Chicago area writer and stay at home mother Alisha Sommer knew from an earlier age that she wanted to be writer. Outside of taking advanced writing classes while in high school and earning college credits; Sommer does not possess any degrees. However what she lacks in classroom hours she makes up in determination and passion. She just launched BLACKBERRY: a magazine, a quarterly literary publication written by and featuring black women. Its goal is to expose readers to the diversity of the black woman’s experience.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Over the past few months you have shared stories with me via email, I’m excited to have to see you have finally launched BLACKBERRY: a magazine. Tell us about your publishing journey.
ALISHA SOMMER (AS): Everything happened so quickly that I am still processing it all. In mid-December I decided that it was time to act and finally create this magazine. I was tired of not seeing images, words, art that reflected my image. Once I decided on the name and the theme I asked my friends to help me spread the word that I was looking for submissions and I then began to prepare for my Kickstarter campaign. I was so fortunate and grateful that my project garnered enough support to be funded which gave me the ability to produce the magazine.
PI: What do you hope to accomplish?
AS: My goal with BLACKBERRY: a magazine is to give black women a voice. Our opinions still don’t matter—and we even have a black woman as the First Lady of the United States. I believe that by giving more black women a voice and exposure to more people that we can show how beautifully diverse, opinionated, and artistic we are.
PI: Who do you specifically hope to reach? How often do you plan on updating your website, monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly?
AS: I really want to reach people of all ethnicities and nationalities, ages and sexes. But I especially want to reach as many young black women as I possibly can. Since I am a one-woman show, the website will most likely be updated only when there are new calls for submissions or new issues are released. However the magazine will be available quarterly.
PI: What is the one specific thing you want your readers to learn?
AS: I really want readers to grasp the diversity of our experiences while understanding that we all are exploring universal truths. That sharing our stories breeds solidarity and compassion. And that telling our stories empowers us and those around us.
PI: When did you first know that you were going to be a writer?
AS: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I first started to read. As a child I dreamed of writing by candlelight in a castle somewhere in England. No matter how hard I tried to push away this dream of being a writer, it always returned. I decided that it was time to stop ignoring it.
PI: Tell us about your educational background; did you study English, Creative Writing or Journalism? If so when and where?
AS: Outside of advanced courses taken in high school and a few introductory writing courses in college, I have no formal education. I have attended several universities and earned credits but alas have no Master’s, no Bachelor’s, not even an Associate’s degree. I used to let this stop me from pursuing my dream. But this journey I am on now shows that determination, motivation, and true passion trump all.
PI: Name at least 3 authors who have affected your creative style as a writer.
AS: There are so many authors I love, but Bell Hooks’ memoir work validated my desire to use very few words to tell good stories. The way Maya Angelou weaves words is magical. I also appreciate Stephen King and his prolific career; his journey to becoming such a successful writer is inspiring.
PI: When looking at site one quickly notices that you are a big fan of several LGBT related bloggers; why not create a place for sharing your thoughts minus the online magazine?
As: I recently discovered the black LGBT community and realized that this was also a community whose stories are seldom heard. I didn’t realize how large and supportive it is and I am appreciating the connections I have made. There are already a lot of publications devoted to sharing LGBT art—we need to help spread the word!
PI: Do ever plan on publishing your stories in a book?
AS: I am releasing a chapbook of poetry in June and do have plans to finish a memoir that’s sitting in my journals sometime in the future. Of course one my big goals as a writer is to make the bestseller’s list!
PI: What are you working on right now?
AS: I just wrapped up the premier issue of BLACKBERRY: a magazine today and have opened up submissions for the next issue which is to be released this fall. In between changing diapers and doing the dishes I will dig down and sharpen up the poetry for the chapbook. It will be the first time other eyes will have seen these words so I want to make sure that they are near perfect.
PI: What’s next for you professionally?
AS: The rules of publishing are changing quickly. Since I am a stay-at-home mother, I am using this season of my life to share as many of my stories as I can and connect with as many people as I can. That’s really what writing does—it connects us.