This past Saturday, I took an early train to NYC for the Well-Read Black Girl Writers’ Conference and Festival. How was it, you ask?
I missed the conference portion of the day in which one could go through some generative exercises and meet with agents, but I was there for the festival bit, which had all the panels. There were just so many highlights of the day! Here’s a list, in no particular order (except for the order of events because I’m a spazz like that):
- Opening remarks from Naomi Jackson, whose debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill, was the first novel I read in 2017. I liked it, but I more so found myself jealous of Jackson’s talent (of course). But seeing her speak reminded me that she’s not some god, she’s a person—a Black woman like me. Sure, she has an MFA and lots of education and experience with craft, but at the end of the day, she told a story, and guess who can do that, too? MOI.
- The fireside chat between Rebecca Carroll and novelist Tayari Jones was incredible, mostly because the women had such great chemistry and Tayari is hilarious! (For example, growing up in Atlanta, she was surrounded by Black people, thought HBCUs were the only types of universities, and was surprised to find out that white people also go to college. GOLD!) It was great to hear a literary storyteller who was so down-to-earth and reachable, for lack of a better term. Usually, when you think literary authors, you think Toni Morrison—again, a god-like creature whose talent I will never possess. But then you see people like Tayari who are also talented and also so real, and it makes you okay with being you.
- The writing as self-care panel—OH! All I could think during this panel (in which 5 writers talked about their writing processes, their ways of keeping sane and healthy) was “MY TWITTER IDOLS ARE REAL PEOPLE!” and “I feel so nourished right now.” It was so inspiring to hear Black women talk about how they take care of their souls because so few of us do. I was most moved to action by their reminders to keep negativity out of your mind by watching out much social media exposure you have; admittedly, it’s difficult because social media plays such a huge role in building a platform these days, but they were right: it’s easy to go nuts looking at everything everyone says out there, and you have to take care of yourself in that regard just as well. Afterwards, I got to meet Jenn Baker and Ashley C. Ford, two prolific writers who bring me joy as I follow them on the Twitter!
- The last panel, Writing as Political Resistance (shown in featured photo), was also moving because when you’re a Black woman and you write your ABCs, you are resisting. I felt so encouraged as the panelists told us that our stories mattered and that they should be heard. I felt so confident!
- Speaking of confidence, I had a chuckle to myself because I was one of the few women with relaxed hair at this conference and that took me by surprise. I don’t know why: I would venture to say that most Black women artists wear their hair natural to be true to themselves. At first I wondered if people would look at me funny since my hair is still straight, but then I quickly corrected myself: no one gives a flip what my hair looks like, and if they do, they’re probably not a writer because Black women writers have entirely too much to think about to ponder someone else’s hair. So, yeah.
- Seeing great women writers who I hadn’t seen in the longest time, including Obehi Janice, with whom I went to Georgetown, and Kristen Jeffers, with whom I shared a DC co-working space, but hadn’t actually met until this weekend. Small world.
- I met some great women readers and writers, and got exposed to authors I didn’t know before. For someone to have my English degree and my vocabulary, I haven’t actually read all that many books, especially by Black women writers, unfortunately. So I bought a bunch at the expo (ack!) and wrote down a whole bunch more. I have a lot of catching up to do.
So, I had a spectacular weekend being encouraged to know that I’m doing the right thing with my life right now. It is clear to me that people need to hear my stories. My voice needs to be heard. God is using me and my words to bless people and help them become who he’s called them to be. I’m accomplishing my mission and purpose, and, God, it feels good. Many, many thanks to Well-Read Black Girl for the encouraging and inspiring day!