6BBF Author Profile: Nichole Perkins

Cracking open a copy of Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be feels like flipping through Nichole Perkins’s personal diary. Each chapter is an essay, giving the reader brief looks into her life at different pivotal stages, starting at age 5, when Perkins has already become aware of the power and responsibility brought to her as a female. It’s part coming-of-age tale, part I-will-be-my-own-hero story as Perkins describes her life as a young Southern Black woman. While much of the book focuses on Perkins’s youth, she felt that it was necessary to set the story in the present moment so that she could talk about what she really wanted to write about—continually figuring out life even as an adult.

CALS was able to speak with Perkins by phone and discuss her book in advance of her Six Bridges Book Festival session.

CALS: What was the process of writing your book?
Perkins: I wrote the bulk during the start of the pandemic in 2020, at least the start of the lockdown in the U.S. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. I got through it with a lot of comfort TV. I watched a lot of Frasier… It was difficult, not only during the pandemic, but I was away from my regional source material. Writing the book while I was in Brooklyn was kind of a sensory challenge. I would go to thrift stores and dollar stores and get things that reminded me of my grandmother. Certain pink soaps and things to get a memory of being a little girl. It was a lot of trying to access those memories while in New York. But I did it. I was also listening to a lot of music at that time.

CALS: Your family seems very important to you; how did they factor into this book?
Perkins: They’ve always been supportive of me being a writer. They knew it was a lifelong dream of mine. But I wanted to be respectful and tell their stories only where they intersected with mine, but without exposing them. It was important to emphasize what it means to me to be a sister — someone who wanted to protect my younger brother and be a part of my sister’s life but be respectful of my family and honor their contribution to my life.

CALS: Since your background is in poetry, how was the experience of writing a book in prose?
Perkins: My first book is a collection of poetry, Lilith, But Dark, that I published through an indie press. It was different than writing a memoir. Some of those differences were deadlines and the level of editing and proofreading that went into it. Fact checking and things like that. Poetry is more ephemeral, and with the memoir, there’s a certain level of fact checking that needed to be involved. It was harder on me mentally; I had to figure out how much of my own story I wanted to tell. I was worried about someone purposely misconstruing my story and what I didn’t say. And that fear of being misunderstood paralyzed me and I would have to power through a lot of therapy quotes and a lot of good music to push through, or a glass or two of wine. I had to figure out how much of this particular experience I was willing to share. I know for some people that’s not enough, and I was worried about boundaries and what happens when my boundaries are violated.

CALS: Your book is filled with topics that seem difficult to write about — specifically sex and race, and sometimes both together. Was this hard for you?
Perkins: Some of the more intimate stuff, particularly sex and my exploration of sex, I went though a process of what to say and how to say it. I’m pretty upfront and bold about sex, so I tried to strike a balance. And I’ve seen some people clutch their pearls about what I did write. They should see what I pared it down from.
As a Black woman, talking about race isn’t hard; it’s a part of my life and always has been. But I did have to decide how explicit I wanted to be with certain things. It wasn’t hard, but it was something that I had to think about. I don’t want to be a role model and have people follow me, but I want people to feel comfortable in their skin. I want women, especially Black women, to say what they desire. We tend to suffer in silence.
Go for what you want.

CALS: You talk about strong women who influenced you — Janet Jackson, Serena Williams, your mom, and Miss Piggy, to name a few. Is there anyone you didn’t mention in the book?
Perkins: Lieutenant Uhura, from the original Star Trek series, poet Sonia Sanchez whose work I really admire, Octavia Butler, and Wonder Woman.

CALS: What can we expect from your Six Bridges session with Zeba Blay?
Perkins: I don’t know! I’m excited to see what we’ll talk about. Most likely the process and craft of writing and what we’ve avoided as we were writing. Talking about what it means to not have all the answers. It was important to me to encourage others to figure out their own path and follow it, and the joy and what it means to really start figuring out your life after 25 or 30, after when people expect you to have it figured out.
Be sure to register for Nichole Perkins’s event with Zeba Blay on Monday, October 25 at 8 p.m.