SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA by TaRessa Stovall spills the raw truths of a Mixed-race womanchild fighting to live her ‘And’ in a world of ‘Either / Or.’ SWIRL GIRL, published by Alchemy Media Publishing Company.
Stovall is a truth-telling “Black Power Flower Child” destined to resist the world’s attempts to define her. From the riots that rocked her hometown after Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, to the 2008 election of the nation’s first Biracially Black president, SWIRL GIRL reveals her battles to express the truths of her ancestry and allegiance on her own terms.
“I am passionate about not allowing another Mixed-race child to grow up limited to the ‘single story’ that characterizes our lives,” Stovall says. “I wrote SWIRL GIRL to better reflect the diversity of people who are ‘And’ in a world of ‘Either/Or.’”
A writer since age seven, TaRessa Stovall is a poet, playwright, blogger, and award-winning journalist. She has authored, co-authored, and co-edited several books including A Love Supreme: Real-Life Stories of Black Love (Time Warner); Proverbs for the People: African-American Literature (Kensington/Dafina); The Hot Spot: A Novel (BET/Harlequin); Other People’s Skin: Four Novellas Simon & Schuster/Atria); and My Blue Suede Shoes: Four Novellas (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster). Check out her blog at www.blackandblewish.com.
A native of Seattle living in the ATL, she is the proud mother of a Millennial son and daughter, both multi-talented writers and creatives.
BPM: Please share something our readers wouldn’t know about you. Starting with what is a identity-rights rabble-rouser?
As an ‘identity-right rabble rouser’ I work to spark thoughts, feelings, conversations, and growth around issues of racial identity, specifically related to Mixed-race persons.
Most of the information about us comes from tired stereotypes, played-out tropes, and erroneous misconceptions about our backgrounds, appearances, and identity journeys. My job is to shake that up and make room for our authentic truths and representations to in a way that challenges systemic racism.
BPM: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
I describe myself as bold, raw, and unapologetic.
BPM: Tell us what being a “truth-telling Black Power Flower Child” means.
I am a Mixed-race #BLEWISH Baby Boomer who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. In Seattle, Washington. So, while I was getting my political education hanging around the local Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, I was also influenced by the idealistic hippie movement flowering in my environment.
My high-school running buddies noticed this combination and teased me about being a “Black Power Flower Child” who drew peace signs on one leg and Black Power fists on the other leg of my bell-bottomed jeans. It means that I grew up influenced by powerful humanitarian movements for social change that were very different on the surface, but both fueled by a youthful passion to make a better world.
BPM: How have you used your talents as an author, blogger, and award-winning journalist to empower women?
I seek to empower women, particularly Women of Color, by exploring and writing authentically about our experiences, and our multi-faceted journeys in a way that points towards healthy, progressive outcomes.
BPM: Can you share a little about being raised as a student of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense?
I wasn’t a formal student of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. I was kind of an accidental protegee who was hanging around the Party headquarters because my best friend was cousins with the young men who started the chapter.
What stood out about that experience is that even though I was just 13 years old—and the Party leaders were about 5 or 6 years older—all of the Party members treated us with respect. They assigned us age-appropriate responsibilities (like filling grocery bags for food giveaways and taking part in the Political Education sessions), and they interacted with us as if we were intelligent and mature.
They assigned us to read and discuss the books that they were reading and discussing. They welcomed our questions and opinions. What stood out most for me is that the men were not predatory—this was a new experience for me. I felt safe, respected, and protected, which was nothing less than a revelation.
Among the many gifts that the Black Panther Party gave to me was the ability to understand complex racial and political issues and situations in an analytical context and framework—something that never could have happened in school.
BPM: Introduce us to your most recent work, SWIRL GIRL. Why did you write it now?
I wrote SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA now for the following reasons:
- To contribute to the ongoing public conversations about Mixed-race people and our identities that have been taking place for the past few years. These conversations are brand new in our country and society. And with the Mixed-race population growing, they are right on time. However, most of these conversations talk about us Mixed-race folks or even AT us, without inviting or welcoming our voices into the conversations. I wrote my memoir to disrupt that dynamic and to make sure that we are included and heard.
- To provide Mixed-race people with a sense of possibility beyond the limited stereotypes of us as rejected, confused, and tragic.
- To show the world that we exist far beyond the limitations of what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie popularized in her TedX talk as “the danger of the single story.” There are too few healthy, honest, representations of Mixed-with-Black identities in all of this nation’s art, culture, entertainment or history.
- True story: I wrote this book to clapback against President Barack H. Obama’s description of himself (and, by extension, all Mixed people) as a “mutt” in his very first public address following the historic 2008 election. I realize that he didn’t know any better, but since he was the most powerful, famous Biracially Black human in all of U.S. history, I had no choice but to address his insult.
BPM: Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
I did not want to write this book! It was literally a non-negotiable karmic assignment from ALL of my Ancestors. I am adept at writing fiction, nonfiction, journalism, etc. But memoir kicked my behind! I struggled and suffered for five long years, never feeling that I had any kind of grip on what I was creating. Writing this book was a major initiation for me. It took me all the way through the fire over and over again.
BPM: What separates this story from the millions of other books on the shelves?
Never before in all of USA literature, culture, art, entertainment or history has there been this kind of raw, in-your-face portrayal of a Mixed-race journey that goes against all of society’s rules. As many reviews of the book say, SWIRL GIRL…is very timely and relevant right now.
BPM: I read on your website that you had to navigate the minefields of race relations, skin and hair politics, and the never-ending “What are you?” questions. What was that like for you as teenager and/or emerging adult?
Having to navigate what I call the trifecta of Mixed-race identity, being very light-skinned, AND racially-ambiguous looking has dominated my life, both growing up, and today. Think of it this way: it is an issue in every interaction with every human being I encounter in every context. There is never a day off. There is never a time when I can anticipate or know in advance how I will be perceived or received.
Growing up, it prompted my journey to find a word or phrase that told my whole story at once, that answered the questions before they were asked, and deflated the inevitable assumptions, misconceptions, and misperceptions about me. It kept me on guard but it also made me bold, unapologetic, and fearless as I grew into adulthood.
BPM: Is writing easy for you? Do you feel lonely being a writer during the creative process?
Writing is never easy. It is sometimes natural. But writing SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA was extremely difficult because writing memoir does not come naturally to me. I never feel lonely. My Ancestors, angels, and my very bossy, demanding, and supportive Muse keep me company. And when I’m writing fiction, my characters command my attention.
BPM: Did any of the recent racial tension inspire your writing?
The recent racial tensions are a more heightened public version of my everyday life. The memoir was already published when they were gearing up. They have inspired some blog posts at www.blackandblewish.com.
BPM: How will your book move the needle on conversations about race with mixed race people in business and intimate relationships?
SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA can potentially move the needle on conversations about race with Mixed-race people in business and intimate relationships by showing people that we are not confused. We are not tragic. We are also incredibly diverse, and cannot be approached with assumptions or preconceived notions.
Most importantly, the needle must be moved to include us in the conversations in a way that honors and respects our truths even when they are uncomfortable (and they are almost always uncomfortable), unpopular, and disruptive of the status quo. Our existence snatches folks out of their comfort zones. Our truths will make it impossible for them to crawl back into those zones, at least where we are concerned.
BPM: Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips self-care for creative folks?
I have learned (the hard way) that it is essential for creative folks to prioritize self-care. Each of us has to find what that means for us. I listen to a lot of music, I dance, and work out. I watch movies and TV. Like all writers, I read constantly. I am fed by spirited conversations with loved ones on the thornier aspects of the issues of the day.
I nurture and court and work closely with my Muse, who feeds and directs my creative efforts. I also celebrate all progress and don’t beat myself up during the creative process which is inherently messy and challenging and designed to push and stretch us in new, uncomfortable directions.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey.
While I hadn’t initially planned to, I ended up adding a whole chapter about the dynamics of being racially-ambiguous looking. One thing that writing SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA taught me is that being Mixed and very light-skinned have impacted my life, but not as much or for as long as being racially-ambiguous looking. People wondering, asking about and / or tripping over what they think I am requires constant time and attention.
BPM: Can you share some tips for parents of mixed raced children?
Many readers of different races are saying that my memoir is a “must-read” for parents and grandparents of Mixed-race children. I don’t have a laundry list of what they need to do, but my mother was, in so many ways, an example of how to rear healthy Mixed kids with a strong sense of identity.
The main thing she did was to model a strong, proud sense of her own identity, while telling my brother and me that we had to be honest with ourselves. She vaccinated us against being overly concerned with or impacted by how other people saw us or what they thought about our identities. I did not realize how rare her style was—or how effective–until my recent conversations with younger Mixed-race people on social media.
I’ve learned that many, many young Mixed-race people grew up without any tools or examples to help them form a positive identity. This breaks my heart. It is also part of why I wrote SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Learn more about me and find SWIRI GIRL…on my website www.taressastovall.com.
Check out my other writing on my blog, https://blackandblewish.com