A conversation with Alexis Mitchell, author of “The Attic”

The attic is a collection of poetry and prose written by Alexis Mitchell, a Caribbean author and educator living in New York. The attic depicts the hidden chambers of the mind and how emotions linger deep there, until “we, the reader”, can embark on a journey of personal fulfillment.

Although in no particular order of events or experiences, each poem has the ability to connect with the reader and speak in a way that only pain, passion, forgiveness, mercy, loneliness and comfort can – through healing. The title itself is symbolic. The mind has the ability to suppress the most traumatic events and the ability to replay even streams that we have not observed. Despite life’s many challenges, the book has a sweeter ending – the past is left behind, a closed door.

The attic felt like a journey of waking up to resilience and understanding one’s ability to be honest, vulnerable and liberated by the things we believe should be hidden.

OnOne of my favorite poems from the collection is on page 17, and near the end of this untitled poem it says:

“Because I’ve always been a hoarder of thoughts…

pick them up, put them away in distant corners of my

mind, and pretend that those thoughts don’t belong to

me, and they are not mine, but they exist.

And my body knows it.

And that’s why it’s raining.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Mitchell and asking her some questions about The attic. Here is our conversation:

Photo by Alexis Mitchell

Tell us a bit about how this story came about. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

I am triggered by my own emotions, which is how the book was born. The attic was meant to be a metaphor for my mind and how I accumulate all the events and emotions that happened to me, and [how] I had a hard time getting rid of the emotions behind it. The concept was in my head. Water is said to show how our emotions fluctuate over time. The water in my throat was how I felt silenced or not able to use my voice. Literally drowned. Being a “parent” at a young age made me feel like I couldn’t be weak in front of my siblings. Making sure I was strong for them. I didn’t want to be seen as a weakling. Writing was important at that age. It was therapeutic.

What special knowledge or research was needed to write this book? Why self-publish?

I still do research when I compose a book, it’s endless. Starting with the first book ( I write therefore I am), I spent a year researching to understand the formatting in terms of understanding the measurements for the inside – the cover itself. I had to turn to traditional publishing or self-publishing. At first, I didn’t know the difference between having your own International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and using the one that Amazon provides for free. I knew if it’s free there must be a catch, there must be something you can’t do with the book. Research how to finance the book. The first two books (I write therefore I am; I am a writer, therefore I am: exposed) were very simple and I knew I could design it myself and it would be easier, but it took me 26 tries to get the coverage right. So [self-publishing] takes too long. [I started thinking] maybe I should invest in someone who can do the graphic design and format it and I can pay them to do it. [Eventually deciding to self-publish because] I liked the creative freedom of it all. Being on my own schedule.

What did you have to do to get out of your comfort zone to create this story?

Talk about my life in a way that I knew once I posted it people were going to read it and see me in the layers you don’t show everyday. Going to therapy made me feel uncomfortable confronting myself in a different way.

If you could choose one book character for a day, who would it be and why?

I chose three people, all for the same reasons. Maya Angelou in “I know why the caged bird sings” and the scarlet letter, Hester Prynne or Jane Eyre. Yes, they come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences, but I feel like I naturally connect with women who have been through some kind of adversity, which you can find in most books, but I feel like in their time they have become pioneers, and very good with who they are and express it.

What is your writing process?

It’s always evolving. I can go long periods of time without writing and that’s fine with me, because I never want to force it. Some days are like a sentence, other days are a few words written, I just like the feeling of writing at least something. If I’m struggling with writer’s block, I’ll set a time of 20 minutes and write whatever comes to mind. The process usually involves me setting aside time in the morning when I wake up to write about how I feel; if this was a dream, what are my intentions for the day, then at night, I really feel like I’m tapping into the creative side of poetry and prose – naturally flows at night. I just need silence, a pen and paper.

What attracted you to the genre in which you write?

The freedom of it. I know there are different poetic structures and forms like villanelle, sonnet, haiku, and I agree with those, but I think they are restrictive and limiting in a way. If I really want to tap into those formats I will, but I really love the freedom of poetry and I almost feel like it’s natural for me to write in a kind of cadence and rhythm – I like this.

What writing resources have been most helpful to you?

Books. I am an avid reader. I feel like books help me learn new words [and] automatically build your vocabulary this way. By gaining new perspectives on things, the more you read, the more you can see the world in different ways – different genres and authors, you gain new insights.

How do you use social networks as an author?

For me, social networks are synonymous with connections. I like to meet new people [and] have conversations. In the writing community, there’s this general basis that we all have similar interests — more like inspiration. I think social media is useful to promote and show your craft with other people. If you publish books, you can promote them. I feel like you have to do this if you’re an author, especially self-published.

What are your passions? Is it written? Education?

Certainly both. I think they are interconnected. I am a lifelong learner. I love being the student of the class, absorbing knowledge and learning new ways to navigate anything. I always read a book because I always seek to discover a new perspective. I always listen to podcasts to hear how people interact and engage. How truly intrigued and passionate I am about the human mind in general. I like interpersonal relationships. Just building links in general is like my modus operandi (MO). But I think I walk in a ball of passion. That’s what motivates me.

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