An award-winning author and journalist, asha bandele first attained recognition when she penned her 1999 debut book, The Prisoner’s Wife, a powerful, lyrical memoir about a young Black woman’s romance and marriage with a man who was serving a twenty-to-life sentence in prison. With the hope that they would live as a couple in the outside world, she became pregnant with a daughter. A former features editor for Essence Magazine, she returns with her latest memoir, Something Like Beautiful, the continuation of her love with Rashid and its ultimate loss, with another emotional disappointment and a serious bout of depression. She is also the author of two collections of poems and the novel, Daughter. She lives in Brooklyn with her daughter, Nisa.
Ms. Bandele spoke with AALBC.com’s Robert Fleming and put the new memoir’s remarkable themes into context.
asha bandele Interview
By Robert Fleming
Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story
Click to order via Amazon
by asha bandele
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Collins (January 27, 2009)
Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
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Robert Fleming (RF): At the start of the book, you write of themes of ’opposing emotions of a woman and a single mother?’ This is really the emotional core of your second memoir, Something Like Beautiful. Discuss this.
asha bandele (ab): I wanted to write about the contradictions and complexities of a woman. What I was writing about were the opposing emotions I felt as a mother alone in the world. On the one hand, I couldn’t have been happier being a mom; becoming a parent was something I’d wanted for so long. But on the other hand, it was lonely and frightening finding myself all alone.
RF: After disappointment with romance and high expectations, you note: ’for some of us, the pain, the rage, becomes a belt we lash our children with.’ Explain.
ab: That’s only part of the quote. What I was referring to was that so many moms, left alone and unsupported become depressed. Some mothers take that depression, that anger and turn it on their children. Others, women like me, turn it on themselves.
RF: You never label Rashid, your lover and husband, a prisoner or convict, those labels society forced him throughout his life. But what did he represent to you?
ab: We were linked by love. Rashid is clearly a prisoner and that status has defined and undermined our relationship since we first fell in love. But Rashid is also simply a man, a good man, the father of my child, a great love in my life.
Q. Did Rashid talk candidly to you about his criminal life or did you just ignore his past like many spouses and girl friends of prisoners do? Was that healthy for you or your daughter, Nisa?
ab: Rashid is a deeply honest, introspective and spiritual man. He values truth and honesty. He told me the truth from the first time we had a personal visit. Truth, although sometimes quite difficult, is ultimately healing and healthy.
RF: Do you think you have an addictive personality? Did those binges of drugs and alcohol contribute to your lack of judgment, choices and the low swings of depression affecting your life?
ab: I think I’ve been traumatized and self-medicated at varying points in my life. I don’t give myself over to saying that I have an addictive personality as though I have no control over my destiny. Alcohol and drug abuse can always negatively impact one’s decisions. I made many errors in judgment quite sober, save for the severe injury done to me by the sexual trauma.
RF: How much being not ’feeling worthy’ undermined the strength of your self-esteem?
ab: I’m pretty sure that the sense of low esteem contributed to so many of my poor decisions. That experience, coupled with other harsh incidents, made me feel less than the whole of my humanity. It undercut my view of myself. However, it will not always be that way.
RF: What does ’stability’ and ’consistency’ mean to you?
ab: I need order and predictability in my life for me to feel safe.
RF: Following your shattered dreams with Rashid, you fall in love with Amir, a man who could give you an ever-present adult romance without complexity or contradictions. But the relationship was a combative one. What did you get out of it?
ab: The romance in the beginning was incredible and great to experience in the outside world after all those years hidden behind stone walls with Rashid. Ultimately, though, what I got out of it was that I will never love anyone who doesn’t love me and demonstrate that emotion regularly. Doing it part time ’ one moment loving me and the next raging at me ’ is not love. I knew that, but like so many other, you don’t always recognize crazy when you’re in the eye of the storm.
RF: Address the critical issue of many Black single mothers who feel they don’t count and don’t matter in this society. Are you comfortable now that you’re one of them?
ab: Absolutely, I can say I am one of them. And we do matter. And at this juncture, I don’t even know if I could co-parent. I love my relationship with my daughter. I love that my partners do not incur on our relationship.
RF: How has completing this book ’moved you closer to the place where I could claim my own heart, my own desires, and my own needs?’
ab: Memoir writing allows me to order my steps, if you will. It allows me to quietly and at my own pace, find the strength, courage, and wisdom to look at myself and determine what I need to do to help get myself to a better place.
RF: How are you dealing with your depression? Do you recommend that people suffering from this ailment get help?
ab: I saw an excellent therapist for a time and if I could afford it, I’d likely see her. I did my best to remove who and what was toxic from my life, though that is an ongoing process. But yes, get help. As I detail in the book, depression is an illness and like any illness, it must be treated by properly trained individuals. If you’re a parent, you can’t talk to your girls to fix depression. If a woman is depressed, you can’t make love to one or a hundred men to fix it. You wouldn’t try to cure cancer or heal broken bones that way! Don’t treat depression any less seriously. Its negative consequences cause too much death and destruction.
RF: What do you hope that Black men and women, especially young girls, will take away after reading this book?
ab: My hope is that each of us has a right to come home to ourselves.