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On Episode 9.5 of The Turn On, we talk to Lauren Cherelle, author of "The Dawn of Nia," about identity and using literature to lift up the experiences of Southern Black lesbians.
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Erica: Before we get started, we have some exciting news to share.
Kenrya: Yo, we’re doing big fucking things: The Turn On just joined the Frolic Podcast Network, which is a new community for folks who love erotica and romance novels as much as we do.
Erica: So what does that mean for you? I mean, first, y’all need to be happy for a bitch. But more than that, it means that we will be your hookup to connect you with other shows you’ll love almost as much as this one.
Kenrya: Yup! And you can start that right now: jus head to Frolic.media/podcasts to find a new show today. Now let’s get started.
Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Our guest today is Lauren Cherelle, head of independent publishing collective Resolute Publishing, co-director of the Black Lesbian Literary Collective, and editor and writer of, and contributor to, projects that include “Solace: Writing, Refuge, and LGBTQ Women of Color,” “Lez Talk, A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction,” and last week's selection, “The Dawn of Nia.” When not reading and writing, Lauren likes to travel, binge watch television, and teach women to explore and adore the power of intimacy. That's dope. We're so glad that you're here with us. Thank you so much for saying yes.
Lauren Cherelle: Oh, no problem. I'm glad to be here.
Kenrya: Yay. Before we get into the interview, we like to ask what folks' pronouns are, so that we make sure that we are using them correctly, so what are your pronouns?
Lauren Cherelle: She and her.
Kenrya: Awesome and we are also, she and her.
Lauren Cherelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: In addition to the pronouns, we also like to ... We read your official bio, but we want to break down to our readers and our writers, words what they do. In regular ass words, what do you do?
Lauren Cherelle: In regular ass words, I am a storyteller, just pretty much across everything that I do. My background is in graphic design, so there's digital communication, visual storytelling. As far as my work life, I write stories. I am communicating through social media, so I'm telling snippets of stories. Then of course, I play around in my personal time and write fiction. Plainly, yes, I'm a storyteller.
Kenrya: Word. When did you first realize that you were a storyteller?
Lauren Cherelle: Back in, let me say 2009, when the recession tanked. Well, when the economy tanked. I've always been someone who loved books. I love stories, whether the story is in a book form, or TV, or film. When I was unemployed and wanting to do things that were worthy of my time, I didn't want to waste my time. I decided that I would write a book. That's how it all started. It was kind of out of necessity. I said, "Either I'm going to sit and wallow in my brokeness, or I will sit here and use this time to produce something that matters." That's where it all started.
Kenrya: Had you written before? As part of your communicating, being a storyteller, had you written short stories? A novel is a huge, scary thing, but had you written other things before that?
Lauren Cherelle: You know, it's so interesting because it wasn't until that point, to the point where I started to write my first book, that I had to sit down and really think about my writing journey. When I was a child, I journaled a lot and I had even forgot, I wrote a play at church once and they actually produced it. Just all these little small things, poetry. I remember writing things specifically in seventh grade in art class, things I shouldn't be writing and sharing with my friends.
Kenrya: You were that kid.
Lauren Cherelle: Yeah, I was that kid. But it's always been in me. It wasn't until I hit a point, that my partner and I got to a point where we were stable, but there was so many points of uncertainty during that time, that I realized that this is who I am. I can do this. That's where it comes from.
Erica: It's so dope that when we hit the recession, that creativity ... You went to a creative space. Because some people would be like, "Well, let's see what Walmart's doing." But I think it's really dope that-
Kenrya: Ain't nothing wrong with that. We do what we've got to do.
Erica: Not at all. I would probably be the one saying, "Well, let's see." I wouldn't think to take it to creative space, but you were not only nurturing your pockets, but your mind and your heart when you did that, and I think that is just so amazing, that all of this came out of what could be considered a negative thing.
Kenrya: And not letting fear stop you from doing that.
Lauren Cherelle: Right, right. It was definitely a lesson in turning lemons into lemonade. It's very easy to be in a space where you are, like I said, there's a lot of uncertainty, depression can kind of slide in, but at the end of the day, you can find a good and in any situation.
Kenrya: It's true. I actually started my editorial consultancy when I lost my job. I got laid off in 2008, as part of the recession and I was like, "Oh, okay, what am I going to do?" I started looking for jobs and realize I didn't want one. Then out of that, because the quote unquote worst thing career wise that happened, I was like, "Well, fuck it. I might as well just go and try to do the thing I want to do." So I did.
Lauren Cherelle: Sure.
Erica: Well Lauren, I read that your work reflects the lives of Southern Black girls and women, and as a Midwestern girl but a Southern girl at heart, that spoke to me. Why do you consider that your focus?
Lauren Cherelle: That's my focus, honestly, because that's all I know. At the same time, I think it's important to shed light on a group of people as a whole that don't get much play in the literary sphere. Now, let me qualify that. Of course books produced by, published by Black women, we see them all the time, but as far as a lot of creative energy, places where Black women writers can really find their community, a lot of that doesn't come out of the South.
Lauren Cherelle: It comes out of say, New York, or it's in LA, or it's in these mega cities and not necessarily in the South. That's not to say we don't have writers who are popular, but as far as the gatekeepers, or the powers that be, that have the space to really push our work out there, that's not coming from the South. I feel like who I am and who I represent, it's important to put this region on the map in ways that we don't necessarily get to see. In particular, that's when it comes to Black and queer characters. That's why it's important for me to really be true to who I am, and what I know is important to push out into the literary landscape.
Kenrya: That kind of brings us to the next question. You run Resolute Publishing, and as the website says, it helps transform dreams into realities for women. I'm guessing and also asking, is that kind of part and parcel with that drive that you have to get that representation and that sense of community out there?
Lauren Cherelle: Yeah, absolutely. I think when it comes to Black lesbian and queer characters, I would just pose the question, when is the last time you saw a Black lesbian or queer character on the New York Times Best-Sellers List? You don't see it in those top lists.
Kenrya: And if it is, it's a very special edition, you know what I mean? Like everybody's pushed into this separate category instead of being recognized as being part of the full canon.
Lauren Cherelle: Right, right. There are very specific parts of the canon that get that level of notoriety. You don't see it with Black lesbian and queer characters, so I thought it was important to really create a space where writers who are producing work with Black lesbian and queer characters can have a home. At the end of the day, it's still limited to the independent publishing space. That's what it came from. But y'all, okay, hold up now. I've got to tell on myself for a second.
Kenrya: That's what we like around here.
Erica: Well, now we're getting real.
Lauren Cherelle: This is completely my fault, and this is what happens when you are a one woman operation, right? I need to make some updates to that. I'm happy to share here with you and the listeners that I recently merged with BLF Press.
Kenrya: Oh, wonderful.
Lauren Cherelle: BLF Press, I've worked with the publisher there. Her name is Stephanie Andrea Allen. The first book was “Lez Talk,” which is a collection of Black lesbian short fiction. Then we went to “Solace,” and then most recently “Black From The Future.” We've been working together for a few years, and so now finally, we are bringing together our publishing houses to really be that place where women who identify as Black, lesbian or feminist, that's what BLF press stands for, they have a place to go. We want to be that go-to publishing house for writers who identify as Black lesbian fiction, and are producing works that really speak to Black lesbian and feminist characters.
Kenrya: So dope. You all co-founded The Black Lesbian Literary Collective together, right?
Lauren Cherelle: Yes, we did.
Erica: Well first, this is dope as hell. I am so happy that you got to break this news here on the Turn On. I'm not sure if it's really breaking, but nonetheless we got the exclusive. The Black Lesbian Literary Collective, can you tell us a little bit about the Collective and its mission?
Lauren Cherelle: Yeah, sure. Stephanie and I formed the Black Lesbian Literary Collective. That's a mouthful, y'all. We formed the BLLC out of, I would say, necessity and obligation. I say necessity because, again, I'm from the South, Stephanie is from the South. At that point in time we both were living in the South. If you're a writer and you're really serious about your craft, it's just like, "Okay, where I want to go if I want to be around women who look like me or write like me?" Meaning they're writing stories, they're writing prose or poetry, whatever the case, that reflects our world, that speaks to who we are.
Lauren Cherelle: I can't identify one spot right now that I can go. I live in middle Tennessee, and there's absolutely nowhere I can go if I want to be around people who look like me. Now, I can be around some people. I can be around white men, I can be around white women, I can be around queer people. But when it comes to Black lesbian, and queer people, I don't have a place that I can go. At the end of the day, is that a necessity? If there's something that needs to be created, and it matters to you, then you have to do it.
Lauren Cherelle: Then I say out of obligation because there's a legacy of Black women always creating what we need. Rather than waiting for things to happen for us, we do it for ourselves. If you're aware of an issue, then you've got to do something about it. That's why we formed that organization.
Kenrya: That's awesome. We noticed in the titles of both of those, you have those two projects both function as collectives, and it really speaks to what you're saying about not having a space and creating it. Why is that model, the model of the collective, really key for you? Because I think there's a lot of ways to bring people together in community. Why is the collective aspect of that important to you?
Lauren Cherelle: It's important for many reasons. I think we followed the legacy of Black lesbian women, specifically Black lesbian writers who were forming collectives, like back in the ’70s, like with the Combahee River Collective. These were women-
Kenrya: That's the beginning of the Black feminism.
Lauren Cherelle: Yeah, they came together because they understood the limitations of literature in America. They supported each other in their endeavors, and they created a space where they could come together to support each other in their endeavors. The legacy is there.
Lauren Cherelle: As far as me being a part of the writing world, this is just one part of who I am. But when it comes to the writing world, I don't want to write in isolation. I don't want to produce in isolation. It's not important for me to learn something, if I can't share it with someone else. That's where the collective comes in for me. I prefer for us to do things together. That's not to say that we don't end up doing the work ourselves. Stephanie and I, that happens a lot.
Kenrya: That's true.
Lauren Cherelle: But at the end of the day we've created this space where women can come together, and share, and learn, and grow, and produce.
Erica: On our last episode, we read from “The Dawn of Nia,” and we discussed in that episode that you're not an erotica or romance writer. You're a fiction writer, but you make it a point not to do like those NBC shows or daytime television shows where everything kind of fades to Black, and then you wake up the next morning with a towel wrapped over your spots-
Kenrya: Your parts.
Erica: Yeah, and birds chirping. You wrote fully realized, and very steamy, sex scenes. Why was it important for you to show the whole relationship between the Nia and Deidre?
Lauren Cherelle: Okay, Erica, for real? Steamy? That's so funny to me.
Kenrya: You don't think they're steamy?
Lauren Cherelle: With my writing, that's probably not how i would categorize it, but see that's the good thing about being a writer, because you get to hear from readers how they feel about your work.
Erica: Here's the thing, we have gone, and I say this often, and I don't want to sound like a complete snob because I do like trash television and things like that.
Kenrya: Yeah, you like the trash tv.
Erica: You know what? We didn't ask for that. All right. What I was getting at is that with erotic writing, there has to be a level of ...
Lauren Cherelle: Skill?
Erica: ... Like, play. You can't go whole hog. I think you wrote a really good scene that was beautiful, and sensual, and yeah, steamy. I find it hilarious that she's like, "I just wrote." We're like, "No, bitch, but you wrote well."
Kenrya: When we read the scene with the massage, after they went out and she was like, "We look too good to go home." She was like, "But I got stuff I want to do," and then they did the massage. We talked about massage for a smooth 10 minutes after we read that.
Lauren Cherelle: Oh my God, that is so funny. I think for me, of course I've read a lot of books about Black lesbian lives, of course Black lesbian POV characters, and they can tend to be one note. For me, it is important to really develop well-rounded characters. In the development, in reality, characters fuck. They have sex.
Erica: That's life.
Kenrya: If that's what you're into.
Lauren Cherelle: So there was no way for me of course, to avoid it. But I think because these characters were new to each other, meaning Deidra, Nia, they're new to each other, they're new in a relationship. It's bound to happen. They're going to explore, they want to get to know each other. It comes with the territory.
Kenrya: Absolutely. Word. Another thing about the book, and I, I don't think it's spoiling the plot to say that Nia and Deidre both struggle with vulnerability. As somebody who works really hard at being vulnerable, their journeys really resonated with me. I'm wondering, you know we want to get in your business. Have you ever had trouble being vulnerable with folks in your life?
Lauren Cherelle: All the time. It doesn't come naturally to me to be vulnerable when I don't know you well. I think in the relationship with my partner, of course we've been together for years, so I'm definitely more vulnerable with her than anyone else. But even after all this time, we've been together for 16 years and she tells me that I have my issues. I have my communication issues, I have my issues with being open, I have my issues with letting my guard down. Personally, that may have been a way for me to identify with my characters on the opposite end, because I'm not that way. How can I develop them to be that way?
Kenrya: I wonder, did writing the book help you to sort through any of that? To see the kernel of the truth of what your partner has been telling you?
Lauren Cherelle: Probably not.
Kenrya: I appreciate your honesty.
Erica: Nope, not at all.
Lauren Cherelle: I hope not. No, I try to be mindful of it. My partner is a therapist, so I get it.
Kenrya: I feel like that's got to be interesting.
Lauren Cherelle: Oh yeah, it is. She has, of course, just by training, and I think just who she is personally, it's naturally with her being a therapist. She's honest. She can give it to me personally, and she can give it to me professionally.
Lauren Cherelle: That's been interesting.
Erica: Well we're going to do a part two of this interview, to get on with your partner. Oh, my goodness, I could not. That's interesting.
Kenrya: I'm like, "Interesting is the best word," but I felt like ... We had a therapist on a few weeks ago, I guess about a month ago. We were asking her about, what's the worst thing about being a therapist? She was like, "Everybody wants you to give them therapy." I wonder with the ... Not the temptation, but how easy it would be able to slip into that, because it's somebody who you trust, right? If you're going to be vulnerable and let down your barriers, and make healthy boundaries with anybody, it would be your partner, but for them to be somebody who is so well versed, that's got to be an interesting tight rope to walk.
Lauren Cherelle: It is, at times. At the same time, it's nice to be with someone who has great insight, and can communicate, and can problem solve.
Erica: Because I'm over here struggling trying to get Negros to fucking tell me what they want for dinner. I would definitely enjoy the other end of that pendulum.
Lauren Cherelle: I hear you.
Erica: What are you reading now?
Lauren Cherelle: Oh my gosh, what am I reading now? I'm a part of a book club and we read queer lit, but we read some of everything. One of the most recent stories I finished was Achilles. It was a story about Achilles, and I can't even recall the name of the story, but anyway, the writer, she retells the story of Achilles. That was interesting.
Lauren Cherelle: I try to read all across the board, and right now I've recently started listening to more audio books. Right now I'm reading, or not reading, but listening to a story by Walter Mosley.
Kenrya: It's all reading to me. I'm a huge audio book listener too. That's good for those trips and commuting and all of that, and it's still reading.
Lauren Cherelle: Oh yeah. But I read pretty much across the board. I don't care what genre it is. If it's a good book, I'll read it. This book right now by Walter Mosley is pretty much speculative fiction. I'm all for everything.
Kenrya: I guess I should have asked you this before we dove into what are you reading, but what do you want readers to take away from “The Dawn of Nia,” when they get to the last page?
Lauren Cherelle: What's most important for me is for a reader to feel like they can find themselves in the story, and that they felt like the story was authentic. That's what's most important to me. Like I said, I write about Southern Black lesbians, and I write about Southern girls. At the end of the day, I feel like if you can derive meaning from the story, because like you said earlier, it's more than romance. It's more than the fact that these are lesbian characters. It's about growth. Nia grew through this experience. I think anybody can identify with being put in a really hard predicament, and being able to see their way through pretty much a storm and come out on the other side, having gained something that they can hold on to for a lifetime.
Kenrya: That's a great note for us to end. Can't say it too much better than that. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was great.
Lauren Cherelle: Oh, no problem. I definitely enjoyed it.
Kenrya: For folks who want to find you, there's a few different websites, right? So there's LCherelle.com. That's L-C-H-E-R-E-L-L-E and Res Publishing, R-E-S publishing.com, and then BlackLesbianLiteraryCollective.org, right??
Lauren Cherelle: Right, yup, yup.
Kenrya: Do you want to share Twitter handles?
Lauren Cherelle: Yeah, you can find me on Twitter. It's @laurencre8s, that's L-A-U-R-E-N-C-R-E-8-S. I will also throw in there too, because I said I merged with BLF Press. It's BLFPress.com.
Kenrya: Awesome. That's it for this week's episode of The Turn On. Thanks, everybody, for joining us. Have a wonderful day.
Erica: This episode was produced by us, Erica and Kenrya, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. First, please leave a review in your favorite podcast listening app. For real, we want to hear from y'all. Send your book recommendations and all the burning sex and related questions you want us to answer to TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com, and please subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app. Follow us on Twitter at @TheTurnOnPod, and Instagram at @TheTurnOnPodcast. Find links to books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com. Bye.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their mines. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.