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Interview: Stephanie Rose Bird, Author of The Big Book of Soul: The Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit

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I'd like to welcome readers in joining me as we learn a bit more about Stephanie Rose Bird, a woman whose specialties and talents cover a broad spectrum. After receiving an MFA from the University of California at San Diego, Stephanie Rose Bird's line of experiences quickly grew to include the following: Assistant Professor at the School of the Art Institute in painting and drawing; a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Australia in the field of anthropology; and teaching at the Chicago Botanic Garden as well as the Garfield Conservatory. Ms. Bird is also a professional member of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (Black Midwives and Healers) and the Herb Research Society of the American Botanical Council. She is also a member of Author’s Guild.

Ms. Bird's works include: Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo and Conjuring with Herbs, Four Seasons of Mojo: an Herbal Guide to Natural Living, and A Healing Grove: African Tree Remedies and Rituals for Body and Spirit, and her newest release, The Big Book of Soul: The Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit.

Stephanie Rose Bird resides in the Chicago area with her husband, where she also is a practicing magical herbalist and aromatherapist.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about The Big Book of Soul: The Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit? What is the story about, who are the characters, and so forth?

The Big Book of Soul: The Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit: Legend & Lore, Music and Mysticism, Recipes and Rituals, was released February 5, 2010 and it was published by Hampton Roads Publishers and distributed by Red Wheel Weiser Books. The Big Book of Soul investigates the phenomenon of soul and the development of soulful practices from ancient through contemporary times in the African diaspora. As its title suggests it is a complex book that combines folklore and mythology with alternative spirituality, healing, and African American and well as continental African history. I wrote it because I saw a need for a book that explored the heart-felt spirit, so present in African societies, that we call soul.

Do you have a favorite excerpt from the book that you could share with us, please?

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of The Big Book of Soul:

The Big Book of Soul is an epochal exploration into the meaning of soul in sacred and mundane life of African Americans in the diaspora with spiritual lessons for all. This book is also an investigation into the nexus of heart, art, and soul — how the three can come together to imbue life with unfathomably rich possibilities. The trio’s possibilities include depth of loving, potential for healing the self and others, as well as the idea of tapping into energy that enriches the soul experience.

What do you want readers to take away from reading The Big Book of Soul?

I would like for readers to gain an appreciation for the holistic healing ways of people of African descent and for readers to understand the connection between soul and healing.

What was the most fun about writing The Big Book of Soul?

The aspect of writing the book that brought me particular joy was reaching out to Africans both abroad and in America as well as African Caribbean people and my fellow African Americans, making new friendships.

What was the hardest part about writing the book?

The hardest part of the writing was deciphering the various languages used by different groups of people.

What kind of research did you do?

I conducted interviews, read academic and peer-reviewed papers; read volumes of books, and traveled.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

I like to start writing early in the morning and write until late afternoon. My writing is a journey of discovery — it feels very much like a journey through different thought processes, spaces, times, continents, lifestyles, and belief systems.

Do you ever put yourself within your characters?

I’m a nonfiction writer so I don’t have characters. However in my style of writing to do interject personal stories thus some parts of the book read like a memoir.

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

The sun and a good cup of chai tea help me write better. I have an iPod playlist that I call working morning or morning music and that is generally what I write to. These playlists feature music from France, the Middle East; North, South and West Africa as well as folk music from Croatia.

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

I get my ideas from nature, working with herbs and being in my garden.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do – craft stories of my own for others to read"?

I felt there was a great need for the voices of African American women in the holistic health, mind/body/spirit, and alternative spirituality field. I began writing out of what I saw as a necessity.

What make you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.

As I said, I am a nonfiction writer and doing research comes naturally to me. In the process of my research I make certain discoveries and find stories that simply have to be told.

How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!

As a nonfiction writer I don’t get to name characters but I name my chapters and make creative subheadings and side bars. Usually a voice in my head gives me an inspired idea for my chapter headings — they come after the chapter is written.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

I was indeed an avid reader. For guilty pleasure I liked reading “Archie” comics and I loved the horror and paranormal genre.

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

The never-ending story — at least I hope.

What are you working on right now? 

I’m currently working on promoting The Big Book of Soul.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a book by a fellow African American Chicago-based writer named Regina Harris Baiocchi; it is called Indigo Sound and she self-published it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I like Carleen Brice, Judika Illes (two friends of mine), Christopher Penzak, Malidoma Patrice Some, Carlos Castenada, Dean Koontz, and some of Stephen King’s earlier work.

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I’m hoping to meet the African shaman Malidoma Patrice Some. I’d like to study with him. I admire his work tremendously.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

I hope to write another work of nonfiction and to publish my first novel.

Is there anything that you would like to add that you would like readers to know about you or your writing?

I am very thankful to my parents, my extended family, my friends, the ancestors and spirits for inspiring what I write and for their support.

Readers can get in touch with Ms. Bird at her website.

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