As I work at slowing my pace in retirement years, one of my passions now is coloring. No, not with crayons like I did as a child, but with pencils or gel pens. The whole new trend of adults turning back to coloring is something many people in my Boomer generation may want to try as a way of restful calming on hectic days or addressing the creative spirit in our lives.
“Creative,” you ask? “Aren’t the pictures already drawn?” Of course they are, but it is still creative to pick out the colors and, hopefully, color within the lines.
When I left my last full-time professional role, the team at Savannah State University gave me a basket full of coloring books and pencils. I have now colored all of those books and I have purchased several more.
When I read about the publication of “Amazing Georgia: A Coloring Book Journey Through Our 159 Counties,” I immediately recognized it as a coloring book that might be appealing to adults and children. Fortunately, the Savannah Morning News published the feature story I offered them with my reflections of “Amazing Georgia.”
The day I unsealed the small white box that held the galley copy of my memoir, I was thankful I had the foresight to ask my husband to capture the moment. “That’s a moment you can never get back,” an author friend told me when she saw the video posted on social media.
Now that my memoir, Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism is actually beginning to look like a book, the several years of hard work is about to emerge as a fully developed writing project. I am not new to writing. I was a journalist, a newspaper writer and editor at seven daily newspapers over a span of more than four decades.
Now many people are asking me about my non-fiction writing journey. I plan to share some of my journey to help others reach their writing goals. (See tips below.)
Some who know of my work before this memoir are themselves interested in telling their own stories, whether their story is recovering from a serious illness, grieving the loss of a loved one, overcoming some kind of life-altering tragedy or chronicling a fabulous career despite the obstacles thrown in their way. In my case, the obstacles came early in life. As an African American who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s during the era of Jim Crow laws, my family and I were among those victimized by the systematic restrictions of substandard education, restricted job opportunities, ghettoized neighborhoods and social segregation in every aspect of our lives.
Yet, despite my early legally restricted start in life and seeing no role models who looked like the people in my circles of family and friends, I dared to become a newspaperwoman, someone who would grow up to tell stories. It was a career that began for me in high school and college as the top editor of my student publications. By the time I was ready for my first professional newsroom, I was scarred by the vestiges of Jim Crow – shy, introverted, fearful of having conversations across racial lines, and always watching my back to be sure it was okay to go to certain public places like parks, movie theaters, libraries and restaurants.
When I retired from daily newspapers as executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama’s capital city in 2013, many people asked me to share some of my life and career stories. Over those decades I had become a top editor in several newsrooms, founded and edited magazines, taught courses on university campuses, launched a program to teach journalism at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and I was a sought-after public speaker on topics of journalism, diversity and leadership.
I reached out to my author friend, the one who admired the recording of my memoir galley unveiling. Tina McElroy Ansa, herself a noted author of five novels and a journalist, was my freshman year roommate at Spelman College in Atlanta. As I approached retirement, Tina encouraged me to write a memoir. No, she did more than encourage me. As I say in the acknowledgements of my memoir, “Along the way of this book, she held my heart in her hands and gently led me through the process of writing, and she didn’t give up on me when life got in the way.”
And life did get in the way. Immediately after I retired from the newsroom I was invited to become the academic chair of the mass communications program at Savannah State University in my hometown. That was a good thing. But as a “new” person in town, I took on way too many volunteer leadership opportunities, which left me little time to think about the path toward writing the memoir. I had to learn how to say “no” to requests of my time. My husband encountered a debilitating disability that required me to become loving a caretaker. And a couple of surgeries slowed my physical steps but not my desire to write.
Yet, I managed to plunge forward and complete the manuscript that is now about to be presented to the universe of readers of non-fiction. In early 2020 my memoir will be in bookstores, and with the publication I look forward to invitations to talk about Coming Full Circle and my journey toward becoming a memoir writer.
Here are some tips for memoir success, gleaned from my own experience.
Save everything! Devise your own system of filing away documents such as speeches, articles by you and about you, printed programs (even those from your early school years), report cards, family photographs, funeral programs, medical records, books about your writing topic, journals, awards and certificates, professional letters of commendation, military records and just about anything else that you can think of that might enhance your memory.
Save or download relevant online resources such as articles, videos, podcasts, etc., so you can review them later. Don’t expect that everything online will always be there or easy to find later.
The Internet can be a great tool for research, but remember to check every fact you find in at least three places to be sure your online sources are correct.
Join one of the several online ancestry sites so you can do research on your family’s history. Even if your memoir is only about you, it helps to learn more about your ancestral heritage to help you write about your own place in the world.
Read lots of books pertaining to your memoir’s topic. Also read well-received or popular memoirs to get the hang of the way others write their stories.
Use your public library to research articles that might have information and statistics to help put your own life and memoir topic into perspective.
Interview friends, family members, topic experts and others to get their perspectives about what happened on your journey. Sometimes what’s in your head might need help with developing a more accurate picture of your life experience.
Make an outline of your book, even though the outline may change later. This will help you focus on your topic and keep your memoir on target. Avoid the temptation to tell every single aspect of your life. Stay in the lane of your topic.
Find a safe zone for thinking and writing, a place where you will not only be productive but a space where you can safely store and reach for all of the documents you have saved.
If possible, join a group (face-to-face or by phone) of memoir writers, or just writers in general so you can bounce ideas and share resources and experiences.
On August 9, 2019, the day I was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Hall of Fame, my friend and former colleague Terry Manning wrote perhaps the nicest and certainly the most extensive tribute about my career and our professional relationship. It is, of course, also a good piece of writing.
Terry is more than a colleague. He is a friend, someone who has supported me in several of my leadership roles, someone who took leaps of faith and accepted my invitation to work with me in three states, a news man who allowed me to stretch his skills and who never said no to the opportunities I put in his path. He has always had my back and, hopefully, I always had his.
On the morning of my NABJ induction, Terry posted this on Facebook. It is likely the longest Facebook post I have ever read, and it took me about three days to get through it (partly because I was busy at the NABJ conference and partly because his words were so emotional that each paragraph brought tears to my eyes).
If you ever have an opportunity to build a professional relationship like the one between Terry Manning and me, you will be one lucky person in life.
With his permission, here is Terry’s August 9, post:
“Soon after lunchtime today, the National Association of Black Journalists will welcome a special person into its Hall of Fame: Wanda S. Lloyd. She is a former boss of mine. A mentor. A counselor. My mother says she is my guardian angel (if so, she likely earned her wings putting up with my nonsense).
“I remember meeting Wanda in … wow, early 2000? She showed me around Greenville, South Carolina, while I was there interviewing for a job on the copy desk of their morning newspaper. I had already accepted a similar job at the Arizona Republic, but Gannett, the owner of the newspaper I worked for, ‘didn’t want to lose me’ (those were the days when newspapers actually said things like that.)
“Wanda took me out to dinner at a Thai place on Main Street. She was friendly, funny, smart — and she was black. Most of the ‘respectable’ black folks I had seen growing up were educators or preachers. Meeting Wanda was a revelation. She told me of working at USA Today and The Washington Post, but it was a while later before I learned she was at USA Today near the BEGINNING. That she was a pioneering black employee in the Washington Post newsroom. I’d worked for the Gannett paper in Pensacola, but I’d never had a black boss, and here was one right in front of me. I took the job.
“She was a good boss, easy to get along with and supportive of the careers of the paper’s black employees. She never coddled us, though. We had to produce. Newspapers don’t make themselves.
“When she announced a short while later that she was leaving, I walked into her office and said, ‘Well, Moses, what are your Israelite chilllun supposed to do NOW?’ But I couldn’t be upset with her. I’d seen the sideways glances exchanged between the other editors sometimes when she would ask questions during news meetings. There were times I struggled to keep from speaking in her defense, voicing my distaste at their smug superiority, even as she asked questions that others likely had but were afraid to voice. It irritated me. She never seemed to notice, but in time I learned that Wanda doesn’t miss much. Maybe that was just her grace in action, but that wasn’t why she was leaving.
“She was leaving because she had been offered a fantastic opportunity to lead the Diversity Institute at the Freedom Forum in Nashville, Tenn. The institute, on the campus of Vanderbilt University, was set up to help people of color on less-inspiring career paths transition into journalism jobs. When I visited once for a seminar, she gave me a private tour of the building, pointing out the training areas, the lecture rooms that would feature world-renowned experts, the multimedia technology she wanted to populate around the facility. It sounded like something out of The Jetsons, but it made clear to me that she was a person with a vision. A builder.
“Before I left I told her, ‘If you ever get another newsroom, call me.’ And she did.
“I worked for and with her in Montgomery. I learned a lot by watching her every day, handling penny-pinching bosses, irate readers, stubborn subordinates, and critics both internal and external. Everyone was given a fair hearing to express their views in her office. She seemed to embody the command, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ She was a real leader to the newsroom, and I watched her become a leader outside the newsroom as well.
“To my eyes, the black community in Montgomery seemed a little wary of her at first. Was she a token black editor sent to appease concerns about representation in that Southern city? Or was she ‘down?’? Was she a ‘REAL’ black woman who could appreciate the lives they lived and the challenges they faced? Did she know Montgomery’s conflicted history and was she respectful of it? Was she one of ‘them’ or was she one of ‘US?’ I can’t speak for Montgomery’s collective black community, but under her leadership the newspaper produced amazing coverage of the anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the death of Rosa Parks. She gave voice to local leadership in ways I’m not sure they had enjoyed previously. The ‘Voices of the Boycott’ package the newspaper created is still the best thing I ever worked on.
“But a few years later she left the newspaper business again; she was ‘retiring.’ I use quotes because I’m not sure I ever bought into the idea of someone so driven and productive as Wanda being able to retire completely, and because shortly thereafter she proved my skepticism was justified by announcing she had taken a position as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Savannah State University. She called and asked if I wanted a job in the department, and I accepted.
“I got to see her do her thing in an entirely different realm. Academia is as strange and misunderstood to people who’ve never worked in it as I’m sure journalism would seem to most people. But Wanda Lloyd was still Wanda Lloyd. And she was a great chair. Inspirational, even.
“I know what Wanda has meant to me since I’ve known her, and I have learned she means that much and more to a lot of people who were or are still in journalism and even people outside the field: A champion of diversity of all types. An advocate for excellence in all things. A standard setter. A role model.
“To me, she is a friend.
“And I couldn’t be happier as today my friend is being inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.”
This is my final weekly blog post related to Women’s History Month. The posts have been about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.
At the Providence (RI) Evening Bulletin, in my first newsroom job there were two professional women journalists — the religion reporter and me, a copy editor. There were women in what we called the dictation pool, a group of fast-typing ladies who worked on manual typewriters with telephone receivers that had shoulder rests attached to reduce neck strain leaning to the left or to the right to take calls.
Even the pool of what we called back then “copy boys” had no women in the mix. Copy boys were young, mostly under the age of 21. They were there to “rip” copy off the wire machines, run stories from one news desk to another, and frankly, a couple of times a day they would walk through the newsroom to take orders and our money for coffee and snacks.
Having women working in the newsroom in Providence must have been an afterthought because a ladies restroom was retrofitted from a closet in the newsroom’s “morgue” or library down the hall on the floor where we worked. On my first day working in Providence, I was handed a key to the ladies room. It was a space so small that we kept the door locked for privacy when someone was in there.
One day one of the dictationists used her key and came in as I was standing at the sink washing my hands. She struck up a conversation.
“How did you get here?” she asked me.
I was puzzled and looked at the door, not wanting to believe she wondered if I came through the same single restroom door she had just entered.
She asked again. “Where did you come from before you came to the newspaper?”
She explained to me that the ladies in the dictation pool were discussing the oddity of this young black and female copy editor, something they had never imagined for the newspaper’s staff. Remember, this was 1970. We had just emerged from the tumultuous decade of the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement. Almost every newsroom in the nation was staffed just like Providence, mostly white and male. The women’s movement had not yet come to newsrooms.
“Oh, you want to know how I got this job,” I responded.
“I am an intern,” I told her, going on to explain that I was a college student taking journalism classes, that I had studied journalism since I was in high school, was editor of my high school newspaper, had worked on my college newspaper and would be returning to be the editor of the Spelman Spotlight at Spelman College at the end of the summer.
“An organization (the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund) chose me for this internship,” I told her. “They sent me to Temple University in Philadelphia for a crash course in copy editing for three weeks this summer, and they assigned me here to work for the rest of the summer.”
“Oh, you are in college,” was her response.
During our quick conversation I learned that she, nor any of the ladies in the dictation pool, had gone to college. They had not fathomed that a person who is black and female would have the opportunity to get a college education. She actually told me that. That may have been the first time I realized what a unique opportunity I had to become a journalist at the beginning of the 1970s decade.
In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.
Our black teachers in segregated schools gave us life lessons with no apologies. Their instruction went way beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. They went beyond what we learned in books as they grounded us in culture and moral values, and sometimes they steeled us for challenges we might have as young African Americans in an era when, referred to as Negroes and colored, we were clearly considered to be second-class citizens outside the protection of our own schools or homes.
At Alfred Ely Beach High School female teachers would pull girls aside as they observed our changing bodies and let us know that “respectable” young ladies must wear the right kind of undergarments, so as to reduce the jiggles that might entice certain reactions from boys. I’m certain boys got life lessons from male teachers.
We were taught that those who sat closest to the front of the classroom had the best opportunity to learn. Today when I attend meetings or professional workshops, I still make it a habit to find a seat near the front of the room, or close to the leader of the meeting so I can see and hear well and be recognized first when I have suggestions or questions. We were also taught to be patient, to sit still and take in the entire lesson each day, instead of fidgeting or packing up 45 minutes into a one-hour class.
Stella Reeves, who taught social studies, was one of the strictest teachers in our school. I unsuccessfully tried to avoid taking her classes, because I saw her as too demanding. She kept a sign posted under the analog school clock (you know, the ones millennials and children don’t know how to read because they’re all about digital). The sign read: “Time passes, but will you?” It was a reminder that watching the clock was not the best habit for those of us who expected good grades.
Being a good learner means being an engaged learner. In my older years, I find myself quoting Mrs. Reeves’ clock message as I counsel young people who don’t seem to value time the way we were taught.