A couple of weeks ago I was one of the lucky few given the opportunity to make my way to Warren, Rhode Island — the tiniest town in the tiniest state — and commune with five other writers for two weeks at the Rhode Island Writers Colony. I’m only going to say a few words about RIWC2017 right now — it was magic and if you’re a writer of color, oh hell yes! you should apply — because that’s another post for another day. I’m really more excited to chat for a second about one of the RIWC writers: Johnalynn Holland.
Affectionately known to our group as The Queen of the Savage Slay.
I met Johnalynn on a quiet Sunday afternoon as everyone was arriving into Warren and staking space around the house. She was at the table with two of the other writer-residents, CP Patrick and Liz Acevedo, and since CP and I were already friends, she made the formal introductions. I remember thinking two things as I shook Johnalynn’s hand and said hi: 1) I love her glasses and 2) she is mad cool.
For the record, her glasses are fierce and after living with her for two weeks, sharing a bathroom, cooking meals, laughing, drinking, writing, and building a cereal box camera together to watch the eclipse (then walking around town with said cereal box camera because we were hungry and needed to eat, but were also geeking out on the eclipse), I can tell you for certain, Johnalynn is mad cool. She’s also a little crazy, as evidenced by the mind-boggling excel spreadsheet she created — and uses!! — in conjunction with writing her novel. I could be wrong, but I think folks in the house asked her to share it with them. She offered to share it with me, too. I gave her a look that screamed keep that monster to yourself, sweetheart and we both just laughed. Like I said, she’s mad cool.
She’s also a brilliant writer filled with an uncanny ability to breathe life into her young adult characters with such honesty and humor that when you meet them, you know them. You can hear and feel them, you can smell them. You knew kids like them. You might be raising kids like them. Johnalynn is funny and cutting and wise, and you live all the many versions of her through those kids in her work.
Our RIWC2017 crew was so lucky – we got to sit around the table for group readings and night after night, listen to her story to come to life. After that first round-table, we all had a favorite character and I think Johnalynn got pretty used to hearing one of us ask is Tika in this chapter? as we settled in each evening with our laptops, our wine, and our words.
Fingers crossed she finishes her manuscript soon and the world gets a taste of her magic, her kids, and her special brand of savage slay. Until then, this little Proustian exercise will have to do.
- What is your idea of perfect happiness? being able to create unencumbered
- What is your greatest fear? dying in obscurity
- What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? too critical and too self conscious about my work
- What is the trait you most deplore in others? dishonesty and the inability to empathize
- Which living person do you most admire? toni morrison
- What is your greatest extravagance? my glasses and my health
- What is your current state of mind? anxious
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue? leadership
- On what occasion do you lie? when a dentist asks “Does this hurt?”
- What do you most dislike about your appearance? my forehead
- Which living person do you most despise? #45
- What is the quality you most like in a man? emotional intelligence
- What is the quality you most like in a woman? emotional intelligence
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse? um, nah, that’s fine, i’m good
- What or who is the greatest love of your life? my daughter
- When and where were you happiest? loading….
- Which talent would you most like to have? i want to be an acrobat with a big butt
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? believe in myself at a younger age
- What do you consider your greatest achievement? raising an ambitious child
- If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? an acrobat with a big butt
- Where would you most like to live? new york city
- What is your most treasured possession? cameras that belonged to my grandparents
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? murder
- What is your favorite occupation? chef
- What is your most marked characteristic? creativity
- What do you most value in your friends? honesty
- Who are your favorite writers? toni morrison, august wilson
- Who is your hero of fiction? shug avery
- Which historical figure do you most identify with? frida kahlo
- Who are your heroes in real life? spike lee, bradford young, halie gerima
- What are your favorite names? elizabeth, brown
- What is it that you most dislike? people who lack critical thinking skills
- What is your greatest regret? every time i didn’t listen to my instincts
- How would you like to die? as 97 year old woman in the middle of a jewelry heist
- What is your motto? live and let live
Johnalynn Holland is a Washington, DC-based transmedia producer, documentary/television editor and writer. A native of Emporia, Virginia she finished Howard University’s Graduate Film Program in 2005 with a concentration in Screenwriting. In 2003, Johnalynn was named a Screenwriting Fellow in the ABC/Disney New Talent Development Program. During this program, she wrote the screenplay “B-Girls and Ballet Dreams.” It won the African American Women in Cinema Best Screenplay award and led to a IFP/New York Gordon Parks Emerging Writer nomination. She is also the winner of the Puffin Award and the DC Artists Commission of the Arts and Humanities Grant.
Johnalynn likes to use humor to distill the contradictions and complexities of the African American experience that include economic hardships, family/relationship discord, class divisions and mental health issues. She has edited for numerous networks including BET, Centric, CBS and ABC.