I can pinpoint the moment when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was six years old, and my older brother and I begged my father to take us to see Alien, not really knowing or understanding the terror that awaited us in the theater. We just knew it scared the crap out of our mother. Against his better judgment, my father capitulated. The blackness of the theater combined with the dark tone of the movie had me on the edge of my seat. When the face-hugger burst forth from its egg and attached itself to John Hurt’s face, I fled to the security of my father’s lap, peeking at the screen through a web of fingers. I finally found the courage to drop my hands just in time to watch the creature explode from Hurt’s chest. We subsequently left the theater. I was scared to death and, between fits of spastic fear and tears, decided I wanted to do that to people. I wanted to affect them, scare them, bring them joy, pain, elation with the words in my head.
From then on, I tried to concoct stories, correcting the errors made in the movies I watched, the books I read. But most of the ideas that flowed from my mind were too complex or in-depth for them to be much more than a collection of inspired beginnings born from a creative young mind. For years, I had drawers full of incomplete masterpieces, stacks of characters waiting for a plot, and plots praying for characters to waltz in and bring them to life.
In 1993, I was standing in the crowded vestibule of the Perkins on Riverside Drive in Minneapolis. It was after one o’clock in the morning, and the clubs had released their multitudes to the streets. The Perkins was, literally, packed wall to wall. Next to me, two women got into a scuffle because one bumped into the other. Words were exchanged, aggressive posturing began. Then one of the women pulled out something shiny from her coat. A gun! She shot her opponent in the throat, dropping her and then crashing into me. People began fleeing in droves—out of the restaurant and into the parking lot, the rest rooms, the kitchen, behind counters, under tables. Another shot, this one in the kidney, and the shooter fled.
The victim survived the shooting but I was damaged. I was scared and angry, but mostly confused. What brings someone to that much anger, especially over a bump in a crowded room? Is life so cheap? This was the moment that I had to write, therapeutically, to answer my own questions, to find some sense in a senseless act. Gone were the characters seeking a plot or plots seeking fruition. The beginning had finally found its end and I completed my first real work of writing.
It was at this point that I began to understand the power of the written word–my words—and its ability to affect people. What I wrote moved people, made them think and act and respond. I began to write more and more, becoming a columnist on my college newspaper and developing a magazine for students of color. I eventually parlayed my collection of articles and columns, short stories and papers into a submission for the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ writing internship competition. While not selected for the internship, I did place in the Top Ten and gained a mentor in the process.
And then I stopped writing.
Not another word.
I was uninspired and life and marriage and work had become convenient scapegoats. But those were just excuses, idle platitudes designed to hide the truth: I ran out of things to say. Until I turned thirty. Thirty has a funny way of making you look back on the life you have lived to this point, at the person you have been. It is the hard line between adolescence and adulthood, between accepting the life presented before you and pursuing the life you were meant to live. The life I was meant to live. I couldn’t accept the life presented before me—there were none of the challenges and conflicts I thrived on, nothing but the numbing prospect of a life without expression. I found my inspiration at 30 years old and wrote a screenplay. It was horrible but it got me writing again. Got the words flowing again.
Seven years later, I haven’t stopped since.
This is simply the next step in that journey. The same one that started in that dark theater in 1979. The one that found a voice in tragedy. whose sole existence depended on responding to and interacting with the world around me through the written word. There is something, I believe, that I have been put on this planet to say, to express. I hope to not only discover what that expression is, but to learn the best ways to present it to the world.