You must write it

On my mind

I’m writing to you from the National Association of Black Journalists conference in sunny and humid Miami. Being surrounded by so many black journalists and media professionals is still surreal for me. I saw maybe a handful of black students and teachers in my entire educational experience let alone in my journalism program. We’re discussing issues and stories around health equity, criminal justice reform, the 2020 election, culture reporting, sexual violence, education, the census, business while also actually centering black voices. Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker came out to talk about their presidential campaigns and answer our questions. It sounds so basic, but I honestly never got that message that stories from communities I was a part of mattered. I didn’t learn how to find them and fight for them to be covered as anything other than niche stories. I also love meeting so many black experts on a wide range of topics, because another important part of making media diverse and inclusive is changing who gets cited in stories. Black doctors, correctional officers, statisticians, educators and lawyers. They all matter.

And of course, we’ve all been remembering the powerful work and legacy of Toni Morrison, who died this week at the age of 88. What I love about her is that not only was she one of the best American writers who particularly cared about centering stories of black people in literature, but she also helped publish talented black writers as the first black female editor in fiction at Random House. She was a bold truth-teller, teacher, and a master at her craft. When it comes to writing characters, she said:

“I try really hard, even if there’s a minor character, to hear their memorable lines. They really do float over your head when you’re writing them, like ghosts or living people. I don’t describe them very much, just broad strokes. You don’t know necessarily how tall they are, because I don’t want to force the reader into seeing what I see. It’s like listening to the radio as a kid. I had to help, as a listener, put in all of the details. It said “blue,” and I had to figure out what shade. Or if they said it was one way, I had to see it. It’s a participatory thing.”

I’ve only had the opportunity to read The Bluest Eye, which was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about a young black girl who learns to hate her own appearance and aspires to have blue eyes, but that book on its own opened me up to Morrison’s brilliance. I’ve got Song of Solomon next on my reading list.

I also frequently go back to Morrison’s wise words on writing and life as I navigated my own identity, particularly these two:

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

I hope you take these as inspiration as well when you are doubting the worthiness of your own ideas.

What I’m noting

Kept this one short for this week while I’m out for the NABJ conference. Keep sending your links and sharing your thoughts with me.

Have a good weekend!

— Nesima