When a Purple Rose Blooms (Nomadic Press, 2018), is a collection of essays and poetry about Black womanhood from Jenee Darden’s personal experience. She writes about love, sex, race and mental health with honesty, humor, and insight. This is Jenee’s first book and we are so excited to have her share some of her brilliance with us today.
What is one book that made an impact on you?
I interviewed people at a poetry reading in San Francisco about Toni Morrison passing away. One woman said, “If you read Morrison and don’t learn anything about yourself, you weren’t paying attention.” She was right. Not long after that, I read Song of Solomon and that book moved me. I’ve read Morrison’s books, but Song of Solomon really touched my heart. I identified with the themes of letting go and being appreciative of the people around you. Sometimes we’re so busy trying to get others’ approval that we take for granted the people around us who have our backs and already think we’re great. I can’t wait to go back and read it again.
In what fictional place would you most like to spend a day? What would you do there?
Without a doubt WAKANDA! I would spend the day figuring out how to get citizenship and checking out the real estate market. To live in a country where I’m treated with full respect as a Black woman—wow. Black people repeatedly watched the film Black Panther not only because it was a great film, but it was an escape. It really made us question, “What if?” I think if I went to Wakanda, I wouldn’t want to do anything spectacular. I would enjoy just being myself in a nation that would be okay with that.
What first inspired you to start writing?
When I was about seven years old, my mother brought home a journal that she made for me at work. It was a small, brown six-ring binder. She filled it with lined paper. On the cover she taped a label she typed up that said “Jenee Darden’s Journal.” She gave it to me with a note encourage me to write my feelings. I gravitated to that little brown book and have been writing ever since. There’s a poem about this moment in my book When a Purple Rose Blooms. That journal is one of the most important gifts I’ve ever received.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?
Was I?! I was a member of the Waldenbooks kids book club. I won free personal pizzas often because of the Pizza Hut Book It! program. Those who grew up in the ‘80s know what I’m talking about.
My favorite books as a kid were the The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe series, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Ramona Quimby and Shel Silverstein’s poetry. I think reading Where the Sidewalk Ends was probably the beginning of my love for poetry.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
I would go back to that teenage girl in Oakland, with the bubble gum pink bedroom and tell her we did it! I think my younger self would be so proud of me. I was bullied as a kid. Sometimes I imagine telling my teenage self to hang in there because we’re going to be an author and a journalist who has interviewed all kinds of interesting people. I would hold her, tell her that her writings dreams will come true, so don’t be so hard on herself. I would encourage her to love herself more and focus on the joys of her life.
Jeneé Darden is an award-winning journalist, author, public speaker and mental health advocate from Oakland Calif. She covers arts and East Oakland for NPR-station KALW. Jenee has reported for Time magazine, The LA Times, Ebony and other outlets. She hosts the blog and podcast Cocoa Fly. Visit CocoaFly.com to read her research series Under the Covers: The Popularity and Debate Over Black Erotic Literature. Jeneé holds a BA in ethnic studies from UC San Diego and a master’s in journalism from the University of Southern California.
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