By Kelly McHugh-Stewart
MFA alum Sharisse Tracey's latest essay "Picture Perfect" will be featured in the forthcoming anthology, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Harper Collins, May 2018), edited by Roxane Gay.
"After learning of the call for submissions, I dedicated weeks to solely focusing on that one piece which ended up being a collage of things I’d written or wanted to write about the complexities of trauma," Tracy explained. "Although in fairness, I’ve been mentally composing, 'Picture Perfect,' for the past 34 years as a sexual assault survivor."
No easy story to tell, Tracey's "Picture Perfect" chronicles her story of being raped by her father at the age of 13 and the struggle to come to terms with that ultimate and subsequent betrayal.
"There were four excruciating months of waiting after submission, what would happen if I got in? What would happen if I didn’t? And then all the mixed feelings I experienced about a potential good thing being wrapped in a tragedy," she explained. "I tried my hardest to put the essay of out of my mind, and worked on my memoir, In Spite Of, all while having the proposed notification date circled on every calendar I had and etched in my brain. When the email arrived, I held my breath, and opened it. As soon as I saw the words we’d love to or congratulations…I hit print. I might have even hit print twice and then made a copy of the email. I’m a little OCD that way. I had to have it in both email and on paper, for proof.
"I was grateful. Grateful after so many decades that somebody listened to what happened to me."
Not That Bad will be released on May 1, but is available for preorder through the Harper Collins website by clicking here.
Along with sharing her story in Gay's upcoming anthology, Tracey's story will be read as a part of the play Not Someone Like Me on April 30, 2018 at SUNY Oswego as a part of their Sexual Assault Awareness campaign. The play, which was first directed by Chris Sarandon (the voice of Jack Skeleton from The Nightmare Before Christmas), features Tracey's story in addition to four other rape survivors.
"During the first reading of Not Someone Like Me written by Susan Rice in 2013, I had no idea of what to expect. I’d recently had my first essays published in Babble and the New York Times, while taking Sue Shapiro’s, class but never anything like someone reading my words, my life on stage in front of a live audience," Tracey said. "For so long I’ve been torn on the inside from having an experience like that set upon me by my own father. And after watching Moore’s performance it threw me into an out of body experience that lead me to the same questions I’d been asking since I was 13, why didn’t anybody listen? Why didn’t anybody help me? Why didn’t anybody care? I’m reminded of that devastating experience every time I look at my own daughter and wonder how can anyone hurt an innocent child.
"Just last Saturday, ABC’s news anchor Diana Williams hosted a special called "Protect Our Children: Sexual Abuse, The Law & Justice." I watched in horror listening to similar stories of childhood sexual abuse where the majority of the survivors didn’t tell because they were afraid or being threatened or manipulated in some way, but the one thing that always stands out in my own abuse is that I did tell. I told over and over again, and nothing was done. That still hurts. I think it always will. Now thanks to Tarana Burke’s #metoo movement, and organizations like RAINN and The Voices and Faces Project (where I’m an alumni of The Stories We Tell workshop) survivors stories are being heard.
"Although it’s important to note that this epidemic is far reaching and needs to focus more on the stories of the not-so-famous, the everyday women or men who don’t have the platform some of these celebrities do," Tracey continued. "Diane Sawyer’s special report "My Reality: A Hidden America" touches on this very topic. This I why for me, little Sharisse from Pasadena, California, having my story featured in a play like Not Someone Like Me means so much. It means everything."
At the first showing of the play in 2013, The New School alumni, Adrienne C. Moore (MFA Acting, 2009), who currently stars in the hit HBO series Orange Is The New Black, played the role of "Sharisse."
"Adrienne C. Moore’s portrayal of my character was palpable, captivating and overwhelming, but in the best possible way," Tracey said. "I felt so much empathy for the 'Sharisse character,' I forgot for a moment that was me. Now that’s a performance. Shortly after the second reading a few years later, I learned that she was cast as Black Cindy in Orange Is The New Black. I felt honored that a person of that caliber would play me. I just wish it was under a different set of circumstances. Happy times.”
For more on Tracey, you can check out MFA alum Paul Florez’s (Fiction, '15) interview with her about her time at The New School as well as her first time publishing with the New York Times. Read the full interview by clicking here.