Interview with Chrishaunda Lee Perez

We’ve been lucky to host a number of author visits already this year! Our TA Lishan ‘20 sat down with one visiting writer. Read the interview below!

 

In early September, I had the opportunity to interview Chrishaunda Perez, the author of We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women when she came to visit Castilleja. Chrishaunda told me she had always enjoyed writing, filling many journals with her thoughts, and noting that she “just evolved writing into a profession.” She attended an all-girls boarding school in Connecticut and she said that experience and the teachers there influenced and cultivated her writing. After graduating from college, she ended up becoming a public relations professional in the fashion industry, combining both writing and fashion. When Chrishaunda had her first daughter, she took to writing during the quiet and introspective moments that caring for her daughter provided. She said that she wrote “a lot of things that I hated, a lot of things that I would never share with anyone…but at least I was getting my ideas on the paper.” After gaining a little more confidence, she began writing essays and started a blog that often touched on taboo topics regarding women. Chrishaunda one day thought to herself, “I wanna write something that’s just longer.”

It took Chrishaunda seven years to write her book We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women. The book takes place at a boarding school and has many girls from around the world and of different backgrounds, including voices that she thinks we “don’t have enough of in literature.” She adds, “Often times [in literature], their lives are being seen through the eyes of their white friends.” She expressed to me that she did get a bit of push-back from people who believed some of the experiences she was writing about were not commercially viable, for example, people who told her to make the black girl in her story “rougher.” At this point, I mention a video that I watched for English last year called “The Power of a Single Story,” which emphasized the consequences of having only one narrative that is being used to draw conclusions about a group of people or a place. Chrishaunda has watched this too, and she says “It’s not even the power of a single story, it’s the danger of a single story.”

Chrishaunda’s book is authentic to what she knows from her high school experience. She said, “I’ll tell you what it’s not, because I didn’t experience these things. I don’t talk about drugs, I don’t talk about bullies, the book doesn’t talk a whole lot about obsession with boys, because that’s just not my experience.” Instead, We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women explores themes of being there for one another, body shifts, culture, sexuality, friend and parental tension, and more with complexity.

One of the most impactful things Chrishaunda told me was the deeper purpose behind her work. She said, “I thoroughly enjoy communicating and spreading information to people that will help uplift them through comedy, through drama, and you really just talk about topics that are otherwise difficult to discuss, because it’s all about healing.”

As Thanksgiving break approaches, I encourage you to borrow Chrishaunda’s book We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women from the library!

  

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