bill berry, jr.:
Ms. Katumu, thank you for your willingness to chat with me. I suspect we will get to explore a lot of territory about you over the next little while so I will get us started. You have a very intriguing name that is somewhat mysterious and magical. Who are you named after, why, and what is your cultural heritage? Have you found that people tend to mispronounce your name and have you ever used a nickname?
This first question is so funny to me and unexpected. I appreciate the compliment on my name. I’ve never heard it described as mysterious or magical, but I’ll definitely take the compliment. Unfortunately, the story behind my first name isn’t very magical. In the Seventies, my mom was watching TV and saw a commercial for a clothing material named Quiana which she really liked for a girl’s name. So she decided to name me Quiana. Over the years, people have attached many nicknames to me: Qui, Q, and Qui-Qui. In high school a girl came up with a name for me that I can’t even begin to spell: Ke-Coo-Ke-Lah, somehow it stuck and friend’s from high school started calling me that and some still do. I think most people settle on Qui. Yes most people mispronounce my name, always have and always will. Even people in my family don’t pronounce my name correctly, including my grandmother. Most of them call me by my middle name, Monique. I’m assuming when you ask about the cultural heritage part, it’s attributed to my last name, Katumu.
There is a lot of cultural heritage attached to that name, but it’s my married name. My husband is Kenyan, who doesn’t know where the name came from, but they are the only known family in Kenya who carries that name. Nobody ever pronounces this name correctly either. My maiden name is Rogers, which is pretty boring, but I joke that before I got married at least I had one easy name that I could give at restaurants etc… Now it’s just hopeless! Haha Wow, my answer was a lot longer than I intended! To make it a little longer, I’ll just add, I don’t really know my cultural heritage, but I am curious. I get that question a lot, not because of my name really, but I think because of my light skin. The only thing I’ve been told is that my great Aunt’s parents were Black and Native American, but she doesn’t know the tribe. I would like to research one day.
And who says that there is nothing to a name. Interestingly, your middle and maiden names raise additional questions for me. As far as this issue of cultural heritage, where are your parents originally from? And share some things about your childhood…where did you grow up…do you have siblings…what is the most interesting thing about you pre-college? I am intrigued by your husband’s surname and his family being the only family carrying the name Katumu; but this is your chat and not Josiah’s (lol.) Oh, I am not surprised that your skin tone creates questions especially since your features have an exotic, mixed-race physicality. More importantly, there is that historical connection between native people and Blacks in America dating back to when Africans were initially brought to America.
Both of my parents are from North Carolina. Wilmington and Chapel Hill. They’re also both Black Americans. North Carolina isn’t very exciting, at least not to me. I have three brothers. I grew up in a small college town (UNC-Chapel Hill) and all I can say is that I always wanted to leave. It was always pretty boring to me. I definitely think Josiah has a very interesting history, more so than mine.
Qui, this chat is becoming even more interesting. I have not done a “couple” conversation or what some people would call a “three-way” but if your husband wants in, let me know. He can respond to my inquiries directed specifically towards him or you two can consult and provide a joint response. Your call. Okay, moving on.
You wanted to leave North Carolina but went to college in that state…what led to that decision? More importantly, you elected to pursue a graduate degree at a divinity institution. Did you ever see yourself as a minister or pastoral leader? And what was going on with you for you to consider graduate work at the institution you pursued your counseling studies at?
Haha well I guess if I happen to talk about him in my answers, but he doesn’t necessarily want to be a full participant. Well, I applied to one out-of-state college, but didn’t get accepted so I had no choice. Even so, I ended up really enjoying N.C. State. Actually, I worked with a not-for-profit college ministry, The Impact Movement for about six years, which I really enjoyed. Also, I just felt like the counseling program was God’s next step for me. I didn’t realize it before I started graduate school, but friends would tell me their problems and I would try to help them work through issues. So, in some ways I was counseling so to speak, but didn’t realize it. Although I always say counseling friends is never okay.
So if I get your academic career right, you pursued criminology and then counseling. With those experiences, what did you do (and have been doing) after graduate school?
After I graduated I worked for a little while with teens, who had been arrested and had diagnosed mental health issues. We would help them come up with goals and a plan to reach those goals. It was a great program. I’m not counseling now or working, so I’m trying to use this time to work on my novel, but that’s a lot harder than it sounds! Also, I got married three years ago, which has been wonderful.
Congratulations on your marriage; wish you several decades of happiness, and may get back to your husband, Josiah further down the road (smile.) As far as your writing, when did that start to be more than a passing fancy for you? Now that you are not working what is your process to write, and what are the major themes and plots of your forthcoming novel?
Thanks a lot.
Actually, I decided I wanted to write a short story, which turned into a longer story, Lost & Found. I just got the idea to try to submit it and aaduna ended up publishing it in your recent edition. Since I had written so much, I decided to keep writing and turn it into a novel. I’m just adding some new characters, neighbors of the sisters, Pam and Violet. The novel follows their lives as Violet and Pam encounter new adventures and challenges. I actually mostly write poetry, which I’ve also been submitting.
And I suspect Pam and Violet will embrace their new adventures and give the reader a further glimpse into their personalities. Now, do you find that your passion rests equally between fiction and poetry, or does one aspect of writing tug at your heart more than another aspect?
I am always intrigued with the structural mechanics that writers follow. Do you write whenever regardless of day or time, or is there a formal, daily timeframe for you to sit and write? What do you do when ‘writers block’ casts a shadow over your writing process?
Oh, sorry I forgot about that question. Well, I did come up with a life schedule, including writing for myself to try to be more productive. Sadly, I’m terrible at following it, so I just get it in as I can. I guess when I can’t think I don’t really do anything special, I usually just sit there until something pops in my head. I try to just write for the fun of it and not pressure myself, but that’s hard to do. I’ve written poetry since I was a kid, which is much easier to me than a story or especially a novel. I feel like I’ve started this novel so I don’t want to give up, but poetry is so quick and so much easier. Poetry has also always been an outlet for me, to express my struggles in life emotionally and otherwise.
Your proficiency in writing poetry begs the question as to whether or not you read your work publicly. Do you? And if so, what is the general response from the audience? And did you find that you were penning more poetry when you initially met Josiah and eventually got married? In fact, how did the two of you meet?
No, I’ve never read my work publicly. I don’t think I wrote more poetry after Josiah and I got married. I tend to write most poetry during times of struggle or sadness. I guess it’s an outlet for me. Josiah and I met in grad school in Florida. We were just friends for about four years before we started dating.
And the friendship grew towards…good for both of you.
Have you become proficient in cooking foods from his country and do you maintain any Kenyan traditions in your home?
What prompted you to move from Florida to the eastern part of the country and what are the differences and similarities between Baltimore, Maryland where you now reside and Florida?
Ha, that’s a good question about the Kenyan food. No, I’m not proficient at all in cooking Kenyan food. I jokingly apologize to Josiah, that I’m sorry he didn’t marry a Kenyan wife. I do make beef stew and he’s taught me how to make spinach, which are both popular Kenyan foods. Josiah actually makes Chapati that is a Kenyan bread that is used to dip in the stew, which is delicious. Kenyan tea is probably the only tradition Josiah has since he’s not very traditional. Sadly, I don’t drink caffeine so I don’t know how to make that either. We moved to Baltimore about a year and a half ago, because Josiah got a new job. I don’t even know where to begin in describing the differences in Florida and Maryland, it’s like night and day. Even though Florida is in the south it’s not very southern if that makes sense. There are a lot of Spanish-speaking people and people from various parts of the Caribbean who live there, which is really cool. Of course it’s always warm or hot. The most exciting thing to me about living in Baltimore is all the Black people that you see everywhere, at the bank, the grocery store, walking down the street, at Starbuck’s etc. Coming from the South, where often things are more segregated and Black people usually aren’t the majority, it’s really exciting to experience this. I’ve also noticed a lot of interracial couples in Baltimore, which is really encouraging. Florida is somewhat diverse, but Baltimore is extremely diverse, which is great. Of course there’s winter and all the snow in Maryland, which I don’t think I’ll ever get used too. Overall, we love it in Baltimore and are glad we moved here.
I don’t know when was the last time Josiah was in Kenya but I trust that such a trip is somewhere in the future for you two. While I have taught myself to cook Senegalese (from traveling there) and Ethiopian (from eating at restaurants) cuisine, I do not know much about Kenyan food. And the Chapattis that I used to routinely make based on traditions in India have been left in favor of naan bread. While we could talk food forever, let me move towards another aspect of culture.
The “blackness” of Baltimore was recently manifested in nationwide news that centered on police mistreatment, racial polarization, economic disparity, and the feeling that many Blacks in Baltimore had been abandoned in favor of corporate and wealthy interests. What were your thoughts then and now about the supposed racial divide in your City even as Blacks are integrated throughout the larger community? And when you mentioned interracial couples, I wondered have you experienced any uncomfortable situations as a bi-cultural couple from folks who wonder about your marriage to a Kenyan (most folks would just say African?) And will any of your feelings and thoughts eventually find ways to permeate your writings especially the novel.
Yea, we plan to visit Kenya again in the next year or two. Chapattis are similar to naan except a little thicker, I think and yummier. 😉
That’s a lot of deep questions and good ones. We just moved here, but of course I would say race issues affecting Baltimore are being felt everywhere in the country. It is really overwhelming, frustrating and sickening to think about it at times. Also, there’s the issue with high numbers of minorities living in poverty, but I will say compared to the South where I lived my whole life, at least in Baltimore you see a fluidity of Black people in every sphere of life. They are working in corporate America, at the supermarket, in Banks, hanging out in Starbucks. It’s wonderful! For example, the apartment complex we lived in when we first moved here, one of my neighbors was a professional classical musician, I believe and another used to be a lawyer, but was working for a health insurance company. I didn’t see a lot of Blacks in those types of roles growing up in the rural south. It’s really encouraging to me.
There are some people who ask about the cultural differences in our marriage, which is fine for me. Actually, I’ve noticed we’ve gotten that question more since moving to Maryland, which I think shows that people recognize there are differences between Blacks in America and Africans. I think it’s a good thing, because it seems to be more awareness up North about cultural differences, which is great. I would like to write a book about Josiah’s life, which I already have one person interested, you, so I guess I’m on my way! Haha
A novel in progress, a possible biography, poetry, you are creating interesting writing pathways for yourself, and I wish you the best of luck. As all good times must, we are looking at letting this conversation go for now. I appreciate the time that you have taken; willingness to chat with me, and thank you for a wonderful conversation. I have enjoyed it.
In closing, is there any advice that you want to offer our readers or provide comments on something that we have not touched on? The stage is yours.
What I live by is to love God, love people and do something you love, because life is hard enough. Thanks a lot for the opportunity!
♦ ♦ ♦
When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.