Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of the stunning, award-winning novel Here Comes the Sun, recently talked about her background and how it contributed to her writing.
Before storming into the limelight, Dennis-Benn worked in public health, cleaned libraries and chemistry labs, and read full books while standing. “The rent was like $600,” she says, in an interview published on Mike Gardner’s Medium page, “I only ate grapes and cheap ramen noodles. I’d go out with anybody who asked me on a date just to eat something.”
When asked about her writing career, she recalls fantasizing about “blond hair and blue eyes, existing in California,” only waking up to literary reality when she first saw a Toni Morrison book in the library. This, in retrospect was her defining moment. Prior to this incident, she’d “never thought an artist or writer could look like me, could talk like me, or anything like that.”
Life has not always been easy with Dennis-Benn, who now teaches writing three days a week at Princeton University and spends time protecting her art and space, inspired by renowned black author Toni Morrison. She once lived in a basement at Sunset Park in New York, sharing it with three women and a landlord who “had his washer and dryer down there, so he would still come down, even when we were undressed, just to do his laundry.”
She has advice for writers who are currently just barely hanging on to life. “Work to pay the bills, if that’s what you need to survive,” Dennis-Benn says passionately, “and if you have to work, carve a little time and protect it.”
I am eagerly anticipating Nicole Dennis-Benn’s second novel, Patsy, which will feature two characters from Here Comes the Sun, out on 4th June 2019. Read my review of Here Comes the Sun here.