My writing mentor, Valerie Hayes Perry, has given me guidance and support for my writing voice from even before I had an idea for a novel. I was a very insecure new writer when I first attended her meetup workshop in 2014. What I will never forget is how after a reader had shared their piece, she would pause, taking a moment of reflection with her eyes closed. And then, she would speak. You could literally see her processing the writing into herself, like it was a feast she was slowly digesting. This struck me as profound and impressed me from the start. I could sense her advice and critiques came from a deep place of care.
I have benefited immensely from Valerie’s conscientiousness. She was the first writing mentor I had who saw my characters as flesh and bone and fought for me to, as their writer, do them justice. When I started her workshops, it was with a single short story I was trying to develop. Valerie was the one who said, these characters have a lot to say, I think you’re going to have to write them a novel.” I love how throughout the years I was writing my novel, she would gently ask me, “How are the twins doing?” Like they were children in my care…which, in a sense, they were.
I had attended writing workshops in the past where I felt like my voice and spirit were on trial. I went to one many years ago with a YA short story about a mother hot combing her daughter’s hair, and how it was a moment the mother was using to explain how being a woman in the world, the way the world expects women to be, is painful. It was called “Hot Comb Warnings” and I was very proud of it. I brought it to a local writing workshop, and I was the only writer of color in the group. The group kept on digging into the hot comb process, asking about black hair, and never talking about the actual story. I felt so dejected, it put me off writing for a while.
But every time I have attended a writing session with Valerie, she has processed my writing, and the intention of my writing, in a way that validates my voice and only invigorates me to more creativity. Valerie has so much care and sensitivity around the magic of the writing process. She made me think deeply about what I write and why. Where my ideas formed and how did I support or kill my creativity. Valerie gave me backbone and direction in my writing and I am so grateful for her presence in my life.