Monday, February 16, 2009

Brown Bettie Radiates
Asha Bandele

Award-winning author and single-mother, Asha Bandele is more than "Something Like Beautiful", the title of her latest novel, available now on and Barnes & Noble. She is brave. She bares her soul so that others may learn from her experiences. Of this memoir, she says, “While it is, as the title indicates, a very personal account of parenting, the larger themes the book examines--depression, addiction, redemption--may have something illuminating for many people.”

Bandele, (The Prisoner’s Wife, Daughter) is also a poet, activist, community organizer and served as features editor and as a writer for Essence magazine.

I’d heard of Asha because of “The Prisoner’s Wife”, which is her memoir of marrying an incarcerated man (psst, it went through four printings in hardcover and twelve through paperback!). I contacted her to see if she would be our February Brown Bettie when I recently received an email she sent which included the following excerpt from her latest dedicated work, which took three full rewrites over four years:

This is a book about love and this is a book about rage. This is a book about those opposing emotions and what happens to a woman, a mother when, with equal weight, they occupy the seat of your heart. This is a book about what happened when they occupied the seat of mine at the very time when all I should have known, all I was told I should have known, was joy. Because what else is there but joy when a mother is staring into the brilliant eyes of the daughter she dreamed of, prayed for and finally, finally made manifest? My laughter then, in those hours, days, weeks and early months when Nisa was new and in my arms, on my breast, then, in those days, my laughter was loud, raucous even. It was regular and it was unbidden.

And then everything changed, dipped down so very, very low, but this is not a story about post-partum depression. It’s an every day life story.

Asha is the first BB I’ve featured that I didn’t know personally; however, after reading and re-reading her interview responses, I feel as though we’d shared a lovely glass of wine together that was interrupted by a call from the babysitter. Take the time to truly enjoy and digest what Asha has to say; I hope that you will have the same enlightening experience I did.

The theme for February is "Passion". What is your passion?

I don’t know that I have any one passion, unless we use the big dual umbrellas of love and justice. But on a day to day basis, I am deeply committed to seeing that all the children on my watch are able to have real childhoods, not some fast tracked path into adulthood. I grew up too fast, knew too much too soon, missed out on time, years when I could have still had some connection to innocence. And it was fair. I know I’m so very passionate about ending that pattern. And it starts with my beloved daughter, Nisa.

My momma writes an article for the Gazette where she inadvertently gives us advice. What advice would you give your daughter for when she reaches your current age?

I think I would want to remind her to trust her heart and gut. They will serve you. I want to remind her that to navigate childhood, adolescence, young adulthood is not an easy proposition in a country who’s social and financial policies are more about war and death than peace and life. And so when she gets to my age, she should know she’s a survivor. I want her to know that, and to love those who her and release those who don’t.

As a single mom, what was the process you went through in naming your daughter? (What does her name mean?)

Nisa’s name means “The woman, The guide.” Out of respect for her dad, I wanted her to have a Muslim name and Nisa comes from the third Sura (titled “Nisaa” which means “the women”) in the Qu’ran. But I didn’t want to give her one of those big names that puts a whole lot on a child, like “Mother of All Nations.” Whoa. I wanted to give her name that reflects what I most want for her: to be her own fly-ass woman.

What is one thing you'd like your readers to come away with after reading your book?

I hope that after reading Something Like Beautiful, single moms, women, people, will know that they have a right to claim the complexities and challenges of their lives and not be excoriated for being honest, for saying, Hey, I need a hand today. I hope the book helps create community, helps create the Village we so often speak of romantically but do not live in practically.

What is one thing critics get wrong about you? (Can be book critics, family critics, people-on-the-street critics...)

That’s hard to answer. Once you put something out in the world it no longer belongs to you. So I don’t know that they get it “wrong.” They get from the material what they bring to it and that’s not really something I can judge or be undone (or propped up) by. But if I had to point to one thing, I suppose it would be that because I’ve generally written memoir or “confessional” poetry, people comment on my life and not on my writing. I understand the impulse, but really to a useful critic, I think you have to assess whether or not material has literary muscle, not whether or not you think the artist is crazy.

What is the highest form of love for you?

The highest form of love seems to me to be when people push past their own judgments and accept a person for who they are. My daughter and I do this with each other.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you made for love?

Love has never been sacrifice. In love we accommodate and compromise and change and shift and give. But we also receive. We grow. We learn. We become better. Love is not a sacrifice. Real love in my life has always been a gift.

What made you smile today?

I smile every time I wake up and see Nisa, who always makes a silly morning face. She wakes up each day and radiates joy. So I wake up each day and smile.

Do you have a Valentine?
Not telling.

What makes you a Brown Bettie? (Note: A Brown Bettie is a sultry, sassy, sophisticated woman who is confidently aware that her personal journey has made her so beautifully brilliant that she deserves the spotlight!)

I’m a Brown Bettie because I’m a survivor. And because despite all my insecurities and fears, I refuse to be guided by them. And because I love children fully and completely. And because I am loving myself more each day, casting aside anyone and anything that would have me see myself as less than who I am. It’s a process. I accept that it’s a process and no longer beat myself down for not getting all right every day. I’m a Brown Bettie because I work every minute to tell the truth and live in a place of love and honor.

Asha can be reached on here on Facebook.

She is available for:
Book Readings
Teaching Writing Workshops
Lectures on The Impact of Prisons on Children and Families; Domestic Violence; and Women and Addiction

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