Stacey Abrams Talks Romance Novels, Her Pseudonym, and Establishing Boundaries

“The Art of Desire,” has been reissued and will be available on September 5.

If you've ever had a chance to speak with Stacey Abrams, three words will instantly come to mind: brilliant, funny, and warm. That isn't to say that she seems the opposite of that when she is standing behind a podium or in deep conversation with a reporter about the state of politics. However, in those moments, the three words that may cross your mind are politician, lawyer, and voting rights activist. But that's the thing about multihyphenates: they easily exist in multiple spaces and, in this case, also have a pseudonym that Abrams uses when she writes—Selena Montgomery.

Yes, the first Black woman nominated by a major party for governor of an American state is also a best-selling New York Times author who has reissued one of her first novels, "The Art of Desire." Gracious as ever, she hopped on a phone call with to explain why she uses a pseudonym and how she always looks cool and confident under pressure. At the start of the book, you dedicate it to your family, friends, readers, and Selena. Who and what does she represent to you?

Stacey Abrams: When I started writing, I had no issue with people knowing that Stacey Abrams writes romance, and the only reason for the pseudonym was that I was writing tax policy articles at the exact same time. But in 1999/2000, I got paid for publishing my work for the first time; one was in the traditional policy space, and the other was romance. And then, I got a chance to publish a tax policy article that was going to be in a journal and I was thinking about branding.

Google had just become a thing and I thought, as did my editor, that most writers write one thing or the other. They rarely write in completely divergent spaces. I needed the identity of my romantic self to be separate from the identity of my then-tax policy self and eventually for other things that I became publicly known for doing. But I also want to acknowledge her because she is around as long as readers keep reading my writing.

RELATED: Stacey Abrams Writes Children’s Book About Her Love Of Words You mention in the foreword that you identified with the protagonist, Alex's struggle to shape a single identity. And though this book was originally written some time ago, looking back at that time and now, when you're wearing so many hats. Does the thought of ever shaping a single identity ever cross your mind, or is it that you are just this complex person that needs different outlets to express the whole of who you are?

Stacey Abrams: Exactly that! I was a 25-year-old trying to reconcile graduating from a prestigious law school, going to work for a prestigious law firm. While I had friends doing various things with their lives, none were writing romance novels. Writing romance was not easy at that time, especially for a Black woman. You had only a handful of Black women who were allowed to write romance and put their characters on the cover looking as they did in their imagination.

We had pioneers like Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson, who made it easier. But I still faced questions. 'Well, Stacey, there's nothing culturally specific about your writing,' meaning I didn't write the way they thought a Black writer should. 'What does that mean? And why would I be limited to someone's notion of what my stories can do?' So I was grappling with all that as a 25-year-old, and my character was doing the same differently and at different stages.

Twenty years later, I'm so grateful that I got to grapple with it and watch her (Alex) reconcile it in "The Art of Desire." I've come up with a pretty good reconciliation plan of my own in my day-to-day life, where I get to be a novelist, a politician, and an entrepreneur. I get to do public service and write children's books. It's not that I'm a fractured person; it's that I get to be the whole of who I am, and I get to enjoy all of those pieces. Do you ever feel like you're pushing yourself too hard?

Stacey Abrams: I think we always have to accept where we are and what we can take on, and that's part of my challenge. I ask myself. 'Is this necessary? Is it something I need to do? Is it just something I want to do? And how do I get there?'

The fundamental key is choosing based on what you want rather than what is expected. Too often, we default to expectation, which I've been very careful and comfortable pushing back against. What you expect of me will not be the defining feature of how I make my choices. You always seem confident and composed, whether it is an interview or a political rally. Do you suffer those moments of insecurity or doubt, and when you do, where do you turn?

Stacey Abrams: There's always a question of 'how will I be received?' And 'Am I doing it right?' But I judge myself based on my efforts. The results matter, but I can only guarantee the effort. If I know I put in the effort, then that's confidence in itself. The measure of my work isn't singular. So many people pick one metric, and we use that to determine how we did, who we are, and where we sit. I recognize that it's a spectrum and not a singularity. I do have those moments, but they're rarely in the moment I am in.

If I'm there to speak, I believe in what I'm saying. I'm going to get it said, and if I'm doing an interview, I am going to tell the truth of what I know. I'm not an equivocator. I'm going to say it or not.

Also, what we see, as a lack of confidence, is a lack of surety about who we are and what we're saying. I think deeply about what I'm going to do and what I'm going to say when I write, so by the time it's public, it's pretty settled. I'm sure everyone asks you this question. Are you thinking about 2024 politically?

Stacey Abrams: I will be involved in politics for the rest of my life and may run for something in the future. But that's not my focus right now. However, I am very excited about the candidates running for office; 2024 is a critical year for our nation and the world, and I plan to do what I can to support.

 "The Art of Desire" will be reissued on September 5, 2023.

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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