By Amelia Poor
Recently, I sat down with author Ashley C. Ford, to talk about her memoir Somebody’s Daughter. This New York Times bestseller was on the Beacon summer reading list, and I, among many others, read and loved the story. Ford writes about her life growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana, her father incarcerated for the entirety of her adolescent life. As we spoke, we discussed how New York City teens can relate to a life seemingly so different from their own, how to write about yourself, and how to break away from what others want you to be.
As college is quickly approaching for Beaconites, and we’ll be scattered across different ends of the country, it’s inevitable to make friends from various states and backgrounds. This means that it’s important to remember, being from New York doesn’t automatically make us too special. I asked Ms. Ford about the setting of her book, and how teens in NY could relate to the life of teens in the midwest. Here’s what she had to say;
“I lived in New York for 7 years, and it was beautiful, it was amazing. But I find, and this is not everybody, but I find that sometimes people in New York do not have fantastic exposure to the stories of people who do not live in New York. Or people like me who are Black kids in the midwest, the first time I came to New York I got asked a lot because I was from Indiana if I ever lived on a farm. That was the first time I realized that people in other places sometimes think that in a place like Indiana there either are no Black people, or that we all live on farms.
I wish there were more stories that show what life is actually like here. Which is that it’s just as complex, and just as interesting as a life from anywhere else. I want people from New York, especially kids from New York, to know that kids in Indiana are going through the same things. I think that when we are all connected in that way, and see the similarities in each other’s stories and in each others lives, that leads to a better world overall. The more we see each other as human, the better we treat each other.
Also kids in Indiana are learning that you’re better than them, they are growing up thinking that if there’s suddenly a transplant student from the east coast, that is now the most successful person in the school. And not because of what they do, not because of who they are, just because of where they were born. This place, for kids, can have really low self esteem in terms of how you feel about your environment, how you feel about the potential of your community. Which is really sad, because you can do a lot here. All of their books and stories and movies are set in places with people who have aspirational lives, and those people are never here. It warps your view of what is available to you. So help us out kids in New York, make sure the kids here also know that we can do dope sh*t too, and hopefully we’ll be doing it more and more together.”
With college on my mind, I had to ask, of course, for tips on how to write about oneself. Ford is an acclaimed writer, with pieces in the New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post etc, not to mention her NYT bestselling memoir. So naturally, she knows a thing or two about personal narrative;
“The thing about writing about your life is that you really do think at first, that you have to write about your whole life.You have to essentially have a memory that doesn’t exist. I knew when I was writing the book that it wasn’t going to have every bit of my life in it. I knew that there were some things that I wasn’t ready to talk about yet.
I think when I started writing it, I was trying to do it in a way that focused on other people and not me. Which is pretty stupid when you’re writing a memoir. Then I went back to me, I tried making it work for me. When I did that, that’s when I started to write things where I was like, oh that’s good. I realized what I was trying to do was get out of writing about myself. When I started I was trying to tell this story about the things that were happening around me and behind me, like I was more of a pair of eyes then a whole person. It was when I let go of that, that the writing got good.
You should be able to tell your own story the way you want to.”
As a former high school student herself, Ms. Ford was able to speak so eloquently about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager herself. As a now acclaimed and successful writer, I was interested to know what advice she had for us teens as our adolescent years come to a close, and we move on to do great things postgraduate;
“That you were a human being the whole time. Whether or not you got treated like one. Weather or not people were dismissive of your feelings and acted kike they didnt matter, told you you werent old enough to know what that means or you werent old enough to know hw that feels. But you know, and you remember. That’s ok. Adults are adults which means they have a certain kind of authority. But they will never have authority over your mind. It is important for you to hold on to that. Hold on to your mind, and hold on to yourself. You were a whole person, the whole time you were alive, and you should’ve been treated like one. With the respect of one. If you weren’t treated like that, that is an adult failure. It’s not because you weren’t worthy of it, and it’s not because you didn’t need it, it’s because the people who were supposed to give it to you no matter what dropped the ball. Hold on to you, remember who you are and remember it will not always be like this.
Know what you want, and know what you want to do with the power you do have, so that when you get more, you have direction. And nobody’s able to take that from you.”