Seriously. Yes, that Phenomenal woman. I was about eleven & she crushed my dreams!
I’ve been writing since before I can remember. My first story I remember writing was a fairytale about a Black girl named Jasmine who was a princess but didn’t know it (very trite & overdone, I know, but I was five). I soon began writing poetry. I wrote about everything. I wrote everywhere. I was like a Dr. Seuss book:
She writes in the park on the swings.
She writes on her porch in the Spring.
She writes on the bus or in the car.
She writes when she’s near.
She writes when she’s far.
I was a secure, confident child who loved to share her writing (shocking, I know…me, confident?). My teachers, family, & friends loved it and constantly supported me. I was asked to write poems for all occasions. They fed my obsessionwith multiple notebooks & journals. They read whatever I came up with. They even tried to get my writing published…and they succeeded.
I was first published at the ripe old age of nine (or ten) in the Pontiac Citizen, a poem called Dream Scene. Since it’s published, I’ll write what I remember (the poem is in my mother’s house):
I came acorss a beautiful scene
A scene only found in dreams.
Swirls of clouds against a bright blue sky,
A house hidden by dreams nearby.
The sun setting in the west,
This is the scene I love the best. (Not too sure about this last line.)
(Hey, I was nine…or ten)
My aunt, Pink Susie, bought me one of those typewriters in the suitcases, lol! Picture a skinny, tiny black girl with ashy knobby knees lugging a suitcase around.
I performed poems at school board meetings, graduations, assemblies (y’all remember having those in elementary? We sat cross legged, grouped by classes on the gym floor.), announcements–anywhere I coudl get a stage. I was always pushed to keep growing and learning, to keep honing my craft. It felt as if everyone knew I was destined for greatness. I knew if only people read my work, they would love it & want to help me achieve great success.
My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Bonita Drayton, believed in me so much, she found a certain poetess’ address in a book which contained famous people’s addresses. I spent a few weeks compiling my best poems & weeks compiling my best poems & crafting a letter to her which explained how I loved her writing and would like her to read and critique mine. I brought the mail in every day, looking for a piece from Winston-Salem. I probably might have thrown away a bill or other important docs in my haste, but I couldn’t contain myself.
I imagined her response letter over and over again in my head. She would be impressed by my talent at such a young age She would invite me to study with her, offer to help me get published. Maybe she would take me to Arkansas or even Africa with her.
When I finally got a response it was a thick envelope. I wanted to open it, but I also wanted to savor the moment. This could be the beginning of a whole new future for me. What was in the envelope? An application to a summer program?
The envelope contained the first form letter I ever received. It was written by an assistant at the university. “She” did not accept unsolicitied work for legal purposes. Enclosures were my poems that I had sent to her.
She hadn’t read it, any of it. Did she even know this little girl had written to her? How could someone who was so revered and looked up to not even bothered to say thank you to a young fan, or suggest resources to me?
My teachers worked hard to keep my spirits up. I got so busy with writing I began to get over it. Another teacher, Mrs. Scott, had a daughter, Cheryl, who wrote a book, A Black Woman Speaks. I read it with the aid of a dictionary (missing key points because I was just too young with no life experience). I wrote a peom for her. She signed my book and gave me $50 cash plus $50 savings bond. I understand why the Phenomenal Woman couldn’t read the poetry. I know crazy people would sue her, saying she stole their work. I know she can’t possibly answer all her fan mail personally. But a big reason why I don’t like submitting is because of that envelope–a form letter rejection, with all my writing returned to me.
But unlike with singing, I never stopped writing. Writing is a part of me. I am good at it. I am a published poet/author. This is what I was meant to do. I have more faith in my writing than in any other skill I may have.
If the Phenomenal Woman ever reads this (stranger things have happened with this blog), I want to say thank you. You are sill an inspiration to me. I still read your books & listened to your radio show when I could. I want to be as successful as you someday, and wish you nothing but the best. Your biggest fan, 2blu2btru