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Terry McMillan Discusses Her New Book 'Who Asked You?'

By Lashawn Hudson Contributing Writer | 10/25/2013, 11:01 a.m.
Terry McMillan

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Who Asked You?

ATLANTA—When you think about black women narratives/women’s fiction, in particular over the last 25 years, it’s simply impossible not to note the influence of Terry McMillan. Since her first book, “Mama” in the late 1980’s, The New York Times best-selling author has been known for stories that portray black women as protagonists. A lot of her literary works seek to explore real life issues confronting black women such as: marriage, divorce, single parenting, drug addiction, homosexuality and so much more.

After changing the literary game in the 1990’s with best-sellers like “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and most recently in 2005 with “Getting Happy,” McMillan is back with her newly penned novel, “Who Asked You?” It’s a 384-page book centered around a grandmother who is forced to raise her grandchildren after her daughter does a disappearing act.

The veteran novelist recently sat down with The Atlanta Voice for an interview over coffee to discuss “Who Asked You?” and her lingering curiosity of the latest matriarch character, Betty Jean. Fashionably dressed in a teal sweater, jeans with matching multicolored splattered paint oxfords and a tightly coiled burgundy afro, Ms. McMillan greeted me with a huge smile. We found a great table inside the restaurant where she sat across from me and I began to record. Here’s what she had to say.

AV:  Why the title “Who Asked You?”

TM: I’ll put it this way, I’m the oldest of five and for years I’ve always felt like this surrogate mother. And so, with my younger siblings, I use to always have to comb their hair, cook and make sure their homework was done, while my mother was at work. Over the years, I made quite a few comments about things that they’ve done that I thought were stupid or ridiculous. But I don’t say it like that. Over the years, I’ve learned to ease up. People don’t usually take advice, even when it’s good advice and sometimes people who give advice are sometimes very judgmental. I don’t see myself that way, but it’s probably true. To [over] exaggerate situations is what you do in fiction. The characters I created to do this are super critical and rarely look at their own behavior when they are criticizing and judging others, even though they may have good intentions. I wanted to show who to listen to and who to ignore.

AV: What inspired you to write, “Who Asked You?”

TM: I was really curious about grandparents and I have been for a long time, particularly grandmothers who opt to raise their grandchildren for whatever reason. And usually more often than not, it’s drug related and/or the result of a death of a parent. I always empathize. I read a lot of books about it and I interviewed quite a few grandmothers. I really wanted to tell a story about a grandmother who was put in a position to raise her grandchildren. Betty Jean has options, but she decided to take on a second shift [raising grandchildren].