Monday Dec 14th, 2015
An essay by Da’Shawn Mosley (2012 YoungArts Winner in Writing + U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts)
My father died when I was three years old. I was with my mother the day he stood outside of the only store in Sellers, South Carolina. He grew up in that town, a place so small that it still doesn’t have a stoplight. A place almost completely populated, then and now, by his relatives. It makes sense that it mattered so much to the citizens of Sellers when my father was gunned down that day in front of the store. Or maybe it was the fact that one of his cousins pulled the trigger, someone whom my father—and the rest of Sellers—considered “family.”
I decided I wanted to be a writer in third grade. It is often so that writers become writers in response to trauma in their lives, or broken childhoods they barely lived through. Although my father’s death definitely had an impact on me, his death wasn’t what inspired me to write. In third grade, I was a huge fan of the animated show Justice League on Cartoon Network. When I learned the show was ending, I couldn’t wait to see the series finale. But, as it turns out, I ended up not liking it. So I rewrote the ending and showed it to my English teacher the next day. She asked me to read it aloud and my classmates loved it. That was the beginning of it all.
But the year I turned seven years old, the police linked my mother to a string of armed robberies in the area. The night she told me she was headed to prison I lay across my bed, seized a fistful of sheets, and sobbed. She called me back into the living room, wiping her own eyes, so she could tell me to stop crying—because everything would be alright—and ask who I would want to live with while she served her time. I didn’t have anyone particular in mind, nor did I care a whole lot about who it turned out to be. Just as long as my sister Jannevia, my brother Titus and I remained together. However, until recently, I hadn’t seen Jannevia and Titus in almost six years. It was remarkable that they still recognized me. I, sadly, didn’t recognize them.
The first couple of months into her prison sentence my mother learned she was pregnant again. She had my brother, Jakario. When the hospital discharged her, the Florida Department of Children and Families took him away and gave him to a foster family. I didn’t speak to Jakario until he was five and I was sixteen. My mother wrote the family’s phone number in the top left corner of a letter she sent me. A woman answered, and after I explained who I was—I’m Jakario’s brother. Can I speak to him please?—she called him to the phone. But after that day, we never spoke again.
I’ve experienced a lot more than most teenagers have, and I believe those events made me mature at a very early age. It’s a maturity that, I hope, echoes throughout my work as an artist. Writing has become, for me, a process of healing. I read somewhere once that no one should become a writer unless the medium has become a necessity, unless the person cannot see themselves doing anything else. I write because I have a desperate need to understand myself and the world I live in. I write to repair my family, and in the process show others ways to heal the broken bonds they share with their own.
In eleventh grade, with lots of assistance from Mr. Willie Shaw and Mrs. Modestine Samuels of Wilson High School, I was able to apply to the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. When I found out I had been accepted, I was so happy. But, even so, I had no clue how much I would learn about writing. Thanks to George Singleton, Scott Gould, and Mamie Morgan, I’ve grown tremendously as an artist. I will always cherish their instruction. I will also always cherish my grandparents, Ora and Calvin Braddy, who’s decision to do whatever it took to keep me in the Governor’s School—even when new hurdles came my way—I will forever be thankful for.
I have no clue where my writing will take me. I have ideas—I think I know how I want to improve as a writer—but I also thought that before I went to the Governor’s School and the creative writing program turned out to be not what I expected but exactly what I needed. Now I’m headed to the University of Chicago in the fall, where Kurt Vonnegut, Saul Bellow, Campbell McGrath, and other great writers studied, and where I hope I’ll follow in their footsteps to become another cherished artist in this world. Like I said, I have no clue where my writing will take me. But I know where it’s brought me so far, paired with the love and care I’ve received from so many people who believed in my talent, which makes me excited for the future and hopeful that I’ll continue to find success.
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