If you’re not familiar yet with her, M. G. Hughes is a debut novelist and wildly talented poet. See more of her work at @immghughes.
When did you first become interested in writing?
Unaware of it I think I the moment I became interested in writing was the moment I learned how to touch things. I have no doubt this sounds odd, but let me explain.
I guess at this stage the behavior would be seen as more or less “storytelling’’ or innocent “playfulness.’’ But a family member would literally hand me a box of old stuff (in many other cases it was myself grabbing stuff off the counter) and I would proceed to just create. I liked building things. I really, really liked to get my hands on boring objects and make them into something I personally found entertaining. I had a habit of creating factionary cities and towns with the cardboard cuttings I happened to stumble upon and further group together.
The toys or stuffed animals I had would live there and even have set personalities and dialogue that only I myself knew of. I seldom acted or muttered anything aloud. In fact, if I could imagine what the scene looked like from across the hallway, you would see a little girl lifting and maneuvering her self-made toys with pleasure under another self-made sheet fort. I was an only child (and still am). So even though I had friends at school and friends who lived in my own neighborhood, there were many hours of the day when I was left with my own company—and by this I mean that even though there were always grown adults in the house these same individuals most evidently did not relate to my level of youth at the time. As a result I grew accustom to entertaining myself, and before I knew it I naturally started writing down my thoughts and stories on paper.
You seem to have a strong connection to (I believe) your late grandmother. Would you tell us about her? How has she impacted you?
Yes, she passed away in December of 2017. And although the outline of my connection with her is far too long to summarize in just a few paragraphs, I will do my best to give you a glimpse.
My grandmother was born in Jonesboro, Louisiana. December 20, 1936—that was the date of her birth. Despite her earning her degree, graduating from college, and eventually becoming an educator, my Dad’s side of the family is also African-American. So once considering this factor you really start to get a grasp on the tribulations she and her siblings had to navigate through as a result of racism, segregation, and Jim Crow Laws that were most prominent throughout the early - mid 20th century. The family was poor, but they did the best they could. There were social setbacks, yes, but our family deeply valued hard work and perseverance. I can’t put any more stress on this.
From what I was told, at least, my grandmother’s family actually moved further north when she was little after the KKK overheard the news that we had discovered oil on the farm. One day they came up behind the family car and tried running them off the road. My grandmother survived, but her brother was unfortunately killed in this incident. Ironically my grandmother never told me this herself. It was my Dad, from what I can remember, and at some point my Aunt who filled in the details. At that point I realized how much I didn’t know about Gracie Lee Osborne (that’s her full maiden name). I knew her as Grammy, but I didn’t know that person. I didn’t know Grace. As a result I became very invested in not only American history, African-American history, but history in general.
But if we’re talking about the impact she made on me throughout the time I knew her for those seventeen years, I distinctly recall the days when she encouraged me to learn cursive and write in composition books. Now, this didn’t occur as much during Middle School and so on, but it was throughout my preschool and elementary years that she would have us both sit at the kitchen table (even during the summertime) and attempt to expand my comprehension and learning abilities. She took me to the library a lot. She always had me reading. Now that I think about it my grandmother was always buying me books and arts and crafts.
I suppose, in all, Gracie Lee Osborne Hughes not only helped me understand the importance of having an education but how much of a blessing it can be when you use your own skills to help someone else.
At what point did you decide to begin writing the novel you’re currently working on? What was going on in your life?
It was my senior year of high school and I had just transferred to a smaller charter school due to a very terrible experience with bullying. I felt bruised, but I knew I was destined to do better things. That spark of hope kept me going. My new campus was a charter school, and although the classrooms had held a capacity of roughly ten to fifteen students I was absolutely terrified. I feared that I would be bullied again. I wasn’t interested in making friends or “discovering’’ a new environment. I just wanted to get work done and graduate.
My advisor, fortunately, recognized that I was struggling and allowed me to complete my studies from home with the exception of meeting her every Friday to go over assignments, etc. Ironically this was also the time that I was “forced’’ to read those big titles like The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and Hamlet. And you know what? It was Fitzgerald who would end up kicking me in the butt. After I finished The Great Gatsby the idea of a “writing professionally’’ was a thing. If I couldn’t get in contact with a publisher I at least wanted to work in the industry. Now I’m doing both.
Could you tell us about how you came to poetry?
When I started working on my first novel I knew I had something going. It was different. It was new perspective on historical events which, at least to my knowledge, is very often portrayed through the eyes of side characters and not the main character him/herself. I would prefer to not go too much into the exact timeline or storyline itself (I would like to surprise you in the future), but I will reference Kathryn Stockett’s Bestselling novel ‘The Help’ as it does, somehow, relate to this conversation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I really respect Stockett’s work and the attempt itself. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across an article that, very basically yet indefinitely, put a spotlight on the fact that despite the title being ‘The Help’ Stockett only slightly brushed over the lives and voices of the African-American maids and seemed to put more effort into this character named Skeeter, her writing career journey, and “the (Caucasian) women at the bridge club and all their society antics.” Even Viola Davis, the award actress who played another main character, Abileen, in the film adaption said something about how she now regrets taking on the role because of this factor.
I guess you could say I recognized Stockett’s flaws and proceeded onward—both smart and cautious. With it being that my story is a historical drama I was, in fact, already doing quite a bit of research. But after reading that article, I scrapped everything I had and started from scratch. I want to do it right. I want to do more research. I want to introduce people, not characters. I want to portray reality, not a mere version of reality and definitely not a stereotype.
. . . So I’ve been working on this thing for about another year and, despite having the story line set, I realized I was just creatively worn out with it. I had a harder time making paragraphs. I found myself losing grasp of my character’s voices. Frustrated, I tried taking a break from writing to see if that would do it but, of course, like many other writers will tell you, this can prove to be incredibly hard. It was like preventing myself from scratching an itch. I just had to do write in some way or form. So I turned to poetry for relief. Up until this point I had never once tried it myself without another person (teachers, for the most part) asking me to. But I dove straight into writers like Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes. I studied their rhythm and formats and just wrote and wrote and wrote. I found it natural. I found it to be most wonderful.
Who else inspires you?
If anything I would say it’s a combination of ‘Who,’ and ‘What.’’ As for the ‘Who’ part I would definitely like to think this as being my grandmother and an ongoing list of 20th century writers. But as far as the ‘What’ I would assume it is mostly society, problems in society, and faces in society.
Are there any themes you feel yourself perpetually returning to when you write poetry?
This is a good question. As I said before I think I have always naturally gravitated towards learning about my environment and the people who are in it, both past and present. So with this in mind I tend to focus more on general observations. This very often leads to my depictions of love, grief, patience, depression, wealth, poverty, and injustice. There are other themes too, I’m certain. But I would be going on and on here.
Could you share two or three of your favourite poems?
Out of my own writing I would say my three favorites are titled ‘As Told by an Earth Observer,’ ‘I Am Copper,’ and ‘Inside These Borders.’ They all (I just realized) reference the faults and flaws of humanity. This is a very important thing to me because I don’t believe we can uphold progression without admitting our differences and mistakes, while allowing others to voice what they think qualifies as our own mistakes, and why.