The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing, soul-searching questions. In the hot seat today: Leslie C. Youngblood, author of the MG debut, LOVE LIKE SKY (Disney-Hyperion, 2018). Her sophomore novel, FOREVER THIS SUMMER, is slated for Summer 2021 (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? I don’t believe there is “perfect happiness.” What is close is the ability to do what you love, be healthy and safe, have some sense of financial security, and wish the same for others — especially those you love.
What is your greatest fear? Losing someone I love.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I don’t “deplore” anything about myself. If I did, I hope that I’d have the sense and courage to change it.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Lack of humanity or conscience. Or whatever allows someone to take the life of another other than in self-defense. The trait that allows someone to attempt to ruin the life of others through abuse.
Which living person do you most admire? My mother. She lives life according to her rules. Living life to the fullest is something that she does instinctually. It’s not a catch-phrase for her.
What is your greatest extravagance? Making my home a personal writing retreat.
What is your current state of mind? Wondering if what I’m doing — whatever I’m doing — is enough. Striving do more but maintaining peace.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? I wouldn’t say any virtue is overrated. It’s the lack of some that’s problematic, but as I think about the question a little more, I might lean toward “patience” in regard to changes that need to be made in everything from the publishing industry to basic human rights. Patience is often misused.
On what occasion do you lie? If there’s a way to skate around the truth when it means not crushing someone’s spirits or hopes.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Too” is the word I found too many of while I was re-reading my forthcoming book. My characters have a tendency to want to include others. I think I have that tendency, too. See … lol.
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? Naturally gifted singer.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Choosing not to hate. I haven’t reached that level where I love everyone, but there is peace in not hating anyone.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A blues singer — I’m talking Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Bobby Blue Bland, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King.
What is your most treasured possession? Memories of my brother, Sammy, and time we’ve shared alone or with family and friends. Memories of anyone I’ve loved who éisn’t physically here anymore. And the love I have from my family and friends. Perhaps that is abstract, but love is given to you, so it should be treasured.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Sudden loss. No “goodbye.” When I think of it from my mother’s point of view of losing a child, I crumble. Incomprehensible.
What do you most value in your friends? Understanding.
Who are your favorite writers? Toni Morrison. James Baldwin. Jewell Parker Rhodes. Terry McMillan. Bernice L. McFadden. Tayari Jones. Pearl Cleage. Renée Watson. Rita Williams-Garcia. Any writers who seek to explore the way in which Black people live, love, and deal with joy, as well as loss, so that includes too many writers to name. Marita Golden is another writer I admire. I re-read and reflect on her past and present works, and how she’s built her career.
Who is your hero of fiction? A secretary named Nettie gave me a copy of Go Tell It on the Mountain. It changed everything for me. I was in my twenties, working as a receptionist and going to night school. My major was marketing. After reading Baldwin, I changed my major to creative writing and never looked back, so I credit her as my real-life fiction shero. Oh, wait — now that I’m realizing this question is what character in fiction is my hero … lol. Okay, I couldn’t name one. There are three in Beloved alone.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? No one in particular. I’m a product of countless people who worked to overcome the odds, regardless of what this country dished out. All of my ancestors are historical figures to me. My hometown — Bogalusa, Louisiana — was known as Klanstown, USA, but, yet, here I am. Here we are.
What is your motto? Most quotes that I’ve loved, from Thoreau to Baldwin, have to do with “endurance,” or “going confidently in the directions of your dreams.” It may be a cliché to some: Never give up.
LESLIE C. YOUNGBLOOD received an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A former assistant professor of creative writing at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, she has lectured at Mississippi State University, UNC-Greensboro, and the University of Ghana at Legon. She’s been awarded a host of writing honors, including a 2014 Yaddo’s Elizabeth Ames Residency, the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Prize, a Hurston Wright Fellowship, and the Room of Her Own Foundation’s 2009 Orlando Short Story Prize. Born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, and raised in Rochester, New York, Love Like Sky is her debut novel. When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys watching everything from sitcoms to Columbo. Learn more about Leslie on her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.