A Word About The Writer’s Life: Honoring Erica Kennedy

In my old life, before blogging, before kids, before authoring New York Times bestsellers, before my advice columns at Parenting and my freelance writer’s life, I toiled in the mostly lily-white, mostly-male newsrooms of the Daily News in New York, first as a political reporter and later, as an entertainment writer. God, I was so young—writing stories for what was then the sixth-largest newspaper in the country. I loved the space I carved at that mainstream newspaper—hardly anyone was writing about African Americans in film, TV, theater and the arts in any great way at the rival newspapers—but from afar, I’d long admired the voice, wit, and cool factor of femme hip hop writers like Joan Morgan, dream hampton, Karen Good, Danyel Smith and, of course, the lovely Erica Kennedy.

It is Erica’s name I speak today, because she is gone from here. The former fashion publicist-turned-pop culture journalist, who made her mark as the bestselling author of “Bling,” and “Feminista,” died earlier this month, leaving a legacy of beautiful words, laser sharp insight and a legion of black female writers who were absolutely undone by the weekend news of her death.

Though it is not my place to disclose how she passed—those details should be reserved for family and close friends—and there is no way that I could understand her battle with depression, certainly I can say that I sympathise with the stress and strain of her writing life. Erica was ridiculously gifted; her deftness with the written word is legendary, as is her beautiful mind. Her turns of phrase, her style, her fresh perspective—each of these things demanded time and thought and consideration from readers because they challenged and questioned and made us stretch and dig deep to the meat.

This is not an easy proposition. The majority of that work is done inside of your head, and that creative heavy lifting requires a certain amount of solitude and struggle—struggle to be respected, to find work, to be able to sustain yourself with a craft that, especially if you’re a black female writer, requires much, pays pennies and gains you little respect in an industry that continues to be dominated by people who do not look like us. Suppression of that creativity sears. Add mental illness to the mix and the combination can have devastating effects.

It hurts to know that a voice as lovely as Erica’s is no more. But I draw strength from knowing that there is a clique-tight set of black female writers who, even as we lift up our writer sister, are reminding one another to love and connect and check in on each other and to be angry and be sad but to get help and to be helpful. To take a step back and laugh. Laugh! And  connect. And know that this solitary life we writers lead can not be the end of us.

I know as a mother, a wife, a daughter, an auntie, a friend, a mentor, a hard worker, that this is as necessary as… air.

I invite you to read the breathtaking essay MyBrownBaby contributor Bassey Ikpi penned about Erica (indeed, it was Erica who introduced Bassey to me, surely understanding that we would make fast, perfect friends). Also, check out writer Rebecca Walker’s Q&A with Erica on The Root, in which they talked about Erica’s book, “Feminista.” Wordsmith Carolyn Edgar’s tribute is, too, a gorgeous must-read; in it, she recalls how Erica introduced us all in a series of chats surrounding the 2008 presidential election—an introduction I am so very grateful to have been a part of. You also must stop by and check out the beautiful Afrobella’s words on her friend, Erica, whom inspired her in ways big and small to create one of the most badass beauty blogs on the internet. And my friend and supremely talented author Carleen Brice opened her online space, White People Meet Black Authors, for a written tribute by Doret at The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog, as well as the re-run of a 2009 Q&A with Erica that serves as an apt testament to her thought process and fiercely independent thought on feminism.

As more tributes to this phenomenal writer come online, I’ll be sure to add them to this post so that you can see just how amazing she was—just how many of us admired her.

You are loved—and will be missed, Erica Kennedy. I wish you knew that. Felt it. Fly with the angels, dear heart, and be… free.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

21 Comments

  1. I waited patiently for you to speak on this. Such beautiful words as always, Denene.

    Unforgettable…

    “It hurts to know that a voice as lovely as Erica’s is no more. But I draw strength from knowing that there is a clique-tight set of black female writers who, even as we lift up our writer sister, are reminding one another to love and connect and check in on each other and to be angry and be sad but to get help and to be helpful.”

    I do believe this–right here–can definitely beat the demon that is depression.

  2. I was so undone when I learned of her passing (Erica Kennedy) that I had to google, research, etc., to make sure which Erica Kennedy had passed on. Not someone this gifted, this young; I thought. I pray more authors, including myself, will continue to shine the light on her work… some lights need to be eternal. Erica’s light is such a one.

  3. dream hampton

    deepest sigh

  4. I’m in tears. Thank you for writing this, Denene. You expressed what I, and so many of us I’m sure, have been feeling. RIP Erica

  5. I never had the chance to personally get to know Erica. But just from reading all of the tweets and the messages about her, I can’t help feeling a major void and a loss for not having known her and now, not being able to know her. Thank you for sharing, for writing.

  6. CHARLENE DIXON

    BEAUTIFUL!

  7. Denene, I’ve been admiring your writing from afar for awhile myself and say thanks today for writing this tribute. I never knew Erica but I am praying for her family and friends and encouraging all fellow writers to connect, get out of that isolated zone we tend to live in while we’re creating our masterpieces.

  8. I commend you for writing this excellent piece. From what you wrote, I understand what happened (and pray that I what I am thinking was not it).

    However, I would like to say that this is very emotional for me, because what it takes to become a writer and to get the degree to back it up consists of pain, hurt, and more pain and hurt. I can’t fathom what she was going through, because I was not there. But, I do know one thing–this road is not easy.

    Just to be able to publish my books in the future, I decided to get my graduate degree in Librarianship (I am working on it now) and it was the only thing that I could think of that would support me financially and allow me the opportunity to continue to write-publish. I say we need to pray, believe, and know that therapy is out there for us.

    I had to go three years ago…and it has done wonders for my life–but, I too am still a writer, Black, in a world that does not like Brown Babies. (My reality) –but I have learned from this news that I will not let it get the best of me.

    RIP > Erica Kennedy

    ~Ashe

  9. Denene, I have long appreciated your posts, but this one in particular – like Erica’s passing – really resonated with me, perhaps because as a fellow creative, I identify with so many of the internal struggles you wrote about. Thank you for acknowledging Erica’s life and legacy, and for giving us some context in which to view her loss.

  10. I am truly truly truly saddened by this news of her passing. As a fellow sister of the pen, I get the struggle. What resonates most with me from this beautiful post and blog is that we pour our hearts onto the pages of books, magazines, newspapers, blogs and media in general. This shows it is important that we check-up on each other and check-in on what’s going on inside of us.

    My heart and prayers go out to her family and friends…Erica may you R.I.Paradise!

  11. Thank you. I didn’t know Erica personally but almost positive we met. I will continue to pray for those dealing with depression. Well done.

  12. The loss of Erica Kennedy is a loss not only among those of us who write, but also a loss of a beautiful mind and spirit in a tough world. May you find your peace with the Master above as we lift up your love ones left behind.

  13. I so wish her name was trending on yahoo. we as women of color can no longer be ignored, artists or otherwise. my condolences to all who knew her. may we ALL be inspired by her work and her beautiful spirit and carry on, not forgetting to take off the Superwoman Cape and to not be TOO proud to ask for help when we feel like things are out of wack. Blessings to you Erica as you assist us on our journeys as we all move forward. Ashe.

  14. Karen Good Marable

    Thank you for this Denene.

  15. Vanessa Lipske

    What a moving tribute. Thank you for so eloquently expressing the gift and burden of creativity. A great send off for a talent young soul.

  16. This is just lovely, dear one. Love you…no matter how much we say it, can’t say it and show it enough, huh.

  17. Patricia Frazier Coleman

    I was devasted to hear of the death of such a wonderful writer. It was far to early for her to leave us. Rest In Peace

  18. Thanks for posting this; yes the writer’s life can be lonely and living inside one’s head veeery interesting indeed lol. I never met Ms. Kennedy in person but we emailed and tweeted each other often as she was very supportive of my first book –she answered most of my many questions. Having that was invaluable to me and I hope we all do continue to support and communicate with each other, in Erica’s spirit.

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