During a recent book signing at Harlem's Hue-man Bookstore & Café, author Helena Andrews
regaled visitors with tales of her adult life and childhood as she read from her compelling memoir 'Bitch is the New Black.'
The title is what screenwriters like to call a MacGuffin, a Hitchcockian way of saying a red herring.
While it conveys a story about bitchy blacks prevailing over the universe, it really is the tale of a young woman who was raised by a lesbian mother as the only black kid on Catalina Island. In this touching, yet humorous memoir, Andrews tries to answer the perennial question of whether a "strong, single and successful black woman can ever find love.''
"A lot of my story is unique, but it's extremely universal,'' she told the audience, explaining that the book is not just for black readers.
The impressive Ivy League graduate (Columbia University), who has worked at O magazine, Politico and as a clerk at the New York Times' Washington Bureau, recently spoke to BV on Books about her memoir. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
BV on Books: How did you come up with the title?
"I really wanted to call the book 'Dirty Astronaut Diapers' as an homage to my crazy white lady muse Lisa Nowak
. Unfortunately, only me and two other people (okay one other person) thought that was funny. So I kicked around a few horrible titles for a while, including but not limited to 'Chasing Michelle' and 'Keeping it Moving.' Yeah I know. So when I heard Tina Fey
shout, "Bitch is the new black" on 'Saturday Night Live,' I figured I better steal it before someone else did. To me the phrase speaks to modern feminism, this idea of strangers having a different take on you than you have on yourself, and the idea that being a bitch is in vogue for the modern woman -- be she black, white, purple or plaid. I wanted to explore that stereotype (not necessarily endorse it) by telling my story. Maybe bitch is the new black sometimes and maybe sometimes you should leave that bitch in the closet."
: Your mother sounds fascinating. Is that why you chose to read from Chapter 2 during the book signing? It really highlights her character.
"My mother is utterly ridiculous in the sweetest of ways and now she's semi-folks-who-read-my-daughter's-book-famous. I got a call a few weeks ago from a magazine editor who goes, 'Your mother slipped me your card last night and on the back it read 'support her.' This is what she does. Folks are calling her Ms. Frances, which I find absolutely hilarious. My mom has always been the mom. She sewed costumes, built sets, baked cakes, and made signs -- the whole nine. Supporting me and the book is just an extension of cheering me on at a cheer leading competition for her. My friends have always liked Frances waaaay more than they ever liked me. After my big launch party in D.C. a friend of mine G [google]chatted me the next day, 'Just so you know your mom was the MVP last night.' She needs her own show. Bravo, are you listening?"
BV: You also read from Chapter 10, "Walk Like a Woman,'' where you describe walking ventures in various cities where you've lived. Can you talk a little bit about that? And do you still walk?
"When I was growing up it was heresy to sit in the house when it was nice outside. During summers on Catalina, I usually sleep in my bathing suit so that I wouldn't waste anytime in the morning putting it on. I'd spend hours wondering around and just getting lost, which is actually sort of impossible to do on a tiny island. Same thing goes for Manhattan about 15 years later. One of my favorite quotes about being a woman is from Diane Von Furstenberg
, who said, 'The most important relationship you'll ever have is with yourself.' That might depress some people, but it makes perfect sense to me. Walking is just a way to have an extended date with myself, some people call it 'me time.' Of course, it's gotten me into a bit of trouble. I've been robbed (twice) and I fainted (once). So now I just make sure to carry pepper spray and a bottle of water."
BV: Talk about some of your misadventures in dating and being single.
The definition of single is more fluid than people think. Yes, my tax filing status is 'single head of household,' but that doesn't mean I stay in all weekend watching 'True Blood' (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). I date. I meet plenty of smart, attractive, ambitious and funny men. I just haven't met my husband yet, or maybe I have. Who knows?. A friend once said to me, 'Your attitude about life seems to be one of adventure. You're the type of person who dates for the stories,' which is totally true. I've fallen in, out and over love a lot since I went on my first date at the Magic Johnson
Theatre in the Baldwin Hills Mall in 1996. Fourteen years later, I'm still enjoying the ride -- despite hating roller coasters with a vengeance."
BV: How about misadventures on your enviable career track?
"I am a not a good employee, period. I shouldn't work for people. I'm my own boss now and I get on my own nerves. But when I was all bright and shiny and new to the workforce for whatever reason I figured my Ivy League diploma, like a fancy doctor's note, would exempt me from working like a Hebrew slave. It did not. I remember one time I had to run 10 blocks in like a minute to give my boss a toothpick or something before the Jitney left for the Hamptons. I'm sweating and out of breath, thinking, 'Was this what I learned about the allegory of the cave for?' It's a rude wake-up call -- actually more like a slap in the face, but very necessary. I don't know if my career track is 'enviable,' but it definitely reflects my passion. I mean taking a $5.15-an-hour internship after college was not the business, but I wanted to write, so Ramen noodles rescued me. Passing out newspapers and making coffee in the Washington bureau of the New York Times after getting a master's in journalism was also a force-feeding of humble pie. And covering the 'congressional style' on Capitol Hill is an oxymoron if there ever was one. But when you know the end game, all the twists and turns make sense. I've wanted to be a writer since before I even knew how to write and now I am one."
BV: What's next for you?
"Next up is the screenplay. Shonda Rhimes
, creator of 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Private Practice,' has optioned my book for Fox Searching Pictures. It's superexciting and superscary because film is a new medium for me. I'm also thinking about my next book, which hopefully will be all about adventure, but not three-dimensional vampire pirates."