Two powerful pieces of #blackgirlmagic and QWoC wonder joined forces to manifest something pretty transformative. Linda Villarosa, out journalist and former Essence editor, has co-founded Villarosa Media, a boutique publishing company, with her mother and sister. Their first release? The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy Of Audre Lorde, a “bio anthology” about the self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” written by Dr. Gloria Joseph, Lorde’s partner in the latter years of her life. ELIXHER had the chance to chat with Linda Villarosa about the brilliant book and her new venture.
On why her family founded Villarosa Media…
Both my mom and I were really right in the midst of the black book boom, which was happening in the 90’s. Then it kind of dried up. You would be on the subway and half the people in your car would have a copy of Waiting to Exhale or The Color of Purple. We had a lot of options as far as books. The publishing industry changed and, as they say, when America sneezes, Black America gets pneumonia.
It hit black authors and black book imprints extremely hard and also black bookstores. As things went more digital and [with] the rise of online book selling sites, a lot of bookstores closed. It became harder for black authors to get book deals and, frankly, it was hard to find anything to read.
My mom had retired from her bookstore in Denver, then we all convinced her to move to New York. The community convinced her to open her bookstore again in Harlem and she had a great run. (My mom is 80.) It was a lot for her, so she retired after having two really successful readings: Hillary Clinton and then Bill Clinton.
She had always been really engaged as a businesswoman and then suddenly she was retired. My sister and I said, “Something is up with mom. She doesn’t have enough to do.” While I was in graduate school, I interviewed somebody who had a really small, successful publishing company in Brooklyn. I grilled him about the business side, then I made him take my mother out to lunch. We started saying, given that you can make a book much easier with digital media, can we do this? Then we ended up saying, yes, we can do this. I had to ask my mother three times. Then we brought my sister in.
I got a call from a friend who said you have to talk to Dr. Gloria Joseph. (I’m sorry — I know I’m a bad black person.) I was like, “Who? Dr. Gloria Joseph?” And she was like, “You know, Audre Lorde’s partner in the last several years of her life.”
So I talked to Dr. Joseph, and she was having trouble finding a publisher for her book even though she had a really great concept. She was very adamant about the way she wanted to put it in print. She said that when Audre was dying, she pulled Gloria aside and said, “I want you to tell my story and I don’t want it to be about this icon. I want it to be about the real me — all of my whole self, even the bad parts, even the parts where I’m a little crazy.” She said, “You can’t do it alone. What I want you to do is bring other people in to help tell the story with you.” So after Audre died, that’s what Gloria really was charged to do. She decided to write a biography but also have an anthology.
There were 50 people in the anthology, which is really a lot. And the only thing Gloria said was that we could not cut any of those contributors.
On why Villarosa Media took the risk…
I think how I felt was that this is the story Gloria wanted to tell and the book she wanted to write. It was also Audre’s wish. So I decided to honor that. When somebody lives a life, their life is a bit messy. It isn’t straightforward; and so this bio anthology, we call it a call-and-response biography sometimes, it’s messy. It’s a lot of people. What I saw in this book was the never-before-told story.
On the editing process…
Gloria is an academic. I’m really into personal narrative, so we worked together. She’d say, “I can’t say those things!” I’d say, “Well, you have to tell us about your love story with Audre Lorde. You can’t just tell us about her work; everybody knows that already. Tell us about your love story.” I’m really proud of her because that’s what she ended up writing. And [about] their travel together, which I had never heard about. They traveled a lot. Even though Audre was sick and maybe because she was sick, they did a lot of trips to Cuba, Hawaii, London. That was really beautiful.
On how this bio anthology differs from and compliment other existing biographical bodies of work about Lorde…
I am friends with Alexis De Veaux and I really like her biography. She did a wonderful job and had access to all the research. Ours is different from that because we bring in so many other voices and Gloria really is front and center. She’s never talked in depth about their love story before. When you watch a film with Audre actually in it, it’s so moving to actually see her. It’s like she’s still here in some ways. However, this book is almost like an update to the story because some people wrote their pieces about how they felt right after she died. Many of them wrote about how they feel now, including Elizabeth Lorde who talks about missing her mother and also first getting to know her mother as an activist — I’ve never heard that story before. When someone is meaningful and their impact is lasting, there can be a lot of different kinds of work about their story. Somebody else is going to come and do another book or movie after us about Audre Lorde — great. Just add to the mix, add to the party.
On who should read this book…
Our major audience will be people who love Audre Lorde and just want more of Audre Lorde — feminists, black lesbians, black people, lesbians, women. [Laughs.] The new audience we want to bring in is younger people of all colors and every gender. We want them to learn to be activists by following her example. She had a lot to say about activism and social change. This is in some sorts a blueprint.
To purchase The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy Of Audre Lorde, visit villarosamedia.com.
Check out and RSVP for the book’s upcoming events:
Discussion and book signing with author Gloria I. Joseph moderated by Sonia Sanchez. February 17, 2pm-4pm Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYC | Register Here
Audre Lorde Birthday Celebration and The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy Of Audre Lordebook launch. February 18, 6:30pm-10pm. The Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College, NYC | Register Here
Reading and book signing with author Gloria I. Joseph. February 23, 1pm-3:15pm. Westchester Community College, NY | More Info
Reading and book signing with author Gloria I. Joseph. February 29, Syracuse, NY | TBA