BHM: Interview with author Leesa Cross-Smith

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EP Presnell

“This Close to Okay” released earlier this month on February 2. You can buy it wherever books are sold.

EP Presnell

Author Leesa Cross-Smith recently released her fourth book, “This Close to Okay,” which centers around two strangers, Tallie and Emmett, who meet one night when Tallie talks Emmett from jumping off a bridge. The book follows the pair as they grapple with the secrets they hold from one other and work towards what brought Emmett to the bridge in the first place. It’s a powerful story about chance and the crazy ways in which the world works.

Cross-Smith is a Manual graduate from the Class of ‘96. She took the time to answer some questions about herself and her newest book.

Q: How did you get into writing books? Did you have a passion for writing as a student, did anybody inspire you, things like that?

A: I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t think or know it was something I could actually do for a living. It seemed like one of those things only other people got to do! I’ve always loved books and writing and got a B.A. in English from UofL. As far as inspiration, my parents always supported my dreams growing up…my dad always took me to the library and the bookstores and books were my “treats” whenever something special or awesome happened.

Q: What was your inspiration for “This Close to Okay”? Was there any particular reason you wanted it set in Louisville? 

A: My inspiration for books/stories almost always comes from a single image I focus on. For “This Close to Okay” the image was a rain-soaked man on a bridge wanting to jump, but instead, a woman stops him and brings him home with her. I do love setting my books/stories in Louisville simply because I think it’s pretty awesome to pick up a book and have it set in your hometown.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from this book? 

A. It would be cool if readers took away the idea that kindness matters…that mercy matters…that asking someone how they’re doing matters. That we’re all connected whether we want to be or not and it’s up to us how we want to use those connections. To make the world better or worse? Let’s choose better, together..

Q: What was it like creating Tallie and Emmett? What did you draw from to create such complex and outstanding characters?

A: Thanks so much for the high compliment! I love creating characters from scratch and imagining every little bit of their lives, even the things that don’t always make it into my books. It really does all just come from my imagination and who/what I need them to be like in order to make the story work.

Q: How did writing this book compare to writing your previous books?

A: My last book before this was a short story collection called “So We Can Glow” and writing short stories is both the same and different from writing a novel. The same in that I’m writing, being creative, working…but different because with short stories I’m obviously in and out a lot quicker. Novels take me longer to write, for sure. And I do more research over a longer period of time, there are more characters, etc.

Q: As a Black author, why do you feel it is important that more Black stories are told and that people support Black authors?

A: I’m interested in the entire spectrum of Blackness and within that, I included very ordinary things. Black people do not walk around thinking about being Black all the time. We’ve been Black our entire lives…it’s nothing new for us. I think it’s important for Black authors/artists to be able to express the same range of emotions/feelings/themes/stories that non-Black authors/artists do. A focus on the human and who we are inside. I write stories/books that appeal to what makes us human and what we do with those hearts, period.

Q: What books do you recommend for people interested in reading more Black stories this month, ranging from non-fiction to fiction? 

A: I would encourage readers to dig into writers like Roxane Gay and Gwendolyn Brooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Dana Johnson, Catherine Adel West, Bethany C. Morrow, Jasmine Guillory, Rion Amilcar Scott, Raven Leilani, Phillis Wheatley, James Baldwin, Lucille Clifton, Ashley C. Ford, Jason Reynolds. So many!

Q: When did you find out your book was going to be in Book of the Month and what was that experience like?

A: Wild! There’s a lot of competition in this business so a huge thing like that is a really big win. I found out a little over a month before and was super stoked and had to keep it secret for a bit, which is also how a lot of things work in publishing. Big things kept secret for a long time. I’m used to it now!

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your book or would like the Manual and Louisville community to know?

A:  Shoutout to YPAS and dear old Manual, for sure! My husband and I met at Manual about 25 years ago and it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I’m Class of ’96 and he’s Class of ’97. Love the ‘Ville for life! Thanks so much for having me and for reading. Stay soft! Mind yourselves! Shine shine shine! 

“This Close to Okay” was released on Feb. 2, 2021, and is available wherever books are sold. You can find out more about Cross-Smith on her website.