I first met writer/filmmaker Bridgett M. Davis back in 1998 when her film, the critically acclaimed Naked Acts, premiered at the Thalia Theater in New York City. A native of Detroit who grew-up on a steady diet of Black pop culture (Motown, Foxy Brown, et al.), Davis’s film told the story of Cicely, a young woman dealing with her life as an actress and with the drama of her mama, a former Blaxploitation movie star. Not only did I admire Davis’s stylistic, human way of telling her tale, she also honed in perfectly on the beautiful dynamic of Black families.
Davis’s debut novel, 2005’s Shifting into Neutral, was an excellent coming of age that that had both readers and critics anticipating more words. However, between being a professor at Baruch College as well as a wife and mother of two, “knocking out” a new book isn’t easy. Nearly a decade later, Davis has delivered the wonderful follow-up Into the Go-Slow, a novel that was well worth the wait.
EBONY: It’s almost time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of your first novel. How long after it was finished did you begin Into the Go-Slow?
Bridgett M. Davis: I actually started writing ideas for this book before the first one was published. I always knew this would be my second book, and I was taking lots of notes. I thought it would take maybe a year. (Laughs) I didn’t mean to take so long, but it took a while before I was ready for Into the Go-Slow to be out in the world.
EBONY: What was holding you back?
BMD: I didn’t follow the advice I always give my students, which is, in fiction, don’t hold too close to what really happened. The character Ella is an homage to my own sister, who died when I was a teenager, but I had to realize I wasn’t writing an autobiography. Once I was able to let go, the novel took off.
EBONY: One of the more beautiful aspects of your novels is showing both the love and strength of Black families.
BMD: I think all families are dysfunctional, but so little attention is focused on the love that exists in Black families and how that can help transcend so many problems. There is a bond and triumph that exists in these households of people who are up against so much, but making it clear that they love each other and are determined to make it work.
EBONY: You grew up in Detroit in the 1970s, which is where much of your book takes place. What do you think when you hear about your city in the media? What is your Detroit?
BMD: It’s certainly a different place now, but on the other hand, it’s not. Detroit has definitely gone through serious economic challenges, in part because the country ignored it and let it go bankrupt. I go back often to see my family, so I see some of the blocks, communities and neighborhoods that used to be lovely homes having problems with blight and abandonment. But what the media doesn’t talk about is all the communities that are still intact despite everything they’ve been up against. Why isn’t the media showing that? There are people who really believe in the city and won’t be chased out of it.
EBONY: In your book, the main character Angie goes to Nigeria to retrace her late sister’s life there. Talk about how Africa relates to Black Americans, many who don’t feel a real connection to the continent.
BMD: I very specially did not want to write a “back to Africa” novel. These characters weren’t going to the continent to find themselves, they were going to be more themselves, and that’s different. If Black people don’t feel connection with Africa, it’s because of lack of knowledge and not understanding our own history. It’s so rewarding to enter into a country where everyone is Black; even with a Black president, we don’t understand what it’s like to be around folks who are running their own country. That is an enlightening experience. People with stereotypical conceptions don’t know what they’re missing.
EBONY: From American funk to Fela Kuti, music is a big part of the book. How much were you listening to while working?
BMD: I listened to a lot of music, but I can also conjure it. I’ll blame coming from Motown, but I do feel my life has a soundtrack. I can remember a situation largely by what song was played. That’s one of the key ways I conjure a scene, a feeling, an emotion. I give my songs, and it really helps me understand who that character is when I know what they listen to. I try not to make the music too overwhelming, but that’s just how I write.
EBONY: You know I love your novels, but why haven’t you directed any more films?
BMD: Money. There is no feeling like making a film. It gets into your bloodstream, there is nothing that compares. But I didn’t think I could go through that do or die pressure of raising money again. I thought Naked Acts would be the springboard for more films, but when it wasn’t, I made a choice. I could’ve sacrificed everything again or I could keep telling stories, because that’s what I really care about.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.