I was first introduced to Terry McMillan’s work back in 1995, with the movie adaptation of her #1 New York Times bestselling novel, Waiting to Exhale. At 10-years-old, I vividly remember the excitement my parents, aunts, and uncles experienced as they made their weekend plans, which included a couple’s date night with dinner and a movie to see the film’s debut. It was a cinematic event in the Black community and is still a cult classic 25 years later. Let’s not forget, the soundtrack is a holy grail in itself, but that’s another story for another day.
We were definitely too young to understand the layered complexities. Still, my friends and I would playfully refer to ourselves as one of the characters, but as I got older, I realized I could truly identify with all of the women in one capacity or another. With this realization came a greater appreciation of McMillan’s work as a storyteller. Throughout the years, her wit, wisdom, and authenticity to showcase everyday realities of life experiences have created not only a safe space for Black women to be seen and heard. But also a therapeutic escape to take a deep-dive into the learning lessons of motherhood, love, heartbreak, sex, and grief.
Never one to subscribe to societal mindsets, the 68-year-old debunks the notion that after reaching a certain age, it’s all downhill. There’s beauty in aging, especially when you have your girls by your side to help you power through the hills and valleys and dodge the curveballs that life sometimes throws your way. Her latest release, It’s Not All Downhill From Here, has already lit up the literary landscape by adding another book title to the New York Times bestselling list. “I just hope they [readers] are moved, encouraged, and inspired. And get some good laughs,” McMillan said.
After chatting by phone with the Michigan native, I was reminded about the beauty of friendship and sisterhood, especially in times like these. But most importantly, forgiveness, and healing wounds because change is inevitable, and tough times don’t last always. It is a central theme deeply woven in her stories. Now more than ever I’m ready for the journey towards the woman I’m becoming and embracing her fully with open arms. A resonance many women feel after reading any of Terry McMillan’s writings but especially after exploring her newest novel.
BlackLove.com: We are experiencing uncertain times. How are you managing your mental capacity in the wake of everything that is taking place around the world?
Terry McMillan: Well, I recently tweeted that I put on my makeup like I’m going somewhere, not every day, but most of the days, and I’ve been reading. I’m now in the process of actually reading my own book. Usually, a couple of days before the publishing date I always read it to see if I still like it. If I get lost in it, that’s a good sign. But also, I’m online a lot. I take walks and I have a couple of extra dollars, so I’ve been donating. It’s a good time just to be good to each other.
BL.com: With your new novel, It’s Not All Downhill From Here, what did you particularly want to achieve?
TM: I don’t have a goal when I set out to write a novel. It’s a journey for me, much like it is for a reader. I don’t know the ending. I don’t know everything that is going to happen. It’s much more organic than that. All I know is that I wanted to write and tell a story about a woman and her friends. Her girlfriends. Her BFFs. They’re on a journey where they have to deal with the whole notion of aging and the stereotype behind it that it’s “downhill from here.” But I just never bought into that.
I wanted to be able to excavate and show how these women live their lives. How much there is still left to live if you see it that way and do a lot of things that make your life brighter instead of doing things that subtract from it. Also, accepting responsibility for a lot of the things that do happen to us when we have control over it.
BL.com: I’m thankful for your voice, and people like you who make it socially acceptable to find joy in aging. When I was younger, my grandmother and great aunts always said a woman never revealed her real age. When I lost my mom five years ago, I believe I had a transformation in terms of realizing there’s so much beauty in getting older because the opposite of aging is death. There were a lot of lessons I learned, which allowed me to look at things from a different perspective. My friends and I have different things going on in our lives, but just embracing those seasons has probably been one of the biggest lessons and going to therapy!