‘Bitch is The New Black’ Author Helena Andrews Chats Writing, Travel and Nicki Minaj

After reading the infamous Washington Post article about ‘why are black women so lonely when Barack and Michelle are so happy?’ debate — we were skeptical of Helena Andrews and her new book, Bitch is the New Black: A Memoir. A memoir at 30-years-old, who does that? But after reading the first two chapters, we were hooked. Even one of our mothers said, ‘she talks just like you.’ We think you’ll love her, so ladies, we’d like to introduce you to Ms. Andrews, she’s quirky, witty and hilarious just like us. You’re friggin’ welcome.

PARLOUR: What inspired you to write Bitch is the New Black?

HELENA ANDREWS: I wrote Bitch is the New Black because I wanted something out there in bookland by a black woman as opposed to about a black woman. We of the tribe of successful and single are being bombarded with stupid advice we never asked anybody for. BITNB is a memoir that chronicles my life from start to middle. It isn’t a guide book, more like a road map and who knows where I’m headed. Marriage? Eh, maybe. Kids? An even bigger if. There’s more to me than a wedding and womb (although I’m sure those things are awesome). I wanted to write something that pulled back the curtain and gave folks a glimpse behind the scenes.

Was it odd to pen a memoir and you’re not even 40-years-old yet?

Not in the least. Life doesn’t begin or end at 40 and memoirs don’t have to be written on your death bed. I also sometimes shy away from the term memoir because I know the connotation is that the book will span my entire life with lessons learned and affirmations and vision boards. Um no. This is a collection of personal essays, which when combined (and maybe mixed with a glass of Riesling) are a snap shot of my so-called life thus far. I can read BITNB one, two, tens years from now and have a glimpse of what life was like then. That’s kind of rad, man.

How did your childhood with your mother, who strikes us as lovably eccentric — seriously, we know that lady, you should meet our moms — shape your life as an adult?

Lovable eccentric? Yes! My childhood like everyone’s childhood is to blame for everything I’ve ever done — good or bad. My friend Gina calls it “passing the buck” and I call it the triple truth! Fortunately I lucked out and got an awesome mother and childhood despite a few bumps in the road, you know like being kidnapped and what not. I’m a writer because my mother made me read huge books every summer. I like traveling because my mother has “traveling feet” and we moved all the damn time. I can blame my commitment issues on that fact too, but I’ve been “grown” long enough to share.

How would you describe the voice of the book, because we found ourselves saying ‘Whoa, she wrote exactly how we speak to each other, How the hell?’ Was there any resistance from your publisher, Harper, to change the language?
Absolutely not. I always have to remind folk that I am a writer, not a therapist, a guru or a rapping relationship expert. A writer’s voice is everything. It’s her bread and butter. HarperCollins bought the book because they loved my voice and the story I had to tell, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, they can’t exist without each other.

In light of the infamous Washington Post “Successful, Black and Lonely” article, what do you really think of black men, dating and the state of black female love lives in America. Yes, we just asked you to speak on black people everywhere.
That Washington Post profile plus the horrible flip cam video with me flipping my hair like a gajillion times will be the Lord Voldemort of my professional career, that which shall not be named. I think black men are awesome, except, of course, when they’re not. One is snoring (very loudly) as I type this. Folks assume a lot when they think they know who you are. Never once in that article did I disparage black men or “blue collar brothas.” Yeaaa no. “Cornrows” [who I mention in the book] is an Ivy Leaguer and a lawyer, which is not to say that if he worked the night shift at Walgreens and loved Discovery Health documentaries that we would’ve been the perfect pair.

Since you’re crafting a screenplay with Shonda Rhimes, who would you cast to play you? And who’s playing the guy you ignore on aim at the book’s beginning? Any ticks they must emulate?

The screen play is still in my head. “Dex” thinks he looks like Taye Diggs mixed with a little Lance Goss (side eye). Now as for me? Who knows. I’m just excited to write a role that represents a woman in 3D, not that the movie will be in 3D or anything.

Have you heard from Tina Fey? Think she’ll sue you for publishing money?

That’s hilarious. Tina Fey ain’t worried about little ole me. And seeing as how phrases people say on live television aren’t really copyright-able I think I’m good. But wouldn’t it be awesome if she called me a bitch in front of a crowd of people outside of 30 Rock?
Do you travel abroad?
Every summer me and my girls have a black woman’s conference in some Caribbean locale. Last September was the first time I’d ever been to Europe, I met a boy I used to know in London and now I’m friggin’ obsessed. In Paris a dude, who looked ‘a lot like that crazy white guy with the long hair from Ghostbusters’ according to my bestie, used the word “nigger” to describe a ‘huge black bouncer’ (his words) and then told me it was okay because ‘it’s Paris!’ I decided not to use the pepper spray I smuggled in from the states because I’ve watched “Locked Up Abroad” ten too many times.

What are your favorite countries? Things to do there? Foods to eat?

Despite the aforementioned international racism incident I loved Paris. I could be homeless there. My favorite thing to do anywhere is just walk. I’m the nerd in the group that schedules a historic walking tour at 8 in the morning. Daniel Rose’s Table 28 9th arrondissement (now closed) was a great rustic meal of rotisserie chicken, veggies and wine. Best thing to do in any country is ask the locals where they eat and go there immediately. St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is another favorite of mine and Shela’s (a cart/shack/culinary haven) right off the pier is hands down the best island food in the history of colonialism.

Are you pro or con Nicki Minaj? Fembot or Femhero? Why?

I can say with complete certainty that I have never heard one of her songs in its entirety for two reasons 1) I don’t have a driver’s license so I rarely have the occasion to listen to the radio 2) when I first heard her name I thought she was Japanese and figured her songs wouldn’t be in English (seriously). In college my roommate and I called our double in McBain Hall “the hot spot.” I got felt up to Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown so Ms. Minaj seems to be the next generation iteration of the fine line between feminism, empowerment and exploitation. I just gave someone the best tagline for their dissertation. You’re friggin’ welcome.

What do you hope brown women our age glean from your book?

I hope anyone who picks up and reads Bitch is the New Black (woman, man, alien but not children, please God not the children) realizes that it is this woman’s story not all women’s story. Black women aren’t a monolith. Single women aren’t a monolith. We all got a story to tell and I just happened to sell mine.

What are you fave five songs at the moment?

Since I never listen to the radio aside from Pandora I have no clue what’s happening in the moment. But my favorite songs of all time?

1. Donny Hathaway’s “For All We Know”
2. Ella Fitzgerald’s “Manhattan”
3. Mint Condition’s “Pretty Brown Eyes”
4. Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day”
5. Jodeci’s “Come & Talk To Me”

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