Owning Difference: An Interview with Terra Trevor

In Southeast Los Angeles, I grew up in racially mixed working-class neighborhoods. Over the years the inner-city communities of Compton, Paramount and South Downey where I lived and shaped my values, have evolved from mixed race to Black, then Asian and now Hispanic. I'm the granddaughter of a sharecropper, a musician, and the daughter of an auto mechanic and a mother who went back to school after I grew up and she became a children's librarian. 

Diversity is the norm for me, and always has been. It influences the people I chose to become friends with, the foods I eat, the music I listen to, and the books I read, and write. I read all the time. I can't remember ever not reading. 

Listen to my mother and you will hear tales about me in diapers with a book in my lap. The only goal I had for my children was for them to love reading as much as I do. And I've achieved that success. All three were avid readers. As adults each time they move to a new city they get a library card, and they buy books from their local bookstores. 

TODAY I am a writer who has published a diverse body of work. In my life and in my writing I place a high value on ethnicity, race and culture, and I appreciate multiracial and multicultural themes in literature. Yet there is also a great need for more diversity allowing readers to see themselves in a multiplicity of ways of living and being. Within my family members and circle of friends we have disabilities large and small, we are LGBT people, and we are different sizes and shapes. Some of us are elders, and others we've loved have lived short lives. We value books offering scenes that are familiar and will remind us of sisters, brothers and aunties, and of friends we have met. Characters that for some reason we recognize and see something of ourselves in the story, a validation of our experience as human beings, and an acknowledgment of being valued by someone who has lived a similar life and understands who we are. 

Books with diverse themes can also serve as a passport, allowing us to glimpse into peoples and a terrain unknown to us, so that we can learn and grow and better understand and see through the eyes of someone who has lived different than we have. 

As a writer, with thirty-plus years of publishing behind me, I've reached an age at which I find myself thinking about how I will pass the baton so that the type of authors and diversity in writing I find important will continue.

The quote "a single bracelet does not jangle alone" best describes me. I value the collective voice and collaborate with other writers and I'm a contributor to 10 books. I also steer River, Blood, And CornA Community of Voices literary journal, promoting community and strengthening cultures with storytelling, poetry and prose. Our contributors encompass a diverse range of voices, age groups, backgrounds, ethnicities, communities and viewpoints. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I'm an essayist, memoirist and nonfiction writer, and my single story, article or memoir will add a twist, a richness, a remembering or telling of that story in a manner that only I can provide. But I never aim to be different, always reaching for a universal theme, asking myself, how can I get closer to my story? What can I do to achieve greater intimacy with my readers? 

Anyone who has read my memoir Pushing up the Sky, knows I have already faced every mother's worst nightmare. Having survived my worst fear gives me the confidence of knowing no matter what happens I'll be able to deal with it. Of course I still have a basic fear knowing that will need to meet another life altering experience. Yet the gift I've received from the heartache I've endured gives me faith in knowing I will be able to find my way though, and my job on earth is to write down what I know.  

How does my writing process work? I listen to what my characters are telling me, even when I'm writing memoir, and they always surprise me. Often a few ancestors are also hovering about, reminding me to pay attention. I always begin each new writing project with pages of raw, rough draft writing. I write the first draft to find the meaning. In the second, third and fourth draft I put in everything I left out. And then in the fifth and sixth draft I take out everything that doesn't fit, in order to make it sound like I just thought it up. 

I'm known for my lean writing. I strive to use the fewest words possible with a goal of inviting the reader's brain to participate. A good story is pure strategy, and it's the brass ring I'm always reaching for.