I broke my hip when I was 11. Depressed and lonely, I made a ritual out of visiting the Brighton Beach Public Library. I would make a pan of brownies, roll down Ocean Parkway, and get lost in the corner where the library kept the black literature. My reading options were limited, but since the library had air conditioning and my wheelchair fit through the door, I learned to take my victories when they came.
Toni Morrison and Chicken Soup for the Soul became my scripture and after six months, I was walking again, with a new love for black narratives and carrying 40 pounds the brownies would not apologize for. That summer I discovered both the magic of blackness and the brutal context in which my grandmother’s anxiety and my parents’ absence found their roots. Still, I had yet to read my story in those stacks and somewhere between The Bluest Eye and The Coldest Winter Ever, I became a writer.
Toni never told me how lonely being a writer was going to be. I find myself both brilliant and sad, crying waterfalls, wanting to write the complex simplicity of life. I have always been intimidated by my own words, fearful that I might crack open the sorrow of the universe with the weight of a syllable. Then I remember that the melancholy of my mission is not just in my mind. The fear and grief running through my body, into my memories, and onto my breasts are not just my own. They are in my veins – in my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and Toni’s veins too. The depression I battle has had millennia to fester and literacy is a privilege many of my ancestors died to protect.
I love writing, but writing is hard work. I have to go inside to write and the more I go inside, the more I realize how deep my wounds are. The more I bleed, the clearer the climax becomes. As I round the climax, the more my life becomes the arc of narrative. I am the plot twist, the antagonist, and the heroine too. I embrace the audacity to discover myself in corners and words and the wounds of my ancestors, and that bravery is a part of my heritage.
People who go inside surround me. I am blessed to know women with the courage to exist. One of these women started The Free Black Women’s Library, a mobile collection of books written exclusively by black women. When asked why she started the library, she said she wanted people to know the diversity of stories black women have told. She wants people to know how beautiful we are. This is the magic of the universe, that past the witching hour, a writer can be heard typing the pain of her life while another imagines ways to share what we have written. This is the power of darkness.