1. Tell our readers about yourself ?
I am from Oakland and Berkeley, CA (born in Berkeley but resided in Oakland) and I was born with a hearing loss due to an umbilical cord being wrapped around my neck. Fortunately, the doctors saved my life and I’ve been a fighter since then. My mother raised me to go after my dreams and never let anyone stop me. Despite being a Black woman with a hearing loss raised by a single mother, I graduated from UC Berkeley in THREE years and got my master’s degree from Stanford University. I am not the first to graduate from college since I come from a family of teachers. I am the first to graduate from UC Berkeley and Stanford University. To this day, I am still showing people that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, despite the obstacles that a person may face. I do not believe in excuses because my family does not believe in excuses (they are from Louisiana where racism was blatant). My family did not treat me differently and they trained me for the world I was living in. I learned as a child that people will make fun of me and tell me “no” but I cannot let them stop me from my destiny. I had teachers try to discourage me but I was confident in myself, thanks to my family’s support. It is easy to quit but it is better to prove people wrong and be a leader.
2. When and why did you first start begin writing?
I have always been a writer. My mom used to read to me when I was a child and I loved writing a stories. I learned later in life that there are different writing styles, such as stories, poetry, essays, and etc. Writing came naturally to me so I learned different techniques to improve my writing skills. I went to UC Berkeley’s Academic Talent Development Program when I was in the 8th grade for summer school to take a creative writing class. I always excelled in my English classes in middle school and high school.
3. What inspired you to write “Institutional Freedom: A Collection of African American Studies Essays?
I wrote poetry and a lot of my poetry were inspired by things I said and wrote in college. Two of my popular poems came from my essays (I’m A Survivor and Institutional Freedom). I wanted to share with the audience why I think and write the way I do so I decided to publish my essays. Also, I intend to go for my doctorate degree in the future and my work can be used to show my knowledge. I wanted to contribute to literature about different topics in the African American culture and get credit for my ideas. I did not want my ideas to go to waste and it was already written so it was not hard to compose the book and publish it.
4. Do you feel that you have a specific writing style?
I love to free write, throw all of my ideas on the paper and go back later and edit it. It works that way for my poetry and for any writing that I do. That is what I love about writing is that it is a canvas with words that can be rearranged later. It is never permanent because new ideas come all the time and I am able to expand on something that I put down.
5. How did you come up with the title “Institutional Freedom: A Collection of African American Studies Essays?
Institutional Freedom is from a poem called Institutional Freedom. The poem is about me being a prisoner of institutions such as higher learning and the work force, having degrees and being overqualified for many jobs, while trying to pay off student loans. My mother told me to call the book after the poem since I am teaching the world outside of a traditional classroom. I believe you can learn anything, anywhere. Learning does not have to take place in the classroom and if a person really believes that then they are not being open to learning new things.
6. Is there a message in this book that you want readers to grasp?
The message that I want people to grasp is that words have power and knowledge is power. I have two degrees from two prestigious universities hanging on my living room wall and they made money off of me. I want to show the world that I am going to make money of of them by showing what I learned from these universities. I wrote about different topics, such as family, education, political, media, and other issues and there is something in each of these topics that people can learn from. Also, it shows my progression as a writer and as a student and I am always a work in progress.
7. Is there a Poet or writer that would you consider a mentor?
I love to read all kinds of books so a lot of writers inspire me. Actually, Angela Davis’ book, The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues, was how I came up with the format of writing Institutional Freedom: A Collection of African American Studies Essays. She published her speeches and I thought it was a great idea for me to publish my essays. I am a music lover and Teena Marie is my favorite singer. She inspires me to write deep poems because she wrote songs that touched on political issues. I learn from musicians how to compose words and how to be a performer. I learn from writers how to write books.
8. Are there any new Poets or Writers that have grasped your interest?
Yes, there are a lot of talented poets and writers in Oakland and other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. There are a few poets that I have met going to the open mics in the Bay Area that I support because it is important to support local artists. It depends on the day and mood that I am in where I will read or listen to their work. I am constantly evolving so I enjoy reading other people’s work. Also, it gives me a break from reading my own work and gives me different perspectives.
9. What are you some of your current projects?
Performing my poetry and working on the second edition of my second poetry book, Silence Is Not Always Golden: A Poetic Revolution. The first edition is raw and me being real because the world was not polite to me. The second edition will be clean versions of the poems and some newer pieces that I have written since I published the first one. It is still political and “in your face” but in a polite way.
10. Do you see poetry & writing as a career?
Yes, I do. Poetry is definitely my career since I perform my poetry. I am trying to branch out and travel to do features for shows. The longest poetry set that I have done was 15 minutes because I give people a performance. Writing is the foundation of my work so I will always be writing and publishing as long as I am able to.
11. Do you recall how your interest in Writing Essays originated?
I love to share my ideas but my real interest came when I had a professor at UC Berkeley who told us to take the topics he suggested and write our claims as long as we had evidence to support our claims. I wrote some of my best papers in his class because he encouraged us to push ourselves and I was using references from books outside of the course. He did not limit us and as long as we were passionate about the topic, we got good grades. He was letting us be in control of our ideas and it shows when you read some of my work from his class. I am academic and I want to be a teacher so essay writing is part of academia and it is a passion. I love to research and create solutions. I do not always like to write essays, especially if it is a topic that I have no interest in. For the most part, if it is for a class that I am really interested and growing in, then I have the best essays in those classes.
12. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The process. Sometimes I want to give people the first draft but I cannot do that, especially if I want to be taken seriously. I feel like the revisions is like editing who I am as a person and putting on my best face. I would like to show my flaws and be appreciated for the art in itself. Writing is one of those art forms that has to be perfected before presenting it.
13. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I love Terry McMillan’s work but then again, I love a lot of people’s work. I love to read and get a change of scenery in my imagination. It could be the way the author presented an issue or scene, their dialogue, the characters, etc. I read a lot of books in my English classes and they made me appreciate all kinds of authors from various genres.
14. Who designs your covers?
The poetry book covers were pictures that another person or I took. Institutional Freedom was designed by a graphic designer to fit the African American Studies theme and represent the UC Berkeley colors.
15. Did you learn anything from writing Institutional Freedom: A Collection of African American Studies Essays?
My words and ideas are permanently in the world and people will learn who I was even when I am gone. Instead of waiting for people to present solutions, I offered mine. It does not make me an expert in the subject but it does show that I did my homework (pun intended).
16. Do you have any advice for aspiring Poets & Writers?
It is a journey and it is your baby. The ISBN is the social security number for the book so make sure you present your best final product. It is hard being a writer and harder to promote it. Keep pushing because you never know who will read your work and how their lives will be impacted. If you are in it for the money, then you will not do it for long. The gratification will come when a reader contacts you and tell you that you inspired them or changed their life and no amount of money can top that.
17. Do you have anything that you want to say to your readers before we finish this interview?
Thank you for your support and it is an honor to share my talent with you.