This coming-of-age story, which came out September 7, is woven together like a braid: You’re one strand, your sister, Kim, is another, and your best friend, Debra, the third. Then the braid unravels. Why did you choose to write about it?
I’d been telling Debra’s story in the Chicago Tribune since 2000. This memoir was my first time tackling our story head on. I read so many stories about men and their divergent paths, and I hadn’t read anything about Black women and their divergent paths and anything that took the long view from childhood to middle age.
Are you speaking directly to other Black women?
On the one hand, yes, I am most definitely speaking to Black women, Black girls, because sometimes the stakes are incredibly high for us and the margin of error is razor thin. But it’s also very much a universal story that speaks to the vulnerabilities of girls. So I’m also talking to all girls and women. This idea of different fates and destinies is universal, along with the bonds that we have as sisters, friends, and women.
You’ve spent your career telling stories about people who failed and then seized second chances. Why is this a theme for you?
The whole idea of the second chance is something that many people, especially Black people, don’t get — the benefit of the doubt. We all make mistakes. The only way that some of us are different is that we have a family safety net, or we’ve been extended an opportunity to make the most of a bad situation. This book is not about me being perfect, but about me trying not to land in a place where I didn’t want to be.
You write about overcoming a failure in college. How did you keep challenges like that from derailing you?
I surrounded myself with a lot of people who were smarter than me and could direct me. My family, my ex-husband’s parents, my mentors. Without the guidance I’ve had in my life, I don’t know if I would’ve made my way back. There are a lot of people who have the will and the energy but don’t have the road map and the people to direct them. Without the road map and the support, you’re just standing in place.