Intimate Conversation with Tia Stewart, Award-Winning Poet and Novelist
Tia Stewart is an award-winning African-American writer whose penchant for verbiage started in the fifth grade when her teachers thought she was passing handwritten notes about boys, but she and her best friend were editing each other’s books and magazine articles. Her first publication, Colors of a Man: Transgressions and Hope was published in April 2009 as an EBook on Amazon. She writes in several genres, but poetry is her passion.
1. Introduce us to your latest published work. What style is it?
Colors of a Man, Tribute to African-American Menis a sexy, romantic freestyle poetry collection that entertains, excites, enthralls, and educates. Men are compared to colors. This book comes with an accompanying neo-soul, jazzy, hip-hop poetry CD.
2. At what age or point in life did you unlock your gift for poetry?
I discovered my ability for writing in fifth grade. I wanted to write magazine articles for Ebony Jr at age eleven. One of my girlfriends was working on a novel in fifth grade and I use to edit her writings. A few years ago, I worked nights on a 24 hour Nurse Advice line for an insurance company, and a fellow poet, encouraged me to start writing poetry. Working the night shift, gave me the solitude to delve into poetry, and I rediscovered my dream of writing. “Black” was my first poem, that won critical acclaim. All my clients and friends loved that poem. I performed “Collateral Damage” at an open mic summer 2009 at The Canal Club, in Richmond, Virginia, and people started asking about my book. So I collected all my poems and Colors of a Man, Tribute to African-American Men was published for Christmas 2009.
3. What moved you to begin writing?
The best of the poetry came out of the worst of personal tragedy. I ran a successful bail bonding company, in Richmond, Virginia called Big Momma Bail Bonds. One of my fellow bail bondsman, James Woolfolk and good friend was murdered. Really wonderful person, always smiling and his family ran a soul food restaurant within walking distance of Richmond City Jail. Most of my bail bonding business had me in more rural, country parts of Virginia, and I spent most of my time shopping and eating fried chicken with my cousins. We had a funny, competitive rivalry between the city bondsman and the country bondsman. He cooked at the restaurant, and was always trying to feed me (Smile).
As a bondsman, you spend alot of time with the magistrates, police officers, judges, and court officials, and between them and my family, everybody really wanted me to stop because of safety issues after his death. I started writing poetry to deal with all the loss. My mother was the first female African-American police office in Virginia, in the seventies, so I grew up around law enforcement all my life. Many of my college friends and family were DEA, ATF, CIA ,FBI and Secret Service, so I know many people in criminal justice. As a military brat, I loved the adventure of being a bail bondsman. I attended high school and college in Detroit and Chicago. I even attended medical school for one year at Michigan State University, before becoming a full-time mommy. My writings, for the poetry and the novels, come from all these experiences.
4. Does your work offer a glimpse into your philosophy of life?
Colors of a Man, Tribute to African-American Men the title came about because I thought the brothers were getting a bad rap. I had finally learned the lesson that my grandmother was trying to teach me; Men are not God, they make mistakes. Most men just need you to spotlight the good points. God makes each of us a wonderful masterpiece, somewhat flawed. But still each of us is an artistic masterpiece. Barack Obama had just been elected President and the time seemed right to publish a book about African-American Men.
I starting comparing men and woman to colors in my poetry. We all start out just like the simple colors on an artist’s palette, like white, yellow, red; and end up irreplaceable like a priceless painting hanging in an art gallery.
Most men, whether judge, criminal or preacher, want to be a good father and take care of their family. It is time to solidify the family. You cannot have it all as a woman. You have to set your family as your priority, but not lose yourself. It is a delicate balancing act for most women. Men and children require your attention. Setting a firm boundary for family time is essential. Taking me time is critical for self-preservation for all women. We love to cook pastries and home-made pizza at my house. Cooking and working out at the YMCA together are our family activities. My “me time” is time spent at the hair and nail salon, massages, and shopping.
5. Does your writing offer refuge or healing in its form of expression?
Healing and refuge. I tried to capture the experiences of African-Americans from a female perspective. In my writings, I give a glimpse of being African-American and what that truly means. My paternal great-grandmother, Nellie Coleman, was born a slave, and she died when I was nine. She was 88, blind with diabetes, but this brilliant, gentle force. She had never learned to read. My paternal grandmother, Annie Mae Stewart worked as a domestic and seamstress. She loved everything and everybody. “Mae-Mae” as we all called her, had only completed fifth grade. Amazingly, she was an excellent reader. Her heartfelt desire was that I attend college and get all the education that she never had an opportunity to get.
My writings are an amalgamation of this multi-generational experience of being an African-American woman through the centuries. My children have been afforded the luxury of public, private, and home-schooled education, and even have family ties to Kenya and Nigeria. So we seemed to have come full circle, and I am excited about taking the children back to the African continent to truly understand their African ancestry. I love to travel and my writings take you to many different countries such as Kenya, Brazil, Bahamas, London, Tanzania, Thailand, Jamaica, South Africa, and St. Lucia.
6. What has been the main literary or cultural influences on your poetry?
The Harlem renaissance writers such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Zora Neal Hurston gave me a foundation for literature at an early age. I am avid reader. Writers Claude Brown, Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Ntozake Shange influenced my poetry in high school. They made me proud to be a “colored girl.” Terry McMillan, Alice Walker, and Bebe Moore Campbell influenced my writings in college, because they spotlighted the difficulties of balancing work, family, and your dreams. Hometown writers, Nikki Turner and Stacy Hawkins Adams are polar opposites in writing, but give me exposure to the totality of this experience as an African-American female. My poetry has references and hidden metaphors to many of the entire genre of African-American writers.
7. Does your writing depict the struggles of our people or show the world how we love?
(Laughing) I am the love poet. I “make rainbows out of rain” it what one of my reviewers said. My father died when I was five from complications of diabetes, so I have always been able to retreat into this fantasy world, where I get to make my own characters. Fiction writing and especially poetry lets you write about all the different types of love. Love between a man and a woman. Love between a brother and a sister. Love between a mother and a child. Love of country. Love for God. Love for mankind.
Iwrite from how I view the world. I am a mother, sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, nurse, entrepreneur, girlfriend, sister-friend, neighbor, poet, novelist, and world citizen. I value faith and family. My grandmother and her sisters were close. I have at least 500 second, third and fourth cousins. I have cousins who graduated from Harvard University and Princeton University, and cousins selling drugs on the corner, as a means of economic survival. I have been in the housing projects as a bail bondsman and a visiting nurse, and the country clubs as a writer. But somebody struggled so that I could go to the country club and attend universities such as Northwestern University, and University of Michigan. So I write about struggles also.
Additionally, I also have a concealed weapon permit. I have a book about healing prayers that I used as a nurse. I am the new millennium African-American woman. Gun-toting, and praying. See why they call me Big Momma?
8. Do you feel as if poetry is a performance art?
All poetry is meant to be heard. When I write my poetry, I decide if it is going to be a performance piece or not. Performance pieces have a message, they are meant to be spoken out loud. Performance pieces must possess “swag.” Some the Richmond rappers are helping me develop my “poetry swag” and poet’s bravado. Shakespeare was the original rapper. His writings had rhyme and rhythm. Jill Scout at her concerts does the blending of music and poetry, so well. My poetry is meant to be played on your MP3 or CD player. The words of the poem should intoxicate and hypnotize you to a different space. A good poem has some signature words or uses a new expression.
My poems that I write for publication come from a different space. I make sure that each letters makes love to the paper, as I write it down. Each letter has a place and a purpose, and needs to be doing something in order to stay in the poem. Poems tell the story. Paper poems have a typography and symmetry of word and a different type of literary purpose.
9. What makes you powerful as a person and a writer?
God gives me the power. Writing is a gift from Him. I write in numerous genres. One day I may write a poem. The next day I can write a prayer. Most people fail to realize that the Books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Songs of Solomon are the poetry and romance books of the Bible. The next day, I may write something more sensual and erotic. I love literary devices such as alliteration, echopation and metaphors. African-American writers have a mandate to teach the craft of writing as well as entertain. My writings are meant to educate as well. The Colors of a Man series of poetry books and novels excites, entertains, enthralls and educates.
10. What literary legacy do you leave our future readers and leaders?
I want my great-grandchildren to remember that at one time, we, African-American women were property, and bred like horses. We were legally forbidden to read and write. Education gave me the foundation to dream. My legacy is that I am my great-grandma Rebecca’s wildest dream; college-educated, writing about love, faith, and everyday struggles of being a woman, and living in the suburbs with weekly manicures, spa days, hair salon days, monthly massages, health club membership, shopping trips, fine dining, international travel, and paid help occasionally.
From playing croquet with my writing colleagues at the Country Club of Virginia, to doing poetry open-mics with the rappers to hanging out with Virginia’s most notorious bounty-hunters, I will write about it all in my series of books, Colors of a Man.
11. Share with us your latest news, awards or upcoming book releases.
Colors of a Man, Tribute to African-American Menwon the Readers Views 2009 Literary Awards, and Reviewers Choice first place poetry and the Book Hitch Award for Most Innovative Book of poetry.
I will be at National Black Book Festival in Houston and also Book Expo America in May 2010.
“Green Caviar”, my first romantic suspense novel is due for release late summer 2010 about my heroine, Angela, a well paid tobacco lawyer, her rapper boyfriend, Nick and her best friend Big Momma, the bail bondsman.
12. How can our readers reach you online? Share with us your online contact info.
Drop by my website and listen to some of my poetry.
Be my friend on FACEBOOK.
Follow me on Twitter.
Subscribe to my blog
Purchase book at
POEM FOR MAYA ANGELOU AND PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA FOR APRIL POETRY MONTH
Of Preachers, and Presidents;
Fearless, fertile ground, Frederick.
Mr. Malcolm X.
Marvelous songbird, Marian.
Brothers, Claude and Brown.
Nick of time, Nikki
Right on time, Timothy
Slip of the tongue, Sally
Destiny, determining, Douglass.
Just say Jesse.
All about Al.
Child, I’m in the promised land.
(C) 2009 by Tia Stewart from the book Colors of a Man, Tribute to African-American Men