How Trailblazing Blogger Lesley-Ann Brown Has Been Laying the Foundations for a Literary Renaissance for over Two Decades
“I met and was able to spend time with Lesley-Ann during the inaugural year of The Rhode Island Writers Colony. What instantly struck me about her was this strange balance she has, between youthful energy, and sage wisdom. It's just her personality, and, what was even more illuminating, was how much these two sides of who she is is present in her writing. Lesley-Ann read pieces of her work to me, work revolving around her Caribbean upbringing in Brooklyn, her spoils and foils, some of the experiences that over time have given her such vivid color.” Jason Reynolds, nominee for National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and 2014 nominee for NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Youth / Teens, 2014 Writer in Residence for Rhode Island Writer’s Colony, a classmate in that class with Lesley-Ann Brown
If you Google “Lesley-Ann Brown, writer”, you’re not going to come up with a ton of biographical information. Basically, the same information in different iterations. You are going to come up with a literary trail of bright spots, like looking at a night time sky and looking at the stars perforating the blackness. From her self-publishing and entrepreneurial endeavors with Bandit Queen Press to memoir and blogging work with Black Girl on Mars to her work as a contributor with NBC, there is the framework of an artist in her own right, on her own terms. You will also see the smattering of praise from world travelers, artists, intellectuals and thought leaders. Those who know - know Lesley-Ann Brown. Now, if you ask me, and no one has yet, she is one of the defining voices of the 21st Century. Think Zora Neal Hurston at the 19th Century or Alice Walker in the 20th before they were household names and we begin to understand. And while I am an aspirational soul, I also walk terra firma methodically, toes gripping dirt - toe nails look all grungy and dirty. So my head may be in the clouds but as I look ahead to the months and year ahead, I see Lesley-Ann Brown’s time is arriving, hot- hot, hot, hot.
“Being at the Rhode Island Colony was a (literal &) literary life-saver. Like our ancestors of old who forged maroon colonies in order for us to get some respite from what it means to be Black and in this world.” ~ Lesley-Ann Brown, 2014 Writer-in-Residence of the Rhode Island Writer’s Colony
The one sentence bio for Lesley Ann Brown may read, “Trinidadian-American writer and teacher living in Copenhagen with her beautiful son, taking the good fight to Northern EU and planting the egalitarian flag, red, yellow and green- African Power!”. She has over 20 years of international publishing, writing and editing, beginning with her work with the Marie Brown Literary Agency out of the New School. Her writing has appeared in Source, Vibe Magazine and a few anthologies, including "Expat:Women's True Tales of Life Abroad" & "In Defense of Mumia". She has interviewed R&B icon D’Angelo, National Book Award nominee, author Jason Reynolds, “God Loves Hati” author Dimitry Elias Le’ger, Executive Director at National Book Foundation Lisa Lucas, Savion Glover and Paul Beatty before he won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize for his novel “The Sellout”.
“You know how Beyoncé says she is flawless? My word is flaw-full.”
She has read her work throughout NYC and Copenhagen. And, she is only getting started. I’ve read her work, volumes worth and it is incredible, spiritual, lyrical... distinct and special. Further, she just inked contracts with publishers in the EU and London for work to be published in the near future. See? There is the future in which the Bandit Queen a.k.a. Black Girl on Mars a.k.a. Trini-Goddess in Copenhagen writes the ages, arriving, hot like peppa’ sauce hot.
“I'm a new friend of Lesley's. We met in person after my being a blog friend of hers for years. I vacationed in Copenhagen recently and by chance I met someone there who knew her and she invited me to her home straight away. It was a magical and powerful evening spent with such a dynamic individual. I've traveled and lived in France, Sweden and South Korea for years. I will move to Copenhagen to work with marketing team of an amazing company in March.” Felicia Shelton, photographer and fellow global traveler
I caught up with her on the eve of Christmas Eve and she had just had a party with friends and guests as seems to be her habit. We talked about living overseas, her early publishing experience, if she is a superwoman and the music of Trinidadian English. Below, the transcription -
1. At this point, you’ve spent equal parts of your life in Brooklyn, Copenhagen and Trinidad. Where do you consider home? Do you encourage others to travel?
As I have lived in quite a few places culturally in a few different countries. Copenhagen has been the longest that have been in a single place. I have been able to experience Copenhagen in a way I was not able to experience Brooklyn or Trinidad. That being said, in a strange way, it is really this experience that is my home. Particularly because my son is here. Kai’s father is from here.
That some of what Black Girl on Mars is about. It’s about the root of this question. I feel that I’ve been fortunate to travel to a lot of different places and feeling at home in places that were far away- playing with that ideal of belonging and not belonging. That’s what that whole title is about. That universal sensation that everyone has of belonging and being estranged.
My ideal vacation would be some place warm – some place where I could grow something out of the ground.
I think that it is quite natural desire to want to travel. I think it is very basic wiring for a lot of us. A lot of us want to see what the earth is like and as much as people can exercise that impulse that is great. But I also think it is great to know where you stay. Travelling to me is a state of mind . For me you don’t have to actually travel to meet the expectations of travelling. Travelling these days is realistic and unrealistic. Sure there are discounts with travel. But it can also be expensive. There are restrictions that could almost make it a situation like with classism. This middle class ideal of travel is a privilege. Also nation borders are beginning to close.
I wanted to start with your early days working with Marie Brown Literary Agency and writing with the music magazines Vibe and the Source and beginning the blog Black Girl on Mars when” blog” wasn’t even a word. What did your early experiences within the Marie Brown Literary Agency teach you about the industry?
Marie Brown and Associates - that was a lot of education there – just being around Marie and seeing that aspect of the business. She’s been in publishing since the 60’s so the perspective and the know that she was a very incredible opportunity. Being around Marie was like being around the hub of publishing and the African American publishing world in those days. One book I worked on was by Bakari Kitwana – his book was called The Hip Hop Generation – he was the editor in chief of the Source. Then there were some of the projects for which Marie was an agent like the Million Man March Book and the Faith Ringgold memoir and children’s books. Faith Ringgold is an the artist best known for her narrative quilts. Faith is the mother to Michelle Walace who wrote a book in the 70’s that was quite an interesting black feminist book. The name of the book is “Black Macho and the Myth of Superwoman “ published in 1978.
Are you a superwoman?
You know how Beyoncé says she is flawless? My word is flaw-full.
Talk with me a little more about your blogging.
I’ve been blogging for over 10 years, since 2004.
I just remember coming across this information that there was this technology and I thought after working in publishing, it was a really cool tool. Blogging is blogging. It’s it own animal. It’s not television writing. It’s not poetry. It’s not essays or short stories. And I got into it because you can publish whatever you write. That is connectivity. Isn’t that what being a writer is all about – connecting?
So it was in that same principal I came to Bandit Queen Press. I had this compulsion to print stuff. I had this feeling I wanted to grow stuff. If you’ve been around people who just want to grow stuff. I remember when I was in high school - I think it was in Harlem or New Orleans, there was this zine that was written by this kid. And all he did was just have a photo copy machine and put it together. It cost nothing. I experimented and put it together. I could change the paper. Bind it in different ways. I was working with people who were really interested in what I was doing and they bought these hand made books I made. Then I was interested in what I could do as a legitimate publishing group. I had an opportunity to work with a group of women who took care of all the logisitics and they took care of the ISBN numbers. Maybe that was 2009. That’s what Bandit Queen Press is all about. It was a platform for stories.
As Writer in Residence with the Rhode Island Writer’s Colony, you were part of a very special 2014 group that included Jason Reynolds and Brook Stephenson, it’s co-founder. How did that experience shape you and your work as a writer and editor?
Yes. I mean Brook - I speak of him in the present tense to respect his energy and the work that he is responsible for – it was his first year and he and his brother John started this artist colony in the town where John is from. I went on the internet and I saw he posted some information. I had just come back to the States and I decided I wanted to go and meet other writers and have a space to write and have an opportunity to connect with other writers. It was really interesting and it was really interesting to exchange ideas with Brooks and Jason. Both are very intelligent, creative, talented men. I was very privileged to hear their opinion on many things.
“We’re working at 625 Broadway in the early 90’s I come from a Caribbean family as well. I was always conservative in a very particular way. Lesley was always a free spirit in a very particular way. And that was Marie’s (Literary Agent Marie Brown) way to get people of our background together and to work together. We walk down a black a couple of blocks, a couple of rights this way, a couple of lefts that way. And we would go to the park and we would just swing. Fly. And I needed that. There was just all this energy in that period of time! Lesley-Ann Brown’s work blogging goes back 20 years and she is one of it’s founders. There are so many of us that take energy and inspiration from her.” Deborah Cowell, editor, world traveler and author
“Blogging is blogging. It’s it own animal. It’s not television writing. It’s not poetry. It’s not essays or short stories. And I got into it because you can publish whatever you write. That is connectivity. Isn’t that what being a writer is all about – connecting?”
Also, I am aware that you recently inked deals with several independent publishers for forthcoming projects, can you talk a little bit about that process of securing your deals – was it fly by night? How have your relationships in the industry played into your business
What do you mean fly by night?
I just meant that it takes a lifetime to get to overnight success. A lot of times, in America, there is this thing about so-called “overnight” success but that’s just a myth the culture.
Ok. Because I didn’t even know what you were talking about.
I think one of the things I learned working with Marie is understanding the timing of everything. In a way, I think I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I am having a direct dialogue with something. The older I get the more comfortable with that dialogue the more things seem to fall into place.
I have a book coming in 2018 with Repeater Books. The other one will be released in Denmark. We put that deal together over coffee.
Which language has the most poetry, music in it? Brooklyn English, Trini-English or Danish?
I think that the more you are in tune with language, the more you are in tune with the creative side of people speaking it. Of course, I can say for me is Trinidad English. But that’s the one I grew up with – so I know it the best.
That’s my linguistic imprint. I grew up with the cadences. I grew up with that language intimately. Even American speech – I use it but I don’t use it the way do with my Caribbean tongue.
What are some of your writing habits – during the day, or at night?
I can write anywhere. But most of the time, I work in the morning. Or sometimes at night – I like to work late. I don’t like to be interrupted. I was lucky enough to be on a boat for a few months. I was living there when the discussion was taking place in Copenhagen. It was called BLACKEUROPE BODY POLITICS. It was a decolonial transdisciplinary and deep discussions on Blackcitizenship in Europe, and colonial amnesia. Alanna Lockward invites all these artists and she curates this event where she did it in Berlin and Copenhagen. We had a lot of parties on the boat in the summer. We were docked by the canals in Holmen, Copenhagen. It was a houseboat with three apartments in a water neighborhood. When the Germans had occupied Denmark, the people who built it, took the engine out during the occupation.
Where are you most productive? When does your work result in being published?
Productivity and putting stuff out are two different things. Some of what I put out now are the results of my productivity. The most productive I’ve ever been is the space I live in now. It’s just an apartment in Copenhagen and the neighborhood is very spacious.
I’ve got two kittens – both black, 8 weeks old. One of their names is “Hitherto” (Hither To) which means, “up till now”. The other one doesn’t have a name yet. They might be twins. I have to figure out how to tell them apart. The mother was tired of them.
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Like, I said, Lesley Ann Brown has been laying a trail of cosmic intentions. They have led to this moment - the one we all have looking at the words, right now. But step back and take a look now. Just like tilting your head upward and looking at a night time perforated with diamonds on the black vastness of our universe. You’ll see Andromeda, Cancer, Little Dipper and Big Dipper... That’s what I see when I look at the body of Ms. Bandit Queen’s work. When I listen to a voice, at home within itself and knowing it’s connection to the universe, able to manifest with knowing, calm and cool. Connecting those stars, you will realize that they form the body of a Trinidadian-Brooklynite-Copenhagen goddess - we call her Lesley-Ann Brown in the common vernacular but she has went by the name Bandit Queen, NBC contributor and Black Girl on Mars but more apropos Trinidadian Goddess of the 21st.
Over the years, I have had the honor of crossing paths with many amazing women. However, Lesley-Ann Brown, whom I first met in primary school, I can safely say was one of the first. Beautiful, bold, a little wild and mischevious, Leslie took shit from absolutely no one and pretty much did exactly want she wanted to do. She was a force to be reckoned with amongst teacher and students alike. I can recall times where our little crew was called in front of a teacher to explain our latest round of shenanigans, while most of us were probably on the verge of tears, Lesley-Ann, head held high, was steady, and even a little defiant. To a girl growing up an uber strict home, I have to admit Lesley-Ann was kinda my an idol. Fast forward 30+ years, add in eloquent, just, passionate, and you have our Lesley-Ann of today. A teacher, leader, philanthropist, a conduit for social change...a modern day "badass." Trinidadian Chef, Khiah Cameron, Owner of Wicked Butlers and Personal Chef at Gotta Have Khiah
“Beautiful nerd that Bandit Queen... that intergalactic intellect is tough n’rough for the Black Girl on Mars, radical na’. Doesn't let go, burns righteous as she touches. Sweet, sweet Lesley-Ann Brown, Trinidadian Global Goddess. Sing her praises! Let the Steel pans sing. Let the Soca and Calypso Warrior lock arms and jump up! Jump up! Sing ‘em loud na!”