Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 9 · 1 year 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, the response has been powerfully strong with the women that I have included in the story and both positive and negative ways. I think there's a generation of women that don't quite understand that I was doing my damnedest to provide their story space in my story. Mm Welcome to the Friends and Fiction Writer's Block podcast. Five new york times, bestselling authors, one rock star librarian and endless stories joined mary Kay andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry Mary, Alice Munro and Ron Block as novelists. We are five longtime friends with 85 books between us. I am Ron Block. I am so glad you've joined us for fascinating author interviews along with insider. Talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Welcome to a new episode of Friends and Fiction Writer's Block podcast. I'm Ron Block and I cannot tell you how excited we are to present this particular episode not only to talk about memoir, but to really dive into two highly regarded examples written by two of the most fascinating and talented writers out there, lisa Donovan and way into more first, what is the memoir as Jessica Dukes from Saladin books? Writes the memoir genre satisfies two of our most human desires to be known and to know others. A memoir is a narrative written from the perspective of the author about an important part of their life. I'm going to add though, that there's so much more than that our guests today epitomize the pinnacle of what a memoir can be. They're relatable, they're important, they're honest, they're beautifully written and extremely relevant and I am so honored to 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, a memoir which is out in paperback on august the third lisa is a James Beard award winning writer who has redefined what it means to be a southern baker as the pastry chef to some of the south's most influential chefs. She's been formative in developing writing and establishing a technique driven and historically rich narrative of traditional southern pastry. Donovan is a regular contributor to food and wine and she has been a featured speaker at Renee Red Zepce, globally renowned mad symposium. Her work has appeared in the Washington post Eater lit hub and saveur Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is her first book, lisa welcome, thanks Ron I'm so glad to be here, I'm so happy to have you here. Your book is so powerful and so personal. What drove you to tell the story and your story specifically? Um thank you first, you know, I think the timing was right for me personally, I think I was sort of getting to a phase in my writing career where I wanted to finally be able to sort of cross a threshold from writing personal stories about the ways in which I bake and cook to personal stories about my life in general, which have many, many iterations of, if you've read the book, you know, there are different, very, very many different chapters of my life that I think 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 myself permission to write about anything else. It was sort of the every time I sat down to write these were the stories that we're sitting there needing to be written for me personally. And it just...

...so happened that at the same time the world was changing, ready for providing those stories about really personal stories of women, the world was finally ready to provide an actual paying space for that, you know, an actual platform for women too, make their work out of writing these stories. And so I took that opportunity and I, you know, what I 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 try my best to establish my goals as a writer, meaning, you know, trying to sort of make this a little less about being chef lisa Donovan and more about this being writer, lisa Donovan. So those were sort of my personal reasons for this happening now, and I felt like I needed to address a lot of these stories before I finally moved into writing as a full time experience for myself. And if that was your goal man, it came across in flying colors, I'm telling you. I think one of the aspects of it is, it turns out that it's not quite just your story, but it's a story of many, many women in the culinary industry and the hospitality industry. What has been their reaction to you telling this story? Oh, interesting. It's been on some in some ways, I think it's done the work that I meant to do, which was to provide, you know, I think my goal all along has has been to provide a space for like the tedious parts of women's life that don't often get told the ways in which we work the ways in which so my goal with this was to really provide a platform to tell women'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 build lives, 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 really strong and really positive. It was it was tricky, you know, there was a lot of personal things about me and my mother, for instance, that regardless of 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 different experience hearing, I think someone say things to you over the history of a long relationship versus being in print. And so there was a lot of those sorts of hard, complicated conversations to have about the ways in which maybe we weren't communicating our best and then outside of my family, the response has been powerfully strong with, you know, the women that I have included in the story um, in both positive and negative ways. I think there's a generation of women that don't quite understand that I was doing my damndest to to provide their story space in my story. And that's been a little painful. There have been a couple of women who I've spoken about in the book that have not responded well, even though, you know, I spent uh yeah, it's really interesting. And and the only thing I can sort of, I've definitely spent some time thinking about it over the past year of like, memoir, such a personally invasive thing for other people. And so that has sort of been, my takeaway is just trying to hold the kind of space for them in that I think overexposed feeling 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 comes out and the paperback comes out. I feel like I'm a totally different person talking about this book at this point. It's really interesting. But I will say the response from women in general...

...readers especially has been magnificently overwhelming. And to know that this is resonated with even just one woman is um is really spectacular as a writer. And you hope that you can just sort of make any kind of impact on anybody and make that kind of connection with someone. Uh and this has been a way to connect with a significant amount of women, which, you know, nothing nothing feels better than when I get an email from a mother and daughter team, that this has been a shared experience for them because that was a really unintentional goal of mine. I think now I realize how important these conversations are between women of a certain generation and my generation especially. Well hopefully it's also a conversation starter for the people that are kind of running the industry because that seems to be where that the changes really do need to happen and much like Kwamie Onwachi's book when he talked about the racial disparity that I pair these two together to kind of be a almost like a chalkboard of like what to do going forward. Yeah, hopefully, hopefully, yes. Um so deciding to bare it all as you did is really a brave decision and I know that your family is really important to you. So how did you kind 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. Maggie Donovan, I love it. Yeah. I never know if that's going to translate outside of the south. But then the south, when you really love somebody, you say their full name, it's a sign of respect in the south. Yeah. It's interesting my Children 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 young adult now. And I think I was uh you know, the interesting thing about the four of us, my husband and my two Children is that we, you know, we've built 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 that we do here, everything is centered from this place for all four of us. And it's a really powerful, it's a really powerful feeling to know that we're all kind of communicating even when words aren't being spoken sometimes. And I feel really proud of that. I feel like, you know, I can't take most of the credit for that. I think that's just a conglomeration of the four of our personalities feeling really strong together. And so they've, you know, they've never been separate from my work. And so when all of these things started to unfold in the book deals were being talked about and the memoir was being talked about and then the memoir was being written, it was I think the center of our life changed so much that they became very much a part of that process, even in the periphery of this project, because it was deeply private for me, they were still engaged in caretaking of me. And so they became part of the process of me getting this incredibly, you know, heavy load out onto page. And so we did sit and talk. But they were so much a part of it that I think I could feel, I could feel when I was crossing boundaries for my own life because we all uh I think share the same boundaries and are of the four of us, you know, and um and I knew one of my best friends whose, you know, The closest person, one of the closest people to the four of us, she's over here, you know, all of the time bringing the herbs, she celebrated the opening with me. She's just part of our family. She said to me, you know, my favorite thing about the book because I've known her for coming up on 20 years now. It's my favorite thing about...

...the book. It's the things you didn't tell because she said the things that I know that you that you saved that you protected is really important. And that was a really important thing for me to hear because I was very protective of the people that I wrote about. Really protective. And I did, I did I think more work making certain that I protected the parts of them that you know, I think a good example is there was so much about my son's prehistory of his life that I was really aware that it wasn't going to serve him for me to really bring him into the labor of the rest of the book. And I and I know him well enough to know that he needed that space after sort of having this amount of his prehistory included. And so I I really tried to make measures of being truthful with protecting 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. I think there they they haven't wholly committed. I think, you know, it's a lot to know everything about your mom or or most things about your mom all at once. Right. I think most of us have the most of us have the benefit of learning. 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 me some 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 like they could cash in and tell everything about everybody, but you really just focused on yourself and you did protect people. So appreciate that it was just a priority for me. And I there when when when things would kick up. I really with people who were included in the book and they may be felt like something wasn't fair towards them. I I spent a lot of time really ruminating on that thinking, well here are the ways in which I experienced that and it really does become sort of a game of acknowledging at any point in in the process of this that, you know, my experience is going to be different than maybe the way someone, especially someone who is in power over me at the time, my experience that so it became became an interesting sort of sociological lesson for me as well. Yes. Yes. But of course not everybody was fully spared from your writing. I think you you talked pretty openly about some of 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 of expose sort of effect of this book. What I really wanted to communicate was the difficulty of a woman who happens to be a mother and a wife and raising a family and the near impossibility of working in the restaurant industry as a livelihood and all of the layers of that, you know, you know, the misogyny is 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 really interesting to see the ways in which people come back from this. I think that you know, a lot of great chefs who have done their best buy, their employees are even today, still having a hard time finding staff, because I think, I think people are done working for less than the job requires and you know, you miss out on a lot of passion...

...and talent and skill because this job cannot support, you know, basically it becomes it becomes it becomes a much bigger conversation than my own experience, but I think if you add enough of these small stories of how impossible it is for most working class people to survive even in a two income household in this country at this point with 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 was addressing the restaurant culture and then the final level of that is really addressing the ways in which american culture doesn't support the middle class at all anymore. And it's a real, real hardship to be in this country and try 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 I both trying to stay the course of being the people we are, which is a writer and a sculptor. We were very dedicated to those end goals. We weren't forsaking work because we were too good for it. You know, we were never turning away work because we were a writer, we were saying yes to everything, and oftentimes myself in particular creating work for myself, creating opportunities to try to make money to try to make something work. And so, you know, I think there's a bigger conversation here that I really want to address about how difficult it has been for 20 years and how impossible. I think it's becoming to finance, manage and run a household where, I mean, we just have two Children, were very nuclear, were very basic. We don't, you know, we live in a very modest home, we live in, you know, now our city is getting more expensive if we didn't. I mean, if we did not have the ability and the gift of this book was that we finally could sort of have a little bit of a moment where we weren't just playing catch up financially. If we had not purchased a home Seven years ago, we would have had to have left Nashville 10 times over by now. You know, if we were still renting, if we were still we wouldn't it's not sustainable, this culture for a family of four. So, you know, we don't have a trust fund that we're pulling from or you 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 that people just want to stay home and collect more unemployment right now is a little disingenuous because it's really about the work that they did and how they were treated. And I hear that story over and over again and I hope that that becomes a bigger part of the conversation in the country. Same, it's it's incredibly frustrating to hear people say, I have heard people I love say that, you know, dismissively say, you know, well no one wants to, you know, 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 this one moment of trying to get people, you know back on the on the on the line as it were, you know. Right, right. I think things need to change. It's an opportunity that I hope we don't blow well. Do you have thoughts about the future of restaurants? Like what would you recommend? No, I don't I can't even pretend to know. I mean, you know I have a pie in the sky like optimism about it. I think that um I know that chefs are by and large, the most industrious, hardworking and hopeful people that I've ever met in my life. I know if anyone can do it, they can do it. I know that it is a large burden for them to be doing alone. I think the...

...government needs to step up and continue 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 more funding and you know, hopefully people will, our elected officials will do right by them and what they've done so far is nice, but it is, it is just scratching the surface and they need to continue with federal support until restaurants can actually make these changes. There are ways in which people are changing and moving the right direction, but they cannot do it and sustain that for very long. No, no. And I'm connected to a lot of independent restaurants here in Cleveland and I just see the struggle every day, every day, the closings and the readjustments and all of the challenges that they face. So I want to go back to the book for just a second. Like you released the book last year and now you're about to release the paperback. Um it almost feels like they're being released in two different eras because we're hopefully seeing some light at the end of the tunnel now. And how does that feel for you? It's nice. It's also I, you know, after the book, the book came out in August of 2020, just feels like in the in the history of the world that's going to Yeah, I mean like it just feels like such a long lifetime ago and this is sort of a nice rebirth for for me personally, for the book, I think I think I feel to be really transparent, it felt not only like a hard time to release the book, but a hard time to really center myself in any conversation at all. So I felt I felt a really, really great responsibility 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 writing opinion pieces about anything, you know, And so everything sort of got everything kind of stopped for me. I really just sort of hunkered. I think a lot of us did. I think a lot of us just sort of tucked in, but what I did in those 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 was really beautiful experience, if not incredibly complicated um, in that moment, but you know, come january of this year, I was really ready to just tuck in and and center in in the walls of this house and the company of just the three people that you know, that are my family and and I did that, I I gave 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 the light 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 tucked into that space that when the paper bags, I got 2 boxes of the paper bags just last week, it actually kind of was a surprise. I was like, I kind of forgot, I kind of forgot that this moment was, you know, coming. So it has been, I feel I feel clearer, I feel way more contained I think, than I did In August of 2028's and I'm excited to talk about some of the parts of the book that felt like the world was too complicated for last year or not complicated for just two. I'm not quite sure what the word is I'm looking forward to. It was unfocused and I think you can really focus on some specific 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 really universal. Universal, could you share quickly what you're working on next couple of things? Yeah, I mean, I I've been sort of collecting some essays and some, you know, trying to stay in the food narrative space just enough. And also, you know, I think I'm always perpetually trying to push what I'm allowed 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 story space and that kind of space. But right now I'm very comfortable in that food narrative 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 is writing some content for film. I'm really excited about. Really, I don't I will never option our lady, I don't think um even though I had finger wagged at me for saying that publicly before, but you know, my personal story is not something that I am willing to put out onto screen. I think that would be a little bit too invasive for myself and my family. Um, but there are opportunities in those and our lady that I think afford me some space to really film has always been something I love. You know, I'm really, I'm kind of putting 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, as like 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 about film. I think that probably would have been a very easy assumption for me to make at this point in my life, that if, you know, my life had been a little different, 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 first thing that they did. The Belcourt is our local independent historic theater in Nashville and it's beautiful and they had the smarts to do a Fellini Festival 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 of love and passion and sadness and heartbreak. And it was all the things that 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 remember her name at the moment, anyway, is beautiful and, and like being able to sort of have that other level of storytelling as in in that incredible visual 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 in my sixties, but I'm working my way sort of up to this, like, big picture of what I want to try to, where I kind of want to see my words and I would love to see my words on screen someday. That would be amazing. And like after reading your story and all of the hard work and things that you and your family put into this, it's great to see you being able to slow down and really kind of take the time to think about it again, because you reinvented yourself several 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 been even better than I imagined talking to you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it. I hope we get to meet in person someday. Oh gosh, me too. Me too. I'd be all over but make sure that you go out everybody and grab the paperback of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger. It's amazing.

You're going to love it. There's lots to 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 next for you lisa and thank you again for joining us. This is really fun. Mhm My next guest is Wayetu Moore 2 more is the author of she would be king, which was released by Greywolf Press in September 2018. Her memoir, The Dragons The Giant The Women, was also released with Gray Wolf on June 2, 2020 and has just recently been released in paperback. She is the recipient of the 2019 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction. Her first book, she would Be King, which was amazing. And if you haven't read it you have to pick it up. It was named a Best Book of 2018 by Publishers Weekly Booklist, Entertainment Weekly and Buzzfeed. It was also selected as Sarah, Jessica Parker Book Club selection and a baby a Buzz panel book, a number one indie Next pick and a finalist for the Hurston Wright Award. The Dragons The Giant the Women was a 2020 new york times, Notable Book Time magazine, 10 best nonfiction books of 2020 publishers, 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 the National Book Critics Circle Award. In addition, Moore is the founder of One Moore Book, a nonprofit organization that creates and distributes culturally relevant book for underrepresented readers. Her writing can be found in the new york Times, the paris review Free as magazine, Guernica, the atlantic magazine and other publications. She's been featured in the economist magazine, NPR and Vogue magazine, among others for her work and advocacy for diverse Children's literature. She is a graduate of Howard University, University of southern California and Columbia University. She lives in new york and after all that, I can't believe how honored we are to have our guest here. Today we get two more. Welcome. Thank you so much for the gracious introduction please. Please. It always feels strange hearing and I have to admit it does, it does still feel strange because when you're in the midst of it and working towards something, I guess I don't stop as much as I should just be grateful that those things that I wanted for so long were have 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 in paperback is gorgeous from beginning to end, its it's not of course, an easy story to read, but there's a lot of hope in it and there's a lot of, a lot of yourself that you kind of like layout on the page. So, can you tell everybody just an overview of the memoir? Sure, so I am, I'm Liberia. And I was born in Liberia. My family moved to the United States when I was five years old And we moved because of the circumstances of the first civil war at the time, which started in 1989, when the war began. My mother was actually already in America. She was a full ride at Columbia and we lost touch with her because we had to escape our home and through a series of really dynamic and divine events. She was able to find out where we were hiding and went to return to the west coast of Africa to get us out. And the book explores or recovers our escape from Liberia and the circumstances that led to us moving to America, as well as my formative years...

...in the United States and my explorations, 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 why is it important for it to be a memoir? And you could have easily created another book of fiction. You know, I every time that I my my novel came out before my memoir, and every time that I went on tour or or had a conversation about 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 certain backgrounds, your back story is just a part of the dialogue around your creativity and the dialogue around your art and my family. It is anything that bothered me or offended me because my family, I feel like we had been explaining where we were from for so long being Liberians in a town like spring texas, which was at the time, or you're white, very conservative, very homogeneous. And so we even would call it the war story and over dinner, if we're talking and we're talking about someone who we met or a long friendship or or just examining the intimacy that we have outside of our family with someone, it wasn't rare that the question would be asked. Well, do they know the war story? So we we have labeled it ourselves. And so it was a part of of my understanding of of my family's identity here, and certainly my identity, even though it wasn't something that we discussed much outside 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 the more sensational aspects of my upbringing. And so I had been worked writing some version of this book for for for my entire life, I would say. And it just so happens that it culminated when I Returned to Liberia after 25 years of being away and I knew that I wanted to package it, put it together and share it 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 interview different people in Liberia. And I did a series of interviews with former child soldiers because I was always interested in the woman who played a role in our escape from Liberia and stories around child soldiers. Anything that features child soldiers, they heavily center around the young boys and the men who were involved in and not the women who were involved in these conflicts. And so as part of my journalism, that was definitely a project that I believed in. And I wanted to make a home for the stories of these women through the one individual who helped my family. That and it's just glaringly enlightening if that's the right word to read about that. Because being, you know, never having never lived anywhere, but in the States, I don't know a lot of what goes on and we only know what we're fed and what we hear. And so it's so wonderful to hear the story of the bravery of the young women and the women soldiers that were there. Do you mind just going back a 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 of Liberians even there's like some misunderstanding, because there is a really, there's a tendency to tell Liberia's history in the binary, like it's the settlers versus the native settlers versus the native and the country's history and story and...

...trajectory is just so much more dynamic and complex than that. The war in the two warring factions were actually two groups that were from two groups that had been fighting for centuries. The settler dynamic was mixed in there somehow. But essentially, the Samuel Doe was the president of Liberia at the time. He was from the Krahn ethnic group. The individuals who felt that they could perhaps become better president or better presidents are better leaders for the country, mainly Prince johnson Charles taylor was in there as well. They were not only killing government soldiers and trying to take over the executive mansion at the time and kill Samuel Doe, but they were killing all Cron people. And so those who were part of the rebel factions, a large number of them or from the man, Dingo ethnic groups. And so the Mandigo ethnic groups were also being killed, the Geo ethnic groups. And so I think what happens in the telling of the story, we sort of, we go to our basic understanding of storytelling, good versus evil, which is in the binary, but a lot of these conflicts specifically in that region, There are a lot of times, you know, dozens of ethnic groups that you have micro and macro situations and elements to it. And that, that was definitely the case with Liberia. And so you have people who were obviously tired of being ignored for a very long time. Those frustrations were, were part of the conflict as well. But the overwhelming majority of what was going on, we're was that you have groups who were armed and once they were able to get arms, they went after whomever they had conflicts with. And that dates back for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. That's a lot of what was going on. People were fighting for power and each group was fighting for power and the way that I actually explain 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 are these 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 comes over to the United States and they draw a vertical law or a vertical circle and it's, it has parts of the midwest, parts of the american, south, parts of Central 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 to have 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 official languages french english or is it spanish And so they're going to fight over that, you know, who are we getting to represent us? The americans are going 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 the Canadians and Mexicans to defer to our system of law. And the Canadians will do the same and the Mexicans would do the same. That is largely what's going on in those regions is you have these people that they didn't draw those lines that determine their countries. This was driven at the conference in Belgium in 18 hundreds, You know, and so what happened as a function of that is, you have so many countries, quote unquote countries of people of these nations and these ethnic groups that consider ethnic groups that consider themselves as they should their own nations. Because these are the nations that they've been honoring for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years all of 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 always going to prefer and privilege America in that context, right? Just as the Canadians would prefer and privilege Canada. Just as the Mexicans would prefer and privilege Mexico and you're going to continue fighting over every little thing because you want whatever is the most comfortable to you, the most familiar to you to be king and to be the chief of things. And that is what's going on. That's so perfectly said, perfectly said. And it just gives me the right picture. And that's one of the things your book did really was make me want to know more. And I hope everybody who has read it or it gets to read it. We'll do some digging and learn more because we we can never know what's going on somewhere else. Uh, until we hear the stories from the people that lived it. Let's talk about the title, the title of the book. Let's give everybody a taste of what that means. Absolutely. So, I wanted to I'm a sucker for titles. I do, I do like a good title. So I definitely, when the book was complete actually, I wanted to just honor what I felt the book was about because that's the main question, right? We always said, well what is it they 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 having actually with myself or a lot of my meditations was I want this book to be about the people, Liberian people and the people in my life that have so greatly contributed to where I am now and the joys that I was able to experience as a child because I think something that people don't really know is that when my family immigrated here when I was five years old and We moved around for a few years, but we settled in Texas when I was eight and my parents worked so hard to give us what I would consider a pretty standard middle 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 life that 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. The other woman is sata who is the rebel soldier who actually trafficked my family across the Liberian border into Sierra Leone where my mother was waiting. And then the dragons, although it's on the negative end of that spectrum, the dragons were the dragon is power, right man's thirst and and greed for power. And the dragon is always also love love that is uh that can somehow go wrong but also have a silver lining because it was actually really horrible breakup that led to my my initial return to Liberia after being away for almost three decades. So it was it's the exploration of those three things and I definitely wanted to to make sure that they were a part of the title and a part of the readers introduction to the book. I wanted to make sure it was in the title. It's really powerful to I thought, I thought in the beginning when you mentioned that the soldiers and the fighters in Liberia where the dragons, I thought, okay, well that's the dragons of the title. But as the book goes on, you know, that there's so many others that fall into that category. And especially uh, the women in the book, I'd like the women in the book are just so, so much...

...a part of you, but also so much part of the reader and we can relate to them and we think about people in our own lives that are are are that for us. But what is your family thought about the book? They must be they must feel honored by it. Yeah. So I I love this question 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 come home 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. So so in more fashion. I, they knew that I was working on a memoir and you know, I was working on a book, knew that I was working on a book about like the war story, going back to what I said at the beginning. And so it was like, they were 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 it allowed me it gives me an opportunity to keep that first draft sacred, which I 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 understanding of our life before America. Right? And, and that's not saying that obviously are, our memories are impacted by things that we've heard in conversations we've we might have experienced or overheard and things that we are somehow adjacent to or that are in the periphery. Right? So our memories are affected by by things that we absorb over time. But I knew that if the story was going to be true to me and true to my understanding that that first draft had to remain sacred. So after I wrote the first draft, I did then go to the moors and say it And does anyone want to read this? And obviously some of them are like, well just wait until it comes out. My brothers, my older sister, even my parents to some extent. My younger sister read it and she, there was only one instance where she said, oh well that's I and I and I'll talk about it actually. So there is she, she got really sick when we were in hiding and my dad had to he left the village and went into the city to find antibiotics. And my my my my understanding of the situation was that dad went and got the antibiotics and the antibiotics saved her 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 basis of her faith is that it was prayers that saved her, right? Yeah. It was prayers. It had nothing to do with medicine that we were just in the middle of nowhere and all these people were praying. You know, people in the village, they had tried to bathe her in a certain type of leaf that they thought 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. My understanding of what happened was that i, it was prayers, it wasn't medicine and 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 understanding of what happened when we did. We went to my dad and obviously this is an amicably 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 see what he says. And he said that he did leave to get antibiotics. But by the time that he returned, she was already recovering. She was already a little better before she was able to get the antibiotic uh before they administered the antibiotics. And so which of those are the truth, right? Aren't all of those, like a bit of the truth. And so we were we were actually at at an impasse of okay, which version of this? And that was the only instance in the book where this had happened. And so we...

...talked about it and I and I think we had settled on him going and then it sort of stops stops there. Or there's a reference to her already beginning to recover just to be true to her understanding as well and trying to exercise generosity in that way. But situations like that if I were to I think if there weren't because I think also what contributes to that is we all had an understanding of what happened and as I told you, like we refer to it as the war story and I feel like if we didn't, It would be the opposite. I would have 50 instances of antibiotic gate, you know, But that was that wasn't the case. And I think that's like but there to answer your question, they are and have always been so supportive and understanding and wanting to and giving me the freedom to explore my art and my truth in my way. And so I'm grateful for them that's spoken like a true artist. Very, very good. One of the things that I took from this too is like, again, I say, I I've never lived any in any other country, but it's so amazing to see your journey to become a migrant in this country and see what it's like from different perspectives because for me it's like seeing you come and for you, it's what it's going, what is it like to enter into a new country and basically straddle cultures. So the entry, I can't say that I I fully remember beyond just the shock of seeing snow on the ground. And it's like I I remember more clearly the traumas of of the of the war and everything that was experienced there and then we came here and in my memory then sort of existing like these vineyards of being in the dorm room, seeing snow, seeing a lot of white people for the first time and that kind of being shocking as well. You know, I think that there was, we definitely had the sensibility of people who thought the world of America right, because I remember even when we were younger they would say, oh you know, they have, everybody has a butler over there, even a three year old has their own personal butler and you know, you some of the streets, they're they're gold, their stars on the, on the streets. And obviously these are all from stories of like you think about like the Hollywood walk of fame. So somebody went over there and said, oh yeah, they have this Hollywood rocker families, you have the stars with the celebrities. They were like, wow on the roads, you know, So we came over here with that understanding of our new home and we're all the sound of music and the sound of music and all these, all the great films and opportunity and ability of the ability to live out our dreams. And to be fair in large part we might. My family has been 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 our confrontations with, with racism in the south where we realize that different immigrant groups have different relationships with America. While all of them come here with, uh, this idea like this is the land of the free, This is the land of opportunity. You can do anything here. You do tend to deviate from that perspective and from that understanding of America based on your race, your race and and how your race functions in your experiences in your relationship with your new country. That is so spot on. And it actually the next thing I wanted to ask about, there's a scene in the book that was so disturbing with you and your siblings and some friends going to buy some candy in a store. Do you mind kind of...

...talking about that a little bit? And I think that kind of says a lot about how racist America can be. Yeah. So the first and only time thank God that I that I was called the N. Word. I was with a group of friends after track practice and we were at a corner store and there were a couple of men there. I think that my sister's friends were taken too long in the aisles. And and so my sister they got mad and they started yelling at the store clerk and he chased us all out of the store and we he yelled the N. Word and we ran away. And my sister's friends, my friends 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 our friends, this is something that they were used to and their parents were used when their grandparents were used to, right? And you know, I think about that a lot when I'm when I'm raised and now having a daughter myself because I know that there's an understanding of America of myself of race that I did not inherit from my parents because they did come here as immigrants and they were introduced to racism in the same way that I was. And then they moved back. They've been lived in Liberia For like 11 years now, almost 12 years. And so in raising my daughter thinking about what she will inherit from me in terms of my understanding of my place in this country, my race, my gender. And so that's been a constant meditation and thought over over the past five months. Absolutely. And I think what you'll have is a great wealth of knowledge to impart on her. And hopefully that will help and still a lot of the same values in her that you kind of hard fought to win for yourself. Yeah, I hope so. So, let's talk about one more book. Can you tell people 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 be published. And I kept on meeting people who wanted me to actually publish the my memoir or my personal history before my novel, because they we're trying to convince me that the way the literary industry works, it would be better if I packaged this identity, because obviously it's a sensational story, very dramatic and wanted me to lead with my identity, which I found very alienating. And unfortunately, because I said, oh, I actually I have I have a novel that I've been working on, um and that's what I want to focus on. I don't want 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 attached to my career as, like, the reason that my career came out, and I had all these reasons that somewhere some made sense. I'm actually didn't. So I was dealing with some of the frustrations with the expectation bias that exists within our industry. And I called up my younger sister who is a painter and I asked her if she would be interested in collaborating on a book with me. And she said yes and she the book was J is for Jill If Rice, is that what I named it? I said you know if I'm going through some of these frustrations when it comes to representation and books obviously Children are. I had also done a lot of non profit work and but while I was in college and I worked for a nonprofit that would go into D. C. Public schools and give literacy workshops 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 to books that more representative of their cultures, we would even write stories together. Then it had a direct impact on their relationship with literature and 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 everybody wins. 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'm not a Children's book writer. Um, and so I used a few books. I wrote a few books that's kind of like a pilot series. And I um, use those to present to writers and illustrators who I respect from different countries that I wanted to feature. So the goal is to write and distribute literature or the gold was at the inception, right? And distribute literature that featured Children who rarely see themselves in literature. And so we have a portfolio of of almost 30 books featuring Liberia and Guinea and Haiti. We have an afro Brazilian book and we have partnered with writers and illustrators from these 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 a couple of years ago is working with ministries of education within the countries that we are featured in and primarily Liberia on curriculum development. So consulting for curriculum development. So to ensure that the policies reflect cultural sensitivity and cultural relevancy in Children's books and Children's literature, Children's curriculum within the public schools. And and that is really the focus of the nonprofit now. That's amazing. And what a way to give back. I think when you said that Children weren't seeing themselves in literature is just one of the tragedies of, of all of these years, I speak to so many writers who have never seen themselves in a book until they're adults. You know, they were they were reading nancy Drew and the hardy boys and they didn't really represent who they were. Yeah. I mean I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about this. She's a writer and she's contributing to a project pretty well known. But but we were we were talking about the american girl series and how we were, you know, reading babysitters club and goose bumps and they said obviously american girl was maybe a few years before that that we were reading it. But the only little black american girl was a slave and her narrative. Yes, yes. And her narrative was one that was was was pretty depressing. And so we were talking about, you know, if you had an opportunity to write an american girl, what would you write? And it was just a really great conversation when it comes to. So if you're if you're looking at representation 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 I think something that's very important that I talk to my students about is that black history black american history did not begin at slavery, right? Like these are people from rich, rich cultures coming over and black american culture itself is very rich outside of slavery, right? But even that isn't really represented in and some of the literature that's being consumed. And so so yeah, there's a long way to go. And then all the mess is happening in texas, right? Because that's another podcast around and I have a million things to talk. Okay, okay, we'll have to do a follow up on this. Okay, so thank you so much. Why are two for...

...joining me? You know, I look forward to this 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 work speaks for itself, so it's very easy to promote and talk about. So best of luck with 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 the Friends and fiction podcast? I hope you've enjoyed these conversations as much as I have. It's been amazing and I hope that you will be sure and tell a friend. Thank you for listening and we'll see you next week on Friends and Fiction Writer's Block podcast. Thank you for tuning in to Friends and Fiction Writer's Block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on 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 see our live friends and fiction show that airs at seven p.m. eastern standard time. We are so glad you're here.

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