Anondra “Kat” Williams on Writing and Women’s Empowerment
Anondra “Kat” Williams is a writer, poet, radio host, and all around lover of words. Her first foray into writing was black girl love, released in 2011. In 2013 she released SistaGirl. Her work is currently featured in the anthologies Life, Love & Lust 1 & 2, a collection of short stories; Her Voice, a collection, of poetry; and G.R.I.T.S-Girls Raised In The South: An Anthology on Southern Queer Womyn’s Voices and Their Allies. In 2009 she started Shades Retreat, an empowerment, growth, and change retreat for queer women of color.
Tell us about why you started the Shades Retreat and how has it evolved over the years?
I started Shades Retreat for several reasons with the primary being that I needed it. It being surrounded by sisters who were looking for more than and who wanted to plant seeds of something. I translated those seeds into the words: empowerment, growth, and change, all of which happens to some extent at Shades, plus much much more. We commune and we connect in the middle of laughing, hugging, and some crying. We do all this in the woods of Georgia with no internet, no cable TV, and no major shopping centers. Just us. Sistas planting seeds. It’s been a fantastic eight years and I believe we have a few more to go. I say two but the sistas say otherwise.
What has been your biggest challenge with organizing and facilitating the Shades Retreat over the past eight years?
Getting out of my own way. I had a vision and that vision had to adapt to real life and it has, but I’m still here trying to do more than one body can. I had to learn to accept help, to accept help that is attached to people that don’t love Shades like I do. I had to learn to accept help from those who love Shades in their own light. I listened to those who attended, filtered, added, and deleted. It’s been a process of try this, didn’t work, try that; accepting and improving on the things that didn’t work and not taking it personal. Every year has been different, the people, the workshops, the energy. And every year has been fantastic. The growth, the change. Not only for those in attendance but for the retreat itself.
And the next biggest hurdle was finding a space that met my needs along with those that attend. We have finally found a home at Indian Springs State Park.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Cheese. Seriously, I love good cheese and crackers. After that, stupid shows on TV. I prefer shows that don’t require me to think much, just observe, laugh or gasp, and it’s over within thirty to sixty minutes.
You’ve been a writer and supporter of Black lesbian fiction for a long time, what has changed since you published your first book?
It’s gotten easier and harder at the same time. You have to give more, modify more to reach an audience. You have to give more of yourself to the audience, your readers. They want to connect with the author, be friends, or at least some semblance of that. They want to hear about your day, your life, trials, and tribulations. You have to balance that with keeping some things to yourself. Keeping you, you. On the flip side, once you got them, you have them for at least a book or two.
As for the writing, it has to be in a readable format, if that makes sense. I’m constantly thinking of my core audience and how they express themselves, what they think life is today and how they move in that world. Relationships are changing, communication styles are changing. Current modern-day fiction must capture those changes. The story can’t feel too dated or possibly beyond the grasp of those reading. I’m not saying dumb it down, but I am saying keep it connectable. I love when readers say a particular character is either them or an ex or a best friend. That’s the connection that I strive for when writing.
Are there any current trends that give you pause?
Writing is storytelling. I may not like the story, but it’s valid to someone. I’m not a huge fan of urban/hood lit, but that’s just me. I was poor and lived in not so great environments as a child, so I feel no need to read about it as an adult.
What sparked the inspiration for—or idea for— your most recent work, Pat Greene: Her Story?
Pat Greene has actually been a work in progress for five to six years now. I stopped and started on her whenever she told me it was time to do so. I finally finished her up at a crucial moment in my life. Perfect timing really. She was ready for the world and I guess I was too.
You released black girl love in 2011. What have you learned about writing and publishing since then?
It’s hard. It will never be perfect. The story, the writing, the editing…me. I made plenty of mistakes with black girl love, more with SistaGirl, and a few with Pat Greene. But that doesn’t mean don’t do it, at least not to me. It means, learn, apply, do again. So I move forward to the next project accepting that it won’t be perfect either. But hey, I did it.
The second big thing I learned was to accept critique. Good, bad, and indifferent. Everyone isn’t going to like what you do. Some will hate it and others will sing your praises to the high moon. Accept it all and move on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next story.
All critique isn’t critique…learn the difference.
What role does art or literature have in social or political protest?
It should be at the core. Art is living and literature is the telling of the living. If you ignore what is going on around you when doing your art, what’s the purpose?
What has surprised you the most about being a writer?
The ease and non-ease if that makes sense. Some days I can scribble with no end in sight, other days I can’t find the letter E in a sentence I wrote two months prior. It’s hit and miss, come and go, and honestly, I love it. I like the idea that the writing takes work, even when it appears that it doesn’t.
The second thing that surprised me was readers, their attachment to certain characters, situations, or trains of thought. They know this person, they are this person, they’ve been there, thought that. The ownership is amazing and beautiful at the same damn time.
If you could sit down with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Octavia Butler. Can you imagine that conversation? I can and have, lots of silence at first cause it’s Octavia! After that, endless give and take and back and forth as I just take in all that is she while picking that brain. I just have to know the fermentation of some of her characters; how did Doro (Wild Seed) come about? Why? Is Shori’s (Fledgling) character symbolic like so many others? Sista, can you tell me why I dislike Kindred so much? That last question will only be asked after 50 others.
Besides Octavia Butler, who are some of your favorite writers? Have you read any of N.K. Jemison’s work?
Series wise, I read Illona Andrews, Nalina Singh, Patricia Briggs, Shelly Laurenston, G.A. Aiken, all of who are more parnormal than sci-fi. I love Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. I haven’t read N.K. Jemison’s work, but I’ve actually purchased a few of her books to read in the not-so-distant future based on recommendations from a few friends. I have over 1,000 books on my Kindle. There’s always someone new to read.
How do you overcome writer’s block? If you’ve never experienced it, how have you avoided it?
If I can’t write I think or post scenarios on Facebook. That tends to help me out a lot, the thinking and posting. If that doesn’t work, then I try a word exercise where I just write down words in no particular order. Generally, from that, I will produce a sentence or two, a thought on a new short or a piece of poetry.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Write. Don’t worry about who will read it, just write.