I’m celebrating the rise of writers through a series of fabulous interviews. No longer will we write in isolation when we have the power of the internet to bring awareness to who we are, what we do and why we do it. Let’s get acquainted…
What do you do:
Writer/Director for Stage and Screen
Why do you do it?
I write because it’s my calling, that’s the one certainty in my life, while I have breath I will write. That sounds kinda lofty when I say it out loud but first and foremost writing, for me, is a spiritual process. I heal through my characters, each and every one of them is a fragment of myself through which I can explore my imperfections. I feel incredibly privileged to have been assigned this gift. Some people inherit millions or unparalleled beauty, I was given the gift to move people with my words and as someone who is concerned with Black liberation, it’s the weapon I wield against white supremacy. I write for every Black man, woman and child who looks at a screen or stage and cannot see themselves. That’s what keeps me motivated.
What has been your biggest breakthrough?
My biggest breakthrough has to have been my stage play ‘Rosa Parks: The Hidden Journey.’ I’d never written a play before so it was a big risk but I was lucky enough to have a very experienced director in Lorna Laidlaw. I knew when I was commissioned that there wasn’t much I could add to what had already written about Rosa’s part in the Montgomery bus boycott so I focused on her earlier work as an investigator for the NAACP. It was a really intense experience. I was very ill at the time, very broke and living in one room with my three-year-old son. I’d sit up all night researching Rosa’s role in the Recy Taylor case, a Black woman who had been raped by six white men.
As I wrote, the fallout from the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson would play out on the news. One night I saw a clip on the news of a 15-year-old African-American girl being brutalised by police officers, she was wearing just a bikini and I kept going back and forth from the words on my page (even my laptop had given up on me) to the images on the screen and I think that was the moment that I realised that I had been given this gift for a reason and that I couldn’t give up even if I wanted to. The day after the last show, I was got the keys to our new home.
The play had an amazing impact on my career but the biggest breakthrough was within. We didn’t have a budget but together with a small crew and community cast of 25 people we ripped the hearts from each and every member of that predominantly Black audience, then filled them with strength, courage and unity. That was the moment I could finally believe in myself and my ability. I will cherish it forever.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Overcoming myself has been my biggest challenge. The person I had to be to survive my younger years was tough and defensive. I was running from my past not knowing that was where my truth was hidden. I had a talent for writing but I was falling short of the mark and that frustrated me immensely.
About half way through the Rosa Parks experience I had this epiphany that actually I wasn’t that good, I guess it was working alongside someone who had really mastered their craft that made me come to that realisation. It was like okay, maybe I’m never going get a paid feature film commission, maybe I will never make the impact I thought I could when I set out on this journey. It really broke my heart, especially since at the time I my pen and paper were my only tickets out of the situation I was in.
I thought about what I was going to do next, I have other skills I could make a comfortable living with but the thought terrified me. I decided that I didn’t care how little limited my success was. I couldn’t stop. That’s when I began to grow.
What is your favourite book and why?
My favourite book is a collection of short stories called ‘Different Seasons’ by Stephen King. I grew up on King’s horror and he is definitely had a huge impact on my writing. The film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ came from one of the stories out of that book. It’s called ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ and it’s a masterclass in short fiction. King’s talent for description and creating such convincing worlds just blows me away every time.
What are your three tips for aspiring writers?
- Write! I am a big believer in manifestation so if you say you are a writer you write, through your pain, through the blocks whatever is happening you have to get those words down.
- Find yourself! You cannot connect with your reader/audience unless you can connect with your essence. The good, the bad and the ugly, it’s all you and the moment you reconcile with that, your work takes on new meaning.
- Don’t look back! Just get through that first draft, don’t go back over what you wrote yesterday or the day before just keep pushing forward.
Where can readers connect with you?
Images provided by Jude Freeman.