Nancey B. Price is an African-American writer, blogger, collage artist and humanitarian. A storyteller at heart, she expresses this skill by creating works that are dynamic, powerful and relatable to her audience. She is currently writing her first Adult literary novel for publication and discusses her experiences on her blog, Diary of a Young Black Author in Need of a Hug.
As a collage artist, Nancey uses her work to explore the dynamics of the Black experience and Black femininity and shares her progress on her Etsy and Instagram pages. This coming November, one of her collage pieces will be featured as a contributing piece in Oprah Magazine. Additionally, Nancey founded the Malawi Girl Project, an initiative with the purpose of providing schoolgirls in Malawi with sanitary pads and teaching them about what happens to their bodies during their menstrual cycle. In the midst of so many projects, she still manages a full-time job, graduate school and spending quality time with family and friends. The epitome of a multitasker, Nancey is on the rise and there is no indication that she will be slowing down anytime soon.
While is Nancey is both an artist and a writer, she is also an empowering person and that is why I have featured her under that section of our blog. I'm so proud to see all that she is pursuing and the changes she is making in people's lives. I left our interview feeling so empowered and even more excited to share her story with you all! You have amazing things waiting for you Nancey!
Claudia: How did you get into collaging?
Nancey: It actually started when I was a young girl. I used to make paper dolls. I would draw them, cut them out, and make clothes for them. They had furniture and story lines *laughs*. I would have blueprints of their house drawn on this big poster board and I would set everything up and create this whole world around my paper dolls. I was little, like 6, 7, and 8 years old. So I did that for a while and then, for some reason, I stopped. I “grew out of it” I guess. Time passed and I went through school not even thinking about those paper dolls.
In college, I had a really big Etsy obsession where I was buying tons of art from Etsy and I came across this one collage artist, Mirlande Jean-Giles, and I instantly fell in love with her work. It started bringing back memories of me cutting out my paper dolls and suddenly, I felt like I could do what Mirlande was doing! It wasn’t like me looking down on her work or anything like that, because her work is beautiful, but for some reason I felt I could do that too! Of course, I didn’t do it right away though. A year or two passed before I finally decided to take a shot at collaging.
The first time I did it was during Hurricane Hermine. I was at my parents house because the university where I worked had shut down for the storm. During the hurricane, I woke up early one morning and decided then and there that I would try to make something. My mom had a pile of magazines laying around downstairs, so I grabbed a couple of them, a pair of scissors, turned on the lamp at my desk, and I just started cutting stuff out. I didn’t know what I wanted to cut, I didn’t know what I was going to make, but I just wanted to cut.
So I have a grandmother who lives in Florida. Her name’s Maryel. She was into a lot of fashion and photography when she was younger and she gave me this New York Institute of Photography self-teaching kit and it had a whole bunch of picture books included. I thumbed through those and found a black and white image of a black woman crying with a man’s hand on her shoulder. In the photo’s description, apparently she had lost her son in the Vietnam War and the photographer took that picture of her while she was at the funeral. That whole idea of a black woman losing her child to war really resonated with me. So I saw that black and white image and I thought, “Okay, color. What color can I add to this photo so I can highlight her grief and try to pacify or beautify it?” In my mom’s pile of magazines was Better Home & Garden and it had a bunch of pictures of flowers. So, I started cutting out all the flowers and putting them all over her body and I sat there for hours with scissors in my hand and eyes glued to what I was cutting out. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt like it was what I needed to do. And so that’s how Blooming Grief was made. That was my first collage.
C: Aww that’s such a nice name! I love that! What is the message you want people to take away from your artwork and collages?
N: Well when I first started, I didn’t have a message. I was just doing this as a creative outlet. I didn’t consider myself a collage artist with a story to tell or a message to convey. But my message began developing by the third or fourth collage. That’s when I realized that I really want to center black bodies, especially black feminine bodies, and depict the whimsicality of them. Are you in front of your computer?
C: Yes I am!
N: Okay, I want you to go onto Google Images and search “collage art.” Where are the Black people?
C: You are right! There are none.
N: Right? The only time Black bodies appear is if you actually type “African American Collage Art.” It is its own separate thing and while I understand the social and historical context for this distinction, at the same time, it’s like there’s the world of collage art and then there’s African American collage art. It’s like a niche almost. So I’ve realized that in my art, I wanted to center Blackness in a medium of art where it’s not typically represented. There are famous Black collage artists, notably, Romare Bearden. His art is what you typically see associated with African American collage art. For me, I appreciate his art and what his art has done for our culture. But his shouldn’t be the only thing that comes to mind. I knew I couldn’t make anything like Bearden’s. It’s very detailed and intricate and abstract. I also knew that there are surely other ways to depict Black bodies in collage art because there are a ton of ways that White bodies are represented. I can’t collage like Bearden, but I can collage like Nancey, which is something that no one else can do. I can give to the world what my idea of collage art looks like. That means having Andre Day sitting on top of a waterfall on another planet, or having a bouquet of flowers growing out of Lupita’s neck, or a little girl combing her sister’s hair with the cosmos as their backdrop.
C: I love that! Because every time I look at your work, I go to a different world. Your collages are like scenes from different magical lands.
N: Thank you! I definitely want to build a scene with my art, just like I did with those paper dolls. I want my art to take people places just like it takes me places whenever I make it. I want people to look at it and think “Oh! I didn’t realize that the first time I saw this.” I want to make you think but also give a little twist ending so you keep coming back for more. I just want people to be like “Oh this is so dope!” or “Oh this is so magical!”
C: I really like that about your style! I think it’s also important that you integrate African American culture and aspects into your art as well. Because you don’t see that, you really don’t see that very often in art. That’s kind of why my sister and I started this blog because there’s a lot of, I hate to say it, but White dominance in these areas.
N: Absolutely. And you know White people have culture too but it’s like theirs is the standard culture and there’s no room for our’s to be part of that standard. It’s like when you typed in “collage art” on Google and the standard for collage art is all White and it almost makes it seem as if Black collage art is an “other” or Latino blogs are an “other”. And so with my art I want it to remind people that Blackness exists in collage art as well. It’s always been there. It’s just never the standard- it’s never highlighted in the way it could be.
C: Exactly! You have to go out of your way to look for it.
N: Yes! But nevertheless, we persist.
C: So, this book! Oh my gosh, Nancey! You’re doing so many things! I don’t know how you have the energy to handle it all! What themes are you exploring in your story and how do they relate to your life?
N: Well there are two themes, really. The first is family relationships and dynamics and how generations of family dynamics affects what happens to those living in in the present. Another theme is spirituality in the context of the rural South- rural Georgia specifically. The story came about as I was coming home after having graduated from college and having to re-immerse myself in a religious household again. I had spent my college years coming into my own spirituality outside of religion and I was very open with it and very free with it while in undergrad. So when I came back home, I had to figure out how I was going to navigate as this new person, spiritually, within the context of a very Christian household.
The book is centered on a young woman who is struggling with her own spiritual identity and trying to figure out what it looks like for her. Suddenly, the death of her father’s mother prompts her to come home to Girard, Georgia, which is, conveniently, the name of my hometown. So not only does she have to grapple with her own spirituality, but she must try to navigate it within the context of her family’s spirituality, which she comes to find out is not the traditional Southern Baptist household that she was expecting. She used to spend summers in Girard with her father’s side of the family when she was younger until she moved away as a pre-teen with her mother. So she never really got to know her dad’s side beyond moments of nostalgia. But she also never felt connected to her mom’s side of the family either, so she doesn’t really know where she belongs. However, as the story unfolds, she begins to realize that she has a lot more in common with her dad’s side of the family than she expects. And while she’s home for the funeral, she learns more about her grandmother’s spirituality as well as the dynamics between her dad’s family and her mother’s family and where she fits in the equation- all within seven days.
C: Wow! I’m so excited for this! I think this may be something that a lot of people will be able to relate to, because in college you’re away from your family and trying to figure yourself out. I know spirituality, religion, and faith are definitely things people sometimes struggle with the most because growing up, your family tells you one thing but once you’re in college you become exposed to so many different views.
N: Yes! While growing up, we went to church and everything. I was an usher in the church, my mother was the choir director, and my step-dad was, and still is, a deacon. We weren’t super religious and we weren’t the ones in church every single day of the week, but we were involved and prayed together every night. Still do. However, when I went off to school, that’s when my mother became a pastor. I’ve never lived with a pastor before. So when I back home, it was culture shock. I wanted an altar, I wanted to burn sage, I wanted to meditate. But I was intimidated and I became very afraid to express my spirituality around my mom. And this wasn’t anything on her. It was all on me. I would try to make her understand what I believed, but it gave me a lot of anxiety and I always ended up crying. That’s one of the reasons, actually, why I started going to therapy. I was trying to figure out how to practice and express my spiritual self around my mother. It wasn’t really around anyone else that I felt like this except her because she was a pastor and because I was living under a pastor’s roof. One day we had a long conversation about it and she told me she was proud of me. Girl. Water works! *laughs* All of this fear that I had around what she would say and think about me wanting an altar was shattered. She had already let me have an altar in my room and everything, but for some reason I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that that meant she was okay with what I was doing. And she finally told me, “That’s what I want for you. I just want you to be grounded in something. I want you to do something that is contributing to your spiritual growth.”
She went to New Orleans this year and she had bought me a long bundle of sage and I was like “Mama!” *laughs* She had bought a sage bundle for her house and a sage bundle for mine and I was like “Okay! So she kind of gets it!” I say all of that to say that yes, a lot of the stories in this book are very similar to a lot of my experiences coming back home. I want my readers to question their faith, not in a bad way, but I really want them to think about why they believe what they believe and where it fits in the grand scheme of things, both with their families and also with themselves.
C: Wow! It’s always funny how as our parent’s children, we’re always anxious about what our parents will think when we’re pursuing something different. That happens to me all the time and my mom will be like “That’s okay! You do you!” And I’ll be like “What? You couldn’t have told me this earlier?” *laughs*
N: *laughs* I think it’s just the idea that our parents are superhuman kings and queens so messing up in their eyes is like “Woah!” because they’re our parents, you know? But I also forget that our parents are human, and they’ve had human experiences too. They just happen to have children as well. There was one time when my mom said, “You know Nancey, I’ve never had adult children before,” and that just brought everything back home for me. She’s trying to figure this all out just like I’m trying to figure this out.
C: It’s kind of humbling when that happens. It reminds me not to be so judgemental of my parents.
So tell me about your Malawi Girl Project! How did it go? Well, first explain to us what it is.
N: So the Malawi Girl Project came out of me recognizing a need for feminine hygiene products when I was in Malawi for a Mercer on Mission project. The village I worked in is called Chuluchosema. They had just recently built a school out there and my thought was almost immediate. I heard of the school and I thought, “Those girls are going to need some pads” *laughs*. So it started with me wanting to give them pads, but then I thought, “How are they going to know how to use them?” And then, “What if they want to know what their periods are about?” So an education component was added. Now, the Malawi Girl Project is an initiative that provides pads to girls while they’re in school so they can attend during menstruation. The project also provides them education on how to use the pads and what happens to their bodies during menstruation. So this summer, my mother and I went there. We had four huge suitcases full of feminine hygiene products. While I was there, I taught a class! It was like a mini sex education course. Of course none of it would have been possible without my teammates, Rodgers Khofi, Evelyn Gomani, and Dickson Chikwakwa. They were our hosts and they were the ones who set everything up and planned with the school managers. So when we got there all we had to do was pack up the pads and get them to the girls. We served 3 schools. 250 girls. And they loved it.
But you know, it was interesting being on the planning side of the mission trip. Usually when I go on these types of trips, I just think, “Okay, where do I sit? What do I do?” But here I had to budget, write lesson plans, make sure all the logistics were taken care of. So it was not a vacation at all. It was a lot of work, but it was gratifying to help the girls out and give them something that’s usually too expensive to afford.
C: I can imagine! What do they usually use while on their period?
N: There are pads in Malawi, but they’re too expensive and not really durable. The girls would typically use towels, rags, or just stay home if they didn’t have anything clean. One of them told me that if they do use towels they have to wash them by hand and tie them to their hip to dry. But, of course, if you’re walking around with a towel on your hip, people are going to know you’re on your period. So if you’re a 13 year old girl you’re not going to want everyone to know what’s going on with your body, so you may decide to stay home instead of being around classmates with a damp towel on your hip.
C: Wow that must be so hard, I cannot imagine that. Now that you’ve gone, how are you going to continue providing pads for the girls?
N: Well now I’m in the post-processing phase. I have to track all the spending and log all of the receipts. I also have to brainstorm ways to improve the experience, as well as ways to make the project more efficient. But I will say it’s not going to be a one time thing. We’re looking into making it a non-profit and possibly begin sending larger teams over to participate. It’s much less expensive to take the pads over yourself rather than ship them.
C: And that’s so much better than just being like “Here you go!” You actually get to meet the girls and bond with them.
N: Exactly. And that makes the experience all the more worthwhile- to see the smiles on their faces when you give them the pads and to see how engaged they were. But, ironically, the most memorable part of the trip for me had nothing to do with the girls. Usually, when you go on trips like these you sort of have a savior complex. However, you quickly learn that you can’t help everybody. We had a panel discussion with some of the teachers at the school before the workshop and they asked us, “Do you have anything planned for the boys?” because there are so many programs just for African girls, which are needed. However, they said they are starting to see the opposite effect happen where the girls are starting to outshine the boys and they’re having all of these successes and they’re getting good grades and everything. Another teacher told us that the boys complain and say, “Okay these girls get everything. They never have anything for us.” When we were teaching the girls, all the boys were standing outside. We had food for the girls, we were giving them lessons and having fun and everything. But the boys didn’t have anything and it broke my heart and my mom’s heart. That really hurt. So we took that into consideration and the next day, there was money in the budget to give some food to the boys as well. Let me tell you, they were hollering! They were so excited. You would have thought they won the lottery! That was a moment. That’s the only way I can explain it. The hurt and pain of not being able to give the boys anything the previous day, had been turned on its head because we were able to give them something this time. So it’s still going to be the Malawi Girl Project, but now I’d like to figure out something for the boys also.
C: Aww I’m so glad! I wish I could have experienced that and seen how rewarding that must have felt.
I also wanted to talk to you about your blog post “Hathor Taught Me” and your experience of stumbling upon Tomi Adeyemi. That is one that I feel every girl is familiar with. We see a girl who is already doing amazing things and we can’t help but feel envy towards her and maybe even anger at our own selves for not being as successful as her. But instead of putting her or yourself down, you decided to learn from Tomi and that is so admirable. What is your advice for encouraging this kind of girl love so that instead of competing with other girls you begin competing with yourself in order to become better than who you were yesterday?
N: Well I realized that my current practice of comparing myself to more successful women and beating myself up had less to do with bringing the other person down and more about doubting myself. I got tired of it and I realized that what I was doing was not getting my book written. I don’t know if you know her, but there’s an activist/blogger named Chescaleigh. I’ve been following her since I was a freshman in college, when she started doing hair tutorials on YouTube. She has this saying, “Stop hating and start studying.” She basically means that you should stop hating on others for their successes and start studying what they did and the moves they made to get there. I had writer’s block and was depressed by that, which was amplified by Mercury Retrograde. So I was just really in a funk. By the time I came across Tomi’s story, I was so tired of hating on myself for not having my stuff together and I needed to find a new way of operating. I got to the point where, though I wasn’t loving myself as much, I loved my novel and the story so much that I wanted it to get finished and I was willing to do whatever I could to get it done. So if it meant taking lessons from this woman who is younger than me and already had a seven figure deal, I was gonna swallow my pride and learn. I had to humble myself and had I not done that, I would not have learned all that I have up to this point. I was able to map out my entire book in a week after taking the first lesson her class.Prior to that, I had no idea what was going to happen in my story! So that’s what I would say. You have to humble yourself, swallow your pride and study what these women are doing because they are providing the blueprint. And, of course, be kind to yourself, because everybody’s process is going to be different. I started writing this book 2 years ago and I just finished chapter 10. So my process is different but I have to love and accept my process to get where I’m trying to go. But it’s important to recognize when we need to step back and take care of ourselves whenever we reach a point of self-doubt, which happens often.
C: I agree. I think self care is so important and I see that even more so now, especially with the high presence of social media in our lives.
Alright, last question. What is your advice for women who want to pursue something they are passionate about but may not necessarily have a professional background in that area?
N: Simple answer: Just do it. You’re not getting graded for it. You’re livelihood isn’t dependant on it. You’re doing it because you want to. Nobody is stopping you except you. For someone like me, none of these projects came to be until after I graduated college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. If I knew that I wanted to be a collage artist, if I knew that I wanted to be an author, I would have gotten my degree in art or creative writing or something like that. But I was 18 years old when I started college. Who knows what they want to do at that age? Everyone isn’t fortunate to know in their hearts that medicine or law is what’s in the stars for them. Luckily for me, I majored in something that can be applied in multiple sectors, and my degree in Women’s & Gender Studies is reflected in my art, my novel, and in Malawi Girl. So, if you want to get formal training in something, then by all means, go get it. But if you don’t want it, then find other ways to continue learning through practice. Be creative with what you already have and with the talents that are already inside of you. So if you want to be a writer, start writing. If you want to be an artist, start creating. It makes me think of my sister who isn’t formally trained in art or music, but she still does it because it makes her happy. Don’t stop yourself from doing something just because you don’t have formal training. Just get out there are start doing it. If you’re sitting at home during a hurricane one day, just grab some scissors and start cutting.
You can find more of Nancey at the links below:
Hathor Taught Me
An excerpt from Nancey's blog Diary of a Young Black Author in Need of a Hug
I don’t know how many more rough patches I’ll have to endure as I write this novel. And if there are more, hopefully they won’t be as bad as the last one. That was a low point for me and, for the first time, I actually considered giving up on the project completely. Never mind the 35,000 words already written; the story; this blog; my sanity. None of it mattered at that point because I had zero confidence that I would be able to finish this thing, even though I knew it would kill me not to finish.
It was one hell of a mercury retrograde to say the least. But since I’m writing this post now, that means that I haven’t given up. I’m still working to fulfill a lifelong dream. Only this time, I’ve added a few more things to my writing repertoire to prevent myself from ever hitting such a low again.
Back in April, I attended a wellness retreat hosted by HeyFranHey, Maryam Hasnaa, and Yeradmi. If you haven’t heard of this retreat, I implore you to visit their website and start living your best life. The cities on this nationwide tour are already sold out, but there will be opportunities in the future to participate. It was an afternoon of yoga, mindful meditation, deep conversations, and overall good vibes.
In the midst of my retrograde moment, it was at this retreat where the Universe threw me a bone to dig myself out of the hole that I was sitting in. Resting at the base of an altar situated in the center of the room was a deck of goddess cards, face-down. Fran invited all of us to draw one card and meditate on its meaning and what the goddess on the card is trying to tell us.
I chose Hathor.
Or rather, Hathor chose me.
One of the more famous Egyptian goddesses, Hathor represents, among a plethora of things, benevolence, receptivity, feminine energy, and conception. On the card, beneath an artistic recreation of Hathor (depicted as a black woman) was a quote: “Allow yourself to receive. This will increase your intuition, energy, and ability to give to others.”
Receive so that you may give abundantly.
The realization of how I could apply this to my own life didn’t hit me right away. I was too jaded by doubt and insecurity to understand what was right in front of me. However, I did leave the retreat open to the idea of receiving whatever the Universe had in store for me.
Some weeks later, as I thumbed through Twitter, I came across an article about a Young Adult Fantasy writer named Tomi Adeyemi who had just struck a multimillion-dollar deal to develop a movie based on her yet-to-be-released debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone.
Tomi is 23 years old.
My initial reaction: “Here’s yet another giant’s success story to make me feel worse than I already do.”
Upon further thought: “Tomi, patron saint of Black Girl Magic, teach me your ways.”
Receive so that you may give abundantly.
After a few Google searches, I learned that Tomi is also a creative writing instructor and has an online course dedicated to teaching enrollees the plot development style that she used to write her own novel.
I viewed the instructional videos.
I thought of Hathor.
I saw the price of the course.
I thought of Hathor.
I thought of Hathor.
Receive. Receive. Receive. And receive I did. Tomi is giving so that I may receive and be equipped to give my story to the world just as she had. She’s spreading the Good News, really. And I couldn’t be more proud to call her my teacher.
Most importantly, I couldn’t be more proud of myself for climbing out of the hole.
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Light a Candle for the Fictional Ancestors
An excerpt from Nancey's blog Diary of a Young Black Author in Need of a Hug
There is power in lighting candles. Healing power. Calming power. Spiritual power. It is the effects of these powers that are the reasons why I keep lit candles near to me almost daily. There is a single candle on my altar at home, for example, and one of its many functions is to make me feel connected to my known and unknown ancestors while I meditate. It’s a practice that I take very seriously and recently (as in today) I incorporated it into my routine as I write this novel.
Now that you all have been following this blog for about eleven months, I think that it is only fitting that I give you a glimpse into the world that I am creating within my head.
*Don’t get too excited though… you get no plot summaries from me. *
I am a daughter of the South and have grown up in the back woods of southeast Georgia for virtually my entire life. Because of this, I have come of age in a culture of Black American folklore that is unique to the culture in which I grew up. There are tons of stories—related and unrelated to my family—that date back generations up until slavery that offer explanations for why some people are the way they are or why certain landmarks carry certain reputations—good or bad.
In the spirit of these stories of lore, I created a scenario in chapter six that explains the origins of an important dirt road. The story involves slaves from whom my main characters are direct descendants.
As I wrote this story, which is fictional as far as I know, I suddenly felt my body and mind become meditative: as if the ancestors of my main characters were my own and I was connecting to them as I wrote about them. This made me stop writing mid-sentence, close all of the window blinds, and light every candle in my room; for this origin story, this fictional story of folklore, suddenly because something that felt of fact.
And as the story spilled from my thoughts onto paper, it felt as if I, myself, were tasked with carrying on an oral tradition that had been passed down for generations. I suddenly felt a responsibility to my fictional ancestors to not mess this up.
To not take this story lightly.
To tell it in a way that sparks the imagination.
To tell it in a way that leaves the reader begging for more details though no details can ever be found. That’s the power and mystery of folklore that I have always been so fascinated with.
So today, as I wrote the story in a dark room with candles lit, I felt a sense of pride in thinking that the fictional ancestors would be proud of me.
Though now that I think about it, those ancestors may not be as fictional as I may think. Yes, the story is technically made up and yes, the people in the story did not exist in real life. Yet, I still view them in the same way that I view all of the relatives whom I never met but have lived before me; and in a way, continue to live in me. Therefore, those “made up” individuals in this novel may not even be fictional after all, but instead actual people around whom I’ve created a fictional story.
I like the sound of that.