With Janelle Monae at the party in LA for the publication of Marie Claire’s Fresh Faces of 2107 issue. She was one of the women highlighted and honored.

(1) “I am so connected to looking in the eyes of those women in my community, who didn’t get the opportunities that I had, that I can never forget that when I am making my decisions. I always have to consider that I was one of the blessed ones to make it out and get these opportunities.  What am I going to do with it?  I started to get so many opportunities thrown at me.  I remember writing down in a notebook what are my core values.  I had to decide if my goal was to be famous or my goal was to be a part of projects that were much bigger than myself and were going to make my community proud.  I started to take certain meetings and talk to certain people.  My community was at the forefront of what was important to me and letting them know that you don’t have to be a product of your environment.  You can get out of your environment and make somebody else’s environment.” 

(2) “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

(3) “People have the right to call themselves whatever they like. That doesn’t bother me. It’s other people doing the calling that bothers me.”

(4)  “Lend your ear to somebody who is trying to help those who don’t have a voice – all the marginalized communities.  Think of someone other than yourself.”

(5) “All struggles are essentially power struggles. Who will rule? Who will lead? Who will define, refine, confine, design? Who will dominate? All struggles are essentially power struggles,and most are no more intellectual than two rams knocking their heads together.”

(6)  “I prefer to remain an artist and have my freedom of speech. I don’t have to sugarcoat how I feel.  I can speak through my art and bring people together.  I’m not interested in being a part of a red or blue party.  I am more interested in blending them into a purple one.”

(7)  “Sometimes I think it is important just to be in control.  It is important for women to be – especially when gender norms and conformity are pushed upon us.  Women automatically are told that this is how you should look.  This is how you should get a man  This is how you should get a woman.  You need to fit into all these boxes to be accepted.  I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking.  I don’t think we all have to take the same coordinates to reach the same destination. I believe in embracing what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable.”

(8)  “I have learned there is power in saying no.  I’ve said it so many times in my career.   I have agency.  I get to decide.  Spend time with yourself  – that is important for young girls and artists.” 

Photo of Octavia E. Butler by Patti Perret

(9) “Drowning people sometimes die fighting their rescuers.”

(10)  “I will say that art is my religion.  I am more spiritual than I am religious.  God is in all of us.  And I don’t like when people diminish God with a He.”

(11) “I’m a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black …an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”

(12)  “My grandmother – my mother’s mother –  is from Aberdeen,  Mississippi.  She was a sharecropper; she picked cotton.  Had fourteen brothers and sisters  Shared one pair of shoes with her fourteen brothers and sisters.  She was the hardest working woman I have ever met in my life.  She had eleven children.  She was the baby.  She migrated to Kansas City, Kansas.  The story is her father wanted land and unfortunately he kind of pushed his daughter to be with somebody for that land.   She had kids not with the agency that she should have had.  But I am so thankful for my entire family.  I have over fifty first cousins.   I know all their names.  We’ve got Muslims and Christians and Non-believers.  I got a good sense of the world just through my family – so many personalities and religious beliefs and sexual orientations.  You learn how to argue young when you’re in the world with fifty cousins. You have to be tough.”

(13)  “I consider myself to be a story teller.  It is our stories that bring people together.  I’ve seen through experience the power of story telling has – the power that art has  – to bring about change, and to unify us.  I see it as a way to bring us all into the room and have these conversations and empathize with each other more.”

(14) “Every story I create, creates me.   I write to create myself.”

(15) “If you want a thing – truly want it, want it so badly that you need it as you need air to breathe, then unless you die, you will have it. Why not? It has you. There is no escape. What a cruel and terrible thing escape would be if escape were possible.”

(16) “All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth
is change.  God is Change.”

(17)  “Whenever I feel down, the only thing that makes me feel better is when I am being of service to somebody else.  It fights depression.  It fights everything.”

(18) “In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn.”

(19) “Afrofuturism is such a great way to teach and help artists who have these ideas feel like they have a home.  There’s a lot of us who have had a moment when we felt like ‘the other’ when we felt discriminated against or marginalized because of our gender or our sexual orientation or our race or our class. The way poor people have been treated throughout our history continues to break my heart.  It is our responsibility as artists to give a voice to the voiceless.  I had to work as a maid to pay for my tuition for the school I attended in New York City.   I just remember driving the green and yellow station wagon; it had ‘The Maids’ printed on the side of it.  A woman in my church hired me.  I went to a Baptist church growing up.  I got that job as a maid right after my senior year in high school.  I remember singing to those women I worked with.  Some of them were ex-convicts.  Some of them were recovering drug addicts. None of them had a license,  so I had to drive.  I know what it is like to work with people who are ostracized and cut out of society.”

(20) “People have the right to call themselves whatever they like. That doesn’t bother me. It’s other people doing the calling that bothers me.”

(21) “I don’t strive to be perfect because I believe often times that perfection is the enemy of greatness.  I would rather be remarkable than perfect.  Perfect is boring to me.”

(22) “Shyness is shit. It isn’t cute or feminine or appealing. It’s torment, and it’s shit.”

(23) “I began writing about power because I had so little.”

(24)  “People have to start respecting the pussy.  They have to start respecting the vagina. I mean, as far as the clitoris goes, you can go into one of these shops and get a vibrator.  And I love men.  But evil men?  I will not tolerate that.  I am all about Black Girl Magic and Carefree Black Girl – even though I’m standing with all women.”

(25) “There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”

Answers: (1) Janelle Monae; (2) Octavia E. Butler; (3) Butler; (4) Monae; (5) Butler; (6) Monae; (7) Monae; (8) Monae; (9) Butler; (10) Monae; (11) Butler; (12) Monae; (13) Monae; (14) Butler; (15) Butler; (16) Butler; (17) Monae; (18) Butler; (19) Monae; (20) Butler: (21) Monae; (22) Butler; (23) Butler; (24) Monae; (25) Butler



  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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