Chyrel J. Jackson and Lyris D. Wallace are avid lovers, readers and writers of African American Literature. They grew up in a Southern Suburb of Chicago, IL. Country Club Hills. As young girls they read Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Judy Blume novels. College was the real scholastic awakening introducing these two Literary Enthusiasts to the literary works of their great ancestors, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez. These writers influenced Chyrel and Lyris. It only makes sense that they would now be writing in the Spirit of those ancestors, giving a voice to social issues that plague our modern time.
Their latest self-published work is a book of poetry called Mirrored Images. It is a contemporary modern collage of poetry as experienced from the Black female perspective of 2 sisters and authors. This collection of poems is refreshing and unique. It is a heartwarming work of new age black voices and spoken word. This collection highlights the human experience of life, love, loss, parting and sorrow and is timelessly written with honesty. Black Expression has never been more relevant and real. This work explores the sometime darker nature of people and their motives. Mirrored Images rips off the bandages off human life experience and forces you to see what most are happier pretending just doesn’t exist at all. Spoken word is back and these literary writers take social conflict and unrest to brand-new un-chartered heights.
They have written for much of their adult lives. Political opinion editorials, book reviews, romance novels, television show treatments, journaling, and poetry are what these sisters enjoy writing the most. When asked why they write, their answer is that they write for visibility. They want to be a voice for all those who feel they have something of value to say but aren’t capable of putting it in their own words.
Words surpass life, love and loss. Writers are born when life intersects with time and chance. You will always find them doing what they love; reading and writing. Writing their stories is how they fulfill their divine purpose. You can’t ignore what is so visible and undeniable. Writing saved them at their lowest points in life. They hope to provide healing through their writing and want to uplift others through their pain as writing has uplifted them and provided great healing in time of profound despair and hurt. Throughout the passage of time words remain.
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?
Chyrel Jackson: Connecting with our readers. When we write something that resonates with them there’s no better feeling than touching the heart and soul of a reader with our work. There is absolutely nothing that frustrates me about being a writer. I’m not fond of the editing process but that sort of comes with the profession.
Lyris Wallace: I didn’t realize I wanted to write until I was in college. It was there when I took my first black literature course. Of course I’d taken a literature courses in high school, but they did not offer a black literature course. For the first time in my life I was reading about people who looked like me, talked like people I had grown up with. I was so excited I started taking more literature classes; black women writers, black men writers, black theater writers, and eventually I got back around to the literary writers I was forced to read as a child growing up. But it was only loving great literary writes such as James Baldwin, Wallace Thurman, Ralph Ellison, Nikki Giovanni, and Zora Neale Hurston that I began to appreciate Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austin, The Bronte sisters, and all the other writers you grow up reading in school. After making that full circle, my love for writing began.
I love how I can get completely lost in a whole other world that I have created. I love that for a time I can completely be a whole other person, experience anything I can imagine, and that anywhere from an hour to four hours I am whomever I choose to be. I love that about writing.
For me the worst part is when you’ve been on a flow and then suddenly it’s like pulling teeth. You struggle to come up with the next chapter or next poem. I hate that kind of ‘brain freeze’ but most of the time if you keep pulling the teeth you find your flow once again.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
Chyrel & Lyris: We have written two books of poems the first book entitled, “Different Sides of the Same Coin”, the second book entitled, “Mirrored Images”. They’re reflective writings of poetry with very universal messaging on a host of shared human experiences and emotions. In both books we are writing about our experiences as black women. We are encouraging young black people to love themselves, while letting them know that they are not alone. Our struggle is a collective struggle and we are all in this together. The first book was written over a 20 year period, while the second book deals with our lives in the past year. It deals with what were going through as we tried to come together and take care of our father who was dying, the family dynamic as a result of the patriarch passing away, as well as the current events coming over the daily news all while paying tribute to our culture and our heritage as well as our father. Additionally, there’s an underlying message that your sister will always be by your side no matter what life throws your way. That when the smoke clears you will always have your sister holding you up and telling you it’s going to be okay.
Our books are available on Amazon, Walmart.com, and Google Books. Our website is https://sistersrocnrhyme.com and is the best way to reach us. You will be able to access all of our social media handles by accessing our website.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
Chyrel: Independently we’re working on individual projects, a family cookbook with my mother in law. My sister is writing her story about raising my nephew and what being a single mom is like raising a son. We as in the both of us come back together in our first literary fiction family drama “If these Walls Could Talk”.
Lyris: My sister is working on a lovely cookbook with her mother- in- law and we are both working on a new book loosely based on how we grew up. We are really excited about both projects and we think our fans will enjoy these next couple of books even though they are a step away from our poetry books.
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?
Chyrel: Staying true to ourselves and the craft by telling the stories of our life the way we want to tell them as Black women. Having my sister by my side has been an unbelievable blessing and joy during it all. In the next five years I see myself still crafting stories that matter. Whether they are fictional novels or more poetry, we will undoubtedly be somewhere writing.
Lyris: For me, it would be getting our first book published. My sister and I always wanted to write a book together. We had been talking about it since we were children. However, I don’t think either one of us realized it would be a book of poetry. Once we realized we were both writing poetry, my sister Chyrel said we should write a book. One year we were around the Thanksgiving table reading our poems to our family and the next Thanksgiving we were showing them the book. It literally happened like that thanks to my sister Chyrel. She really spearheaded the whole thing. I just wrote poems, but my sister had the tenacity and the determination to make it all happen and I love that about her.
In five years I am hopeful that we can turn the book based on how we grew up into a movie or a theatrical play. I’ve always wanted to get into those kinds of things. I’ve written a few television treatments which I never submitted because I didn’t think they were good enough, but I think if I keep at it, I’ll come up with a winner.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
Chyrel: We said okay this is how we’re going to overcome hurdles (rejection). We’re going to write our way out of it independently self-publishing one book at a time. It makes me sad looking at a publishing industry still so very separatist and dare I say, racist.
Lyris: That’s the beauty about self -publishing. There were a few publishing companies who didn’t like the way we expressed ourselves and wanted us to change our writing so it would better suit their ideas of what was acceptable. But what they deemed acceptable would have changed the whole meaning in what we were trying to convey. So, after a few of those “we would like to work with you guys but if you could change this or that, letters”, we decided that self-publishing would be best for us at that time.
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?
Chyrel: No we just write, any and all times of the day. Sometimes when we feel we need to be more structured we will outline. As far as a timeline for how long it takes us to finish a novel, we’re really trying to complete one within a year if possible. That’s a bit ambitious but 2 years is the absolute max.
Lyris: No, not for me. I don’t like forcing my creative flow. That’s when it becomes ‘pulling teeth’ for me and I hate that. I like to write when I become inspired, then it just flows. It’s like the blank page becomes my canvas and I fill it with beautiful words which paint a picture.
When I began writing our story, I didn’t outline but I soon realized I needed to. It definitely helps with your flow and with organizing your thoughts and helping you convey the story you want to tell. I highly recommend doing that. I even outline my television treatments. It’s a good habit to get into.
I’d say it took us about nine months to write our second book of poetry, and it will probably take us a year, or a year and half to finish our novel.
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?
Chyrel: No and no. There are so many writers that didn’t start until a mature age. We don’t entertain ageism just like we don’t entertain racism.
Lyris: Absolutely not. As long as you can pick up a pen and put your thoughts on paper, it’s never too late. That in itself is inspiring. That’s the beauty of writing, you don’t have to look like s super model, or be young and beautiful. You don’t have to be Hemingway. You just have to have something relevant to say and believe in yourself and the gift that God gave you, and then get to writing. It’s never too late and you’re never too old. The Delaney sisters were in their 90’s and they wrote a best seller.
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?
Chyrel: I am definitely an avid reader. The first book that really touched me emotionally was Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. Two of my favorite authors are James Baldwin and Sonia Sanchez. Currently I am reading Diva Diaries by Janine A. Morris.
Lyris: Yes I am an avid reader now but I have not always been. When I was younger I did not like to read. In school they taught us not only how to read, but how to speed read but I never really got the hang of it so I always read slower than everybody else. Therefore, I hated reading. It wasn’t until I was in college and I decided to major in Journalism that I thought ‘how can I be a good writer, if I hate to read?’ That’s when I decided to take 5 different literature courses in one semester. I knew it would force me to read, and read I did. I never had so much fun in my whole academic career. That’s when I rediscovered and fell in love with Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre just to name a few. But I fell in love with Go Tell It on the Mountain, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Blacker the Berry, and the poetry of James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni. When I read Ego Tripping by Nikki, it literally and I do mean literally changed my life. It was like religious experience. I knew right then I had to be a part of this culture.
I have a few favorites, a couple I’ve already mentioned like James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, but I also love Sonja Sanchez, Wallace Thurman, and Jane Austin as well.
Currently I’m reading a book of poems by a fellow author who I really admire by the name of C. Miller and the name of the book is Poetic Translations. He’s a dynamic writer and I think your readers need to check him out.
9) The Pandemic was a challenging time for some writers and creative individuals but also for others it was time that they needed to focus on their creative passions. Which side of that spectrum do you fall on? Are there any lessons or nuggets of wisdom that you gained during the Pandemic that help you within your writing career? Did the quarantine stifle your creativity or did it make you even more driven to get things done?
Chyrel: Honestly, life was crashing down around us and we would never have more of an authentically rich emotional place to draw from so that is the side we fell on.
The lessons we learned that carry over in our writing was to just write from a place of truth and that would be a good practice regardless of the Pandemic or not. The Pandemic did, however, make me more driven to capitalize on being inside all day getting things done.
Lyris: For me it was a very creative time because being quarantined and only able to interact with the world by what I was seeing over news feeds, gave me a chance to reflect and write about what I was seeing and feeling. It gave me a chance to really know myself, who I was as a black woman seeing and feeling the growing hatred which was appearing on the TV on a constant 24 hour loop. It helped me to understand how important it was for us to continue to pick up a pen and tell our own stories from our own narrative because if we allow others to tell our stories then truths become jaded or just deleted. It made me want to write even more to uplift our people and show them that they are loved and that we must continue to love one another and hopefully through our writing we can encourage more of our people to tell our stories the same way.
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?
Chyrel: If I’m being truthful I think it is completely backwards and dated as far as capitalizing on all this rich and raw African American talent. It is quite racist as far as equal representation. That has remained unchanged and it’s really shameful. That is why I prefer the route of self-publishing. Someone dictating every aspect of my story is too reminiscent of the auction block for me. No thank you to Traditional publishing. I just can’t trust that route too many horror stories follow the traditional path. Being a hybrid author does not interest me the least bit. That’s the problem indicative of our modern times. No one wants to choose a side. You can be some of everything while not committing to anything. I can’t entrust someone to market my brand the same way I would. I am 100 percent with self-publishing.
Lyris: I feel the publishing business needs more diversity and it needs to be more open minded. I feel the most important thing is getting your work out there to the masses so if that means doing it yourself then by all means, do that. However, if you can find a good publishing deal then you should go with that. It’s like what Malcolm X said,” by any means necessary.” My sister and I a very much interested in starting our own publishing company which I think is a natural progression as an author anyway.
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?
Chyrel: Black stories matter. As an artist, a black creative, I can’t entrust that story to be told by anyone else. My job as a writer, as Mr. James Baldwin told me, is to tell our stories writing our words making people see what is not always comfortable for them to acknowledge. Our purpose is to get the world at large to see us as black people/women.
Lyris: I actually started writing to understand myself and why I was going through the things I was going through at that time in my life. At that time, I felt like I was running on a treadmill trying to catch up with my life and I couldn’t. So I started journaling so that I could come to some kind of understanding. As I was journaling, I noticed that my entries read more like poetry and I really liked the rhythm I had going so I continued it. That is where the poems in the first book, Different Sides of the Same Coin, came from. Our poetry is authentic because they are our life. They are our experiences as black women growing up in a black family, dealing with life, love, world events, struggles, body shaming, and sisterhood. We do all of that while paying homage to those wonderful and authentic writers who came before us paving the way so that we can continue in their tradition.