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An Interview with Bernadene High-Coleman

Conducted by Maria Robbins
December, 2002

From Louisiana to Los Angles, Bernadene High-Coleman kept Mama Rose, deep within her heart. Mama Rose, in that southern rural style, told the stories, passed down through the generation’s women in her family. Stories so rich and vivid, that MAMA ROSE became Bernadene Coleman’s first novel. A story that could only be told by her . . .

FF: Who first told you the story about your great grandparents?

Bernadene: “The story of Rose and Mr. Ford was one I grew up with. The nuts and bolts of the story, were supplied by Rose, during my summer visits with her. The rest was filled in by my various aunts and uncles.”

FF: What made you decide to become a writer?

Bernadene:”Words have always captivated my attention. I always used the language to solve my problems. I love writing about the beauty and troubles of the world. Trouble was probably too strong a word to use at that point. But there are so many -what seems like simple problems people face every day, i.e., losses of a mate, loss of a job, lack of recognition/acceptance, lack of peace, illness, growing old, making choices, etc., etc.”
“I knew that my first novel could only be told by me . . . My mother was an orphaned child, who was partially raised by her grandmother, Mama Rose. When she married and left the farm for city life, she sent her children back to spend their summers on the farm with her. I am next to the eldest of those children. The elder sister was never involved in those random conversations. The others are too young to remember and/or would never research and pry the remaining ancestors like I did to get the information to record it. When I started this story, it was intended as a family memoir. At the suggestion from a writing instructor, I turned it into a novel.”

FF: How has growing up in a southern rural area influenced you writing, both you novels, and your poetry?

Bernadene:”It gave me an appreciation of nature and the beauty of a plain and simple life style . . . the pain and the joy, the failures and successes, the working together and the richness of rural living and the special love among the people.”

FF: What would be the difference between MAMA ROSE, and your other works, I LEAVE YOU IN MY DREAMS, LISTEN MY CHILDREN and BEYOND GRIEF?

Bernadene:”The big difference is the time period. MAMA ROSE took place following the Civil War. I LEAVE YOU IN MY DREAMS took place in the decade of the 40’s, during the Second World War. Both eras represent significant period in African American History. MAMA ROSE tells how blacks survived following slavery. I LEAVE YOU IN MY DREAMS details simple truths about that survival more than fifty years later.”

FF: How difficult was it to get MAMA ROSE published?

Bernadene:”I have been told that I didn’t try hard and long enough before I made the decision to publish it myself. . . ”

FF: What was it like for you, going to Washington, D.C. to read your Novel MAMA ROSE?

Bernadene:”The Library of Congress is my favorite building in Washington, D.C. That decision was made years before I thought of writing. Consequently, to be invited there to read was awesome . . . like a dream I never dared to dream.”

FF: Who are your favorite authors?

Bernadene:”Tina Ansa, Margaret Walker, Alice Walker, Zora N. Hurston, Alex Haley; just to name a few.”

FF: How would you describe your poetry?

Bernadene:”It is like painting word pictures and giving texture to everyday life. For me it is a creative process of examining various styles and processes of verbal expression. I try to use the power of words to capture the full range of sensory expression.”

FF: What do you like most about writing poetry?

Bernadene:”I am fascinated by the fact that you can tell a whole story in just a few simple verses. I love the manner in which poetry flows and the way you can get caught up in it.”

FF: Many writers describe writing as nearly painful and laborious, how do you describe writing?

Bernadene:” . . . writing is a release of emotions and expressions. I love to bring the unconscious mind details of living and surviving . . .and [sic] chronicle little details that shaped our lives that most people have blocked out of their memory.”

FF: What is your writing schedule like?

Bernadene:”I write at night when all around me is quiet. I try to match writing with reading.”

FF: What do you dislike about writing?

Bernadene:”The time spent rewriting. I have never learned/practiced writing it all down and then rewriting. I rewrite after almost every page ( a terrible waste of time).”

FF: What writing genre do you enjoy writing most?

Bernadene: “Historical fiction based on fact with I call faction.”

FF: What advice would you have for inspiring writers?

Bernadene:”To study their craft and understand the process of writing. Also, to identify their audience and not to expect to find a publisher easily; therefore, acquire the best marketing skills available.”

MAMA ROSE is not the typical African- American novel–the breaking of black and white societal rules captures some of the forbidden truths of black/white relationships in history.

An excerpt of MAMA ROSE, along with some of her poetry and other works. Be sure to visit her website: http://www.mamarose.com/mainframe.htm. . . It has been our pleasure getting to know you Bernadene, thank you.

Copyright © 2002 by Maria Robbins

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