Written by Judith Ohikuare
Ibi Zoboi wants to recreate the world through writing. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and raised in New York City in the 1980s, the storyteller learned the art of crafting new narratives from other Haitian immigrants and members of the emerging spoken word movement. She began writing in high school but “wasn’t consciously aware of [writing] being something you can pursue” until her early college years, which she filled with fashion, poetry readings, and literature from the Black Arts Movement. Zoboi eventually changed her name (Pascale to “Ibi”, Yoruba for “rebirth”) and embraced speculative fiction, a genre that highlights the weirdness of life under remarkable circumstances.
Now married with three kids, Zoboi is putting the finishing touches on a new novel. Starting a family at a young age has made it difficult to pursue a literary career, but Zoboi believes motherhood has boosted her creativity, and determination. “My dream has never changed,” she says. “I keep going because I’m doing something that I don’t see on the shelves.”
“For black children, there’s a narrative that anyone in the world who looks like them is in a dire situation—that’s why I love science fiction and fantasy. I’m writing stories that show brown boys and girls who have power, and magic. I need my children to see the world as a magical place.”
How has being a mother changed your life?
I didn’t really have much of a life before my children. I got married at 23 and had my first child at 25, so I became a mom early. I was only a [childfree] adult for a few years; some of my friends didn’t have their first child until their thirties. I’m in a small group with other Brooklyn moms; two women who are both 10 years older than me talk about dating so-and-so. I don’t regret it, but that’s how I know being a homebody is really my personality.
What was being a new mother like?
Most people don’t know how hard those first few weeks are for a new mother. Eventually, you make it through, but I know a lot of mothers who say those were some tough months. It was really, really hard because [we had] virtually no help. Because my husband is so [present], his family would come and play with the baby and think everything was fine, but Joseph was tired, too. I think what happens when you’re a married couple is people see a helpful husband and think you have it made. But he’s still a dude. He gets sick of the dishes and will be like, ‘I’m going for a walk!’ The hardest thing was not having a community of women coming to help.
I [also] had a home birth for all three children, so I didn’t get [those] two days in the hospital where you just chill and everybody else takes care of everything. In the past, I had taken ownership of my health -- I changed my hair, was vegan, and juiced. A home birth would be taking ultimate ownership of my body. [We] didn’t even consider a hospital, but my mother was like, “Are you crazy! We came all the way from Haiti for this?!” (Laughs) She was scared, but after the third child, I saw that she kind of had a new respect for me.
What do you enjoy most about being a mom?
I like the fact that there are stages. You may not feel confident during your children’s infancy, but you may be the best mom during their teenage years. When they’re under 5 they’re cute, but I’m not one to get down on the floor and play. I like to dress my kids up, and take them out to the park, and watch them from afar. But I’m enjoying my oldest now that she’s a pre-teen. She’s not the same person that she was at 5; I can start cultivating a little activist and have conversations with her about the world.
What would you say are some of the big lessons you’ve learned from the women in your life?
I’m seeing what it’s like for older women who did things they thought they were supposed to be doing, and then look back [at their lives]. My husband is an only child and wasn’t raised by his mother, and my mother was an immigrant and had to work all the time. Both of our mothers are currently in their 60s and want to spend time with their grandchildren, but they missed that with their children and don’t always know how to interact with kids. It’s why I only work part-time and do my art. I want to be there to pick my kids up after school. I want to know who they are so I don’t look at them [one day] and go, “Who are you?”