LaTanya McQueen on Imagining Her Audience and Life on Twitter
In Conversation with Eric LeMay on the New Books Network
The New Books Network is a consortium of author-interview podcast channels dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing serious authors to a wide public via new media. They publish 100 new interviews every month and serve a large, worldwide audience.
This week on New Books in Literature, Eric LeMay speaks with LaTanya McQueen about her new book And It Begins Like This (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). McQueen’s new collection of essays reckons with intriguing and timely questions about history, race, family, place, and self. It’s called And It Begins Like This, and I immediately found myself asking, “What’s it? What’s this?”
Not until over halfway through the book did McQueen make the answer clear, when she writes: “There is a story I once believed and it begins like this—a woman named Leanna Brown was a slave to Bedford Brown, Senator of North Carolina. Sometime during her enslavement she had a relationship with a white man who lived on a neighboring farm, and the results of their relationship produced three children, one of them my ancestor.”
McQueen’s book is, in part, her attempt to learn the full and complicated truth of this story, to discover, as much as the record will allow, the history of her great-great grandmother. This search, it turns out, asks her no less than to grapple with the history of race relations in the United States and the ways in which it manifests in her own life and family.
And It Begins Like This is a clear-eyed and powerful account not only of the experience of being an African American woman right now, but also a testament to the importance of this experience and the insight it brings for all Americans.
From the episode:
“I know you are out there. I know you are waiting, and to you I say, someone is listening.”
Eric LeMay: One of the things you do quite often is use the second-person. When you speak to a “you” who’s reading, who is the “you” that you imagine?
LaTanya McQueen: That’s something that when I first started these pieces I slipped into without realizing it. In terms of who it’s referring to, it shifts. Sometimes it’s just the collective “you” reading it and sometimes I do have specific people in mind that I can’t mention, like other texts that have written about black experience, for example, or race. Sometimes I do it to put the reader in the place of me.
EL: I’m wondering if you’d be willing to read an example? It’s a passage from “Glory Be Her Name.” The end of that is so powerful and generous and invitational.
LM: “I write for women like us, someone once told me, a friend, and I reminded of this every time I look on the screen and see a woman who looks like me or when I hold a book in my hands from someone who looks like me or when I see a woman who looks like me on the street unconcerned with the stares of the world. Each time I am reminded that there is more than one way of being . . . And so, I think of others who are still waiting to get to the place I’ve finally come to, and I think of the women with stories of their lives we’ve yet to hear. I know you are out there. I know you are waiting, and to you I say, someone is listening. Someone is waiting to hear, so tell me. So come forth, and let’s begin.”
EL: I also noticed that, if you look for you on Twitter, this is your pinned Tweet. There are a few places in the book where you talk about the experience and beneficial use of social media for writers, especially for writers working from minority positions. Could tell us a little about how your Twitter presence folds into your artistic project?
LM: For me, Twitter has a lot of problems and social media in general has a lot of problems. I have used Twitter and I love it. I have met a lot of people I consider really close friends online, and part of that was just because I felt like the spaces I was in in my daily life were ones of exclusion and I was constantly made to feel or be aware of my difference. I turned to Twitter—and I think a lot of writers in similar positions have turned to Twitter—to find like-minded people, people who are in similar situations. For me, it was the place to have the space where I did have a sense of community . . . I’m constantly hearing of other people who are in MFA programs or PhD programs or just even in classrooms, regular undergraduate classroom situations, where they are made to feel as they are made to feel less than. So I wanted to make sure in any way that I could that, if someone is feeling that way, they’re not alone, that a lot of us go through this and continue to go through this.
Previous ArticleRumors of the 'Gay Gene' Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Next ArticleOn the Real-Time Thrill of Reading
a Writer's Diary