Interview with Venise Berry

By Towana Wright

In your professional career you started out in radio news. What motivated you to become a teacher?

Honestly, I didn’t like the real world. The radio/TV industry is a 24/7 deal. Holidays don’t matter— it is always busy. I wanted a life that was more stable, calm — less hectic.

Why do you write?

I have always loved to write but I didn’t plan to be an author. I was inspired by Terry McMillan’s book Disappearing Acts to turn a screenplay that I wrote in a scriptwriting class into a novel. That story, So Good: An African American Love Story was my first published novel.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a writer?

Finding time to actually write. I can’t write an hour a day like some authors. It takes me an hour to get back into my characters and immerse myself into the plot. I’m lucky that my teaching position at the University of Iowa is designed to allow publishing productivity, so I try to carve out two or three days a month, usually over a weekend to concentrate.

What writer do you most admire?

It is hard to choose one. Probably Octavia Butler —her science fiction is awesome and Zora Neale Hurston — love her short stories

What is the most important thing you want to impart to your students?

Good writing is all about revising. Every time you revise the piece it gets tighter, clearer, stronger and better. Repeat after me: Revision is my friend.

In your novel All of Me: A Voluptuous Tale, you explore two important themes: body image and mental health. In writing about these topics what new light were you hoping to shed on these issues?

All of my novels are designed to help the reader experience growth and some element of passion. In All of Me, the main character, Serpentine, has bought into all of the negative stereotypes and myths concerning her plus-sized figure and beauty. She must learn to love herself just the way she is. In Colored Sugar Water, there are two main characters one who believes in everything and the other doesn’t know what to believe. Each takes a different journey to find their faith. In So Good, An African American Love Story, I wanted to explore the ups and down, gives and takes, changes and compromises people make to create a love that is so good.

What are your goals as a writer?

I just want to keep writing. I enjoy writing in a variety of different areas. So, in addition to my three novels, I have co-authored two books on African American film with my brother S. Torriano Berry. I have co-edited two books, one on African Americans and Media and the other on Black Culture and Experience. I have written book chapters and journal articles covering numerous topics under the umbrella of Media, Popular Culture and African Americans. I have also finished a memoir and I’m hoping to get some good news from my agent any day now.

How do you stay motivated as a writer/what keeps you inspired?

I write about topics I am interested in learning about. This gives me the motivation to do the necessary research, and then sit down to plan, organize and write the book whether fiction or non-fiction.

You co-authored two non-fictions books The Historical Dictionary of African American Film and The 50 Most Influential Black Films, with your brother, S. Torriano Berry, a professor in film at Howard University. What was that experience like for you?

I love working with my brother. We have started talking about writing another book together but we have to come up with a subject. We worked together a couple of years ago on a video drama exploring HIV/AIDS and African Americans. I wrote the script and produced while he shot and edited it. We hope to start a documentary project next year on racialism and the media based on my research which examines images of and messages about African Americans, specifically those tied to stereotypes, myths and bias.

What is your philosophy on workshops?

I think the most important aspect of writing workshops is the participatory realm. It is important for students to get and give feedback on work that is in the process. This helps them to become better readers and writers.