For Black Girls Like Me: A Conversation with Mariama Lockington

When I first stumbled upon Mariama Lockington’s personal essay, “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew,” I felt an instant connection with her. I remember reading the essay, nodding at all the things that I could relate to as a transracial adoptee. “Yes,” I murmured under my breath, “This is so good.

Mariama represents black girls whose identities sometimes don’t fit into neat boxes, the girls who sometimes walk the tight rope between two cultures. In sum, she represents black girls like me.

Read on for our conversation about writing, the importance of representation, and Mariama’s definition of home.

You first book, The Lucky Daughter a poetry chapter book, deals with themes like race and family. How much of the poetry draws from your own life experience?

Writing for me has always been about survival, about finding mirrors and windows in which to see myself and the world around me better. My poetry tends to be pretty confessional in nature, but not all of my poems are directly related to something that happened to me. Some of my poems are personal poems and some of them are re-memories and re-imaginings. In general, I like to say that in all of my poems there are emotional truths that ring true to my personal experiences.

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photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz

You also wrote a MG novel-in-verse, For Black Girls Like Me, which will be out next year. Why did you choose a middle school audience for this particular book?

For Black Girls Like Me in its very early stages was my MFA grad school thesis— a collection of about sixty prose poems about a nameless pre-teen adopted black girl. It was much more abstract and I thought that I had written it for an adult audience, but I was having trouble taking the manuscript to the next level after grad school. When I published my article “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” on Buzzfeed in 2016, my now editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, reached out. She asked if I’d ever considered writing a fictional book based on my own experiences as an adoptee, but for a middle grade audience. I was SO excited by this prospect, since my other passion in life is teaching and working with youth. I have a Masters in Education and I have worked with education nonprofits for more than ten years. When I thought about this girl I kept writing poems about, about writing her story more concretely for a younger audience, giving her a name, something just clicked. I was able to dive back into the manuscript and rewrite it for this younger audience with renewed vision and excitement. So in some ways, the book itself chose its audience.

Today, For Black Girls Like Me is my Harriet the Spy meets Awkward Black Girl mash-up. It will be out in July of 2019, and it’s a novel-in-verse about a curious young black girl, Makeda, who lives with her adoptive white family. When her family moves across the country one spring, everything changes for Makeda. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one true friend. Through it all, Makeda can’t help wondering: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? It’s a story about family, friendship, sisterhood, race and identity.

I can’t wait to read it, and it sounds like it was inspired in part by your childhood. In your Buzzfeed article, “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” you describe growing up in a color blind home, where your parents basically told you that race didn’t matter. You wrote that one of the effects of that was feeling like you had to shield your parents from the racism that you experienced when you are young, and then as an adult you felt you couldn’t have conversations about racism in America. After so many years of not talking about race and racism with your family, at what point did you start verbalizing your observations of racism?

Well there are two answers here.

I always get mad when adoptive white parents of black or brown kids tell me that their child is “too young to be talking or thinking about race.” That’s just false. Young people— toddlers and children— are VERY observant and aware of the ways they are being treated and what they are seeing in this world. They notice patterns and tension, and yes, sometimes they don’t always have the analysis or the language to  fully process the moment, but they are able to process their feelings and feel their observations. For example, when I was four or five my parents moved to Boulder, CO— a very white city. One day my mom took me to the grocery store and I saw a black woman in one of the isles. I stopped in my tracks, frozen, and pointed at the black woman in excitement and surprise. “Look mama,” I yelled,” It’s a black woman. She’s like me.” It was a seemly innocent moment, but my mom was horrified that I had acted so surprised to see someone who looked like me. She quickly realized—what she as a white woman had not realized until that moment— that seeing yourself reflected in the majority is a privilege. A privilege I had been denied. I may not have had the language to process all of this, but I knew in that moment that it felt affirming to know that I wasn’t the only one. That there were beautiful black women who existed in the world. Six months after this incident, my parents moved us back to Denver. I wouldn’t say that my parents NEVER noticed race or the ways we were treated differently, but they just had a hard time talking about it with me and my siblings. It’s awkward to treat your children as if color doesn’t matter, but then step into the world and be confronted with the ways it does. I don’t think my parents were ever given the tools to address moments like these with us.

I don’t think I really started talking consciously and openly about race until I was in college. Up until then, it was a lot of me stuffing my feelings and scribbling things in my journals. Of course growing up I KNEW I was black and that my parents were not. As mentioned above, I knew how it felt to be treated differently, or have kids at school call me “the whitest black girl” but I didn’t really know how to analyze and articulate why these moments of difference and tension were happening. In college two things happened, I took an entire class on Toni Morrison’s novels, and I started attending and performing poems at the University of Michigan U-Club Poetry Slams. In both of these spaces, I began to grapple with terms like: colorism, colorblindness, racism, microaggressions, colonization, etc., and I began to understand some of the bigger systems that were at play. It was both an empowering and terrifying period of time, and while I felt comfortable talking about these topics with my peers, bringing back my new found language and knowledge to my family was not comfortable or easy. It still isn’t.

That sounds like many transracial adoptees whose identities start to form when they leave home and attend college. Was there a particular circumstance that motivated you to start talking and writing publicly about your adoption and your identity? How has the conversation around transracial adoption changed, if at all?

I’d say that my time doing spoken word and slam poetry in college really helped me begin to share my adoptee truths more publicly. I saw other young poets of color getting up on stage and being really open and honest about their lives. After spending a lot of years stuffing or hiding my feelings, I admired and wanted to emulate this kind of honesty. In college, I screamed into a lot of microphones about my dad being a Colonizer (he’s originally from England) which is really dramatic and of course not directly true. But at the time it felt good to draw sweeping connections between some of the dark history of this world and my experiences growing up with white parents in mostly white spaces. I had a lot of anger to sort through in my 20s. A lot of valid anger.

I do think the conversation has changed a little bit around transracial adoption, but I think we still have far to go. I do notice that there are more support groups for white parents with adopted kids of color, and I am really grateful for all of the adult adoptees who are now speaking up about their experiences. Visibility helps.

Let’s talk about the idea of “home.” For many adoptees the concept of home and family may change as they grow up. You wrote that you grew up in Denver, moved to New Mexico and as an adult later moved to Michigan. Do you have a place that has felt most like home? If so, why?

Because I’ve moved around so much, I find home in people more than I do places. I don’t have that one childhood home that I go back to every holiday. Instead, I have memories of running around in Turtle Park in Denver with my friend Jesse and my sister. I have memories of driving around East Grand Rapids with my friend Lil Lizzie. I have memories of making forts in the woods in Baltimore with my sister and brother. Today, home is sitting on my porch in Kentucky with my dog, Henry, and my partner. We travel as a pack. Packlife = home.

Along with the complicated idea of home, many adoptees grow up feeling that they don’t know who they really are. Do you feel more “settled” in who are you now? If so, what has contributed to that?

Yes and no. I feel very settled in my career as a writer and educator, I feel settled in my partnership with my wife and the life we’ve chosen to build together, I feel very loved and supported by my friends and chosen family. And every day I am learning to ask for what I need, to stand in my truth, and not over apologize or be accommodating. But I have not searched for my biological family yet, so there is still a part of me that has a lot of questions, fear, and anxiety about who I am and where I come from.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a Young Adult novel— a queer love story between two black girls. It’s in the early stages, but I’m excited about where it’s going. Other than that, continuing to teach, cook good food, and get ready for For Black Girls Like Me to launch July 2019!

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Mariama Lockington is the author of The Lucky Daughter and the upcoming For Black Girls Like Me. You find her on Twitter at @marilock and on Instagram at @forblackgirlslikeme. You can also learn more about her at www.mariamalockington.com 

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God Loves Haiti: A Conversation with Dimitry Elias Leger

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Dimitry Elias Leger’s debut novel, God Loves Haiti, is set during the 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti, and the storyline focuses on Natasha, a free spirited artist who wants to leave Haiti to live in exile with her Haitian president husband, and Alain, her lover, who is determined to stay in the country and make things better.

In the news coverage after the earthquake, it was hard to actually conceptualize that 200,000 lives had been lost. A number that large, just feels like a number. But Leger’s novel forces readers to focus on three lives, three lovers, three flawed characters, whose lives are forever changed by the catastrophe. The novel is a love story and a political analysis, as well as a history lesson set against a tiny island with a complicated past.

Leger was kind enough to answer some of my questions about returning to Haiti, the writing life, and how he hopes to raise his children with an appreciation for Haiti.

When I first picked up your book, I was drawn to the title, God Loves Haiti. In an NPR interview, you said that the title was a response to comments that were made by Pat Robertson that the 2010 earthquake was a punishment from God. “God Loves Haiti” is such a radical statement, although it shouldn’t be. Do you think that public perception of Haiti has changed at all in recent years? Does it matter?

I don’t remember at what point in the writing process the title came to me. I do know it cracked me up when it did. I knew the idea could cheer up Haitians bummed out about Haiti and also annoy haters. Making fun of the expectations of haters who are often condescending, cynical, racist, or jealous of Haiti became the most enjoyable part of the writing, even though I was writing a story filled with characters who were deeply ambivalent about the place during the country’s darkest hour.

If you’re talking about the American public, perceptions of Haiti have been pretty tough through the centuries, hardening or softening a little depending on who’s in the White House. Economically, it matters. We’ve had lousy trade relations with the U.S. since 1804. Just look at how much more developed Caribbean countries with favorable public perceptions, like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, or the Bahamas, are. Haiti is more friendly and welcoming today than it has been since the ‘50s. It would be nice if better trade and political relationships with the U.S. also followed. It’s the only way to solve the infrastructure and economic problems that hinder the sustainable development of communities outside of Port-au-Prince.

It might not have been intentional, but I think one of the themes of God Loves Haiti is a country that is always calling her people back. As Natasha and her husband, the Haitian president, board their plane to leave Haiti, the earthquake hits, holding them hostage in the country they both love and loathe. Like you, I grew up outside of Haiti, but when I visit I feel rooted. When I leave, the homesickness hits me like a flu. You’ve talked about the same type of deep feelings visiting the country of your youth. Do you see yourself returning to Haiti long term?

Haiti is home, for better and for worse. As with any familial and ancestral home, visiting it is an intense experience. I could be anxious about a trip there. Then the sun and the heat hit me off the plane, and I’m happy. Everything makes senses to me in Haiti in an organic way that’s hard to replicate in other countries. The relationship is complicated and loving. My work and family are scattered in too many cities and countries for me to seriously contemplate living all year round in one city. Yet I’m also not immune to the common Haitian fantasy of retiring there someday. We’ll see.

IMG_7875.jpgOne of the unique things about your book is that it’s about Haiti and it’s written by a Haitian. How important do you think it is for Haitians to tell Haiti’s stories, or do you think in the end, the art is more important than the messenger?

Haiti and the Caribbean has a long tradition of producing good writers and poets and performers. There are a lot of Haitian writers publishing novels and poetry collections and essays in English or in French and finding audiences, especially in francophone countries. And there have always been. For some magical reason, many Haitians have had a gift for writing and story-telling on different scales and in different mediums, and our stories travel well. Haitian writers compete with painters to become the country’s signature export, like Brazil and soccer players, or Cuba with cigars, and the U.S. with movies and TV shows.

You’ve said that Caribbean writers willing to “mashup” ideas of about people, family, and heritage have an audience waiting for them. You’ve lived most of your adult life outside of Haiti in places like New York and Switzerland.  If you could create a “mashup meal” from the places you’ve lived or visited, what food would you include?

What a fun question! Such a delicious plate would include Haitian griot and plantains, of course, first and foremost. Then I’d toss in some fried chicken from America, BBQ spare ribs, corn on the cob, and French fries, of course. White or yellow rice and red beans from Latin America and then jerk chicken, my favorite Jamaican invention after reggae. From France, I’d want a steak with three different pepper sauces and a gratin dauphinoise and steamed vegetables, carrots and broccoli. Swiss fondue with charcuterie to conclude. We’d drink a lot of rum, of course, and coke, and ginger juice from Mali.

You have a background in journalism and worked as a reporter for the Miami Herald, along with other publications like Fortune Magazine, The Source, and MTV News. What’s the craziest story you’ve ever reported or the most interesting interview you’ve done?  

The celebrity stuff was fun because I largely covered parts of popular culture that I love: tech, music, and basketball. A lot of my colleagues like those entrepreneurs, artists and athletes we covered were around my age. We were all excited about getting their stories and our generations’ stories right and presented as cleverly as possible. My favorite story was a package on the exponential rise in black teen suicide rates since 1980. It was an under the radar trend in the hip-hop community that was awkward to write about but important to confront.

Like you, I am raising children of Haitian descent in the diaspora. How can we raise our children with an awareness and appreciation for their Haitian ancestry?

One good approach is to share with them your enthusiasm about all things Haiti, including family, friends, faith, food, music, books, and art, and of course, the island itself. Warts and all. If it’s genuine, it’ll be contagious. Or at least respected as part of your family’s every day flavor. Kids dig that. One thing I discovered living in different countries in three different continents is, shockingly, no country is perfect. Everyone has their fair share of assholes. The weather is too hot or too cold. Wealth is no virtue. Poverty is no sin. The struggle for happiness on a daily basis is real, and most of us suck at being grateful, humble, and kind all the time. Yet, Black is beautiful. As Haitians, it’s cool and a privilege to be able to trace our ancestry, our particularly strain of blackness, to one groovy island.

You’ve talked a lot about legacy and wanting this book to be part of your legacy for your children. Now that you’ve written your “Moby Dick”, what does it feel like to be on the other side of publication? Personally and professionally what, if anything, has changed?

To be on the other side of publication is amazing. Sometimes I still can’t believe it. What did it change? Everything. For one, I can have a bit of distance from the other challenges in life. Life can be hard. So it’s good to have proof that dreams can actually come true. All books and art give me that charge, not just mine. I need to visit a bookstore at least once a week or buy a good record by a new artist or see a bold movie to make me feel alive.

I’ve read that God Loves Haiti is coming to the screen soon. Can you tell us more about that?

In spring 2018, some talented producers in Hollywood bought the option to make God Loves Haiti, the TV series. Prayers up that they succeed!

What’s next for you?

Life? Or, like the Drake album: More life.

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Dimitry Elias Leger is a Haitian-American novelist, journalist, and humanitarian.  He also has great taste in music. To learn more about Leger, like his Facebook page,  follow him on Twitter @dimitryleger, and pick up a copy of God Loves Haiti here.


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Three Reasons Why You Should Read Eric Smith’s The Girl and the Grove

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Growing up, I watched Free Willy a million times. My siblings and I memorized some of the lines and danced to the Michael Jackson soundtrack.

One of the things I vividly remember is the scene when 12 year old Jesse throws a baseball through his foster parents’ window.

I immediately connected to Jesse’s character. Being adopted often means having these pent up feelings of grief and anger that you don’t get to fully express. And sometimes, like Jesse, you finally hit a breaking point .

Although Jesse was a foster kid, I could relate to some of the anger and frustration that he was feeling about being disconnected from his family.

Which brings me to The Girl and the Grove. Leila, the teen protagonist, is adopted after years in the foster system, and the novel follows her down an eventful path towards finding out who (and what) she really is. The book is written by Eric Smith, who is adopted, and the details about the adopted life are pretty accurate.

There’s many reasons to read The Girl and the Grove, but here’s three that make the book standout:

 Diverse characters –   Yes, I know the “d” word. Sometimes it feels like diversity is something thrown in just to fulfill a checklist, but in this book it feels authentic. Leila, the protagonist is black; Jon, her adoptive dad is white, and Lisabeth (Liz), her adoptive mom is also black.  One of my favorite scenes is when Liz is described as tucking one of her braids under the scarf she wore to bed. Um yes. Eric definitely nailed that! I also like that Leila’s dialogue or descriptions don’t fall back on black girl stereotypes. We need to read more black characters (especially black girls) who represent a range of experiences.

Jon and Liz’s parenting struggles –  This book also gives an honest portrayal of the challenges of adoption, especially with teen adoptions. It can be hard for all parties involved. Leila struggles with showing affection for her parents and also struggles with calling them “mom” and “dad.” I sometimes found myself annoyed at Liz for focusing so much on wanting to be called “mom.” But it’s real. Adoptive parent need validation too. Adoptees are often the subject of conversation about seeking external validation, but this book also explores the ways that adoptive parents may need to feel that they are “real” parents. Jon and Liz make mistakes, but they are supportive and open. They never really push Leila to say the words, and they give her the space she needs to process her emotions on her own time.

Leila’s longing for answers about her past –  The central theme of this book is Leila’s journey to find the source of the voices that she hears calling out to her, which lead her to a surprising discovery about her past. For so many adoptees, the search for identity is a lifelong quest, no matter how “good” their adoption is. It’s an intrinsic need, and it’s not an insult to adoptive parents that adoptees want to know where they come from. I could relate to Leila’s longings and I wish I had this book on my shelf when I was growing up.

I finished the book in two days, which is pretty impressive in the midst of my year end teacher madness. It was an easy read, and it brought up so many important topics around adoption. It also has a fantasy element, which is not the genre I tend to read, but it totally worked for this book. You can pick up a copy of The Girl and the Grove here

Eric Smith is also the author of The Geek’s Guide to DatingInked and Branded. He also edited Welcome Home, an adoption themed YA anthology. You can find him at http://www.ericsmithrocks.com


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Summer Reading Kickoff: 9 Books About the Immigrant Experience

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As the school year winds down, it’s time to start thinking about the summer months ahead. For many of us, summertime means kicking back, getting some beach (or pool) time, and relaxing with a good book.

I decided to kick off the “it’s almost summer” weekend with a list of books about people who have come to America, sometimes under extraordinary circumstances.

We need stories about immigrants, especially today. We need these stories because they are also our stories. No matter where you come from, there is probably something in each of these stories that you can relate to.

So here are nine different books (a list of 10 would be so cliche) about the immigrant experience.

Ghana Must Go: This is the story of a Ghanian family whose patriarch Kweku Sai dies. After his death, his four children travel to Ghana from New York, London, Boston, and New Haven to come to terms with the things that have driven them apart. 

The Book of Unknown AmericansAlma Rivera and her husband emigrate from Mexico to Delaware, mostly to give their daughter, Maribel, access to a special needs school. This book, especially the ending, will leave you thinking about it long after you’ve finished.

AmericanahA Nigerian woman moves to the United States while her childhood sweetheart goes to London, overstaying his visa and living as an undocumented immigrant. Americanah is a love story and a political commentary of American race relations. You will not be able to put it down, and you will (hopefully) love the ending.

The Namesake: A couple moves from Calcutta, India to Cambridge, Massachusetts and the novel focuses on their son, Gogol, who struggles with his identity as an Indian being raised in America. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and when you’re done, do yourself a favor and watch the movie.

We Too Sing America: The title is taken from Langton Hugh’s poem “I, Too Sing America.” It’s a much needed examination of the ongoing racism directed towards brown and black people in America. This book mixes personal accounts with research and also shows how activities are fighting back

Behold the Dreamers It’s an Oprah Book Club Selection, so you already know it’s going to be good! The novel is about two families, an immigrant family from Cameroon and their wealthy employers in Manhattan. It centers around the downfall of Enron and questions The American Dream.

Undocumented This is a memoir from a Dominican author, Dan-el Padilla Peralta, whose mother decides to stay in New York, overstaying their visas. The family ends up homeless, but with the help of a homeless shelter volunteer, Dan-el enrolls in private school and eventually attends Princeton.  

Under the Same Sky This is another powerful memoir. Joseph Kim escapes North Korea and the The Great Famine and is brought to the United States as a refugee. Kim thrives in the US, mastering English, and attending college.

Bird of Paradise: The last book is also a memoir. When Raquel Cepeda’s estranged father almost dies from heart disease, she decides to find out more about her ancestry using the science of DNA.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these titles or if you have other books about the immigrant experience that you can recommend.  Happy Reading!


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The Royal Wedding: A Reminder that Representation Matters

My kids don’t let me sleep in on Saturday mornings. They usually burst into my room a little before 7 a.m, asking me what’s for breakfast or wanting to jump into bed. This morning, I didn’t mind getting up early because I wanted to catch a bit of the Royal Wedding.

I know very little about the Royal Family, but I will admit that my interest picked up last year when Prince Harry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle was announced in November.

Black twitter erupted in enthusiam over the announcement. A biracial, once married actress would be married into the Royal Family. Whoa.

So I tuned in to the wedding, coffee in hand, not sure what to expect. I hadn’t seen Prince William and Kate’s ceremony, so I had nothing to compare it to. But ohmygosh, what a beautiful ceremony.

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What a deliberate, intentional choice to include and uplift blackness. 

I watched with my daughter as Prince Harry and Meghan received a word from Bishop Michael Curry. And it was a word. He spoke about love and its potential to revolutionize families, and workplaces, and countries.

Curry’s charisma seemed to make some of the attendants squirm. Possibly because his sermon was almost 13 minutes long. But it was beautiful. A black American preacher from Chicago delivered a sermon that included references to Martin Luther King Jr., slavery, and above all else the transformational power of love.

The service continued with a black choir that sang “Stand by Me”, a black chaplain, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 19 year old black cello player.

The Royal Wedding could have stuck to tradition, but it didn’t, which was meaningful for so many reasons. With millions watching around the world, blackness was on display. Oprah, Serena Williams, and Gina Torres were just a few of the black women in attendance. And then there was Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, rocking her natural hair.

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As I watched, I thought about how historic this moment was. I grew up in a white home and in a white community, and I sometimes lacked healthy representations of black women in the media. As a teen, many of the black women I saw on television were in music videos. I didn’t see girls or women like me doing regular things.

But children of color need to see people who look like them in the media in a variety of roles. 

We need to see not just the professional athletes and entertainers, but the teachers, the lawyers, and the writers. We need the heroes and the villains and everything in between. 

We need Meghan Markle, a biracial girl who grew up in California, now a member of the Royal Family.

A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of seeing myself in a book. I remember my mom reading the book to my sister and me and tracing the beautiful images on the pages.

I have a copy of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, and it remains one of my favorite books today. The book gave me images of black people that I treasured, just like The Royal Wedding did for so many watching around the world.

 


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A Little Haiti Book Festival Recap

Whew. What a busy two days!

Somehow I had never heard of the Little Haiti Book Festival until this weekend! A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post from the Miami Book Fair about the two day event down in Miami. They advertised a two day schedule that kicked off with a Saturday night keynote presentation with Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian author and Jacqueline Charles, a Haitian journalist.

Edwidge Danticat? Sign.me.up. 

Danticat is a favorite of mine and many of her books are on my shelf. The first book of hers that I read was Beyond the Mountains, a Middle Grade novel about a young Haitian girl who moves from Haiti to New York.

After that, I read many of her other books, included Breath, Eyes, Memory, Krik Krak, The Dew Breaker, and Brother I am Dying. I was also lucky enough to get an advance copy of her children’s book, Mama’s Nightingale. 

On Saturday night, I arrived at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex’s auditorium with my friend and our daughters, and we scored front row seats! After a few poetry and dance performances in Creole, Danticat and Charles took the stage.

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The presentation was called “Haiti: Facts and Fiction” and they both discussed their careers, the state of Haiti, and their roles in the Diaspora. The two women could have talked for hours, and I would have sat glued to my seat, enjoying every minute.

One of the highlights was Danticat’s comments about her writing process and her approach to writing deeply personal narratives. Charles talked about her observance of the Haitian millennials’ desire to “change the narrative of Haiti.” It’s great, Charles argued. But there has to be work done first in order to change the narrative.

That stayed with me for a while.

I confess, I’m one of those “millennial” Haitians in the Diaspora who wants the narrative of Haiti to be less about poverty and suffering. But I also agree with Charles that changing the narrative of Haiti needs to be less about glossy PR and more about real change.

As a first time attendee of the book festival, I left impressed. All of the events were free, and everything seemed very well-organized.

On Sunday, they had activities for the kids including drumming, arts and crafts, and story time. I also attended another panel discussion that included four Haitian women debut authors.

It was a perfect two day event in a venue that felt very intimate.

Here are some tips if you’re planning on going next year:

  1. Arrive early. There are two free parking lots that fill up very quickly. Also, on Saturday we arrived around 6pm and missed the Caribbean Marketplace next door that is only open on Saturdays from 10-6.
  2.  Enjoy the food! My friend ate griot (fried pork) and I ate some plantains with pikliz (a spicy cole slaw) Yum!
  3. Dance! On both days, there were DJs and live music. Sweat a little (or a lot) and use one of the many promotional flyers hanging around to fan yourself.
  4. Buy Books! Visit the booths or the Haitian owned book store down the street, Liberi Mapou. I visited  Liberi Mapou and bought two books at full price (my little frugal heart was hurting), but it was for a great cause. #buyblack #supportindepenentbookstores

Overall, it was a great weekend, and an organized and well planned out event. If you’re in South Florida next year and  plan on going, hit me up on Twitter! Maybe I’ll see you there!

Click on the images below to learn more about Edwidge Danticat’s titles:

Enjoy!


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You Have His Eyes: A Conversation with Christopher Wilson

You Have His Eyes is a gripping documentary from filmmaker Christopher Wilson. In the film, Chris, a transracial adoptee, documents his search for his father. Chris has already found and met his birth mother, but he is curious about his father’s identity and whereabouts. When he begins his search, all Chris has is a grainy passport picture of his father, a few stories from his birth mother, and a determination to find the man who shares his features.

The documentary begins in South Florida and ends in Jamaica, but it is the stops in between that reveal the complexity Chris’ family – something many of us can relate to. As Chris continues to search, he begins to unveil family secrets that bring him one step closer to his father. The footage is raw, and there are several scenes that will give you goosebumps. In the end, Chris finds answers to some of his questions, but he also understands that his identity is not based on the actions or choices of someone else.

Watch the trailer below and then read on for our interview!

What was the motivation for making a documentary? Did you have any filmmaking experience before you started this project?

 My motivation for everything stems from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Right before this project came to fruition, I was saved. God freed me up to pursue my dreams and find myself. So after I accepted him into my life, I decided to begin to chase my dreams, and one of them was to be a filmmaker. I love film but had very little experience behind the camera myself. I just felt I had an eye for it and enough passion to see a project through. We were searching for stories, going back in forth with an investor on the best possible story to document. Everyone we encountered kept saying, “You know there might be something with your own story, and the issue of adoption in general”. So then we thought, “What would be the angle? What are you most interested in telling or finding out about yourself?” “Well, I would love to know about my father,” I thought…so we said, “Let’s make a film that documents the search for him”.

We began with retracing our steps and turning the cameras on my family, myself, and my birth mother, whom I had just recently met and started a relationship with. As soon as we turned the cameras on my family…BOOM! All these very revealing stories started to boil to the surface.  All of sudden I realized I was literally pursuing my dream, a film career, and finding myself and my roots all in one project! God has a way of working everything out perfectly and sometimes all at once. Something He never let me lose sight of throughout this process. We realized right away we had a film about adoption, yes, a film about a search, yes..but in truth we had film about family. Which pleased me greatly. Because everyone can relate to a story about family.

From start to finish, how long did it take to complete the documentary?

 The film took 2.5 years from planning, to the start, to its finish. Most of that time was spent searching. The rest was spent comprising and editing the footage. This film was not documented in a typical way, we didn’t want to go in with a manufactured story or limit ourselves by filming only what we set out to capture, so we literally just shot everything and said we will deal with the footage at the end. So that was hard to narrow down a good cut of the film having shot so much footage. We wanted to give everyone a chance to tell their part of the story. I pray we were successful.

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When you met your birth mother, she said that she would not recommend adoption. How do you feel about adoption?

 My birthmother was speaking from the heart when she made that comment. She wasn’t saying that adoption was a bad thing, she was saying that adoption is a hard thing to go through. Gut wrenching. We need that kind of honesty when talking about adoption. Sometimes people are afraid of saying something bad, even when you are truly in favor of the process. She was also speaking to the fact that her own personal experience was not ideal, having been promised by the adoption agency that she was going to be able to remain in some sort of communication with me and my family. Then the agency was shut down for selling children illegally and all communication from that point abruptly stopped. After she made that comment she prefaced with saying it was for those reasons mostly she could not recommend it to anyone, while at the same time saying it was the BEST decision given to her at the time. Adoption like everything in life is not cut and dry, often times it is nuanced and falls into that gray area.  She is fully thankful to my family. My adoption gave two people the chance at a productive life, whereas together our outlook did not seem as promising.

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Chris’ birthmother

 On your journey to find your father, you learned of family you never knew existed. You also learned of your mother’s sexual abuse by her father (your biological grandfather), as well as physical and mental disorders in your family. Do you ever regret finding out this information, or in other words, is ignorance sometimes bliss?

What happened to my biological parents allowed me to see them as strong individuals who persevered. It made me reflect and be truly grateful for my own life. As for myself…I was never concerned about what I found out…because I had God. My faith. I live under the understanding that my life has been laid out for me, and He has walked my steps. So whatever comes my way was intended. However, I am fully aware that most people do not see life through this prism. Especially some of the immediate family and friends around me. So I could feel them becoming very concerned for me as I dug deeper into the dormant truths within my family.

I love my biological Grandfather despite his shortcomings. I cannot judge anyone. I try not to. I just want to offer my love to everyone because that was all I received as a child, unconditional love. Mental disorders can often times be spurred by circumstances, and my life has been nothing but blissful. So I was never concerned for my own mental health either. What bothered me most is when I see or feel someone pity or feel worried on my behalf; it makes me feel for them. I don’t want them to be concerned over something I have no concern over myself.

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 Speaking of mental disorders, how did filming the documentary challenge your views of mental health?

 The issue of mental health shows up in our film in a very dramatic and intense way. I never anticipated anything like this. I really can’t speak to this issue by medical terms. I do not see things in that way. In today’s very financially driven medical field, almost everyone can be categorized with a mental disorder.  As we were investigating what happened to my biological father, very early on reports started to come in that he had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was given medication, was misdiagnosed by doctors, and this medication caused him to snap….and he abruptly disappeared.

 I think we need to evaluate how we treat individuals who have a different outlook and perspective on life. We are all unique and sometimes when society tries to change that in a person, the results can be negative and often detrimental. It takes a very special person to dedicate themselves to a craft so intensely that they become the best in a nation, as my birth father did with his track career. I am proud of him and his accomplishments.

 What is the best thing to come out of this experience? What advice do you have for any adoptee who is considering searching for their family?

 The best part of the whole experience was living my dream of being a filmmaker and exercising my faith into action and connecting with my extended family. It’s hard to speak on behalf or for other adoptees because each story is so unique. So I am only speaking for myself in this moment. My advice? Seek God. Seek him first and all the other pieces will fall right into place. That is a true statement for anything.  If you are searching for something from someone don’t search yet. No one owes anyone anything. I know that can seem like an insensitive statement. But it is a truth.

 Everything you need can be found within yourself. Any answer you want can be given to you by God. All you have to do is listen to Him.  I was blessed. I was very content with my family. I wasn’t looking for another. I remember friends being more interested in my biological parents then I was. But I did have the whispers of normal curiosity, “What do they look like?” “What career paths did they choose?”  Things like that. All I ever needed was provided from my adoptive family: unconditional love. So it was easy to be content with my life.

 What is the next step for you and the documentary? Where can people purchase or download the film?

 Right after finishing the film we received our first two official selections. Our film had a big premiere June 28th in Boston as part of Roxbury International Film Festival. As we seek distribution for the documentary, we will be touring festivals and screening all over the United States and International Markets. We can’t wait to release the film worldwide. We feel this story, which is about adoption, which is about a search, but ultimately it is a story about family, which is a story everyone can relate to. For now you can follow us on our Facebook page and on our official film website for the latest updates and screening listings.

At the time of publication, You Have His Eyes has won the Audience Award at the Kingston New York Film Festival, the Best Director of a Documentary and Best Documentary Feature at the Chain New York City Film Festival, and Best of Festival at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival.

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Christopher Wilson is a filmmaker, writer, actor, and model,  and he is currently working on a short film with his production compony, CTW Productions. He is also the CEO of 7one, an organization devoted to empowering people to follow their dreams. Wilson currently resides in South Florida.