By Pamela Alston
I was honored to interview literary fictional writer and native Washingtonian Morowa Yejidé about her new novel, Time of the Locust, from which she will read this Sunday, February 7, at 2 p.m., followed by a book signing and reception at The Writer's Center.
The novel offers compelling insight into the lives of a divorced, single parent, Brenda, and her young son, Sephiri, who has autism. As the parent of a teenager with autism, I could relate on every level to Brenda. Below, Yejidé describes her journey prior to penning the novel, the inspiration for the novel, and the emotional and secret lives of each of the characters, as well as encouraging advice for aspiring writers.
Pamela Alston: Was there a specific moment or influence that made you want to be a writer?
Morowa Yejidé: There wasn't a special moment when I decided to be a writer, but I knew that I liked to work with words. I loved reading and the images that stories could invoke in my mind. I was always fascinated by different forms of communication like foreign languages, technical writing, body language, the spoken and the unspoken.
I remember my middle school teacher giving an assignment that asked us to personify a storm. I had such a marvelous time with that assignment and was kind of in my own world with it. I remember my teacher saying, "You know, I think you've really got something here." For me, that might have been when the magic of writing was first felt in a formal way. On the other hand, my father says that I wrote little stories when I was four years old, so the writing bug may have been with me earlier on. Who knows?
PA: You attended Wilkes University and graduated with an M.F.A. in creative writing. How did that scholastic atmosphere affects your writing style? Have you ever taken non-academic workshops? Do you see a difference between the two?
MY: Before Wilkes, I took one of the Gotham Writers workshops and enjoyed it tremendously. It was a great group, and we were all committed to really putting in the work of polishing the pieces we were writing. I think this experience only hardened my resolve to go further. I had published several short stories before I entered Wilkes University, and I went in very driven to expand my craft and writing career.
I chose Wilkes specifically because the faculty is comprised of working writers—artists in the trenches. They were very encouraging and led by example. It was a wonderful environment for me because everything and everyone centered on "doing" and not talking about doing.
Yejidé practices this principle as a workshop leader at The Writer’s Center. There’s still time to register for her winter class!
Days: 8 Weeks
Workshop description: Writers practice the ultimate courage. We look in the mirror and into the soul of humanity. Sometimes the view isn't pretty. Stories of adversity, strangeness, or the underside of life don't need to be true, but they do need to be believable. In this online workshop, participants will examine short pieces of traditional and contemporary dark fiction (Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Song for Night by Chris Abani, Talking to the Dead, by Sylvia A. Watanabe), with an eye toward story elements that invoke resonance and "truth." Participants will experiment and apply those elements to their own work. By course end, participants will have a polished piece (short story or novel excerpt) ready for the next stage of development or publication.
PA: Let’s talk about the themes in the novel. As I was reading, I envisioned myself as the protagonist: I was Brenda. We had similar experiences; we both were single parents. Brenda was trying her best to have a regular life—working for the Department of Agriculture, taking care of Sephiri, which was a daily challenge. She had to juggle doctor appointments, school conferences, all of which left little time for her. I can also relate to Brenda’s challenges with her weight.
The other characters include Horus, Brenda’s incarcerated husband, Manden, a subway employee and Horus’s introverted brother, and Jack Thompson, their father and a murdered civil rights activist. What do all of these characters have in common?
MY: All of the characters have the commonalities of experiencing prison. Horus is incarcerated, Brenda is dealing with weight and health issues, Sephiri is in his world and cannot communicate due to his autism, Manden, who works underground, remains hidden throughout the novel. They all lack voices and all characters are at a crossroads—this book is an exploration of hidden worlds.
PA: Are you planning a sequel to the Time of the Locust?
MY: For me, each book is a stand-alone endeavor with a mythology and adventure all its own. I'm writing another novel now on something completely different. New book. New mountain to climb!
PA: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
MY: There is no "writing life." There is your life and how writing fits into it. You must be your own cheerleader with your own vision.
Decide where you want your work to go and aim in that direction. No one is going to push for your dream harder than you. Often your writing project is just another line item on the to-do list of an agent, editor, publicist, publisher, or administrator. Realize that these people haven't bled and cried over the project (your writing, your dream).
Take encouragement and help when and where it is presented, but understand that in the end, it is you who will have to push forward—sometimes alone. No one will do it better than you. No one will care more than you.
Time of the Locust was a 2012 finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize, longlisted for the 2015 PEN/Bingham award, and a 2015 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work. Her short stories have appeared in the Adirondack Review, The Istanbul Review, and others. Her short story "Tokyo Chocolate" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, anthologized by Britain's best of the Willesden Herald, and praised by the Japan Times. She is currently a PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools author. More about her at: www.morowayejide.com.