Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, M.J. Fievre moved to the United States in 2002. Fievre’s publishing career began as a teenager in Haiti. At nineteen years-old, she signed her first book contract with Hachette-Deschamps, in Haiti, for the publication of a Young Adult book titled La Statuette Maléfique. Since then, Fievre has authored nine books in French that are widely read in Europe and the French Antilles.
In 2013, One Moore Book released Fievre’s first children’s book, I Am Riding, written in three languages: English, French, and Haitian Creole. In 2015, Beating Windward Press published M.J.’s memoir, A Sky the Color of Chaos, about her childhood in Haiti during the brutal regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Fievre is the author of Happy, Okay? (2019), Badass Black Girl (2020), Empowered Black Girl (2021), and Raising Confident Black Kids (2021). She helps others write their way through trauma, build community, and create social change.
Fievre works with veterans, disenfranchised youth, cancer patients and survivors, victims of domestic and sexual violence, minorities, the elderly, those with chronic illness or going through transition and any underserved population in need of writing as a form of therapy—even if they don’t realize that they need writing or therapy. She currently writes from Miami and corresponded with Girls That Create via email.
Q&A With M.J. Fievre
Have you always been drawn to writing? Growing up in Haiti, was there someone who encouraged you to write or was it something you intuitively turned to?
Growing up in Haiti, storytelling was a big part of life, and I continue to be drawn to storytelling. I was also a very avid reader, and I think the more you read, the more you are drawn to writing. My sister Patricia and my aunt Marlene were very supportive of my decision to write and encouraged me, and stories were all around me also. I learned very early how exciting it was to have an audience for the stories I told. There always seemed to be someone ready to listen (or read!), and that kind of attention translates well to writing.
Is there a specific written work or artwork that you remember making a huge impact during childhood?
There were so many! I devoured anything I could get my hands on, from French romances to gothic horror novels to Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That book helped shape a lot of the writing I’m doing now, because it introduced me to self-empowerment books. But I’d say that maybe more than what I picked up and read, what I couldn’t find also had an impact on my writing. I read a lot of self-help books, but none of them were geared towards Black girls, and I recognized at an early age that those kinds of books are needed. So when I had the opportunity to publish Badass Black Girl, I already had the book shaped in my mind and it was just a matter of writing it down.
Tell me about Le Feu de la Vengeance. What inspired you to write your first book at 16?
Le Feu de la Vengeance is a ghost story. It’s about a teenaged girl who was a lot like me when I was writing it. She comes from a fairly well-off family in Port au Prince, and she’s uprooted from her hometown and goes to live with her family in an old rundown castle in the countryside. Then strange things start happening to her and around her. I was reading a lot of dark stories when I wrote it, and I related to the main character.
It wasn’t much of a stretch to see myself in her story. But the reaction I got from the writing was what really kept me going with that book. My aunt and sisters were all very keen to see what happened next to her, and when I was finished, my aunt and my literature teacher helped me edit it. For someone so young, the reception was amazing, and I was hooked on my audience’s reaction to it. I did some television interviews after it came out. It was nice to see that people were paying attention to a teenaged girl’s writing.
You’ve spent time as a writing teacher and are also the founder of Unfolding: The Badass Black Girl Magazine. Can you comment about the importance of teaching girls to use their voices, especially through storytelling?
Girls, especially Black girls, are taught too often to sit still and be quiet, and girls have a lot to say that’s important. Muriel Rukuyser once wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” I think encouraging girls to tell their stories is important because it leads to change, and change is sorely needed in this world. Telling a girl to sit still and be quiet doesn’t do anything good for the world. But having an avenue where girls and women can tell their stories might lead to change. At the very least, it gives an opportunity for girls to open up and feel like they’re being heard, and that’s important. I also like the sense of community that is formed when many different voices chime in. There’s nothing quite like that.
Let’s talk about Black Brave Beautiful. Why a coloring book? Where did the idea come from?
Studies have shown that coloring, much like meditation, is a relaxing activity that lowers heart rate and anxiety. I think too many Black girls suffer from anxiety, and need a quiet activity to keep them occupied. I enjoy coloring, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to think other people might enjoy it too. I found images for the book that were of things I like, and hope other Black girls will like too. The book also includes quotes by notable Black female trailblazers; I love the idea of pondering these powerful words while playing with colors.
Tell me about the Badass Black Girl vlog. What do you enjoy most about the project?
The Badass Black Girl vlog is really a labor of love. My cohosts and I interview different successful Black women, all of them badass Black girls, about their lives and careers. I love the sense of community I’m building with that project. It feels like a very positive source of inspiration for its viewers, and along the way, I’m learning a lot about myself and its serving as a source of inspiration to me. Plus, I’m getting to talk to a lot of women I admire deeply that I might not have the chance to talk to otherwise.
Your most recent book is Empowered Black Girl: Joyful Affirmations and Words of Resilience. Why are affirmations powerful and why is it important for young Black girls to hear them?
Affirmations are powerful because they undo the messages we receive from the world about ourselves. Black women and Black girls are undervalued, and the message we tend to receive is: You are not good enough. Affirmations sort of reset that message to one that is wiser and more inspirational. We tend to internalize the messages we receive from a society where the ideal of beauty is unobtainable to most of us. Most of us are never going to look like Barbie or Angelina Jolie, but we can be beautiful in our own skins, and affirmations are a good way to rectify the message that there’s something less than ideal about being Black and female.
You’ve written fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays. Do you think it’s important for writers to produce works in different styles?
I think it’s important to stretch and do things you might not be all that comfortable doing. I haven’t been successful at everything I’ve written, but at least I tried. Writing in different genres is like exercising. Some muscles are already in shape, and don’t need a lot of work, while others haven’t been exercised as much and the work is a bit harder when you’re trying something different. It’s all good for you. It’s just that some of it comes more naturally.
What words of advice do you have for girls who dream of becoming professional writers?
Read as much as you can, and find a supportive community you can share your work with. I think writers tend to think they have to isolate too much from the rest of the world, but workshopping your work with other writers is a great way to get audience feedback and support. We do need to isolate to a certain extent, but coming out of that isolation and sharing work with other writers is also important. The other thing I’d suggest is to meet writers you admire if you can. Even if you just drop them a fan letter. Writers need to hear they are appreciated, and forming connections with other writers, especially those you admire can be really helpful. Also important: research the various lucrative options that exist for writers. There are many ways to successfully make a living as a writer without being traditionally published.
What is your next project?
I’m working on a few projects right now, including Resilient Black Girl, the next title in the Badass Black Girl series; it combines anti-racist activities with narrative journaling therapy techniques. I’m looking forward to that being released, because I think it will do a lot of good for Black girls. The other projects I’m working on right now are a children’s book about Black trailblazers in STEM called Young Trailblazers and an empowerment guide for Black boys called Confident Black Boy. It’s similar to Badass Black Girl in many ways, but geared towards Black boys.
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
Images provided by M.J. Fievre
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