Felicia Pride wears a lot of hats; she calls herself “a creator, convener, and strategist at the intersection of storytelling, media, and technology.” She’s also an author who has written seven books and her most recent, To Create, is a collection of interviews with black storytellers and media makers. Mechanical Dummy sat down with Felicia to talk about her most recent book and learn a little more about her fascinating experiences.
Words by N. Sella
Mechanical Dummy: What made you write this book?
Felicia Pride : Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve had the pleasure to interview a number of creatives. From writers to filmmakers to multimedia artists. I had all of these interviews and they were just sitting around and I thought it would be interesting to put these interviews together in a collection and consider threads or commonalities. Seeing what could be pulled out of them— inspiration, insight— so that sort of was the motivation to put the collection together.
MD: What was a commonality?
FP: One of the things that seems to be fairly common is that the need to create is innate, often. It’s something that you just have to do. To those who are blessed, or cursed, however you wanna look at it, with this desire, it definitely comes from within in and you have to do it. It doesn’t just that it make you happy, but it stains you. A lot of the creatives, especially those who have been doing this for a long time, that’s where their output comes from. This need to create.
Another thing that I realize is that these creators are risk takers, often. Whether that’s in their art, pushing their boundaries. Pushing up against traditions that tell them to do something else or don’t necessarily respect what they do. So there’s definitely a lot of risk-taking, even from a lifestyle standpoint. Going into a field that doesn’t pay that well sometimes when you think about writing. So taking those risks is another aspect.
What I thought was interesting in terms of differences was process and approach. How people go about the process of their art and what is the approach to it. For instance, I think these interviews may be back to back (in the book), there’s a piece about Edward P Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who’s intent isn’t necessarily to make a difference, but it’s to make art period. Versus Edwidge Danticat who is a Haitian writer for whom the plight and beauty of Haiti really drives her work. So there’s this social justice bit in there. While her intent is definitely also to create great art, there’s also that innate desire for that social justice quality in it. I thought that was interesting.
MD: Do you consider yourself a creative?
FP: I do. I started out as a writer, that’s how I kind of got into the creative field. I started out from a journalism standpoint and then got into creative writing, fiction, creative non-fiction. To this day I still enjoy creating. I primarily run a communications firm that connects storytelling and digital media and that sort of thing. But I’m always a writer first. This is book seven.
MD: Do you remember the origin of your creativity?
FP: That’s interesting. I tell this story, and I remember this very vividly, how I wrote this book called the dogs. And I illustrated it, I stapled the pages together. This is when I was five years old. I remember being so proud of the process, the story, the fact that I did it all in terms of I illustrated and wrote it at the same time. But I really was not a writer. I know there are writers who are like, “I’ve been writing in my journal since I was six years old.” I’m not that girl. I definitely had teachers who saw something in my writing. In high school and college I had a professor who encouraged me to minor in writing. But to me, that didn’t make sense. I didn’t really know any writers who made money as a career so I was like, “What would I do with that?” So I ended up majoring in business and getting a job in marketing because it didn’t make sense to me. But it was actually when I was getting my first job out of college and I was bored to tears. I thought it would be a little bit more creative than what it was. So I sought out opportunities to do something creative. I did this poetry— I wouldn’t really call it poetry, it was pretty crappy. I respect poetry too much to call it poetry. But it was this rhythmic writing that was very much like Hip Hop, because I was very much inspired by Hip Hop. And there were these places where you could post things. Like, Def Poetry Jam had a forum. So I started posting my work in the forum and getting immediate feedback and that was huge. And then I started looking for other places to write. And that’s how I stumbled upon an opportunity to write for a newspaper. And once I saw my name in print, it was a wrap. I was like, OK, this is what I wanna do. The feeling of satisfaction and validation and that I was entering into a publication that was bigger than me.
MD: How does feedback link to creativity, and being able to share your work with people and get their energy?
FP: Interestingly, I didn’t uncover that a lot. I think it was definitely a personal satisfaction of finishing something. That was another sort of thread was the idea of finishing. Finishing projects. And then the idea that my art may provoke, it may change minds, it may make someone smile. Definitely from that standpoint. But this book doesn’t necessarily get into a lot of what that direct or indirect exchange did for the individual artist.
MD: What does the “art of storytelling” mean to you?
It’s interesting because in my business we talk a lot about storytelling as a tool of engagement. And so I have this idea or these thoughts of storytelling as art, storytelling as business, storytelling as a (means) of social change. The one thing about storytelling that’s interesting is, I don’t know who said this, but humans are wired to tell stories. And whether or not we respect them on the level of art, just in our daily lives we are wired to tell stories. We often understand and relate to something because it’s told in a story. For me it’s even much more basic than an art form. The fact that we’re wired to want to tell stories, to process information through stories. So it’s a very important part of our make up.
When we think about it as an art form, it’s not easy. I think people think it’s easy to tell a story in an image, to tell a story on a stream or to tell a story in print. Those of us who wrestle with story know that it is not easy. Even relaying stories that are true. So I wish there were more acknowledgement of that in society.
MD: How did you choose to reach out to these subjects?
FP: Well, I actually didn’t reach out to anyone new. These were all interviews that had been previously conducted. And I didn’t realize I had so many. What I did have to do is curate. I couldn’t do all of them. So I had to curate the ones I felt really strongly about. That really got to me and really somehow touched on the idea of what it means to be a creative and provided some kind of interesting angle on that. So I had many interview that I thought were great but I didn’t necessarily feel they achieved that. And then what I did was work with publisher to develop a structure for the book. Sort of put them into themes. And it could have went a lot of different ways. But luckily we settled on one that we think works. And for me, it was important that the interviews played off of each other. Because we already can read them individually, but if you’re reading them all together they should play off as married to one another. So that was the process of choosing how to structure which piece fit where and which pieces to include.
MD: How did you come in contact with your subjects?
FP: I wrote about books for a very long time, maybe five years. And so that put me in touch with a lot of authors and a lot of creatives. So I wrote for a number of publications about books. That was like my niche. I wrote about books and authors. Primarily authors of color. So that definitely gave me an opportunity to talk with a number of authors who also often dabbled in other art forms. So they may not have just been a graphic novelist like Melvin Van Peebles who wrote graphic novels and was also a filmmaker and playwright. That connection I had definitely allowed me to talk to a number of diverse creatives.
MD: Who are some young people who inspire you?
FP: One person who’s in the book is Ava DuVernay. Filmmaker, business woman, her film “Middle of Nowhere” is winning awards left and right and getting a lot of press. I’m inspired by her journey to be a self-taught filmmaker. To then also say, “Yeah, Hollywood’s system is not gonna work for me so I’m gonna create my own distribution arm and not just distribute my films but also distribute other people’s films. That was sort of the thing too that the book touches on. The business of creativity and focusing on those especially who are doing things a little differently. Nzingha Stewart, screenwriter, director, the woman who was behind the thought to even bring “For Colored Girls” to screen. Very, very inspiring. Also one who creates opportunity. I think that for me is a big piece that I get out of the book. Filmmakers are people who create opportunity.
Create daily, one of the projects that I launched and the goal is to match creatives with opportunity because that’s one of the things that helps us to create. When we have private funding or are able to travel abroad and be inspired by something new. Or when we’re able to work on an innovative project. Victor Lavelle, he’s not in the book, although I have interviewed him before. Young novelist, brilliant creative stuff.
MD: What’s the ideal balance of business and creativity?
FP: I am not down for the struggling artist. I do not think it’s attractive. You can’t eat modestly so I’m very adamant about that. For me, I think the perfect balance is being able to fund your own projects. What I find often is artists’ work is contingent upon finding grants to fund them, to finding institutions to sponsor them. And to me, how dope is the ability to be able to fund your own projects. What that takes and what that requires is definitely another conversation, it takes and requires a lot. But to me that’s sexy. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think there is some stigma attached to commercial success within the purist art community. And I definitely can understand how you don’t want to have markets drive your art. That’s definitely a problem. But being able to be savvy enough to find ways to fund your projects, I think that is a great balance.
MD: What do you think of the state of creativity in hip-hop, is it alive and bringing new life?
FP: It’s definitely alive, but it’s just very hard to find. And it requires people to seek. And for the most part, that’s hard for people to do sometimes. To seek out great art no matter what type of art it is. Hip Hop, theater. We are definitely in a society that tells us what’s great art and then we follow. So I do believe that there’s some creative stuff going on in Hip Hop but it’s very hard to find. Because of that reason, I think a lot of people who respect our form, particularly in the music context, have given up. So Hip Hop has lost fans, it’s lost momentum in that sense. But you have those who are in the know and are like, “No, I get great music everyday. I stumble upon new stuff that’s dope every day.”
MD: Where do you look for creativity and what do you look for?
FP: It’s interesting because I feel like social media is actually a great place to do that. One of my choices is Twitter. But it allows you to enter into a global conversation with people you may not know. But then you start to trust recommendations and opinions. And people are sharing stuff all the time. I feel like social media is such a strong way to find and uncover great work, great art. To find out about it from people that you trust. It’s sort of putting power back in our hands to say, “Hey, it’s not just major publications or major media corporations that have tell us what’s good, I’m telling you what I like and you may like it, too.
MD: Do you think there is still a need for major media companies?
FP: I think there’s still gonna be a need for organized distribution. Will it have to be in the hands of major corporations? No, but I still think it has to be organized. And then within that offshoot of organization are the people who are helping to share and spread the word and that sort of thing.