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Janet Luongo: “Read widely in your field and outside your field”

Let’s learn who we are and express ourselves in an authentic way. We don’t need more fake personas in the world, we do need to honor our own experience with honesty and compassion. It’s critical for us to understand the power of resiliency we possess. Situations can change for the better, if we can envision […]

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Let’s learn who we are and express ourselves in an authentic way. We don’t need more fake personas in the world, we do need to honor our own experience with honesty and compassion. It’s critical for us to understand the power of resiliency we possess. Situations can change for the better, if we can envision it. We can grow and heal. We know people, even the young, who became desperate and turn to substance abuse, or want to take their own lives. Let’s tell people, You are not alone; you are perfect in your imperfection; love yourself and never give up.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janet Luongo.

Janet Luongo creates stories and art, gives speeches and workshops and works for democracy and racial and gender justice. Her latest book, Rebellion, 1967: A Memoir, is her story of coming of age in the 1960s, an era of turbulent awakening similar to our current era. Click HERE to watch a Pechakucha show on how Janet reinvents herself.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I’ve loved writing stories and journals since childhood. I wanted to write a novel since 4th grade. When I was coming of age I went through a tumultuous year. Even when things got really crazy, I heard myself thinking, This would be great material for my book. I was invited and agreed to contribute to two anthologies, and to write a book on creativity. But I finally honored my urge to write the story of my youth that I’d been wanting to write for fifty years.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Being truthful is necessary in writing a memoir, and my biggest challenge was being transparent about my wrenching experiences during the year I write about. Could I write truthfully about my father’s suffering from alcoholism and my mother’s insecurity? And, after their divorce, how I felt abandoned and rebelliously left home way too young. It was a challenge to reveal intimate details and personal mistakes. Then I thought, Maybe I’m not the only adolescent in history to make foolish decisions! Other writers who fear being vulnerable might enjoy this story: During a speech in Nashville on creativity for clients of Clasp, a national company, I revealed my story for the first time in public. At the book-signing, many appreciative people approached me, some in tears, to tell me the story they’d been hiding for years. By opening up myself, I’d encouraged them to open up. I found over and over that sharing my true self freed others to express their own true selves.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

AN EXCERPT:

In 1967, my friend from art school, Carmen, introduced me to the world of Black music in New York City. One night he took me to Olatunji’s Center for African Culture in Harlem. I read “Black is Beautiful” on a poster, the first time I’d heard that phrase. Among the excited crowd, I noticed a beautiful young Black woman’s hair in an afro, resembling the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. In the auditorium, the air quivered in reverence as the man, confident and commanding in a hat decorated with African designs, walked to center stage and scanned our faces with a warm smile. Merely placing a hand quietly on his drum, caused the audience to erupt in cheers. This was Olatunji! Carmen called out a name of affection, “Baba!” Radiant, Olatunji began. Every time his hands beat the drum, I felt my own heart beating. Other musicians shook rattles and chanted in African languages. With one last booming strike on the drum, Olatunji and his band went silent. No one dared take a breath. A shout arose, “More!” The crowd clapped and stamped their feet, yelling, “More, more!” Olatunji graced us with an encore. The beat got faster, and Carmen and I, filled with energy and joy, rose to dance. At the end, Baba stood still with eyes closed until we became quiet and ready to receive his words. Finally, as if coming from long ago and far away, he spoke. “I am the drum, you are the drum, and we are the drum. The whole world revolves in rhythm, and rhythm is the soul of life, for everything we do in life is in rhythm.”

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Let’s learn who we are and express ourselves in an authentic way. We don’t need more fake personas in the world, we do need to honor our own experience with honesty and compassion. It’s critical for us to understand the power of resiliency we possess. Situations can change for the better, if we can envision it. We can grow and heal. We know people, even the young, who became desperate and turn to substance abuse, or want to take their own lives. Let’s tell people, You are not alone; you are perfect in your imperfection; love yourself and never give up.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. My mentor said, “Get your butt in the chair and write something every day.”
  2. Allow yourself to write quickly and freely as ideas flow (with no judgment).
  3. After a free write, reflect, edit and shape the narrative.
  4. Read widely in your field and outside your field.
  5. Choose experienced readers who understand you and whom you trust. Value their feedback, but know the final word is up to you.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Observation

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I love reading memoirs or autobiographical novels. My favorites are by Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Bruce Springstein, Cheryl Strayd, Sally Field. Why? Because they told it like it is. And truth sets us free.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to have enormous influence on strengthening movements for democracy and racial justice. My memoir, Rebellion, 1967, relates what I learned about myself through relationships with several Black people — a painter, activist, neurosurgeon and a boyfriend. I hope it inspires readers to explore their own understanding of racism, to support equal opportunity, and to engage in our sacred democracy. In 2020, I formed a group in Connecticut, Individual Democracy Actions, and our postcards, calls, and texts brought out infrequent voters to cast ballots. In the first week of 2021, our nation was shocked by a demand to throw out those ballots during a violent attack on our democratic process. We are proud our democracy prevailed and — by electing our first Black female vice-president — we made history.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janet.luongo

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JanetLuongo

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janetluongo/

Author Page: https://shewritespress.com/portfolio/janet-luongo/

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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