“When I start getting, “oh I can’t do this, what made me think I can write a book?” she kicks my butt and really reminds me what I’m writing and who I’m writing for… Because she’s her, I do it when she tells me to do something.”
My two mentors, Denene Millner and Meri Danquah, they’re people that I’ve admired for years. Over the last year, I’ve become personally acquainted with both of them. That never happens – you admire someone from far, you never get to meet them. They never like you and take you under their wing.
Denene, I met through a mutual friend. She’d been reading my work; she encouraged me to write more. I was like “no, I’m not really a writer. I just blog sometimes and don’t really take it out of the poetry realm.” She gave me a lot of confidence and perspective, she showed me my strengths. A lot of young writers get caught in the way they sound. They wonder if they sound enough like other people for the general audience to be accepting of them. But she told me, “Nobody writes like you, so you should be the one writing like you and they should be the ones wondering if they should be writing like you.”
If it weren’t for her, I would not be working on my book. I would not be writing in these publications. Every day, she encourages me and she’s so busy but she helps me even when I just send her little things. When I start getting, “oh I can’t do this, what made me think I can write a book?” she kicks my butt and really reminds me what I’m writing and who I’m writing for. Over the past year, my writing has grown and I’ve written more in the past year than in the past five years. Because she’s her, I do it when she tells me to do something.
Meri, I read her book when I was in college. It was called “Willow Weep for Me.” It was the first book I had ever read about a black woman’s struggle with depression. At the time I was going through depression but I didn’t have a word for it. I didn’t feel like I had permission for it. Her life mirrored mine so much; it really gave me a lot of comfort when I needed it.
As luck would have it, randomly on Twitter one day she tweets me and asks me to DM her my phone number. I’m like “whaaaaaaaaat?!” I do and she calls me and she says I’m giving my book away on Twitter. She says I have a story, and “there hasn’t been a book since my book about a young person of color dealing with mental illness.” I was like, “I’m scared, I don’t want to offend my family.” And she was like, “If you tell the truth you won’t offend your family.” She gave me the permission to tell my story how it is. I have to write like no one loves me and that it is MY truth.
Meri and Denene… I’m so appreciative of them. They’re busy people and Meri moved to Ghana a month ago and she still calls me and still keeps in touch with me. I’m so humbled by them and so in awe of them. They’re such amazing people.
Bassey Ikpi has been writing and performing for the past ten years. She has been featured on Def Poetry Jam and toured internationally. She is currently working on her book entitled, Too Cute to Be Crazy; All This and Bipolar Too. Bassey also regularly writes for The Huffington Post and The Root.