By Bonnie Newman Davis
We’re nearly halfway through 2020 and, while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us live and work, little has changed in terms of our creativity, innovation and ability to get things done.
Shortly before ringing in the new year, I asked several Richmonders to share their plans for the next 12 months. Responses included starting a new business, giving back to the community and living their best and healthiest lives.
One interviewee, Latika Lee, spoke of her desire to create a culturally-rich podcast that “looks back on the past in order for people to be empowered for the future.”
Soon after her pronouncement, Lee’s actions unfolded. As a development services and communications professional, Lee stayed true to her vision by using her social media platform to host live discussions involving books and authors. She hasn’t developed the podcast yet, but she’s close.
I caught up with Lee to gain further insight about her Facebook group, the Lotus Literary Lounge, along with other endeavors designed to achieve her New Year’s goals.
Bonnie: Tell us about the Lotus Literary Lounge. When was it created and who is your audience?
Latika: The Lotus Literary Lounge is an online book club that supports African American authors, writers and publishers and helps readers to bloom. It was created in the spring of 2018 as an outlet to share information about author events/talks, book launches and reviews. At the time, I worked at a public library and found there were certain elements that I could not write or post about, so I wanted to build a community where readers could “mix & mingle” and get behind-the-scenes, “virtual access” to the people, places and programs that they were so fascinated to learn about. My audience includes people who have a sense of curiosity. They want to explore their creativity and are interested in having connected, meaningful conversations. Typically, those connections take place in settings like libraries, museums or at festivals, so we focus on those places, but we want the LLL to be an inviting and welcoming virtual space.
Bonnie: Wow! So you’re actually “ahead of the curve” so to speak, in adapting to a virtual space as a resource for growth and learning. Congratulations! I noticed that you’ve had some pretty amazing guests to appear on your Facebook Live sessions, such as Stacy Hawkins Adams
and Sadeqa Johnson. I know why these awarding-winning authors are dynamic, but what can you tell us about them and the recent episode in which they were featured?
Latika: They are two very talented authors. Although their path to becoming published authors are different, I learned that they are both very passionate about the art of writing and are immersed in reading a wealth of material in order to hone their craft.
This inaugural episode – celebrating our second anniversary – was engaging and full of surprises. It was designed as a platform to stay connected and let our audience know that, even though they might be home alone sheltering-in-place, we are all in this current state of affairs together. We wanted to help our readers cope with the “new normal” and distress from the chaos surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic. The conversation had an upbeat tone and included tips on balancing multiple projects with work and family, devising an ideal environment for creative ideas, as well as advice on writing under deadline. In addition, we also had an opportunity to learn about each author’s writing process and what it takes to produce their award-winning novels. Local author Rebekah L. Pierce also joined us for the dialogue.
Bonnie: You’ve featured some other interesting guests as well. How do you select your guests?
Latika: Each person has their own unique journey; some come to writing as a lifelong dream, for others, it may have started in childhood. Therefore, my selection process begins with identifying unique voices. I’m trying to curate topics that are timely and represent multiple genres that appeal to my audience of authors, readers and publishers. The guests may have works that are digital or paper, traditional or self-published, but they must have a positive message, which can be in the form of a memoir (life lesson), nonfiction (a new technique/how-to process), or a fictional story in their chosen subject matter. Of course, books written by diverse, African American authors are a priority. Our stories matter, too.
Bonnie: What challenges have you encountered in delivering your episodes so far? Has the COVID-19 impeded your plans or vision and if so, how did you overcome the interruptions?
Latika: One challenge I’ve encountered in delivering the episodes is deciding which platform most people could utilize and would be able to have access to for the delivery of the episode. Do I choose a social media site such as Facebook or Instagram LIVE, or a digital communications application like SKYPE or ZOOM? In the end, I decided to use what made the most sense as far as interactivity and connectivity. Then, there was also technological issues… I had to learn how to use the technology. LOL.
Yes, COVID-19 did impede my plans. I was sick with the flu and diagnosed with bronchitis earlier this year. It was scary because most of the symptoms were the same as the coronavirus and I became anxious about whether it would get worse and how to keep my family safe. It took several weeks to get back to normal and then everything shut down. But, I knew that I had to keep going. In January, one of my resolutions was to create a podcast, however, I consider these “LIVE” author sessions as a visual podcast and preparation for the future. The difference is that it gets me from behind the microphone and in front of the camera.
Bonnie Newman Davis
Journalist, Journalism Educator, Media Consultant
Executive Director, BND Institute of Media and Culture Inc.