Author Interview | Conversing with Rojé Augustin about her poetic dramatic release: “Out of No Way: Madam CJ Walker & A’Lelia Walker”

Posted Wednesday, 28 October, 2020 by jorielov , , , 2 Comments

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!

I love seeking out Biographical Historical Fiction stories in order to better understand the persons who’ve lived before me and to have an interpersonal glimpse into their lives – which is why I seek out an equal amount of Biopics in motion pictures to watch as well. This is how I came to watch the Netflix original mini-series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam CJ Walker”. (see also Wikipedia) Coincidentally, this aired whilst I was preparing my interview questions for this blog tour and thankfully it gave me an inside glimpse into the back-history of what inspired this poetic drama by the author.

Those of us on the tour received a PDF copy of the story by Ms Augustin – as you know, due to my chronic migraines, I cannot read stories electronically but I do sometimes read chapter samplers of stories online to gather a bit about a writer’s style and to better understand what the story might yield in print when I go to read it in a format better suited for me. In this instance, as I was moving through the PDF to find a section to preview for my interview questions I noticed there are photographs included with this story. I wanted to post an advisory on my tour stop that if you are a sensitive reader one photograph did concern me as it actually shows a lynching which I was not personally expecting to be included myself.

Outside of that photograph, the few sections I previewed helped inspire this conversation and I was thankful to have this copy of the book to use in my research to present a better rounded picture of what inspired the poet to create this dramatic story about the Walkers and how the Walkers are continuing to inspire everyone who finds their story. This is a well-timed conversation as many are still watching “Self Made” and I know others are regularly chatting about Madam CJ Walker and the impact she had on both industry and women-led companies who re-wrote what a woman can accomplish in whichever endeavour of business she chooses to become involved and find success.

I found watching “Self Made” to be an incredible story of both internal strength and belief in one’s self to pursue your own dreams and goals in life whilst embracing the fortitude one needs as a woman to achieve the impossible in a male-dominated world. There is so much truth in this mini-series about what women have faced in different generations to overcome the oppression of yesterday – it is a rising light of how hard we have had to fight for what we have as women of industry as much as how hard it is to build a brand when the concept for the brand isn’t one that everyone wants to embrace.

I loved the fact Octavia Spencer had the lead role in bringing Madam CJ Walker to life as I loved her performance and her instincts for telling Walker’s story. I have long admired her acting and am wicked thankful she is now in high demand as she deserves to continue to get these kinds of roles where she can shine such a wonderful light on the characters I feel she was bourne to portray! She’s just a wicked good actress and its a delight to see her in roles which I feel are strengthened due to how she’s approached them as an actress.

I also feel we are undeserved as both readers and citizens not to embrace more of the diversity of our country and of the persons who have made historical impacts on our society. We have such a beautiful diverse citizenship and yet, a lot of the historical stories which need to be told are never brought to light. I am thankful Walker’s story is finally coming into the mainstream in order to reach a broader audience but I have always maintained we need more stories about living histories of all persons in our country’s past in order to have a better rounded view of our History. All voices and lives need representation and all lives are important to be heard and shared.

It is an absolute joy for me to highlight the life and history of Madam CJ Walker and to share this interview on the blog tour celebrating her life and story. I hope you will walk away with some inspiration for your own life as much as have a better understanding of what Madam CJ Walker had to endure in order to reach for her dreams and bring to reality the world she saw in her dreams.

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Author Interview | Conversing with Rojé Augustin about her poetic dramatic release: “Out of No Way: Madam CJ Walker & A’Lelia Walker”Out of No Way
Subtitle: Madam CJ Walker and A'Lelia Walker : A Poetic Drama
Source: Author via Poetic Book Tours

Author, producer, and emerging poet Rojé Augustin has written a groundbreaking debut collection of dramatic poems about hair care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter, A'Lelia. Rojé's singular and accomplished work is presented through the intimate lens of the mother-daughter relationship via different poetic forms — from lyric to haiku, blackout to narrative. (One poem takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.) Written in tribute to Walker, Out of No Way deftly and beautifully explores themes of race, motherhood, sacrifice, beauty, and the meaning of success in Jim Crow America.

Born Sarah Breedlove to former Louisiana slaves in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker was orphaned at seven, married at 14, became a mother at 17, and was widowed at 20. After the death of her first husband, Sarah moved to St. Louis with her daughter where she earned $1.50 a day as a washerwoman. When her hair started falling out she developed a remedy and sold her formula across the country. In the process, she became the wealthiest Negro woman in America.

Genres: Biography / Autobiography, Motherhood | Parenthood, Non-Fiction, Poetry & Drama, Women's Studies

Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

Published by Self Published

Format: epub | PDF editon

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Available Formats: Trade Paperback and Ebook

NOTE: I do want to advise readers about a content warning in regards to a photograph inclusive of this release which does show a lynching which took me by surprise as well.

Converse via: #NonFiction, #Biography and #Poetry Drama
& #MadamCJWalker and #ALeliaWalker

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How did you develop your style to convey Madam Walker’s voice and spirit in your poetic drama? I’m fascinated by how she could be brought back to life through poetry and a dramatic story in prose.

Augustin: I felt early on that if the style of poetry for this collection was too contemporary, it would not ring ‘true.’ So I developed my style to convey her story by returning to forms and structures of poetry that were more common to the period that she and A’Lelia were alive.

I did this largely to avoid the poems being interpreted through my voice or through my lens.  Many of the styles that I used (i.e. narrative, lyric, sonnet, and couplet, to name a few) allowed me to divorce myself from the story so that I wouldn’t bring any of my biases to the telling. I wanted to remain focused on Madam Walker and A’Lelia, I wanted it to sound as much in their voice as I possibly could. So I turned to the so-called old school masters of poetry, poets like Yeats, Poe, Hughes, Angelou, and Cullen, whose deeply emotive rhyming styles served as wonderful inspiration.

I admit, as I was reading a few sections as a preview glimpse into your poetic drama the styles I found inside your collection were a bit outside my own purview of poetry and drama. I am a bit familiar with Yeats and Poe moreso than the others you’ve mentioned yet I tend to read more Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Silverstein, Rabindranath, Longfellow, Emerson, Coleridge and Goethe to name a few as I tend to read more from the 18th and 19th Centuries. Thankfully whilst hosting for Poetic Book Tours I’ve been reading more Contemporary poets such as Rita Maria Martinez, Sweta Srivastava Vikram and Arisa White.

I found the sections I was looking over to me more drama than the kind of poetry I am familiar with seeing – wherein, your collection felt more like a moving play told in scenes and sequences of the Walkers’ lives than in a style of poetic discourse I was familiar. It was a unique lens to re-attach into their lives after having seen ‘Self-Made’.

How do you think they might view their mark on history now if they could observe it and how important is it to tell the history of women in business in a world that forgets how long and hard women have fought to be equal women in the world of commerce?

Augustin: I think Madam Walker and her daughter would be delighted with their mark on history.  I think they would be delighted to know that so much has been written about their achievements and that they are viewed as role models for subsequent generations of Black women.

It’s important to tell their history purely because knowing what they were able to accomplish during a time of racial segregation and lynchings, is remarkable. Knowing that they were able to build a hugely successful business model, and amass great wealth during Jim Crow means that anything is possible. Not only in terms of material wealth but life in general, whatever goals we set for ourselves as women of color. Whether to be the best school teacher, artist, or CEO, the power of resilience, determination, and persistence is real.

I agree with everything you’ve stated but I also as an Intersectional Feminist believe their life’s story is empowering and impactful for all women, not just women of colour. I was raised to seek out stories by everyone – not just within my own cultural heritage or religious identity and to learn from those who’ve lived before me across all facets of life. I was caught inside Madam CJ Walker’s undeniable internal strength to rise through the obstacles blocking her – from the men who tried to chastise her efforts to suceed in business as a woman and then as a woman of colour whilst even her husband turnt against her (at least in the biopic it was protrayed this way, I am unsure of where truth and fiction blurred in ‘Self-Made’) when her success started to outshine his own achievements which I think speaks to a lot of women who are trying to succeed in male-dominated industries as well as in our male-dominated world where women are seen as ‘less’ than equal to men.

What did you find most motivating and inspiring about how she never gave up her pursuit of the company and remained innovative in how she achieved her goals?

Augustin: The fact that she never gave up her pursuit of building a successful business, and that she remained innovative in how she achieved that goal.

At some point, I need to seek out an authorised biography about Madam CJ Walker’s life to see where the truth and fiction lines lie from ‘Self-Made’ as I’d be curious to know her truer story than just the one depicted in the biopic. I do love ingenuity in life and how she started to have consultants working for her at a time where even Avon wasn’t quite a household name yet during her lifetime – I think speaks volumes about how forward thinking she was and how she anchoured her innovative business practices to be routed into her salons as well. She was constantly developing and re-achieving the wider picture of where her dreams took her forward.

How did you intuit more of their relationship out of the echoes of the past and what did you feel as a mother yourself was the hardest part of Madam Walker’s relationship with A’Lelia?

Augustin: I did a lot of reading between the lines when it came to intuiting their relationship dynamic. It was also a case of thinking logically about their circumstances. To achieve the heights of success that Madam Walker achieved would have required a tremendous amount of time and energy, time and energy that would have to compete with the responsibilities of motherhood at best, or at worst, skim straight off the top.

We already know that successful entrepreneurs often have to work punishing hours to get their businesses off the ground and running, hours that could have been spent with family and friends.  In other words, family obligations are often put aside in favour of work obligations. At some point, and to some degree, this must have been true for Madam Walker as well. I guess you could say that I filled in the gaps, I intuited, to use your word, that Madam Walker had to put motherhood on the back burner for a time, in order to grow her business and I also intuited that this would have had an impact on A’Lelia and their relationship. I think that would have been the hardest part of their relationship, building a successful business while trying to be a good mother.

I oft think about my father and the hours and workload he had to endure whilst I was growing up as he was working in an industry which did not maintain regular work hours nor had traditional ‘quit times’ compared to other fathers. His was an industry which was quite literally a 24/7 on-call industry which taxed our personal time together but also through innovative ideas by my Mum, I honestly saw my Dad far more than others in my schools who had fathers in the same industry because Mum and I would meet with Dad at hours which were more conducive to him to see us rather than adhering to a traditional set of times for meals, family moments and other get togethers; except for holidays, which he always took off.

Being raised as I had I have a fierce respect for all parents who have to make personal sacrifices with their time in order to succeed in business based on what I observed of my father’s pursuit of making his succeed. There is a bit of a give and take that goes along with it – I can only hope others who find themselves in this kind of family dynamic give a bit more to their parents and respect what they are doing which is to em-better your life by what they’ve given out of theirs.

Towards that regard, there were some scenes in ‘Self-Made’ which made me question why A’Lelia hadn’t realised a few things as I had myself in regards to what her mother was accomplishing and why she had to do what she did in order to help her family. I suppose in that case, not all children see what I saw and understood the sacrifices their parents were making. I do believe though overall, it is a work-in-progress on both parent and child; you have to find the middle ground and it helps when you have a parent who is putting family first even if their business life is all-consuming.

Were any of the themes or topics you explored harder to put together in verse over the others? I was curious if some of the prompts flowed easier than others or if once you had it ironed out to be a self-evolving collection of different variants of poetic styling if everything came together quite organically from there?  In essence, once you had the structure in mind – how did you approach writing in the ‘story’ behind the different sections you explored?

Augustin: The structure was everything. Initially, I began the project without an overarching structure, thinking that I would just start writing poems about her. It didn’t work. The poems were terrible, and nothing was flowing. It sounded like too much me and not enough Madam, or A’Lelia for that matter. That’s when I decided to go back to my old school favourites and revisit those elements that made the poems resonate.

I very quickly realised it was structure. Once I realised this everything started to flow, from the structure of the poems to the structure of the book as a whole, which is an acrostic. Having a structure meant that I could focus my storytelling through Madam’s point of view and not mine because I had boundaries now. It flowed very organically from there. A beautiful experience. To this day I maintain that I didn’t write it so much as I received it.

I love how you’re speaking to the creative process as writers and poets; how there are moments as we’re writing wherein we notice it is more as if the material was being dictated to us rather than we are creating something wholly original to us to be told and shared. There is an intricate process a writer and poet go through in order to feel the synergy of inspiration and of the spooling of words into a cadence of story – I love how you’ve spoken to this artful intuition and also how surprising it can become to reflect the truer voice of the story you are attempting to tell vs forcing a story to be more aligned with your own personal voice. In Biographical Fiction is is especially important to find fusion with your subject more than your own style and I think that is a burden all biographical writers have in seeking out the voices from the past which can be brought forward into the present through a new incantation of their stories.

Of the whole collections, do you have a favourite quotation (poem)? What did you love most about how that particular part of the story which fused your vision and the legacy of Madam Walker together?

Augustin: If by favourite quotation you mean my favourite poem, then I would have to say Graves & Thrones. That’s one of my favourites because it was the first poem I wrote out of that flash of inspiration that came with adhering to structure. This poem in turn led to my vision for the rest of the book. I also love it because of it’s lyrical and technical patterns. It’s a highly structured poem.

It follows a specific beat pattern that is inspired by one of my all-time favourite poems, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. I wrote Graves & Thrones to model the structure of The Raven, while also painting a dramatic scene between Madam Walker and her daughter. In this way, the poem fused my vision for the project with Madam Walker’s legacy. Graves & Thrones represents this fusion in a nutshell, like a microcosm of the whole.

What do you hope readers will intuit out of the collection and be their final takeaway?

Augustin: I will have accomplished what I set out to do if readers come away with a heightened sense of what Madam Walker’s challenges as a working mother might have looked like during Jim Crow, a sense of their mother-daughter relationship, and a sense of Madam Walker’s ego, and what role, if any, it played in her epic journey from rags to riches.

How did you feel the hardship of breaking into the Oz tv industry reflected in how you wrote the adversities Walker faced against your own battles of trying to find a footing of growth in an industry which was also a closed door to your own dreams?

Augustin: I think for a time, while I was writing Out of No Way, I was in a victim mindset over the challenges of breaking into the industry here in Sydney. I felt that my race and gender were a barrier. Whether or not that was true in every circumstance, I’ll never know, but it made me reflect a great deal on Madam Walker’s hardships with respect to her race and gender. And it also made me wonder about the envy racial and gender biases would no doubt have triggered.

Trying to understand what drove her became more important to me than just retelling her story, remarkable as it is. I was interested in the psychology of a woman like Madam Walker, an orphaned child of former slaves, navigating her way through a society that was actively hostile toward her and succeeding nonetheless. That takes a lot of drive. The question that emerged for me was, what fuelled it?

It is interesting you mentioned the fuell behind the fire lit inside Madam CJ Walker – as I picked up on this myself whilst watching ‘Self-Made’ and even broached it during and after we saw the biopic with my parents as I was trying to uncover more about the woman I had just seen in the mini-series by speaking about the observations I had made myself through how they told her story. For me, one point they hadn’t capitalised on was this fuell and also what self-motivated her despite all the obstacles she was constantly facing being placed in front of her as they highlighted it a bit through the dream sequences – of her unyielding self-belief in rising through any adversity which came down her path as she wanted to rise into the vision she had for herself and for her company; to make those dreams a tangible reality and not let them merely live in her dream world. Yet, where the biopic failed a bit was to examine or explain what kept her motivated and what she held onto to find that kind of internal strength which carried her through the harder bits of her life. Though in truth, I am unsure what source materials are left behind on her behalf and if any of those questions can be answered in a way that would be authentically from her own voice and mind.

For me that was the best part of her story – to inspire each of us to find our own fuell of light and fire to carry us through our lives and to seek the courage to follow the dreams which give us a purpose to achieve.

As a mum of girls, what do you hope they will one day take out of Walker’s story and her own relationship with her daughter?  What do you hope will give them the inspiration you’ve found yourself whilst pursuing Walker’s story?

Augustin: The greatest lessons contained in Madam Walker’s story, which I hope my daughters learn, is self-belief, perseverance, and resilience. I hope that my daughters can look at someone like Walker and realise that they can achieve anything they want to achieve.

Your collection and the biopic ‘Self-Made’ truly encase this aspect of her life and I think by bringing her life forward into a modern audience to appreciate her legacy at this point in our lives is a wonderful moment to celebrate. Those are the cornerstones of all of us trying to find our wings as women and to find success in a world that might try to discourage us from pursuing what interests us most to achieve in our lives. Without our own beliefs in our abilities, our sense of perseverance out of impossible odds and the resilient nature we need to succeed on our own terms – none of us could accomplish anything at all. Those are strong lessons for all young girls and women alike.

What encourages your own heart and spirit after writing and releasing this project whilst knowing the climate of today hasn’t entirely altered too much from Walker’s own?

Augustin: The same lessons really, to always perseverance, resilience, and self-belief.

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I’d like to take a moment to thank Ms Augustin for her candor and her willingness to discuss her poetic drama about Madam CJ Walker with us today. Whilst giving us further insight into Madam Walker and her daughter and discussing a bit about the creative process behind being both a writer and a poet. I loved how our conversation also became an empowering one for women and to remember that we have to first believe in ourselves in what we are capable of doing long before we can find success in what we pursue to achieve. I hope this conversation has proved to be inspiring for both my readers & for the visitors of the blog tour.

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This blog tour is courtesy of:

Poetic Book ToursFollow the blog tour for more readerly insights & reactions as well as the bookaway!
You will also find a series of videos by the author about
Madam CJ Walker and the subject of her book.

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who picked up the same story to read.

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NOTE: Similar to blog tours wherein I feature book reviews, book spotlights (with or without extracts), book announcements (or Cover Reveals) – I may elect to feature an author, editor, narrator, publisher or other creative person connected to the book, audiobook, Indie film project or otherwise creative publishing medium being featured wherein the supplemental content on my blog is never compensated monetarily nor am I ever obligated to feature this kind of content. I provide (98.5%) of all questions and guest topics regularly featured on Jorie Loves A Story. I receive direct responses back to those enquiries by publicists, literary agents, authors, blog tour companies, etc of whom I am working with to bring these supplemental features and showcases to my blog. I am naturally curious about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of stories and the writers who pen them: I have a heap of joy bringing this content to my readers. Whenever there is a conflict of connection I do disclose those connections per post and disclose the connection as it applies.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Wednesday, 28 October, 2020 by jorielov in A'Lelia Walker, African-American History, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Blog Tour Host, Dramatic Poetry, Indie Author, Madam CJ Walker, Memoir, Motherhood | Parenthood, Non-Fiction, Poetic Book Tours, Poetry, Vignettes of Real Life

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