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January 2018

LeConté Dill, Back for the First Time

by Susan Henderson on January 29, 2018

I am so honored to introduce you to one of my personal heroes, Dr. LeConté Dill, who has something to say to those of you who feel beaten down by rejection or overlooked by the writing community. LeConté is a professor, a brilliant poet, and a powerful advocate for social justice, particularly in the area of public health.

After you read the letter she’s written to you, check out some of her poetry in berfrois and as part of the National Academy of Sciences’ Visualize Health Equity Project (I find this direct link easier). Or read this groundbreaking piece for the National Institutes of Health.

If you are a magazine editor or chapbook publisher and want to see some brilliant, important writing, or if you’re planning a local reading and want a vibrant speaker who will raise goosebumps on the arms in the audience, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

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Dear You,

I’m approaching 40, and I feel like I’m back for the first time. When I was a college student in Atlanta, the rapper Ludacris put out his “first” commercial album, entitled “Back For The First Time,” because he has been a local radio personality and had already put out numerous mixtapes and a full-length album years before this commercial release. In a similar vein to Luda, I, too, have been honing my craft for a long time. Still, at times, perhaps like Luda in 2000, I feel ‘unseen.’ The invitation to even write this blog is a reminder that, nah, folks do indeed see me! So, I offer to YOU, I see you, too, Boo!

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Even if folks don’t seem to see you or don’t see you exactly as you want to be seen, write anyway! Write like a 1st grader filling time in the space between lunchtime and recess. Write like a 5th grader turning in a book report. Write like a 10th grader submitting to the high school lit magazine editors who meet to review submissions on Tuesdays at 2pm. Write like a college student with a minor in Creative Writing, navigating your way from the science labs to the social science libraries, looking for a major, but always having a home in the English Department. Write like you’re applying for your first writing workshop, first learning the leap-and-land routine that is this writing life. Write like you’re actually sitting in that writing workshop, surrounded by strangers who emerge as writing partners and wind up as dear friends. Write by building community—going to readings, even when you’re not the one reading, buy the books that will topple off your bookshelf, meet up for “writing dates” with your folks or even with just yourself and your pen. Take the writing classes, the webinars, the workshops—the free ones that you still contribute a donation, the ones that take sliding scale payments that you save up for, the pricey ones that you crowdfund. Teach the writing classes and workshops to young folks, to peers, to elders. Whether you call yourself a “Teacher” or not, just teach your work, share your practice, learn with the community of learners you’re gathering. Write like you saw your work in a major publication for the first time, and want to feel that warm feeling in your chest again and again. Take care of yourself when you get that “no,” that “thank you, but…,” that “we’re sorry, but we had an unexpectedly large amount of submissions this year.” Pout! Definitely pout! And engage in any selfcare and squadcare practices that you lean on… or that you’ve put on your to-do list to try out. And continue to write like you claim “writer” in your bio, in your intro, on your webpage. Write for your own page, whether you call them morning pages or evening pages, a gratitude journal or a blue day journal, the back of the light bill or the corner of a cocktail napkin.

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At least that’s been my journey since I was that 1st grader, finding my way from writing as a hobby to writing as praxis and writer as identity. This writing now feels urgent. This writing now feels hopeful. This writing now can hold bold urgency and hope together. I am urgently working to publish my poetry chapbook, and hopeful that it will enter the world this year. I am urgently working on an ethnographic book manuscript that also integrates biomythography, autoethnography, and poetry, and hopeful that it will thoughtfully articulate how young people of color across the U.S. activate resilience in their lives. I am urgently developing a poetry workshop/community intervention that will engage Black girls in Central Brooklyn in reading, analyzing, writing, and sharing poetry, and am hopeful that our emerging community will conjure strategies of resistance in our everyday lives. I am urgently remembering to play!, and hopeful that I’m actually back… for the first time.

Love,

LeConté

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LeConté Dill was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and is creating a homeplace in Brooklyn with her husband Umberto. She is an alumna of Spelman College and holds graduate degrees in Public Health from UCLA and UC Berkeley. LeConté has participated in VONA Voices and Cave Canem workshops and was a 2016 Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop Fellow. She’s been published in literary journals, online magazines, and academic journals, such as Poetry Magazine, The Killens Review, Berfrois, The Feminist Wire, Very Smart Brothas, and Journal of Adolescent Research. Her creative writing, community work, and applied research focus on safety, healing, wellness, and justice, particularly for urban Black girls. Currently, LeConté is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at SUNY Downstate.

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Question of the Month: Intensity

by Susan Henderson on January 14, 2018

Do you know the feeling when too much is flying your way at once and you’re trying to keep calm?

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Two months till launch, and I’m starting to feel the intensity pick up. All last minute edits are in. No more changes allowed. This is the final cover, front and back.

Discussion questions are ready for book clubs.

I’ve contacted a baker for my book launch. (She’s going to make cemetery-themed desserts!)

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I’ve made several trips to HarperCollins. (In the first picture, it’s the building on the right, with the World Trade Center in the middle. The second picture shows what it looks like inside.) One trip was for a party, another for a marketing meeting, and a third to film a video about The Flicker of Old Dreams with my editor, the amazing Sara Nelson.

I feel good about my book and about my team at HarperCollins. Most of what happens from here is out of my hands. And most days I’m okay with that.

But sometimes the fear sets in… Will any of the big outlets want to review my book? Will they like it? Will they even know it exists? Did I do enough? Should I do more? Am I going to lose friends because I’m talking about my book so much? 

The intensity can get inside of me. I can look at all the good things that are happening and see failure. I can look at a beautiful day and see gloom.

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I’m trying to stay steady, no matter what good or bad comes my way. I’m trying to keep it in perspective, in the background where it belongs. And I know how to do this—it’s what I’ve done since college—don’t get caught up in the last thing you wrote, keep moving forward, keep creating. This is the only world I have a shot at controlling, this one on the page, and I’m working hard on something new.

The other thing that keeps me steady is remembering to notice the gifts that are in my life each day, whether it’s a sunrise, a smile at the checkout line, or a word from my kids.

Rather than comparing this time to what it might be like in my most fevered imagination, I need to notice each act of kindness and generosity, however small. Some thank you’s are in order: Eric Forbes at Good Books Guide, Jennifer Haupt at Psychology Today, Publishers Weekly, Ron Block, Virginia Stanley, Binnie Klein, Eileen Tomarchio, Amy Wallen at Savory Salons, LibraryThing, LibraryLoveFest (here and here because they’re that awesome), A Cook and a Book, and folks who posted reviews at GoodReads.

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As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post:

Yoko Tawada, Memoirs of a Polar Bear 
William H. Gass, On Being Blue
Colin Dickey, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
Luke Dittrich, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets
A.J. Finn, The Woman in the Window
Lucille Clifton, Mercy 
Melissa Scholes Young, Flood
Carl A. Zimring, Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism
Marisa De Los Santos, I’ll Be Your Blue Sky 
Jean Cocteau (translated by Mary-Sherman Willis), Grace Notes

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That’s it for now. Talk to me about keeping steady, about not losing perspective. Tell me some stories. Oh, and I have a gift coming for you soon! One of my personal heroes will be here with Words for the Weary. I’m so looking forward to hearing what she has to say, and I can’t wait for you to meet her!

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