I recently interviewed Mia Mckenzie on her award winning book “The Summer We Got Free.” Check it out below!
I read a lot of books. a lot. And I get frustrated. Frustrated because in much of the fiction I see the same narratives recycled about black life. Angry because I know there is more to who we are as black people — more complexity, more nuance, and many stories that have yet to be told.
One book that helped to alleviate my frustration this past year was Mia Mckenzie’s Lambda Literary Award Winning The Summer We Got Free.
Within this book’s pages, I found a range of black characters with complicated intra-psychic lives, sexualities and (Thank God) relationships to the Christian church.
The novel revolves around the Delaneys, a family isolated within their community after a tragic event sends each of them in different psychological directions. Mckenzie does not offer insight into the entirety of the trauma in the beginning though. Instead the novel carefully leads you down a maze of emotions, forcing you to find your own footing as the ground underneath you continues to change shape and form. The twists and turns will shake you to your core. And like me, will likely lead you to question sexuality, gender, psychology, and spirituality as you know it.
Finding such a work, I had to reach out to its writer Mia Mckenzie, who is also well known for her incisive and unapologetic blog, Black Girl Dangerous.I reached out to Mia to talk to her about The Summer We Got Free, being a black woman writer, and what she thinksThe Summer We Got Free offers the black community as a work of art.
Yolo Akili: How do you believe your identity as a black woman influenced your creation of this book?
Mia Mckenzie: Intersections matter a lot. I’m queer, black, and a woman. I’m also someone who was raised working class. Someone who was raised being told I was smart and talented by my family. Someone who was teased for being ugly by my schoolmates. Someone who went to college, studied abroad, lived in many different cities. Someone who reads a lot of books. All of those things helped create the consciousness I currently exist within. It comes, not just from identity, but from experiences. And, yes, I do think it helps me to see things that someone else might not be able to see, or to consider something that someone else might not be able to consider.
I think Ava’s husband, Paul, is one example. Paul, who is the husband of a character we love and want to see with another woman, would be a really easy automatic villain or antagonist. I think the straight husband in a really queer book is set up to be disliked in a way. But I see, and tried to portray, Paul as a complicated guy with a lot of complicated experiences of violence and betrayal. He is a black man, formerly incarcerated, and because of my intersections I have the ability to consider what that means in the world. So, I couldn’t let him be the easy villain. And I don’t consider him a villain at all. I don’t think that’s an easy thing for people to consider, especially when they are rooting for the very relationship that Paul is in the way of.
Akili: When reading The Summer We Got Free, one of the many characters that moved me was Ava, who is unapologetic in her criticism of the Christian church as a very young child. At one point she tells her pastor: “I don’t think people should be devoted to the church… Because people can’t fly if you always telling them they shouldn’t.” Ava reminded me of my own criticism of Christianity, as well as the questions that many young black children have about religion that are stamped out or silenced. What was the inspiration for this aspect of Ava’s character?
Mckenzie: I grew up going to church. Well, being forced to go. My mother’s side of the family is pretty religious and my sisters and I went to church on Sundays, sang in the children’s choir and went to the church’s day and sleep away camps in the summer. But it was a social thing for me. I don’t think I ever actually bought what was being sold.
Read the rest here: