Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Liara Tamani

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-three authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Liara Tamani

Liara Tamani was born in Akron, Ohio, and raised in Houston, Texas, in a very religious, loving family. Like her main character, Taja Brown, she had questions and doubts about religion from a young age, and in high school she experienced a lot of guilt and shame around sex. While Calling My Name is not her story, it was definitely born out of what she calls “impressions” from her childhood. The very first chapter she wrote was “God Don’t Like Ugly.” On a seven-hour layover returning from South Africa, she took out her notebook and started writing about her first kiss (at thirteen, at a church convention in Detroit) and discovered Taja’s voice. Liara says, “It was a bit sassier than my own and perhaps sweeter and wiser than I was at her age. I’d never written in that voice before, but it flowed easily from me and I loved it. I wanted to explore it, to know it, to bring it into being. I thought about moments from my childhood that made me feel deeply and started constructing stories and vignettes around those feelings. After I wrote fifteen or so of them, themes started to emerge and Taja’s own feelings and life took control of the story.” Liara wrote that first chapter of Calling My Name in 2008 and completed the first draft of the novel in 2010. Then life pulled her in different directions until, in 2016, she decided she needed to get Calling My Name and Taja’s voice out into the world and into the hands of readers, especially teenage girls.

Liara Tamani believes in following her heart, even when she doesn’t know exactly where it’s taking her, even when success isn’t guaranteed. But she wasn’t always this way. Although her first loves were reading and writing, she never considered writing as an option for her life’s work because it didn’t come with a guarantee of success. Instead, she followed the path of her father, who was a lawyer, and decided to practice law, too. She became determined to attend Harvard Law School. And she did. But when she got there, she knew she wasn’t in the right place. And after her first year, she made the scary decision to leave. Afterward, she went down a winding path of vocations — she was a marketing coordinator for the Houston Rockets, a production assistant for “Girlfriends” (The TV show), a home accessories designer, a floral designer, and a yoga and dance teacher, before finally finding her way back to writing. Liara holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College and a BA from Duke University. She lives in Houston with her daughter, who she hopes will always follow her heart.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

Growing up, I was afraid to go against my family’s and community’s traditions, so I did what was expected of me. I went to church three days a week and could quote Bible scripture like nobody’s business, even though I had serious questions and doubts about religion. I was obsessed with making straight A’s in school and prepared to become a lawyer, like my father, even though I had no interest in the profession. I played basketball because my dad, siblings, cousins, and friends played, even though I would’ve rather been doing a million other things. Trying to live up to tradition delayed my ability to define myself in my own way and connect to my own interests and dreams.

The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (one of my all-time favorite books) could’ve served me well growing up. It’s a book about a young heroine, with a strong self of self, honing her power and nurturing her dreams. A book that could’ve showed me it was possible to love my family and community while simultaneously creating a life inconsistent with their ideals.

It tells the story of a young girl, Esperanza, growing up in an impoverished Latino neighborhood in Chicago, trying to define herself outside of her poor community and the traditional roles of women in her culture. While there is great beauty in Esperanza’s culture and community, there is also great sadness, regret, and harshness, especially for women. Many of the women around her — even the ones who were once wild and free, like her great-grandmother, or smart and talented, like her mother — are now passive and dependent. Some women are even abused.

Esperanza wants to create a life for herself far different from the lives of her family and community, even if that means breaking with tradition. Although she loves her family and vows to never forget where she comes from, she dreams of having a house of her own, a house far away. A space filled with her books and papers, a space where she can work to fulfill her ultimate dream of becoming a writer.

It wasn’t until I was living on my own did I have the courage to depart from the teachings of my parents and community and find my own way. And even then, it was hard. When I dropped out of Harvard Law School, people called me all kinds of crazy (good thing my parents were supportive). When I created my own sense of spirituality, centered around gratitude and love instead of religion, people judged me (and genuinely prayed for my soul). It was hard hearing and feeling the judgements of peers, friends, and family, even when they meant well. But going my own way was worth it because now I’m happy and living the life I want for myself.

But it’s not over. I’m still dreaming…still creating the life I want for myself…still breaking from family and community traditions. At least now it’s less scary because I know what it takes. It takes believing in the inner self no one else can see and ignoring people who think you’re crazy for thinking the way you think or daring to go after your dreams.

Esperanza’s background and struggles are very different from my own and perhaps very different from yours too. But her power to define herself in her own way and her ability to value her community and culture, while still breaking free from their limitations, can serve as inspiration for the self-creating dreamer in us all.

Title Calling My Name
Author Liara Tamani
Pages 384 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published October 24th, 2017 by Greenwillow Books
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Taja Brown lives with her parents and older brother and younger sister, in Houston, Texas. Taja has always known what the expectations of her conservative and tightly-knit African American family are — do well in school, go to church every Sunday, no intimacy before marriage. But Taja is trying to keep up with friends as they get their first kisses, first boyfriends, first everythings. And she’s tired of cheering for her athletic younger sister and an older brother who has more freedom just because he’s a boy. Taja dreams of going to college and forging her own relationship with the world and with God, but when she falls in love for the first time, those dreams are suddenly in danger of evaporating.

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