LaVonne Elaine Roberts is an American short story writer, essayist, and memoirist. She is LIT Magazine’s Live with LIT Editor, Cagibi Lit’s Interviews Editor, and the 2020 Diversity Fellow for Drizzle Review. Her essays, short stories, and poetry have been published widely, including in Our Stories, Too: Personal Narratives by Women, WordFest Anthology 2019, The Blue Mountain Review, LIT Magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Litro, among other publications. She is the founder of WRITE ON!, where she leads writing workshops and provides literature for marginalized voices. She resides in New York City, where she is completing an MFA at The New School and a memoir called Life On My Own Terms. Her work at Drizzle will include curation of a special issue on ageism in literature, due out in summer of 2020.
1. Who is your favorite villain, and who is your favorite protagonist in literature?
The villain that casts a shadow over most of my writing is mental illness. I spent my childhood wrestling with what it meant to be a child of a mentally ill parent and my adult life advocating for child welfare reform. Naturally, I am drawn to memoirists who write about how mental illness highjacked their lives, from The Glass Castle to Mrs. Dalloway.
James Baldwin is my favorite protagonist, hands down. He's many things to many people: an oracle, a prophet, a champion of black rights, and a voice that transcends gender norms, but to me, he's a kindred spirit. He was a writer with an arsenal of artistic talent and moral imagination in search of identity and home, a theme I wrestle with. Mostly, he reminds me to build my house with words."You don't ever leave home. You take your home with you. You better. You know, otherwise, you're homeless"—James Baldwin.
2. When did you know you were a writer?
I was a precocious child with a vivid imagination that grew from escaping life with a mentally ill parent. My first distinct memory was when I wrote a Christmas play in 1st grade. Sadly, since 6 year-olds don't follow directions well, my production never made it off the page and onto the stage. I've been writing my whole life, but it's only after I began publishing that I started calling myself a writer.
3. What are you currently working on?
My memoir, Life On My Own Terms, takes the reader on an emotional ride through the complicated landscapes of child abuse and mental illness to examine the effects of trauma on identity. My self-reflective journey through loss, trauma, and the significance of self-worth illustrates both the resiliency of the human spirit and the determination to discover one's own identity without a roadmap. Ultimately, this memoir is about the loss of self as a result of abuse and what can happen when it is reclaimed.
Ironically, quarantined in Manhattan in a pandemic has helped me find new ways to build community. At 57, it seems surreal that after 7 years of studying writing and completing an MFA that I won't walk across the stage with 89 other graduates. At the same time, I realize that people across the world are fighting for their lives. Frustrated, I started funneling my energy in taking my book reviews and interviews online at LIT Magazine. I've lined up literary agencies like Idea Architects and Aevitas Creative Management for roundtables and organized for Literistic.com to give my graduating class a subscription to their submission call service.
4 How has your writing process changed over the years?
My road to an MFA was long. In Austin, I was inspired by an inclusive writing community, made up of multiple colleges and professionals, that rocket-launched my writing journey. I spent two years learning rules at Bard College surrounded by incredible talent. I lovingly tell my friends that I left with a hard-earned degree in Written Arts and a friendship with Cliff, Bard’s beloved security guard because I was one of two students older than 23. The New School gave me the confidence to break “the rules” and to defend my voice in a community as diverse in culture as writing styles. Studying craft and immersing myself in literature taught me to interrogate self-identity in relation to systems of power and oppression. I now feel compelled to write in a way that is conscious raising because my education at The New School has empowered me to embrace "the personal is political."
5. Describe your writing style in one sentence.
I write stories about redemption and unlimited second chances because I believe in the power of reframing every character's narrative (myself included) from victim to survivor.
Five Questions, by Nicole L. Drayton. Nicole is a writer, screenwriter and independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from The New School, and currently works for the university in the MFA in Creative Writing Program office.