In Kimberla Lawson Roby’s novel, Sister Friends Forever, Lynette, Michelle, Serena, and Kenya are “sister friends” living life on their terms. The story is a powerful testament to loving yourself and rebuking societal and personal expectations.
My conversation with Kimberla Lawson Roby circled around writing characters and faith, who inspired her to write this story, and how setting is instrumental for storytelling.
Thank you, Kimberla Lawson Roby, for your responses to our Feminist Book Club audience.
(cw: anxiety, divorce, 9/11, cheating, verbal abuse, mental disorder)
What is your definition of feminism?
For me, feminism means women empowerment, equality for women in all areas of life, and women, in general, having the utmost compassion and respect for all other women.
The book has elements of faith. What is important when writing characters and faith? Can faith be feminist?
When writing about faith in a novel, it sometimes means certain characters will knowingly and willingly commit certain sins, they’ll struggle with temptation, and sometimes they’ll have a hard time treating people in a way they themselves want to be treated. But ultimately, when including these elements of behavior — along with faith — it also means incorporating quite a bit of forgiveness and redemption.
Then, in terms of whether faith can be feminist, what I believe is that a woman can be feminist and, at the same time, have a huge amount of faith in God.
I thought about the television show Girlfriends and the film Waiting to Exhale while reading this story. What were you inspired by when writing this story? How do you hope this novel inspires Black female friendship?
Partly, I was inspired by my own feelings as they relate to the importance of sisterhood and true friendship. I have, of course, written stories about best friends in the past, but this time, I also wanted to focus on the four relationship statuses (single, engaged, married, and divorced), so that every woman who reads Sister Friends Forever will be able to relate to at least one or more of the characters.
I was also inspired by the awesome relationship I have with my two best friends, Kelli and Lori. Kelli and I have been best friends for 51 years, and Lori and I have been best friends for 36 years, and those two women are my dear, beautiful sisters in every sense of the word.
I loved Aunt Jill and Lynette’s parents. There are also Michelle’s parents. How did you imagine and write the elders to be in the story?
Aunt Jill and Lynette’s mom are two of my favorite characters because, as I wrote about both women, I thought a lot about my own mom and who she was as a person. Sadly, my mom passed away nearly 21 years ago, and while I still think about her every single day of my life and I miss her tremendously, it is my mom’s great love for life and her genuine love for all people, no matter who they were, that still remains with my brothers and me and also in our hearts. So whenever you read about any of the elder characters in my books who are similar to Aunt Jill and Lynette’s mom, it is always because I am thinking of my own mom — who was my best friend in the world.
The men in this story are as varied as the women. How did you want the men to complement each woman’s story? How were the men instrumental in what each woman learned about themselves?
I definitely wanted to create a good balance in terms of the men and their various personalities. Serena’s ex-boyfriend and Lynette’s ex-husband are pretty awful individuals, while Michelle’s fiancé and Kenya’s husband are wonderful, loving men. I also wanted to show that regardless of whether each woman experienced a good man, a not-so-nice man, or both, she still learned at least something about herself, as well as about the realities of life.
How is writing about Chicago, IL, Madison, WI, and Mississippi? How were these places instrumental in the storytelling?
So the reason most of my books take place in (or include mentions of) those three areas is because I was born and raised and still reside about 90 miles from Chicago and about 70 miles from Madison, and both my mom, dad, bonus dad, their siblings, and their parents were born in Mississippi. Also, the University of Wisconsin Hospital at Madison is where my mom’s neurosurgeon and radiologist were located. Both her brain tumor surgeries took place there as well, and while her tumor wasn’t cancerous, I drove her back and forth to many, many appointments for exams, testing, and radiation treatments. So, like Chicago and Mississippi, Madison is sort of always in the back of my mind.
What organization of importance to you would you like to amplify to our audience?
In June of this year, I launched a new online women’s community called Successful Women of Faith – The Sisterhood! I am so very excited about it because, for a while, I have wanted to create a safe, private space for women writers and entrepreneurs, for women who aspire to become writers or entrepreneurs, and also for women in the workplace. And most important, I wanted to create a space where women could connect and network and ultimately support, celebrate, and encourage one another — spiritually, personally, and professionally.