Poets & Writers

Why We Write

STEPHANIE STOKES OLIVER has spent her career in magazine and book publishing. Formerly the fashion and beauty merchandising editor at Glamour, founding editor in chief of Heart & Soul, and editor in chief of Essence.com, she most recently served as vice president of Unity Publishing. She is the author of three books and the editor of Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing, published in January by 37 Ink.

IN SEPTEMBER 2017 Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean island of Anguilla, where my husband and I had moved from the United States in 2007 to “follow our bliss.” Blessedly, the house made of concrete stood strong against the Category 5 winds. But extensive water damage from broken windows destroyed much of our book collection, including boxes of the three books I’ve written. I could have been devastated—it certainly felt overwhelming—but I tried to put it in the perspective of history. My forebears had experienced far worse.

For generations of African Americans, reading and writing was illegal and punishable by death. In many Southern states, for the more than two hundred years of slavery, it was against the law for an enslaved person

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