ABENA AMOAH

UNSPOKEN

A PERSONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT THE BIRTH

The title of your book is "Unspoken." What is Unspoken about, and how did you arrive at this title?

Unspoken is a collection of poetry exploring trauma and healing. I did not struggle with the title. I knew what I needed to write - things that I have not shared with anyone or even said out loud to myself. I call it a masterpiece of experiences and thoughts that scare me. I am in the editing process, and I find myself asking, "are you really doing this?"

Reading some content on your website, it sounds like this is a personal work for you. What are readers to expect from the content of Unspoken?

Unspoken has a narrative flow to it, and I think reading Unspoken may feel like discovering my journal. In the collection as a whole, there are a series of poems titled ‘Healing,’ ‘Scabs,’ ‘Lighthouse,’ and many more that is a collection in itself. Readers will come to learn that poems titled ‘Healing’ is revisiting memories of being molested from the age of six to ten. Poems titled ‘Lighthouse’ is referring to my mother. In spoken word poet, Miles Hodges ‘Count on it,’ you will find the words, “In this vein, I am luckier than most, for when all else fails I know I can count on my mother. She is still my lighthouse. She is the only infinity tangible enough to touch. Without her, I have no instruments, no instruments at all.” These words are beautiful and perfect. It is how I feel about my mother and never coming close to expressing it in this way.

"... a masterpiece of experiences and thoughts that scare me."

Unspoken is your first book. How was the writing process, and did you have any writing rituals? 

The writing of Unspoken was difficult. It is not an easy task to face yourself and to accept that this is your truth and that some of it is pretty, and some of it is ugly. I was revisiting memories and digging to uncover how my experiences have impacted my relationship with self, others, and faith. Most times, I stopped writing even though the words were beating at my heart. It felt too raw. The fight was to keep writing and allow me to explore and honor the intense emotions during the writing process.

I have written poems and journal about some of the content in the book, but I felt naked writing it the way that I do in Unspoken. I thought of how friends and family will respond to it. I thought of writing it all out and keeping it to myself. I knew this was fear and thoughts I thoughts that push you further into silence. I know I need to share my story, this work. I talk about silence in Unspoken and how it can kill. You find loneliness and bondage in this kind of silence. Sometimes you find a generational cycle in this kind of silence that keeps perpetrators safe. It can drown your voice because of the fear that when the words come out, it's an abomination.

I don't have any particular rituals. I love music, and I sometimes have music on when I am writing. Nina Simone is a must. I permit myself to take a break when writing becomes emotionally exhausting. I read a lot; I find a balance there - motivation and not feeling alone.

"It is not an easy task to face yourself and to accept that this is your truth and that some of it is pretty, and some of it is ugly."

You had shared with me before about the birth of Unspoken. Can you talk about that birth and how it looks?

Two nights before the new year of 2017, I was restless. On that night, I was getting vivid memories of being molested as a child, and everything came rushing to me at once. It was as what people may say, your whole life flashes before your eyes. It is hard to explain it because it was all coming up for me in the form of words, and I needed to write to stop it, so I thought. I was confused. I could not find a reason or find something to point to and say; this is what triggered me. I was falling apart, and I did not know why.

I came to learn that it was time; it is time. I believe that night was my God’s way of saying, “it is time to unload everything that has been holding you down, and I don’t care if you are ready or not.” So yeah, it was not an easy task - the birth. I can now look back and say the conception was meant to be in the way that it was. I choose to believe that there is a purpose here, even amid times when I question and question my God.

What has been the motivation for creating something like this? 

I think of the woman who did not have a safe space to share their story. I think of the woman who is not believed. I think of those who have not necessarily raised their hand to say, "me too." I think of the little girl in me who had so many questions, and the woman in me who struggled with labeling her abuse because it did not look like what society may accept as abuse.

I had thoughts and moments of darkness that you can only imagine. Moments when I thought I liked what was done to me. I was disgusted by the way my body responded. Ashamed by how I never screamed or cried. I think of the girl or woman who has battled with these same thoughts and how it can break one to the point where staying alive becomes a decision you find yourself making each day. With Unspoken, I am not calling for others to speak up or share their story in the way that I am doing. Unspoken is to say, you're not alone. Your emotions, thoughts, and actions, however it may look because of trauma are validated.

" I think of those who have not necessarily raised their hand to say, "me too." "

Unspoken is to say, if you choose, you can show all parts of you. I can’t tell one how to feel about their trauma. I only know how it feels to know that you are not alone. I know how freeing it is to be seen in your essence. There are girls, women, boys, and men who have been silenced by their abusers, trauma, family, friends, culture, religion, and many other factors that can create blurred lines on how to respond and when to respond.

Many women tell their stories through writing and by living their truth each day. I admire these women, and I reach for their books, essays, and blogs because their stories empower me. Their lives are a testimony of what can be if you permit yourself to unveil all parts of yourself and tend to that which may be wounded. I know that just as I watch these women and reach for their stories, someone may need to hear my story. I can only hope that if they find themselves on these pages, we can both heal.

Do you see yourself writing full-time, or do you see yourself getting into something else? 

I will not stop writing. I don’t know if I will do it full-time and I don’t know what will be next for me. I know my goals and the things that have been placed on my heart to do with writing, storytelling, developing, and building. I hope it is my God’s will for me to do these in this lifetime.

" I can’t tell one how to feel about their trauma. I only know how it feels to know that you are not alone. I know how freeing it is to be seen in your essence. "

What authors do you like to read and what book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I like stories that are real and alive. Stories that feel familiar and you can put a face to a character. I read different literary genres like fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, folklore, essays, and poetry. Warsan Shire and Rupi Kaur introduced poetry to me in a way that was brilliant, moving, and raw. I am in awe of the power behind words by Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Koleka Putuma, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I completed Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and that book was indeed a space holder for me when writing Unspoken. I believe there is a story for every woman in that book. I admire these authors and many other writers who are advocates of mental health awareness, healing, growing, and finding your identity. They have all either pushed me to put pen to paper or to live my truth unapologetically by being who they are.

If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be? 

Keep all your diaries. Don’t throw any of your writings away.

Is there anything else that you will like to tell readers?

A huge part of pushing this work is in identifying as an African woman. Abuse of women and children happens everywhere; however, I can only share my story the way that I experienced it and the factors that shaped my perspective on my experience. I was raised in a home in a community where I found many implied codes or rules that shaped who I was as a child and who I am as a woman. Some of these codes are drenched in silence and sometimes wrapped in tradition and culture.

Things are swept under the rug, discussed only in family meetings, or quietly prayed away. They have become too familiar, close to home. I think because of that it is accepted as to be expected. I don't know the numbers, but I do know that someone known to the victim commits most rapes and abuse of any kind. Someone who once made you feel safe. Someone who "has done so much good for the family" and is respected by the family. Someone who is your blood. All these variables can weigh down the tongue.

" Unspoken is a push to raise awareness and to break the generational silence that you may find in African homes and many other communities on abuse of women and children."

I love African movies, and I appreciate writers and directors who put such stories on the screens to raise awareness. Recently, I watched a screenplay directed and produced by Biodun Stephen titled All Shades of wrong. It is a movie that triggered me, among many other African films. There is a considerable dialogue about abuse in the home and how many children, adolescents, and adults have and are looking for a savior in their parent or guardian. Unspoken is a push to raise awareness and to break the generational silence that you may find in African homes and many other communities on abuse of women and children.

What is next for you? 

I am focusing on myself and surrounding myself with people who are supportive while I work on delivering Unspoken into this world. I am learning to make myself a priority, be accountable, and make room for growth, meaningful relationships, and happiness.

April 7, 2018


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