Lisa Woolfork 0:00
The celebration of National Sewing Month continues on the Stitch Please podcast today with a talk with author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Thanks again to our Patreon supporters and those who are helping us reach two hundred additional patreon supporters by the end of twenty twenty-two. Thank you so much for your support.
Hello, stitchers Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than twenty years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. As I say every week, this is a very special episode because in this episode, I am talking with none other than Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, who is a fantastic writer, sewist, crochet-knitting artists, blogger, award-winning writer and author, and she is here and obsessive collector of craft books. I really feel like she and I are meant to be besties because we have so many things in common, including a deep and aggressive passion for books and literature at an early age. And so this is so wonderful. Welcome to the program, Olugbemisola. So let me tell y'all a little bit about her. She is the author of several children's books, including "Operation Sisterhood," "It Doesn't Take a Genius," a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. She wrote also "Eighth-Grade Superhero," an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a notable book for the Global Society by the International Reading Association, and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council of Social Studies. Honestly. There's also a wonderful book she co-authored called the "Two Naomis," which features two protagonists. These girls both have the same name, Naomi, one is black one is white, and they're dealing with parallel issues. And that was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Her book, "Saving Earth: Climate Change and the Fight for Our Future," was a Junior Library Guild selection, as well as her picture book "Someday Is Now: Cara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-ins," which was a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, again by the National Council for the Social Studies. The book that I most recently read by her is "Mae Makes a Way," and this is the true story of Mae Reeves, hat and history maker. And she worked with Mae Reeves' daughter as well as with Andrea Pippins, the fantastic illustrator. So I listened to the book on Audible, which while it did not have any illustrations beyond the cover, it did have Olugbemisola's beautiful voice narrating. Y'all, she read that story just to me. And maybe if you get it on Audible, she will read it to you as well. She's also the author of her most recent release, "The Sun Does Shine: An Innocent Man, A Wrongful Conviction, and the Long Path to Justice." This is the Young Readers Edition, and she has coming up an Easy Reader series called "Makita Makes." She is the editor of "We Need Diverse Books Anthology," "The Hero Next Door." She's contributed to several collections, "We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices," "The Journey Is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them." Hello, let us indeed teach people how to write things other folks will want to read. That will pretty much block out most academic writing because that's where we learn to write things that nobody wants to read except each other. [laughs] And then finally, she's also the author of "Imagine It Better: Visions of What School Might Be," which was edited by Luke Reynolds, and "Break These Rules: Five Young Adult Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself." Listen, I feel like the episode is over now. And that I should thank everybody for coming to the Stitch Please podcast today, and that you should just—I will put some Google links in the notes, and y'all just go read. Then we can come back. No, no, no, I guess she's here now. We'll go ahead and keep talking. She is an award-winning—and, in addition to this, she is a crafter, a blogger, a sewist, and does all manner of wonderful things. So, Olugbemisola, thank you so much for bringing all of the things that I just described. Thank you so much for all that you do and for spending some of that time today with me for the Stitch Please podcast, because clearly you busy, girl. You have so much stuff going on, it's like, who has time to sit here and kiki with me?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 5:03
I definitely do. I have all the time in the world. Thank you so much, Lisa, because I'm here and all of those things you said, but I'm mostly here as a fan. I love this podcast so much. It gets me through so many days of writing and struggling with writing and taking my breaks to knit or sew or do some embroidery. So thank you. Thank you.
Lisa Woolfork 5:24
Well, thank you so much for being here. And thank you for your kind words—we appreciate the support. Let's get started with what was the start of your sewing story? I tend to ask folks: Where does your sewing story begin? And I remember reading that you were a very avid reader as a child. And I wonder if the way that you talk about learning stories as a young child related at all to other aspects of your creativity. So I guess the first question is: How would you describe your sewing story?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 5:51
My sewing story is very much linked to my mom, my grandmother, her mother, and my auntie, my grandmother sisters. And the way that both story-telling and -making, particularly stitching, were just a part of our lives, were things that I always saw them doing, that they taught my sister and I to do at a very young age. I can just think back and remember sitting next to my grandmother and doing needlepoint. Both my mother and grandmother had one of those really old, old Singers that had the like little pedal that you use, and...
Lisa Woolfork 6:28
The treadle. The treadle that would go up and down.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 6:31
Yes, exactly. My grandmother and my grandfather, actually, he worked as a tailor for a while. Grandparents are from Jamaica. My mom was from Jamaica. My grandparents were like that stereotype, that joke from "In Living Color," be like, "I have 13 jobs."
Lisa Woolfork 6:42
Yes, more than one job. Exactly. It's like, "What do you mean you only have two jobs, you lazy lima bean? With just the two jobs."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 6:48
So yes, my grandparents came here and did all manner of jobs. And so my grandfather was a tailor for a while and my grandmother also. Like they would make the most incredible, incredible tailored clothing, especially for special occasions. I can remember times like waiting at the bottom of the stairs for my grandmother would come down when she would get all dressed up in something she had made to go out or something special. And she was a tall woman. She was five-eleven, and she would put on those things and pull herself up in this different way. And I always connect to that idea that when you make something yourself and that when you put that creative energy into something, it makes it even more special. I brought to show you...
Lisa Woolfork 7:28
Yes. Oh, look at these little dolls! Oh my goodness. Who are these sweet little creatures?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 7:32
I still have from when I was very young.
Lisa Woolfork 7:35
Did you make these?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 7:37
My grandmother, mom, and auntie use to make these dolls for my sister and I. They're Spiffy and Tylenol, are these two's names.
Lisa Woolfork 7:45
Spiffy and Tylenol. Did you name these dolls yourself by any chance?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 7:50
Yes. And they all have varicose veins. And so they have those support hose that were like, super durable. I mean, these are still from the early seventies.
Lisa Woolfork 8:00
Yes, they're still kicking. Spiffy and Tylenol are gonna outlive us all.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 8:04
Exactly. And they would make these dolls because they could make them in brown shades. At that time, at least in this country, it was so hard to find Black dolls. There was a time, actually, we traveled a lot when I was a kid. And we traveled to Italy. And I remember this one trip where we walked by this toy store, and it was just a wall of Black dolls. And my sister and I were just like, amazed. Because by that point, most of my dolls were homemade and handmade because we were only allowed to have Black dolls.
Lisa Woolfork 8:36
That's so smart.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 8:37
And I was listening to I think that was the last episode.
Lisa Woolfork 8:40
Yes! Cinnamon Annie Steps Stitches. Yes.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 8:42
Again, I was relating to a lot of what she said about that. Like, so we were only allowed to have Black dolls. So they made us dolls. I learned to be proud of that. And to be happy about that. And to celebrate that.
Lisa Woolfork 8:54
Yes, I really love that. And I really appreciate your explanation that in your family, you were only allowed to have Black dolls, because, at least in my mind, I'd love to hear of course your thoughts. It's actually your life. So you know better than I, but what I think you might agree with is that dolls can sometimes be a child's first mirrors, in the same way that a child mirrors themselves off their parents. It feels really important to populate a Black child's early imagination with popular and loving memories and reflections of themselves.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 9:32
Lisa Woolfork 9:32
Right? And so I could imagine somebody right now thinking, "Well, I don't know if that's such a good idea. I think that people should not learn to see color." Then I'm like, why are you listening to this podcast. Don't you know what we do here? Like, who cares? There is no child in America who is not going to know who and what white people are. Right? Like that's just not something that gets allowed. If you go to the grocery store, you will see a million zillion white children on cereal boxes. There is no surfeit or lack of information about whiteness and white folks. And what is healthy—good sense of one's own self image is to be able to say, "Hey, I am infinite. I can be a little tiny doll made of support hose. Or I can be a really elaborate doll like made by Stephanie Dean, who does the rag dolls for Cinnamon Annie." And to think that toys and play are some of the earliest things to open up a child's imagination.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 10:25
Absolutely. And to be able to imagine yourself into other worlds and to other stories and to be able to play that way was so important, and I took it as a given. So I wasn't even feeling like I was being deprived or something. I was feeling like I was being affirmed. I had a little girl come over once—I'll never forget—how she came when we were playing Barbies. At that time, there was Malibu Christie, who was like Barbie's Black friend.
Lisa Woolfork 10:51
Yes. I remember Malibu Christie, Barbie's Black friend. I had a Malibu Christie. Didn't she have a very weird tan line? The thing about the Malibu dolls is that they all had tan lines. That you could take off their clothes, and they were lighter skinned underneath because they lived at the beach. Christie has some tan lines too, didn't she?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 11:07
She had some odd coloring. Yeah.
Lisa Woolfork 11:10
So you were playing with your friend. Y'all playing with Barbies and Christies.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 11:13
My friend, who was a Black girl, was sort of like, "Well, where are the white dolls?" So she didn't want to play because I didn't have any white dolls for her to play with. I felt so sad for her. Like, what?
Lisa Woolfork 11:25
You know, oh my gosh, I love that so much. Keep going, keep going.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 11:29
I felt so sad for her. Between that and then the time that someone brought a little white doll over to me as a gift, over to the house as a gift. And I opened the doll. I didn't even talk to my parents about it. I opened the doll, and I was kind of like, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't know what to do with this. I buried her in the backyard. [laughs] I was just like, well, there's nothing for me to do with this.
Lisa Woolfork 11:52
Rest in peace, Barbie. Rest in peace, white Barbie. Rest in peace. Or just rest, because I'm not gonna play with you. And I don't want to seem like I'm being ungrateful. But I absolutely am not grateful. And I do not want this. And I'm a kid. And it's not like I can drive it back to the store and replace it for the Black one I want. So my child imagination is like, you know what? We're just gonna put this away. I thought you were gonna say I bury her in the back of my closet. Oh, no, no. Olugbemisola's like, "Oh, no, no. The closet is not—I don't want her in my house. She's gonna have to go out into the yard." But what I love about what you're describing is other children would be like, "Oh, no, my friend didn't want to play with me. Therefore something is wrong with my toys." But what you by that early age had realized that a Black girl choosing and preferring a white doll was a sad choice for the Black child. You were absolutely not going to say, "Well, maybe I should do what she does. Maybe I should have more whiteness around in my house." Because by that point, that reserve of your affirmed dignity. There's a wonderful quote in a book called "This Here Flesh."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 13:03
I love that book.
Lisa Woolfork 13:04
And Cole Riley, she was talking before about how she was trying to do like missionary work or whatever and give people dignity. And that's when she stopped and was like, "Wait a minute." She realized that dignity is not something you give.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 13:17
Lisa Woolfork 13:18
Dignity is something you affirm. Everybody is born with dignity. Everybody has it. But not everybody gets to have it affirmed. And so you already had the dignity of yourself of your Blackness affirmed. And it was so resolute that if someone gave you a white doll and was going to say, "Well, your toys are somehow inadequate because they're not white," you knew enough to say, "No, no, no, hon. You are inadequate. And I am sad for you. Sad for you." I mean, I ge one child feeling sorry for another child because that child did not embrace their Blackness. I grew up I think around the same time you did in the early seventies. Man, we were—Black was an insult. All of us is Black. Okay, Black City, Black town, Black neighborhood, Black Street, Black schools, all Black. Man, please. You call somebody Black, they want to throw blows. Like, who you calling Black? I ain't Black. Bitch, we all Black. But you know what I'm saying? It's just this idea, this internalized. Of course, it's teasing and the dozens and all of that stuff. But it's just very interesting to me, and I just find that so affirming. And that's something I also see in your writing this idea of affirming the dignity of Blackness and Black children at every turn. Of Black folks at every turn. And it's really beautiful to see. And one of the quotes you mentioned, I think you talked about this, and I think I heard a little bit of it when we talked about your grandma and your other family members and aunties coming down the stairs in their homemade work. They're just beautiful gowns. I was thinking about the phrase you use: "clothed in dignity." I think you use that phrase, "clothed in dignity." Can you talk a little bit about what that means? What sewing, what creating something that is just for you kind of gave to yourself or to other women in your family like, in what ways does sewing and creativity become a way to affirm?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 15:16
That was really what first attracted me to the "Mae Makes a Way" project because that was what Mae Reeves did. When I went to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture and saw this huge exhibit for this woman whose name I had not known before. I mean, bigger than some of the celebrities who's very well known. Her store's re-created. They have the showstopper hats that she made and this incredible artistry. And thinking about her story as I was writing the book and talking to Donna and thinking about someone saying to me like, "Well, she wasn't really an activist" or like, "She was kind of an activist, but she wasn't really an activist."
Lisa Woolfork 15:55
What does "really an activist" mean?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 15:56
Yeah, that's a whole thing. I really don't know.
Lisa Woolfork 15:58
Okay, that'll be a separate question for another time.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 16:01
But I really wanted to celebrate, and sort of amplify what it meant that she created these works of art for all women, but for Black women to be clothed in dignity. For Black women to be seen at a time when people didn't want to see them. At a time when people really wanted to push them aside. She was creating things and saying like, "No, this is going to be for you. It's going to be made just for you to shine because you deserve to shine, just like any other woman deserves to shine." And that is so radical to me, such a form of activism. She did do other things in her community and with voting, but that, to me, was such a big deal.
Lisa Woolfork 16:46
I really liked how you talked about how she took kids on trips, took them places, took them to go to the park or took them to the pool and then taking her daughter to Paris and all of these places. The idea of Black mobility during and before Jim Crow.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 17:02
Lisa Woolfork 17:02
That's a big deal.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 17:04
And claiming space in the world.
Lisa Woolfork 17:06
Claiming space in the world, and not in a way that is humble, but in a way that's meant to stand out, because that's what hats do. And I love how you were quoting her that "you're never fully dressed unless you have a hat." It makes me think about the ways in which church hats have been described as our crowns. And of all the things that white folks want to Columbus and gentrify... I mean, I saw this one video the other day of a white—must've been a white Pentecostal-type church, and they were doing a worship style that was similar with tambourines and the same gospel music recounting a Black gospel song, but it was an all-white congregation. And someone was like, "Wow, look at all of our influence." And I'm like, Why do y'all celebrate stuff like this? That's what I would like to know. Because these folks want everything but the burden. I already saw somebody talking about sleep caps. And I'm like, wait, are we letting a white folks gentrify bonnets now?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 18:02
Lisa Woolfork 18:03
It columns and protective styles. Another thing: protective style. Stop it. Just do your own thing. Why is not being in the dominant culture enough? Why do you have to have the first prize and the consolation prize?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 18:17
It's amazing to me. It's funny, because I think about when I was a kid and I used to read, like I read everything. And I read really widely.
Lisa Woolfork 18:23
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 18:24
I read a lot of Jane Austen at one stage. Like, I love Jane Austen. And they would always talk about being an accomplished woman. And the accomplished women would they could like sew a little, they could play a little music, they could do all these things. So I was like, Oh, that's what I want to be. I want to be able to do all these things from a very young age. And then it was later on that I realized like, wait a minute, these women in my life, these women in my family, thes women in my community. They're accomplished women.
Lisa Woolfork 18:51
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 18:52
Totally creative. They have ingenuity. They're doing all of these things. And that sort of making a way out of no way and like Mae Reeves.
Lisa Woolfork 19:01
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 19:01
I think a lot of times the focus is on sort of like the struggle and the striving...
Lisa Woolfork 19:07
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 19:08
And not enough of just the beauty and the creativity and the art.
Lisa Woolfork 19:14
And I see it in the same way that these—I was gonna say that the next thing you know, they're gonna be gentrifying church hats. And we'll be seeing like a parade on Fashion Week of "Look, everybody. Have ever thought about wearing a fancy hat?" Like, stop it! But one of the things I think is useful thinking about the work of Jane Austen and how her writing was about upper class white folks. So for them to be accomplished didn't necessarily require labor. It was about knowing the fine arts, being able to play piano, to be well read, but not too well read to be an intellectual to be off-putting to men. It's a very narrow frame of what they are even allowed to accomplish. And yet when you think about your mother, your grandmother, my mother, my grandmother—all of the things they did and do within the frame not of the leisure class, which Jane Austen wrote about, but Black folks were not in the leisure class. And so it seems so even more radical and more to celebrate and recognize the power of Black creativity and how this becomes a way to transcend the boundaries that the state wants to put on our lives. Because that's what Jim Crow was. Jim Crow was a state boundary put in place to keep Black people separate and down. The question of Mae's work just flourishing in that context just feels so powerful, just so powerful.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 20:41
And her just doing it on her time. So it was like if you came into her stores, Black women, white women, everybody wanted her work. So if you came into her store, you were there with whoever was there. And white people had to sit down together and deal with it. You had to be respectful to each other. You had to engage with each other. And so that was a radical space that she created.
Lisa Woolfork 20:59
Yes. And it wasn't going to be the case that okay, well, I will only have my white patrons during this time. And I will only have my Black patrons during this time because I don't want anyone else to feel uncomfortable. You know? And it's like, I don't know, I think you're absolutely right about that. I also loved how when the hats started to decline and the dominant culture, you talk about how it was Black women and the church hats that really kept her business alive because they always wanted something for Sunday. Can you talk a little bit about what you see in Black women accessorizing with these lovely hats, unique offerings, because when you make someone a hat, even if you make two the same, which I don't think she did a whole lot.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 21:47
Lisa Woolfork 21:47
Even if you make two the same, they're going to be different and unique. Why do you think that the church hat has become such a staple of Black sartorial worship creativity? Why the hat as opposed to maybe gloves or...or bags? There's something about the hat that seems really powerful.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 22:08
Like a crown. I think about even like Nigeria gele: It is a crown. Even just the act of putting something on your head, that affirmation of your identity and it just being you—you, you, you. And with like Mae Reeves, you made each hat for the person that it belonged to. I think also sort of having that as a church thing, because charge was also a space of resistance, and a space of joy and a space of claiming freedom and liberation. And so it was putting on your crown and walking into this space where you were going to be free. And you were going to claim that freedom and speak that freedom no matter what.
Lisa Woolfork 22:51
I really love it. And it just reminds me—going back to your phrase earlier about being clothed in dignity. Like when you put the hat on, that is the seal or the chef's kiss to the dignity. And also you will notice this, you will notice this, you will see me. I am not shrinking back. I am proud. And also when you're wearing a hat, you can't wear a hat and hold your head down. Yeah, like with a gele, you cannot have a gele on and like...
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 23:18
It would be all...yeah.
Lisa Woolfork 23:20
Have your chin tucked under your chest. You can't do it because again, it will probably fall down. It requires some neck strength to hold it up. And I think that that's another way. I feels like it makes you have your shoulders squared.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 23:31
Shoulders squared. Yes, yes.
Lisa Woolfork 23:33
It really just changes your whole posture or your whole disposition. Added that Mae Reeves created so many things that affirmed the dignity that when you put on a Mae Reeves hat, you wanted to stand up straighter, you wanted to hold your head even higher, because you were wearing her art. And that affirmed the dignity and the art that is your life. I just love that. I would love for you to tell me about the book. I've never written a children's book. And so when you're creating the illustrations or working with an illustrator like, how does that process go? I'm a huge audiobook fan. So you have got to tell me what it was like to record an audiobook.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 24:14
Lisa Woolfork 24:14
The book, when we read it, it was not that long, maybe fifteen minutes. It's not a long listen, because it's not a long book. But it's so wonderful. As I was listening, I was like, [sighs] it was like a breath of fresh air throughout. Whenever you went from one pivot point to the next pivot point, even the way you talked about the racism that she dealt with, you did a wonderful job of like, explaining that in a way that I think young readers could appreciate. So can you talk a little bit about that process? What's it like to work with Mae Reeves' daughter on the book, to work with a skilled and famed illustrator Andrea Pippins. That's also wonderful.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 24:48
Thank you. Yeah, so first working with Donna Limerick, Mae's daughter, was incredible. Sometimes publishers are just sort of rushed or very focused on just a product. In this case, I was really fortunate that the publisher was interested in the process and respectful of Mae and her legacy, and her daughter, Donna, who had really given that creation, that collection to the museum. And so my editor, Phoebe Yeh, connected me with Donna Limerick. And I got to meet Donna in the beginning, when I went to the exhibit. So it was just so much fun to be sort of watching the videos on the exhibit and seeing Donna and then Donna's also right there next to me, and then getting to talk to her over a few months about just working with her mom, about being in the store, about even just being a little girl who was kind of like, "hy do all these other people call my mother Mama? Why are they all calling her Mama Mae—she's my mom."
Lisa Woolfork 25:45
Exactly. "I don't like all this sharing I'm expected to do." [Olugbemisola laughs]
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 25:50
And then like, talking about those trips that she took to Paris and to New York. I felt like I could see a lot of—Donna went on to become a documentary producer. seeing how the work that she did with her mom and what her mom taught her just by the way that they lived, helped her create narratives and create stories. And that was really, really special. And then when I found out that they got Andrea Pippins for the art, I was over the moon because her work is incredible. It's so dynamic, so loving. There's some spreads in this book like, every page I'm like, I want that to be a poster, I want that to be a poster I want that... [laughs]
Lisa Woolfork 26:30
This is a book of posters now. [Olugbemisola laughs] And note cards.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 26:34
Exactly. And like, her attention to detail whether it's a page with like the map where she's like, depicting the Great Migration. The pages when she's showing Mae dressing Donna, and lshe's like a little girl and like putting the pearls. Because Donna talked about how Mae would make her put on like this black dress and pearls when she worked in the store and... Andrea's art is just... The whole process really brought me back and made me think, again, of my mom and my grandmother. I had all of my grandmother's gloves. My grandmother used to also always wear hats and gloves. So I had all of those long gloves that she used to wear when she got dressed up. And I just really have a new appreciation for those creative ways sort of big and small, that Black women did just that—affirm their dignity and say like, "You will see me. I am here. I'm going to claim my space. I'm going to stand up." I think about my grandmother making me walk with books on my head.
For that posture.
Lisa Woolfork 27:36
It's like, you gotta make sure that walk is worthy of a hat, girl. Come on, let's get those books on that head.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 27:40
It really reminded me to value that, to cherish that. And I really wanted this story to help young readers value that history and bring it with them, because I feel like that's just with books and with stories, you really want. I like to think about reading, remembering, and remixing.
Lisa Woolfork 27:59
Hey, friends, hey. I wanted to share a little bit about the abundance of the Stitch Please podcast. The growth of the podcast has been so exponential that the work has exceeded what I am able to do. And this is where you come in. To retain the joy practice and the liberatory vision of the podcast and to not have it reproduce capitalist extraction and overwhelm, I am recalibrating the Black Women Stitch Patreon for increased sustained financial support. You can find links to the Black Women Stitch Patreon in the show notes, and be on the lookout for more information as the recalibration unfolds. And thank you for your support.
Reading, remembering, and remixing—that's beautiful. Say more about that.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 28:45
You have a relationship with every book or every story that you read. And it's a very personal relationship. There are things that are shared and that you can talk about. But there are things that you bring from your own life and from your own memory. And that then you live out even without realizing it sometimes that you bring into your world, into your life, into what you give to the world. And so I hope that reading about Mae or reading about the kid—I always write about kids who are makers and kids who are creative. Just like, reading about those kids, one can help readers to match with that legacy and those traditions and their past because we all have that.
Lisa Woolfork 29:22
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 29:22
And also bring it into their present. Bring it into their like, "Oh, you know what? I can imagine myself in all these different world. I can make a way out of whatever way I'm in now. I can do this. I can be this I can dream this."
Lisa Woolfork 29:40
And that is what I believe you are doing with your writing. You are creating possibility models for so many young readers, which is especially powerful for young Black readers, but essentially also necessary knowledge for all young readers. And so I really appreciate that, and it reminds me of when you were talking about Donna and her mild irritation—or maybe more—at feeling like she has to share her mom. It reminded me of something that I saw quoted for Gwendolyn Brooks on your page about how we are each other's harvest.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 30:10
That's one of my favorites.
Lisa Woolfork 30:12
We are each other's business. This doesn't mean that we are necessarily being nosy or inquisitive or picking or anything like that, but that we are interconnected. And it reminds me of what Alice Walker said about Zora Neale Hurston's "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," when she said, "We are a people, and a people do not throw their geniuses away. A people do—people does not throw their geniuses away." What she was talking about was Zora Neale Hurston, and I know a lot of folks know Hurston now. One of the reasons you know Zora Neale Hurston is because Alice Walker refused to let Hurston die in obscurity or remain in obscurity. As famous as, I believe, and influential as Hurston is, that this woman died penniless in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida. And it was Alice Walker who put a headstone there, who took her books. They were mimeo—not even a photocopy, not even a Xerox—they were mimeographic copies of her books. So that other Black women scholars like my mentor, Nellie McKay, and other folks in the early seventies, who helped to create African American literary studies. That's the only reason we know them—because they pull them out of the obscurity with which the dominant culture would have resigned them.
My mother, when I was in high school, gave me "Their Eyes Were Watching God" to read, and I was just blown away. I loved it, loved it, loved it so much. And so I went to the school library at the school I was in at the time and looking for more. Well, I asked, I'm looking for more books by Zora Neale Hurston. And that school librarian, she was like, "Who?" and like, you know, I said it a few more times. And then she was like, "There's no such person."
You are lying.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 31:56
Lisa Woolfork 31:57
You are lying. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Do you rember how old you were? Do you remember what grade you were in when this happened?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 32:04
I want to say I was maybe tenth grade?
Lisa Woolfork 32:08
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 32:10
I was in high school.
Lisa Woolfork 32:11
You were in high school, and I'm guessing you were in high school maybe around the time I was in high school like, mid eighties?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 32:16
Lisa Woolfork 32:17
And there was a human person who was also a librarian...?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 32:21
Lisa Woolfork 32:22
...who told you not "I don't know, but let me look and see. You know what? We don't have anything by that writer, but you know, give me some time." Or "You know what would be really good, Olugbemisola? You are really good at research. How about you and your English teacher work together to do a project on finding out more about this woman." Instead, that bitch went to "Zora Neale Hurston does not exist."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 32:50
There is no such person. I will never forget that.
Lisa Woolfork 32:52
There is no such person. Why is my blood boiling? I know why. Because my specialty is African American literature and culture. And I teach Black women writers, and for the last twenty years I have taught a Zora Neale Hurston work, usually "Their Eyes" but also some short stories, every year for the last twenty to a generation of students. Except that apparently, according to this white lady—I'm just guessing she's a white lady. I could be wrong.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 33:20
Oh, no, yes, she was definitely a white lady.
Lisa Woolfork 33:22
Zora Neal Hurston doesn't exist. How? But how? How? How do you say something like that? I mean, it's one thing... Why can't people just say "I don't know."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 33:30
I don't know.
Lisa Woolfork 33:31
Just because you don't know doesn't mean that this is knowledge that is unknown by anyone in the universe. And that's what I call—I didn't create this term, it's from SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center— "curricular violence."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 33:36
Lisa Woolfork 33:37
That is curricular violence. It's the kind of violence that happens all the time to Black kids in school. Perhaps it also happens to other minority or marginalized identities, but it absolutely happens to Black kids who are told things like, "We are going to skip the chapter on Africa in world history because it's not that important." All of these things. The only Black history there is is Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Junior. That's the only Black history that exists, and half of it is for a white man. Go figure. Wow, there is no such person.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 34:16
There was no such person. I was fortunate to have had the foundation that I had and the family that I had.
Lisa Woolfork 34:23
Did you show her a book?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 34:24
I brought a book back, because I went home and my mom—I told my mom—my mom was like, "Do I need to come in there?" I was like, No, Mom, I got this." So I brought the book back. I did do a research paper on Zora Neale Hurston, and I brought her a copy of the paper when I was done. She was very grumpy and—you know, grumpy old lady.
Lisa Woolfork 34:40
"Well, I guess you done made up a person. I guess you spent all his time making up a whole person. I don't know why you would call her that. Why couldn't you call her something different? If you're gonna make up a person."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 34:49
I think even then, like I always thought that I would be a writer from a very, very young age. We were not allowed to watch very much television. So I would read. I would listen to my friends talk about the shows that they watched. And I would come home and make little books and write little stories for my sister. But telling your own story and telling the story of your people was having those stories was just so important to me from a very, very, very young age. And again, with that librarian, I just felt—it was just like, wow, like, you're a librarian.
Lisa Woolfork 35:21
How am I in tenth grade, and you are a whole entire adult with a career in library studies, and we'll just say there is no such person?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 35:30
And that means she doesn't even know this beautiful, incredible book, the story like it was so, so sad. But that curricular violence happened every day and still happens to our kids every single day. And I think for me, and for so many writers, I work with an organization called the Brown Bookshelf. And so much of what we do is we want to amplify and ship because we have many stories. Black people have all kinds of stories.
Lisa Woolfork 35:55
Listen, I got a whole Ph.D. I mean, and so do lots of other people have whole Ph.D's where all we do is talk about Black people.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 36:03
Exactly, exactly. We have all kinds of stories and all kinds of narratives and all kinds of ways that we tell them. It's just so important to me that our young people have access to them. Our young people can draw from them, that our young people can create their own stories knowing that they have that foundation.
Lisa Woolfork 36:24
I absolutely agree. And I want to turn a little bit to the parallels that you see between writing and sewing, or writing and stitching. Last year, Rita Dove, who was the poet laureate of the United States. She was on the podcast last year. She's wonderful. She's really great. And I was asking her about the connections, if any, between building a poem and sewing, and she made some connections with pacing and about the line and about tension. Similarly, I talked with Kristine Mays, who was a sculptor, but her sculptures look like stitched dresses, just the outside metal forms. And so she does a lot of stitching with metal and rebar. It's very, very cool. And so she also talked about tension. I'm wondering if there's some ways for you that your sewing life, your crochet life, your crafting life, the life that you did when you were blogging or really heavy into the knitting and sewing space, do you see any parallels or lessons that can happen between the creative art of sewing and stitching, and what it means to compose or write a novel or write a sentence?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 37:32
You know, it's funny. I taught this online class a few years ago, more than a few years ago now, that was called "Mothering as a Creative Act." And it was really just about exploring the ways that the things that are a part of what we might call mothering that anyone can do—people who are biological mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties, community members.
Lisa Woolfork 37:54
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 37:54
It's about care. It's about care and about how it can feed your creativity as opposed to a lot of times it's talked about as something that takes away from your creativity.
Lisa Woolfork 38:05
That's right—it'll drain you, it's tiring, as if it's a punishment, et cetera, et cetera.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 38:10
Yeah. Part of, I would say, my most prolific crafty time was when I was first a mother. That was also a time when I wrote my first novel in a really compressed amount of time.
Lisa Woolfork 38:23
Just to be clear, y'all, it was a week. She's saying "a really compressed amount of time." I don't want you to think that it was a month. She wrote her first novel in a week. That is a W-E-E-K, which many of us understand as a period of seven days. So continue, go ahead.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 38:38
Which I do not recommend. I made myself sick. But it was like I had this opportunity and I could not let it pass. But I think there were a lot of reasons why all of those things were happening at that time. You know, in grad school, I was studying educational technology and English education and cognitive science. I really was drawn to this idea of the act of writing as problem-solving and writing being sort of like taking an ill-defined problem and trying to make sense of things. And that is so much of what writing is to me. Like, it's like taking all these things that are in my head or questions or things I see or just things in the world and then create a narrative, figure them out, and maybe ask more questions, maybe find one answer or two answers, but really end up with more questions. And so that is also kind of the way I make, that I am a maker. They feed each other because a lot of times, and the same thing with my cooking, I might have a lot of ideas. My draw from all of those craft books and all of those cookbooks and think about all of those things, I don't exactly follow the pattern. I don't exactly follow the recipe. I think like, oh, I've seen this recipe and also I remember when Nana used to be in the kitchen, and she would always add a little of this and a little of that. And I wonder thinking about these flavors, how might they go well together? I think that will go well together. Or I read in a book—I used to read like a lot of these British family stories. And the kids would be doing all these fun, creative things that I would then not so much write myself into their story, but sort of use that as a jumping-off point to think, okay, I know that joy, and I know that sense of fun in my world and in my community. How do I want to tell that story? How do I want to see those stories in my world and in my community? So that problem-solving aspect of it is a big part of both my writing and my making and appreciating the process. So for me, writing like a book is never ever finished for me. So even after it's published, and I'm reading it, if I'm doing like a read aloud, I make changes, like while I'm reading aloud, because I'm still just kinda like, I don't like that. In the moment, I'll think of "I wish I had said it this way or done something differently."
Lisa Woolfork 39:48
So if you're reading, you'll just change it.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 40:51
I'll just change it as I'm reading aloud, yeah. And with my making, especially lately, I used to just try and finish a lot of projects. Had a lot of things that done. I would make a lot of toys. I would knit hats incessantly. But I've learned to appreciate the process. So now it feels like an excuse, because I have just a lot of works in progress all over the apartment. Just this barely done embroidery here.
Lisa Woolfork 41:19
Wow, that's gonna be nice.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 41:20
I've been trying to figure out this one-yard shirt thing. I can't [unclear] the whole thing. But I've been trying to figure out this one-yard shirt pattern and appreciate the figuring it out.
Lisa Woolfork 41:28
Yes, the process!
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 41:30
The process as I'm also figuring out the process of writing, as a part of the process of writing a story. Always working with my hands can spark something about a story. Last week, I was really struggling with a few manuscripts and really having that "I give up" feeling. And I had to just stop writing. And I was knitting. And I was just going to my craft. So I was looking at this puppetry book. I was taking this puppet that I had made last year.
Lisa Woolfork 42:00
Oh, my gosh. Hello, you. Are you a cupcake puppet? To the cupcake pucket—puppet. I'm calling her pucket, because she's sitting in a little bucket, so it's just like a puppet bucket.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 42:09
We have a puppet bucket.
Lisa Woolfork 42:10
Oh, she's so cute!
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 42:12
I like take these and physically hold them and take them and think about the process. With this I was really thinking about how, for decades, I wanted to make one of these puppets and just did it or thought I couldn't do it or for whatever reason.
Lisa Woolfork 42:26
But you did. There she is.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 42:28
I literally was like, okay, I can finish this book. I'm not sure what's going to happen. But I don't have to be sure. I'm just going to do the same way. I'm gonna go stitch by stitch. I'm gonna go like, word by word. I'm going to go out and take a walk. I'm gonna walk and knit. That's like a big thing for me. I'm gonna let those processes feed each other in a way.
Lisa Woolfork 42:48
I love that so much. I am going to ask you a question really quickly about the process of narrating a book just because I'm nosy and want to know. Who else am I going to ask? I don't know that many people who have audible books that they've narrated. Okay, this is a silly question. What is the time ratio between the length of the book and how long it takes to record? Because I can tell you right now: I am one of these silly people who think that just because Beyonce records a song that's three minutes and fifty-nine seconds, it took her three minutes and fifty-nine seconds to go into the studio to make it. I know that is false, because there's engineering, and there's slicing and splicing and mixing and all of these things. And she probably has to sing a refrain like two or three times. Or I heard about this thing with Billy Elish. I don't know her music. I don't know who she is. But I do know that she's very popular. People really like her, but she was talking to some TV interviewer about, I think they called it, it might have been some kind of song splicing, but essentially, she sings the song, and then they go back and they take every single little clip of where she sounded good, and they put it together into a song. And I'm like, I think that's something they do for her, because I'm pretty sure Aretha Franklin did not need that. I'm pretty sure Aretha Franklin did not need to have every single note or Whitney Houston did not need to have every single note she ever put together so that she could get something good to come out at the end.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 44:17
Lisa Woolfork 44:18
And this is not anti Billy Elish. I don't know her. I don't know anything about her. So y'all don't come for me and really, for real. If y'all really come for me about talking about some white lady, I will block you from life or from my life at least, because again, why are you here? At the Stitch Please podcast we center Black women, girls, and femmes. We ain't gonna—yeah, anyways. What is the time ratio? So if it's a fifteen-minute book, did you go into the studio and take fifteen minutes to read and then you got to go home?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 44:45
I did not take fifteen minutes to read. While I was very aware that I couldn't take that long, I was so excited about it. And I had wanted to do an audiobook for almost my entire life. Like, I used to make cassettes. Like, I pretend I was a radio person—make my own show on cassette. So I always wanted to do it.
Lisa Woolfork 45:03
You were a pre-podcaster, girl. You are like early adopter. She's like, "You know what, I got a RadioShack cassette. It got a record button, and it can record stuff off the radio. And I could plug a microphone in, and I could talk. So welcome to my world."
At one point, I was doing a project where I was trying to do a kid's radio show, teach kids to also do audio because I love audio.
And you were a kid, you were a child. I'm just saying you were a child, who was offering lessons in radio production to other children based on your self credentialing as an audio professional at about the age of seven. Okay, just...I got it. I got it.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 45:42
Making a way out of no way because...
Lisa Woolfork 45:45
How did the Olugbemisola School of Radio Production, second grade go?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 45:50
So you know, as usual, my main student was my little sister, my only student was my little sister. And I was like, I made her do all the shows.
Lisa Woolfork 46:00
You are my audience.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 46:01
I made her watch my cooking show. I made her come to my music school.
Lisa Woolfork 46:07
Do you all still speak? I just want to be clear. But like is she going to listen to this going, "Oh, my gosh, you should have been there. It was really a lot."
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 46:14
I'm sure she would say that. My sister is wonderful. And I appreciate how much she put up with me. I was very much an older sister.
Lisa Woolfork 46:22
I will have to say the same and shout out to my younger two sisters as well. Because I know I am a lot. I was a lot.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 46:29
And so yeah, so I'll always have that. And then "Mae Makes a Way," I was thinking, even as I was writing was like, okay, well, maybe this could be an opportunity for me to audition for the audiobook. But I knew I needed to prepare. I had done drama when I was much younger and theater and stuff. So I did find a coach, Monisa Frederick...
Lisa Woolfork 46:49
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 46:50
...a Black woman who took me through a little refresher of audio and understanding how to perform, how it's not just reading, how it is a performance. So when I email the producer and the publisher can I audition, I could tell they were kind of like, "Yeah, sure."
Lisa Woolfork 47:05
You can...but whyyyy? [both laugh] Are you gonna be mad when we don't pick you? I just want to make sure. You'll still let us publish the book, even if we don't pick you to read, right? I just want to make sure because this wasn't written into the contract. Can we all check? Frank, Frank, look into that. Did we promise that she could narrate? Okay, okay, we're good. Come on, girl, come on and audition. Come on.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 47:25
Go ahead and audtion. So I sent in my little file, and they liked it. And so I practiced a lot before I went to the studio just reading the book. I practiced different styles. I did like my luxury reading and like the luxury voice. I did my like auntie-sitting-next-to-you reading. All these different styles...
Lisa Woolfork 47:42
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 47:43
And then in the studio, we just went through, and there would be like one or two times like, if my throat got caught or something, I would just pause for like, a couple seconds and say the line again, or just keep going. And then there were a couple times when I would say like, oh, I didn't like how that—can I try a different take? But I really didn't do that that much. So I would say the actual time of recording was thirty minutes, maybe less than thirty minutes.
Lisa Woolfork 48:09
Hey, that's great! That's amazing. Because it sounds fantastic. You can hear the excitement in your voice. You can hear the excitement in your voice. I can hear it. When you make these pauses to go from what sounds to me, because again, I haven't seen the hardcopy. Don't worry, y'all. She said she's gonna send me some copies. And maybe I'll give one away during the month of September.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 48:31
Lisa Woolfork 48:31
I don't know, we'll see. Can I have mine signed, please?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 48:34
Lisa Woolfork 48:36
And so I could hear it and what sounds you'd make when you were going from chapter breaks or section breaks and different shifting tones of the story. You could totally hear that. Y'all, I recommend the audio. But I also recommend the visual because it's so beautiful. It is an absolutely beautiful book. And I'm so grateful that you have introduced Mae Reeves to a generation of new people. She was someone who was new to you, and you got to see her exhibition at the Smithsonian, to work with her daughter, talk with her daughter, and this person really became whole and alive to you. And you've been able to share that wholeness and aliveness with us. And I am so grateful for that. I'm going to ask you one last question. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. So, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, what advice would you offer to our listeners to help them get their stitch together?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 49:28
My advice would be to listeners of this podcast, to be generous to yourself, to be kind to yourself, and to be forgiving of yourself. Not to feel—in that same way that I used to and very often still am sort of focused on product and focused on achieving, making judgments about myself and what I do and what I've done in a negative way and in a way that diminishes me and who I am and that legacy of my mom and my grandmother, my aunties. That kind of diminishes all of that. It's harmful. So again I would say be generous with yourself, be kind to yourself, do not feel that your process has to reflect anybody else's, that it has to be anything like anybody else's. Wherever you are is behind or ahead or anything of anyone else. Just live in your process, figure it out, don't be afraid to make mistakes, know that you will make mistakes. You're not really doing it, I think, if you're not making any mistakes.
Lisa Woolfork 50:29
I love that so much. And it reminds me of something, y'all if you are a Patreon supporters, you get to see the lovely video, and I'm going to talk about something that only the Patreon folks can see. And it is this beautiful banner that Olugbemisola has behind her. And it says "Joy is an act of resistance." And something that my mother would say to me all the time, she'd say, "Lisa, don't let the devil steal your joy." I think comparison is the thief of joy. And I think what you have offered us as advice is to sink into your process and find the joy in that. And all stages of it can be joyful, you know, not just the outcome, but the process because that's where the life is. That's where the living is. And so, oh my gosh, Olugbemisola, this has been so beautiful. Thank you so much for coming to the Stitch Fix podcast and talking with us today. This has been really wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 51:24
This has been such a treat. It's like going in to the audiobook like I'm over the moon.
Lisa Woolfork 51:28
It's been wondering. Now tell us where we can find you and what you have coming up next. I'll make sure to put all the links to your stuff. And I know I'm going to talk to you off mic about you starting a podcast for your organization so you can talk about Black readers and all the stuff that you have. And yeah, yeah, we got to have a chat about that. Where else can we find you?
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 51:44
So you can find me on Instagram at my full name, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and on the web at Olugbemisola Books dot com. Put in any of the titles of my books—"Operation Sisterhood," "Mae Makes a Way"—and you will get to those sites as well. I'm working on now a sequel to "Operation Sisterhood" called "The Show Must Go On," about the girls trying to put on their own show in the neighborhood and getting a little in over their heads. And I'm working on those easy readers, "Makita Makes" or "Makeeta Makes," about a little girl who is a maker. And so I'm working on one now where she's trying to build a guinea pig habitat because she thinks that her classroom guinea pig needs a little more fun in his life. And so she's going to build him more of an amusement park and like, a guinea pig roller coaster and things like that.
Lisa Woolfork 52:33
My goodness. Well, let us help that the guinea pigs survives all this affection.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 52:37
Lisa Woolfork 52:39
Thank you again for being with us today. This has been a real joy. Thank you.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich 52:43
Thank you so much, Lisa.
Lisa Woolfork 52:48
You've been listening to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community, with giving levels beginning at five dollars a month. Your contributions help us bring the Stitch Please podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support. And come back next week, and we'll help you get your stitch together.