And then I woke up and had become an author to two books of poetry.
My life is an intricate journey of backroads, reversals, detours. If you had met me oh, 4 years ago, I might have only introduced myself as a non-profit manager. For my friends who had known me before this switch, I remember giving strict instructions: Do not refer to me as a writer; I’m no longer really a poet; I’m choosing to focus on the other aspects of my professional self.
About 4 years ago, too, I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred for the first time. In addition to it being a great work of literary art, a core piece of it now helps me to understand who I am and how I am moving in the world right now. In Kindred, Dana, having learned that at any moment she could be snatched back in time, decided to pack a bag with necessary tools for whatever awaits her on the other side. My self in 2008, 2009, 2010, maybe pieces of 2011, before I entered the full-time work life, wrote everything, and read everything, and made notes, and sketches, and drafts of things. I was packing my literary bag for some future self.
Weary Kingdom is out in the world now, its official release date April 25, 2017. I remember when I was in college in the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, and my colleagues would talk about it taking 10 years to write/finish/find a publisher/find the right time to publish a book. Being the quasi-millenial that I am, and being the young woman that I was, I scoffed at that timeline, and thought: who needs that much time? Of course, I understand it better now. Not that it took me 10 years, but some of those poems are easily 8 or 9 years old, written almost immediately after How God Ends Us (8 years old this month as well) and well, I needed the time to be ready for another book in the world, and the time to be ready to be the person I needed to be in order to support it. But what has emerged, in that time difference, is a time capsule.
I resisted the urge to “update” Weary Kingdom into the 2016-2017 DéLana, even though I had the time. I learned that it would be published on my mother’s birthday: March 3, 2016. I had been in South Carolina because she had suffered a massive stroke, and I needed to see about her. So I went to a reading, and the director of the press informed me of the news in person, and I went back to the rehabilitation center and told my mother. Her stroke was still new, and her brain still holding tight to normalcy in any way it could, so it was quite possibly the last time I was sure she understood every word I told her. That–the thing she kept asking me about: “what about your writing, Lana?” and I would say, “Mama, don’t ask me about that”, was coming back into my life, right at the moment that my life was drastically changing.
The process from publication announcement to book in hand can take a year or more. It was just over a year for me, and still had so many times to change some things, to push poems in at the last minute, to update. But I love the idea of a time capsule. I love that in my hands is a little thing that tells of a time: namely, I do not call out the word, “husband”, and, in it, my grandmother Louise B. Melvin is still alive, my mother is still speaking to me over the phone, Harlem is still very black, and I have my own studio apartment called The Perch, and I am still trying to figure out who I am in spite of all of the movement around me.
The other thing my writer self then packed away for my writer self now is a novel. So, while I am working to get Weary Kingdom out into as many hands as possible, and to do readings in front of as many folks as possible, I am editing and re-writing and re-visiting and re-living the way my body felt while existing in the world of my novel. Earlier this year, I signed with a literary agent, and I was sure that we would work together on a book of essays (also with more recent works, and with things I want to write about, like the last year), which I imagined would come first, but she insisted I think about doing fiction first, and so here I am, thinking in multiple genres, about to launch into my national book tour with Weary Kingdom, and quite frankly, getting closer and closer to the life I thought I’d have (being a “full time writer”; having multiple books in multiple genres; reading and talking and doing workshops with audiences all over the world) when I was dreaming up what I’d be doing after college. The long, windy road it took to get here, but I am still very thankful for some wise words from a friend of mine who reminded me, when I learned that How God Ends Us would be published when I was 23, that I could have a long career, and to think of the long-arc of one’s writing career, and that I could take my time, and I could step away (I wasn’t hearing that part when he told me, but it stuck) and come back 10 years later, and still be a young writer, and still have so much ahead of me.
But how the literary world has changed between How God Ends Us and Weary Kingdom. It’s been interesting, also, learning to navigating this. At drinks one night with Morgan Parker, I said: “I feel like folks are looking at me like who are you? where did you come from” and she said–in Morgan’s way and I love her and our friendship because of it–, “Bitch, act like you never left!”
So here I am. (also back on my blog) Like I never left. Two poetry books in hand. Novel on deck, an essay collection swimming behind. And, I just told Curtis last night, and my sis Jessica Lynne that I believe a short story collection is brewing inside of me.