Do #BlackGirlsLivesMatter? …to #AGENTS, #PUBLISHERS, #ANYONE?

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents, #publishers, #anyone?

I’m not so sure. Sometimes, I think the answer is no, although the literary world, agents, publishers, and presses have mastered the masquerade and charade of hashtags: #Ownvoices #BlackLivesMatter #DVPit, #seeking underrepresented and marginalized voices. #amwriting #amquerying #amreading #writingcommunity #pubtip #MSWL #BVM #PitchWars #PitMad But, I’m not sure yet that …

#BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents, #publishers, #anyone.

I’ve started down a new road.  A road to publish another book – a new book, a book on my life journey: From Black Girlhood to Black Womanhood: A Wild Womanist Journey. It will be my fourth book. This is my first one looking for an agent and I don’t think I’ve seen any agent’s wishlist say they are looking and wishing for Black Girl voices or Black Women’s Voices.

So, Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents, #publishers, #anyone?

My last book, A Black Woman’s Journey From Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America (Peter Lang, 2018) was about my mother’s journey to the academy. My mother, Mildred Sirls, was a young Black girl in rural east Texas in the 1930s who picked cotton to help her family survive. Through trials and tribulations and triumphs, she became Dr. Mildred Pratt, Professor Emeritus of Social Work, full professor.  Her 83 years of life took her all across America from the South to the North, from the East to the West, from outhouses to the White House. It is a book that examines the complexity of the challenges, struggles, and successes that Black women experienced as they attempted to move from the legacy of slavery and the shackles of segregation and sharecropping to integration, education, and empowerment.  Her journey reveals lessons about race, class, and gender in America.

I wanted her life to matter – her Blackgirl Life, her Blackwoman Life. And I wanted to share an example of how we can make it as Blackgirls and Blackwomen in the world.

As my mother was dying, she asked me to share her journey and take pages and pages of handwritten notes about her life and make them into a story. As I worked on her journey, I knew that at some point, I would need to do the same — take pages and pages of handwritten notes about my life and write my story. I started writing From Black Girlhood to Black Womanhood a year ago, but really have been writing this book my entire life. The manuscript is finished and just waiting for a home.

In July 2019, I took 45 years of journals with me to a retreat center outside of Nashville – appropriately called Penuel Ridge – in homage to the Biblical story of Jacob who wrestle with God at Penuel.  I would be wresting with my own self at Penuel Ridge.    I laid the journals out across two beds in one of the bedrooms.  Over the course of almost three weeks, I began to transcribe them.  Not everything, of course.  So many moments of our lives are mundane and meaningless. But many are not.  Every now and then, moments of meaning; monumental moments.

My journals reveal struggles and successes; trials, traumas, and triumphs.  We cannot be women, women of color, human, without them. We all have them as part of our human journey.  But some of us write about them.  In our writing, we wrestle and resolve; and wrestle again and resolve again. Writing provides a space for overcoming obstacles; it is a place for revelations and wisdom. Those of us who journal know that sometimes our pens can share thoughts and secrets that our minds are almost unaware.  Our journals provide clarity to moments of uncertainty. 

Our writing daily — almost — provides a place of solace.   I chronicled my mother’s dying.  For 4 months. I  wrote what I was scared of; what her body was doing; what she was able to do and say; when she stopped being able to do and say; what it meant to see a body slowing down in your own house.  I wrote about pushing her wheelchair in the morning so she could see the sunrise and have hope. I wrote about when she could no longer get in the wheelchair. I couldn’t even write the word “die.”  I just used _______. 

After she transitioned, at some point, her spirit reappeared in my life, literally. It was spiritual, magical, and mystical. It was like it should have been unreal, but it was real. It could have been fiction, should have been fiction, a fiction of someone’s imagination, but it was real.

And, then, some parts of the journey we can’t write about at the time. I couldn’t write about the miscarriage when the fetus at 3 months popped out as I was about to take a bath.  Alone, shocked, naked with only a towel,  bleeding with it still attached but out, I called 911 and crawled to the door to let them in. I named her Morning Glory. I still have her ashes and the little footprints that that the hospital gave me as a memorial the morning after the miscarriage.

I started writing journals at the age of 8. My father wrote journals and got me my first journal. I have been writing a story for 45 years. I want to tell this story to the world because I want to say:

#BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter. 

I want us – Black girls and Black women – to know we matter.  I want others around the world, who are not Black women and girls – to also care about us. I want us – as women, especially —  to know that there is a power and a force within us as women – the Divine Feminine – that we can find, reclaim, and love. A power and force that has always been with us, loved us, cared for us, and protected us. On our religious and spiritual journeys, our “saviors” are often masculinized and Whitened, and so we struggle to find that supernatural power that really is our natural power within.

As I struggled to birth a book from hundreds and hundreds of journals, I struggled with what to say:

I’ve been asking myself questions. What do I say? What do I omit? How do I not harm? How can I be authentic and honest? What will people think? What do I share about myself? How much of myself do I share? Do I actually share how much I weigh and that I have been fighting my weight for decades, not quite willing or able to accept that perhaps this is where it is, and what it will be? Do I share my financial struggles of always worrying about money, of never having enough, of living paycheck to paycheck, of being a primary breadwinner (or the sole breadwinner), and of living with credit card debt with interest at 27%? Do I share about all the times I wrote to my supervisors begging them to pay me what I knew others were paid with less education and less time in the office than me? Do I write about the times I have cried and cried from the racism and sexism and meanness in the world? Do I share the emotional, spiritual, and psychic struggle to find God, to know Jesus, to understand that God isn’t a White man, but an energy in the universe for good? What do people get to know about me? Is that the right lens? Why should I care? But I do.

What do I share about others?

Since August, 2019, I continued to ask questions, but I also continued to write,  to edit, to revise this book. I used the routine I’ve used all my life – get up early, write for 30-45 minutes a day.  At the end of each writing moment, have a plan for the next day.  Show up the next day, write again. No matter.

As a Black woman writer, I have been drawn to Lorraine Hansberry and her journals in “To Be Young Gifted and Black.”

“September 28: They say that one should set a schedule and keep to it no matter what: “write no matter what.” I think that’s awfully silly, this sitting down and “writing” like a duty. People celebrate it so much because it makes them feel that the writer isn’t quite so precarious a creation.” (Nemiroff & Hansberry, 1970, p. 182).

As a writer, a Black woman writer, we are a precarious creation.  As Black people in America, we are precarious.  In our own homes, Black women are killed. https://portside.org/2020-06-20/black-women-and-girls-killed-police-incomplete-stories-sayhername

#DanielleMorgan  #SandraBland #BreonnaTaylor #SayHerName #africanamerianpolicyforum

I feel precarious. I feel my precariousness as a Black woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, as a leader in the midst of America’s racism and sexism and hatred, and so I have to wonder:

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents, #presses,… #anyone?

Lorraine wanted to see how revolutionary she could be. On June 17, 1964, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, she asks herself: 

“Do I remain a revolutionary? Intellectually—without a doubt. But am I prepared to give my body to the struggle or even my comforts?” (Nemiroff & Hansberry, 1970, p. 256).  A month later, she declares, “I think when I get my health back, I shall go into the South to find out what kind of revolutionary I am” (Nemiroff & Hansberry, 1970, p. 257). 

For me, I want to show the world just how revolutionary Black women and girls are.

As a  revolutionary writer, I am committed to a cause greater than  myself. We must be, for otherwise, we are not revolutionary.  What is that cause? For me, that cause is the Divine Feminine — that essence of ourselves as women, that original power that is often snatched viciously from us as girls, especially as Black girls, and so we undertake journeys as grown-ass women to find ourselves.

And so, what is this book about? Our Wild Woman within us.

 From Black Girlhood to Black Womanhood: A Wild Womanist Journey is the story of a young Black girl, maybe four or five years old, who was, apparently, showing up and showing out at one point in time. A Black girl, who while acting womanish and sassy, angered her father. He shouted at her, “Who do you think you are?” With tears running down her face, the little girl said, “Queen of Sheba.” Seemingly out of the wild, out of nowhere, a little Black girl claimed to be Queen of Sheba, the queen of an ancient African community, who visited King Solomon in the Bible.

This little girl, Blackwildgirl, knew the deep secret of her soul and claimed it, spoke it, and owned it. And because the world is never ready for Blackwildgirls, she is silenced for she has shared her secret too soon. She will become a victim of a bargain made without her knowledge by her father. She will be dismembered and dethroned, placed in a backpack, zipped up and rendered invisible, marginalized, and broken. Yet because Blackwildgirls can never fully be silenced, Black women undertake underground initiation journeys to find their Blackwildgirls and to reclaim their Queen of Shebaness and their Divine Feminine. 

I am the little girl who claimed to be Queen of Sheba. I am the little girl whose Blackwildgirl was silenced and placed in a backpack and zipped up. And I am the woman, Blackwildwoman, who went on a 45-year search for Blackwildgirl, and ultimately finding, loving, and reuniting Black womanhood, beginning at the age of eight. The journals reveal defining moments—decisions made by others, decisions made by me, and experiences created by the universe—that set my life upon a particular path. This book is the story of that path.

From Black Girlhood to Black Womanhood: A Wild Womanist Journey is about the relationship between Blackwildgirl, my childhood self, and Blackwildwoman, my adult self. As told through 45 years of journals, poems, and letters in a genre-blending creative narrative nonfiction memoir, this book is about the journey of a Black woman, Blackwildwoman, to find and reclaim Blackwildgirl, symbolizing her original Divine Feminine power.  Separated from Blackwildgirl during a girlhood initiation ritual, Blackwildwoman undertakes a difficult and treacherous underground journey, eventually reuniting with her Divine Feminine childhood self and reclaiming her original power as a woman. Through six initiation stages with acts and scenes, Blackwildwoman learns life lessons and wild woman wisdom. A unique exploration of Black girlhood, Black womanhood, and the Divine Feminine in #myownvoice.

This book is for anyone who wants to understand the experiences of girls as they seek to become wild women—women who are fierce and fearless; women who are warriors for themselves and others; women who are committed to cultivating and excavating their spiritual gardens and tilling their spiritual souls to blossom and bloom; and women who want to move from invisible underground lives to aboveground lives of impact and influence by reclaiming their original power and role as women in the world.  It is a guide for parents of daughters; girls, women, and wives; husbands, partners, and lovers of women. It is for readers and writers who want to push the boundaries of traditional storytelling and memoir.

I want to find a home from this book, for the greater cause of womanhood and girlhood, of Blackwomanhood and Blackgirlhood, of the Divine Feminine. As I search for a home for this book, I wonder:

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers and #anyone?

I have only published with academic presses.  I had to, the tenure path, the validation of and by the academy. An academic press I thought was an option proved not to be for a variety of unanticipated reasons.  And, so, on the advice of a trusted colleague, I started looking for an agent and a non-academic press. He said he can see a movie, too, from this journey, from this book. I got excited and inspired. And so, I heeded his advice and started a completely new and challenging journey in the literary world. How do I look for an agent when I’ve never been part of that world?

I started with the books of women I admire  — that have agents…Stereotypically I wonder, do Black women need Black women agents? There are so few….and not all Black women agents are looking for memoir.  Serendity and McKinnon – probably swamped. I look on social media. I find and follow hundreds of agents on Twitter.  I look at so many agent websites.  So many White men and White women – really White women.  And I wonder…can White men and White women agents aggressively represent women of color?  Ahh, the need for allies..

I keep looking. I start learning new hashtags. One hashtag in particular intrigues me: #Ownvoices.  There is a whole discussion about #ownvoices. I thought #ownvoices applied to nonfiction “memoir” because it is our own voices. I read and it isn’t clear, but posts seem to suggest that #ownvoices only refers to fiction and it is diverse fictional characters written by diverse people. So maybe no one wants to actually hear the #myownvoices of black women and black girls in their real and authentic life.

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers and #anyone?

I started writing a journal at the age of 8.  #Myownvoice at the age of 8.  And then, #myownvoices at the age of 16, 17, and 18.  #myownvoice in college at the University of Iowa and then Vanderbilt.  #myownvoice falling in love and then falling out of love.  #myownvoice trying to find my career; #myownvoice as a mother; #myownvoice as a writer. #myownvoice.

But does #myownvoice matter?

 Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers and #anyone?

So, to get an agent…you have to query.  I have done book proposals for my other books, but not a query.  I read many blogs and posts on a good query, how to write a query. I’m in a class without a teacher, without a mentor, without a guide.  It describes my entire life….persevering alone. Persistence, shots in the dark.  I seek advice on the web. It is all contradictory: “most publications come from query; Don’t just depend on queries; attend conference; network. It is who you know and who knows you.”

I find some agents. I read their websites. I follow them on Twitter. I read the agency’s website. Some say #BLM. I think, maybe they care. I send queries. I follow the instructions: do this, don’t do that. I push “send, submit.” Some No’s come appallingly quickly.  Did they even read it, I wonder?

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers and #anyone?

I tweak the query; I refine the book proposals.  I keep sending it out.  NOTHING.  More Nothings than nos. Some literary agents say don’t expect to hear from us.  Some say, follow up if you don’t hear from us. Some say if you don’t hear, we don’t want you.  I realize I need a spreadsheet to track.  I start filling in columns.  50 agents and few presses, because I was told not to depend on agents, only, but then, again, someone other advice says, don’t do agents and presses at the same time. You can’t get into most presses without an agent. And then some presses say, reach out to us. But the presses, which ones – small independent, midsize. Most say, don’t talk to us if you don’t have an agent…and then the agents say…no longer accepting queries…so, I wonder:

Is this a door that can even open?

I keep knocking, for we have to knock, seek, and ask.  I begin a sociological analysis of these agents. Many are asking for fantasy and science fiction and true crime (what is this?) and horror and graphic novel. A strange escape from reality. Yet today, what is real and what is science fiction? A mask wearing society? Real or fiction?  Many request are for LGBTQ characters and voices. I’m glad to see that.  Those are important voices that need to be heard.  #ownvoices. And though I see some requests for underrepresented and marginalized voices, some for female voices, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone’s wishlist say, Black girls voices or Black women’s voices. And while the home page for some literary agencies proudly proclaim Black Lives Matter, they have no Black agents.

And a #PitMad coming and they say, use #BVM if it applies. Nevertheless, I have to ask:

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #presses and #anyone?

And, I revise my bio to try to justify and legitimize myself so that maybe just maybe…#myownvoicesmatters

For memoirs, agents want really important people.  I am not one.  They want people with large Twitter and Instagram followings. I am not one.  They want people who are famous or infamous. I am not one. My brother, he is famous.

I am not famous.  I am just a hard-working Black woman, devoting my life to the social justice cause as the Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity and Professor of Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). I am a scholar-activist, committed to advancing those who are disempowered. I created my own website, www.menahprattclarke.com in 2018 and regularly post a blog on the site, which had about 7000 views in the last year. I blog on important issues related to race, class, gender, oppression, White supremacy, as well as religion and spirituality.  I host monthly podcasts on issues of diversity as part of two series I started called “Making the Chair Fit” (InclusiveVT Youtube Channel) https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCRUhX-BBeN_fo1lLQUQcaQ

and “Unfinished Conversations on Race.”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puVHSv0d-rs I was recently a panelist on an Insight into Diversity national webinar on White Women as allies that has over 15,000 views. 

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=594801004757771&ref=watch_permalink

I am active on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/menah.prattclarke), Twitter (@menahpc), and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/menahprattclarke/?hl=en).  But on Instagram, I often only posts pretty pictures of flowers or sunsets, or great oxtails! And on Twitter I tweet something every day, usually a quote to inspire or educate. I don’t have a super large following. I haven’t paid attention to that part of the work to try to get a huge following.

But, I am the founder of a ational conference (The Faculty Women of Color in the Academy National Conference) now in its 9th year, for almost 400 women of color in the academy focused on empowerment and engagement that is annually hosted at Virginia Tech. https://video.vt.edu/media/Virginia+Tech+hosts+7th+Annual+Faculty+Women+of+Color+in+the+Academy+National+Conference/0_y06w6typ

I have written four books. My most recent work, A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about race, gender, and class in America (Peter Lang, 2018), was selected as a 2018 American Education Studies Association 2018 Critics’ Choice Award for recent scholarship deemed to be outstanding in its field. In addition to A Black Woman’s Journey, my scholarship includes Critical Race, Feminism, and Education:  A Social Justice Model (Palgrave, 2010), Journeys of Social Justice: Women of Color Presidents in the Academy (Peter Lang, 2017); and Reflections on Race, Gender, and Culture in Cuba (Peter Lang, 2017).

I received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Literary Studies from the University of Iowa. I also have a master’s degree in Sociology from Vanderbilt University, as well as PhD and law degree. I taught English, Speech, and Grammar in men’s and women’s minimum and maximum security prisons in Nashville, for many years. Prior to attending college, I was a professional tennis player; a classical violinist; and a pianist/accompanist. From Black Girlhood to Black Womanhood is the story of this journey.

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers …#anyone?

Because #myownwords are not enough to legitimate and validate ourselves, I reach out to exhausted writers and scholars, many beat down from life, and gently solicit an endorsement. Some say yes, some say, I wish I could, but I can’t. I appreciate that.  We have to say no, even to each other. We are exhausted, barely keeping it going in a pandemic and new civil rights movement based on hate. So, I wait.

And, I wait. And wonder….

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers ..#anyone?

And, I am still sending queries and book proposals. And I’m getting ready for #PitMad: “#PitMad is the original twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.” The website continues: “In an effort to amplify Black voices, we’ve added a #BVM (Black Voices Matter) hashtag. If you are a Black author, please feel free to include #BVM in your tweets so agents/editors can use it to search for pitches.”

I’m thinking — yeah, right? three months of pitches and queries to at least 50 agents, but now, on September 3, #BVM. So, I have to ask:

Do #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and #BlackWomenLivesReallyMatter to #agents and #publishers ..#anyone?

But I do have hope that before I reach 100 queries the Divine Feminine will send the right agent and right press, and one day, I will sit with Oprah on a Super Soul Sunday episode and talk about my book and the spiritual journey that I started when I was 8 to find and love my power within and I’ll hang out with Oprah and Gayle and feel the love of a Black sisterhood I have never had.

If you are an agent or publisher that believes #BlackGirlsLivesReallyMatter and BlackWomenLivesReallymatter, DM @MenahPC on Twitter.

This is the book cover.

My son, @Emmanuelaopc, painted this cover using a photograph of myself at age 5, as a multilayered and textured work, including excerpts from sentences my father made me write as punishment (on yellow paper I carried around for decades), and drafts (on white) of this work I wrote onmyself.  A powerful intersection of writing and transformation. #mywordsmatter

#MYOWNVOICEMATTERS

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