Friday, December 9, 2011

On LITerature

Reading and writing have been almost as essential to my existence as breathing. A pen and paper have always been my best - and at times only - friends in the world. When I was young my works were rejected. Critics of my children's story "Black Brown" said the tale of an accident-prone young man was too dark and unhappy. Still I continued to write. People seemed more interested in what I had to say on paper than when words came from my mouth. All of my thoughts and feelings went unfiltered onto the paper. Even if nobody else understood me, through writing I was able to understand myself better. That understanding brought acceptance. 

In the fourth grade I heard another student read Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" Poetry and I connected that day. At nine years old I went home and penned my first poem titled "Oh, and I Wonder Why?" Sojourner Truth's poem sparked a certain curiosity in me. All this black pride was instilled in me. However, I wasn't sure why I was so proud of my skin color. This poem reflected upon it and then drew the conclusion that being black was a part of who I was and I had to make it matter since people like Sojourner Truth fought for it to matter. This was the first of my works to receive a warm response. It was applauded and praised throughout the remainder of my elementary school career. That gave me the push to keep writing and to write as often as possible. 

Books have been as present in my life as rain drops and snowfall, but there is one author to whom my love of reading, writing, and words in general can be solely accredited. Her name is Mildred D. Taylor. She is the author of "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry." I was eight or nine when I read that book. That was my first time getting high. Her words took me to another world. My breathing changed when I became engrossed in her paragraphs. All of her books educated me, entertained me, evoked emotion, made me think, and caused me to want a change. I still read her books whenever writer's block tries to bully me into taking a break. Ever since my tear dropped on the final page of her book I had to do for the rest of the world what Ms. Taylor did for me. 

For three years after reading that book and hearing that poem countless marble notebooks were filled with song lyrics, poetry, plays, and ultimately novels. Had it not been for writing I think I would have died of boredom. Summers were spent at my grandmother's house with my brothers and my cousins. I was the only girl. We weren't allowed to go outside and play. (My grandmother feared a car would run off the road and hit us). So I wrote to escape the monotony of The Price Is RightThe Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, and crocheting. Through novels I was able to create a world where life was entertaining. Novel writing was my saving grace. 

I'll never forget the inspiration for the first novel I penned, "Yours, Til the End of Time" and the prequel, "Falling Hard." This day stood out because my oldest cousin, Michael, and I were allowed to walk to Mountainview Park for arts and crafts. At the age of eleven and a half we thought ourselves much too sophisticated for making people out of popsicles, so we went over to the basketball court. Michael went to play with this new set of older friends. They were upward of fifteen years old, and they were delicious. I knew they'd never give my eleven and a half years the time of day, but that didn't stop me from looking at the brothers Keith and Ken. 

The world seemed to stop for every boy on that basketball court when a certain teenage girl walked by. She was beautiful. Even in my jealousy of the attention they gave her I had to admit she was a stunning chocolate girl. I mentioned her complexion because boys my age said dark girls were ugly. They claimed only "high yellow" girls got boyfriends. The way this young lady grabbed the attention of every boy on the court made me wish I had a video camera for that moment. She had such a ladylike pose about herself. The attention didn't seem to phase her. 

"You go, girl!" one of the brothers, either Keith or Ken, shouted. 

Jealousy gripped my heart, but I was too interested in what was going to happen next to let it consume me. Was she going to die from someone so fine speaking to her? Was she going to melt? He was by then running up to her. Was she going to drool? I would have. 

Her response rocked my entire world. She gripped the books she was holding, stopped, looked at him as though he should contemplate his existence, and said, "You need to talk to me the way I deserve to be talked to. I'm walking down the street like a lady, not a girl. And my name is Iaysha." Then she stepped around him and continued where she was going like she never stopped walking. I was amazed. 

That day I sat at the desk in the back room of my grandparents' house and gave birth to my first baby, Iaysha. To this day she carries just as much class and is just as sassy as the girl who inspired her was. "Yours, Til the End of Time" was penned in a marble composition notebook in a matter of weeks, two months at the most. "Falling Hard," the prequel, was written after that. Since then people watching has played a strong role in my writing. 

My uncle came to visit for Christmas that year. He'd been a little disappointed in me that my dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up went from fashion designer to singer, so when he found my writing project he was elated. He took the notebook back to New York City with him. In a matter of weeks I received a package. My first book was published, copy-written, and had an ISBN!

My mother was very pleased with the content. She said it was "too grown." One of the final lines in the story was, "Boyz II Men put it best when they said we went to the end of the road." She said I wrote too much about love. That wasn't the last time she made that comment either. But what was I supposed to do? I wanted love. Writing about it just came natural. 

Years later I won a gold medal in the poetry category of ACT-SO and was interviewed by the Syracuse newspaper. When the reporter reviewed my poetry she asked for a poem that wasn't about love. This catapulted a campaign launched by my mother. She even talked my therapist into convincing me that I needed to write science fiction. I had no interest in science or science fiction. My writing was either a reflection of what I was going through or what I desired to have/experience. Star Trek didn't have that. I ignored the critics and continued to write. 

Fast-forward to today I still write. The critics have prepared me for what lies ahead. Now I'm ready to share with the world what God has given me. It seems like I've been working on these books forever. Now I truly feel like it's my time to shine. Thank you for sharing my journey. 

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