It’s still so much easier for me to write a poem instead of a short story when I sit (or in tonight’s case, lie in bed in my pjs) down to write. I’m grateful that after all this time—twenty years since my first workshop with Mr. Ray Grant at Spelman College—I still love to write poetry.
I cry a lot writing this book on the life and times of Phillis Wheatley. People keep asking me, “Honorée, when’s the book going to be done?” I don’t like to whine to folks, but since it’s Black History Month, so let me say, it’s taken me a long time to write this book because it hurts to write each and every poem. It aches. You can’t explain that without seeming like you’re making excuses for being lazy—but that’s what’s taking so long.
When I started this book, I thought it would be about a Black woman in the middle of the American Revolution. That’s it. Then, I started doing the research, and everywhere I turned was the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Most of the key figures of the Revolution owned slaves. Dig a little and you find a lot of bloody dirt concerning their slave owning. It’s just everywhere. It’s ugly.
Marcus Rediker, the author of The Slave Ship: a Human History (Viking Penguin, 2007) said this in the introduction of his book:
To conclude on a personal note, this has been a painful book to write, and if I have done any justice on the subject, it will be a painful book to read.
I hope that my book, when it’s finally finished (by the grace of God) will be beautiful, but I don’t know. It may not be. I do believe nobody’s going to be able to read it without tissues, though.
There’s so much sadness for Black folks back in the 18th century, but what makes me feel better about that sadness is the all the testimony I see. Today, when an old Black lady gets up in church and begins, “First giving honor and glory to God…” that comes directly from African American testimony in the 18th century. And I love that.
Black folks refused to shut up about their pain. No matter how bad things got, they stood on the Rock and opened up their mouths. I cherish that about my people. That’s what keeps me writing through the tears.