Be My Guest: Felicia Pride

by

writer-1

I edit magazine articles on a freelance basis and often find myself scouring the ‘net at the last minute, looking for the perfect writer for a particular article.

Two years ago, my Google searching led me to Felicia Pride. There is no better feeling than connecting with a writer who is professional, punctual, timely and just on it. When an editor crosses paths with a writers who always delivers, it’s a pure joy.

In addition to editing her story, I’ve kept my eye on Felicia’s book hustle for years. This girl works. When it’s time for me to market my novel, I’ll definitely be retracing her steps.

I reached out to her for a guest blog. And I had something specific I wanted her to tell me. When did she really consider herself a writer? So many of us collect clips for years but still choke on that lofty word.

Felicia has an awesome story of the moment she finally stood up straight, looked a legend in the eye, and spoke her truth.

Enjoy.

___________________________________________________________________________

Because That’s What I Told Harry Belafonte

By Felicia Pride

It took me years to actually claim the title: writer.

Many of us become published writers, see our names in print, start collecting actual checks. And still, we can’t say it out loud: I am a writer.

The first time I said it was in 2006. It was in Kingston, Jamaica. I had been writing professionally for about four years.  But never once did I use the anointed title to describe myself.

So I’m in Jamaica. My friend and I are chilling at the pool. And who do we see?

harrybelafonte

Harry Belafonte. Yes, the Harry Belafonte.

“We should go over to him,” my friend said.

I agreed.

We approached Mr. Belafonte and he actually rose out of his seat when he saw us approaching. He was just as polite, dignified, classy and elegant as he’s always been on screen.

He shook our hands and engaged in small talk with us.

And then he turned to me:

“And what do you do young lady?”

His question threw me off. I was working in book publishing but sort of in between gigs. The truth was, I did make money as a writer.  And that’s who I was–whether my paychecks reflected it or not from week to week.  What do I do?

“I’m a writer, Mr. Belafonte.”

He smiled brightly.

“What a noble field,” he said.

From that moment on, I had to claim “writer.” I mean, I told Mr. Belafonte I was a writer! You don’t lie to Harry Belafonte!

The truth is, I’d earned the right to claim the title years before. And it had been a hard fought struggle.

After high school I embarked upon a very traditional path; not once did I consider blazing my own trail. The preset plan was quite mundane, actually. Four-year college. Bachelor’s degree in business. Practical. Safe. Decent-paying job in a respectable field. Benefits. Work for the next forty years. Take some time off to pursue an advanced degree. Return to work for a bigger corporate behemoth.

After a few months of sitting in my drab gray, three-walled cubicle, my only joy was the daily trip to the cafeteria to score a vanilla cappuccino. I wanted to write poems and articles. I wanted to write novels and a family history but I didn’t possess any formal writing training.  I wanted to do stuff with words, but on my own terms. For as long as I could, I pushed the thought away like an annoying gnat.

But when I was supposed to be inputting travel expenses for sales reps, I started surfing the net for writing opportunities. I came across a weekly community newspaper based in Staten Island called “Black Reign News” that was looking for writing interns.

My first writing assignment? Review Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama.” Never did any music writing, but like most young black females, Mary had been my girl since “What’s the 411?”  I just knew I could write a good piece. I’m sure I’d cringe if I read the review now, but that review changed my life.

The moment I saw my byline in that newspaper and I knew that people were reading my words, it was game over for me.

I spent the next few months reviewing CDs before moving on to other entertainment pieces.

I was writing for free. Sometimes I even had to buy the CDs or pay for the concert tickets. But I loved every minute of it. Then I got my big writing break– covering a hospital health fair in Jersey City for another local newspaper. I was paid thirty-five dollars.

You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t on my way.

It would take a year for me to land another paid writing gig after the thirty-five-dollar assignment failed to make me rich. But I kept shopping my work to other publications.

By day I was reconciling tedious promotional budgets for cell phones at my full-time marketing job. By night I was writing for my life.

Four years later, I was on a beach in Kingston, telling a legend that I was a writer.  He believed it. And so did I.

There are times when I question why I’ve chosen such a gut-wrenching dream. But it’s the other way around: writing chose me.  I shake off fear like excess water and charge forward. Every day I continue to carve my own path.

I’m a writer. And no matter what happens, I always will be. I have to be.

That’s what I told Harry Belafonte.

_________________________________________________________________________
Among other things, Felicia is a speaker and author of four books. Her latest is The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs You can find out more about her at feliciapride.com or visit her book blog on The Root.

feliciandthebook

Dear readers, why is it so hard to call yourself a writer? I’ve been in the game for ten plus years and the word still catches on my tongue sometimes. I feel like people won’t believe me or something. If you’ve ever published, do you call yourself a writer? Do you have to make a living as a writer to call yourself one?

Felicia and I would love to hear from you…


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17 Responses to “Be My Guest: Felicia Pride”

  1. Brooklyngypsy Says:

    Hmm…why is this hard.
    I believe it’s because we ‘w*****s’ are a different breed of human. We don’t think like normal people. We don’t see the world the same. Everything is a story just waiting to be told. We may have egos, but writing is our lifeline-so we feel no need to parade around and flaunt the ‘title.’ It’s in our DNA-so like a secondary trait, we just have it in us.

    W****s are a modest group. The act of writing itself is not a chore, hobby, or even occupation: it is an extension of our souls.

    Why would we really want to announce that?

  2. lakeiab Says:

    I felt the same way. Even with a box of clips under my bed, I still have trouble telling people that I’m a writer. Maybe it’s because I don’t pay the big bills (like rent) with the money I make from my words. I think I’ve convinced myself that until writing is my day job, I can’t really claim it. But it’s time to embrace the truth. I am a writer.

    You was who you was before you got here. – Jay-z

    Shout out to Belle for putting me on to this site. I loves it!

  3. felicia Says:

    thanks ms. aliya for allowing me and other writers to do what we do on your blog!

    @Brooklyngypsy. I like the W*****s!

  4. Russell Nichols Says:

    Good post Felicia.

    Personally, I’m coming from the other side of the spectrum. I’ve never struggled to say I’m a writer. And it’s not an ego thing. I worked for a few newspapers and whatnot, but I’ve never been published in any of my major dream magazines (R.I.P. VIBE).

    I claim the title because as a writer, I believe words have power, so I feel like I’m speaking it into existence.

    [SIDEBAR]
    It’s similar to how these upstart rappers spit rhymes about getting money and driving big cars on big rims when they still live in their mama’s basement with a bus pass. Then they get put on and actually get the money and don’t know what to do with it. That won’t be me, but I’m just saying.
    [END SIDEBAR]

    Anyway, that’s why I claim the title. Keep doing your thing. Let it be written, let it be spoken.

  5. Paul Cantor Says:

    Great post.

    my opinion, you are what you do. If you spend more than 8 hours a day doing something, that’s primarily what you do, and you shouldn’t have any shame in admitting that, then tacking on to that sentence, but “I’m also a writer, and have been published in x,y and z.” I don’t think anyone will frown upon that. But yet, we do live in a fake it till you make it society, so hey, maybe I’m wrong.

    Look, in addition to writing I also make music… how often do I make money from music? Like writing, it’s hit and miss. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Does that NOT make me a musician? No. So long as I’m actually spending time making records, paid or not, I have no problem saying I’m a producer. There were times over the past few years where I was producing less and less, and in those instances, I shied away from telling people, because in those moments I wasn’t spending any time doing it. So I’d be lying.

    Right now I do 50 gazillion things (recession!), and literally spend 18 hours a day juggling these duties. So I have no problem saying I’m a writer, blogger, web marketer, musician, concert producer, booking agent, recording engineer, video editor and so on. Because I’m actually doing all these things day to day. Seriously.

    I think Mathew Santos summed it up best in that Lupe Fiasco tune….

    “if you are what you say you are, then have no fear…”

    I try to keep that little phrase in mind on a day to day basis

    It’s

  6. Hanif Says:

    I write! I’ve never been paid to write. I have been called on to write, I have been told I was a good writer. I’ve never claimed the title. As I’m writing this I told my co-worker what the blog was about, and he said Writer’s are “Starving Artist” and I think that notion causes you not to want to be in that bucket.

  7. Joan Morgan Says:

    I loved this.

  8. Speed Says:

    Nice Post Felicia,

    I write with the purpose of inspiring. I just started to share my writings with the world last month through my blog. I’m also in the process of finishing up a book. I used to consider myself an aspiring author. However with the feedback I’ve been getting on my blog I feel confident in saying I’m a writer. I dont think that you have to get paid for your writings to be considered a writer. You just have to write with a purpose.

    Scott
    Theneighborhoodspeaks.com

  9. Putyrdreams1st Says:

    This was wonderful, thanks Felicia and Aliya! Funny, the writer title has always come easily to me. It’s the ‘author’ title that I am having to adjust to, like saying ‘husband’ after being newly wed. I suspect time will ease that for me.

    I agree with Brooklyngypsy writing is blood and air for me. More than what I do; it’s who I am. A storyteller, dream weaver, cultural custodian, a cannonizer.

    But peep this: I think it was Harry that called Felicia into being who she already was; literally pulling the commitment to her craft out of her, artist to artist, creative to creative. Sometimes it takes that level of conviction to serve as a mirror. Brava!

  10. Tanisha Says:

    Wow. I really felt Felicia on this. I know that I have thrown that “I also write too” phrase in at then end of a convo sometimes when people have asked what I do for a living. I was thinking like Lakeiab that since I don’t pay the major portion of my bills with money I make from writing, that couldn’t possibly be my full-time occupation.

    It’s weird because I don’t hide it when I’m out if people see me sitting with someone, taking notes and asking questions. If I’m at a show jotting notes in the dark with the light of my cellphone, I feel like its obvious. People ask. When I’m wearing my journalist hat, out doing what I love, I have no probelm saying, “Yes, I’m a writer.”

    I know I have always felt like a writer in my soul even if a day passed and I didn’t write a thing. I can close my eyes and picture my teenage hands grabbing my black and white spotted Mead from in between my mattress. My blue Papermate pen was always stuck in the middle. I’d write when I was pissed. I’d make up a story and write it down. I’d write an angry poem. I wrote new words I wanted to incorporate in my writing. I wrote the initials of whatever boy I liked mixed with mine. I guess I didn’t really think that consistently going from a pen to a keyboard my entire life to create, relieve, and express myself just didn’t make me a writer.

    Thanks Felicia. You helped me realize that I need to fully claim it. I am a writer.

  11. Taiia Says:

    at six, i told everyone who would listen that i was a writer. hmpf, i had my short stories, my opinion pieces and all that, thank you. didn’t need a magazine or newspaper byline to feel validated or legit.
    but every freakin’ time, an adult said, “that’s nice sweety. but how are you gonna make money doing that?” my six-year-old ego deflated. they thought writing was “cute” as a hobby, but nobody ever made a living stringing a subject and a verb together in my family.

    that’s probably what led me to be so scared to make the declaration– i. am. a. writer.–as an adult. i constantly felt like there are so many more people who were REAL writers–as if my accomplishments (being published in national mags and anthologies) were FAKE in comparison.

    i still feel it today when i tell people i write fiction for teens. again, i get more humor-the-poor-child looks, followed by the inevitable “why?”

    why? because there aren’t enough authors of color writing for teens. why? because there aren’t enough characters of color in teen novels. why? because this is my voice and this is how i choose to use it, thank you.

    after answering all these annoying whys, i jump into my delorean time machine, zip back to the ’70s and give a pound to six-year-old me. and homegirl, rocking her i.am. a. writer. t-shirt, is super proud.

  12. tyrone Says:

    Lovely piece, Felicia. I would have titled it “What I Told Harry Belafonte”.

    Being a writer, for people like me, is just something you are, it’s a part of your person. Not something you proclaim.

  13. Paul Chinnery Says:

    I needed to hear that.

    Thanks.

  14. felicia Says:

    thanks all for reading and sharing. always nice to know that you’re not alone.

  15. Claire Says:

    I too have trouble saying I’m a writer. Even as I’m typing this, I feel I’m fooling myself. Words flow naturally and easily, but…I think for many writers, they don’t feel as if they can assume the title without publishing a book. Or writing for the Times. Or being on a bestsellers list. I’m waiting for that moment. I feel like a writer in training. As writing is such a noble field, I feel you have to mark certain milestones before assuming the crown.

  16. S.Smith Says:

    Great, great post

  17. Alex10 Says:

    Let us not settle for the status quo, but instead be visionary, creative and bold. ,

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