Meet Avril Somerville
Avril Somerville is a writer, speaker, and educator. She is active in her community, and welcomes the opportunity to engage in candid conversational “talks” with women who desire to prioritize their personal fulfillment and authentic transformation.
Avril was born in the Commonwealth of Dominica, and migrated to the United States at the age of ten. She grew up in the South Bronx, and is a first-generation graduate of Swarthmore College and PSU’s MBA Program. She is a proud wife and mother who lives in the greater Philadelphia area with her husband and their three children.
A Conversation with Avril
NT: Avril, you know how much I admire you. It’s such an honour to have you in this space. From one Caribbean woman to another, welcome!
AS: Nadine, thanks so much for having me share a bit of my journey with your readers. I am both humbled and grateful. Sooo excited! Let’s go!
NT (laughs): For starters, what motivated you to write A Journey of Life On Purpose?
AS: I had (and still have) my own challenges with personal identity beyond, but inclusive of, race, and with balancing motherhood, marriage, and the urgent need to find personal fulfillment in and apart from being a wife and mother. I wanted to better understand and convey the intersection of these challenges and parts of our being… our wholeness. Finding narratives among Black women and/or women from the Caribbean Diaspora that spoke directly to these intersections outside of fiction, academia, or self-help proved to be the ultimate challenge. I wanted to hear from a contemporary on these matters, and how she navigated those intersections.
Toni Morrison eloquently ended her 2004 commencement address to Wellesley College by saying: “I see your life as already artful – waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.” Resonant, right? Indeed, my life was already artful, inspired, layered… meaningful, especially at these intersections of how I identify myself in relationship with others on a daily basis and what guides me; as such, I needed no permission or explanation. All who came before me and on behalf of me – my grandmother, my mother, and the respective communities from which I came – were inspiration enough for writing and owning the narratives I wish to share. All of this was sufficient!
NT: That’s powerful, Avril. It’s also interesting and not surprising that you’ve mentioned a strong female influence on your personal narrative. They are the Elders in our familial tribes, after all, in more ways than one. My next question is two-fold: how does owning your story empower you to live your life on purpose, and how can we?
AS: By being open to giving and receiving. I know that there is power in the words that I speak and write, so I am intentional in both. This isn’t to say that my words need to be calculated or measured, or even couched in political correctness, but rather, to say that I acknowledge the transformative power of sharing, listening, and tuning in to the bigger lessons that Life is trying to teach me, and seek to live accordingly. We all have that power.
NT: I feel you on that point, Avril, especially as it concerns the power that’s inherent in words. Of all the creatives, I think that we writers have been given a special trust. When you think about it, of all the artistic expressions, written and spoken words are the ones that directly transform lives. And as an aside, people, this lady here can spit! If you don’t know what that means, go do your research and then check her out. Avril, you touch on some meaty themes in your book – womanhood, race, and identity. Were these topics intentional?
AS: While I chose to write about the topics, the topics chose me in a sense that I am constantly negotiating space – personal and public – along the lines of gender and race. That I am a woman is not immutable, but certainly is nonnegotiable… at least for me! That I am a Black woman is undeniable. That I am a Black woman living in America faced with the blessed opportunity, yet unique assignment, of raising three Black children in anything but a post-racial America, is inescapable. I am the sum of all of these, yet my wholeness as a woman is reliant upon healthy, intentional, and transparent relationships with my life and love partner and husband; with the women in what I refer to as ‘my tapestry of women’; and, with community through a much more explicit engagement as a writer who is also socially responsible. Shedding light on these themes from this perspective broadens the definition of any and all of those three themes – womanhood, race, and identity.
NT: And when a topic or story chooses us, it’s because it wants us to tell that particular narrative. I’m glad they chose you, Avril. I want to now narrow the theme of womanhood a bit. In some circles, I’ve heard it said that the “strong black woman” is a cliché. How would you speak to that perspective?
AS: This categorization is not as much cliché as it is a deliberate attempt to exclude Black women from more dynamic conversations around feminism and womanhood. Assigning this super-strength to Black women is not only dehumanizing, but also dismisses a very intrinsic part of our identity, that is our inherent vulnerability. Pushing the narrative that somehow Black women are super-resilient and can “bear it all” is contrarian to the human spirit.
We are designed to feel our way through our living in very tangible and connected ways, and we do. Black women absolutely do feel pain, hurt, shame, regret, and betrayal much like anyone else. We also possess the same ability and capacity to feel and experience joy, triumph, love, and pleasure. We are in no way superiorly engineered to endure physical attacks, public humiliation, or any form of oppression any more than anyone else.
We can and do lead when we are called to lead; yet our “strength” is just one dimension of our wholeness.
NT: Womanhood and feminism are timely subject matters in your book, especially now with the global HeForShe movement. I know that readers everywhere will be able to identify with it and the other themes in your book. What kinds of conversations, therefore, do you want A Journey of a Life On Purpose to spark?
AS: Transparent and transformative ones, empathetic and authentic ones … paradigm-shifting ones in which the agenda is aimed toward authentic connectedness, with the explicit and urgent objective of first acknowledging, then understanding those we claim to love and value in their fullness, versus one convenient dimension of them.
NT: I have no doubt that your book will fuel these kinds of dialogue. Now I know you always recommend great books to read. What was your last good read?
AS: Ta-Nehesi Coates Between the World and Me.
NT: Okay, I need to add that to my TBR list. And what’s your favorite way to unwind?
AS: Ooh Nadine, you know I won’t play by the rules! I just can’t! I love to read, practice yoga (when I can remember to book a class), dance, listen to music, catch up on NPR’s Ted Radio Hour, worship (allows me to hit that reset button and sit in my gratitude for a spell), sleep, do nothing, gaze at a new sunrise or sunset, especially in the summer. It really all depends on the time of day and whether I have time to myself or not. A girl can dream!
NT: Now that’s what I’m talking about! So what projects are you working on now?
AS: I am promoting #ajourneyoflifeonpurpose, working feverishly to bring my debut novel, How Dare You Say Goodbye? to life, writing, building my micro press, and engaging and presenting Candid Conversations in the Philadelphia area.
NT: I like what I’m hearing. Any last thoughts for our readers?
AS: Your story matters. Who better to tell it than you? Write it forward; find you in the process. A Journey Of Life On Purpose is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon. To learn more about me, feel free to visit my blog Life As An Art Form and follow me. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter.
NT: What a great note on which to end. Again, thank you, Avril for sharing yourself and your work. I’m deeply inspired, and I’m sure our readers feel the same way, too. More power to you!
AS: Thanks, Nadine!
Meet the Author
If you would like to meet Avril in person, and are in the Pennsylvania area, you can see her on November 7, 2015 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Cheltenham Libraries 2nd Annual Local Author Festival, where she’ll be a participating author. The Festival will be held at the Elkins Park Free Library in Pennsylvania.