Mary Hill-Wagner believes that as a writer nothing is wasted. As a little girl, the love of writing was nurtured with every book she read, but she was also increasingly aware of the lack of literature reflecting the life she had known from childhood. Her new memoir, “Girlz ‘N the Hood,” is Hill-Wagner’s first attempt to tell her story.
Hill-Wagner’s writing career began in high school as a newspaper editor. Graduating from Compton High School as a valedictorian, she then went to USC, writing for student publications including the Daily Trojan, and earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism.
Hill-Wagner has reported for several newspapers across the country such as the Simi Valley Sun, Anaheim Bulletin, Las Vegas Sun, Des Moines Register, and Chicago Tribune while earning a master’s degree from Ohio State University and a doctorate. in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has also taught as a journalism professor at several colleges and universities, including USC as an assistant research professor.
“There’s a lot to learn about the theory of how media works, but it’s also good to have had your hands dirty,” Hill-Wagner said of his teaching experience. “I was able to bring that [expertise as a journalist] to the class, and according to my students, this made my classroom presentation unique.
According to Hill-Wagner, the inspiration for the memoir “Girlz ‘N the Hood,” released in September, was sparked by an undergraduate creative writing course at USC taught by Clancy Segal. The class was tasked with writing about someone they personally admired. Hill-Wagner described being “surprised” that none of her classmates wrote about their parents, while she wrote about her mother.
Segal was intrigued by his writing.
“He reads [the essay], and he said, ‘You know, it could be a book. And it was two, three pages. And I said, ‘No, I don’t really want to – I want to be an overseas correspondent for The Washington Post. I don’t have time for books. And he said, “Well, no, think about it,” Hill-Wagner said.
Years later, after three careers, Hill-Wagner returned to the idea inspired by Segal’s early encouragement. Compiling letters, journals, and reminiscences of his young self and his mother, Hill-Wagner wrote the memoir – his first book – centered on his mother, a strong matriarchal figure determined to raise Hill-Wagner and his other 10 brothers. and sisters in South Central.
Jaynie Royal, publisher and editor-in-chief of Regal House Publishing, said the style of the briefs was like an invitation.
“[The book] has an immediacy, which is really appealing, ”said Royal. “Reading the book, one has the impression of being there with [Hill-Wagner]. Her mother feels like a warm embrace. She is so full of heart, humor and joy which is also wonderful and amazing considering the adversities she faced and the challenges the family had to overcome.
While there have been movies and books about growing up as a black man in America from films such as “Boyz ‘N the Hood” and “Straight Outta Compton”, there was “hardly anything about the women and girls in the neighborhood,” says Hill-Wagner.
According to Hill-Wagner, she faced challenges in journalism as a black woman and even presenting the book. As a journalist, she has strictly stayed away from the current story, even in the midst of provocation from others. But this memoir gave the opportunity to tell her story, a story she knows important, while building confidence in her ability to tell it.
“It’s not a fairy tale. So bad things are happening. There are drugs; there are guns; there is violence. But there is also hope, ”said Hill-Wagner. “And I also wanted to be the message, not just a lot of stories about how women and girls are treated, because we are treated terribly in the neighborhood and places like that, but also the possibilities that exist for it. survive it. I wanted this to be the story [as well]. “
Andrea Somberg, Hill-Wagner’s literary agent at the Harvey Klinger literary agency, said the memoir was a moving portrayal of a loving family staying together amid poverty, racism and difficult circumstances.
“They continue to face these challenges and how Mary, but most importantly her mother, this incredible and strong matriarch of a woman, is determined to take care of her babies, to take care of her children and to do such a heroic job,” Somberg said. “Much of the heroism is just the everyday, just life, and I think it’s really a story about all of the heroism.”
Finishing the book was a challenge, said Hill-Wagner, as it meant revisiting not only the loving childhood moments with family members, but also the most difficult ones. Still, as she finished labor, she said she felt an unexpected shutdown on what her mother meant to her years later. It was like recovering a piece of his back years after his death.
“It was a challenge to remember all of these things. Remembering funny things is good, but remembering emotionally heartbreaking things [was] hard. And then taking them down, it was very difficult, ”said Hill-Wagner. “I used to remember some of the things that happened to my mother with great sadness. But, the sadness hasn’t been as acute since the end of this book, so it helped me that way.
In telling her story, Hill-Wagner wants this book to encourage more women and girls, especially black women, to share their stories without fear of being judged.
“We have such a rich culture, but we’re afraid of being judged, by these outside forces, by men and white people in particular, I think. And so we don’t tell our stories, ”Hill-Wagner said. “But we get resentful if someone else tells our stories. We are part of the American experience and we should be proud of it.
Hill-Wagner is currently working on a fictional novel, which she describes as a different but more joyful experience compared to her non-fiction plays.
“Someone asked me: ‘Who [“Girlz ‘N the Hood”] for?’ And I said, ‘This book is for everyone who’s had a mother, and for everyone who hasn’t. Which is everyone, really.