#WCW: Alecia Whitaker (Wed., May 13, 2015)
By: Lucy Jayes
Alecia Whitaker grew up on a small farm in Cynthiana, Kentucky, a town of just over 5,000 people. She recalls always having a book in her hands as a child and thinking that writing was a good way for her to “make As in English.” She began to be recognized for her skill in the 4th grade, when she won a Soil Conservation essay contest. Writing came easily to Alecia, so she didn’t recognize that she had something “special,” much less a meal ticket. Alecia reminisces on the effortlessness of her early writing: “I always thought you had to work hard for your goals, work hard for your dreams.”
She was encouraged by her sophomore English teacher to apply for the Governor’s School of the Arts in Kentucky. She was accepted and studied Creative Writing there for three weeks. This was her first opportunity to meet professional writers and recognize that what came as naturally as breathing to the young Alecia, was a craft that an entire community dedicated their lives too.
Alecia recognizes the teachers who pushed her during this crucial time in her life, especially Ms. Andrews who would grade Alecia with higher expectations than her classmates. Alecia recognizes how important teachers like this were to shaping her life today: “It was hard at first, but I look back and think what a service she had given me.”
Alecia continued her education at the University of Kentucky, graduating with a BFA in Theatre and a BA in Advertising. After receiving a grant from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, she co-wrote the play Becoming Woman with her friend Ellen Hagan. This 50 minute play is an emotional journey through universal experiences all women have: such as growing into an unfamiliar body, a first kiss, bad hair styles and losing one’s innocence. It has been performed at professional theaters and high schools across the country.
At this point, Alecia had been publishing personal essays in the literary magazine Underwired in Louisville, Kentucky but had not entertained the idea of writing a book. By co-writing and performing in Becoming Woman, Alecia realized that she wanted to write for a younger audience: “I try to write for teen-me, what would teen-Alecia want to read?” She is drawn to this age because it is “a magic time to be alive, with so many paths to choose still.” The first book she published is titled The Queen of Kentucky; it is a “commercial-rural fiction” novel about a young girl attempting to reinvent herself to fit in with a popular crowd. Alecia likes to write about the place where she came from; “not a stereotype for the mid-south but something that speaks to the girls of the mid-south,” a place brimming with natural beauty and girls suffering from anywhere-but-here syndrome.
Moving from Kentucky to New York City in her twenties to pursue her dreams of being a writer, Alecia lived the dream of many young, small-town girls. Adjusting to the pace of the city was not easy; she describes “a 6 month period of depression” that everybody experiences moving to New York. Now, she is married and pregnant with her third son, adjusted to the life of a writer and mother in the Big Apple, but still finding herself homesick for the place who inspired her writing all along. Alecia recorded her day to day experiences raising her two boys with a web show called The Baby Book for 3 years. Her first novel The Queen of Kentucky is being turned into a movie and her third novel The Road to You, is set to hit shelves in July. She just wished she had believed it was all possible earlier: “I wish I would have trusted myself sooner.”
Being drawn to an audience of younger girls, it is no surprise that Alecia has valuable advice to those who dream of writing books like her. The first part is obvious, but more difficult to practice than it is to understand: “Write. Set aside time to write.” Alecia emphasizes the importance of being able to see a novel to the end: “The publisher wants to see that you can get to the end.” With that being said, her second piece of advice is for writers to be open to changes along the way: “Be able to edit. You can’t be married to your work.” She thinks it is especially important to be open to feedback from an audience, since published writing is meant to entertain: “You have to be willing to accept feedback. You have to seek out feedback.” Although she recognizes the cathartic benefit of writing for oneself in a diary or a blog, she emphasizes the importance of understanding and entertaining an audience.
Finally, Alecia encourages young writers not to give up: “The word no doesn’t mean never. It means not with that publisher, or that magazine. It doesn’t mean stop completely.” And with two published novels and another on the way, Alecia Whitaker has proven that hard work and determination can take a girl from the fields of Kentucky to the streets of New York City, all by the power of imagination and the religious practice of putting words to a page.
Alecia’s books are available through Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, local Kentucky bookstores Carmicheals and Joseph Beth and local New York bookstore: Astoria Bookshop. You can follow her blog http://aleciawhitaker.tumblr.com/ to read about her writing and her children and see her past TV appearances, upcoming events and contact information on her website http://www.aleciawhitaker.com/index.html. She is living in New York City with her husband and two children.