Mixing Memoir and Poetry with Tangela Williams-Spann: A Spoonie Authors Podcast

The Spoonie Authors Podcast is back, this time with guest Tangela Williams-Spann.

Tangela Williams-Spann is a mental health and wellness blogger as well as the mother of an autistic person. She has worked in special education for over fifteen years and is currently completing coursework towards a masters’ degree in Special Education at Grand Canyon University. She began writing poems and short stories in elementary school and continued to let words move her into action throughout her life. Her first book, Sad, Black, and Fat: Musings from the Intersections, will be released in August 2021. When not writing, Tangela enjoys reading, crochet, and playing video games.

You can find out more about Tangela on her blog.


Dianna Gunn:  Hello, and welcome to the Spoonie Authors Podcast, a podcast where we explore the lives and stories of disabled authors. I’m your host, Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is Tangela Williams-Spann. Tangela Williams-Spann is a mental health and wellness blogger as well as the mother of an autistic person. She has worked in special education for over 15 years and is currently completing coursework towards a master’s degree in Special Education at Grand Canyon University. She began reading poems and short stories in elementary school and continued to let words move her into action throughout her life. Her first book, Sad, Black and Fat: Musings from the Intersections, will be released in August,2021. So, that is just freshly out, that’s very exciting, and I’m super excited to have you here Tangela! Hello.

Tangela Williams-Spann: Hi. I’m glad to be here.

Dianna Gunn:  Awesome. So can you tell us a little bit about your book, Sad, Black and Fat, which just came out?

Tangela Williams-Spann: Yeah, it just came out a couple of days ago, and I’m super excited. The book talks about my experiences with depression and anxiety. It talks about my experiences with being a Black woman in America, and it also talks about some weight loss and body image stuff in the fat section as well. 

Dianna Gunn:  Awesome and you say, your bios says you also write poetry, so is this a normal narrative memoir, or is this a combination of memoir and poetry? 

Tangela Williams-Spann: It’s a combination, because the poems, they fit into the sections, but I wouldn’t say it’s a story. 

Dianna Gunn:  Awesome. So, what inspired you to start working on this project? 

Tangela Williams-Spann: The thing that inspired me the most was the pandemic going on, you know [Dianna laughs softly], I mean, everybody was at home just kind of hanging out, and it’s like, “Well, what am I gonna do with myself?” But the original thing which led to the thing itself being written: I had been blogging for a year or two before that, and I had a bunch of blog posts, just hanging out on my computer. I said, “You know, these would be good if I put them in book form.” And so, I started going through them to see which ones I could take apart and maybe which ones I could build into something more. Just sitting home on Facebook, I decided to reach out to an indie publisher, and we’ve just gone from there.

Dianna Gunn:  That’s awesome. What was the best part of the process of creating this book? Did you enjoy revisiting these older blog posts of yours?

Tangela Williams-Spann: Oh yeah, definitely, that would be the best part for me so far has been just going back to stuff I wrote years ago. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, I remember that,” or, “Yeah, I remember feeling like that; that was an intense moment,” and just flexing my literary muscle, just to see, “Okay this was okay, but I can do better. Let’s see what I can fix about this.” You know, the editing process is hell for a lot of writers, but I guess because I wasn’t taking anything out, it was better for me.

Dianna Gunn: That makes sense, yeah, parting with it… in my experience, parting with scenes is often the most difficult part of editing [laughs].

Tangela Williams-Spann: Oh yeah, it’s the nightmare, and I refuse to do it if I don’t have to.

Dianna Gunn: Totally fair. What was the most difficult part of the process of creating this book?

Tangela Williams-Spann: Honestly, the hardest part for me has been promotion. I mean, I am not the type of person to talk about themselves, you know, which is why I wrote a whole book about me. [Laughter] But, yeah, I am so introverted, and it’s so hard for me to say, “Hey, I did a thing, and I think it’s a good thing, and I think you would think it’s a good thing.” It’s an unbelievable amount of stress for me to be positive for that extended amount of time about anything [laughs]. But, you know, if I expect people to read it, and relate to it, I gotta sell it. And so that’s been the roughest part for me.

Dianna Gunn: Yeah, I can see that. I think a lot of writers struggle with that. I mean, a good percentage of us are introverts. Not all of us, but a large percentage of us. 

Tangela Williams-Spann: Oh yeah.

Dianna Gunn: And it’s also it’s hard to stay positive about much of anything these days. Ugh…

Tangela Williams-Spann: Oh absolutely, this, this whole quarantine, wear a mask, don’t wear masks thing; it’s just ridiculous.

Dianna Gunn: Yeah. Honestly, it makes it much easier to get into the writing, though, because you’re just so eager to escape the present.

Tangela Williams-Spann: Oh no, I do it too. It’s just I’ve written so many creative things, like not just my blog but I like to write microfiction, and creative nonfiction from time to time and it’s just like, I got to do something to not think about what’s really happening.

Dianna Gunn: All right, back to Sad, Black, and Fat.

Tangela Williams-Spann: Sure.

Dianna Gunn: So, this book is a memoir. How did you navigate conversations with people in your life who see themselves reflected in your work, both to protect yourself legally and to preserve the relationships you have?

Tangela Williams-Spann: First of all, I didn’t use anybody’s actual name unless I got permission.

Dianna Gunn: Of course.

Tangela Williams-Spann:  And if anyone had an issue with anything I said about them, I definitely cleared it with them beforehand, like, “Listen, I’m talking about this, and I’m going to put it in a book. Are you okay with this? Do you want me to change anything? Do you want me to change any wording?” You know, just to cover myself legally or just emotionally, I guess. But for the most part, I haven’t had any issues like that so far, it’s been okay. There has… there might be some backlash in my church community, but I’m not too concerned about it.

Dianna Gunn: That makes sense. You got the permission you needed from the people who are important to the story and most important to your life.

Tangela Williams-Spann: Yeah, it’s mostly my son and my husband anyway, so it’s like, “Hey do you guys care if I write about you?” and they’re, “Yeah whatever.” [Dianna laughs softly]

Dianna Gunn: That’s great. So, what advice would you give to other disabled folks who are specifically looking to write their own stories, their own memoirs?

Tangela Williams-Spann: I would say, if you feel like you have a story you need to tell, then go ahead and tell it. I mean, there’s so many ways to get your words out to people now, I mean you don’t have to do a full book, you don’t want to, you could just start a blog, you can start a podcast, you can just get on Twitter spaces and talk for 35 minutes, you know, there’s so many ways to get your story told and so many accessible ways nowadays. It’s really better than it’s ever been for disabled people to get their stories told. And it’s honestly really needed in the world, because, you know, if nobody knows personally a disabled person, they might not even recognize their struggles, you know? Like, I have people that I know that have never interacted with a person in a wheelchair before, and to talk about my experiences with a person on wheels, is like, they’re like, “What? They do that?” and I’m like, “Of course, it’s like, they’re not attached to a wheelchair.” Like, I have this small story about a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair, and he gets up out of it a lot. He’s all over the place. And so, I tell this to people and like, “He gets up out of the wheelchair?!” Like, it’s a ground-breaking thing. It’s like, “He doesn’t live there!” You know, it comes off, it’s not part of his body per se, you know, he goes to the bathroom, he moves around his house, I mean, you know, and people are just blown away and this is crazy to me. 

Dianna Gunn: Yeah, I think that one is probably, probably one of the most common misconceptions about disability is the idea that wheelchair people are just stuck in their wheelchair 24/7 with that is absolutely not true for a large percentage of wheelchair users. 

Tangela Williams-Spann: Yeah, no, not at all. 

Dianna Gunn: And do you have any specific advice for people who are disabled folks who are writing their own stories, who are concerned about navigating conversations with people in their lives who might be included in those stories?

Tangela Williams-Spann: My advice on that, is to just be brave and put everything out there, you know, in a loving manner, you know use I-statements like, “I felt like this when this happens,” you know, don’t try to put it off on them in like a blame kind of way, because people are going to get defensive, automatically, and that’s not going to get any progress made. So, if you address it before you put it out in the world, first of all, like, write something short, run it past them. Like hey, if you’re brave enough do that or it’s not like a trauma situation, if that’s possible to go forward with, “Hey this is what I want to do, this is what I want to say,” you know, “and do you have any way you feel about this; do you want to process this with me?” Just give them the opportunity to get their side of story told. Just so it doesn’t feel so one sided, and it might spark new memories in you, if you get that conversation. Or give you a different perspective like, “Oh, this wasn’t how this was at all,” you know, just being as open and honest as possible is always my best policy.

Dianna Gunn: Yeah, I think that that’s really the best approach and the only approach in this situation. I mean if you’re really concerned that you can’t reach a person or that they’re not going to listen, you might need to change a lot more than just the name to make them less recognizable.

Tangela Williams-Spann: Absolutely. You want to protect yourself as much as you can.

Dianna Gunn: And of course, neither of us are lawyers, so if you are capable [Tangela laughs], do try to talk to a lawyer. I know that in some places, there are resources and organizations that try to connect low-income, artists, with lawyers, so that’s definitely worth looking into if people are worried about this. Because I know that for a lot of disabled people, our relationships with the people around us especially growing up, have been fraught and sometimes those things can be tricky to write about.

Tangela Williams-Spann: Absolutely, absolutely 100%. Also, if you can, if you’re publishing a book, or anything like that, make sure if you’re trying to sell it, make sure you have a copyright. I know that sounds like a really daunting process, and if you’re not ready for it, it can be it can be a lot of fancy legalese words, but it is possible to apply for copyright with the Library of Congress, and make sure you’re covered there. 

Dianna Gunn: All right, that was really great. Do you have any final words you would like to say about Sad, Black, and Fat, but like, a super-quick pitch you want to throw at people? 

Tangela Williams-Spann: My super quick pitch. Okay, if you feel like you are alone in your mental health journey, that is not the case. I have put my journey out into the world for everyone to see. I am acting by example here. If you feel that you might need help and you want to reach out, that’s okay. If you feel brave enough to reach out, good for you. That is wonderful because it’s a hard, hard thing to do. And I want you to know that at the very least, I’m here for you. I’m willing to listen if you need that voice, that feedback, I’m willing to be your accountability partner in a way, I am willing to be that person for you, if you don’t have anyone else. I also want people to know that being vulnerable is not a weakness, being vulnerable is an empowering type of strength for so many people, and to open yourself up to any help, any kind of assistance is an amazingly strong thing to be able to do, and I really want to change that perception of people in our community. 

Dianna Gunn: Absolutely, well said. And where can people go to find you and find your book and connect with you?

Tangela Williams-Spann: If you want to connect with me, you can find me at twillspann on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and you can find my book right now, on the Kindle store, and in paperback on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also check out my blog at twillspannwrites.com I blog every Saturday, and I have links to other creative things I’ve been there as well.

Dianna Gunn: Awesome. And I really do enjoy the articles that Tangela writes, so I highly recommend you go check that out. Thank you for listening to this episode of Spoonie Authors Podcast. This podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network, an initiative dedicated to building community among disabled creatives. Join the community by participating in the Spoonie Authors Chat on Twitter at 1pm, EST every Sunday. Just search for the hashtag #SpoonieAuthChat. That is, hashtag Spoonie A-U-T-H chat. We look forward to meeting you.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai. Edited for clarity by Cait Gordon.

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