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When you need to find the words to describe something in your life, Elissa Gabrielle is the one to find. Her blend of life experiences, coupled with a sense of self, provides you with the total package of talent, wisdom and the willingness to share. And she’s not satisfied with just those achievements. She has ventured into new territory with a line of greeting cards and even as a novelist. Her interview gives us both encouragement to follow our dreams as well as the perseverance needed to see them through.
ELISSA, WE WANT TO THANK YOU FOR TALKING WITH US. I'M CURIOUS AS TO WHEN YOUR LOVE FOR WORDS AND POETRY BEGAN. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
Thank you for having me. My love for words, poetry and stories began was I was about 13 years old. My father is a musician, and I was fascinated about how he could create beautiful melodies accompanied by words to create a story. I decided that I wanted to be a novelist, and poet at about that age. The way words can move you or touch you kept me interested. How a story could make you laugh or cry and cause a visceral reaction was fascinating to me. When I was about 8 years old, we didn’t have enough money to buy cards, so for Mother’s Day or whenever I felt like it, I would draw and create a card for my mother, and write a poem in it. It seemed like she’d cry for days at a time. Or I would write a letter to my father about how much I adored him and I could see how much he was touched by it. I loved their reactions.
I KNOW FOR ME MY LOVE OF WORDS WAS NOT ALWAYS SHARED OR APPRECIATED BY THOSE CLOSE TO ME. DID YOU EXPERIENCE THAT? WAS THERE ANY ONE PERSON IN YOUR LIFE THAT REALLY SHARED YOUR INTEREST?
Absolutely. Often times, we’re greeted with rejection or resistance when it comes to the arts and creativity as a whole. I’ve experienced it quite often. “That’s for other people” is the reaction I would sometimes get. Or, “who do you think you are?” is another reaction that came my way a lot. It’s hard for people to understand that if you have that drive and energy to become a writer, that really nothing but death will keep you from writing. I believe that sometimes people want to think that you’re a writer to be famous or to reach a certain type of celebrity. That’s not always the case. It’s about a desire, and a drive and an energy. Words are food for the soul and sustenance for the mind. I don't define myself through someone else's eyes, so I just continued on my journey. But to counter that and balance the negative, I’ve been blessed enough to have true friends and family in my corner that provide unconditional love and support regarding all of my projects. I can’t say there was one person exclusively. Since I’ve been writing for so long, there have been people in and out of my life that have provided great support. It goes without saying though that my parents were always there to support. They still are to this day. I do, however, at this time in my life have some really special people cheering me on. I call them my nucleus: Paula, Regina, April, Larry, Dave and Fuquan. And of course, Mom and Dad are “undeniably down.”
I KNOW FROM VISITING YOUR WEBSITE www.elissagabrielle.com THAT YOU DIDN'T GROW UP WITH THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES. DO YOU THINK YOU USED BOOKS AND WRITING AS AN ESCAPE?
Cyrus, you’ve been doing your research! That’s an excellent question and I’m glad you asked. Most people in my life, except for the ones that experienced certain things with me, Don’t even know that my childhood had its ups and downs. Growing up in the time I did, when certain drugs and alcohol were becoming prevalent made it damn near impossible for it not to infiltrate into your household. I believe at the time, crack was being heavily distributed in our communities. Not just in Newark, but in all hoods across the country. But it was what it was. Most of my friends have gone through the same circumstances. It creeps into your household and eats it away like a cancer. Needless to say, I’ve witnessed more than the average person. Death, despair, destruction-all of it. But again, God balances it all out. Had I not seen what I did, and experienced some of the things I have, I may not have become the type of writer I am today. So yes, I used books and writing as an escape because it beat the alternative. I refused, remarkably at such a young age to succumb to “that life.” Women doing deplorable things to get high. How people’s souls were rotting away to “get lifted.” I had to write, it was a release. It was my escape. It was my place of refuge. And Cyrus, the reason why this is such a great question is because if a young person is reading this article, they will know that there are alternatives. There are options. You don’t necessarily have to become a product of your environment. I embrace all that is me-where I come from, the good and the bad that I’ve witnessed because it made my character incredible and my writing poignant and real.
DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE PURSUED WRITING IF YOU HAD EXPERIENCED A DIFFERENT SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES?
When I was 5 years old, my family would call me “Grandma.” They said I had an old soul. I would run and dance around the house singing Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday songs. Even Sarah Vaughn. I would try to emulate them and write like them. Basically, I would write my own songs. My mom said, “She was born a writer and she will die a writer.” I’ve taken that with me. I think she was right. I was born a writer and I will die one. Even if my circumstances were different, I’d still be writing about something. If life was gravy and all good when I was younger, and I lived on “Blueberry Hill”, I guess I’d be writing about how good the world is!
I KNOW ALOT OF POETS THAT TELL ME THEY WRITE FIRST FOR THEMSELVES AND THEN TO HELP OTHERS. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO SHARE YOUR WORK?
That’s right Cyrus. As an author and poet, you start out writing for yourself and then you share. Once you share, you see that others are moved by your words. Once you see that others are moved, you write more to touch more people. It’s a cycle. Then the more you move, the bigger it gets. You then challenge yourself to do more, to move more, and those who grow close to you through your writing start to expect more.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT HOW WOMEN ARE PORTRAYED TODAY IN MUSIC VIDEOS, MOVIES AND EVEN SOME LITERATURE, DO YOU FEEL A CERTAIN RESPONSIBILITY TO OFFSET THAT IMAGE?
Ah Cyrus! That’s a loaded question! My mom was a pioneer in the music industry for 40 years and I’ve talked to her about this. It’s about business. I know it may seem like a shocking answer coming from a black woman. It is about the marketability of the music. The video sells the song. It’s about money. Sex and sex appeal sells. On a personal note, I’m not thrilled with it or in total agreement with the portrayal. It marginalizes and minimalizes women. I feel bad for the models, who are real models, just trying to catch a break because they seemed to have been grouped in with the women in those videos who may be there with ulterior motives. “wink wink” Unfortunately, it is about the money. But just like life, everything goes through its phases. And Cyrus, you know I believe in balance, so let’s find a bright side to it. Seems hard to do, right? Look at all of the shades, sizes and shapes of all of the beautiful black women we are seeing. As a result, look at all of the other women who are trying to look like them!
HOW DO YOU HOPE YOUR READERS, ESPECIALLY WOMEN, REACT TO YOUR WORK?
I don’t really hope for a certain reaction. I try not to. I think a writer can get caught up in “being liked” or having a writing “disease to please.” I know that from the honesty in the books that people react with honesty and usually love what was written because they know it’s coming from a real place. Readers don’t like to be fooled. They want to know that you’ve written something real for them to relate to. I’ve received great response from women. Especially with Peace In The Storm because it covers so many themes that women can relate to. They love the humor, the sadness, the drama, the hope. I had one woman come up to me and say “Girl, work! I loved it!” Another woman was so moved that she approached me and said "You did yo thang, bitch!" It's all good.
FROM YOUR FIRST BOOK OF POETRY TO THE SECOND, DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH IT HAS BEEN A CONTINUOUS JOURNEY OR THE SECOND BOOK IS MORE A FRESH START FOR YOU?
It has been a continuous journey and a fresh start at the same time. With Stand and Be Counted, I was in a different place in my life than with Peace In The Storm. It’s definitely a journey of growing spiritually and accepting what is real. It’s an honest growth and readers have been able to see that, and they appreciate it and are moved by it.
FOR ME, ELISSA, I FIND THAT CAUSES I FEEL STRONGLY ABOUT BECOME A PART OF THE ART I CREATE. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU FEEL PASSIONATE ABOUT THAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN ON?
I’ve either written on or will write on subjects of love, sex, drugs, hope, and all things in between. In upcoming books, I will cover issues like how it is so expensive to be poor in this country, to giving children prescriptions meds to control them, to how we have to hear about magic sticks, when what I really want to know is “who’s working any magic clits?” To where are the half naked brothers in the music videos to How we can go to war in the name of God, but don’t feed the hungry in the name of God; How we can have a president that says “fool me once, fool me, can’t get fooled again.” I’ll cover themes of race to religion, from ghetto madness to ghetto fabulous. There’s so much in me. And with my upcoming novel, you’ll see that I am not one dimensional.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE FUTURE? Thanks for asking. You can expect my first novel in the very near future. A third book of poetry. My greeting card line, “Greetings from the Soul: The Elissa Gabrielle Collection”, at www.greetingsfromthesoul.com and a few surprises in between.
I AM OFTEN CURIOUS, ELISSA, ABOUT GUESTS THAT HAVE ACHIEVED SUCCESS WITH THEIR CRAFT IF THEY HAVE ANY REGRETS OR WISH THEY COULD DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. CAN YOU THINK OF ANYTHING? That is a great question. One of my life’s goals is to not have any regrets but that is not an easy feat. I’m not sure that I’d do anything differently because it may have taken me away from where I am now. Of course, we want things to move faster or go as we want them to, but God has it all mapped out for us. I think I’m fine with things as they are.
OTHER THAN BEING TRUE TO THEMSELVES, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO MAY SHARE YOUR LOVE OF WORDS AND BOOKS?
Absolutely. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions. Stay true to you and let that show in your writing. Don’t write for others. Write what’s in your heart. Know that what you write will be accepted by others and if not, then it was not meant for them. Don’t be afraid of success and don’t fear being gifted. Copyright your bodies of work. Most importantly, take every brick thrown at you to build your solid foundation.
THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR TIME. HOW CAN OUR READERS FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU HAVE GOING ON?
Thank you Cyrus for such a wonderful medium for authors and readers.
I’m proud of you and your accomplishments. You’re giving authors a real and
true voice here. You can always visit www.elissagabrielle.com and
www.greetingsfromthesoul.com to find out more!