When I was writing what my father called ‘dark stuff’, I had no idea there were black women that were writing ‘dark stuff’. I had no idea there was a Tananarive Due. I had no idea there was an Octavia Butler before that. I had no IDEA there was a Charles Chesnut before her.
My first time I heard/read WILD SEED? I wanted to burn all my work. I was enrapt with Octavia. The power. The brevity. The crafting of every scene. I remember I grabbed my Kindle Fire my husband got for me (best present he ever got me!) and downloaded everything that had her name on it. In an interview before her death about a decade ago, she said she knew she was a ‘rare bird’.
Indeed she was. And it as at that acknowledgement which makes my writer’s heart break and miss her. I miss her like a daughter misses her mother. I miss her because I feel like I have been robbed and blessed simultaneously. I miss her because I knew she had more work in her. I knew she did. I feel blessed because I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel so odd, so out of place, or like a white girl–I cannot tell you how often I was told this for what I read or what I wrote.
With the body of work she left, I feel that I have a map where were only uncut trees.
I was introduced to Tananarive Due through Essence Magazine. I also follow her on Twitter. She is knowledgable and gracious and utterly wonderful. I have her work on my Kindle as well. Favorite: My Soul To Take, The Inbetween. I love her because of the imagery and the feeling she evokes. I remember asking her questions about writing, and even getting back to it. She would give me pointers and encouragement. It was monumental. I cannot express to you as a black writer, as a fan of dark literature, what it mean to have a woman—that looked like me—tell me that I could do it!
Rare birds indeed.
In the age now where finding a community only requires a charger and an app, I have found a home among other black writers. I have found a women that look like me, and we encourage one another. I found a place to submit my work. I have told the incredible Tonia Thompson (horror writer, founder of The Nightlight Podcast) how I wish I had a community like this 25 years ago. Then I was struggling with liking horror; liking Anne Rice; dreaming about vampires (or weres); and having a white girl name; going a predominately Black public school where I had to lie about how smart I was to not to be made fun of.
I too was a rare bird.
How fitting I have a firebird on my back now. And my platform based on a girls with pyrokinesis. I knew how odd I was. I knew when I was a young girl. Now as a writer, I accepting all parts of myself, I can better speak to that young girl that wanted to be a writer–no matter what that meant. Now, I can take a deep breath and tell her:
You are young, so gifted and always Black. Your pen, your tongue, your wit are and will be the weapons of righteous warfare! You are a rare bird. You have a talent people wish they had. You, right now, as you are, are incredible. Your work? Hang on to it. You will find ears, audience and drive to do all you desire. The dream of being a writer is not just for white girls. It is not exclusive to those without melanin. Don’t be persuaded to give this up! There are Black girls that write horror, romance, speculative fiction and anything else they desire.
As your foremother Octavia, you are a rare bird.
A rare bird among crows.
To my younger Firestarters, you too are a rare birds.
[Images from Google]