I am a writer.
I am a published writer.
I am a published writer in an anthology.
I am a published writer in an anthology with Nikki Giovanni, V (formerly Eve Ensler), Kevin Powell, and over a hundred other writers. 2020: The Year That Changed America has changed my life.
I’m still in disbelief. Last fall, a friend forwarded a flyer for a writing workshop led by Kevin Powell in partnership with the Nuyorican Poets Café. When I first moved to New York, I’d spent many a Friday night in the audience for their poetry slams. I knew of Kevin Powell from his MTV Real World days, being a writer and activist. I’d seen his name pop up in the Facebook group for Bed-Stuy residents. Back when the Black Panther movie was coming out he posted about sponsoring children to see the movie. I think I donated money or by the time I saw it, he had already reached his goal. His memoir, The Education of Kevin Powell has been on my TBR forever.
Needless to say, I was excited about the workshop. With no end in sight to riding out this pandemic alone, I needed new ways to keep busy and to find community. I hoped it would pull me out of my writing slump. The best part: registration was free, my favorite word.
Starting in September, every Tuesday from 7 o’clock pm to 9 pm, I logged into Zoom with anywhere from 100 to almost 200 people to discuss all things related to writing. Each class began with a brief meditative breathing session before we dove into the topic of the day. There were some star pupils who seemed to shine and talk every workshop. I was not one of them. The one time that I did speak was because I was called on. Kevin had asked a yes or no question, and because we’re asked to mute unless speaking and my camera was on, I answered with a so-so motion. He asked me to elaborate. Other than that one time speaking, my participation was limited to the chat window when I offered words of encouragement or joined in when everyone was sharing their social media handles and websites. I was always silent, but present. Camera on, pen in hand, open yellow composition notebook.
I liked that the phrase “writer’s block” was banned, and we were all encouraged to call ourselves writers, whether published or not. As the number of workshops was winding down, we lamented that our time together was nearing an end. Kevin graciously extended for a few more weeks and offered to resume after a much-deserved and earned break during the holidays. At some point, it was suggested that we should publish a book. I don’t know if it was said in jest, but once it was put out there, the idea snowballed. Quickly.
The theme for the anthology: 2020. I don’t think I need to expound on that. People could submit poetry, blogs, or journal entries. One entry per person. There was a call for volunteer editors. I chickened out. A deadline was set. Then submissions were extended to people beyond the workshop. I selfishly had mixed feelings about that, but checked myself. Rather than stress about writing a whole new piece from scratch, I cleaned up two essays I had written in class, one written pre-election, the other post. They dealt with my anxiety about the pandemic, attending protests, voting and waiting for the results, and my eventual shock that a Black Woman Vice President was headed to the White House.
I believe at first it was supposed to just be an ebook and it was decided a physical version should be done too. A lot of us would be first time published writers and holding a physical book would be a big deal.
I kept tabs on the book’s progression via the workshop’s Facebook page. There were a lot of moving parts. Books usually take close to year to be published and here were doing it in a matter of months. The date was changed, as was the cover and other things pertaining to the book. I was excited about being on the cusp of something great, but I was also in denial. I didn’t tell a soul. I would not tell a soul until I was sure it was real. I would be sure it was real when I was holding a physical copy in my hands.
I ordered my copy on Amazon, the only place it’s available for purchase. Thanks to Prime, it arrived the next day, a Saturday. As I do with all packages, I let it sit in the hall to de-Corona. It was all so surreal, I was nervous to open the package, let alone crack open the book. I didn’t know how I’d handle seeing my name written in the Table of Contents. Or worse, what if there had been a mistake and they left out or misspelled my name?
The following day, a Sunday, I logged into Zoom for a Well-Read Black Girl writing workshop. Glory began the workshop by asking attendees if they had news to share. I was so excited. I hadn’t told anybody yet. I raised my hand and shared with the 14 or so people in the zoom that I was newly published author in an anthology. I actually had the envelope inches from my feet. As soon as the workshop was over I planned on opening not only the Amazon package but also the other packages that I’ve been out-of-control ordering. #RetailTherapy.
Glory encouraged me to open the package right then and there. With everybody watching I cut open the mustard yellow envelope lined with bubble wrap. As I pulled out the book, I noticed that the bottom right cover corner had folded over. I smoothed it into place as the rest of the cover revealed itself. Prior to that I had only seen the black and white cover in PDF form on Facebook. As I looked at it for the first time, surprisingly and unsurprisingly I got emotional. My face flushed and tears welled in my eyes. I held it up to the camera for everybody to see and watched muted applause. Mouths dropped when I shared that this first-time published author was in an anthology with Nikki Giovanni! Besides obvious reasons, this was also a big deal because months prior, Ms. Giovanni had been the keynote speaker at the virtual Well-Read Black Girl Festival, which ironically I mentioned in my piece. I was attending one of the panels when the election results came in.
I kept gazing at the book during the workshop. Once it was over, I flipped through it to find my name and my essay. I took pictures of the Table of Contents and front and back covers to send in various family group texts. Imposter Syndrome had me thinking the slow congrats messages were slow to dribble in because no one cared. Common Sense told me to give people grace because it was Super Bowl Sunday. Hours later, with heart thudding, I posted on social media.
Then and now I am humbled by the flood of congrats messages, texts and DMs. People have sent screenshots of their proofs of purchase and books. They reposted me in their feeds and stories. I’ve received request for autographs. A blogger and social media friend whom I had only met once years ago purchase the book. On chilly President’s Day, we met on the corner of Nostrand and Fulton so that I could autograph her copy and so she could deliver some merch I had ordered from her.
All I expected and would have been satisfied with congratulations and virtual applause, but people spending hard earned money to buy a 400-page anthology for my one page essay still brings me to tears. I’m happy that their purchases benefit Urban Word NYC, a youth literarary arts organization. A year or two before I attended an Urban Word poetry slam contest at the Apollo. I was floored by the talent of these young poets. I’m proud a project I’m a part of supports a program that mentors them on their craft.
Even with a BA in writing, literature and publishing and a Masters in Creative Writing, I was hesitant to call myself a writer. Even with a blog that bears my name, I stuttered to call myself a writer out loud. Sure, I wrote it in my journal or my Moo.com networking cards. It was much better than Content Acquisition & Rights Associate. WTH is that? I felt ashamed that I had never been officially published. For years, I’d received rejection letters, or worse, crickets, from magazines, online publications, literary journals, fellowships. I never won grand prize or placed second of third in writing contests. Now, with pride, I can answer “yes” when asked if I’ve ever been published.
With total comfort, I can say “I am a writer.”