The Fierce and Fragile Journey of Sidestepping Landmines by Catherine Adel West

With every word I write, I try to sidestep a landmine. Avoid disaster.

Writing my first novel, I was hoping to find some blueprint on how to vividly dissect and then construct the complex and celebrated distinctions of black women.

Yeah, so that doesn’t exist.

Therefore, I’m left to navigate the boundaries and stereotypes of what it means to be a black woman and write black women without falling into some kind of boxed preconceived notion just to sell a few more copies of a book. I’m exploring how a collective past shapes the opportunities we’re now afforded and the monumental hurdles we have yet to overcome.

I’m doing this via writing. I’m trying to show we’re not all angry or bitter, but that any fierce opposition to bullshit is warranted. I’m trying to show we’re intelligent and wise without my characters coming across as bougie, because let’s face it, no one likes that one girl who knows everything about everything, and attempts to make you feel like crap because you’re devoid of a particular brand of knowledge.

Everyone hates that chick and avoids her at parties like Donald Trump avoiding questions about income taxes.

I’m trying to show we are strong and persistent and can move through obstacles to achieve dreams no one ever imagined, but we still need understanding and support, and this doesn’t make us weak.

Writing a story with predominately black characters seems to be a gamble, especially in the publishing world. Especially when no one is a maid or a slave.

I’ve heard it can be immensely hard to accomplish something like this, but it’s not impossible. There are awesome books coming out all the time with more diverse representation of who black women are and how our magnificence has emboldened, enlightened and enlivened this country, but there is still such a one-dimensional view that the need to constantly hack away at these faulty ideas is extremely warranted.

With every letter I type, every word and thought, I do my part to try and break that down, destroy it.

And I am scared shitless every time I progress in my story. I’m stepping off the edge of a cliff and praying to God I can fly. It’s intense, but I’m learning to like that feeling, to crave it because that’s the only way I believe I’m on to something.

Maybe I’m just deluding myself, but we’ll see in a few months when I start sending this manuscript off to publishers.

I hope I am creating memorable characters, but when I’m writing it occurs to me I am fitting a minuscule portion of who black women are into a book only spanning about 350 pages so I won’t get everything, but I’m trying to get something.

I’m trying to not destroy our image, but cultivate and add to something even more precious than many in this country or the world realize.

My words, I’ve come to the conclusion, have power and I pray I’ll use that power to create something beautiful and lasting.

I just better not make a fool of myself doing it.


Catherince Adel WestCatherine Adel West is a writer born, raised, and living on the South Side of Chicago. A graduate of the University of Illinois, she fixes punctuation and grammar for big companies to pay the mortgage. She is also currently finishing her first novel, which explores the complex friendship between two women and their fathers against the backdrop of the African-American church. To read more on Catherine’s thoughts about writing or other things banging around in her head, please visit her blog, The Scriptor Complex.

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