By Roz Kay
“I’ve seen the power of stories and how they change people’s lives,” Rolonda Watts says.
“I think that stories are the most powerful thing about human experience. It’s the only thing that we as human beings really own, our story.”
We’re deep into a conversation about her new book, Destiny Lingers, a romance novel that was ten years in the writing. And it’s not just about finding your first love again. Rolonda digs into her personal story—of both prejudice and happiness.
“I wanted to tell this story because I feel as if I’m one of the last generations that actually remembers the two Americas,” she says.
“I remember drinking ‘colored’ water. That was a true story in the book about the teacher pinning the note on my chest, saying I couldn’t go to the park with the class because I was black and they didn’t allow blacks and Jews.
“I remember that. Today, kids can be anything they want—black, white, green, LGBTQ—and it wasn’t that long ago that it was against the law.
“Destiny and Chase, my lead characters, are both coming from families that are very, very, prejudiced. There’s a line in the book where she says ‘he couldn’t play with me because I was black, and I couldn’t play with him because he was poor.’ Classism and racism are such a big deal.”
The inspiration of Maya Angelou—keep the story going
Maya Angelou endorsed Rolonda’s novel, and more than that, she was pivotal in encouraging Rolonda to keep going during the years of writing.
“She was my mother and father’s best friend, and my auntie, by proxy,” Rolonda says.
“Auntie Maya was really there for me a lot, and she was always my inspiration for writing. She was very excited when she knew I was working on this novel. She was very much there for me, on every level.
“As she would say, she was ‘tickled brown’ that I was working on it—she was like, you’ve got to keep the story going. I want to know what’s going to happen. And that’s what she said in her endorsement for my novel.”
Rolonda and I spoke in the first week of April.
“Monday is [Maya’s] birthday,” Rolonda says. “We spent so many Easters and Thanksgivings and Christmases together, and April 4 is also the date that Martin Luther King was killed, so she didn’t celebrate her birthday on that day.
“But it is her birthday, and I think she would be very proud to know that this book is finally on the store shelves.”
A love for her country
Rolonda wanted to celebrate changing attitudes in her novel, as well as recording memories of prejudice. The book’s North Carolina setting has strong personal significance for her, especially Topsail Island.
“I love the island,” she says.
“My grandparents founded the first beachfront community for black people in the state of North Carolina. Before 1948, blacks weren’t allowed on the beach.
“For them to create this community in 1948 and for me to have grown up there … this was something I wanted to save forever, because I love Topsail Island. It’s a love for my country, our progress. Time moves on, destiny lingers. Love conquers all.
“I also wanted a character who didn’t give up on people and didn’t give up on love, despite the adversities that she faced. We see a young couple saying ‘we refuse to carry this into a new generation.’ And I think a lot of us have to make those decisions. You can’t say it’s only white people who are prejudiced. Black people are as prejudiced as anybody else.
“And so it was really my ode to the island and to America, and changing times.”
Words can take people away
Of all the things that Rolonda does—journalist, talk show host, actor and more—being a writer strikes the deepest chord for her.
“I think it’s a strong art,” she says.
“It’s an in your face, take it or leave it art. And I just love the idea that words can take people away to places that they wouldn’t dare go alone.
“It’s such a powerful art. Words have so much power to move nations, to move people, to move hearts and souls. I do many different things but the one common thread throughout everything is that I’m a storyteller.
“I think throughout the history of humanity stories have shaped our lives, and given us direction, and given us hope.
“And I hope my story does that.”
© Roz DeKett
About the author
Rolonda Watts is an Emmy and Cable Ace award–nominated journalist, television and radio talk show host, executive producer, actor, comedienne, voice artist, speaker, humanitarian, and author. She can currently be seen on Dr. Drew on HLN. She can also be heard as Professor Wiseman on “Curious George,” as the announcer for “Divorce Court,” and as warrior priestess Illoai in the latest League of Legends video game. In 2016 she will have a recurring role on the Bounce TV series “In the Cut.” She holds degrees from Spelman College, a master’s degree from Columbia University, and an honorary doctorate from Winston-Salem State University. Rolonda lives in Los Angeles, California. Destiny Lingers is her first novel.