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An Interview with Betty Tucker

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Do I have a treat for you! I was finally able to catch up with Betty Tucker to talk to her about her memoir, Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter, which also happens to be the RBBC selection for February. If you haven’t already, you can read my book review here. Without further ado, here’s Betty.

Lynette:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Betty:  I’m an author, poet and inspirational speaker originally  from Troy, Alabama. I hold a degree in Behavioral Science from the University of San Francisco. My career includes twenty years with the United States Postal Service and twenty years of service with the San Francisco Unified School District as a teacher. I’m a mother of five and a grandmother of four. Currently, I write and live in both Richmond, California and Montgomery, Alabama.

L:  How old were you when you started writing? 
B:  I first started writing when I was twelve years old.  I begin by writing poetry, then songs, and I also added a character to the school play in my senior year of high school, so more students could be in the play.

L: What is your favorite genre to read? 
B:  My favorite genre is memoir, autobiography and biography.

L:  Who are some of your favorite authors? 
B:  My favorite authors are Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston. My favorite memoirs are Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child by Elva Treviño Hart, and Eat Pray and Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

L:  What was your inspiration for writing Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter
B:  After searching for my twins for over twenty years, I was weary and close to giving up days before the internet search company that I hired found my daughters.  This made me realize that when you’re trying to reach a goal or a destination to NEVER EVER GIVE UP because you never know how close you are to accomplishing your goal. You may be only one step away.

L: How long did it take you to write Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter? And what was your writing process like?
B: It took me four years to write Don’t Worry.  Before I started writing, I took writing courses and attended writing groups. The journey was long and difficult because I had to recall a lot of painful memories that I have tried to bury.  So I may write a chapter and not pick it up for three months. Other times, I may write up to ten hours but then not continue for another month.  Then I hired a developmental editor. When I finished a chapter, I sent it to my developmental editor for editing and feedback.  She returned it with questions and clarification. Even the developmental editor had to take a break from editing my work because it was painful for her to read at times.

L:  How did your family feel about you writing Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind? Did you have any concerns about revealing things that might upset some family members? 
B: Initially, the manuscript was 350 pages.  We decided to not include everything because it’s a memoir, instead of an autobiography.  We decided not include a chapter titled “Crazy-Making” about me and siblings.  My sister Bush and some of my other family members would have been so angry with me that they would have stopped talking to me.  Bush did reprimand me for writing about myself.  She said I should not have talked about personal stuff that happened to me, especially the rape.

L:  What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned about yourself while you were writing Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind
B:  The most interesting or surprising thing I learned about myself while and after writing my book is how much more I know who I am and why I made the decisions I made and am making about my life. I learned who I am and I’m learning how to combine Betty Tucker and Betty Owens as one person.  In other words, I find myself being secure in the person I’ve become.  I’m complete. I don’t have to hide behind that naïve, insecure vulnerable person, that little alone child that I use to be.

L: You stated in your book that adoption in the African American community was almost unheard because family members usually did the adopting. Describe the social pressure of having a baby out of wedlock during the 60s.
B:  Boy! It was horrible!  You didn’t want anyone to know you had a child without being married. It was like announcing to the world that you have done something really really bad, like murdered someone. Unwed mothers were looked upon as being dirty and filthy–not human. Not only had you put your business in the street, but you had brought shame on your entire family.

L:  You were closer to your father than you mother. How do you think this affected how you parented your children?
B:  I felt that as long as I provided a place to live, food to eat, and clothing to wear that I was taking care of them, that they would make common sense choices to guide their life and growth.  Not understanding that it takes so much more to be a good parent.  I considered myself a good parent because I took care of them by working and providing for their physical needs.  Even today, my ways are like my dad’s. All my dad did was work. I’m just like him. All I want to do is work.  I don’t like to cook or clean.  I like working outside of the home.

L:  How did you come up with the title for your memoir?

B:  The book title came from Ms. Johnnie Mae. When I first reconnected with her, whenever I was sad, she’d say, “Don’t worry about the mule going blind, just keep going. It’s going to be alright.”

L: What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from your book?
B: That you’re unique and Father–God created you for greatest; You’re engineered to succeed and to believe in yourself; but, the main thing I want people to  take away from my book is that your circumstance do not define who you are. You can take what you were given and create an awesome life for yourself. Don’t ever give up on your dream!

L:  Can we look forward to another book from you in the near future? 
B:  Yes! Currently, I’m working on a stage play titled Four Women and a Hustler. It’s partially based on Fred and the four women he had a relationship with and how our encounters with him changed our lives.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. I’m sure readers and memoirist alike can relate to much of what you’ve said. I know I can, especially about how our circumstances don’t define us and how we can take what was given to us and make something awesome out of it. I truly believe this. Take care.

Black [Her]story – Marley Dias & 1000BlackGirlBooks

Simply Shakirah

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(photo credit: Dr. Janice Johnson Dias)

As children, our sense of identity and self confidence is influenced by our role models, or lack thereof. 11 year old Marley Dias was aware of this, and took steps to rectify that in her school. A student at St. Cloud elementary school in West Orange, NJ, Marley was tired of reading books about what she described as “white boys and their dogs”. With the help of her mother, community organizer Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, the cofounder of , Marley created 1000 Black Girl Books, an initiative searching for 1,000 books featuring Black girls. The initiative was wildly successful, and Marley donated them to St. Cloud and Retreat Primary and Junior School and Library in the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica where her mother grew up.

11 years old, and already being the change that wanted to see in her world. There is nothing…

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February Book Club Selection


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Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter by Betty Tucker

Betty Tucker came of age in Belle Glade, Florida, infamous for its poverty and violence (e.g., see the Wikipedia entry and the 2006 documentary One Percent). Her childhood was one of debilitating poverty, borne of racism: exploitive migrant labor, multiple rapes and other abuse, chronic illness among her family and acquaintances … the list is long and bitter. Betty survived not only by sheer hard work but also by nurturing a nascent belief that she deserved better. She moved to California, earned her college degree, and raised a family. Then, in 1997, she began a long and eventually successful search for the twin girls she had given up for adoption thirty years earlier. Fear, insecurity, sexual abuse, want, neglect: This memoir will look beyond the description of these difficulties in the author’s life to examine how they stifled her ability to shape her own life, how she acquired the tools she needed to take more control of her life, and what impact her choices, both intentional and unintentional, had on her life and those of her children.    

I was drawn to this book from the moment I read the first sentence. A book review and author interview will be coming later this month. You can find this book in email and paperback format on Amazon. I guarantee that you will not be able to put it down!

Book Review | Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro

This is the book club selection for August, in the first of a series of #motherdaughtermemoirs. Let me know what you think in the comments. Recommendations for other mother-daughter memoirs are welcome.

Stories Unfolded

BOOK REVIEW | PIECES OF MY MOTHER

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ABOUT THE BOOK

“This provocative, poignant memoir of a daughter whose mother left her behind by choice begs the question: Are we destined to make the same mistakes as our parents?

One summer, Melissa Cistaro’s mother drove off without explanation Devastated, Melissa and her brothers were left to pick up the pieces, always tormented by the thought: Why did their mother abandon them?

Thirty-five years later, with children of her own, Melissa finds herself in Olympia, Washington, as her mother is dying. After decades of hiding her painful memories, she has just days to find out what happened that summer and confront the fear she could do the same to her kids. But Melissa never expects to stumble across a cache of letters her mother wrote to her but never sent, which could hold the answers she seeks.

Haunting yet ultimately uplifting, Pieces…

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Book Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

POVone: The First Person Perspective

Author: Toni Morrison
Title: God Help the Child
Genre: Literary
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Random House
Number of Pages: 192
Narrator: Sweetness, Bride, Etc.
Quality Rating: 80.52

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

What’s It About?

Sweetness is a light-skinned black woman married to a light-skinned black man. They’re so light-skinned that they can pass as whites, and they live in such a time that it is beneficial to do so. Everything is going perfectly in their relationship until Sweetness gives birth to a baby girl who has extremely dark skin. Embarrassed, her husband leaves her to raise the girl on her own.

As the little girl grows, she feels the constant contempt of her mother. When she is six years old, she falsely accuses a woman of child molestation and sends her to prison for fifteen years–simply because she wants to gain her mother’s approval. The…

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Toni Morrison’s ‘God Help the Child’

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Reading Toni’s literature for the first time was, for me, surreal. Her literature is heavy. Each novel is emotionally taxing to read. You will feel pain. Her literature is retributive. Each novel has a purpose beyond entertainment. You will be moved. Her literature is meticulous. Each word is conscientiously placed. You will be awestruck. Her literature is a duality. She creates darkness, and, within it, great hope. You will feel both.

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Toni Morrison invites you into her world, enables you to be her characters, to feel what they do, and she does so with graceful, lyrical prose. By the time I had only read half of The Bluest Eye, the first of her books that I read, I understood that her talent was extraordinary. I was in class when I learned she was publishing a new novel (God Help the Child, April 2015), and upon being released, I…

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Narcissism in Cynthia Bond’s RUBY

RUBY, Cynthia Bond’s debut novel, published by Hogarth, a trademark of Random House, is a love story between Ruby and Ephraim, a story about racism and abuse, and a story of survival, redemption and hope. After reading the first few pages, I knew this was a story that I would experience and not just read. Bond wrote the story in three books–Part One – Wishbone, Part Two – Two Bits and Part Three – Revelations and it’s 330 pages, but I read it in one weekend. Some aspects of the novel, Bond explains, are from her own life–“Some of my first memories are of listening to my mother tell stories about her childhood home, a small all-black East Texas town.”

Bond must know that wherever there is abuse and innocence intertwined, narcissism is also present. It is not until almost half way through the story that we learn the true nature of one Bond’s characters, Reverend Jennings, Ephraim’s father. On the one hand, Reverend Jennings is a (traveling) preacher, married with two children; and on the other hand, he is the kingpin of bedevilment and debauchery, depending on whose company he’s in. Since he is a preacher, above respectability especially during those times–the Jim Crow Era, no one questioned him or his motives, least not Ruby’s grandmother when he offered to drive six-year-old Ruby to Miss Barbara in Neches where she has made arrangements for Ruby to live-in and help out for which Miss Barbara would send her to school–since he was going that way to preach. Miss Barbara ran a bridal boutique, among other things…

A young Reverend Jennings, on one of his traveling preaching engagements, met the lovely (but naïve) Otha Daniels, who had just graduated from high school and was on her way to Fisk University, a prestigious all-black university, a bequeath of her deceased father, not to mention the fact that she was twelve years younger than he. However, within a matter of days, Reverend Jennings had managed to convince Otha to “rip out the seams of her own dreams and patch them into his.” They secretly married within the same amount of days, much to the dismay of Otha’s mother, but there was nothing that her mother could do about it. Otha’s fate had been sealed.

Although the honeymoon lasted a month, less than a week after their marriage, Reverend Jennings started complaining about everything Otha did, began coaching her on how she should dress and act when he was preaching, resented Otha’s “education,” and shamed her “in front of the congregation by speaking about Northern women who thought the rib was bigger than Adam,” when the guest congregation wasn’t responding the way he wanted. Of course, if Otha had really felt that way, she would not have thrown her dreams away for his.

By the time they arrived in Liberty, the small all-black East Texas town where Reverend Jennings lived, a few weeks later, his “face was a sullen stone that only cracked at night between white sheets.” When Otha’s mother became sick about a year later, Reverend Jennings refused to give Otha the money to go see her mother. However, he relinquished the money for the funeral a month later.

Only two of their nine children survived to birth, a girl, who at twelve had learned to despise her mother, as she poured coffee for her father each morning because her mother “was to slow about it,”  believing that God had singled out her father “to do his work, to rattle the Devil’s cage.” I suspect that Otha, by then, knew different. Once the Reverend beat his son Ephraim and “busted his lip, cracked two ribs and sent his last two baby teeth, the right upper canine and the molar beside it, down his gullet.” According to Otha, Reverend Jennings “hated the boy with a deep, unruly passion.”

Otha knew that there were other women. She could tell “by the way their eyes leapt and danced when the Reverend placed a hand on their arm or shoulders, by the sly cut of their smiles when they greeted her each Sunday.” When Otha suspected something even more sinister, that was the final straw as far as Reverend Jennings was concerned, and Otha found herself losing her grip on reality.

They all kinds of crazy. Some folks drink theyselves to stupid. Others so empty, gluttony take they belly hostage. And some get so full up with hate, it like to crack they soul. Hell, ain’t nothing strange when Colored go crazy. Strange is when we don’t.

Yes. There are all kinds of crazy. Like so many victims of narcissism, Otha couldn’t fight what she didn’t understand. She ended up losing her mind.

Parts of this novel was difficult to read and it haunted me for about a week after I read it (I still think about the characters), but I have nothing but praise for Bond for helping to expose the underbelly of sexual abuse that can never be pushed under the rug again. I loved this book, despite the difficult parts! I give it 5***** stars.