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.
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?
Harry Belafonte. Yes, the Harry Belafonte.
“We should go over to him,” my friend said.
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.
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…