Archive | March, 2015

We Gather Together

16 Mar

The other day I went to a memorial service for a former Essence colleague Jonell Nash. Jonell had been the food editor of Essence since 1984. She was a graceful, lovely, talented woman. Every one of the people who spoke at her beautiful service described her that way. Her dear friend and former colleague (and my sister-scribe, fellow Howardite) Harriette Cole organized the service and it was perfect. As it was, of course, a sad occasion, but it was also a great reunion of an entire era: from Susan Taylor, our beloved editor-in-chief (still looking amazing and doing the hard work of lifting Black people through her national mentoring organization) to copy chief Charlotte Wiggers and so many more. Essence folk just showed up. My best friend from college, Monique Greenwood, a former editor-in-chief, drove up from D.C. Jonell’s former assistant Marsha Kelly came in from L.A. My time, our time, there was more than a job, a career move; we really were like a family.


From left: Harriette Cole, Linda Villarosa, Monique Greenwood, me, Audrey Adams, Stephanie Stokes Oliver, Deborah Gregory at my book party for Who Does She Think She Is? At the Jo Malone store in the Flatiron District of Manhattan


I met so many women during my time there–some lifelong friends like Linda Villarosa, to name one, but I also bonded with many women, women who I don’t talk to or see very often, sometimes for years, but who are always there when there’s a need. Folk show up and support one another.

Terrie M. Williams is one of those people. Terrie is a PR person extraordinaire¬†who has been representing bold face names for more than two decades now. She is also the author of a definitive book on Black folks and depression called Black Pain. I ran into Terrie last year at another memorial service for a colleague, ¬†the brilliant Cheryll Greene. I told Terrie about my book and she said “anything I can do to help, just let me know.” You know people often say that…I knew Terrie meant it and when I called her to write a blurb for my new book she did so without hesitation. I want to share what she wrote because you won’t see it on the first printing, but it will be on the second printing on the book. It is as follows:

When we face the fire and come out on the other side, we learn what it is we are called to do. Benilde has written so beautifully and eloquently about the soul crushing experience of depression–whether it is named or not. Throughout this defining journey, we see, hear and feel deeply the signs of a despair that longs for light and relief. The healing is in us sharing our stories with one another… and knowing we are not alone .

Terrie M. Williams, author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting

Thanks Terrie.

So long Cheryll.

Well done, Jonell.

And so it begins…

11 Mar

I went in today to my publisher, Simon and Schuster (Atria) to tape a video for their website, book clubs, bloggers, etc. It was a Q & A with me looking into a camera–operated by the lovely Peter who made the whole process less anxiety provoking, almost fun. My publicist, Kathryn Santora, was off camera asking me questions about my upcoming book. I was nervous going in, not really knowing what to expect, but knowing I had to be on-camera aka “on” and dressed up, well not fancy but out of my usual yoga pants and whatever sweater I haven’t worn too much that week, braided hair and zero makeup. I do my writing at home and most days look like, well, not fixed up. Other than my husband and son, the only mammal I see all day, everyday is my dog Charlie. He’s not judgemental and he’s blind.

Here’s a picture of all the new makeup I bought for this publicity train, which is churning, just about pulling away from the station.


My book, Welcome to My Breakdown, is coming out April 21. There will be a hometown book launch party sponsored by the African-American Cultural Committee at the Montclair Art Museum on that day, 6-8pm. Admission is free, but you gotta buy a book. Books will be sold by our amazing independent bookstore, Watchung Booksellers.

I’ll be at the main branch of Newark Public Library @5pm on April 22nd.

April 23rd I’m in Brooklyn @ the Akwaaba Mansion. Details to come.

April 27th @ the Barnes and Noble in New York, Upper West Side, 7-8pm.

April 28th @ the Barnes and Noble in Springfield, N.J., 7-8pm.

May 7th @ Community Books in Brooklyn–Park Slope, 6-8pm.

I’ll be in Philly, D.C. and will let you know where and when. I’m Atlanta in August for the National Black Book Club convention.

May 20 @ NJPAC in downtown Newark

More event postings to come.

I look forward to seeing you!

Moody Women

3 Mar

There was an opinion piece in the New York Times the other day by a psychiatrist, Julie Holland. She’s the author of a book entitled “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making you Crazy.”

With a title like that, of course, it commanded my full attention for several reasons. I’ve been accused of being moody my whole life. I’ve written a memoir, Welcome to My Breakdown (Atria, April 21), that talks about my periods of depression–especially after my beloved mother died–and medicating for it.

For the record, I don’t consider myself moody. I’m very emotional subject and have strong feelings. I’ve come to appreciate, after about 40 years, that these strong emotions are a strength, not a weakness–that feelings are a legitimate barometer of one’s environment and that there’s no right or wrong way to feel.


“Emotions should be seen as a sign of health, not a disease,” Holland writes.

For instance, this morning before I went out to walk with my dog, I read a review of J. Geronimo Johnson’s Welcome To Braggsville, in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. What I read about it sounds like it’s a brilliant satire. NPR’s reviewer is comparing him to Tom Wolfe, Ralph Ellison and Don Diello! While I loved reading the review, afterward, I was in a bad mood. I withdrew into a funk, looking at my boring suburban existence, comparing mine to J. Geronimo’s imagined interesting, stimulating, writerly one. I snapped at my husband, when, as he was leaving for work asked me what I planned to do today. “Writing and thinking! I’m a writer, it’s what I do.” Okay, he said, tip toeing out of my dressing room surely thinking, “She’s so moody.”

I want to be able to write a book at full tilt, but the reality of my life, still raising a teenage boy, guiding a college-age daughter, engaging with a husband, having a house and in charge of care for my almost 90-year-old father who has dementia, the stuff of life clutters the free head space needed to be truly creative; to live an artistic life. But I digress.

If there’s a mission I want to achieve with my upcoming book, it’s to open up the discussion about women (the door is open to men, although I’m not so sure they’ll want to come in) and our feelings and how we express or suppress them and how they pop up in all kinds of guises, sometimes deemed crazy by a culture that simply doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to be bothered to or both.

In Holland’s article, she says women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression compared to men. One in four women in America now take psychiatric mediation; one in seven men do. “For many women, these drugs greatly improved their lives. But for others they’re not necessary…the new, medicated normal is at odds with women’s dynamic biology; brain and body chemical are meant to be in flux.”

She argues primarily about S.S.R.I.s which boast the serotonin in the brain. “Think of serotonin as the ‘it’s all good’ brain chemical.'” Again, some people need these drugs and she readily acknowledges this, but for those who don’t “this emotional blunting encourages women to take on behaviors that are typically approved by men: appearing to be invulnerable, for instance, a stance that might help women move up in male-dominated businesses.” But doesn’t improve most of life.

For some women in the 35-64 age group the prescribing of anti-depressants is at its highest. Some peri-menopausal/menopause symptoms look a lot like depression and tears go with it. “Crying isn’t just about sadness. When we are scared, or frustrated, when we see injustice, when we are deeply touched by the poignancy of humanity, we cry. And some women (*that would be me) cry more easily than others. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or out of control.”

The challenge for me and I’m sure many women, has been to determine how much deep sadness is simply a reaction to being overwhelmed by the stuff of life or being simply overwhelmed by life. What is biological and what is chemical? (You’ll have to read my book to see where I land.)

Holland ends her piece thusly:

“For personal growth, for a satisfying marriage and for a more peaceful world, what we need is more empathy, compassion, receptivity, emotionality and vulnerability, not less.

“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

*author’s note