Interview with Carolyn Vines
Carolyn Vines, an editor and award-winning blogger, lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two daughters. A review of Vines' recently published book: "black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity" can be found here.
How would you characterise your book?
I see black and (A)broad as a memoir about identity. More specifically, it is about how traveling and living abroad have changed how I see myself as a black woman in the world.
What prompted you to write this book?
Initially I began this book as a way to inspire black American women to get a passport and travel beyond the borders of the United States. I felt like they needed to hear from another black American woman living in another country that the image of who we are has been distorted in the US.
As I neared the end of my writing process, I realised that identity - how we see ourselves - is not confined to race and nationality. My audience, therefore, opened up to include people of all races, nationalities, cultures, religions.
My message to all is that we must begin to define ourselves in our own terms.
You grew up in the United States, lived briefly in Spain and have now been in the Netherlands for almost 12 years. Do you still think of yourself as an expat?
When I am asked where I am from, I respond that I am American. I have dual citizenship but have yet to apply for a Dutch passport. I am not sure that I consider myself still an expat. I consider myself American with Dutch / European influence!
I am also an author and writer who can tell a darned good story. I am strong and independent because I can ask for and accept help. I am not afraid to be vulnerable. I am a mom. I am a wife. I am a woman who has discovered beauty in balance.
Please talk a little bit about the twin themes of suffering / loss / adversity and perseverance / rising above that are woven throughout your book.
Part of the message of my book is that rising above suffering, loss or any type of adversity is as simple as believing that that is not what defines you. I have learned how to work through the negative emotions and self-defeating beliefs that I carry. I do not believe they will ever go away, nor do they have to. I have learned how to confront them and be with them until I put them aside and keep walking. I have learned to look at myself through a variety of lenses.
In the book, you write of racism and stereotypes, not only in America in general, but also within the black community. What about the Netherlands?
In terms of racism, I cannot say it does not still exist. But my views about a lot of things, including perceptions of race, have changed over time. I attribute that to living abroad and constantly traveling outside my comfort zone. Events are often seen through the lens of race, especially in the United States, but that does not automatically mean that there is racism involved. I think that it is important that we not be so quick to define everything by race, because when the "race card" is thrown, by whomever, discussion ends. My book certainly is about the discussion.
As for the Dutch, do not get me wrong: It is not that there are not racists in the Netherlands. However, I feel that racism has not been woven into the very context of Dutch culture. The Dutch do not see everything through a black and white lens.
What has been the response of readers?
It is all been positive. Many white Americans have found it enlightening. The book answers questions that they may have wanted to ask but were reluctant to do so. People who are not American have found it informative, as their only image of black America often has been what they have seen in the media and from Hollywood. My discussion of racism represents one woman's reality, and readers are responding enthusiastically to my honesty.
Would you please say a few words about the process involved writing this book?
I was in the last trimester of a difficult pregnancy when I scribbled my first notes. The three years that followed can be described in two words: commitment and discipline. This book was close to my heart, and I felt compelled to see the writing of it through to the very end, so I made a commitment to doing so from the beginning. The discipline I built up over the years, and it was a matter of showing up to the page (in the words of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way), three or four days per week, with the intention to write. My writing process was to concern myself with one sentence at a time until I had written a paragraph. One paragraph at a time until I had written a page, and so on. Then I revised, edited, revised, edited, revised and edited.
I am writing, and I am also developing a workshop about how you go about writing in terms of the publishing process, since I believe that is what keeps writers from being authors. I am also establishing myself as an international speaker, using my story to inspire others to spend some time and energy on their identity, on asking themselves "who am I?" Once you find an answer to that, you are empowered.
For more on Carolyn Vines' views on identity, living abroad and other issues, check out her popular blog.