Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
M.J. Fievre signed her first book deal at just 19 years old while living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Since then, M.J. has taken the literary world by storm writing about everything from affirmations for Black girls and young women to poems about the struggles of mental illness. Her words resonate with individuals all over the world and she has helped to change the lives of so many people struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other traumas.
On top of her writing achievements, M.J. has also created her own Badass Black Girl brand- a community created to give Black women and girls the space and resources they need to embrace their inner power.
M.J. is a long-time educator and frequent keynote speaker at Tufts University, Howard University, The University of Miami, and Michael College as well as a panelist at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, AWP.
Your work has spanned across years, genres, and even continents all starting with your first publication as a teenager, could you share a few of your career highlights/ favorite memories from your journey so far as a writer and creator?
Nothing will ever compare to my first book signing! When I published Le Feu de la Vengeance, I was on top of the world. At 16, I was unstoppable. I felt smart and intriguing—and I knew it was only the beginning of a fruitful career as a writer and creator. This was an important experience for me, coming as early as it did, because it gave me a taste of what was possible. My life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, suddenly became very writing focused, but I also had to learn quickly about the business of writing. I was on television and the radio a lot for someone my age, and that taught me about public speaking, and building a brand, which prepared me to later launch my own vlog, Badass Black Girl.
When I moved to the United States, I worked on my memoir, A Sky the Color of Chaos, during my time at the MFA program at Florida International University. I had the opportunity to work with brilliant writers like Dan Wakefield and John Dufresne while I was writing that book, and the feedback I received from my classmates let me know I was writing an important story in terms of both the historical content (the book takes place during Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s rule of Haiti), but also in terms of breaking the silence of that regime, and also fighting back against a culture of silence that surrounds people who live with abuse in their homes. When the book came out, I was featured at the Miami Book Fair, which is the most prestigious book fair in the country. I had no idea I’d later go on to become their coordinator for their ReadCaribbean program.
And of course, it was a thrill to be in Haiti Noir. Edwidge Danticat was the editor on that project and she’s just a fabulous mentor and a very generous, wise person to work with and know. She’s always been very supportive of my work. So to have the opportunity to work directly with her as an editor was a thrill for me.
Right now, Badass Black Girl is getting a lot of positive attention from its readers. I’m hearing feedback from young Black women and teenagers, thanking me for writing the book and letting me know how empowering they find it—that it’s something they plan to return to again and again when they are feeling low about themselves, and need a reminder of just how powerful they really are. It’s been the #1 bestseller on Amazon in a couple of categories. That was a huge, joyous surprise! It won an independent book award. I was also invited to appear on various podcasts, including On Leadership. With Badass Black Girl, I feel like my platform really expanded and that my audience has grown.
Even though it’s not out yet, I’m already excited about Your Work from Home Life. It’s going to be on the shelves at Target! And I’ve collaborated with a bestselling author for this; working with Becca Anderson was a lot of fun. I can already anticipate the reader response as well, because I know there’s a huge market for people who either work from home already or are preparing to shift to working from home, and it makes me happy to know the book will make a difference in their lives.
You have published six books with Mango so far, including three titles to be released this year: Empowered Black Girl, Raising Confident Black Kids, and Your Work from Home Life. How do you find inspiration for each piece of work? Do you have a devoted writing formula that you always follow or is the process different for each publication?
The series of books on empowering Black kids and Black young adults all seem to have grown out of Badass Black Girl. Once I’d gotten the idea for that, the rest seemed to flow naturally out of a need to fill a void in publishing.
Empowered Black Girl is the kind of book I always wished I had growing up. I read a lot of self-help books as a teenager, books like Stephen Covey’s life-changing The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but I never saw myself represented in those books per se. There were no primers on how to be an empowered Black girl, and it’s needed, because our Black girls are growing up not understanding how beautiful and strong they are, and what they are capable of achieving.
Raising Confident Black Kids grew out of my experiences as a long-time educator. I taught middle school for many years. I also taught elementary school and high school. I still teach college courses. I always tried to build a safe space for my students both in terms of their physical health, but also in terms of their mental health. And I’ve had plenty of uncomfortable conversations about racism with parents, with other teachers, with school administrators, and with guidance counselors. I’ve also spent a lot of time talking to psychologists to better understand empowerment strategies. This book is intended primarily for parents, but there’s a huge adjacent community of readers that I wanted to speak to: teachers, guidance counselors—anyone who nurtures and cares for Black kids.
Your Work from Home Life was a little different. I’ve worked from home for many years now, and when the pandemic hit and people were suddenly quarantined and working from home, it made sense to write that book as well. Especially since even before COVID 19, more American workers were starting to embrace the gig economy and work from home. It’s a book that will outlast this pandemic, because many people are starting to realize they don’t need to leave home to work.
As for my process, I typically outline first, then rough draft, then edit the rough draft until it’s polished, but each book is different. It’s not really formulaic, because each book requires different levels of work at each point along its journey. Outlining definitely helps, especially with non-fiction. For my fiction and poetry, the process is quite different.
Empowered Black Girl is a book of wise and inspiring affirmations from Black women from all over the world. What is the best method for taking an affirmation and turning it into an actual life-style change? How do you take those words and truly put them into actions?
It’s not always easy to do, especially if you’re fighting a nagging inner critic that only wants to say terrible things to you, like, “You’re not worthy.” Using affirmations has to become a daily practice to counter that negative voice. It helps to hang positive affirmations next to your mirror, so when you look at yourself, you are connecting yourself and your face to the words. Along with embracing the positive words though, you really need to have a talk with that inner critic and stop putting so much weight into what that voice is telling you, because it’s an internalization of things you may have heard for years and can be extremely damaging. So you replace the negative with positive. Black girls in particular are subject to a lot of bullying, and the amount of damage that does to a girl’s self-esteem can be catastrophic and last well into adulthood. Some people never get over it. It’s a two-front battle. Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive. Keep repeating the affirmations until you begin to believe them.
Raising Confident Black Kids is not only geared towards parents, but teachers of black students as well. As a teacher yourself, what is the best thing, in your opinion, that a teacher can do to protect the mental and emotional health of Black students?
There are a few things teachers need to be aware of. The first is that they are dealing with children, and that children are extremely sensitive. Studies have shown that Black kids, especially Black boys, are seen as older and more threatening than they are age-wise. So , it’s important to keep their age in mind. If a Black child is acting out in class, it’s important to try to find out why. There may be a good reason for it. They may be being bullied or have other problems they don’t know how to deal with; a guidance counselor might be more effective than punitive measures. The second thing is to really listen to what they are saying if they complain about being bullied. No one wants to be a tattletale, so if a child speaks up, they deserve to be listened to and taken seriously, and then protected from their bully. The third thing is that, especially in segregated schools, or schools where Black kids are the minority, they need to be challenged as equally as their white counterparts. I think there’s a tendency to dismiss Black kids and not expect as much from them intellectually when they are just as capable of any other student at excelling. Challenging a child helps raise their self-esteem when they reach goals or achieve something that took hard work.
On the topic of mental health, it is no secret that the last year has been especially draining. One huge adjustment for a large majority of workers was the switch to a fully remote work situation. In your upcoming book, Your Work from Home Life, which you co-wrote with fellow Mango author Becca Anderson, you talk about the importance of self-care, what does self-care look like to you in respect to working from home? Why do you think self-care is so necessary in order to have a successful remote work experience?
Self-care is especially important when you work from home because it’s too easy to let work take over your home life, and there needs to be some boundaries that are set there to delineate home life from work life. Otherwise you roll out of bed and just work, work, work, and it’s really easy to get burnt out working from home. For me, I’m a nerd, so I like to take time out to play video games or watch super-hero movies or read the latest comic books. Bubble baths are nice too. Curling up with a good book is a way to escape from your surroundings and live vicariously.
If you had to choose your favorite quote or passage from Empowered Black Girl, what would it be? What about Raising Confident Black Kids?
Empowered Black Girl “You need to appreciate the ways in which you’re changing, evolving. You are not perfect, of course, but you have the distinction of being unique.”
Raising Confident Black Kids (when it comes to discussing racism with your kids) “It’s okay to admit you either don’t know or don’t understand all the nuances behind racism. Not knowing isn’t an obstacle. It’s an opportunity to figure things out together with your kids, and it shows them that you are willing to listen to their concerns seriously and find solutions that work.”
What is your ultimate goal as a writer? How do you want your readers to feel after they turn the last page of your books?
My ultimate goal as a writer is to keep writing, and eventually support myself writing full time. As for how I want my readers to feel, it really depends on the book they’re reading, but I’d hope they would feel like they spent time with someone who takes writing seriously and cares about the world around her. I guess I’d like my readers to feel they are better off for having read my books than when they started it, like they learned something new about themselves.
On a personal note, how are you nourishing your own soul and taking care of yourself during this chaotic time?
Boy, that’s tough. I’ve been really careful about quarantining because I want to avoid catching the virus, and it’s hard when you can’t see friends and family and do all the things you used to do. My husband and I took a weekend break, and rented a place in Orlando just to get away for a couple of days and have a change of scenery, which was important for us at the time because we’d been cooped up for so long in our apartment. Our big adventure that weekend was to take a trip to a bookstore and just browse the shelves. It wasn’t like we were going to get out into the world so much as to get away from our own little world for a few days. I also try to keep in touch with my family and friends as much as possible, so I don’t feel so isolated from everyone. But it’s been a difficult time for most people. Mostly, I’m practicing patience with myself. Quarantining comes with all kinds of weird side effects like headaches, sleep disturbances, bizarre dreams, depression. Sometimes it’s hard to put that all to the side and have fun, but I try to have as much fun as I can, despite the isolation. And I remind myself that this will pass as well. It’s not the permanent state of affairs. It’s just a temporary time we’re going through right now.
Lately, self-care for me has meant having conversations—Really deep meaningful, thought-provoking discussions with other Black women on my vlog Badass Black Girl. I’ve found it’s empowering for me to have these discussions and I imagine it’s empowering for my audience to watch. My guests are all very different and unique from one another, but they’re all strong women, and I find that talking with them lends me strength as well.
Rapid Fire Questions:
Favorite place in the world? Orlando
Go to coffee (or tea) order? Soy latte from Starbuck’s
Summer or winter? Summer
Pancakes or waffles? Waffles
Last book you read? My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Questions, Quotes, and Affirmations for Teens
Explore the many facets of your identity through hundreds of big and small questions. In this journal designed for teenage Black girls, MJ Fievre tackles topics such as family and friends, school and careers, body image, and stereotypes. By reflecting on these topics, you will confront the issues that can hold you back from living your best life and discovering your Black girl bliss.
Embrace authenticity and celebrate who you are. Finding the courage to live as you are is not easy, so here’s a journal designed to help you nurture creativity, positive self-awareness and Black girl bliss. This journal honors the strength and spirit of Black girls.
A Comprehensive Guide for Empowering Parents and Teachers of Black Children
It’s hard to balance protecting your child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. Now, there’s a guide to help you teach your kids how to thrive—even when it feels like the world is against them. From racial profiling and police encounters to the whitewashed lessons of history taught in schools, raising Black kids is no easy feat. In Raising Confident Black Kids, teacher M.J. Fievre passes on the tips and guidance that have helped her educate her Black students, including:
- How to encourage creativity and build self-confidence in your kids
- Ways to engage in activism and help build a safer community with and for your children—and ways to rest when you need to
- How to explain systemic racism, intersectionality, and micro-aggressions
Redefine, Reorganize and Reinvent Your Remote Work
The new world of working from home. No longer does the average worker have long, frustrating commutes to crowded offices for jobs more comfortably worked from home. In this day and age, not only are more employers offering remote work, more people are creating their own opportunities for non-traditional work from home. Whether you are a remote work employee, freelancer, or someone who dreams of giving up the daily grind for a career of your own design, Your Work from Home Life is the next step to becoming the ultimate work nomad.
Poems about Anxiety, Depression, Hope, and Survival
Poetry meets mental health. Paloma is faking it. On the outside, she’s A-Okay. She’s electrified at work, there is a cadence in her step as she walks her dog, she posts memes on Facebook, and she keeps up with most relationships. Looks can be deceiving, however. Inside, Paloma is just going through the motions, and she feels like things are spiraling out of control. But when things are at their darkest, dawn arrives with clarity and focus, and with it, healing. Paloma learns to value small glimmering moments of joy rather than searching for constant happiness, thus building hope for her future.
A Badass Black Girl’s Coloring Book
We all know Black girls rock—but they also relax. Coloring books for teens are a great way to get inspired, relieve stress, and now—unleash your inner badass In this unique coloring book, teen girls can relax by coloring soothing images of some of their favorite things, like mandalas, animals, flowers, sweets, and more. A girl’s coloring book like no other, Black Brave Beautiful provides stress relief alongside words of encouragement to make the perfect addition to any collection of young adult and girl power coloring books.
Quotes for black women and girls to unleash creativity. With this coloring book, black girls can finally color and shade in a palette of their own choosing. A twist on traditional teen coloring books, Black Brave Beautiful urges girls and women to gain self-confidence through inspirational quotes from notable and visionary Black women while colorfully guiding them in the direction of their dreams.
Joyful Affirmations and Words of Resilience
Even strong, fearless, and badass Black girls and Black women need affirmations. Now more than ever, we need to practice the art of self-care and give our minds and bodies the TLC they deserve. Author of Badass Black Girl and Happy, Okay? M.J Fievre brings you inspirational words of wisdom through fabulous Black female trailblazers who have changed the world, including Audre Lorde, Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Davis.
Take a deep breath. We don’t always have to be strong. Sometimes, taking a break to focus on our mental health is bravery in itself. We find ourselves needing reminders that we are incredible and more than enough.