I’ve made false promises about bringing Afrobella of the Month back before, and wound up disappointing myself. In all honesty I realize that I’d stopped doing many of the really writing-intense, research-heavy posts that were the hallmark of early Afrobella. Why? Because this blog has pretty much been all written by me for the past 5 years. Blogger burnout is real! But of late I’ve been really feeling a kind of creative rebirth. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ll see some older features come back into regular rotation. If you’re relatively new to Afrobella, then allow me to introduce you to Afrobella of the Month!
Every month will bring a special post that honors a woman who is intelligent, classy, setting trends and influencing her industry, and of course – proudly rocking her natural hair! Some months the Afrobella of the Month will be written by me, some months they will be written by a guest writer. Some months they might feature an interview, the next a video, the next – who knows. We’re gonna keep things loose, fun, and free!
This month’s interview was conducted by the fabulous, beautiful, and talented Meosha Tall, contributing writer and the creator of the 1MeNaturally jewelry line available on Etsy.com. You can also find her on her YouTube channel OneMeNaturally documenting her natural hair journey.
October’s Afrobella of the Month is Tananarive Due — lecturer, screenwriter and the author of several novels and a civil rights memoir. She is an American Book Award and NAACP Image Award winner. She is also a lovely natural.
Meosha contacted her to get a glimpse of her natural hair journey and find out more about her and her work.
Meosha: I’m curious, how did you come to be named Tananarive?
Tananarive: The name is (or, I should say, was) the capital city of Madagascar, although it’s called Antananarivo now. My mother first heard it mentioned when she took a course on Africa at Florida A&M University, and she fell in love with the name Tananarive.
Meosha: You’ve been natural for a little while now…ahem, since 1988. Prior to that time, what was your hairstyle of choice and why the decision to go natural and stay the course?
Tananarive: Busted! I haven’t changed my basic hairstyle since I was in grad school. I’m truly about to date myself here…but prior to that I was wearing a Jheri Curl! I only went natural because I was about to study in England for a year back in 1988, and I didn’t think I would find any black hair stylists or black hair products. Do you know the MINUTE I got off the plane, the first thing I saw at Heathrow Airport in London was a big display case full of Care Free Curl? But I haven’t looked back. Between the ease of care and low costs for haircuts, I don’t think I’ll be changing my style any time soon.
Meosha: In most pictures I’ve seen, you are wearing a classic tapered natural that I must say you wear so well! Is this your signature look?
Tananarive: I’ve never tried to have a signature look. Let’s call it an accidental signature.
Meosha: What is your hair care regimen? Any product suggestions for the readers of Afrobella.com?
Tananarive: I’m embarrassed to say that I’m one of the last people anyone should ask for hair care advice! I’m so spoiled by the simplicity of my hairstyle that I almost expect it to take care of itself. But my most consistent routine is to moisturize my hair with Luster’s Pink Original and Luster’s S Curl.
Meosha: How has being natural affected you, if at all? Any interesting stories to share?
Tananarive: It’s always fun to see the faces of men “of a certain age” light up when they see a sista sporting a ‘fro. In Los Angeles, where I lived for a few years until April, it probably looked like an act of rebellion. In Atlanta, of course, women’s hairstyles are a hair show of variety.
But I do think back with some amusement over the time I was asked by the Alex Haley Estate to write a novel based on the life of Madam C.J. Walker, who popularized the straightening comb. I finally wrote a novel entitled THE BLACK ROSE and the whole time I was on tour I expected someone to point out the irony that my hair, in fact, wasn’t straight. No one brought it up.
Meosha: I’m fascinated by the fact that you write speculative fiction and fit into a canon of black women with natural hair who also write in that genre. Do you think there is a particular pull to fantastical tales for women of color?
Tananarive: Other people have pointed out the coincidence in hairstyle that Octavia Butler and I shared, which makes me smile. We once shared a couple of hair secrets about fighting off the gray! It seemed like a silly conversation at the time, but now it’s one of my fondest memories. I was usually so much in awe of her that it was hard to treat her like a girlfriend, but I managed to break through my shyness that day.
A growing number of writers, both male and female are imagining themselves in different worlds in science fiction, fantasy and horror. I think that’s only natural given the opportunities for metaphors for our struggles in this world and this culture. I first met my husband, Steven Barnes, at a conference on black speculative fiction at Clark Atlanta University back in 1997. Our “family” has sustained terrible blows with the losses of Octavia E. Butler and, more recently, L.A. Banks, but new writers continue to find their way into the field.
Meosha: You provide a lot of valuable information for aspiring writers within the Writers’ Circle of your blog, Tananarive Due’s Reading Circle. Why do you think it’s important to share this information?
Tananarive: I also have a blog exclusively about the writing process called “Tananarive Due Writes”. Writing is a tough field, whether it’s from a craft standpoint or a marketing standpoint, and I think it’s crucial that we share information with each other almost as soon as we learn it. I truly believe in power in numbers. If I can help someone else succeed, that ultimately helps build a stronger marketplace for all writers of color.
Meosha: As you know, I am a fan of your supernatural books. I go to my bookshelf and pick up My Soul to Keep a few times a year when I want to relive Jessica and David’s story and The Good House gives me chills no matter how many times I read it!
For someone who has never read your work, what can they expect when they read your supernatural works and books like Freedom In The Family or even the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series that you co-write along with your husband, Steven Barnes and actor Blair Underwood?
Tananarive: I always chuckle a bit when I imagine the readers who first came to my work through my historical novel, THE BLACK ROSE because I immediately followed up with my supernatural thriller THE LIVING BLOOD, which was the second book in my African Immortals series that began with MY SOUL TO KEEP. The books couldn’t have been more different!
Readers do tend to “track” themselves. So often readers who enjoyed my civil rights memoir with my mother, FREEDOM IN THE FAMILY will also enjoy THE BLACK ROSE. I also meet readers who say they have read all of my books except my historical books. Or they’ve read the Tennyson Hardwick mystery novels my husband, Steven Barnes, and I write in collaboration with actor Blair Underwood, but they’ve never picked up my supernatural novels.
I really didn’t set out to be all things to all readers, but I have a wide set of interests, and I’ve followed opportunities as they arise. But as the late, great L.A. Banks used to say, paranormal and supernatural stories are where my heart lies. I’m going through a very difficult time now because my mother is ill, and the story percolating in the back of my mind is definitely more in the vein of THE GOOD HOUSE. I confront the real-life horrors in life by imagining situations that are from beyond our world…and forcing characters to discover their strength in a way that I’m always hoping will rub off on me.
Meosha: I for one am excited about the fourth installment in your African Immortals series, My Soul to Take. Can you tell us a little about the new book and when we can get our hands on it?
Tananarive: MY SOUL TO TAKE is out Sept. 6, and I’m very excited about it because it really concludes the story I published in BLOOD COLONY in 2008. I even shot a homemade book trailer for it in my basement, which readers can see on YouTube: Notes from the Underground Railroad — No. 1 (Tananarive Due’s MY SOUL TO TAKE). (My first short film!)
I write every novel as if the reader has never read any of the predecessors, but this is my “fourth novel in a trilogy,” as my sister calls my African Immortals series. The title, in many ways, is a love letter to the readers who have supported me and helped me sustain my career since I first introduced my immortals characters in MY SOUL TO KEEP way back in 1997, and I intentionally included scenes that will take my loyal readers back to that original love story between Jessica and Dawit, her husband who turned out to be 500 years old.
In some ways, history is repeating itself: Jessica’s daughter Fana is immortal herself, but she is engaged to a man more powerful than she is who began their relationship with a terrible lie. Like her mother, Fana will have to learn to swallow the worst pain of her life to try to create a greater good. I also enjoyed revisiting what a wonderful father my character Dawit is. Now that his daughter is an adult, he is her most loyal advisor.
I also revisited a pop star from my novel JOPLIN’S GHOST, whose music helps serve as an inspiration to Fana. I’m more impressed with the power of music all the time, so I wanted to demonstrate how musicians and singers help us through the most unimaginable situations in our lives.
Meosha: Will we get to see any of your books come to life on the big screen anytime soon?
Tananarive: MY SOUL TO KEEP was in film development at Fox Searchlight for many years, and Blair Underwood once traveled to Ethiopia to shoot some lovely footage. It has been a long, long journey. In a nutshell, I’d have to say that it’s extremely difficult to launch a bigger budget film with black actors since Hollywood’s ideas of what a “black” movie should look like are so limited. But there is continuing interest in MY SOUL TO KEEP, and I haven’t given up on bringing it to the big screen. Despite my disappointments in Hollywood, my husband Steve and I sold three drafts of a script adaptation of THE GOOD HOUSE to Fox Searchlight, and I’ve learned so much through it all. My dream is to use the skills we’ve gained to finally get a chance to write a screenplay for MY SOUL TO KEEP and tell the story my own way. I also have genuine faith that it will happen.
Meosha: How can we stay connected with you?
I’d also love for readers to join my Facebook Fan page: Tananarive Due
Fana, my immortal, also has her own Facebook fan page: Fana Wolde (Glow Healer)
And so does our character Tennyson Hardwick: Tennyson Hardwick
Meosha: Anything else you would like to share?
Tananarive: I just started teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, which I’m very excited about. I love working with the students and sharing thoughts about writing. I’m just profoundly grateful that I’ve been able to pursue my lifelong writing dream.
I’m also a wannabe rock star, and I have performed keyboard and vocals with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of writers including Dave Barry, Amy Tan and Stephen King. I actually have a song available on iTunes. I did a cover of “Proud Mary” with Warren Zevon singing Ike Turner’s part. It’s on an album called STRANGER THAN FICTION, but it’s easier to find by searching for my name.
Thank you for sharing your hair story and giving us an inside look Tananarive!
Can’t wait for the release of My Soul to Keep, check out an excerpt from the book here: Excerpt-My Soul To Take-Sept 2011
Interview conducted by Meosha Tall. Thank you, Meosha!!
Hope you liked the interview, bellas! Look out for Afrobella of the Month in the first week of every month.