Welcome to the virtual book tour. Today we are interviewing the author of Color Blind, Precious Williams. Her first book, Precious: A True Story, is a memoir about her childhood in foster care. The book is titled Color Blind in the U.S. Both editions will be published by Bloomsbury in August 2010. For more information, please leave a comment below and visit www.preciouswilliams.com
INTERVIEW WITH PRECIOUS WILLIAMS
L. Marie: Do you think your foster mother was really color blind?
Precious: I don't think anybody on the entire planet is color blind when it comes to race - and I don't think they should be either. Telling somebody 'I don't see you as black' is actually not a compliment. Hell, if somebody said to me 'I don't see you as a woman' I'd feel upset. I want to be seen as a woman - I love being a woman and it's the same with being black. I love being black. What my foster mother meant, I think, is that she doesn't see race as something that should separate people, and I'm with her on that one. In the UK there is sometimes a reluctance to even acknowledge a person's race, as if doing so is somehow impolite or something. I lived in America (New York) for several years and nobody - black or white - seemed to have a problem with coming right out with it and discussing race. In fact I remember throwing a birthday party there and one of my black friends chuckling away the next day about how I had "all these posh white people" at my party. I probably do have as many white friends as black friends and in America this seemed to be viewed as slightly unusual.
L. Marie: Yes, I have to agree with you and your foster mother. Race shouldn't separate people. What lesson do you want readers to walk away with after reading intimate details of your life?
Precious: I think despite how ridiculously awful much of my childhood and teenage life was, despite the rapes, the violence and the neglect from my mother, not to mention all the race issues - I strangely had quite a bit of self-belief. I think it was almost comical to those around me at times. I'd walk around as a child saying I was going to achieve all these good things one day, that I was going to become a writer. By about age ten I'd even already decided I was going to graduate from a particular postgraduate journalism course! The reality everyone around me saw was that I was this little black foster child living in poverty whose own mother wasn't even interested in her. I think they found all my talk of having a good future very odd and weirdly arrogant. So I hope people would take the message from my book that you really can achieve your dreams if you believe in yourself (and obviously work hard too).
L. Marie: Do you support private fostering?
Precious: I don't think private fostering is automatically a bad thing. In the culture I was born into - West African - it is not at all unusual for a child to go to live with distant relatives or even with people who are not their relatives at all. It could be temporary, it could be long-term and it might happen for a variety of reasons - the mother might be too young to cope, the parents might be studying full-time. The problem with the way I - and thousands of other babies at that time - were fostered is that it is potentially so dangerous. Our private foster carers were completely and utter strangers and not checked my police or registered by social services. We were literally available to anybody - that's an enormous invitation right there to pedophiles and other undesirables.
L. Marie: I have to admit I was shocked when I learned the major difference between private fostering and the foster care system we have in the United States. There is a lot of red tape here in order to get approved for fostering a child. However, as you pointed out, the private foster care there is not checked with the police or even registered. As a matter of fact, I remember reading that birth parents simply placed an ad in the paper. That's how Nanny found you!
Speaking of birth parents, how is your current relationship with your biological family?
Precious: My biological family is huge! I didn't know my Dad at all growing up. He was from Sierra Leone but had been sent to boarding school in England at the age of eight. I finally tracked him down in 2004, only to find he'd actually been killed in 1999 towards the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone. I got to know his two brothers, his sister and his mother - my grandma. They all live in America and they are great. I also have lots of cousins and second cousins from that side of the family, many of whom live here in England. I also have two wonderful half-brothers on my mother's side and they live in London. I am very close to my niece - who is 21 and reminds me of me at that age. My closest biological relative, obviously, is my daughter who is a beautiful and extremely clever young lady now. My biological mother does not appear to have changed much over the years. I love her in the way that I believe every human being should have love and respect for the woman who gave birth to them. But my mother has never seemed interested in me at all and has not been at all supportive. She doesn't have a relationship with my daughter at all. I don't really take it personally - it just is what it is.
L. Marie: Your goal was always to be a writer. Was your focus to write a memoir from the beginning? I get the impression that you would not have been fulfilled until your own story was told.
Precious: I think you may be right in saying I wouldn't have been fulfilled until I told my own story. However as a teenager or in my twenties the idea of writing a book all about my childhood and all its dysfunction would have been repellant to me. It's only been since I hit my 30s, had therapy and grew as a person that I even felt able to talk about any of this stuff. Up until my twenties I felt so much shame and distress about it all that I was unable to even admit to anyone outside the family that I had been given away at birth, fostered etc. My denial of my past was so intense that at one point, in my very early 20s I went to a routine gynaecological checkup but was still so traumatized from the childhood abuse that I leapt off the table during the examination and began crying and shaking. When the doctor gently asked me if perhaps I'd been abused in the past my response was actually to run out of the clinic and then, once I was on my own, there were floods of tears. But I never wanted anybody at all to know about my past. So this book is a big step.
L. Marie: Well I am glad you made the choice to tell your story. There are people who will be inspired and see that you made it through all the pain, struggles, and tears. Did writing the memoir help you deal with your childhood better, and to grow as an adult?
Precious: Writing the memoir was extremely painful. It wasn't a matter of just a few quiet tears here and there - it was explosive and digging up 'ghosts' like this is not for the faint of heart!
L. Marie: And look at you now: a journalist who focuses on health, lifestyle, and celebrity interviews. Notable interviewees include Nina Simone, Yoko Ono, John Bon Jovi, P Diddy, Bryan Ferry, Lenny Kravitz and Naomi Campbell. Of your celebrity interviews, which had the biggest impact on your writing career?
Precious: In 1998, fresh out of grad school for journalism, I managed to snag an interview with Nina Simone. A newspaper flew me to Nina's house in France to interview her. Nina can be - and was - a pretty tough interview so that was a real baptism of fire but it got my name out there a little bit in the journalism world and assignments rolled in quite regularly after that.
L. Marie: Okay this is a more personal question. I have always felt like I belong in London. How do you enjoy living there?
Precious: I love love love the enthusiasm for London that I hear so often from American people. It helps me appreciate London a bit more. To be honest, my friends and I who live here tend to complain a lot about London - it's too cold, the trains are too packed, it's too expensive, it's not as good as New York.... I love it when a friend from out of town comes to London and I get to see it through their eyes and feel some excitement for it. It is a great city and very easy to take it for granted. That said, my favourite city in the entire world is Brooklyn!
L. Marie: Cue Empire State of Mind! Well, Precious, thanks for the opportunity to interview you. And thanks to Books And... for coordinating this virtual book tour.
Readers, are you interested in reading Color Blind? Stay tuned for more about the author, plus a review and giveaway later today!