An Interview with the Real Celestial from Tayari Jones’ Novel An American Marriage

Have you read the New York Time’s bestseller An American Marriage? Well, guess what? I happen to know the person for whom the main character was named. And because I love coincidental, kismet-like stories, I asked Celestial to sit down with me to share how it happened. I hope you enjoy this interview:

kg: How did you meet Tayari Jones?

Celestial: It was 2011, and my family has a book club, called Mama Francina’s G.U.I.L.D. It started off as just our small family. We’d meet every quarter and read a book. My aunt made a suggestion, like, “Oh, I’d really like to do something with hats.” Mama Francina’s G.U.I.L.D. is named after her mother, and G.U.I.L.D. is an acronym for Gifted, Uplifted, Inseparable, Literary Descendants. We started that in honor of my grandmother and did a hat-tea sort of situation. 2011 was our second meeting, and Tayari’s Silver Sparrow was our selection.

We had invited Tayari as a surprise and she sat among the guests with the hat on, kind of over her face. No one knew she was the author or in the audience. She and I had brief conversations up to that point because I was responsible for booking her flight and hotel stay.

The day of, she was seated at my table. After the reveal and after she signed some books, she said to me, “Your name is really pretty, and I really like that. I think I’m gonna name a character after you.”

I kind of thought, oh that’s cute. I didn’t really think anything of it because people say stuff about my name all the time. It was like one of those moments, like you say that, but…

Celestial and I share a yeah, whatever girl glance.

kg: Right.

Celestial: But then later, she sent a proof copy to my aunt and my aunt told me, “She did name the main character after you.” So, I was super excited.

kg: So, your aunt gets the proof copy, reads the book, and tells you about it. But you don’t read the book until…this year, right? 

Celestial: Yep. I was like in disbelief and then when she made Oprah’s Book Club list and the NYT’s bestseller, then it really was like oh my gosh! So, it started off like, I’m gonna save it. It’s gonna be a good “rainy-day read.” Then, it turned into I don’t know if I wanna read it. Like, I don’t wanna ruin the fantasy of what it is. I held off and did not read it until this year (2020).

kg: Then when you read it, what did you think? Did you know what the topic was?

Celestial: I knew the topic only because she was at the Savannah Book Festival shortly after the announcement was made about her making Oprah’s Book Club selection. So, my aunt’s other book club, U.S.G.I.R.L.’s heard that she’d be there. I tagged along. She (Jones) talked about how the story came about and that sort of thing, but I still couldn’t not bring myself to read it. 

kg: Okay, so you already told me this before, but remind me. You’re there (Savannah). The book is out. Your name is in the book. You already met her before, but then you froze up?

Celestial: I was awestruck. It was so goofy. I kick myself. I can’t even remember saying two words to her. We took a picture and she spoke and hugged me. But I was kind of like, “Hiiii.”

I guess because one of the other things she said at the fancy hat book club is that she was going to be an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

kg: Wooow.

Celestial: She said it for Silver Sparrow, but to see it come to fruition…when you see someone speak something into fruition like that, it’s like whoa.

kg: She did all of the things she said she was gonna do!

Celestial: Yeah. And it’s something I aspire to do, so it was a full-circle moment. I think I was a bit taken aback by all that.

kg: Yeah. That’s a bit much. I can see how it’s on another level, like on some spiritual type stuff.

So, you read the book this year. What I want to know is…my name is very common. I can see “Kathy” all over, but I’d still be excited, like look y’all! This character’s name is Kathy! But your name is so unique. How was it reading your name over and over again, but knowing it’s not you?

Celestial: It was really surreal. I guess knowing that it was in the book because the person had met me and wanted to use it…that was the part that was kind of like whoa. It was pretty cool. I loved the book. I was a little on the fence about Celestial, the character, but I read the book in one day. I woke up about two o’clock one morning. I couldn’t sleep. I said you know what? Let me just read it. Let me dive in and see what happens. I think I was done by four or five o’clock that evening.

I was just blown away. It’s like every other page she had those lines that kind of gut punch you. It was an experience. I don’t even know that I could put it in words.

kg: What did you think about Celestial? Because she was a piece of work and kind of put herself in some situations.

Celestial: How deep do we wanna go? Cause I don’t want to give any spoilers.

Spoiler alert


kg: It’s up to you.

Celestial: Initially, I was a little perturbed. I kind of felt a way with her decision to deal with the best friend (Andre) while the husband (Roy) was in prison, especially because she knew he was innocent.

kg: Right.

Celestial: I struggled with that. She was just leaving the man high and dry. As a woman of forty-four, I get it. I get that it would be hard to be on the outside and not have companionship and physical needs met and all of that, but especially considering the way this country is set up…I just really struggled with that, initially.

I think when it turned for me is when he (Roy) got out. I struggled with how she treated ole boy (Andre) then because I was like you’re playing two sides. You want the best of both worlds and you can’t have it. Somebody’s gonna get hurt. You’re putting these people in this bad position. Even though everyone is an adult. The best friend (Andre) knew what he was doing.

It just was such a mess. I try my best to stay out of mess and drama. For me, that kind of stuff is stressful. I just felt like she was putting herself in these horribly, horribly, complicated situations. But when it turned for me was when she was willing to sacrifice herself. I thought maybe she’s not quite as bad. There was a line in that section. Her mother had said something like love looks like these other things.

“A woman doesn’t always have a choice, not in a meaningful way. Sometimes there is a debt that must be paid, a comfort that she is obliged to provide, a safe passage that must be secured. Everyone of us has lain down for a reason that was not love.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

kg: That’s some grown woman stuff. You had to have lived through some things to understand that part.

Celestial: Yes. That was kind of the turning point, and then when the guys started fighting over her…

kg: Yes. Part of what makes this book so good is not just the story, the imagery is really clear. And that part was one of those parts when I could see them fighting, but in my mind it seemed so ridiculous though that these grown men would be out here under a tree…fighting…for a chick. But I could see all of that.

Celestial: I get it. You know how the male ego is.

kg: It could totally happen

Celestial: Right. It was realistic. I could see that happening, especially with the brother fresh out of jail and if I was in there for some mess I didn’t do? And you pushed up on my woman? I get it.

kg: I really feel like the best friend (Andre) was more wrong than Celestial. But the best friend and Celestial were closer than the best friend and the husband (Roy), know what I mean? So, it was an easy decision.

Spoiler over


kg: Are there any similarities between you and Celestial?

Celestial: Well, I do sing. And I can’t remember if Tayari would have known that. So, that kind of blew me when I read that. That’s really the only similarity that I can see.

kg: Good. Lol That’s a good answer. Anything else you want to tell me? Do you have any other thoughts about having a character named after you?

Celestial: I am very grateful. But there’s something someone said to me after the book came out that was kind of funny. I shared with my coworkers that the book was coming out and I’d met Tayari, blah, blah, blah. This was after it hit the NYT’s bestseller list. My coworker was like, “Wow. Your name is forever etched and out there,” and I didn’t even think of it like that. Someone immortalizing your name like that is really, really cool.

kg: It is!

Celestial: That was one thing that hadn’t even dawned on me, or I hadn’t even thought of it in that way, until she said that. And that was really dope.

I’ve already thanked Celestial for her time during our interview, but I also have to publicly express gratitude for her sitting down with me on New Year’s Eve 2020 to discuss her experience.

There’s so much inspiration in every part of this experience, and I hope it inspires you in some way! If you want to read a non-traditional love story, then check out Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage.


Celestial Holmes is a blogger known for her Lovecraft Country reviews on Black with No Chaser. You can also read her own account of having a character named after her in What’s in a Name: Meeting Tayari Jones.

Mental Health Matters: Situational Anxiety with Dr. Dinardo

andrea_situational_anxietyThis week, I speak with one of my dearest blogging friends, Dr. D! We discuss all things anxiety. She explains the difference between anxiety disorder and situational anxiety. Dr. Dinardo provides 3 strategies to help us cope with situational anxiety, especially because it may be heightened during the pandemic and times of racial unrest. Oh, and I reveal a real-time experience that was causing me a bit of anxiety. I’ll have to write about the results later.

I also have to warn you…if you don’t want to hear us dote on one another, then you should begin this episode around the 7-minute mark. Our conversation can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud, or via Buzzsprout until March 2021. I hope this is helpful as we seek healthier ways to engage with and support one another.

Be sure to also check out Dr. D’s blog: drandreadinardo.com, google her TEDx talk, or follow her on IG: dr.andrea.dinardo. You’re bound to learn something and be a bit more motivated.

Mental Health Matters: Adoption with Dr. Masters

marchita_masters_adoptionThis week, I had the privilege of discussing adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and foster care with Marchita Masters, PsyD, who not only has worked with foster care children in several settings, but who has also adopted a child. Our conversation can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud or via Buzzsprout until March 2021. I hope it is helpful as we seek healthier ways to engage with and support one another.

Mental Health Matters: Children with Tim Dukes, Behavioral Specialist

tim_children_MHMToday, I share a conversation I had with Timothy A. Dukes, behavioral specialist. We discussed parenting and children, specifically during the pandemic. However, he shared insights about how to help children re-set their behavior, as well as how parents should do something as simple as asking our children, “What can I do to make your day better?,” which can be beneficial even if there’s no pandemic occurring.

Our conversation can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud. I hope these words help us all to become healthier versions of ourselves.

Mental Health Matters: Perfectionism with Kotrish Wright, MSW

kotrish_perfectionismToday, I share a conversation I had with Kotrish Wright, MSW centered on PERFECTIONISM. She shares 5 strategies we can use to move past procrastination, and subsequently past those debilitating thoughts that swirl around in our heads. It can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud or via Buzzsprout until March 2021. I hope this brief discussion helps us all to become healthier versions of ourselves.

Monday Notes: An Interview with Lady G (Episode 1)

Hi Everyone! It’s Women’s History Month, so I thought it was the perfect time to release a series of videos that I’ve participated in with two of my close women blogging friends. We call each other SiSTARS!

The first three interviews are intended to help you get to know Lady G a little better. If you don’t already follow her, be sure to do so at seekthebestblog.com! And if you already do, then you understand why Michelle and I had to interview her 🙂

 

Monday Notes: Update #2

Around the first week in May, I was contemplating applying for a job. The job was semi-perfect. It’s here in Jacksonville. It’s at a university. However, it is a bit of a stretch for my field. The job is for reading education, and really I’m literacy and English Ed, but I was going to try for it anyway. Maybe. I kept going back and forth about it, mainly because I’ve learned the hard way (repeatedly) not to make myself fit into a job that’s not for me.

WomenSingBookShot9bWhile I was stewing about the application, I got a call. It was from the editor’s assistant of a book where I have a chapter, All the Women in My Family Sing (which I’ve mentioned here before). She wanted to know if I would be willing to participate in a radio interview in Tampa. I could’ve sworn she said radio interview. But when she sent the information, it was for a television interview!

No matter what, my answer was yes because like I said, I rarely refuse opportunities. In that moment, I decided not to apply for the job. I took it as a sign that I shouldn’t be wasting my time fitting myself into another imperfect for me position. I should be preparing for something I’ve never done before, a prerecorded morning show interview!

NBC_interviewI drove nearly four hours on adrenaline and anxiety. Morning shows don’t give you questions ahead of time because they want you to naturally converse. So, from the night before, up until the host, Cyndi counted down, I was quite concerned about what we would discuss. Because it’s an anthology, it could’ve been about the book in general, my specific story, or how the other stories related to motherhood, because umm, it was a Mother’s Day episode.

Luckily, my goddaughter was there with me. We talked about other things, like the people in the green room and the process itself and that calmed my nerves.

During the interview, I learned a lot. I didn’t know that when they pan across the studio to other things going on, those things are actually going on while you’re talking! Like, there’s actually someone making waffles and another person creating little knick knacks and there’s even an audience! Sheesh! My nosey-ness kicked in high gear. But luckily there are editors and producers who cut away when I started staring at the waffles.

If you have four minutes to watch, then here it is: Daytime Interview.

 

Monday Notes: Update #1

headphones2May was a whirlwind for me, just…like…I…like…it!

So slowly, I’ll be updating you on what amazing things occurred during that month.

The first thing that happened is I was minding my own blogging business, and Nadine Tomlinson emailed to see if I was interested in being interviewed for her Storyteller Series! I rarely say no to new opportunities, so the next thing I know, we were talking like old friends on a Friday evening.

It’s more like a podcast-style situation. If you have about 45 minutes and enjoy that medium, then please be sure to follow this link and listen to my thoughts on relationships, The Unhappy Wife book, and creative nonfiction, in general.

 

Indie Shine – Dr. KE Garland

Thanks again to Lisa W Tetting over at rebirthoflisa for supporting Indie authors and their work 😉 This interview might give you a little more insight into who I am and how I function.

Lisa W. Tetting

indie-shine

In this edition of Indie Shine, a place for rebirthoflisa to “Shine” the spotlight on indie artists, we welcome award winning author Dr. Katherin Garland.

garlandk2 ©Dr. Katherin Garland used with permission

Bio:

Dr. Katherin Garland is an award winning writer, whose work has been featured in the South Florida Times, Talking Soup, and For Harriet.

Q & A

What do you do and Why do you do it? 
I write creative nonfiction in order to inspire social change.
Tell us about your most recent work. 
TUWcover2My most recent book is titled, The Unhappy Wife. It is a collection of short stories based on real women’s marriages. Though the stories are inspired by real events, I’ve fictionalized parts of the women’s stories in order to protect their anonymity.
Who inspires you? 
I’m very self-motivated. I’m not inspired by a person, but more so an idea, a concept…

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The Unhappy Wife

Last month my friend over at 1000hoursleft conducted this wonderful interview. Check it out and check out kegarland.com to pre-order the eBook or order the paperback!

Work in Progress

photo of author Katerin E Garland and cover for book The Unhappy Wife, used as image for an inteview with the authorCover image and photograph courtesy of K E Garland, used with permission.

A Conversation with Dr. K E Garland

Dr. Katherin E Garland (writer/ academic / blogger / my friend) has just published The Unhappy Wife, a book of short stories based on the real lives of 12 women in marital discontent.

The closest I’ve come to marriage is having a partner who is a wedding photographer. With or without the ring, however, relationships have their ups and downs: sometimes they work; sometimes we invest in the work to make them work; sometimes we walk away; and sometimes, we remain – unhappily.

Over the weekend, Kathy and I chatted about her book, the writing process, and insights on love and relationships.


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