There’s nothing like a fresh pot of good old fashion chicken noodle soup. As a matter of fact, I still have my grandmother’s recipe. From time to time, I gather, mix those ingredients, and bring it to a boil.
As I wait, I take a look over the recipe. I think of the few spice additions by me over time. My grandmother’s soup was good, but my palate called for a little more tang. The soup of me.
The soup of me consists of all ingredients that brought about the idea that an American of African descent can bring to life characters from fantasy and science fiction who look, well, like me. So place your spoon into your bowl and take a sip.
I am a 41-year-old female American of African descent who writes fantasy and science fiction. I have been married to my husband for 20 years and we have six children. My parents died when I was very young so I was raised by my grandparents (father’s parents). I have a half-sister by way of my mother. She and I were separated after our mother’s death.
I have three degrees (Associate of Science in Funeral Services, Bachelor of Science in Human Services Management, Masters of Elementary Education). Now you may be wondering, “What in the world?” I promise I will get to the how and why of my educational journey.
My story began in inner city New Orleans. You see, I was raised in those red line segregated neighborhoods. “What do you mean segregated? Segregation ended in the 1960s, correct? You are partly correct. Yes segregation ended in the 60s but many of its practices did not.
At one point, my grandparents lived in a wonderful neighborhood, but as many Americans of African descent moved in, many Americans of European descent were sold falsehoods. They were told having “Blacks” in the communities would bring down property value and bring in extraordinary levels of crime. They were told they would not be safe in their homes.
Redlining would see many Americans of European descent vacate cities and head for the suburbs. Those lines drawn would keep Americans of African descent out of certain areas. Those very lines caused property values in those communities to plummet. My grandfather’s dream would not come to pass. He had worked hard all his life (only a third grade education) to now see his property worth nothing.
Life was hard. Due to my grandmother’s many illness, she was unable to work so I did in her stead. My grandfather restarted his landscaping business so by age ten I was working. Not only was I working, but I had to be my grandparent’s eyes and ears because neither of them could read.
“I made decisions that I thought would matter. I made a mistake. Get your education. No man can take away what lies in your mind.” Those were my grandfather’s words. I took them to heart and tried my best in school. Sometimes my best was good enough and other times, it wasn’t.
As I grew, I realized I would one day have to leave my grandparents in order to make a better life for myself. The thought of it was excruciating. Who would help take care of them? Who would read for them? My grandmother did not want me to go, but my grandfather pushed me. Even in my darkest hours, he pushed me to try again. “As many times as you wake up. You have a chance to start over.” He would always say.
During the heartache of growing up without parents and the hardships of my life, I began to write. I remember it was during junior high school. My grandmother had a breast cancer scare and I was being bullied and sexually abused by several boys at my junior high. The abuse brought back memories of my early childhood abuse I suffered by my mother’s boyfriend before she died.
I had to go to a place. That very place was where my grandfather told me no one could take away from. I went to my mind. There, I began to develop worlds. My worlds included vampires, witches, and dragons. Soon, I had notebooks filled with stories of other worlds. I even wrote about the injustice of my sexual abuse as a fantasy story.
Soon I would become fascinated with the might of dragons. My grandfather would take me to the library to research dragons. What I found would later lead me down a path to discovery.
Of all the dragon myths, none were related to Africans. As my writings developed, so did my reading. I got to a point where all I wanted was to read fantasy. I dived into the world of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. Again leaving me to wonder where were the people who looked like me in those stories?
By the time I was 17, I decided I wanted to work with disadvantaged children. I wanted them to learn to use their imagination to escape worlds of pain.
Reaching college by the age of 19, I was able to leave New Orleans. Many different majors later, including funeral services after a book I had written about the dead rising, I found my way back to my love for children.
By 2007, nine years after graduating high school and four years after my Associates and Bachelor’s degrees, I entered a Masters of Elementary Education program at The University of Phoenix.
By 2010 I found myself with three degrees and no job.
Continuing to write but never publishing, I began to take my writings to small presses. I was never picked up but I had finally become a special education teacher.
I began to wonder if what a college teacher back in Beaufort, South Carolina said of my writings might be true. “Your story is good. Your editing sucks but your story is good. I’m going to spare you future regret by telling you the truth. No one is going accept extraordinary black characters. They’re just not ready. Fantasy is not your realm.”
I remember telling myself, “You can’t just ignore that fact that you were not represented in fantasy. You and young people who look like you deserve to be represented in a realm of strength, magic, power, and rule. You’re a dragon!”
I sat down and had a conversation with my husband and older daughters about my desire to return to writing. This time, I would self-publish if I had to. With their blessing, I would write again.
I wrote about a young lady suffering from depression and losing her mother and brother. The character found herself in a new world, the realm of Zaylen. Learning she was the decedent of a family who raised dragons, the main character Kalera sets out on a journey to become Palera Dawn (Queen of Zaylen).
Americans of African descent are more than just blacks in a movie or story just for the sake of it. We have thousands of years of ancestral history, myths, and legends. Our lives are not just trivial. We have suffered but in our suffering, we have overcome many obstacles along our paths. The narrative of the token character will come to an end. We are leaders, fighters, and kick-ass heroines and heroes who deserve to be written and read.
Share your soup (any part of your author story) or elaborate on a connection made with mine in the comment section below.