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.