Shay Youngblood is my first writer-crush. She’s so poetic in a non-dramatic way. When I discovered her in 2007, her words were the first to move me in strange ways; before her, no writer made me blush. And like any first, she’s opened me up to experiencing other writers in similar ways.
Youngblood’s second novel, Black Girl in Paris is based on her own experiences in Paris. The reason for her decision to travel to Paris is summarized by a quote found after the dedication page of the novel:
If you go there in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting. BELOVED, Toni Morrison
I was too young to understand or appreciate Beloved during my first attempt to read it, but in the space that I’m currently in, this quote resonates with me. I’m in the midst of what some call a quarter-life crisis, my Saturn’s return, my wilderness. I’m transitioning from childhood to adulthood. I’m trying to figure out who I am under the layers of these academic degrees; under the defenses I’ve built to navigate my circumstances.
Eden, Youngblood’s fictionalized self, is a 26-year-old writer born in Alabama and raised in 1960′s Georgia. Inspired by James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and other African-American artists, she sets off to Paris to live and create beyond the racism of the U.S. and to actualize the self she wants to be. She is, in essence, going to the place where it was for artists like Baldwin and Hughes so that it will happen again for her.
There is no physical Paris for me. Instead, my thoughts turn to my childhood when I was less afraid of trying new avenues of creativity and more centered in myself and the goals I wanted to pursue (no matter how often they changed). I decided to time travel – to go back to the places that would spark my imagination and re-center my self. I started by reading some of my literary favorites. Then I came across some of my old writings and photographs. I’m able to experience all these things through a different lens – with a self more open to experiencing emotions. And now these sparks have desires to become flames. I’m putting story ideas on paper and thinking through other projects that have come up over the years. Now it’s just a battle with self-doubt.