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I’m delighted to welcome Rojé Augustin to Diary of an Eccentric today as part of the blog tour for her poetry collection Out of No Way, which has received rave reviews. She is here to share a guest post, but before I have Rojé take over, here’s a little about the book:

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 Walker. Out of No Way: Madam C.J. Walker & A’Lelia Walker, A Poetic Dramatracks Walker’s phenomenal rise from penniless orphan to America’s first self-made female millionaire in dramatic verse.

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 starting falling out she developed a remedy and sold her formula across the country. In the process she became the wealthiest Negro woman in America. Rojé’s highly original and accomplished poetry is written through the lens of the mother/daughter relationship via different poetic forms — from lyric poems to haikus, blackout poetry to narrative (one poem takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’) — with each chapter addressing issues relevant to their lives at the time.

Written against the backdrop of the Jim Crow era, Out of No Way is ultimately an examination of what W.E.B Du Bois called “conflicting identities.” Sarah was a proud African American on the one hand and a woman seeking America’s acceptance on the other. She was a pauper who achieved the American Dream while denied the rights and protections of the American Constitution. She was a wife, mother, and businesswoman who juggled the demands of family with the demands of career. And she was an orphan who had to transcend a brutal childhood in order to be a loving mother to her child. As Du Bois stated at the time, “One ever feels a two-ness. An American, A Negro…Two warring ideals in one dark body.” Indeed Madam C.J. Walker/Sarah Breedlove was an American and a Negro, as was her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, both of whom likely viewed herself through their own conflicting identities. What did they see?

Out of No Way tells Walker’s remarkable rags-to-riches story by exploring thoughtful questions — What impact did Sarah’s busy work life have on A’Lelia? What was the bond between a mother orphaned so young and the daughter who might wait days or weeks for her return? Could the death of her parents when she was a child have compromised Sarah’s nurturing instincts? How did A’Lelia feel about their newfound wealth? What, if any, were the drawbacks of that wealth?

Amazon | Goodreads

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I’ve asked Rojé to address the following: Explore how your research into the mother-daughter relationship informed your poetic work, and has it given you greater insights into how you, as a working mother, tackle your responsibilities? Please give her a warm welcome!

As a working mom, you often feel torn between giving your all at work and giving your all at home, particularly where your children are concerned.  You feel torn because you quickly realize that being a great mom and being a great (insert profession here) cannot happen simultaneously, the two goals are mutually exclusive.  In other words, you can’t give your all at work, while also giving your all at home because doing so only supplies divided attention, which causes both work and home to ultimately collapse, not to mention you.  At some point, you start to feel you have to make a choice or else risk losing it all — work, family, sanity.  But even when you do choose one, assuming you have a choice, there is always a sacrifice.  Always.  I think this is true for most working parents.

Having experienced this conundrum myself, I wondered quite a lot about Madam C.J. Walker.  Here was a woman who, like the vast majority of her peers, actually had no choice.  She had to work and she had to raise her child.  What then were her particular sacrifices?  What were her sufferings as a result?  It occurred to me that family is often the first sacrificial lamb for any parent who has no choice but to work fifty, sixty, or seventy hour work weeks, as Madam C.J. Walker had when she was Sarah Breedlove, washerwoman & cook.  And children especially are the frontline.  The first to feel the gaping hole left by a parent’s absence.  A’Lelia must have felt this, too.  What did that look like?

Filtering my research through this line of inquiry informed my work tremendously because it offered emotionally rich possibilities with which to write the poems.  The mother-daughter relationship is an inherently complex and poignant affair often explored in the novels of black authors — take the works of Jamaica Kincaid for example — but less so in poetry.  I wanted to convey a sense of what their dynamic might have been given their unique set of circumstances.  Madam Walker was orphaned at age seven, a mother at seventeen, a widow by twenty.  She was only one generation removed from slavery, she had to navigate life through the whip of Jim Crow, and the lynching of black people carried out with impunity.  And yet she had the awesome resilience to raise herself and her child out of poverty and into prosperity in less than ten years, by working really hard and working all the time.  One goal was very clearly achieved.  What of the other?

As for myself, I discovered through this creative exercise that I am guilty of tackling my working-mom responsibilities with the pressure of perfection weighing heavily on my psyche.  But it never works.  I inevitably spin myself into exhaustion.  Best to just strive for balance and hope for the best.  Which, I guess, for me is perfection.

Thank you for sharing your story and Madam Walker’s with us, and thank you for my guest today!

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About the Author 

Rojé Augustin

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.

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Giveaway

As part of the blog tour, there are two copies of Out of No Way up for grabs (digital for international entrants; print for U.S./Canadian entrants). This giveaway ends Oct. 31, 2020, and you must enter through Rafflecopter. Good luck!

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Click the button for more about Out of No Way and Rojé Augustin, including video readings of her work, and to follow the blog tour.

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