On a cloudy day in June, both she and I sat outdoors at Lift coffee shop in downtown Richmond, VA. With our matching flowing skirts and curly fluffy hair, I knew I was in for a treat. I was sitting with Paula Gillison. She is the author of my new favorite book “Parables and The Gold Plated Things.” When I bought the book a few months back, I let it sit on my coffee table and collect dust. I was simply supporting a local poet. But I finally took the book into the bathroom with me one day and by page 2, I knew I had to meet the women who’s writing had brought me think new things.
So there we were. She ordered a jalapeno grilled cheese and I order a mango smoothie. We exchanged jokes about how we were twinning and then, I dived right in.
Me: Paula, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Realized? I’m not sure it works like that. I just AM a writer. I think people like to think of it as a profession but so few of us, especially poets, get to BE writers ….that way anyway. My books afford me bus fair for a week. But I write because I love it. I can’t stop. It’s my calling.
Me: As a child, what did you wanna be when your grew up?
A writer! (she throws her head back laughing) But most specifically, an artist. I enjoy all arts. Some weeks I’m a painter, some weeks I’m a poet, and if there’s enough alcohol, I’m Beyonce. But overall, I love art and I love performance and I love being creative.
Me: Do you listen to any particular artist while you write? Who inspires you?
I wish I could. I can’t write and listen to music. I need silence. Even meditation music. I think the music effects the writing which keeps me from ensuring it’s genuine. So when I go back to edit, I’m like “I must have been listening to Trap [music] cause this is so thug.” (She asks me to repeat the question.) Oh yeah, I’m inspired by everything. I mean, I like moments. Glimpses of time or situation that I can create a whole other story out of [when I’m writing]. Wait.. did you mean music? I like Amy Winehouse, Mali Music, Anthony Evans, TuPac, etc.
Me: Which piece in the book is your favorite?
I really like “The Usual” and audiences seem to love it. I think it’s my best mastered poetic turn. It’s performs well. My favorite right now is the story “Coming of Age,” but my favorite changes weekly. I don’t get to read that story in public often. It’s better read than written.
Me: Are you and your son the characters in that story? (The story is about a dead person in the after life and the rambunctious child they meet upon arrival.)
In a different dimension I suppose but not this version of me, not this healthier healed version. My son’s death changed life as I knew it. And my perspective on things is much wider and narrower at the same time. The story seeks to express the desperation I feel about our distance.
Me: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Trusting myself. My mind is so out there that on one page [of the book] there’s a love poem and the other, you meet aliens. It an explosions in my mind that demands to be writen. I’m that friend that’s like “Remember when we went bowling that time? I saw some monkeys at Kroger.! It’s difficult because if there’s no one quite like you, you have to be comfortable always existing outside the box. It took me a while but I’m better outside the box.
Me: What is the first book that made you cry?
Maybe not the first, but Little Bee by Chris Cleave was life changing. It’s one of two writings that shaped the way I write. He wrote a story that didn’t have a happy beginning, middle, or end. It’s about a British woman and a Nigerian girl who meet on a beach and their lives erupt into a serious battle of civility. It’s feminist and challenging and questions your morals. All of what I hope my book is.
Me: What was the other writing?
I wish I knew. I read it in a book from a library in high school. All I remember was that the author was Jewish. She wrote about a family who was driving. A school bus full of kids rolled by, the door swung open, and a little boy pointed a gun at the husband. The woman jumps in the back seat to protect the baby. The writing immediately focuses on the husband and his thoughts as he resents his wife and the baby for leaving him to die. I like the exploration of the conflict! Do I do any of that for you in this book?
Me: You do. The court case.
Exactly. That’s the twisted confusing plight of human existence I try to capture. These things that shape our humanity that are so common yet unique and individual and personal. People will attempt to make your story common. Don’t let them. I’ve been to events where other women will tell me they’ve lost a child too and they want to lump it all together as if their pain is the same. They didn’t lose Emmanuel so though they can relate, it’s not their story. And I didn’t lose their child so it’s not my story. Emmanuel and I are our own genuine story that I hope will encourage others to tell theirs.
Me: What does the title mean, Parable’s & The Gold Plated Things?
So parables are earthly stories with a spiritual meaning. Most of my stories and poems have a meaning that is hidden within the lines. The stories are about the gold plated things. Things that are precious and priceless but are fragile and thinly veiled. Often times, the thing under the gold plate is what’s strong and fortified to last. The gold is just for looks. Some people can be fooled by a thin layer of “look good” but the parables seek to peel off that layer.
Me: And the lips on the cover?
The part of us that is most obviously gold plated, our story.
Me: What’s next?
Well, I just re-released the book with 4 new poems including a love poem, a poem about grief, a poem about my brother, and a poem about us [black women]. There’s also a lot of edits and changes that reflect my growth. I also am actively writing on my blog so follow it and working towards school and my business and the next book. All that.
Me: Paula, it’s been a pleasure. I’m excited to read the redo!
Aww that’s sweet. Thank you for reading my book. It means everything to me!
Me: You’re welcome!
Written by Me! Literally!