Just over a year ago, Tami Charles became a New York Times Bestselling Author with the release of her children’s book “All Because You Matter.” Known for her poetic, lyrical style of writing, the author and poet has returned with her masterfully arranged follow-up novel in verse titled “Muted.”
With Black poets like Amanda Gorman, who became the youngest poet to perform at a Presidential Inauguration, and Pulitzer Prize winners like Nicole Hanna Jones on the rise, Black women are changing History to HERstory. As the canon of literature expands to include a more diverse roster of Black poets and writers, we’re stepping with rhythm into spaces and places where our undeniable talent and voices will be celebrated, honored, and appreciated. We’re taking a stand centerstage where we belong.
Inspired by true events, Charles tells ESSENCE she wanted “Muted” to “give a voice to the voiceless and let young Black women know that you can follow your musical dreams but you don’t have to be exploited to do so.”
The thriller novel takes readers on the musical journey of a 17-year- old girl named Denver and best friends Shak and Dalisay. Together they want nothing more than to be stars and they get that chance when they meet and sing for a legendary R&B singer, songwriter, and producer. They soon learn that the person who at first seemed like an angel is really a monster who will try to mute them in the end.
Charles, who came across a few characters in the music industry during her brief tenure with a female group in the ’90s, says that while her experience was “nowhere near as rollercoaster-ish as the young ladies we read about in her book, there is still a need for people to believe those stories.” She adds, “We need a whole collection of them for people to really start taking the stories seriously.”
As an emerging, powerful voice in Black literature, Charles is on a mission to write stories that honor our rich Black culture and heritage. The reflective writer says, “I want to express who we are as people – our complexities and our greatness by telling stories and writing poetry that reflect not just our pain but our joy and everything in between. We are resilient people – we come from kings and queens, builders of kingdoms — I want to show our royalty and excellence in everything that I write.”
Here Charles speaks on how Black women can find their voices through poetry and impact change.
Dr. Maya Angelou described mutism as an addictive drug. In an interview archived with VisionaryProject.org, the great poet spoke of the long-term effects of being raped as a child saying even in her late 60s, “If I’m really shaken, I stop speaking. And I, then, bring myself out. I start, I sing, I speak. I speak loudly and firmly.” How can Black women today find their voices through poetry?
TAMI CHARLES: Maya’s statement about mutism being like a drug is poignant, very true, and heartfelt. I think that poetry can be a vehicle to un-click the mute button that exists within all of us. Poetry is like art and you can pour all of your emotion onto the page. To the person who’s writing that poetry, it feels like a release and becomes a choice of do you speak those words out loud that you just put on the page or is it enough that you un-clicked that mute button by putting the words on a paper? I think either is a choice and either way, whether we write it or speak it out loud, that’s our voice and it’s a way that we can unmute ourselves and raise our voices so that we feel empowered.
What is your advice to aspiring poets?
CHARLES: To be great you have to find the ones who are already there, the ones who are already great, the ones who are doing it and doing it better than you. For Black women who want to find their voices, particularly in writing and poetry, the first step is to find and immerse yourself in the work of the creatives whose voices speak to you, and on your journey you will find your voice as well. Not to copy or emulate their work but you can certainly be inspired by their work. Secondly, put in the work! Put that pen to the page, get yourself in that chair and write until every word feels like it’s your own.
There’s an important moment in the novel when Denver, the protagonist, has an epiphany. You wrote, “spent my whole life being made to feel like I wasn’t smart enough, good enough, doing enough but there at that moment I knew exactly who I was fearless, gifted, brilliant.” Explain the relevance and importance of that Aha Moment.
CHARLES: I was inspired to write that poem based upon my experiences as a teacher. I spent 13 years in the classroom and some of my favorite students were the ones who were a little rebellious, who were like moving to the beat of their own drums. Those students were so grounded in knowing what they were good at and what their path was. I had them in mind when I attributed those verses to Denver, the protagonist in “Muted,” because she was so set in what it is that she wanted in life. She knew that out of math, science, and everything that they teach you in school – that music was her natural gift. Denver spent a lot of years doubting herself and the message is to have confidence in knowing what you’re good at and that you’re enough just the way you are. You don’t need to be like someone else, you can be fine in your own skin.
You write that there are many more muted, nameless Denver’s in the world. How can they get their power back?
CHARLES: Coming forward is not an easy thing to do. When you have been silenced and made to feel as if you don’t matter, it’s hard to step forward and point fingers at your abuser. Add in the fact that, historically, Black women have not been believed for the injustices and the abuses that they have endured. I think what’s most important is that as women share their stories, the more comfortable and easier it will be for them to step forward. The #MeToo movement has provided a platform so that these victims can know that they are not alone and that they don’t have to be nameless. There’s a whole village of people waiting to believe them, elevate them, and stand by their side as they share their stories so that hopefully we’ll see fewer stories like these the more they call out their abusers.