I talked to Jamilah Ewing at the All Black Midwest Bookfair at the Ohio History Center, 800 East 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43211.
Tell me about your writing journey.
My writing process was not a traditional outline. I am a hair stylist by trade. I would write with a pencil on a notebook the old school way. I would scribble down ideas or quotes on post it notes and little pieces of paper. I built an outline about how the chapters should be. My chapters are not traditional like a table of contents. My table of contents is an actual play list of songs that set the tone for each chapter that the reader is about to experience. Even though it is a love story, there is a playlist to compliment the story. I am someone who likes to read and listen to music. There is a whole Spotify playlist for the book. My process was pieced together, kind of like how my mind works. I piece everything together once I see it on a vision board.
Do you have a “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye chapter?
Very close. I do have Stevie Wonder, “Visions” on chapter 5, and I have “What is the 411” by Mary J. Blige for chapter 2.
Why did you write the book?
Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you have not read but you want to read; then, you must write it (paraphrase). I took that energy and began writing the book based on experiences in the salon experience for more than two decades. I have been a hair stylist for over two decades. I saw situations where black women had to deal with mental health issues. They would not seek help. Instead, they would talk to one another in the salon about mental health problems. Anywhere from shame resilience to depression to anxiety. They would leave the salon with a hairdo and a lifted spirit because of the support within the salon. We didn’t have social media in the late 1990s and early 2000s like we do now. It was the community of women that would lift one another up. Whether it was a bad breakup, someone just lost a baby, someone’s boyfriend just slapped her in the face because he didn’t know the sew in was going to cost $200. We witnessed that as hair stylists. Sometimes, you can’t talk about those experiences. Instead, it is easier to journal. I couldn’t control what happened with these sisters; but, I would carry them with me in my spirit and my soul. It has got to be us to tell our stories as black women. We do not deserve to die exhausted. We do not deserve to die not experiencing love the way God intended us to experience love. We don’t deserve to die unhappy. We don’t deserve to be followed by the police, abused at work and not get the right pay. All those things were discussed in the salon. We worked through them in the salon experience. That is the energy of this book. I tried to capture the essence of what we did for each other.
What is shame resilience?
A lot of times black women carry humiliating traumatizing things through life. Decisions that we make are from those traumatizing experiences and carry shame. For example, “Oh girl he acts like that with everybody. I just made him upset. That is why I have this black eye. That ain’t nothing, I’m just going to put a little makeup on. Or momma put me out; but, she will take me back next week.” No, knowing that the mother had mental issues and traumas that have gone unfixed and unhealed. When we are not healed, we play it off. Someone told me black women do not have the luxury of a nervous breakdown. Why is it that women from other races can be soft, feminine and vulnerable; but, black women have to be strong and resilient and working two and three jobs? We deserve what we want out of this life. We deserve it all. Shame resilience speaks to two characters in the book, Nisa and Jadirah. You feel compassion for what they have been through and you feel happy for what they eventually find.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think I should have asked you? If so, go ahead and answer that question.
Who inspired this book?
The women in my life. My mentors. My father. One of the strongest male characters is loosely based on my dad. I lost him in 2020. He was a musician. He was a rhythm guitar player and toured with many bands. The inspiration came from real life experiences. I am grateful to have had other inspiring authors like Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, and Nikki Giovanni that inspired me to make sure these characters were real.