The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French novelist and essayist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing, soul-searching questions. In the hot seat today: Mariama J. Lockingon, author of the MG debut, For Black Girls Like Me (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? A cozy home that brings me safety and belonging, time with loved ones and chosen family, and engaging with young people and their stories.
What is your greatest fear? I have so many fears and live with anxiety; however, I think my greatest fear is flying and the total lack of control I have in that situation. High school through college I wouldn’t even get on a plane, and that meant I missed out on lots of opportunities to travel. I fly now, but I have to rely on calming and coping techniques to get through a flight. I’m not afraid of the height, so much as the thought that if something happens, there’s nothing I can do to fix or stop it. Every time I fly I just have to surrender to the idea that all I can do is breathe and be present in my body.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I’m so overachieving that I set self-imposed deadlines, and then I find myself in an anxiety/procrastination shame spiral when I don’t meet them. Then I berate myself for the failure that I am, even though the only person I’m accountable to is myself. So in short, I’m my worst critic and bully.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? The inability to be vulnerable or apologize. There’s no way to go through life without hurting someone, that’s a given, but the worst kind of person is someone who is so wrapped up in their own trauma and ego that they can’t admit when they are wrong or hurting themselves or others. Apologizing is not a weakness, it’s how we grow.
Which living person do you most admire? A current living hero is Marley Dias, the young activist and writer responsible for the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign and host of the Netflix series Bookmarks.
What is your greatest extravagance? Luxury lipstick. I have an obscene collection of bold lips that I covet and add to on the regular. Lipstick makes me feel powerful and joyful, and I will spend all my coins for a new shade.
What is your current state of mind? Exhausted and overwhelmed, just trying to get through this year.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Civility. I think there is a use for anger, passion, and conflict, and that exhibiting these emotions is not being “uncivil” but an advocate for oneself and others. This year in particular is not the year to be “civil” with one another. It’s a time for radical honesty and persistent confrontation of the power systems that dehumanize and kill people every day.
On what occasion do you lie? When I am in survival mode and it could be dangerous to tell the truth or to myself when I’m scared.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? In my writing, I overuse celestial imagery and words— lots of stars, moons, and glittering things. In speech, I often annoy my wife by abbreviating words unnecessarily. For example, at night when I take my melatonin I say: “Oh, it’s time to take my mela!”
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I’d love to be a dancer, specifically with the Alvin Ailey company.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Becoming financially independent and investing in talk therapy.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I’d love to come back as a sea creature— a dolphin or blue whale so I could experience the depths of the ocean.
What is your most treasured possession? The collection of journals/diaries I’ve kept since kindergarten until now.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Engaging in small talk at a party and/or being in an endless, performative meeting about Diversity and Inclusion.
What do you most value in your friends? Confidence, vulnerability, and truth telling.
Who are your favorite writers? Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde.
Who is your hero of fiction? Lauren Olamina and Janie Mae Crawford.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Billie Holidau–the worlds of grief and joy she conveyed with her voice.
What is your motto? “So, it is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive.” — From the poem “A Litany for Survival” by Audre Lorde
MARIAMA J. LOCKINGTON is a transracial adoptee, author, and educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore shortalls and flower leggings every day to school. Her debut middle-grade novel, For Black Girls Like Me (FSG BYR 2019), is an ALA Notable Middle Grade Book, a Booklist Editors Choice title, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard title, a Project LIT Book Club 2019-2020 selection, and has earned five starred reviews from Shelf Awareness, Publisher’s Weekly, BookPage, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Mariama’s second middle-grade novel, In the Key of Us (FSG BYR), will be out in 2022 and her debut YA novel, Forever is Now (FSG BYR), is also forthcoming. Mariama calls many places home, but currently lives in Kentucky with her partner and her little sausage dog, Henry. Learn more about Mariama on her website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.