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Kathya Alexander on Influences and Reading

Here's one last newsletter featuring debut author Kathya Alexander talking about who and what has influenced her. Keep A'Livin' comes out in April, and we hope you take the time to pre-order it today

Who was your Aunt Lute? 

I had a friend who was an accomplished playwright and screenwriter who really encouraged me early on. She even bought my first computer. She also modeled the life of a professional writer. And because she was Black and female like me, I always knew making a living as a writer was possible. And then there were the famous Black literary legends who inspired me: Toni Morrison taught me to give nature agency like any other character in my stories; Alice Walker tackled those difficult subjects that folk didn’t want to talk about; and those early writers like James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes made me know that the Black experience was worthy to be written. Reading Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Zora Neale Hurston taught me that Black dialect was poetic and was just as acceptable and just as beautiful as Shakespeare’s English. That was the language of my childhood, the way my mother talked. She was a huge inspiration because I saw her make a way out of no way, like they say in the Black church, and she never gave up. She didn’t even have an elementary school education, but I could never live to be the woman she was or the mother she was. And she made it look easy. And then there was my brother who was always asking me when I was going to finish “that book”. He lived to see my self published book, Angel In The Outhouse. And even though he didn’t live to see it, I dedicated Keep A’Livin’ to him. He would have been so proud of me. He always was so proud of me. Cause in his eyes I was a genius who could do anything.

What is your favorite part of radically reading/writing?

I don’t ever remember a time I couldn’t read and write. Like, I don’t remember learning to read. Or learning to write. In my earliest memories, I could already do it. So I think, to me, reading and writing is like walking and breathing. There’s no favorite part. It’s just a part of me. A part of who I am. A part that would be crippling if it wasn’t there. I do, tho, like being radical. I like to challenge folks with my writing, to put things in their face that they don’t want to look at or think about - either because it’s too risque, or too shameful, or too horrible to think about. I love being scandalous! Always have. It must be the rebellious preacher’s kid in me.


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