Best Selling Southern United States Author, Terry a O’Neal, whose poetry has been published in numerous magazines, journals and newspapers is an eminent literary persona of America . Her previous publications include three volumes of poetry, Motion Sickness, The Poet Speaks in Black and Good Morning Glory; two children’s books, Every Little Soul and My Jazz Shoes; and the Best Seller and award winning family fiction novel Sweet Lavender.
In 2006, she was included in a book entitled “Literary Divas: The Top 100+ Most Admired African-American Women in Literature,” named alongside some of her most admired writers, such as Maya Angelo and Nikki Giovanni.
In an exclusive interview with the News Kashmir Magazine, Terry a O’Neal talks to Rameez Makhdoomi .
Tell us a bit about you Childhood Days ?
I was exposed to arts, literature and culture at a very young age by my mother. She was the person who taught me how to read, write, cook, sew and brought out the creative side of me. When I was six-years-old. I met one of the greatest voices in African-American literature: Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou was having a book signing at the African Gallery where my mother worked. I remember being introduced to this phenomenal woman. I recall walking up to her and she shook my hand like I was an adult. Even though I was only 6, and far too young to appreciate the encounter, I remember as though it was yesterday and it has contributed greatly to the writer I am today.. I have enjoyed writing and poetry (or lyrics) since I was very young. In my adolescent years, I remember writing songs that my sisters and I would sing. In high school, I took as many English courses as I could. Math was not my forte. Although, I had this love for writing, I never desired to be a professional writer. It was merely a hobby. Being an author was never a thought in my mind. Being a writer was not a realistic career goal in my mind at the time. So, after graduating high school in 1991, I enrolled into California State University Sacramento and majored in Criminal Justice.
How was your Academic Life like?
As I previously mentioned, my mother taught me how to read and write before I entered public school. She was very active in my education and in my life. I am the middle child of four, 2 sisters and 1 brother. My mother was from the state of Louisiana and my father was from the state of Texas. At the age of 18, my mother moved to California where she met my father and shortly after, they were married. In the 70’s, the town of Stockton, California where I was born and raised was a small country town that reminded one of the South. My mother was very protective of her three daughters and kept a very close watch over us. We didn’t attend the neighborhood schools. We were bused across town to a school that was known for the arts and higher academic standards. I graduated from Franklin High School in Stockton, CA in 1991, and then went on to attend CSUS, as I previously mentioned. I was married at the age of 18 and I also had my first child at 18. After attending the University for two years, I decided to work a full-time job and attend a community college in the evenings. A few years later, while enrolled in an English course in the evenings, I was inspired to write my first book of poetry. I was about 23-years-old at the time. In 1991, I released my first book entitled Motion Sickness. Then, in 1992, I released my second book The Poet Speaks in Black; and the books just kept coming. Even though I was working and accomplishing my goal as a writer, my education was still very important to me. I continued taking one course at the community college here and there. Finally, after years of taking courses, I finally buckled down and got it done. I graduated with my BA in Communications from Kaplan University in 2010; and I graduated with my Masters in Education in 2012. Currently, I am a PhD student at Walden University majoring in Social Psychology.
What motivated you to write your Best Seller Book Sweet Lavender ?
Sweet Lavender tells a story of a young girl growing up in a small southern town in 1964. She was a daddy’s girl until one day her world was turned upside down after her father brings home a newborn child that was conceived from this adulterous relationship; and five months later, he vanishes–abandoning his family, leaving his wife Angela to raise their daughter and his newborn son. It’s a coming-of-age family saga that tells the story from the daughter’s perspective of growing up without her father during a time of racial tension in the South USA . This novel was adapted into a screenplay for film in 2007, and is finally being made into a film. The film is entitled Along the Dirt Road, and it is currently in pre-production. Poetry has always been my first love, but I have always enjoyed novels and story writing. I wanted my first novel to reveal my passion for the South (Louisiana in particular) where my parents were from and where my roots lie. My mother raised us up in the southern culture and lifestyle, so I had this unexplainable passion for the south. I also had a love for father daughter stories which was probably sparked by my longing to be a daddy’s girl. Although my father was in the home, he was oftentimes absent because of the long hours he worked. As a child, I despised him for it because I felt as though I had no father. So, in many ways, I can relate to the main character in the story of growing up without her father.
Is Sweet Lavender somehow story of your life?
Many people ask me is this a true story and is it about my life. I tell them no because it is not a true story, nor is it based on my life. When writing my novel Sweet Lavender, I was also inspired by the works of my favorite author Langston Hughes. I admire and adore his works, and his novel “Not Without Laughter” was also an inspiration behind my novel.
Who is your role model ?
First and foremost, I would have to say that my mother is most definitely my role model. Had it not been for her, I wouldn’t be the great woman I am today. She instilled in me morals, respect, ethics and values; along with arts, literature, culture and an appreciation for family. She has supported me throughout my entire life. She is all that I am. She is the embodiment of grace and strength. I am also largely inspired by writer’s of the Harlem Renaissance Era. Langston Hughes is my favorite writer and poet of all time. Additionally, I admire the works of Carolyn M. Rodgers and Maya Angelou. Their writing and their life stories move me to be great and to continue living out my dream though the adversity
What are your most preferred writing Topics ?
My first love has always been and will always be poetry because it allows me to speak directly, indirectly, creatively, artistically, lyrically and tell profound stories in short or long stanzas, any way I like. There is a freedom in poetry writing that I can’t find anywhere else. Additionally, I enjoy writing fiction stories that stem back to the late 19th to the mid 20th century life. I enjoy history. I am a firm believer that one hasn’t a clue where they are headed on their journey if they don’t know where they’ve been. Even though I write fiction, my stories share real life experiences.
I was teaching black history to youth in the schools through a program I developed called The Black History Bee.
What are the current projects you are working on?
Currently, I am actively working on my upcoming film Along the Dirt Road based on the novel Sweet Lavender. I am the co-Executive Producer and Screenwriter. The film is currently in pre-production and is scheduled to begin production in late March 2014. Auditions for the film were held in January 2014. I also have an upcoming book of poetry entitled The Sparrows Plight: Woes of a 21st Century Black Poet which I’m hoping to release by the end of the year. Additionally, I have another novel I’m not actively working on but I have been writing for the last four years entitled Cotton Day, a southern fiction story. I took a short hiatus from my PhD program to work on the film. It is my objective to teach higher education. In October of 2012, I was hired as an online Adjunct Assistant Instructor .
Which genre of poetry appeals you most ?
I enjoy poetry with an inspirational message. Poetry that all walks of life can relate to. Much of my poetry has a spiritual and/or religious message, as I am a Christian and a God-fearing woman. I enjoy reading poetry of another person’s struggle and triumph. It is motivational to me.
How do you view the Performance of Obama as USA President ?
Well, I will am not very much into politics because it’s so cut throat. All that I will say is that the shut down in during current presidency has affected many Americans from varied perspectives – employment, benefits, budget, housing, small businesses, etc. The economy has been on a downfall for many years, even though it has shown improvement over the past 4 years. However, I believe in our president. I trust that he will do the best he can to make things better for America overall.
What is your message for Humanity ?
We live in a world today that lacks loving-kindness and compassion for our fellow man and woman. As Gandhi so eloquently stated, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” We need to strive to be better, to be the image of selflessness. Love and give to those in need–expecting nothing in return. Give out of sincerity and from the depths of our hearts. Have compassion for every man, woman and child, no matter what ethnicity or background they come from. Love is blind. Love is unconditional. Love has the power to heal and redeem, and that is what Humanity to should strive for.