By Maïmouna Kanté and Kassel Franco Garibay
Kassel Franco Garibay: Many of the things you talked about during your reading really stood out to me, one of them being the fact that you said you like to celebrate women in your book and celebrate women every single day. What are some ways you can celebrate women?
Upile Chisala: I think it starts by lifting the members of your own family. I mean, I do have three sisters so I am always like ‘hey girl, you slay in that picture.’ It’s just little things, affirmations. I know that people always stress about having to do a lot and having to go out into the world, but sometimes it starts with the people in your home, within your family circle. And throughout my work, I think you just got to use whatever your passion is to truly drive the message home. My passion is writing. So if I can write a poem to 9-year-old Upile who felt too dark to be beautiful, who felt her hair was ugly. I realized that there are other several 9-year-old girls that who are just like that, who are going through those emotions or other girls that have been through that when they were younger. And when they open my book and they see something and they think ‘oh snap, that’s me. That’s what I went through.’ Sometimes you need to confront those things because if you are on a journey to self-destruction when you try to ground yourself in self-love those little reminders help. That you are truly beautiful, that screw them magazines, screw TV, screw these other messages that are telling you that you are anything but worthy. That’s how I have chosen to celebrate women.
Maïmouna Kanté: For me, I really connected to your idea of ‘what is home?’ I was born in Mali, and I have this pull that I want to return home, but am I still relevant to what goes on in Mali? How does one stay relevant?
UC: I am glad I am talking to someone who is from Mali because I am tired of people mistaking my country for yours. ‘Oh, you are Malian!’ No, I am not! I am Malawian. There was an article going around on facebook about ‘Home is not waiting for you,’ and I didn’t even read it because I knew I wasn’t going to like it because it’s true. I mean we come here and we do develop some savior complex, how can I go back home and save all sorts of people?
If your goal is truly to go back home, I think you have to, first of all, make use of your social media connections. If you are here, this is where your life is right now, but you want to go back to Mali, talk to Malian people back home. How are you, how’s it going? Watch the news.
I feel like watching the news in the States is sad, you hear things about Trump all the time. A big part of watching the news here is about trying to desensitize you to everything that is not American, which is something that you have to unlearn somehow. So in order to stay relevant, you have to stay informed.
MK: How do you balance being a student, a self-published author, and you have your organization. How do you balance everything you do?
UC: I just sleep. Recently I’ve been coming to terms with my anxiety and I am trying to work on my self-awareness and decide what works for me and what stresses me out. I struggle with balancing all that I have to do, I need to be a better business person. Sometimes you got to make a passion into a job, so every Tuesday I have office hours for myself, I sit down and get my creative work done. The rest of the week I am going to school. I think it comes down to time management.
I think tackling anxiety is cutting off bad habits like procrastination. You have to stop investing in your own failure.
KFG: Since we are talking about working hard, you mentioned it is very hard work to love yourself. What is some advice you could give to college students on how to love oneself?
UC: It comes with getting to know oneself, with not investing in your failure. Learning about yourself and the kind of people that are not good for you, and why you have to stop surrounding yourself with this kind of people. Self-love is constantly choosing yourself in difficult situations, and realizing that your own physical and mental health is important. Sometimes you have to take a day off, sometimes you have to skip class. Sometimes is also challenging yourself. To stand at the podium and read poems that are very intimate and private, that is loving myself because this is what I am passionate about doing. Even though I am scared every time, I am scared shitless.
You need to learn what is healthy for you what are those things that you should be doing in your life. Maybe it is cutting off that person, maybe it is cutting off bread, maybe it is going to see the dermatologist, maybe it is learning how to be more financially responsible. I think self-love manifests itself in different ways.
KFG: That is good advice. You are a self-published author, and there is a very big population of writers at Drew. Nowadays it is easier than it was to self-publish, but it is still a very difficult task. What is some advice you have for new writers? What are the perks of being a self-published author?
UC: First of all you have to be your own fan. You also have to be willing to put in the work. Being a self-published author is not easy work, especially if you are trying to live off it. It is constantly having to humble yourself enough to ask people to look at your work, even when you know you are talented, even though you know you have a special message to share.
I would encourage it if you are willing to put in that work. There is a lot of ways to monetize your talents nowadays, and I think that lots of people are creating their own kind of careers. I am all about unorthodox ways of making money.
It is also about distributing, it is humbling yourself not only through messages but going to actual bookstores and saying ‘hey, this is my book.’ You are going to give away a lot of free stuff. You are going to read at random places. Not everyone will appreciate you at first until you start building your followership.
I’ll end this by saying that I completely support self-published authors. They are important because those are the people that believed in themselves enough to share their true and honest work with everyone. Sometimes the world doesn’t receive them as they should, and that sucks. But, definitely, the writers at Drew should definitely self-publishing.