All The Colors We Will See: An Interview with Patrice Gopo

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Even though I didn’t attend the Festival of Faith and Writing last April, the book I kept hearing about from friends who had gone was Patrice Gopo’s debut collection of essays, All the Colors We Will See. Within the week, I emailed her for a copy and found that the buzz was certainly earned. Focusing mainly on identity and culture, Patrice’s beautiful and engaging writing made me think and dig into my own labels and ideas of identity. Patrice wrote a beautiful essay last month for SheLoves: A Great Variety of Black Hair Journeys, so you’ve had a taste of her thoughtful voice. I hope you enjoy getting to know Patrice a bit more!

All the Colors We Will See releases on Tuesday and she has some fun preorder bonuses, including recipes mentioned in the book. (Check out her website for the details: patricegopo.com/book.)

Annie: Welcome to the Red Couch! Tell us a little about yourself and your new book, “All the Colors We Will See.”

Patrice: Thanks so much for having me here! My name is Patrice Gopo, and I’m the black American daughter of Jamaican immigrants who was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. These days my husband, my two daughters, and I make our home in Charlotte, NC where it is very, very hot in the summer and almost too mild—for me—in the winter. My husband, Nyasha, is originally from Zimbabwe, and we met in South Africa.

Based on all that, you can see that my personal story spans a variety of places and cultural identities. I often jokingly tell people that it’s enough material for a book. My essay collection, All the Colors We Will See, is comprised of stories and reflections from my life. In the book, I write about what it means to grow up as a black American in a society very intent on classifying people and defining experiences based on skin color. I consider the reality of being a black child in a predominantly white community. I examine what it means when you and your family don’t necessarily fit the narrow narrative our society often tells about the story of black Americans. Across the essays I delve into ruminations on race relations, immigration experiences, identity formation, and the places where one finds a sense of belonging.

Your essays focus on the idea of identity and physical place. Your family is Jamaican, you were raised in the United States. Your husband is from Zimbabwe and you are raising your daughters in the US. In “Holding On,” you grapple with the idea of their Zimbabwean identity and the languages you teach at home. As a parent, how have your views on identity changed? How have you instilled rootedness in your daughters’ multicultural backgrounds? 

This is such a great question. I remember before I became a mother, I thought culture needed to be preserved in all forms and we needed to replicate our cultural identity for our children. Now, though, I think I’ve come to believe that we actually can—and should—acknowledge and hold our multiple identities. There is space enough for my girls to be Zimbabwean and Jamaican and Jamaican American and black American, etc. There is space enough for them to be all those things and to also be what might newly form in the midst of their conflation of cultures. I think it would be a mistake to assume that because a person doesn’t have some of the accepted cultural cues that align with a certain place, people group, or identity, that excludes them from still having those ties.

Part of the way we instill rootedness in our family is through the power of telling stories about our lives and our parents’ lives and our people’s lives. In this way, my girls begin to see themselves as part of something much greater than just themselves and their individual story. They see the ways they are connected to a much larger, longer, greater story of existence.

Your career path is incredibly winding and diverse! From an engineer to community management to a writer, it seems that you lean into change and adventure. In “…Because of Women Like Me,” you make an apology for not staying in the engineering field; for not acting as an example for young girls. How do you see your title of “writer” fulfilling that role model?

Ha! Yes, it has been quite a journey through what seem like disparate careers and interests. And yes, that reality of being a black woman and leaving a career that sorely lacks black female role models hasn’t been a simple journey for me. There aren’t easy answers. But in this season of writing, I’ve found that black girls find affirmation in the stories I share. They hear my experiences and realize that they aren’t alone. This is powerful. Even more, though, by sharing my stories and experiences, I help empower them to dig deep and find the courage to share their stories. Sometimes I still ponder how I could have helped encourage a young girl with engineering interests if I had remained in that field. However, I’m grateful to be the writer that I am and part of this work that potentially influences another’s life.

I love your memories of South Africa, especially when your husband wished for something different and you responded, “I emerged a writer.” Was this surprising to you? Do you imagine another career in the future? (Or, phrased differently: What would you want to do if you could do anything?)

Yes, it was a surprise! At least in the moment, it felt like a huge surprise. However, when I look back across my life, I think the signs were there. I’ve always had an abiding interest in words. Several years ago, my mother showed me an old career interest inventory I took in high school. Quantitative skills and mathematics ranked high but so did writing. What I think is true is that I’ve always been a person interested in both solving problems and the pursuit of justice. I think these passions and personality bents have manifested themselves in different ways in different seasons of my life. In this season, as a writer, I actively engage with solving the problem of how to communicate my ideas and elevate words into beauty. The topics I write about engage with the topics of justice I care about so deeply.

When I think about what might be ahead, I often think I’m on the brink of where this next iteration of interest in problem solving and justice might lead me. Right now, I’m puzzling through the idea that the use of writing and storytelling in my life will become about more than just me and my story. I think these stories will become about empowering others to recognize and share their stories around identity formation.

What’s next for you as a writer? How can we best connect with you?

Honestly, the biggest “what’s next” for me as a writer is launching as best as I can All the Colors We Will See into the world. I believe so much in the importance of this book and the ability for this book to contribute to our current national and global conversations about race relations and movement of people. I’m keen to honor these words by working hard to help connect this book with readers.

 

 

You can find me here:

Website: patricegopo.com

Facebook: @patricegopowrites

Instagram/Twitter: @patricegopo (honestly, I use Instagram a whole lot more than I use Twitter…)

And don’t forget to preorder All the Colors We Will See!

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

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Annie Rim
I live in Colorado where I play with my daughters, hike with my husband, and write about life & faith. I have taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now in the playroom. I am honored to lead the Red Couch Book Club here at SheLoves. You can connect with me on Twitter & Instagram @annie_rim or on my blog: annierim.com.
Annie Rim