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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More often than not, I have a little bit to say about a lot of things. I thought I’d share a few in the month we’ve reserved for love.
If we treated our girlfriends half as well as we do men, then women relationships might improve. Three years ago, I visited a friend in Sarasota. After the four-hour drive, I did as I sometimes do, stopped by her home first to pick her up for lunch. When I got there, she’d just finished her workout.
“Are you about to take a shower?” I asked, giving her athletic gear a once over.
“No! All I did was walk,” she said.
“If I was a man, you’d take a shower,” I replied.
She agreed but didn’t shower, and the above thought was born.
Why do we (sometimes) get all dolled up for the opposite sex but show up any type of way with our girlfriends? Is it comfort? Value? Societal teachings? For me, how I arrive depends on the event, not necessarily the company I keep, but in general, I show up freshly washed, with a nice outfit no matter if it’s the love of my life or a good friend.
If you love someone, then you’re implicitly saying you accept who they are. You can have acceptance without love, but you cannot have love without acceptance. For example, Dwight fully loves and accepts who I am. He encourages me to be myself, even if that means as he says it, “cussin’ a —- out” because he knows I’m fully capable of that behavior. But that doesn’t stop him from loving me.
People mistake how love and acceptance can show up, though. I have a cousin who lives with a mental illness. I love her like a sister, and I accept this part of her, but because I know her mental health can be overwhelming, I carefully choose when and how I will interact and be with her. Sometimes we forget we can choose how to be in people’s lives, and these choices have nothing to do with how much we love or accept someone.
Why is it we want our partners to have character traits we don’t? Why is that? I know people who desire vulnerability but have trust issues. I have friends who want a specific level of intimacy but don’t seem to know how to cuddle, show affection, or open up. I wonder if, when we seek a romantic partner, we’re seeking to fill a void of something we think we don’t have.
When Dwight and I first met, I wasn’t as self-aware, and consequently, I didn’t know how to be myself. He, on the other hand, seemed very confident in who he was and clear about what he would and wouldn’t do. Did I unconsciously seek someone who possessed the very things I needed to develop? I also wonder if helping one another to grow is more of the point of relationships, as opposed to racking up and celebrating years of companionship…like a prize. Maybe our friends and romantic partners are there to mirror who we are and to reflect who we can be.
Maybe our friends and romantic partners are there to mirror who we are and to reflect who we can be.Tweet
Let me know what you think.
The day my father asked me to leave home, I awoke to three or four trash bags filled with my belongings. They slouched in the middle of my bedroom floor. The day before, I’d thrown myself a seventeenth birthday party surrounded by family. But I’d also just gotten in trouble at school for forging a tardy pass.
“You’re moving to Covert with your grandmother,” my father announced. “You walked around here frontin’ yesterday, like everything is okay. YOU’RE SUSPENDED!” he yelled.
I was baffled. I thought that was protocol…walking around and pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t. I’d pretended my mother’s death hadn’t bothered me the previous nine months, and no one berated me about that. Why was having a party while suspended an issue?
But it was too late to argue. My father’s mind was made up. I moved as soon as school ended in June.
By September, my grandmother had convinced my father that he needed to relinquish his parental rights so that she could “legally take me to the hospital,” if necessary. So, the three of us drove to a small Michigan court, where a judge bestowed my grandmother with the title, legal guardian.
My father droned on about the court appointment being a “formality.” He’d “always be my dad,” he said. I wished I had an appropriate response. A tear or a lip quiver would’ve added affect. But I was dead to his speech and to mounting situations outside of my control. Life had finally completely numbed me. During his soliloquy, I zoned out and devised a simple plan for my new existence: befriend no one, complete senior year, and leave as soon as I crossed the graduation stage.
That was the plan, until I went to a computer class called, Basic and met a boy.
He was a year younger. He played football, ran track, blew the saxophone in band, and was his class’s president. He made time for me and he made me laugh. More importantly, he made me forget about my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment. He made me forget that I wouldn’t finish high school with friends I’d known since the first grade.
Initially, we talked on the phone for several hours. He lived five minutes away from my grandparents’ home and his house was on the way to my work-study job, which made stopping by convenient. Soon we traded phone conversations for sitting on his mother’s couch, where we watched their floor-model television and kissed. Our time together quickly turned to sex. I enjoyed it. It was liberating in the most poetic way. When we were together, my pent-up emotions floated free like colorful balloons toward a bright blue sky. I repeatedly chased the euphoria.
I was so in love with the idea that he loved and wanted me that I wrapped myself around him. I mattered. He and I ebbed and flowed through teenage love. There was no way I would let him go. To do so would mean returning to earth to face the reality of my circumstances, which were outside of my control, and I wasn’t ready.
Instead, I (unconsciously) learned men, sex, and relationships could temporarily fill a void. All three helped me escape to a place where I temporarily felt better about myself. As long as I had one, then I knew I was worth something to someone, even if the moment was fleeting. Either of the three were easy to attain, especially in undergrad, where my deeper issue flowed with a sea of everyone else’s rampant hormones and fluid identities. Throughout my life, there were times when I had all three simultaneously in different faces, constantly seeking a high, never quite reaching bliss, still feeling shitty about myself. It would take years before I’d understand one thing about trying to fill an empty space with men. You can’t. There were never enough to make me feel whole. Ever. It was always an impossible endeavor.
This blogger’s poem aptly describes what I’ve experienced.
Today’s answer is from my oldest goddaughter, Kotrish of Inspirational Words and Quotes:
We’re continuing the self-love train with kelley from black-burgundy: hella black…
Today’s answer is no laughing matter (you’ll get it when you visit his blog). Kevin from KevinHotter is the first man to show us how he offers himself love:
This is how Marquessa over at Simply Marquessa loves herself…
I am Lady G, and just like you, I AM a unique physical expression of God!
My particular story began with my Earthly debut in the city of Augusta, Georgia at the tail end of the 1960’s.
Now, before I proceed to tell you about my journey to self-love, allow me to take you a couple of steps back:
Prior to my birth, my godmother, who was the equivalent of a nurse practitioner, used her vast knowledge of Augusta’s medical landscape to handpick my mother’s OB/GYN, as well as my pediatrician. After all, she knew that my father had “good insurance,” and she was determined to help my parents take full advantage of his benefits.
With that said, she chose the best of the best to entrust with our care!
Now, I didn’t tell you that to brag. I simply wanted to illustrate that my parents and their tribe, which included my godparents, were determined to prepare a safe, warm, and loving place for me to land.
Admittedly, some of you may be wondering why I selected the word tribe. Well, frankly, it is the best word that I could find to describe all of the folks who encircled and upheld my parents who had moved 300 miles away from their hometown in Southern Alabama.
They were only twenty-two and twenty-three years old for God’s sake!
Bearing this fact in mind, the neighboring elders decided that it was imperative to invest in our young family’s success!
But that’s what folks did back then.
At any rate, in spite of having not one local relative, these two young’uns managed to build a beautiful and loyal surrogate family.
Oh, by the way, let me step off track here to tell you that I am clairsentient and sometimes clairaudient so I can clearly hear Dr. Garland somewhere in the ethers hollering, “Lady G, please address the topic at hand!”
Well…Er… I promise Doc, I’m getting to it!
But seriously, this little bit of my personal historical context is a necessary piece to our topic.
Why? Because I believe that my parents and their people, created an environment, prior to and after my birth, that helped me to feel loved, valued and treasured during my formative years, and it was reflected back to me in every one of my early childhood experiences.
Basically, I saw love in my mother’s eyes as we danced to “Just my Imagination,” by The Temptations.
I felt love in my father’s kiss as he greeted me after a long day at work.
I heard love in my godfather’s voice when he asked, “What ‘choo know good Gwin?” and then genuinely listened to my three-year-old answer.
I witnessed love when I watched the brothas and sistas downtown Augusta singing, Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud!
In short, it was my wonderful start in life that helped me to develop a strong love for self.
The tribe had succeeded!
Uh…not so fast!
As you might have guessed, in later years, I found myself associating with people who made me question my worth. They attached conditions to our relationships like size, looks, education, financial status, and so on.
As a result, I did my share of worrying about whether I was good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, and ad infinitum.
But, I must admit, in each case, I was eventually able to find my happy “due north” which always led me back to self-love and acceptance.
Of course, there is much more that I could say about the process of returning back to self-love, but the professor is counting words so I have decided NOT to tempt fate!
Just suffice it to say, that I took time to synthesize and integrate my wonderful early childhood experiences with my personal spiritual insights in order to reclaim the love that I always had for myself. Best believe it was not an overnight process, which I am convinced is probably a blessing in itself. I say that because I’ve learned to appreciate every journey that is presented. For me, it is during these times that I receive my deepest insights regarding the importance of practicing self-love and appreciation.
And with that, more will be revealed…
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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays).