SLS Intimate Conversations Showcase with Agnes B. Levine
Recently Ella Curry, CEO of EDC Creations (www.edc-creations.com) and founder of the Sankofa Literary Society (www.sankofaliterarysociety.org) had the opportunity to talk with the author of the book Cooling Well Water, Agnes B. Levine.
SLS Intimate Conversations Interview Questions
Tell us your latest news?
My highly anticipated book, “Cooling Well Water: A Collection of Work By An African-American Bi-Polar Woman” (“Cooling Water or Collection”) is in the final stages of publishing. I am truly excited and over-whelmed with joy that this Collection will be released this year. Of course, I am staying busy with seeing this Collection to the final stages of publishing by tending to fine details and praying to stay under God’s guidance.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have always considered myself a writer and writing has always considered me. However, it was not until the aftermath of my father’s death when I vigorously sought God’s presence in my life, then writing for me became a full-time priority. In learning to manage my mental illness, writing became a therapeutic means for me to cope. Cooling Well Water reflects my conversations with God during a difficult period in my life when only God could have delivered me. Of course, my writing had to undergo development both spiritually and technically and to be honest, some of those conversations I had with God that re reflected in the book left me scared, embarassed, and ashamed. For instance, I literally laid my heart before God and asked Him to examine it and fill those dark corners with His light of healing power. What God found surprised even me! The first writing of mine ever published was in 2004 and titled: “I Write Because…” by Do-It-Yourself E-zine founder Judine Slaughter.
I write for many, many reasons when I do actually write—lol.
I write because I’m bored. Because it is fun. Because I’m hurting. Because I’m happy. Because the paper is blank. Because the screen is blank. Because ideas are racing in my head. Because the Lord is speaking to me and I need to capture His words. Because I’m sad. Because I need to remember what I need to do. Because I want to forget what I have done or said or thought of doing or saying, or forget what others have done or said to me. I write because my pen has fantastic, majestic powers and I can change the world while I am waiting for the doctor to see me and there is one more blank page in my two-year planner.
I write because my daughter still doesn’t know I love her and my sons have the prettiest eyes, and sometimes I write because I think God doesn’t believe I appreciate where He has delivered me from or just knows I’m still waiting to be delivered. I write because that bestseller is still in my heart waiting to be born or at my fingertips waiting to be released or in my mind waiting for the perfect song to unchain it. I write because I am stupid and words make me smart. I write because I’m fat and words make me small. I write because I’m small and words make me huge. When I’m a “n—,” I can write and be white, and when I’m white, I can be black. I’m superwoman when I write and my pen is my golden lasso. I’m the lion king when I write. I’m silly when I write. I’m serious when I write. I cry when I write. I laugh when I write. I pray when I write. I die when I write. I live when I write. I have so much love to give when I write. Every single thing around me in my environment I write on and every single thing in my environment has a word on it that I have written on it that tells my story. That’s why I write and will always write. So that my story will always be told.
What inspired you to pen your first novel?
The Holy Spirit. I had to unleash the words, the story, or I was going to burst. Seriously, I have always loved to read and I have always loved to write. By the time I received the Holy Spirit, I felt like if I did not begin seriously writing, I was going to literally burst wide open. That is primarily because there is always one person who will be touched by your words. When you withhold those words as a writer, you deny or block that one person from freedom from their pain, destruction, courage, self-determination, self-motivation, staying power, etc., because by telling your story, you give permission to at least one person to say, “I can do it too!” That is what happened to me through reading. I constantly told myself, “You can do this!”
Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
There are a few African-American authors who have strong influence on me as a person and a writer. First, I do not want to just write. I want to leave a legacy of African-American literature. There is a difference and to me that difference is what will help the next generation over-come the struggle? What will help my little sistah keep the African-American community moving forward positively? What will my grandchildren need to know about God and His omnipotence that will keep the world successful so that the ills of racism, prejudice, violence, etc. will not destroy them? I find those teachings strong in the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Phyllis Wheatley, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, and many newer authors, too, such as Maya Angelou and countless others. Also, African-American history has been a tremendous influence because our story must always be told in order that it never repeats itself. Therefore, my biggest influences rest in the slave writings.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
My environment has colored me yellow–the color of divine intelligence. That is not to say I am the most intelligent human being, but I am wiser because of my environment and upbringing. I am wiser because I now that God must be first in my life and then I will be able to see His purpose for me. I then understand that I must be a beacon of light, hope, for the woman or man suffering from a mental illness who has the internal strength to live a productive life. I must reach back to my African-American community and help them defeat illiteracy because if we or our children do not understand how to defeat illiteracy or even that illiteracy must be defeated, we cannot possibly be a part of the global world and living on handouts is no assurance for the future. In order to counter racism and stand for whose we really are, we must be able to understand the power of words and knowledge.
Lastly, I often share with friends that when you have a mental illness and understand the active darkness of living with one, you better appreciate living on the other side of the mental illness. Therefore, the mental illness must not be allowed to take over your life. Cooling Well Water allows the reader to see that freedom from oppression comes in many ways with many blessings. Faith. Being imprisoned by the mental illness forces you to be a victim to darkness, pain, abuse, etc. The mere fact that this book was written in testimonial form, is inspiration in and of itself to persons with or without a mental illness. The book frees readers from the stigma that to me is like the cement vault a casket is laid in.
What are your current projects?
Currently, I am working on a project about my life, a short film script, continuing to write articles, and I continue to publish the writings of Swaggie Coleman. Swaggie Coleman has written her first novel and so I will be very busy between the two. I also have big dreams for my publishing company going to the next level in 2008. I am very excited and I have been blessed to have absolutely wonderful people placed in my life to help me grow and realize my dream. I look especially forward to helping a special friend of mine bring forth his writing talents.
What is a favorite book from your childhood?
Mary Todd Lincoln, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.
What do you hope readers will learn/discover from reading your book?
That God is real. That only through God can anything and everything be accomplished. That trusting God will help you to be what He purposed for you to be and only then can true peace and happiness be accomplished. That each of us has the innate ability to over-come trials and tribulations despite what obstacles are in front of us. That we are not meant to be blessed for a day or a minute, we are blessed for a lifetime. I also hope readers will discover that the mind is capable of surpassing the limits that a broken society gives us.
What distinguishes your book from others on the subject?
It is not simply a tell-all book, it is a show-all book. Cooling Water walks the reader through my deliverance without the fluff. The average person will be able to relate to it as well as the above-average and the below-average. Because the book speaks of prophecy and was written a few years ago, it will also leave the reader in awe. It is transcending of time, race, sex, ethnicity, and religion because God is universal.
Do you feel more African-Americans are reading?
If not, how can we help increase this. I believe more African-Americans are reading today, but not merely as much as we need to. I am especially disturbed that not many African-American children are reading. What I see is more folks reading stories and not literature. The difference to me is that while stories are certainly a good thing, the mind must be challenged through literature in order to move our community forward. When an individual reads a good piece of literature they become enlightened about the world and his or her mind is seeking ways to make a better difference and do it better. When individuals are restricted to stories about gangs, violence, sex, etc., that is all they will see in their world.
A child should know about all the great things our people are doing all over the world and not be limited to where a racist society says we should stay. The more a child reads about success and the more literature takes the mind higher, the more the child will be committed to achieve greatness beyond the bling, bling. Thus, we need to be reading more good, quality literature and use the mind the way it was intended to be used. There will be plenty of time for fun reading, but we have a lot of work to do with our children and ourselves in order to fully appreciate the fun, peace, and happiness that we deserve.
Who has been your mentor or most inspiring supporter?
I am my Father’s legacy.
What should a new writer know about the publishing business?
Study it. Decide what your uniqueness is and how you can compete with yourself.
What have you learned about the process of writing, marketing, and now promoting your book?
After you study the publishing industry for yourself, map out a strategy. No matter what, stick to your own strategy and trust in God. As far as writing, not all of us are meant to be writers. Not all of us are meant to be lawyers, doctors, etc. You can take courses and work hard at it, but if it is not what God has ordained for you to do, it won’t happen successfully. Recognize if it is not what God has ordained for you to do and move on to your true calling.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
I love to write and read other works and apply the ‘then’ to the ‘now’ through writing. I hate to wait for the muse and I hate waiting for an opportunity to share my work, but I have gotten a lot better with patience because I stay involved helping others with their works.
How do you feel about critique groups?
Absolutely necessary! I highly recommend the DeGriotSpace Online Writers Workshop. Just like we all need a “best” friend or a special friend who keeps it real for us, a writer needs a best “critique” friend to keep it real for him or her. I have one and I cannot imagine my writing life without that person. A writer must trust the critique group or person. The writer must not be afraid to share anything and everything and then trust the critique.
Many times I have cried and went to bed angry because my work was not as great as I thought in somebody else’s opinion. However, I can honestly say that after I got over the emotional injury to my ego (I am human) I could then say—“What the heck was I thinking when I wrote that!” Also, when I write, I ask myself what do I want the reader to walk away with that will help them and before the day is over, I ask myself, “Would God be proud of how I used His gift?” Amen? Amen!
Do you feel that the explosion in African-American writers is a fad or another renaissance?
Uh-hm. I hope a fad. After this Black History Month Event, I hope a renaissance.
Do you feel more African-American youths are reading?
If not, how can we help increase this. Yes, but trash and not enough of them read. Parents and caretakers are responsible for the lack of young readers. In addition, so are teachers. Collectively, we must encourage children to read by giving them material to read. Reading has and should be introduced to children early and the word “fun,” “enjoyable,” “educational,” “relaxing,” and “helpful” must be associated with making children read. Notice I said “making” children read. I am bothered by a parent who spends so much money on gadgets and designer clothes for their child and tells me, “He just don’t like to read.” To me, that is like saying, “he calls his own shots.”
If we are gong to let children wrongly prioritize their role as a child, then we cannot be surprised when they make the wrong choices. If we read to our children and engage them in the storytelling, they will pick up on reading is fun, etc. When I first read my first book, there were no real stories for black children to read about ourselves. However, I wanted to go to the White House.
I became curious about the life of a girl living in the White House. I paid more attention to how I did my homework trying to spell better because that’s what little white girls did in the White House…y’all feel me.
Lord, the day I read a book about an African Queen I was an adult. I felt irritated that I never knew that information as a child. When I am in the presence of children as a part-time teacher (did I forget to mention that?) I always, always tell them about our ancestors being Queens and Kings and how we must carry on the legacy of valuing education. Their eyes always pop open with amazement because they did not know of the great inheritance of our people. That blame falls right smack on the shoulders of parents and caretakers who are neglecting to do their job.
Having said that, I have to add that when parents and caretakers read stories about gangs, sex, bling-bling, that is what children are exposed to and what they expect their world to be. So they do not aspire better and settle for just wanting the bling-bling. When a child sees his or her mother or big sister curled up with a book with voluptuous breasts, thongs, etc., a visual impression is being made. “Never judge a book by its cover!” does not, not apply to children. They do and will judge and be influenced by what they SEE!!!
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Do you see writing as a long- or short-term career?
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?
Yes. I would have kept every book I ever purchased, smile. It is so expensive trying to replace them now that I have decided I want them ALL back.
Contact the author:
Agnes B. Levine
3515 Meadowside Road
Gwynn Oak, MD 21207