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.

The Unhappy Wife: Book Review

First review of the new year is by Lovey over at Maquillage! Check out what she thought. Check out her feminist perspectives about this and other topics. And of course, if you haven’t yet, check out The Unhappy Wife 🙂

Femonomic

I had to read this book the moment I was told the theme by its very own Author. She is one inspirational, motivating and rousingly beautiful woman. Yes, an academician and a blogger too. Well, she is one bomb.com.

The Unhappy Wifea book of short stories based on the real lives of 12 women in marital discontent. Twelve women share one thing in common – the quest for being happily married to the men they chose; however, each one finds herself in an unexpected marital predicament. Inspired by real events and told from each woman’s perspective, these short stories are firsthand accounts detailing the realities of marriage well after each woman said “I do.”

 It has all the perfect ingredients for my taste. No, I am not married but we are all aware of the dynamics of a Relationship between a Man and a Woman. And, I…

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Veda from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeVeda’s story came recommended by a mutual friend. When I first began speaking with her, she was hesitant. Veda didn’t believe that she was an unhappy wife.

“My husband doesn’t beat me or anything,” she said.

To which I replied, “Good. That’s my point with telling these stories. You don’t have to be in an abusive relationship to be unhappy. You just have to have questioned how you ended up in a situation, married to this man.”

Veda agreed to open up to me. I was grateful.

At the time of our conversation, her husband had suffered a stroke about a year prior. The effects of his illness were numerous. Basically, Veda had gone from having a helpful partner to being somewhat of a caregiver, while continuing to mother three daughters and working a fulltime job.

Concept: I knew I wanted to present Veda as a committed wife for several reasons. Whereas Darlene was committed due to religious principles and Crystal was committed because of her mother’s advice, Veda was committed because she loved her husband and took her wedding vows seriously. You know, “in sickness and in health”? As I listened to her story, I wondered how many women had actually thought about what that phrase might look like. How many of us could really imagine what may happen?

Veda’s story is unique because it gives a brief depiction. “In sickness and in health” looks like telling your husband to seek medical attention because another stroke might kill him, and accepting the idea that he doesn’t want to listen. “In sickness and in health” looks like enduring your husband’s stroke that left him debilitated in many ways, while maintaining some semblance of a household you both once knew.

I asked Veda if she felt as if she’d had a fourth child.

“No,” she said, “I love him. That’s my husband.”

This is what I wanted the final narrative to show. A woman can love her husband, but unforeseen circumstances can develop and cause the entire relationship to shift, thus creating aspects of unhappiness.

Additionally, I hoped this story would help women think to themselves, could I have remained with my husband if he didn’t listen to me and ended up having a stroke that totally changed our relationship and way of life? This is why I chose the past, present and future format. None of us knows what the future of a relationship will bring. The most we can do is know ourselves so that we can make conscious choices that are aligned with our values, and follow our intuition with each situation.

unhappy-wifeI hope you’ve enjoyed discussing each story with one another. I also hope that you’ve found the stories as useful reflections of your own relationships. Next month, I’ll re-blog part of Anita Charlot’s afterword from the book. Her expertise as an online relationship coach provided valuable insights. The Unhappy Wife will continue to be for sale.

Darlene from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeDarlene, Darlene, Darlene…where do I begin with this story? First, I was happy to include this woman’s narrative because she was a preacher’s wife and I know that sometimes, we still place people like preachers and their families on pedestals. The reality is that preachers and their wives are people just like you and I. Part of my purpose was to show this through their experience.

Also, Darlene is another woman with whom I had a lengthy conversation. She told me about learning how to be a woman from Kain’s mother, fooling around with Kain’s brother, and ultimately marrying Kain. Similar to Miss Sharlene, I wasn’t sure if I needed to include all of these details, but ultimately I did to show her background and how she came to marry someone like Kain.

Concept: I didn’t know much about the Pentecostal church before writing this story, so Google was my best friend as I researched. The introduction where I describe Mother Williams showing Darlene how to be a woman in this type of church is the result. What I found out is Darlene’s experience is common. There is a lot of focus on women being mindful of how they represent themselves because, you know, men can’t control themselves if they see legs and cleavage. There is a lot of focus on women maintaining sexual purity and there are bible verses to support reasons why.

Quite honestly, I was in awe of these teachings. But I included them to show the reader how a woman could construct an idea about herself and what type of wife she’s supposed to be, no matter what.

The other aspect of this story I felt was important was Darlene’s gullibility. She admitted after going through this ordeal that she had no idea about what was cheap and what wasn’t. I fictionalized her examples for the book, but the way Kain dated her was similar. He had no money, but he passed it off as “frugal.” I’m not saying a man has to take you to an expensive restaurant; however, Kain’s financial traits transferred to the marriage and Darlene ended up assuming much of the costs.

The last part of this story that I wanted to drive home was how much we rely on other people to tell us what to do, even in a marriage. Darlene just wanted to be a faithful wife, who submitted to her husband, no matter what. Mother Williams encouraged her to do that. Her apostle friend encouraged her to continue by wearing a mask of happiness. Darlene honestly didn’t know what to do, unless someone gave her steps.

My commentary for this one is brief because I’m running out of words for my own count and also because the message is the same. Women have to learn to not only hear their inner voice, but also listen to it. Can you ask for advice from someone? Sure. But if your husband brings you an STD, works, but asks you for money every month, has sex with you four times a year, and doesn’t speak to you, unless it’s to save face in front of others, then you might want to consider that a sign.

unhappy-wifeWhat did you think about Darlene’s story? Did you catch my not-so subtle naming of her husband, Kain? What did you take from this story that I didn’t mention?

It’s never too late to order The Unhappy Wife and start reading because these blog posts will be up for a while. Next month I’ll provide a few insights about Crystal and how she chose to deal with her drug-addicted husband.

Pamela from The Unhappy Wife book

Pamela was the last wife that I’d interviewed. My plan was to have 13 women’s stories, but by the time I’d actually spoken to everyone and written each narrative, I was worn out. Twelve was enough.

unhappy-wifeWhile Pamela’s marriage includes similar tropes as the previous women, I was happy to include her story because it was about infidelity from a real woman’s point of view, something that isn’t always depicted or discussed in media. Additionally, Pamela had no remorse for committing the act, and that was a part of the adultery narrative that had to be told.

Concept: At first I was going to only focus Pamela’s story on her mother and how she influenced Pam to give up on college and get married. But as we continued our conversation, she not only revealed her adultery, but also told me it helped her as a person. I knew then her story had to be about more than simply her and her mom’s relationship.

Likewise, I wanted to provide a counter narrative to how society views affairs. There are three ideas about cheating that I’ve noticed: (1) it’s the worst thing that can happen in a marriage; (2) it is an irreparable break of trust; and (3) it’s something only men do. I thought Pamela’s story would shape a different conversation.

Let me be clear. I’m not trying to condone cheating. I’m just saying that it’s time to expand the narrative, especially as women take on different roles than they once did in the past.

Commentary: I believe Pamela felt bad about herself long before marriage. It began when her mother crushed her university dreams. And then, like a lot of women, post-pregnancy weight added to her insecurity. On top of that, she relied so much on Reggie’s degrees and income that his unemployment added another layer of disappointment.

By the time Kurt entered the picture, she all but invited the escape. This is how some affairs occur. They begin with an insecure woman being noticed and paid attention to by another man. In this case, Kurt uplifted her, something that her mother didn’t seem to do. Kurt also had the money to pamper her and he accepted her body the way it was at first. According to Pam, Kurt was a Godsend. Without him, she would still be living in despair.

Pam’s story showed my overall message with this book:

  • Know yourself.
  • Love yourself.
  • Be yourself.

Pamela didn’t know herself. If she did, then she would’ve been able to determine if going to college or getting married was a better path for her. She didn’t love herself. If she did, then she wouldn’t have ended up in Kurt’s bed, seeking love and attention through his admiration and wallet. She wasn’t being herself. She had assumed an identity, wife and mother.

What did you all think about her? Was she wrong for cheating with Kurt, even if it did lead self-discovery? What about overbearing mothers? Do you think parents should guide their children so much that they influence their life’s path?

unhappy-wifeOne more thing: My editor said this story was the best in terms of writing. I suspect it’s because it was traditional. It has a clear beginning, middle and end. The ending is nice a neat and tied with a bow. Readers tend to like that. What do you think?

If you haven’t ordered or read The Unhappy Wife yet, there’s still time! We have one more section to discuss, The Committed Wife. Next month we’ll start off with Darlene, mmmhmm, the preacher’s wife.

3 Unexpected Outcomes of Self-Publishing by K.E. Garland #Spotlight

Many thanks to Felicia over at NesiesPlace for this Spotlight invitation. Check out the feature about The Unhappy Wife, give her a follow, AND check out her own book In The Best Interest of the Child.

Nesie's Place

I’m honored and pleased to have Dr. K.E. Garland on the blog today. An educator by profession, Dr. Garland is not only finding success as an indie author, but her works of creative nonfiction are fostering discussions for social change [among women especially] on an international level.

Today, Dr. Garland shares three outcomes she never imagined when she first decided to self-publish.


TUW coverThe Unhappy Wife was conceived during one of my former 320-mile commutes to and from work. During those drives, I used to call family and friends to keep me company. Many calls were with one of my male cousins. This time, his marriage woes were exhausting.

“I’m going to write a book called The Unhappy Wife,” I told him, “and I’m going to ask your wife to participate!” He laughed and laughed at me, but I was serious.

It wasn’t just his wife and their drama. I had…

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Miss Sharlene from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeMiss Sharlene was the 11th woman I’d interviewed. She invited me to sit in her living room and listen to her stories. For four hours, she described each and every marriage in detail. Here was a woman, old enough to be my own mother, outlining over 40 years of marriage to three different men: an adulterer, an alleged drug dealer and a drug addict. For much of our conversation, I sat with my mouth hanging open. The remainder included laughter and a lot of mmmhmmms.

Concept: With Miss Sharlene, I grappled with re-telling each marriage. Did readers need to hear about each man? Ultimately, I figured that’s what would make her story different. The book didn’t have the life experience of an older woman to demonstrate how one could fall in and out of love and continue to be unhappily married over and over again.

Like many of the women, Miss Sharlene sounded as if her husbands had done something to her. But surely, I thought, she must’ve learned something about herself with each of these unions. So, I asked her one question in order to prompt self-reflection. What advice would you give to younger women? That’s when Miss Sharlene provided me with lessons:

  1. You have to learn a person before you get married, but learning a person happens on a daily basis.
  2. Just cause you get pregnant from somebody does not make him your man or your husband. It makes him your baby’s dad.
  3. There’s no perfect person. We as women are not perfect. We have imperfections. But the thing is, we’re looking for perfection in a man. And that’s where we go wrong.
  4. We can’t be in a relationship when the person feels like we are his savior. You can’t save a person.

She actually gave me seven lessons. I wrote these verbatim in the book, but placed them at strategic points so that they seemed as if she had applied them to each of her marriages.

Commentary: At the time of our conversation, Miss Sharlene was two years newly wed to her fourth husband. I was shocked. Was she a hopeless romantic? Was it religion and the bible that kept her seeking marriage? Maybe it was her age? I didn’t ask her any of these questions because our interview was already lengthy.

But this came to mind. It’s easy to judge Miss Sharlene, or any woman for that matter. When we read about someone who’s been married 3-4 times, it seems obvious what the “issue” is, even when the men and relationships seem different. But none of our so-called challenges are ever apparent to ourselves. They can be though.

We have to be willing to look in the mirror and face what’s there. Change cannot happen without self-reflection. We have to be willing to admit our backgrounds have not only affected us in the past, but also shaped who we are in the present, including what types of relationships we attract. And ultimately, we have to take responsibility for the choices we make, whether conscious or subconscious. Otherwise, we’re doomed to be stuck in a cycle, same relationship, different man.

With that said, I included Miss Sharlene in the Detached Wife section because she seemed to be disconnected, not from her husbands, but from the reality of her self.

unhappy-wifeQuite a few readers have told me this story was their favorite. What did you think about Miss Sharlene?

Next month we’ll be discussing the last wife in this section, Pamela. Be sure to order your copy and catch up so you can join the conversation!

Side note: Many thanks to Mek over at 10000hoursleft.wordpress.com for the featured image.

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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Heart Faults, when we break.

Another cool thing about releasing The Unhappy Wife is the love I’ve gotten from LPCs and others in the mental health profession. This is a great example of that support. If you don’t already, check out Michelle’s blog. It’s full of personal stories that advocate for self-love ❤

Me,Intimately worded

In any relationship, manipulation is the highest form of betrayal. We will have to stop eating everything that is fed to us…even if its silver spoon fed. We grow watching, observing and living to our parents and family wishes. We trust them. Believe them without reservation. When we live our lives only by observation, and with their expectations without knowing their wounds, their whys our foundation will crack.

Respectability and accountability are requirements for the things we want in life, what we require from each other. Jesus’ mandate was to love one another as we love ourselves. His commandment sounds simple enough yet I believe it is one of the most difficult challenges in our faith walk. Loving self is a lifetime journey and it becomes more difficult to do when we break. The longevity of carrying pain, damaging pain that steals your joy and stills your heart is not loyalty…

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Book & Author Feature: The Unhappy Wife by K E Garland

Thanks for an amazing interview experience Leslie Reese! Leslie is a book blogger and also a skilled writer. I was fortunate enough to have been interviewed by her. If you don’t follow her blog, then please go check it out!

I subscribe to KE Garlands’s blog, kwoted, where she always “keeps it real” by writing honest and thought-provoking posts about societal experiences, personal relationships and insecurities; how and why we celebrate holidays, being reflective, and finding inspiration in daily life. In 2015 she published Kwoted, a book of original quotes which “encompass advice and mantras that the author lives by and offers to those around her.”

kwoted

Early in the fall of 2016 I learned that K E Garland had written and was self-publishing a book titled The Unhappy Wife, and my first thought was “I’m going to read her book and review it.” But while reading this 112-page volume, I decided I wanted to do an author feature, instead. I asked Kathy – aka K E Garland – if she would mind me asking her some questions, and she was down, so what follows is our exchange. Enjoy!

Leslie Reese (LR): Okay, Kathy, let’s get this party started!
K E Garland: LOL okay…I’m ready!
LR: When and how did you first conceive of The Unhappy Wife as a project and a book?
K E Garland: I was actually on the phone with a friend. As usual, he was complaining about his wife. This seemed to be commonplace for many of my married men friends. Because I’d also begun doing the work of self-reflection about who I’d been in my own marriage, I was able to offer a bit of advice. But when that was over, he continued to complain. Right in the middle of his diatribe, I said, “I’m going to write a book called, ‘The Unhappy Wife,’ and I’m going to ask your wife to be in it.” He laughed and laughed. I didn’t. Three years later the book was conceptualized.

Read more…