New York native and current Atlanta resident Denene Millner is an award-winning journalist, former Parenting columnist, editor, and New York Times best-selling author, having co-authored Straight Talk, No Chaser and Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man, both with comedian Steve Harvey. A writer for 30 years, Denene has written 23 books, been a reporter at The Associated Press and The New York Daily News and has appeared on NPR, The Today Show, and more. Earlier this year, she announced Denene Millner Books, her new line of black children’s books which she describes as “a love letter to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books.”
In 2008, Denene founded the irreverent, critically-acclaimed blog, MyBrownBaby.com (hosted at DreamHost), which encourages African American mothers and parents to share their voices and opinions in a safe, respectful space. Denene was inspired to create the blog during the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain: “I had a few things to say about the difference in the way the media was covering Sarah Palin and, specifically, her daughter Bristol, versus the way Michelle Obama and her daughters were being covered.”
Denene has two new books coming out later this year, both of which are co-authored memoirs, with Cookie Johnson (Magic Johnson’s wife) and actress Taraji P. Henson. A former entertainment journalist, Denene’s current pop culture obsessions include R&B/Neo Soul musical artists (e.g. Anderson Paak, The Internet, Hiatus Kaiyote, Tyler the Creator), and really good television featuring “strong, outspoken, intelligent, badass women who aren’t afraid to run things” (e.g. Queen of the South, Survivor’s Remorse, Power, Tyrant).
At BlogHer ’16, Denene will be speaking at “Behind the Curtain: Blog to Book From the Publisher’s Point of View.” We spoke with Denene to get advice on blogging and publishing, how she keeps sane as a hard-working mother, and what we can do as a society to create safe spaces for black mothers in today’s racial tension-filled world:
How did you know you wanted to become a writer? Was there a specific moment?
My physics grades sucked and my dreams of being an architect died with my C’s. My dad encouraged me to seek a different career path because math clearly was not my ministry. I decided in the ninth grade to be a television journalist, ended up with a scholarship from my local newspaper, and learned how to write in the summers during a series of internships with Long Island Newsday. I figured out I could write at age 17 when I made $500 for writing a freelance piece for Black Collegian magazine. It felt like I’d made $5 million! I knew from that moment that making a living as a writer was possible and fun.
At this week’s BlogHer, you’ll be speaking at “Behind the Curtain: Blog to Book From the Publisher’s Point of View”. Can you share one key piece of advice you would give to someone who’s thinking of turning their blog into a book?
I would say it’s important to have a critical amount of work that really taps into not only the subject at hand but the passion you’ve poured into your blog. A body of work is nothing if it is devoid of passion—the soul that inspires readers to laugh, think, act. You can have 300 blog posts, but if they do not come from an authentic, passionate place, they have no business in a book.
Denene, not only are you a wife and mother, you’re also a best-selling author and the editor of mybrownbaby.com. What tips can you share on finding the balance between your career and personal lives? How do you stay sane?
Wine. Sunsets. Good TV. Great music. A lot of fun with my friends. All of these things keep me sane. Because really, there is no such thing as balance. Not in my house. I can’t focus on work and be perfect and present at home. I can’t be perfect and present at home and do well with my work. My family and I have an understanding: when I am working, I’m best left alone. I am focused and my manners and good will fly out the window. When I come back out from under that haze, then I can be a good mom and decent wife and a great friend. Luckily, I’ve been at this long enough for my family and friends to understand that. I think it’s really unfair to expect women to balance career and personal lives and do both perfectly. No one asks this of men.
You founded MyBrownBaby with the intent to create a safe space online for black mothers. What can we as a community do to create a similar safe space online and in the outside world, in our daily lives?
The best way to create safe spaces both online and in-real-life is to hold people to the standard of decency. We don’t all have to agree and differing opinions are welcome, surely. But today, online ugliness is as normal as water is wet, and peoples’ keyboard gangsterism spills over into real-world interactions. If people could just think about their words and consider how productive they are BEFORE they write or say them, this world would be a better place. So it’s encouraging friends, family, acquaintances to table the ugliness, consider the opinions of others and try, at the very least, to be decent to your fellow human beings.