My Blog turned two on July 11th this year. This year I was aware of the anniversary before it occurred. I wanted to commemorate this auspicious day in some way. A year ago, I was preoccupied with navigating the waters of the Atlantic as I journeyed to, and settled into, my new landscape in Tema, Ghana. In the midst of such transition I forgot to acknowledge my Blog’s first anniversary.
I decided to mark this year’s anniversary by reflecting on VONA; a very fitting tribute, since VONA 2010 was the impetus for beginning this blog. VONA, which stands for Voices of Our Nation, is an annual writers of color retreat that has been in session since 1999. I was fortunate to get picked to attend VONA my first go around. I had heard about it right before the submission deadline so I figured I didn’t have much of a chance. It seemed apropos that I would return to VONA this year, two years after beginning the process of claiming writer-hood.
The first time around, VONA shook me up. My instructor, Evelina Galang, challenged me to go deeper and stop skirting the surface with what I thought were witty, sarcastic, and humorous essays about growing up chocolate in a tan home. Ms. Galang tried to get me to go into scenes that I had been avoiding since I began writing the vignettes that would later become parts of my memoir. I stomped my feet and threw temper tantrums throughout the week, refusing to change the prized vignettes.
On day 4 of the week-long workshop, I cracked, balled and began doing the difficult and painful work necessary. Crying and sobbing my way through new scenes made me see my witty, sarcastic, and humorous vignettes for what they were—a facade for the pain of growing up a dark skin child in a highly prejudiced household. Putting me on the page and entering those vignettes was necessary for the real work to begin. The early result: a better structured, engaging, and empathetic manuscript that has kept my workshop colleagues asking for more. The midterm result: the 150+ paged manuscript I turned in for my MFA thesis. The end result is in the making. VONA 2010 also made it apparent that I should have gotten a BFA instead of my other three degrees. No matter, I was encouraged to begin right where I was. VONA 2010 gave me the permission to claim my space as a writer, but more importantly as a writer of color. It helped affirm my story as valid. My WOCfesto was written that week: My Ethnic Story
VONA 2012, started out differently. I had signed up for a Memoir Workshop with Minal Hajratwala. In hindsight, I know that I couldn’t have appreciated her without Ms. Galang’s efforts in 2010. It was a booster shot to reinforce what I already knew—my story was important and only I could tell it. I wasn’t coddling my manuscript any longer because I had learned that if I wanted my book to eventually leave my clutches, I needed an audience to tell me what they thought of it. I was at a stage to begin laying out my chapters. It felt good to be moving along. I gently encouraged others to “let their babies go,” handing out tissues and extending my arms wide to give hugs. As I waltzed through the week playing midwife to the newbies, I ignored my own labor and birthing that needed to happen. It was now or never, the universe seemed to be urging. On Day 5 I received the push, albeit a gentle one, to go where I’d been resisting, dragging my feet about going. I cracked and began the sobbing, similar to what had occurred two years prior. I cried as I wrote and had to leave campus after the last workshop session. This leaving was quite reminiscent of the one on Day 4 in 2010. It seems it takes a lot to crack the armor of resilience that they hammer into us Black women.
This time the scenes that needed birthing were not mere entering of prior written vignettes; they were brand new ones about the silence surrounding my rape at age 7. I had debated for a long time about including my sexual molestation in my memoir. I had my answer. The story decided it had to be written whether I was ready or not. My body convulsed in sobs most of the day as I tried to “keep it together.” The result: the retching has ceased and the dirty little secret has been thrown on the page. I now see the story of the abuse in a similar way as I see all the other coming-outs: as one of breaking the silence around yet another taboo topic. In acknowledging it, I have lain bare what I remember of the facts and begun the journey towards healing.
It’s not that VONA is the only place I get writing done; it’s just that it’s the place where I am supported enough to go deep, real deep. Every year I come across writers of color that I encourage to attend VONA. Only one has taken me up on the suggestion. I will keep trying. I believe strongly that it is an experience every writer of color should have. Although there is little funding available, founders, faculty, and administrators do the best they can to get as many writers in as possible by spreading the funds around and working out payment plans.
In gratitude and in celebration for what I have experienced, I have decided to commemorate this 2-year anniversary by opening up my blog to other female writers of color who don’t already have a blog (and maybe some who do as well). I want to offer them a platform to express themselves. I want to encourage them to use my blog as a launching pad to test the waters as they decide on their own public personas as writers. I am not sure what this will look like but for now, I begin with an open invitation (send me a message if you are interested). My first guest blog should appear by the end of next week once I obtain her approval of the edits. In addition, I will be migrating this Blog over to my new webpage. I’m sure it’ll re-direct once it’s completed.
I want to express ndaase kese naa, shidaa babaoo, akpe lolo to my sister Sheela who has been supportive of my writing from the scribbles-on-the-margins-of-my-daily-planner days to this present day published author, and who willingly critiques herself as a character. And also to my mother, aunt, and Grammie (may she rest in peace) as well as other family members in the U.S. and on the continent, those who have recently discovered my writing and those who knew all along, to past and current lovers who have read, received, engaged in dialogue with me through my lengthy letters, poems, emails, and epistles. To Kashka. Akpe! for indulging me.
I want to extend similar gratitude to the muses who have inspired me, the godmothers who have helped me find my voice, and the midwives who have helped birth various parts of this memoir-in-progress: beginning with my Class Two teacher, my great aunt, Mrs. Nelly Sam, Imali Abala,Vickie LeFevre, Ann Hall, Joanne Vickers, and other ODC faculty, Faiza Shereen, Betty Youngkin and other UD faculty, Gabriella Lettini, Christine Fry, Margaret McManus, Jay Johnson and Dorsey Blake (two great men) and other GTU faculty, Evelina Galang, Minal Hajratwala, and other VONA faculty & staff, Sarah Stone, Kris Brandenburger, Judy Grahn, and other CIIS faculty, and to my thesis directors Carolyn Cooke and Faith Adiele. Mea culpa to anyone I have not mentioned specifically ( the list is way longer).
I want to express gratitude for all my colleagues of various kinds over my entire 10-year academic career (yeah, I’ve been in school too long). Thank you for engaging and challenging me to keep honing my various skills. For those with whom I share the contents page and for those with whom I am working on anthologies, thank you for believing in me. For my CTA buddies with whom I drafted my first Strategic Plan, for whom I did my first journalistic piece. To my beloved VONAites (Bay and others), much love. To my Boss Ladies from Women’s Initiative, keep GRIT alive.
Finally, I want to profusely thank you who have been reading and commenting or silently following my blog for the last two years. This is for you! You make me accountable to keep writing. You inspire me. Thank you for the feedback, poems, likes and FB shares. I hope I am inspiring you in some way.
To Ancestors, the Universe, and Higher beings who give me the gift of all these words and more to come.
To WordPress and Bluehost who make it all possible.
Here’s to the next year! To art and creating art. To paying homage to life and it’s many complexities and intricacies. To living in the interstices and refusing to be defined as one-dimensional.