Angela Jackson-Brown is an award winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University, and the Spalding low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She is the author of the novel Drinking From A Bitter Cup and has published in numerous literary journals. Angela’s play, Anna’s Wings, was selected in 2016 to be a part of the IndyFringe DivaFest and her play, Flossie Bailey Takes a Stand, was part of the Indiana Bicentennial Celebration at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. She also wrote and produced the play It Is Well and she was the co-playwright with Ashya Thomas on a play called Black Lives Matter (Too). In the spring of 2018, Angela co-wrote a musical with her colleague, Peter Davis, called Dear Bobby: The Musical, that was part of the 2018 OnyxFest in Indianapolis, IN. Her book of poetry called House Repairs was published by Negative Capability Press in the fall of 2018, and in the fall of 2019, she directed and produced a play she wrote called Still Singing Those Weary Blues.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I knew from the time I was a young child that writing was my “calling,” mainly because my daddy, M.C. Jackson, was so encouraging. On a regular basis, he would say to me, “You are going to be a writer someday.” He fed my insatiable need to read, which is a necessity for a person to become a writer, and whenever I shared my stories with him, he let me know that he thought they were brilliant. So, I grew up knowing that becoming a writer was in my future because my daddy said so. I love writing because it allows me to escape into magical words that I have complete control over. I can decide who lives and loves. I can decide who follows their dreams and who gets waylaid but what is happening in the world. I love writing historical fiction because it allows me to learn things about the past that I did not often learn in the history books. The business end of writing frustrates me some, but not as much that I have an agent and a great publisher, Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins).
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
I am the author of three books: Drinking from a Bitter Cup, House Repairs, & When Stars Rain Down. Readers can read about and order all three books directly from my website. When Stars Rain Down is my newest novel and it was published in April 13, 2021 of this year and it follows the story of a 17 year old Black girl who lived during the tumultuous time of 1936 in a rural, fictional town in Georgia called Parsons, GA. During this summer, Georgia, like all of the United States, is experiencing the worst draught ever and the heat and the racial disharmony is threatening to destroy everything Opal loves. But, she does find love this summer, which makes everything else that happens bearable.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
I am working on TOO much right now. I am working on three novels and a stage play that will debut in 2023. My next novel, still unnamed, is scheduled to be published in 2022, and I have a third novel that is tentatively scheduled to be published in 2023, so needless to say, I have a very busy summer. I don’t like to talk about projects that aren’t finished, but I will say the next two novels focus on characters from Parsons, Georgia, so I am continuing in that same fiction world for a while.
4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
My most significant achievement is always finishing the next book, but this year, the Alabama Library’s Association awarded me the Poetry Award which was completely unexpected but meant so much to me because Alabama is where I was born and lived for the majority of my life.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
Oh my, I don’t know of a single writer who hasn’t experienced rejection. Absolutely I have experienced rejection, but I have learned not to take them personally. I tell myself that the rejection just meant I wasn’t right for that particular publication. I always try to tell myself if I keep pushing, I will find a home for all of my literary children.
6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I write every day. Even if only a few words. Usually I do more, but I tell myself if I write even a sentence, I have done the work. A friend of mine, Katy Yocom, shared that advice with me years ago and I try to apply that logic every day. I do believe strongly in outlining. Outlining keeps me organized and it keeps me on the right path with my work. It usually takes me about nine months to finish a novel, including revision. Of course, that process increases when the publisher gets their hands on it. So, you might say it takes two years total until the book is published.
7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
I was 45 years old when I published my first novel. I read recently that an 85 year old published her first book of poetry. The only time that it is too late for us to pursue writing is when we lose our mental faculties or when we die.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
Yes, I read and listen to books on tape quite a bit. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou touched my life first because so much of Dr. Angelou’s story was my story. That book let me see I was not alone and it made me know that I could be a writer too. Even though my daddy said, “You will be a writer,” I had never read a book by a Black writer until my first Black teacher, Mrs. Kennedy, gave me I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. She didn’t realize how much she helped shape my future by giving me that book. That book validated me and my very existence in a rural Alabama town where there were no writers and definitely no Black writers. I have a lot of “favorite” writers. Too many to name but I will say the names of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, because I return to their work so frequently. Currently I am reading Patti Callahan’s book, Surviving Savannah, and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s book, The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois.
9) How has the current state of the world affected your writing? Because writing is an isolated practice, do you find it easier to deal with quarantine? Has it stifled your creativity or has it made you even more driven to get things done?
To be honest, the writing has sustained me. Had I not had the distraction of my fictional worlds, I don’t know if I would have survived 2020. Whenever Covid or the racial disharmony became too much, I just took myself back to the worlds I could control. At times I felt guilty for “escaping” but I told myself that we all have to cope however we cope. Plus, I had deadlines. My publisher would have given me extensions, but I wanted to stick to my schedule because I tend to be schedule driven.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
I am a traditionally published author. I can’t speak about self-publishing because I have never tried it. I will say, I love the support I receive from being published by a major publishing house. They have the people and the resources to make sure my book gets noticed by people in the industry. My most recent novel is currently being carried in all Target stores and the major bookstores. That isn’t an easy feat for any author, but especially one who is really just getting started in the industry. So, if I had it my way, I would continue to publish traditionally; however, I know a lot of great writers who self-publish and they have had amazing careers. So, I think it all depends on what the writer wants.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
Writing is my mental health support. I have battled mental health issues my entire life, and the writing helps to center me. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the written word.