By Raquel Williams
When asked about values, do you consider yourself? Or do you think about a tangible item, a thing? Do you consider your virtue, your heritage, your beliefs, and those things that validate your existence? I’d like to introduce to some and present to others, a lady who can force you to question every moral fiber of your being by just looking at a blurred photo of her silhouette. Who is this being you ask? She goes by Addie Citchens. She is professionally known as a New Orleans-based, Clarksdale-born writer of the blues, but personally, I know her as Lisa.
Lisa states, “The thing I value most personally is freedom. For me, this encompasses the freedom to define myself, to wear what I want, to think for myself, and to act in ways that support my well-being without fear of other people’s opinions. The thing I value most in humans is integrity. There is something so important to me about being my genuine, real self and maintaining my ideals in every situation, whether I am rich or poor, no matter whose company I happen to be in, no matter what’s at stake. What I value the least is other people’s opinions about me. That’s their problem, not mine.”
My respect for her as a writer is typical of a fellow aspiring author. I was scrolling through a popular social media site and came across a picture that was quite mind-blowing, in a good way. The image appeared to be of two females, but it was hard to distinguish which direction they were facing. I stared for a bit and found myself in a mystic rabbit hole, attempting to decipher what I was viewing. The two women seemed to be holding hands, both in a standing squat tip top position. Magically the two women are posed perfectly for the sun to hide their identities. The optical illusion of the photograph captivated me to the point where I had to call a friend to assist me with understanding exactly what it was I was looking at. When I realized that the picture was a reflection of one individual’s reflection, I began to understand the metaphorical meaning of the picture. Addie was holding herself accountable for the life she unapologetically desired. The demonstration of strength seen in the picture betrays the traditional southern upbringing that her family expected her to value.
When asked to share her bio, Addie thankfully responded that she is quite humbled, and I was reminded of her unbridled boldness and abrasive candor. Addie’s writing, coupled with her boundless display of yoga poses, would make even the strictest bible-toters, vocal scripture quotes, and faithful church floaters clutch their pearls. Contrary to what some may believe, there are several ways she taps into her peace. One way is through music, often by combining music and movement, like dance and yoga. Another way is through reading. In addition, she states, “Communing with nature, being alone, and just taking deep, filling breaths are also ways I tap into my peace.”
The openness of her creativity gives us a peek inside Pandora’s box with a resume to include erotica, the South, blackness, and personal liberation. She is Farrar, Straus, and Giroux’s Inaugural Writing Fellow and has been published in various outlets, including Callaloo Journal, The Oxford American, Mississippi Folklife Magazine, The Columbia Journal, Midnight & Indigo Speculative Fiction Issue, and The Paris Review. The characters in her stories are oddly familiar and usher you to visualize good ole country towns situated in the heart of the Delta, comfortably hidden in the “Bible Belt.” If you have never heard of the “Bible Belt,” your southern card may not be valid. But who validates whether you are southern enough? Who really wants to be associated with “The South”? Me and a few other awesome people. Addie declares that validation is a righteous acknowledgment of your works or self, and it starts within.
When people come to the South, they easily speak of the hospitality, smiles, and friendliness of the plain country folk. It’s only on social media that we struggle with our “Values” and “Validation.” The question was asked about her feelings about her hometown, and she responded, “If I could change something about Clarksdale, I’d make it a prosperous, bustling black, blues mecca with excellent schools, improved access to fresh food, and a variety of commerce with leaders whose concern is growth and accountability, not politicking and self gain.”
Addie is that being who validates her own existence by valuing her body and her writing. “Composition has been a passion for her since she was quite small,” states her mom, Linda Downing, who is a well known staple in our community. Mrs. Downing spoke proudly, confidently, and lovingly as she described the nonconforming independent thinker. She reassured me that she supported Addie and how important it is to support your children on the path that they choose. Mrs. Downing is a minister and was sure to share that Addie is a reflection of her and that God gave her a peace about Addie’s uniqueness. Addie’s intelligence could have gotten her through Medical school, but Addie’s inner rebel pushed her to live a life of freedom through journalism. In her words, “My love of reading; my need to tell my story and the stories of other unheard and marginalized people; and my grandmother’s way of telling stories all led me to want to write.”
I inquired about how she felt about being an influencer. She coyly responded, “I don’t consider myself an influencer because my intention is not to influence people to do, buy, wear, or think a specific thing. I would consider myself avant-garde. I follow my own mind, take the road less traveled, and hopefully, using my growing platform to speak on my experiences, good and bad, might encourage others to think for themselves as well. Arguably, I spend a lot of time on social media, and she is one personality that inspires me to love myself unconditionally. If you haven’t read any of her material or seen any of her photo art, allow me to be the conduit by sharing her link. It is simply http://addiecitchens.com/. Hopefully, you will look her up and get a peek at what southern values look like and how self validation is a personal journey.
Photos submitted by: Addie Citchens