White Readers Meet Black Authors: Tell us about your latest work(s).
Patricia Raybon: I write memoirs. My two new books, however, shake me out of that box. God’s Great Blessings is a One Year® devotional—or a daily study guide—published by the Christian publisher Tyndale House for its One Year® brand. It explores 52 virtues that God promises to bless. A life-changing project. I loved wrestling over this subject and writing it!
Bound for Glory, also from Tyndale, is a beautiful tribute to African American spirituals. A full-color gift book, Bound for Glory features the art of renown calligrapher Timothy Botts, with me acting as contributor. But Tim desired a Black voice on the pages, that is, so he invited me to collaborate. The book showcases 52 illustrations by Tim of 52 spiritual songs, plus his reflections on 26 of his pieces along with a Bible verse. For the other 26 illustrations, I wrote short reflections in free verse—a new format for me. More than anything, the book honors the African slaves in America who wrote this amazing music, and Tim did an astounding job telling this story through art. So it’s a stunning book. Great for showing off on coffee tables and book shelves. But the message inside is one of deliverance and hope. It’s truly a gorgeous book.
WRMBA: What are your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? Entertain? Illuminate?
PR: I write to learn. Then I share what God is willing to teach me. With my first memoir, My First White Friend, I set out to learn how to forgive. The surprise? First I needed to forgive myself. Then with my second book, I Told the Mountain to Move, I vowed to learn how to pray. I grew up in church, but didn’t have a clue what prayer was. Writing a book to figure out a spiritual mystery—like prayer or forgiveness—changes my life. Readers tell me the books change their lives, too. My First White Friend came out in 1995. But people still read it to learn how to forgive. The same is true for Mountain regarding prayer. I give talks all over the country now on both prayer and forgiveness. Writing to learn has made all of that possible.
"I try to honor the dignity of that human spirit in my writing. So I try to give readers my best. To respect readers’ intelligence. To never talk down to an audience—whether they’re teen felons in a county jail or senior citizens in a church."
WRMBA: How does your faith inform your writing?
RP: It inspires me, first, to keep going. To stay with it. To finish the writing. To stay in the race—and if I fall out of my lane, to get back in it. This going the distance is central to the theology of Christianity. We follow a Savior who didn’t turn back, not from his calling—or even his crucifixion. In my own life, as a writer, the example of Christ inspires me to stay in the game. I love that about my faith.
Secondly, of course, my faith inspires what I write. My focus is spirituality, regardless of the topic. I did a piece on cleaning my windows for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, but the focus was spirituality. My faith is my life. As a writer, I aim to show that connection.
WRMBA: You went from journalism to writing books. Does your experience as a journalist affect your writing?
RP: It keeps me grounded. As a journalist, I wrote feature articles—called human-interest stories—most of my career. But even the feature pages of a newspaper focus on real life. And life is complicated. Life is hard. Life can be heart-breaking. But life is good! So people display amazing resilience, imagination, and downright sheer guts to make the journey the best way they can.
I try to honor the dignity of that human spirit in my writing. So I try to give readers my best. To respect readers’ intelligence. To never talk down to an audience—whether they’re teen felons in a county jail or senior citizens in a church. Both these groups deserve my best, from the story and message to the spelling and grammar. Journalism is a big part of why that matters to me.
WRMBA: I know you’re taught writing at the university level and you do workshops now. What advice would you give to a new writer?
RP: Figure out who you are. Your writing voice lives in that identity. In fact, your different identities—and everybody has several, depending on your life and where you are in it—is where your writer’s voice resides. I’m a journalist, yes, and I have written in that voice many times. But I’m also a wife and mom, and I’ve written and sold scores of personal essays about the complications and challenges of those relationships. In fact, my second memoir, I Told the Mountain to Move, is on prayer, but I wrote it as a wife—because the story takes place when my marriage is at a low point and, at the same time, my husband was critically ill. I had to learn to pray for my husband—but also learn again to love him—and write about it. Married Christian women really relate to that book!
A lot of aspiring writers run from who they are—and what they’re dealing with in life. But our stories reside in those places and spaces. Own up to your life! Walk in it. Write it!
WRMBA: What’s next for you?
RP: With God’s good help, I hope to develop a detective series with a faith angle. I finished a draft and got good suggestions back from my publishing house. So I’m excited to rework it—to start fresh and give it another go.
I’m also starting to blog again about life as a black writer of faith who works at home. I love every part of that description. So stay tuned.
Meantime, I’m having fun releasing my new books.
WRMBA: What’s the best book (or who’s the best writer) that not enough people know about?
RP: Great question! Surprising answer? The Holy Bible. I finally read it all. After a lifetime in church, I finally read the whole thing. And what did I learn? That everything I wanted to know about writing, and about life, is right there. Highly recommended!
Blessings and thanks to you, Carleen. Much peace and love.
WRMBA: Thank you for Patricia for your time! Can't wait to read that detective series!