'm grateful for them that'sspoken like a true artist. Very, very good. One of the things that I tookfrom this too is like, again, I say, I I've never lived any in any othercountry, but it's so amazing to see your journey to become a migrant inthis country and see what it's like from different perspectives because forme it's like seeing you come and for you, it's what it's going, what is itlike to enter into a new country and basically straddle cultures. So theentry, I can't say that I I fully remember beyond just the shock ofseeing snow on the ground. And it's like I I remember more clearly thetraumas of of the of the war and everything that was experienced thereand then we came here and in my memory then sort of existing like thesevineyards of being in the dorm room, seeing snow, seeing a lot of whitepeople for the first time and that kind of being shocking as well. You know, Ithink that there was, we definitely had the sensibility of people who thoughtthe world of America right, because I remember even when we were younger theywould say, oh you know, they have, everybody has a butler over there, evena three year old has their own personal butler and you know, you some of thestreets, they're they're gold, their stars on the, on the streets. Andobviously these are all from stories of like you think about like the Hollywoodwalk of fame. So somebody went over there and said, oh yeah, they have thisHollywood rocker families, you have the stars with the celebrities. They werelike, wow on the roads, you know, So we came over here with that understandingof our new home and we're all the sound of music and the sound of music and allthese, all the great films and opportunity and ability of the abilityto live out our dreams. And to be fair in large part we might. My family hasbeen able to do a lot of that. But when that feeling began to linger, when it,when it felt like it was dwindling a bit, it was because of ourconfrontations with, with racism in the south where we realize that differentimmigrant groups have different relationships with America. While allof them come here with, uh, this idea like this is the land of the free, Thisis the land of opportunity. You can do anything here. You do tend to deviatefrom that perspective and from that understanding of America based on yourrace, your race and and how your race functions in your experiences in yourrelationship with your new country. That is so spot on. And it actually thenext thing I wanted to ask about, there's a scene in the book that was sodisturbing with you and your siblings and some friends going to buy somecandy in a store. Do you mind kind of...

...talking about that a little bit? And Ithink that kind of says a lot about how racist America can be. Yeah. So thefirst and only time thank God that I that I was called the N. Word. I waswith a group of friends after track practice and we were at a corner storeand there were a couple of men there. I think that my sister's friends weretaken too long in the aisles. And and so my sister they got mad and theystarted yelling at the store clerk and he chased us all out of the store andwe he yelled the N. Word and we ran away. And my sister's friends, myfriends as well. We're just crying and sobbing. And I recognize that I was not,I was not sobbing or crying yet. Just because it was my introduction to this,this level, this genre of hatred, right? Whereas with them with a lot of ourfriends, this is something that they were used to and their parents wereused when their grandparents were used to, right? And you know, I think aboutthat a lot when I'm when I'm raised and now having a daughter myself because Iknow that there's an understanding of America of myself of race that I didnot inherit from my parents because they did come here as immigrants andthey were introduced to racism in the same way that I was. And then theymoved back. They've been lived in Liberia For like 11 years now, almost12 years. And so in raising my daughter thinking about what she will inheritfrom me in terms of my understanding of my place in this country, my race, mygender. And so that's been a constant meditation and thought over over thepast five months. Absolutely. And I think what you'll have is a greatwealth of knowledge to impart on her. And hopefully that will help and stilla lot of the same values in her that you kind of hard fought to win foryourself. Yeah, I hope so. So, let's talk about one more book. Can you tellpeople about it a little bit and how they can learn more? Sure. So, in 2011,I was I was trying to write and get representation so that I could bepublished. And I kept on meeting people who wanted me to actually publish themy memoir or my personal history before my novel, because they we're trying toconvince me that the way the literary industry works, it would be better if Ipackaged this identity, because obviously it's a sensational story,very dramatic and wanted me to lead with my identity, which I found veryalienating. And unfortunately, because I said, oh, I actually I have I have anovel that I've been working on, um and that's what I want to focus on. I don'twant to enter the literary industry with this very harrowing dramatic story,because I don't want that, you know, sort of attached to my art are attachedto my career as, like, the reason that my career came out, and I had all thesereasons that somewhere some made sense. I'm actually didn't. So I was dealingwith some of the frustrations with the expectation bias that exists within ourindustry. And I called up my younger sister who is a painter and I asked herif she would be interested in collaborating on a book with me. Andshe said yes and she the book was J is for Jill If Rice, is that what I namedit? I said you know if I'm going through some of these frustrations whenit comes to representation and books obviously Children are. I had also donea lot of non profit work and but while I was in college and I worked for anonprofit that would go into D. C. Public schools and give literacyworkshops to 4th 5th 6th graders who could not read could not read a word.And I found that when I took books to...

...these kids that they could relate tobooks that more representative of their cultures, we would even write storiestogether. Then it had a direct impact on their relationship with literatureand their interest was piqued and, and they performed. And that stayed with me.So I really, I was drawn to, um, my work with with the nonprofit everybodywins. And um, it was also inspired by my own experiences within the industry.So my sister collaborate, collaborate with me on a book. And I knew that I'mnot a Children's book writer. Um, and so I used a few books. I wrote a fewbooks that's kind of like a pilot series. And I um, use those to presentto writers and illustrators who I respect from different countries that Iwanted to feature. So the goal is to write and distribute literature or thegold was at the inception, right? And distribute literature that featuredChildren who rarely see themselves in literature. And so we have a portfolioof of almost 30 books featuring Liberia and Guinea and Haiti. We have an afroBrazilian book and we have partnered with writers and illustrators fromthese countries who I I greatly respect. We one more book no longer publishes.Um, we are, our books are archived. What I actually began to focus on acouple of years ago is working with ministries of education within thecountries that we are featured in and primarily Liberia on curriculumdevelopment. So consulting for curriculum development. So to ensurethat the policies reflect cultural sensitivity and cultural relevancy inChildren's books and Children's literature, Children's curriculumwithin the public schools. And and that is really the focus of the nonprofitnow. That's amazing. And what a way to give back. I think when you said thatChildren weren't seeing themselves in literature is just one of the tragediesof, of all of these years, I speak to so many writers who have never seenthemselves in a book until they're adults. You know, they were they werereading nancy Drew and the hardy boys and they didn't really represent whothey were. Yeah. I mean I had a conversation with a friend of mine theother day about this. She's a writer and she's contributing to a projectpretty well known. But but we were we were talking about the american girlseries and how we were, you know, reading babysitters club and goosebumps and they said obviously american girl was maybe a few years before thatthat we were reading it. But the only little black american girl was a slaveand her narrative. Yes, yes. And her narrative was one that was was waspretty depressing. And so we were talking about, you know, if you had anopportunity to write an american girl, what would you write? And it was just areally great conversation when it comes to. So if you're if you're looking atrepresentation and you're you're a young girl and you're thinking, okay,well how who am I what do I think of myself? What do I know of myself? And Ithink something that's very important that I talk to my students about isthat black history black american history did not begin at slavery, right?Like these are people from rich, rich cultures coming over and black americanculture itself is very rich outside of slavery, right? But even that isn'treally represented in and some of the literature that's being consumed. Andso so yeah, there's a long way to go. And then all the mess is happening intexas, right? Because that's another podcast around and I have a millionthings to talk. Okay, okay, we'll have to do a follow up on this. Okay, sothank you so much. Why are two for...

...joining me? You know, I look forward tothis for so long and I hope it's just the first of many. Thank you so much,Ron. Thank you for your time and for having me for your support of my work.You've just been such a great advocate and I appreciate it. Oh well the workspeaks for itself, so it's very easy to promote and talk about. So best of luckwith the paperback and with everything else going on in your life. Thank you.I want to thank my guest, lisa Donovan. Why are two more for joining me on theFriends and fiction podcast? I hope you've enjoyed these conversations asmuch as I have. It's been amazing and I hope that you will be sure and tell afriend. Thank you for listening and we'll see you next week on Friends andFiction Writer's Block podcast. Thank you for tuning in to Friends andFiction Writer's Block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and reviewon your favorite podcast platform, tune in every friday for another episode.And you can also join us every week on facebook or Youtube Where you can seeour live friends and fiction show that airs at seven p.m. eastern standardtime. We are so glad you're here.

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