We thought you folks could gain better insight into why we selected our IMPACT Leaders of the Month. We will present a new presentation of these folks so we can help you learn more about the ways leaders are moving and shaking in communities all around you.
1. What made you want to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since before I knew how to write. When I was in pre-school my mother bought me composition notebooks to color in. I have no talent for stick figures. Instead, I spent hours filling them up with squiggly lines that three-year-old insisted were words. Those were my first stories. And my mother, either a genius or just in need of an hour of silence, encouraged it. I “read” them to her, my dolls, our rabbit and soon I couldn’t see myself doing anything but.
2. What allows you to be so vulnerable in front of such a wide audience?
For me, writing is a selfish act. When I write, I write for myself first. I don’t hold my creativity hostage by worrying about who might be clutching their pearls when they read my stuff. There should be a warning on the cover of “Bitch is the New Black”: Pearls will be manhandled. My favorite book quote from Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is about the instinctive bravado of children. The main character, a little black girl named Claudia, says, “…we had become headstrong, devious, and arrogant. Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves. Our limitations were not known to us—then.” Since I don’t spend any time worrying about imaginary limitations they become just that—invisible.
3. What’s been the best experience of your career thus far?
When I met Shonda Rhimes (creator of “Grey’s Anatomy”) for the first time. I was so worried about how high my dress kept hiking up and what my hair was doing that when Shonda actually walked into the room, looking normal and very un-Hollywood, I forgot whatever canned pitched I had planned. So, we just chatted for an hour about nothing and everything—modern feminism, being black at an Ivy League school, motherhood, being single, working hard, and boys. When I left she said, “This is totally a movie” and that was that.
4. What’s next for you, career wise? What should we look out for?
Right now I’m writing the screenplay for “Bitch is the New Black,” which was optioned by executive producer Shonda Rhimes for Fox Searchlight Pictures. The movie is still being written so it’ll be a while before the popcorn gets popped, but that’s my next big thing. In the meantime, I write a weekly column about being me for TheRoot.com called “Single-Minded.” I’ve also been marinating a few ideas for my next book, which will be another collection of essays.
5. Now that you’ve documented your 20s, what do you look forward to in your 30s? And will you document that decade as well?
I just turned 30 and it was epic in a very small way. I spent the day contemplating why being another year older was such a big deal to everyone. I’m happy to report that my face didn’t melt off, my eggs haven’t all spoiled and no one called me “ma’am.” I’m still me just with much less tolerance for foolishness. I look forward to eradicating foolishness in the next decade of my life. As far as writing goes, I view my last book as less of a memoir and more of a collection of essays about my life (or anybody’s life that’s sorta kinda like mine). I’ve got lots more stuff to do so there are a lot of more stories to be told. I won’t wait a whole decade for the next book, instead I’ll be writing about life as I know it regularly.
6. What words of advice or encouragement would you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
First off, don’t follow me. Jump over me, run alongside me, or go in the total opposite direction of where I was pointing. Because in the end, all that matters is that you end up in the right place, which probably won’t look anything like the pictures in the brochure. But in terms of writing, branding, working for yourself advice, I’d say, “Be an authority.” Know what you’re talking about, know that someone else can’t talk about it like you can and that even more people give a care.
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Helena: headstrong, devious, attentive.