DiversifYA: Sharon Mitchell

SharonToday, we are delighted to have Sharon Mitchell with us at DiversifYA! Sharon is the author of Amachi’s Hope, a YA Fantasy influenced by West African culture. Her latest project is a YA fantasy that is based in the West Indies. In a recent interview with Diverse Pages, “Coloring Outside the Lines“, she discussed what it was like to her to write outside what she knew. She also blogs at Amachi is Hope.

1. How do you identify yourself?

Goodness. That’s definitely deceptive 🙂 Well I guess I would describe myself in this order. A college educated women of West Indian descent. Married, mother of three. An author who wants to enlighten, entertain and educated her readers. A reader who was changed after opening Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed for the first time 🙂

2. What did it feel like growing up Caribbean?

Well I should make it clear that I am a product of parents that are from the West Indies, Jamaica in particular. I was not born in the Caribbean but I was heavily immersed in just about everything Jamaican. I was raised as they were; with a strong work ethic, a clear understanding of authority, a respect for religion and a love of Jamaican culture.

When I think back to my “growing up days” as my mom would say, 🙂 I remember the many stories she shared about her childhood. She was one of 12 children and poverty was a part of their lives. But you would never have known it. My grandmother instilled in them (as my parents did with me) an appreciation for what they had. Music and literature were a big part of their lives. The first poem that my mother recited to me was, “The Spanish Needle” by Claude McKay. My childhood was full of music (my mom and her twin sister were always harmonizing a tune) or reciting some piece of literature that they still remember until this day. I believe that exposure opened my mind and sent me down the road towards creativity; influencing the writer within me.

Other memories of my childhood consisted of exotic foods such as Curry Goat, Jerk Chicken and Oxtail; awesome desserts like Fruit Cake, Banana Fritters and Coconut Drops, and delicious drinks with unusual names like Sorrel, Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic of course LOL!) and Sour Sop Juice. To say that my childhood was interesting is an understatement. Colorful, fun and edifying are the words that come to mind when I think back to that time.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

I would not say that being Jamaican is a challenge for me. Growing up, I was proud to be Jamaican and still am. Being Jamaican was the “in” thing; especially in high school. Speaking with an accent, listening to Dancehall and Reggae or wearing bright colors was considered cool things. 🙂

That was not the case when my parents first moved to America. As immigrants, they faced a lot of ignorance and discrimination. But like most individuals that relocated here from afar, they did so because they wanted to give their children access to opportunities that were not available to them. I am forever grateful that they did not lose their identities when they came here. Through me and others like me, (Jamaican Americans, Trinidadian Americans etc.) future generations will continue to appreciate their family’s culture and history.

4. What do you wish people knew about being Caribbean?

People should know that the word Caribbean is like an umbrella; it is used to cover most of the islands. Caribbean doesn’t automatically mean Jamaican; but that’s usually the first island that comes to mind. Caribbean people share a deep and abiding pride in their country. Though they may share some similarities, their people, culture, beliefs, food and history are quite different.
I remember attending a West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn, New York some years ago. Walking down the street, you were assaulted by the scents coming from the vendors. Each sold foods from different parts of the Caribbean.

Two popular artists were performing on a float. There was a sea of Trinidadian and Jamaican flags, swaying and whipping to the beat of the music. Hundreds of people, jumped up and down at the same time. My family and I experienced a real sense of togetherness and camaraderie.

Suddenly, a woman behind me yelled out, “What is this! You would think that Jamaica and Trinidad were the only islands in the Caribbean! Where is St. Lucia?!” She proudly threw up her blue, white, black and gold flag and bellowed, “St. Lucia! St. Lucia!” Trust me, no one dared to tell her that she did not belong :). Like the national motto of Jamaica says, “Out of Many, One People!”

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

People of the Caribbean are loving, intelligent, rambunctious, short-tempered, colorful, proud, energetic, dedicated people. We are not all like the characters portrayed in movies likes 1998’s Belly or 2002’s Shottas. We are not all involved in questionable behavior. We are capable of speaking proper English and our attire does not only consist of tight clothes, bright colors or loud jewelry. LOL!

I always find it amusing (especially in the work place) when people find out that I am descended from Jamaica; especially when I switch on the patois. (For those of you who may not know, Patois is a Jamaican dialect) I was even asked if it was a foreign language. Go figure 🙂

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Do your research. If you are going to write about something you know little or nothing about, don’t insult yourself or the person/people you write about by doing a poor job at it. If I was to write about being Jamaican, I would still do research. There are still things that I don’t know about my people.

Writing Amachi’s Hope was a scary experience. Deciding to write about something foreign; creating a story around the unfamiliar; wondering if you’ll offend someone. It can make you question whether you are doing the right thing. But if you are determined and true to yourself and your writing, you just may be surprised at what you can achieve.

One Response to DiversifYA: Sharon Mitchell

  1. Thank you for this! I absolutely LOVE Octavia Butler–easily in my top five science fiction authors–and it was so cool to hear you mention her! Loved reading about your perspective.