The Color Purple with Maya Williams

Hello!

Today we meet Maya Williams and we’re talking about the book that saved their  life: The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Maya Williams (ey/em, they/them, and she/her) is a religious Black multiracial nonbinary suicide survivor who is currently an Ashley Bryan Fellow and the seventh Poet Laureate of Portland, Maine .

​Maya’s debut poetry collection, Judas & Suicide, is available through Game Over Books . And Maya’s second poetry collection, Refused a Second Date, is available now through Harbor Editions.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early-twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance, and silence. Through a series of letters spanning nearly thirty years, first from Celie to God, then from the sisters to each other, the novel draws readers into a rich and memorable portrayal of Black women–their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.

Connect with Maya

Website: mayawilliamspoet.com
Instagram:  @emmdubb16
Twitter: @emmdubb16

Our Bookshop

Visit our Bookshop for  new releases, current bestsellers, banned books, critically acclaimed LGBTQ books, or peruse the books featured on our podcasts: bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook

To purchase The Color Purple visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9780143135692.

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Ida Göteburg, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Creative and Accounting support provided by: Gordy Erickson
Permission to use audio from the Kennedy Center Arts Across America – Maya Williams ‘Definitions of Home’ provided by Maya Williams.
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

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Quatrefoil has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them! Link: https://libbyapp.com/library/quatrefoil/curated-1404336/page-1

Transcript

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
On today’s episode we’re talking about one of the most banned books in America The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Since 1984, this book has faced challenges across the country, as parents kept trying to ban it from schools. Nearly all these attempts were overturned. But as so called “parent’s rights” groups across the country once again try to ban it, we have a special episode for you that dives into the profound impact The Color Purple can have for a young person, and that also, through a gift of timing, coincides with the December release of the film adaptation of The Color Purple.

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and welcome to This Queer Book Saved My Life.

[theme music]

Maya Williams
I want to write a poem to every black and brown femme with earbuds in their ears. Slowly strolling or quickly pacing on Congress Street every morning to catch a bus, catch an appointment, catch someone who had the nerve to try them. I want to write a poem to every black and brown femme with earbuds in their ears. Hands in pockets for warmth. Only making eye contact with fellow black and brown people before their separate turns at their respective intersections. I want to write a poem to every black and brown femme with earbuds in their ears. Listening to songs or podcasts they feel they can never play at home or work. Or they do play them at both places and need repetition in their steps downtown. I want to write a poem to every black and brown femme with earbuds in their ears. Turning the volume up to block out the pro-lifers, the cat callers, the dead-namers slash mis-gender-ers, the well-meaning white strifers. I want to write a poem to every black and brown femme with earbuds in their ears because all day in our shoes is a struggle for us. All day trying to stay alive is a struggle for us. And we still wake up to walk up and down, or run up and down, Congress street – anyway.

[lively music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
You were listening to a recording of Kennedy Center Arts Across America – Maya Williams ‘Definitions of Home.’ And Maya, who is the seventh poet laureate for Portland, Maine is our guest today.

Maya Williams
My name is Maya Williams. I use ey/em, they/them, and she/her pronouns. I’m a poet based in Portland, Maine.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Maya just published their second poetry collection Refused a Second Date. And her first collection, Judas and Suicide came out earlier this year. Maya was nominated by the community to serve as Poet Laureate in Portland and now ey gets to work in the community in that role.

Maya Williams
Every poet laureate program in the US is different. I just know that for mine in my city, I get to work with the Portland Public Library and get to facilitate community-related programs that are literary-focused, that are poetry-focused, and it’s a really good time.

J.P. Der Boghossian
And the book that saved Maya’s life is The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Maya Williams
I would describe it as, as like, it’s, it is an epistolary novel. Epistolary is like a fancy word for like this, the main character writes letters. And in this particular book she particularly writes letters to God and writes letters to her sister. That she and her sister get separated at some point early in their lives due to the central character having to be forced to marry someone. And the person she married to is like, you can’t have a relationship with your sister because I can’t have her. So there’s a lot to unpack as far as toxic masculinity there, which Alice Walker does very, very well.

J.P. Der Boghossian
As I mentioned at the start of this episode, The Color Purple is one of the most banned books in the U.S., especially in schools. And yet, however, Maya came to it in the eighth grade.

Maya Williams
At James Martin Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Color Purple was on the list of an array of books to choose from and I had to do like a monthly book project and there was one of the months where I chose the Color Purple.

J.P. Der Boghossian
And this is a book that Maya kept returning to throughout her life, but since people keep trying to ban it from schools, I wanted to start my conversation with Maya around its impact on them in the eighth grade so that we can see why we need queer books, and The Color Purple, in our schools. So, Part I of our story Holding space for all the parts of ourselves. Here’s my conversation with Maya, starting with The Color Purple’s queer story line.

Maya Williams
So it’s Celie meets Shug Avery. Shug Avery is Celie’s husband’s lover. I know. And.And through loving each other, Celie is able to obtain her own healing, especially when it comes to losing her sister and navigating a less tyrannical relationship with God and seeking a relationship with God that actually affirms her livelihood, affirms her sexuality, affirms how…how beautiful life can be even amidst all of the trauma that she’s faced, particularly with domestic violence and sexual violence. I’mma say the word particularly a lot in this conversation.

J.P. Der Boghossian
fan of the word particularly?

Maya Williams
Apparently, I’m just my brain is just noticing how I’m using it a lot. And I’m like, yeah, we’re going with it.

J.P. Der Boghossian
No, love it, love it. Can you tell me how the color purple came to you?

Maya Williams
Yeah, it first came to me in the seventh grade. It was one of the books listed. I know, I know. It was, ha ha. I, I.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Oh.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Ha ha

Maya Williams
And in the eighth grade, like the queer love story went over my head. Yeah. And it’s so interesting because even the book calls that out too about how folks witness.

J.P. Der Boghossian
I was gonna ask that.

Maya Williams
Celia and Shug’s love and they interpret it as like, oh, you know, women need company. It’s important for women not to feel alone. And like, and my eighth grade brain was like, oh my God, there’s such great friends who kiss on the mouth, that’s great. Like.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Oh no.

J.P. Der Boghossian
How are you at that time, at that age, how are you identifying? Like, did you have a sense of yourself as being queer or not?

Maya Williams
Yeah, I did not have a sense of myself being queer. And so it was a… So looking back on it, it’s so important to me to read a book like this because it’s a queer awakening, whether I like it or not. And…

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Yeah.

Maya Williams
And like, as I continue to get older and I reread the book and also recognize that it is indeed a queer book. And indeed, a queer love story is in this book. It only continues to affirm what I continue to navigate. And also centering, centering queer people who also align with religion, that is also very important to me, as a non binary religious person, especially because of how

how Celie writes to God as a way for her to be as upfront with God as possible. And I’ve liked it and I use the word blame, but I promise this for a positive reason. I blame this book for my own spiritual practice of like writing to God.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Why do you think that, I mean, again, this will be for folks who haven’t read it. Why does Celie write to God?

J.P. Der Boghossian
Like she could have addressed the letters to an ancestor. She could have addressed the letters to a contemporary. Why do you think she wrote them to God?

Maya Williams
Yeah.

Maya Williams
Like she does write to her sister at some at some point, especially when she has somewhat of a somewhat of a crisis of faith in the book. But for the majority of the book, including the ending of the book, she writes to God. And it’s because she’s lonely and because all she knows how to do is having to struggle to survive living in the body that she’s living in, living as someone who was forced.

J.P. Der Boghossian
you

Maya Williams
to marry someone who was generally unhappy and used his own hurt and his own grief to put that on her and to put that on his children.

and she’s and she had been suffering ever since her childhood and God is the only is the only entity that she can communicate with as she’s navigating those struggles and also even as she’s navigating Joyce too upon meeting Shug upon finally having an opportunity to hear that her sister is alive and the and the other relationships she gets to build with people throughout the book.

J.P. Der Boghossian
In eighth grade, how is that informing your own spiritual practice?

Maya Williams
Yeah, like having the opportunity to see like, oh, you can do that. You can write to God. That’s chill. That’s cool. Even though there are scriptures in the Bible that talk about people writing their prayers down too. But reading the color purple was my first moment of going like, oh, that makes sense.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Hahaha

J.P. Der Boghossian
I love this. I love this. I also love this because you’re reading an eighth grade at a time when so many eighth graders today won’t have access to it because it’s being banned in so many schools across the country. So I hope that when folks are listening to this, they’ll see why eighth graders and seventh graders and you know, on up should have access to this book and should be reading it.

Maya Williams
Aw thanks.

Maya Williams
Mm-hmm

Maya Williams
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian
How then did you come back to the color purple? Later in life.

Maya Williams
I came back to the color purple.

Maya Williams
rereading it. Like, first I reread it in high school, especially after watching the movie again with my family, but I got to actually…

it like fully immersed myself in the book when getting to reread it upon moving to Maine. I’ve lived in Maine for six years now. Moving to Maine helped me in the process of coming out as queer and non-binary and having the opportunity to read that book again. It was very needed at the time.

J.P. Der Boghossian
So after eighth grade, the next time you engaged with it was through the film? Watching the film. What did you think of the film? Yeah?

Maya Williams
Mm-hmm.

Oh, it’s so good. Yeah. It’s like I am very I am intrigued by. Right. Yeah, Steve Steven Spielberg is not is not a black is not a black director, but like this film is considered a black film because of all of the rich black characters in this film. And.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Mm-hmm.

Maya Williams
the performances by uh by whoopi gulberg and oprah winfrey are absolutely stunning and like and again even like even when watching the watching the film too it’s like it’s like some of the queerness i’m like okay i somewhat get it but also at the same time i’m like they friends question mark like and that’s still taking some processing

J.P. Der Boghossian
Yeah, yeah, there was some controversy about that, right? About having to code it and quote unquote tone it down.

Maya Williams
Mm-hmm.

Maya Williams
Yeah, and my family loves this film, but they don’t acknowledge the queer plotline of it. Even with this new adaptation coming out that’s centered on the musical aspect of it, no one’s acknowledging the queer aspect of it even though it’s right there.

J.P. Der Boghossian
So when you came back to the book then, what was that experience like then in terms of the queer themes and the queer storylines?

Maya Williams
It felt good to read text about, like, this is an opportunity for you to feel good in your body, and God wants us to feel good in our bodies because God created our bodies. So, and it’s gonna be really important for your healing to feel good in a body that was created for you. And yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Yeah, where was the color purple fitting in terms of representation of the books and media and poetry that you were consuming at the time?

Maya Williams
goodness. Can you repeat the question again?

J.P. Der Boghossian
Yeah, let me see how I want to. I’m curious about representation, right? So how is the color purple fitting into the books and the poetry and the media that you were consuming at the time? Like, was it a alone by itself? Were you see reading this and seeing yourself represented, or was it part of a variety of different other books and poetry that you were you were seeing yourself represented in?

Maya Williams
Yeah.

Maya Williams
It was nice. I know that at the time when I, again, when I first moved to Maine and this book came back into my life, like reading books by Black comedians and Black poets was also helpful. Reading poems by Zandria Phillips, who’s a non-binary Black poet. Having…

J.P. Der Boghossian
Mm-hmm.

Maya Williams
Like having the time to read content that was just for me to enjoy that wasn’t tied to school or work. I felt really good at the time.

Maya Williams
It was also important for me to read content about religious groups and Black religious groups and Black missionary groups that wasn’t just about criticizing those groups. And also recognizing how it’s like, wow, this is one of the first…

books that is that is like shown a positive representation of missionary groups because this is a black missionary group that Celie’s sister ended up ended up being a part of. And that’s not that’s not me advocating for missionary groups. That’s not me saying that missionary groups are perfect by any means. But but having that insight around like around like yeah these are like the black

Christians I grew up with and these are examples of how they played a positive influence in my life and I get to see that red in the color purple too and seeing how Celie’s sister is so culturally knowledgeable, she is so faithful to God but also is not there to try to take away the religious traditions of the…

of the of the tribal community that she that she’s with on the African continent. And

J.P. Der Boghossian
Mm-hmm.

J.P. Der Boghossian
For you, how are you navigating that conflict that is between queerness and your faith tradition, right? They’re all often put in opposition to each other, and yet here’s the color purple that’s navigating both of them in a much different way. So how is that?

Maya Williams
Mm-hmm.

J.P. Der Boghossian
helping you in navigating the conflict in your own life.

Maya Williams
Yeah, that’s a really good question. Like, the conflict has to be navigated because I can’t separate it. This idea that we can separate between the two. And it’s not just conservative religious folks who believe that could be separated. There are folks regardless of worldview and…and things of that nature who believe that they can be separated and they can’t. Both are pertinent parts of who I am, what I believe in, and how I identify our pertinent parts of who I am, and getting to read about Celie and how she holds so many parts of herself while trying to maintain a relationship with God even when that relationship falters in her grief around how long her husband had kept her from her sister. Like, it’s really important how much space is held for that. And also the way how Alice Walker writes about spirituality as a whole is always something I admire about her work too.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Mm-hmm.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Absolutely. So how would you describe the life-saving features that the color purple had for you?

Maya Williams
Mm-hmm.

Maya Williams
Like, it was, it was lif- it was life-saving. Because it’s nice to see black people alive and well even as they’ve had to navigate particular instances of generational trauma. And Alice Walker writing how like, yes, this is possible. It is possible for families to heal. It is possible for forgiveness to be present after domestic violence and sexual violence. It is possible to be alive and well and joyful after experiencing so much hurt. And as a yeah, and also as a suicide survivor, being alive is really hard. And I say that phrase a lot because it’s true. It is so true. And it’s so wonderful how literature like this can encourage me to stay alive and stay alive for myself even after the amount of trauma that I have faced and honestly continue to face.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Mm-hmm. So the title of the podcast is This Queer Book Saved My Life. And so you were just talking about how literature can be life-affirming or life-saving. And so from your lived experience, could you maybe share more about that with our audience about the role that literature writ large, if you will, or poetry or, you know, how that literature can be life-affirming and life-saving for folks?

Maya Williams
Yeah. Yeah, I know that for me, reading and writing poetry has provided me a sense of release. And, and, and literature can be that place of release. I find it fascinating how often literature is described as escape. And sometimes it can be. But, but when it comes to instances like, like the color purple that’s making you

that’s making you face the struggles each of these characters go through. It’s like, it’s not an escape for me. It’s something that helps me reckon with.

Maya Williams
why humanity is so hard and reckon with why communication can be hard and reckon with why it’s important to advocate for yourself in a world that won’t let you or when you’re surrounded by people who are influenced by that same by that same world that doesn’t want good communication to happen that doesn’t want healing to happen.

[southern gospel music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
Part II of our story in less than seconds. First, I want to share that we have a holiday sale happening now through our Bookstore. Powered by Bookshop.org, a number of select titles are % off, including Justin Torres brilliant new book Blackouts, which won the National Book Award. Also on sale is Roxanne Gay’s new collection Opinions. Follow the links in our show notes, on our website, or go to bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook. When you’re there go to the section marked Books for the Holidays and use promo code HOLIDAY when you buy any of those books.

I’m hosting a new show! It’s called The Gaily Show. It airs on AM in Minneapolis every Saturday in the pm hour alongside episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life. We celebrate LGBTQ culture and entertainment in Minnesota and beyond. This week, I’ll be talking with New York Times Modern Love contributor Suzette Mullen about her upcoming book The Only Way Through Is Out. I’ll chat with Minnesota author Gary Eldon Peter about his novel The Complicated Calculus and Cows of Carl Paulsen. And the new Artistic Director of Park Square Theater Stephen DiMenna joins me to talk about his new role and vision for Park Square Theater.

Tune in live at pm or use the TuneIn app. It’s in video, so you can stream it on AM’s YouTube channel or Facebook page. And of course it is available wherever you stream your podcasts. Just search for The Gaily Show.

And now, Part II of our story Writing it all out.

[gospel music fades out and contemplative piano music fades in]

J.P. Der Boghossian
I don’t know if I’m a writer, per se. For sure I would say I’m an essayist in that I’ve published a few essays over the past year. I think I make that distinction in my head between writer and essayist because the word essay is from the French essayer. Which means to attempt, to try, to test.
And that’s what I think I’ve been doing is “to try,” “to attempt” to understand this weird, messy, frustrating, hilarious, wild queer life we’re living.

It’s why I can’t help ask writers who come on this show about their craft. How do these books we talk about on this podcast change how we talk to others in the world? Even if I wasn’t an essayist, I still have to talk to other people, and I’ll still have to tell them who I am.

But who am I? As an essayist, I feel like I’m having one long continuous existential crisis how do I tell the world who I am?

It’s why Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World, and Alan Downs’ The Velvet Rage, and Nancy Agabian’s Me as Her Again were so life-saving I suddenly saw myself in these books, and there was language to talk about what I actually wanted in my life. Suddenly there were words to name the, up to that point, un-named rage I was feeling. Suddenly I had a model for how I could be in an Armenian space and be my queer self and not want or have to shrink away and disappear.

So to that end, knowing I was going to be in conversation with a veritable poet laureate, I wanted to ask Maya what role The Color Purple had in her own coming out story and then how did that translate to writing her own poetry.

[music fades]

I think my Queer Awakening was watching Black Swan when I was a teenager but didn’t articulate it until years later or whatever. But no, looking back on it, the color purple is a part of my

Maya Williams
black queer religious representation for me. That is the first thing that played that played a role in how I want to engage in my creative work and how I want to engage spiritually and how I want to engage with other people. And also like this book is a reminder of how of how much I love people and also and queer people are really good at loving people.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Is there a particular chapter or passage from the book that you can recall that really illustrates that for you?

Maya Williams
Hold up.

Ooh, okay.

[reading from The Color Purple] God loves all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves them, you enjoy them a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, praise God by liking what you did. God don’t think it’s dirty, I ask? Nah, she say, God made it. Listen, God love everything you love, and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration. You saying God vain, I ask?

just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. What’d it do when it pissed off? I asked. Oh, it makes something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about, but any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Mm. And what part of the book is that? Where is that? Why can’t I say that? Where is that passage from in part of the book? Put that in context for us.

Maya Williams
Yeah, yeah, this passage is from, is from the first letter Celie writes to her sister, Nettie, where she says, I don’t write to God, no more I write to you. And Shug is like, what happened to God? And Celie’s like, who? And Shug is like, that’s not funny. And they start talking more about spirituality. And yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian
That’s great. Thank you for sharing that. So how did the color purple influence your own writing as a poet?

Maya Williams
influenced my own writing as a poet because of the way I like to make sure I write my prayers down, influence my writing as a poet to take better close attention to color and pay better close attention to surroundings. And I have anxiety so sometimes like there have been instances in writing workshops where the instructor is like

like, there needs to be more senses, right, about the senses, and I’m like, my senses are numb! Uh, and that- and like, and having- and having the color purple be a space where it’s like, here’s this person with so much trauma in their body still being able to- to witness so much of the world and get- and get those- and get those senses slowly back, like…

Maya Williams
It’s brilliant. And it- oh god. Oh, and I was just saying, like, yeah, it influences my writing so much.

J.P. Der Boghossian
That’s such a… No, go ahead, go ahead.

Maya Williams
and like yeah this book uh Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God um I praise the poet Anis Mojgani a lot uh he’s a black Iranian poet who’s the who’s the poet laureate of the entire state of Oregon like and the way he writes about color and people like makes me think of Alice Walker writing about color and people like

J.P. Der Boghossian
that when you say that about writing workshops, it is weird to navigate them if you’re navigating them with any type of, I feel like they’re very ableist writing workshops, you know, particularly for invisible disabilities in particular, like if you’re coming in there. I love particular too.

Maya Williams
Hmm?

Maya Williams
Yes!

J.P. Der Boghossian
We are precise with our words.

J.P. Der Boghossian
But I think that I think they can be very ableist when folks are coming in there with anxiety with trauma with Depression or other types of behavioral health diagnoses that you as a writer are trying to get through

Right? Whether you’re doing that therapeutically as a writer or you’re doing it like I am not using as therapy how those writing workshops can be triggering. And I think we kind of maybe use triggering, I think it’s kind of starting to get a little cheapened and I hate that because it’s such a valuable concept. And I think some people are like, trying to use their privilege to use, like to co-opt the word trigger and then use it for their own, justifying their own privilege. But…it can be very difficult, I think, when you’re in a writing workshop, on top of already having to, and I don’t know, I don’t want to speak to your experiences, I’ve found that in there, I have to do a lot of explaining of what queerness is, right, about like how sexuality is, or, you know, can show itself, or the themes of it, or gender identity, or being, you know, Armenian, and I’m like, oh, sometimes I’m like, I’m not here to teach this stupid thing, I’m here, you know, to get feedback about my writing. And you can be in these workshops and trying to all of that can be really challenging and this is becoming a monologue on my part, but where I’m going with that is to ask you like what is your experience of navigating that and maybe some advice you would have to other writers navigating this as well.

Maya Williams
Yeah.

Maya Williams
Yeah, I was listening to the Versus podcast. It’s a podcast through the Poetry Foundation. Brittany Rogers and Ajane Dawkins co-hosted it and they’re interviewing a poet. And I love the way that this particular poet had said, like, the thing about workshops is I’m not asking you about my content about blackness. I asked you, are these commas placed correctly?

or is the is the caesura showing up in the form? That’s what I’m asking. Don’t don’t tell me about the content about my identity. And yeah, like, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. And typically when I’m when I’m in workshop, I’ve like, I like to make sure I’m accustomed to listening to my body when listening to feedback. Like if someone gives me feedback, and my body is like, there gets very tight.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Right? Yes!

Maya Williams
um, and feels and feels and feels uneasy it’s like this feedback’s not for me. um but if i’m hearing feedback around like oh have you tried this would you consider shifting this or like good questions to like help me expand on the poem or help me take away

things where it’s like, where it’s like, I don’t need this extra stuff because like the title’s doing the work for me, for example. And my body’s like, ooh, excited, or it’s like, calm. It’s like, okay, so this is a sign that this is good feedback. And granted, there have been feedback where I’ve been uncomfortable in my body, but there’s a difference between discomfort because of a challenge that I need to accept versus discomfort being asked invasive questions about my mental illness, my gender identity, my sexual orientation, my race.

Whenever I’m facilitating workshops or I’m working with anyone one-on-one, I tend to say it’s really important work that you’re doing writing about this and at the same time, if you’re hurting yourself by writing this, you don’t have to write this right now.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian
I think that’s really important advice. We did an episode a few back and I should know it was our like ever premiere episode ever. It was with Carmen Maria Machado talking about her memoir and how she talked about like she would not do it again. She said it was such a difficult process.

She said that I had to get it out of me because I couldn’t do the other work that I wanted to do until I got it out. But she said it was a traumatic process. It was traumatic doing the readings.

Afterwards because constantly having to relive this. And she said, and then everybody wanted to send me trauma books that were similar in the same theme. And finally she said to folks, please don’t send these to me anymore. I can’t continue reading about this. This is where I’m moving now in my work and this is the themes that I want to engage in. And it is interesting to me to hear. I’ll put the question to you about how have you found that difference between writing for your own healing and writing to get something out into the world because that publishing process can be… ..Igh. Right? Is that distinction making sense?

Maya Williams
Hmm… yeah. It does make sense, and like, there are- in more recent years I’ve been hearing writers, particularly poets, say the phrase, uh, write from the scar, not the wound. Um, and like, and that has been helpful as far as like we need to make sure we have we have processed through this as much as we can before this touches paper and granted like there are some folks who might say like well what but yeah like you need to get some get something out then get then get something out and it’s and it’s like okay if you if you get it out don’t publish it right away uh let it breathe for a minute and come back to it

if you don’t want to write after processing for a minute. And like, ah, publishing is so complicated. So I’m over here like, do your research about the publishers you want to work with. Are there writers that you like? Have you heard them talk about great experiences or not so great experiences while working with this publisher?

Ask them questions about like did they feel rushed in their editing process? Where did they ask good questions? Did they ask invasive questions in the editing process?

J.P. Der Boghossian
It’s a lot. It’s a lot to have to think about and doing that research. The movie that’s upcoming here, have you seen the musical? Yeah, you said earlier that you have seen the musical, right, of the color purple?

Maya Williams
Because like, I’ve listened to the musical’s soundtrack, so I have not seen the full length stage production of the musical. So, I’m grateful that this movie will come out, because it’ll be away from me to see it. But yeah, I’ve heard it full length, and it is beautiful.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Okay.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Share with folks who haven’t heard it, like what is the style of music? Like what about is it, do you feel like it really captures the… Let me restate that question. For folks who haven’t seen the musical or listened to the album, how would you describe it to them?

Maya Williams
I would describe it as an arrangement of gospel music, southern music, bluesy music, that when we get to hear the letters from Nettie Celie’s sister, they’re able to add

they’re able to add music that’s traditional to the continent of Africa. Yeah, it’s, it is a Black musical, and it is an enjoyable musical filled with Black music. And my favorite songs from the musical are…

Maya Williams
are when- most of them are Shug Avery’s songs. Two Beautiful for Words, which is a beautiful song she sings to Ceilidh. I remember crying upon first hearing it. I’m like, it was like, oh, what’s happened to say that to me? And there is a song called

called Push the Button because it’s a reference to the book in regards to Shug’s conversations with Celie about sex. But in the musical they make it framed as Shug singing at a juke joint advising men to like how to please someone during sex. And yeah, Celie’s song toward the end. I’m here.

It’s a grand, grandstanding one. It’s very empowering.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Are the lyrics pulled from the book? Oh, I didn’t know that. Okay. I haven’t seen the musical and I haven’t heard the album. So I’m really looking forward to the film as an opportunity to hear and see both this December.

Maya Williams
Yeah! Mm-hmm.

J.P. Der Boghossian
This has been such a great conversation, Maya. I know, I’m curious about, you know, are there things that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to share about the book?

Maya Williams
I don’t want it to end. Thank you!

Maya Williams
ooooh, oh my gosh. yeah, like, i- like, there- there was a- because i remember reading the article that- that had come out, like, right- like, right after, uh, right after the book was- was released. i know i wasn’t alive then, uh, but there’s- there’s record of this article that exists and about how so many black men were upset at the portrayal of black men in this- in this book, and it’s like-

And I find that so fascinating because on one end it’s like, well, of course you’re upset. It’s holding up a mirror. And at the same time, it’s like, these men are healing in this book and these men become so loving of the people around them, of the women around them. There is healing here and you don’t want to focus on that. You’re just so hell bent on the fact that there is critique happening even though there’s so much nuance happening.

that’s able to talk about everyone in as much of a nuance light as possible and still have a happy ending. It’s like, what are you complaining for? Like, like, Celie and her husband, like, she’s able to forgive her husband because of how much work, internal work, her husband is able to do. As far as like, I, like, he’s like, I should not have…hurt you and I was only hurting you because you weren’t you weren’t Shug and I was only hurting you because of my own crap from my from my dad telling me the type of man I should be and I’m sorry you did not deserve that and how it’s like that healing is possible and you’re mad you’re mad.

J.P. Der Boghossian
[laughs]

Maya Williams
Like… yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Isn’t it weird how that can happen? Where you think that, yeah, the reaction that you think is gonna happen is like the complete opposite. It kind of blows my mind. When stuff like that happens. Actually, I have two more questions for you before our, I have, you know, there’s two questions, but one, is there a poem that you have written that was directly inspired by the color purple?

Maya Williams
Mm-hmm. Yes, please.

Maya Williams
So my collection Refused to Second Date talks a lot about queerness and intergenerational patterns of dating, intergenerational patterns of domestic violence, racism and dating. So even though there aren’t any direct poems that like pull quotes from Alice Walker or anything like that, like, it makes it makes me happy that like I have a book about…about Black queerness and intergenerational healing that could be added to this lineage, and I’m very grateful that Alice Walker started it out for us. We’re out here. It’s amazing.

[Upbeat gospel and choir music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
Maya recently directed White with Josh Hsu SHU at Mad Horse Theatre Company.

Her new book Refused a Second Date is out now. If you go to their website mayawilliamspoet.com you can see upcoming events and readings. It looks like Maya will be at Slamlandia in Portland, Oregon on December 21st and at Quiet City Books in Lewiston Maine on January 26th of next year.

There are also a number of videos on Maya’s website where you can see em performing eirs poetry.

And good news, Maya has a third manuscript of poetry that she is working on getting published now and they will be on an upcoming residency finalizing it. Stay tuned to eirs website for updates or follow Maya on Twitter or Instagram Their handle is @ e m m d u b b .

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That’s our show for today. Our podcast is Executive Produced by Jim Pounds. Accounting and creative support provided by Gordy Erickson.

Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Perrazo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flamm, Ida Göteburg, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard.

A reminder to listen The Gaily Show! Listen live every Saturday at pm on AM through the TuneIn app, or find it everywhere you stream your podcasts, or watch it on AM’s YouTube Channel or Facebook page.

Permission to use audio from the Kennedy Center Arts Across America – Maya Williams ‘Definitions of Home’ provided by Maya Williams.

Our soundtrack and sound effects are provided through royalty-free licenses. Please visit thisqueerbook.com slash music for track names and artists.

We’re on social media, you can find us on Facebook, Bluesky, or on Instagram. As always, you can connect with us through our website, thisqueerbook.com, and if you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the home page.

And until our next episode, happy holidays you queers and allies! See you in the bookstores!

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