Celebrating the SiStars: Author ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Yesterday morning I woke up and turned on the radio as I’m apt to do as I lie in bed before I get up. I listen to the community radio station and found that there was an interview with author ReShonda Tate Billingsley who was holding a book reading/signing at the public library that evening. I decided to go since I anticipated a slow work day if there was any work at all.

I made it to the reading okay. I had heard of Billingsley before today, especially since she has won an NAACP Image Award for her work. However, I had never read any of her books. After spending the hour at the reading, I was very interested in getting to know her work some more.

Billingsley considers herself a Christian who writes fiction rather than a Christian fiction author, a distinction I can understand. Indeed, she had some amusing anecdotes about how she feels about some Christian fiction that feels unrealistic. She’s taken the criticism for the content of her work but stays true to creating reality around her characters. I’m all for work that has a religious point of view, but sometimes I find it too judgmental and steeped in respectability politics. However, I didn’t feel I would get that from Billingsley’s work.

This is one of the things I liked about her. Billingsley is a very charismatic and lovely person. I liked her charm and her enthusiasm for the life her writing career has forged for her. I also enjoyed the way she talked about the characters in her books, explaining that they speak to her whenever they feel. This is something I also recently learned about my own writing.

However, I was also thrilled to learn that Billingsley’s books are creating opportunities for other black women in entertainment. Regina King made her feature film directorial debut with an adaptation of Let the Church Say Amen and Queen Latifah produced it. Whether it goes straight to BET or Latifah manages to get it released in the theaters, I am loving that the film is driven by black women. King is an underrated force in the entertainment industry, a former child star who managed to carve out a successful acting career for more than 30 years. And let’s just say Latifah has shown that rap artists are some of the most versatile artists in the industry. It was awesome to know that women like them have put so much behind another black woman’s work.

And yet, these are not the only reasons Billingsley has endeared herself to me. I had no money to buy a copy of her latest book A Family Affair, but I was definitely interested in reading it. I think her driver saw that I was broke and trying to make myself invisible until I could slip out and hope no one noticed I didn’t get a book. Seriously, I was just a bit embarrassed about this. He bought me a copy and took a picture of me with the author herself. I’m only six chapters in, but this one will probably find itself completely read by the time the weekend arrives. I have to care for the characters and I like the fact that the reader already knows the scandalous secret but has to go through the process of the protagonist dealing with the consequences.

I’m so glad I decided to attend the reading. My intentions may have been to show support to a black woman author and maybe learn a few things about the publishing industry while I was there, but I found another black woman to look up to as a writer. Billingsley actually makes you happy that she’s successful. I may not have the same ingenuity that helped her market her first book when it was self-published, but I see how she has managed to author 28 books and has options for film adaptations. ReShonda Tate Billingsley is a wonder and I know I’m going to enjoy getting to know the characters of her latest work.

By the way, she’s the tall, glamorous one 😉

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