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Nohemi Gonzales is “somebody’s Baldwin”

14 Nov

Thank you for all your prayers and Baldwin is fine. Last night, before the attacks, she had just gotten together with a friend, Jessie, who lives in Paris and is our Montclair neighbor. THey’d met for drinks near where Jessie lives–literally short blocks from where one of the restaurant shootings happened. Fortunately they’d met early in the evening. Baldwin had wanted to meet at 9 and Jessie suggested meeting at 6, after she got off work. They had a great time and by 10 were heading home. Baldwin was on the metro when they the first attack happened. I can’t even process all of this. I’m grateful beyond words that my child is safe and I’m also so sad for the innocent people whose lives were taken away. People ask me all the time how I feel about having her so far away. I’ve raised my children to fly the nest, to be citizens of the world. I want them to see and explore, but with the world the way it is now, the reality that random deadly acts happen anywhere anytime has put a real dent in this philosophy. As a mother, you also want to hold your children close and protect them.
One of my best friends moved from New York to Sydney a few months ago. She just checked in with me to see how I was doing, having checked directly in with Baldwin. I love that she and my Joni have their own relationship with Baldwin. Anyway, Eleanore asked how I was feeling.
I feel weird, I told her. First I was just relieved and grafeful and I’m still those things, but I’m restless and can’t relax. I’m pushing away fear, which has probably been inside of me since she left home on August 18th. I don’t let myself worry about her too much. I don’t let my mind go wild with the what ifs that I’m oh so good at and then and then something so henious happens, something that even in my wildest, I wouldn’t have imagined.
I hadn’t cried at all until an hour or so ago when CNN flashed a picture of a student, Nohemi Gonzales, an American from California, also doing her junior year abroad. She was killed. As we watched the report, Cliff said, “She’s somebody’s Baldwin” and I lost it. The reality that that girl could’ve been ours and so heart-broken for the reality that is for the Gonzales family.

What day works for you? Spontaneous works for me

8 Oct

This is not an awe-inspiring idea, but it is a lightbulb for me.
One of the nice things about getting older is knowing who you are and accepting it–good, bad, indifferent. I am spontaneous. I am not a planner. There’s the good and the not so good but I’m choosing to focus on the positive.
Early this morning an old pal, Paris, hit me up on FB and emailed me. I hadn’t seen or talked to her in about six years. She was in town on business from Charlotte, where she’d moved 10 years ago. She asked if I still walked the dog everyday in the park. I emailed her back: same number, same hood (sorry, channeling Biggie). Same routine for a decade–how can that be? The time worked for her, so she met me there. It was great to catch up and I immediately remembered how much I’d liked her energy. Everyday, before Paris moved away, she and her basset hound, Chloe, would walk with my Charlie and me, Jen and Sirus and others who have since fallen off or moved away.
Those of you who know me, follow my blog or have read my latest book, Welcome to My Breakdown, know how important my dog is to me and that I walk him everyday with my peeps–Will, Claire & the aforementioned Jennifer.
I know lots of people in my town and fortunately for me, I like many of them. I ran into the mother of one of Ford’s pre-school friends, with whom Cliff and I used to spend some time. I liked her and her partner a lot. Those kid based relationships, however, often fade when the kids get older and go off in different directions, but your feelings don’t. I’d like to have coffee with Susan, catch up with her and with many of those people, but I simply can’t (and have anything resembling a writing life). So, I’ve come up with an idea. For all of you, and you know who you are–some are the ones I spend 30 minutes talking to in the CVS parking lot, or in an aisle at ShopRite or on the bus into the city. We promise to reach out and get together and don’t. Instead of thinking about making a date, let’s just meet in the park. You know which park and I’m there in the morning. I am with my peeps, but one day or two out of a week I can break away from my pack to visit with you. For me, it’s enriching moments. I probably won’t see Paris for another few years and we’re both good with it.
Here’s to making a plan without planning…

Welcome to scenes from the book publicity road

29 Jul

My ride or die, Eleanore Wells and art insider Harris Schrank happy with me at Barnes and Noble, Manhattan

My ride or die, Eleanore Wells and art insider Harris Schrank happy with me at Barnes and Noble, Manhattan

With my friend Christina Baker Kline

With my friend Christina Baker Kline

I haven’t posted since my book was published on April 21st. It’s been a wonderful, whirlwind of a ride and I’ve kept many of you included via my Facebook posts, but I realize some of you actually aren’t on Facebook or haven’t seen some of the stuff. Here are some highlights:

Signing books with Pam Newkirk at the Harlem Book Fair

Signing books with Pam Newkirk at the Harlem Book Fair

Going back to the beginning–publication day–which is like every big milestone wrapped in one. I was so high that morning when I woke up and to top it off, I felt my mother’s presence with me more profoundly than I have since she died six years ago. The book is a lot about her, her impact on me and her community and about the unrelenting pain I felt at the loss of her.
April 21st: My kickoff in my hometown at the gorgeous Montclair Art Museum; it took a lot to get the space but I had a vision for what I wanted and it came to pass. As time got closer, I began to second guess pushing so hard and not just having it our great local bookstores (we actually, luckily, have two). I wanted a large space to accommodate the picture I had in my head of lots of people there–my community consisting of all the facets of my life: my girlfriends, writer friends, neighbors, friends made through my kids, yoga friends, dog walking friends, family, childhood friends, my kids’ special teachers, and just the random people who I like and run into in CVS or the park or in front of Starbucks and talk to for an hour. There were 200 people there!
I can’t find the picture someone took of the crowd, so you’ll just have to take my
Such a fun night at Akwaaba party with my dearest college friend, Monique and the fab raconteur Patrik Henry Bass

Such a fun night at Akwaaba party with my dearest college friend, Monique and the fab raconteur Patrik Henry Bass

word for it.
My most important work of art

My most important work of art

Here’s all the press and book events done so far:
Feb. 27 New York Daily News, book blog, says Welcome to My Breakdown is “the best title ever.”
March Mentions Welcome as one of 9 must read books for spring. “Be prepared for plenty of intimacy, insight and inspiration in this powerful and ultimately redemptive title.”
March 10 Infinity House Magazine, blog post mention,says Welcome is one of “5 must read books for spring.”
March 10 taped video for marketing and featured on Transcending Type a quarterly digest from Simon & Schuster
March 15 New Jersey Monthly review
March 17 Fabulous Southern Belle, blog post book roundup
April 2
April 13 The interviewed by Danielle Belton
April 15 radio with Ella Curry, Black Pearls show
April 20 interview with Bev Smith, satellite radio, knew Bev when she had her own show on BET.
April 21 Network Journal
April 22 Maggie Linton show on Sirus radio
April 22 interviewed on The Root TV, Harriette Cole show, Bring It To The Table
Facebook author chat with Tyora Moody
April 23 book party at Akwaaba Mansion, Brooklyn (Bed Sty) hosted by great friends Monique Greenwood and husband Glenn Pogue
April 25 radio interview on radio station KAZI in Austin, Tx.
April 27 Barnes and Noble, NYC, surprised when friend and New York Times mega best-seller author and friend Christina Baker Kline agreed to fill in for another scheduled writer & interview me
April 29 Barnes and Noble, Springfield, NJ
April 30 People Magazine piece–picked as top 3 books to read!
May 4 radio interview with Desire Watson on Voice America
May 7 Book signing, Community Books in Brooklyn (Park Slope) followed by book party given by my friend Linda Villarosa & her partner Jana Welch
May 11 radio interview on Mindset blog radio with James Curtis
May piece on Maria Shriver blog
May 13 story/review
May 15 radio interview WNYC/NPR with Gabrielle Glaser on Morning Edition
May 16 book party at the Wellness Lounge, South Orange, NJ hosted by Desire Watson
Essence piece in June issue–wonderful job by editorial projects manager Patrik Henry Bass
May 17 book party hosted by Claire Ciliotta
May 18 interview for The Nation magazine with Nick Charles (ran in July 15 issue)
May 20 New Jersey Performing Arts Center–NJPAC book party/talk/interview by Marcia Brown, vice-chancellor at Rutgers Newark
May 21-26 Anguilla Book Festival
May 27 BEA signing/book celebration hosted by best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner

June 2-June 9 recorded book for audio release
June 20 Friend of a Friend book club, Harlem, hosted by Angie Hancock founder, Experience
July 17 I was celebrated at Harlem Book Fair reception
July 18 Harlem Book Fair panel discussion with Pulitzer Prize winning writer Margo Jefferson, moderated by author Hettie Jones
July/August issue of Juicy magazine
Still to come
Aug. 6-9 Atlanta–Black Book Club Convention, Buckhead Marriott

Sept. 26 Sippin Sisters book club, suburban D.C.
Sept. 27 Book Party hosted by Linda Chastang, author A’Lelia Bundles and novelist Connie Briscoe; books sold by Politics and Prose

Nov. 7 Book Party hosted by Lynn McNair, Washington, D.C.

I Can’t Hide Mine, Please Don’t Hide Yours: An Open Letter to Ben Affleck

24 Apr

I’ve been wanting to weigh in on the Ben Affleck/Henry Louis Gates stuff but didn’t have the energy to devote to it. This writer/chef sums up much of what I’d say about it. Affleck asked Gates not to reveal what Gayes had uncovered in Affleck’s past: slave owners. Clutch the pearls. This news is hardly shocking to Black folks & while I get he’s “embarrassed” we all have to face & own our past if we’re ever going to become “one country.” I used to have a friend, a very close friend, my first white friend. After about a decade of friendship we discovered that our mothers had the same unusual last name & came from the same tiny South Carolina town. This news initially elated her. It immediately made feel sick. She said, “this is amazing. We’re so connected, now it makes sense that we’re related.” I said: yes, perhaps we are but I can promise you that it’s not because of some kind of consensual relations. Details for another post and/or story but in the end our friendship didn’t survive her refusal to acknowledge that chances were that her family had owned mine. (This was typed on my phone so pls forgive typos, etc. I just needed to get this out right now). #welcometomybreakdown#edwardball #slavesinthefamily


Dear Ben,

Its unfortunate because of a massive internet hack we are in this particular place discussing your ancestral past. It’s horrible that your private matters were exposed because of something beyond your control. That’s untenable in any situation, but we need to address something right quick…this slavery thing.  You were embarassed, and that’s reasonable given the situation and the circumstances that produced it. But Ben Affleck, take it from a Black guy; with a platform like yours, don’t you dare be embarrassed to come from an ancestor who held enslaved people. Because….We need to know.

I don’t think many Black people really understand the profound guilt, shame or embarassment some white descendants of slave holding families feel. It’s not just that many assume personal responsibility for the past or that they grasp that their privilege or power is not just based on perceptions based on skin color.  Clearly these…

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Welcome to My Breakdown

21 Apr

Today’s the day — my memoir Welcome to My Breakdown is available today.

Amazon Barnes and NobleBAMMIndieBoundGooglePlayiBooks


20 Apr

As many of you probably know by now I have a new book coming out. I’ve been talking about it for some time now, even started this blog back when in hopes of talking up the book and introducing myself to you. I’ve had to learn how to be a publicist, a public relations person for myself. Not something I’ve easily embraced. I’m a writer. There are PR people. It’s rare that one person possess both traits. Writers tend to be introspective and need solitude. You’ve got to have that to create. PR people are often extroverts, you kind of have to be to be heard over all the noise that now makes up modern life. Now, I’m both.
My last book, Who Does She Think She Is? Was published in 2006. A lot has changed since then and the biggest one is the advent of social media. Facebook became available to all in 2006, but was not used by too many people older than 15 back then. (Now young people refer to FB as something for old people–at least that’s what my kids say.)
Many writers who published back then were mostly published by houses and had a PR person designated to get the word out. There’s still some of that, but much of it is left up to the author.

I’m amazed at people on FB, bloggers and such who no problem promoting themselves–my new book is fantastic; my blog is the ish, and so on. I cringe at the thought of doing this, but I understand I gotta get over it and if you’ve been following me on FB you probably see I’ve climbing the curve. My friend Linda Villarosa, also a writer, and I have talked about this phenomenon and decided that it’s an age thing. Some of these writers, some of whom we know, are a little younger than us and came of age when that kind of bragging is de rigeur, not seen as anything else. We see it as poor taste. But in this new world, I’m having to accept it, just like reality TV and selfies. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever be caught saying: “My book is the ish,” but as I’m push, push, pushing during this publication phase, I’m getting comfortable with the humble-brag.

For those of you who get slightly queasy at the notion of the push and all the notices you’re getting begging you to buy it and to tell your friends, please bear with me. Know that I’m gettin’ a little sick of it too, but as with motion sickness, if you wanna ride, you take a Dramamine and keep moving.

Thanks for bearing with me and your support. Tomorrow is publication day!!!


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






What We Want, What They Want

28 Jan

Last year, I wrote a blog post called The Daughters of Womanists, about the notion of our daughters “having it all.”

It was about what we want for our daughters, what to tell them.

This post isn’t about what I want for mine, but about what she wants for herself and how I feel about it.

My daughter is going after a career in fashion. I know, stomach drop. She wants to write about it, be a creative director, be a taste-maker; an amalgamation.  She’s currently away at a small, liberal arts college and working at two fashion companies in New York City: one is a top couture house, the other is a popular website, which also has a small store, Pixie Market. She’s writing the blogs, tweeting and modeling. In other words, she doing her thing, making it happen. Lots of young people say they want “to work in fashion,” but either have no idea in what capacity or what it takes to make it happen. If you’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, you have some idea of what the world of fashion is like.  I watch that movie and cringe, especially now that I know she’s schlepping a quarter of her body weight in clothes in blistering heat (or freezing temps) to the back door of the Conde Nast building–home of Vogue–and spending an hour steaming ball gowns and a half hour learning the exact way to make coffee for the boss.  She does it all, takes it all,  without complaint–even the unbelievable rudeness (see Devil Wears Prada).  She’s okay with it, because it’s where she wants to be.

Yes, I’m her mother. Yes, I guided her to get a strong education and not go to a fashion school, but beyond that, I took my hands off the wheel.

Initially when Baldwin began talking about her interest in fashion, when she was about six years old, I put no stock in it. Then in middle school, same thing and by high school, I was beginning to be concerned. Can’t you find something else?  I would tell her how good she was at other things. I wanted her to have a career as a— well I didn’t know what—just that it should be something serious and stable.

From Pixie Market’s website. She was modeling in seven degree weather and snow flurries

Now she’s studying writing and French in college, doing her internships during both the school year and on breaks. She loves it and I’m so proud of her. I’m pleased that she’s going after what she wants, she listened to the desire she’s had since she was a little girl. And my hope for her, for both my children (and yours, too), is that they figure out what they really want to do, not what we want them to do, have the courage and willingness to go after it and to find fulfillment.


From her blog


Sometimes, I admit, on my bad days I still wish she’d chosen a safer field (which is where these days–Google?), where she’d get a job, a 401K and make a salary to pay for the life she envisions for herself. On my good days, I say, she’s got a passion and drive to make it happen. What more could a parent want.


From Pixie Market’s Instagram