What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
When you’ve been abused, a lot of times you protect the person who abused you. I had no idea I was protecting those people, which is my mom and my kids’ father. Jeannine would say, “Do you understand you’re protecting the person who hurt you?” That really opened my eyes to the control they’ve had over my life, and I’m 45 now. I wanted them not to look bad. So I learned to let go a little bit more. I told some stories I thought I was going to my grave with. I thought I had already healed; this book broke down some walls that I couldn’t have done on my own.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
When we first set out, it was nitty-gritty, we didn’t hold anything back. And the editor said, “You’re a comic now, and you don’t perform like it’s a pity party,” so she made us kind of start over and I tried to tell it with humor. I’m 15 years into comedy, and that’s helped me talk about crazy stuff. First, I had to get over embarrassment; then I had to get over worrying about people judging me.
Honestly, I thought only black people went through what I went through. But that’s not true; this stuff happens to everyone. I thought teenage pregnancy was just in the black community. I didn’t know anything about white people; I just knew about where I was from. When I was talking about me and my daughter being 13 years apart, people started coming up to me and talking about their stories, people from every race. I’d tell them: “I’m glad you can laugh at it. Find a way to laugh at it, because when you laugh at it you have control of it.”
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
A comedian friend of mine, Tom Simmons, and Avery Dellinger, who works at Morty’s Comedy Joint, the comedy club here in Indianapolis. They told me to really dig deep and just be honest. When I moved here from Atlanta, Avery said, “You should tell those stories.” I said, “People won’t get it.” He said, “It’s horrible, but they’re funny stories.”
When people told me I was a storyteller, I started to study Richard Pryor. I was never into comedy before. He’s the greatest storyteller, him and Bill Cosby. And I would look at Richard a lot, because I was more of his style: blunt, in-your-face and honest. Watching his DVDs influenced me to open up even more. I thought, “He gets paid to do this, and they don’t check his criminal background history?” That’s what moved me toward comedy — they don’t care about your criminal background check. They just give you a mike and say, “Be funny.” They don’t give a damn that I’ve been shot. My brother’s a convicted felon, and I tell him all the time: “You should really do comedy. They don’t care what you did in 1987.”
Persuade someone to read “Rabbit” in 50 words or less.
It’s about a young black woman growing up in America who felt like she was invisible. It’s a very honest book. Every story I told, I told from the heart. I didn’t care what people thought about me. And it might make you want to tell your story.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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