Title of your books: We Wear the Mask, Unraveled Truths in a Pre-Gullah Community and Turtle Dove Done Drooped His Wings, A Gullah Tale of Fight or Flight
Genre: Fiction, African American, Historical
Wendy: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Ron: I am a son of St. Helena Island, SC, and a resident of Georgetown, SC, has authored several books and served as a cultural interpreter for decades. I, my wife Natalie, and our children starred in Nick Jr. TV’s “Gullah Gullah Island.” I am also is a former chairman of the federal Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission and is vice president for Creative Education at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC.
Wendy: What is We Wear the Mask, Unraveled Truths in a Pre-Gullah Community about?
Ron: A contemporary fable, involves animals, humans, and spirits whose lives craft a new narrative about racial hatred and intolerance. Set on a Sea Island cotton plantation of St. Helena Island, SC, during the 1800s, the story transcends time with a message that is passed on to all who hear.
The enslaved families show resilience when faced with instruments and attitudes of dehumanization and brutality. Old stories are told, but a new narrative emerges. Book 1 We Wear the Mask, in the spirited Geechee Literature Series.
Wendy: Tell us a little about your background (your journey: where you grew up, your family of origin, your current family, your education and work experience.
Ron: I grew up on St. Helena Island, SC, the ninth and last child of Kathleen Grant Daise and Henry Daise, Sr., and a fourth generation Gullah Geechee descendant. My parents were Class of 1933 graduates of Penn School, one of the first schools in the South for freed enslaved Africans, begun in 1862. A proud Sea Island community member, I graduated from the Beaufort High School and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Media Arts from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), Hampton, VA. My first job post-college job was as a reporter for The Beaufort Gazette, and feature stories about community members whom I’d grown up under became the core of oral histories I documented in my first book, Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage, Legacy of Freedmen on St. Helena Island, which was published a year after my marriage to Natalie Eldridge, formerly of Syracuse, NY. One of the things she liked about me, she says, was my family’s sense of rootedness and my sense of cultural pride. We scripted the book into a two-person cultural performance of storytelling and dramatizing of oral histories and beliefs, a cappella singing of spirituals and work songs, and showing historical photographs from the Penn Center Collection and toured fulltime with a growing family of two children, Sara Makeba and Simeon Othello. Our involvement as stars and cultural consultants on Nick Jr. TV’s award-winning “Gullah Gullah Island” followed, and I authored more books along my cultural journey.
Wendy: When did you start to thinking about becoming an author? Was there an event or “awesome” moment that precipitated your desire for a change or had this been brewing for a while?
Ron: After leaving my job as a newspaper reporter, I continued gathering stories about my community members and began to think that a collection of them, along with songs and photographs would make an interesting coffee-table book about Sea Island culture, which at that time was not yet identified as “Gullah” or “Geechee.” Those words reflected a speech way that I did not consider speaking but that my college classmates heard and spoke about. As I pursued my initial book project, I thought about “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African” (first published in 1789) and African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance, whom I’d studied in African American Literature courses at Hampton Institute.
Wendy: How hard was it to make the decision to write your book/s? How did you get started?
Ron: My writing projects of books, songs, and articles begin with an inner nudge to “write it down.” As a former newspaper reporter, I almost always have a pen in my pants or jacket pocket. I jot down ideas, lyrics, character conversations and dialogue, on paper napkins at restaurants, on discarded paper on my desk, in a notepad in my car door well, or paper I request from a receptionist as I wait for a medical appointment. The act of “writing it down” cements it in my memory until I can flesh it out at my computer. My Geechee Literature Series publications, We Wear the Mash, Unraveled Truths in a Pre-Gullah Community – Book 1 and Turtle Dove Done Drooped His Wings, A Gullah Tale of Fight or Flight – Book 2, began at the onset of the Covid pandemic. These are a shift from my documenting of oral histories or memoir writing about personal experiences or expository writing for exhibit signage. Imaginary characters began to flood my consciousness, to tell me, “Write this down…,” and direct me how to best tell their stories. As each story manuscript ended, the old characters vanished, and new characters showed up. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to jot down what they’d tell me.
I’ve named the series “Geechee Literature” because the term no longer suggests an oxymoron. My life’s work, hopefully, has substantiated that “Geechee” isn’t bad speech, broken English, or the speech way of an infantile or simplistic people. Moreso, Geechee Literature Series publications will showcase Gullah Geechee people as part of a contemporary culture with linkages to other cultures of the African Diaspora. I believe my works will make Dr. Frances Grim, my Hampton Institute professor of African American Literature, very proud.
Wendy: How supportive were your family and friends when deciding to write We Wear the Mask and Turtle Dove Done Drooped His Wings?
Ron: My wife and children are always supportive, reading and proofing my drafts, sharing their opinions, offering encouragement, keeping my environment quiet, if needed. My friends with whom I shared my works were very supportive, as well.
Wendy: What challenges did you or are you encountering?
Ron: I’d envisioned the Geechee Literature Series beginning as audio books, but the recording engineer with whom I was working continued to have challenges with completing production. I decided to self-publish with kdp publishing and had limited knowledge about it. A family friend with whom we’d lost contact for about 20 years, however, resurfaced, and is quite accomplished in kdp publishing and generous in showing me the ins and outs of self-publishing and marketing.
Wendy: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Ron: I’ve been reminded that when you do what the Spirit of God and the ancestors tell you to do, they’ll ensure that all your needs are met along the way.
Wendy: Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
Ron: No, I don’t think so. When I felt the nudge to write in 2020 and was not fully aware of how to begin, I was to have joined some of my Hampton Classmates for a reunion in New Orleans. I’d planned to arrive a day early and stay a day longer, hoping to lock myself away in the hotel room for a few hours of writing. But Covid shuttered domestic travel, and I crammed out an abundance of stories in my home office, where I had all the books and other needed resources at my fingertips.
Wendy: What advice do you have for new authors?
Ron: Write for the joy of writing! Accept that there are things about publishing of which you may be unaware. Increase your awareness of publishing and marketing trends. Don’t be discouraged when you receive constructive feedback or setbacks and remain open to suggestions. After you consider them and hold onto ideas or perspectives of ideas that you’re certain shouldn’t be altered, your rewrites may be better, more powerful, more effective than your previous drafts.
Wendy: What advice do you have for seasoned authors?
Ron: Keep writing, keep editing. Embark on new writing avenues. Allow the story to unfold without getting in the way.
Wendy: What’s next for you? Do you think you have another book in your future?
Ron: My Geechee Literature Series will include audio books, narrated by me, of Book One, We Wear the Mask and Book Two, Turtle Dove Done Dropped His Wings; audio books and eKindles of my publications that are out-of-print; and print, eKindle, and audio books of other fascinating stories.
Wendy: How can people contact you and get your books.