Next Event: The Ask Rayceen Show – August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be performing in the Listening Lounge at The Ask Rayceen Show. You’ll be able to catch me in my element – singing and reciting poetry. Hosted by the FABULOUS Rayceen Pendarvis, the event takes place Wednesday, August 6, 2014 | 7PM (Doors open at 6PM) | Liv Nightclub (2001 11th St NW, Washington, DC | Above Bohemian Caverns).

Esteemed authors LaToya Hankins, R. L. Norman, and Wyatt O’Brian Evans will be featured in the Authors’ Corner. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy of our books, you’ll be able to do so at the event. Poets, spoken word artists, and poetry lovers are also in for another treat as there will be a Poetry Slam. The winner will receive a $100 cash prize.

Best of all, the event is FREE and open to the public!

Check out the calendar for The Ask Rayceen Show for next few months.

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So if you’re in the area on any of these dates, please check out The Ask Rayceen Show!

Until next time… Peace, love, and many blessings!

Janet Mock and The Power of Defining Ourselves For Ourselves

janet-mock-amos-mac-opmagImage courtesy of Amos Mac of OP Magazine and janetmock.com.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. ~ Audre Lorde

There is freedom in knowing ourselves and defining ourselves for ourselves. There is freedom in living in our light and telling our stories–oft stories that need to be told. When we allow ourselves to be defined by others, our lives are muted, shortchanged, and disregarded. There is no power like that of naming yourself and claiming your truth. This is what Janet Mock has done and continues to do as a fierce writer, advocate, and creator of #GirlsLikeUs, a movement which encourages trans women to live their lives openly and visibly.

In late February, I had the opportunity to attend an intimate talk by Janet Mock at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC. This event was part of a book tour in support of Mock’s New York Times bestselling book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More. The ever-engaging Helena Andrews, journalist, pop culture critic, and author of Bitch Is The New Black, facilitated the talk.

In 2011, Mock came out as a trans woman in the misgendered Marie Claire article, “I Was Born A Boy.” At a very early age, Mock knew what her identity was and that it did not match the sex she was assigned at birth. She always knew she was a girl, even though the world tried to refute, devalue, and silence her true identity through gender policing, heteronormativity, and transphobia. It was a struggle, but Mock was adamant about who she was and was determined to live her life authentically. In no truer words, Michaela Angela Davis told Mock, “You got your girl. You saw who you were and you got her.” And that she did!

Aside from an affirming family, Mock credits community as being pivotal in her path to womanhood. In seventh grade she met her best friend, Wendy, who was also a young trans woman. Mock says Wendy connected her with a community of older trans women who she bonded with. Through them she had examples of what trans womanhood was, which further shaped her identity and what she wanted her womanhood to be.

It was in this community that Mock says other trans women began calling her “Baby Janet” because of an uncanny resemblance to Janet Jackson. During this time, Mock admits being completely enamored with Jackson’s critically acclaimed album The Velvet Rope. The Velvet Rope is a collection of deeply introspective songs, many of which unveiling pain that Jackson held inside for many years. The album touched on depression, self-love, self-worth, sexuality and social issues like homophobia and domestic violence. Mock saw many parallels between Janet’s heartfelt music and her own life. So how fitting is it that she, too, would ultimately name herself Janet.

During the talk, Mock also discussed the notion of privilege and “passing.” In this society, we often place too much emphasis on beauty and attractiveness. Often times, beauty can overshadow a person’s skills, gifts, talents, and experiences. Mock acknowledges privilege in being attractive, but she does not let that define who she is. She says, “I do the work. I will not let people reduce me to a pretty face.” Mock also scoffs at the notion of passing, for she is a woman who is simply being herself.

When it comes to telling your story, Mock says you have to do it first and foremost for yourself. Tell yourself the truth about your experiences. She recommends finding someone you trust to share your story with. When you feel ready, share the story publicly. For young trans women, she says “Shut out all the noise. Tap into your own truth. Find your advocates.” For many of us, it’s crucial that we find our families in the spaces we’re in.

As her journey continues, Mock hopes that her work speaks for itself and that her story is one that opens minds, shifts language, and inspires others to be their authentic selves. When asked by Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live about the message she hopes people take away from Redefining Realness, Mock said, “I think my biggest thing would be to empower girls who grew up like I did. To give them language and access to explain and understand their experiences. For so long, I…blamed myself for a lot of the hardships that I went through and I would like to free them from that. And I hope that the book frees a lot of people to understand these issues more.”

And what can we expect from Mock in the future? More writing, of course. She’s planning to write a book which addresses the beauty myth from the perspective of a black trans woman. She’s also looking into TV as another platform for storytelling.

Janet Mock, thank you for doing the work. Thank you for being the beautiful spirit that you are and for sharing your powerful story with us. Trailblazer, keeping shining!

I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you. ~ Janet Mock

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Learning to Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan

Image courtesy of USA Today.

Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do. ~ Terry McMillan, Disappearing Acts (1989)
On April 20, 2013, my partner and I attended “Learning To Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan.”  The event, presented in partnership with the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, was part of the PEN/Faulkner 2012/2013 Reading Series.  Moderated by writer, professor, and PEN/Faulkner board member Lisa Page, this event offered readers the chance to exchange in conversation with one of the most creative, thought-provoking, and inspiring literary minds of time.  

“Learning To Breathe” was divided into three partsreading, interview, and Q&A.  During the reading, McMillan read a selection from her upcoming novel Who Asked You?  With an anticipated release date some time in fall 2013, the novel will be told from the perspective of 15 characters in first-person.  Who Asked You? is full of wit, realism, and social commentarytold in McMillan’s signature style.

One of the key aspects of McMillan’s work has been admitting or getting to a truth.  She has a knack for using self-realization, self-discovery, and humor to help her characters get to their truth.  The common belief is that we have to go through something or be down-and-out in order to get to our truth.  McMillan dissuaded this notion saying, “You don’t always have to be depressed to admit a truth.”  

McMillan has said, “Writing is a form of praying on paper.”  It provides us with a way to really understand who we are, what makes us tick, and what we care about.  She shared that she wants us all to be happy and “sickening in love… be assets and not liabilities… be happy about who we are…[be] forgiving…”  Her critically acclaimed and award-winning novels like Mama, Disappearing Acts, Waiting to Exhale, and A Day Late And A Dollar Short are evident of this.  In addition, McMillan’s writing has afforded her (and her readers) greater empathy, compassion, and a better understanding of people she might not have in real life.

When asked about how she develops her characters, McMillan said you not only have to listen to how people talk but you also have to get outside of yourself in order to authentically tell someone else’s story.  “You have to get lost in someone else’s skin,” she says.  “Because otherwise it’s phony.”  For every story she’s written, she knows every single detail about her characters.  Even if the details don’t make it into the book, it illustrates the point about knowing who (and what) you’re writing about.  This, I’m sure, is how and why the characters always speak to you when in the midst of writing projects (as McMillan and so many other writers have noted).

As far as her process, McMillan never writes more than one chapter a day.  A work day for her can vary from two hours to eight or more hours.  But she admits that she’s quite spent when she’s finished writing for the day.  For chapters that are emotionally taxing, she may take a break and continue writing them the next day.  McMillan emphasized that no matter what you do, you must “find your own rhythm.”

McMillan also imparted her insights on the ever-changing publishing industry and provided some advice to aspiring authors.  She said the industry is racist and sexist, to some extent.  And that it is particularly harder for new authors to get contracts, especially for African American authors.  When McMillan’s best-selling book Waiting To Exhale was released in 1992, the publishing world was turned upside down by the mere fact that so many black people were reading and buying books (in droves).  If you looked at the press, you would think a new renaissance had started (when really it was nothing new).  I was only 10 years old at the time, and like McMillan, I too was insulted because the implication was that black people did not read (let alone write) and that we didn’t buy books.  The reality is that the publishing industry had ignored some of their largest book buying demographics.  To take advantage reap the benefits of this, the industry started beefing up promotion and doling out large advances to several black writers at the time.  Many of these writers were pummeled with accolades and kudos that were well beyond anyone’s expectations.  And sadly, you don’t hear about many of them today.

Fast-forward years later to the impact of a fledgling economy, and the infiltration of Corporate America into every facet of our lives, and we understand why it’s so hard for writers to get contracts.  And if you do get a contract, forget about book tours.  The chances of your publishing company setting up book tours are slim-to-none.  McMillan said she is quite fortunate to be able to live off of the royalties from her book sales, but she acknowledges that she, too, could be standing in the welfare line at any moment.  Her advice to aspiring writers: do not get discouraged and do not quit your day job. 

The next time McMillan is in town, I highly advise checking her out.  You won’t regret it.  

To learn more about Terry McMillan, go to her official website: http://www.terrymcmillan.com/.

Bibliography:
Mama (1987)
Disappearing Acts (1989)
Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction (1990)
Waiting To Exhale (1992)
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996)
A Day Late And A Dollar Short (2001)
The Interruption of Everything (2005)
It’s Okay If You’re Clueless: And 23 More Tips For The College Bound (2006)
Getting To Happy (2010)

Day 79: OutWrite 2012 Was a Success

BuddahDesmond performing during the head / heart / soul Black LGBT poetry reading, as part of OutWrite 2012.
I had the pleasure of participating in The DC Center’s 2nd annual OutWrite 2012 Book Festival this past weekend.  I’m actually still on cloud nine from the experience.  This was the first public event to promote my book Prevail: Poems on Life, Love, and Politics.  I consider this festival a true blessing (considering when I found out about it and how quickly I had to move to get involved).  I had the opportunity to network with other authors and businesses and gain some new fans.  

I was also honored to be featured with Rashid Darden, Monica A. Hand, and Red Summer the Black LGBT head / heart / love poetry reading (I’ll post video of my reading soon).  It was a phenomenal experience.  The energy from the audience was great.  They were really feeling our poetry (which is always a plus).  And the turnout was excellent.  After the show I received lots of kudos from members of the audience and my fellow poets from the reading.  It was also touching to have some of my family and friends present at the event.  If it wasn’t for a solid support system, I wouldn’t have made it this far.  My support system has definitely helped me prevail.

I look forward to participating in OutWrite 2013.  And if you’re in the DC Metro Area next year in early August, you should come check it out.
If you haven’t had the chance to check out my book Prevail: Poems on Life, Love, and Politics, please do!  It’s available from iUniverse, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other retailers.  Also, check out and ‘like’ the fan page on Facebook.   

~ BuddahDesmond

I’ll Be Appearing at OutWrite 2012 in DC 8/3/12 & 8/4/12

 Logo courtesy of the OutWrite LGBT Book Festival site.
It’s with great pleasure to announce my participation in the OutWrite 2012 LGBT Book Festival.  OutWrite is a two-day book fair which will feature book readings and discussions, poetry readings, book vendors, and lots more.  Throughout the fair, LGBT-themed books and magazines will be for sale, both old and new.  OutWrite will take place August 3rd and 4th in Washington, DC at The DC Center.  Check out the piece Lambda Literary recently posted on OutWrite.

As part of OutWrite, I’ll also be featured along with Rashid Darden, Monica A. Hand, and Red Summer in head / heart / soul, which will celebrate the works of Black LGBT poets.  head / heart / soul will take place August 4th at 6:30pm.  RSVP for the poetry reading by visiting the event’s Facebook page.  I can’t wait!

Aside from the poetry reading, I’ll have a table set up in the exhibition area on both days.  So stop on by! 

If you live in or will be visiting the DC Metro Area in early August, please come out and support OutWrite.  It’s gearing up to be an unforgettable event!

~ BuddahDesmond  
 

R.I.P. E. Lynn Harris


I was stunned when I heard that E. Lynn Harris died. I thought it was just another hoax. But sadly, his passing was in fact true. Harris was a tremendous talent. He was the voice of a community that had often been silenced, nonexistent, or unacknowledged in the literary world. Harris’ work inspired dialogue, and opened minds and hearts. His contributions helped pave the way for many of today’s black gay contemporary writers. He was a treasure and will forever be missed.

Thank you, E. Lynn Harris, for inspiring us. Thank you for sharing our stories. Thank you for helping me, and I’m sure many others, who–at a young age–was struggling with my sexuality but learned to accept and embrace it. 

E. Lynn Harris, rest in peace. We love you!

~ BuddahDesmond