To mark this year’s Black History Month, Spread the Word asked four writers from the Spread the Word community to contribute to this feature honouring this year’s theme Saluting our Sisters which celebrates the contributions and achievements of Black women in the UK and around the world. Writer Maame Blue tells us about her journey as a writer and three Black women authors she loves, and shares advice for Black women writers who are on, or starting out on, their writing journey.
Tell us about your journey as a writer
Sometimes you get to a point where you want life to stop happening to you. That’s roughly where my writing journey began.
In 2015, I was turning my thoughts into blogs, documenting my twenty-something life which included inconsiderate housemates and the early days of dating apps. I had an endless well of source material to draw from, but I was still figuring out what my voice was. I had been so used to using it for other people before that point. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, I nurtured dreams of building a psychotherapy practice, of using my training to coax people beyond their traumas, to live life fully.
It was only when that work began to take an emotional toll, that I questioned whether I was living my life as fully as those I supported.
So, I took a break and began to notice how my poems were turning into prose, how I kept putting my name down at spoken word open mic events even though being on stage terrified me, how I was aching to get the words out, to make sense of the rest of life that at that time, was not making much sense at all.
Cut to eight years later, and my debut novel Bad Love has been out in the world for three years. I have worked with a whole host of great literary organisations. I discovered a passion for teaching writing which was first fostered by Spread The Word. I have been awarded grants and been published in anthologies. My writing has taken me to Denmark, Ghana, Australia and back. And with each new opportunity my voice has grown stronger and more sure. My capacity to create has increased.
Now when I look back, I realise that in beginning to listen to myself and what I wanted from a writing life, somewhere along the way, my journey began. I started happening to life.
Tell us about some Black women writers you admire and why
1. Ama Ata Aidoo
I began reading the work of recently departed Ghanaian literary icon Ama Ata Aidoo only in 2022. I was doing research for my upcoming second novel The Rest Of You, and in searching for Ghanaian voices from the last thirty years, I came across her 1977 novel Our Sister Killjoy. It unlocked another level of Ghanaian womanhood for me, exploring growth and migration, and feminism beyond the Western gaze. It is a book I will return to over and over again.
2. Roxane Gay
I am not sure I can say anything more about Roxane Gay that has not already been said. Only that her work is meant to be read and discussed. All of it. Her nonfiction books Bad Feminist, Hunger and Not That Bad (ed.) are masterclasses in using a creative voice to tell nothing but the truth of your experience, and to critically think about the world. Her fiction is effervescent and she is for me, a blueprint of what a writing life could be, which is both varied and true.
3. Irenosen Okojie
Irenosen Okojie stays on my recommendation lists because her writing is otherworldly, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word. She plays with language like it’s a game, twisting allegories into story and poetry and art. She knows what it is to write and say ‘This is what I have for you. Take it then!’.
Do you have any advice for aspiring and emerging Black women writers?
A lot of the time my advice for writers is to keep going, but I’ve realised that we need more than that – we already do more than that. So, my advice instead is to find your community. If you meet another Black writer that you like, make the effort to connect with them, even if it’s on social media. It’s literary festival season right now, so head out to a few events that interest you, talk to people who seem friendly, and gather. Writing takes place in solitude, but finding creativity to fuel your writing doesn’t have to. Having other people who you vibe with and who you can share work with, will be catalysts to you developing your work and thriving.
About the contributor
Maame Blue is a Ghanaian-Londoner and author of the novel Bad Love, which won the 2021 Betty Trask award, and was shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. Her short stories have appeared in Not Quite Right For Us (Flipped Eye Publishing), New Australian Fiction 2020 (Kill Your Darlings), and Joyful, Joyful (Pan Macmillan). Maame is a recipient of the 2022 Society of Authors Travelling Scholarship and was a 2022 POCC Artist-in-Residence. Maame contributes regularly to Royal Literary Fund publication Writers Mosaic and has written pieces for many places, including Refinery29, Black Balladand Society of Authors Magazine. She is a City Lit Creative Writing Tutor and regularly tutors and runs writing workshops for other organisations including Spread the Word, Arvon, Faber Academy (UK and Australia) and Guardian Masterclass.