Interview by Carolina Meurkens and Selvi Bunce
Chloe Dulce Louvouezo is a Congolese-American author, mother, and advocate for women whose work is driven by discourse on identity and healing. She is author of Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing, and Self-Trust (HarperCollins Publishers, November 2021), through which she explores nuances and insights around identity, mental wellness, and healing, told through the lens of women from the Black diaspora. She is also the executive producer and host of the Life, I Swear podcast.
Chloe and her book have been featured and covered in the New York Times, Booklist, Lit Hub, Essence, Forbes, Shondaland, and Ebony, among others. In conversation with Carolina Meurkens and Selvi Bunce, Chloe talked about the process of piecing together her book, growing up as a third culture kid, and finding a home in her family, her community, and her work.
Mixed Mag is a publication dedicated to promoting stories of creatives of color, with a special focus on multiethnic/ multiracial folks. What does your cultural heritage mean to you?
I come from two worlds, maybe even four, all which collate into my background and heritage. I am half Congolese and half white American. Both were lenses through which I was introduced into the world in unique ways–growing up, my African father was based in the US and my American mother raised me in Africa, in Niger. My father’s Congoleseness never left him, even after more than 30 years of migrating to the U.S. My mother on the other hand, whose family is homogenous white, completely assimilated to the rural Sahel. Through them, I learned that culture is something that is inherited but it’s also something you can take with you or you can adopt. The other two worlds I’d say I’m “from” are those that represent the in-between—the experiences of being American in Africa and African in America. I was an outlier to both sides of my family and to the places I called home, nesting myself between worlds, but my parents’ examples of making home away from home was one of my earliest lessons of navigating the world and life with versatility. .
Can you describe your work? How did you come to your craft? What drives your inspiration?
All aspects of my work evolve around storytelling: telling my own story, creating spaces and communities for others to tell theirs, and driving organizations to hone a more responsible and inclusive practice of storytelling. I’ve always worked in the world of stories. I studied journalism and have always loved to write and investigate under-discussed or undiscovered aspects of people’s personal lives. I’ve worked in issue areas from poverty, to mental health, to homelessness, to education. That’s how I grew the muscle of being a communicator, and amplifying voices of communities that don’t often get heard or counted. I would go into people’s homes and have very intimate conversations about their lives and their journeys from struggle to testimony. I really consider people’s personal backstories as sacred so I consider it an honor when someone shares part of themselves with me with trust. My love for writing falls under the umbrella of being a storyteller. I love the craft of weaving words together and seeing how poetically you can describe something that might otherwise be taken for granted. Writing as an art has always been my playground.
This type of work and my intention behind it has shown up in nearly everything I do creatively or professionally, and it comes in many variations. From authoring a book, hosting a podcast, facilitating workshops, opening a creative space (Open Door Concept), and producing storytelling content at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it’s about people feeling connected, either to themselves, or to other people to meaningful work.
What role has storytelling played in developing a deeper understanding of yourself and of your heritage?
I really do believe that storytelling is a tool, or a portal, depending on how you use it, to healing in many ways. The reflections and revelations that came out of writing the essays in my book, Life, I Swear, are an example of this. It helped me to unearth many things that I had buried, hoping that I wouldn’t have to revisit them and thinking my resilience was demonstrated in the fact that I’d ‘moved on’. But, in order to really step into healing practices through storytelling, we have to go through them and be very honest about what has hurt us. We have to unpack what we’d hoped we’d never have to really look at. I think that that is the first step. We must ask ourselves: which narratives are serving me? Which ones are not? What is taking up too much space and what can I use? How can I leverage this past pain point in my life, whether it’s a heartbreak or something else and translate it into a breakthrough. That process supports deeper understanding of ourselves as well as the things that are cluttering our mental space and blocking us from taking full ownership of our story, which in essence is self awareness.
Many of us work around, rather than through, many parts of our own stories that represent pain or rejection. We can spend entire decades of our lives suppressing, ignoring, or avoiding parts of our story. When we’re honest about how those parts have negatively informed how we see ourselves and build on that understanding by choosing to both truth and grace, it is really empowering.
Your collection of stories and essays Life, I Swear came out last year. What was it like putting together this collection? How did the storytelling you’ve done through your podcast evolve into this book?
The book was actually in motion before the podcast was in production, but book publishing of course is a longer process. I was collecting stories and I knew I wanted an anthology. I wanted my own stories to be birthed into the world alongside a group of other women. Some of the contributors in the book I had known for years, though not all and for those women, all I did was ask. I asked them if they wanted to be on this journey of writing, sharing, and publishing with me. They all accepted. Like myself, many of them hadn’t shared vulnerabilities in a public forum before. I don’t take lightly that they trusted what I was creating, possibly by way of me committing to writing my own story first. As I was curating for the book, I didn’t want the storytelling I was doing to stop with words on paper. I wanted these vulnerable conversations I was having with women to also live in our daily lives. The podcast felt like the most organic way to do that.
Self- love, healing and intergenerational pain appear to be central themes in your work. Can you speak more on your decision to organize the collection around this topic?
There are three parts and each part is aligned with the themes of identity, healing, and self trust. The first one is called “Sum of My Parts”, which illustrates that there are many nuances that make up who we are and that play into our identity–our lineage, memories, friendships, lessons, the neighborhoods that are most familiar to us. We are all melting pots. This isn’t unique to people who are mixed and it’s not unique to people who live transient lives. We are all multidimensional and I felt it was important to anchor the book in pointing that out. Once we celebrate that our identity is not a monolith, we can also accept that neither is our healing nor our love and we can approach each of those holistically specific to how nuanced we are.
The second part is titled “Bare Witness” and it speaks to healing. We bear witness to the traumas we’ve been through and the things and people we’ve loved, lost, and grieve. This part of the book honors our resilience and courage despite how hard it is to do that for ourselves, especially in the most testy of seasons.
We end the book with a dedication to self trust. This part is titled “Peace It Together”, which is a play on words. There’s a sense of peace that comes when we bring our pieces together, the pieces that may feel disparate or fragmented as we work through big themes like identity and healing. Each person nurtures their peace differently but I do believe there’s a level of self-trust that is present when we have worked and are continuously working through our healing. And when we trust ourselves, it allows us to more confidently name our needs, design our lives, and build healthy connections that are not contingent on approval or validation.
I collected all of the essays, and they naturally grouping themselves. Together they tell a story, walking women through necessary questions of womanhood: who am I, how am I feeling and healing, and what boundaries do I need to preserve my growth and my self-trust?
All people, but especially BIPOC and women of color, often find it hard to make time and space for rest. How does your body tell you that you need rest? How do you take rest?
I know I need rest almost instantaneously when I mentally don’t have clarity, when I feel spiritually flustered, and when I am physically tired. When I feel overwhelmed by imposing demands on my time and headspace, I need rest. I take rest by not fighting the urge to power through and really listen and let my body lead. I work best in sprints so when I can tell I’m pushing myself to run marathons at a sprint pace, I know it’s time to retire my body, body, and spirit to rest. Rest is really about surrender. I step away so that I can be well and my personal wellness needs quiet, solitude, agency (to say no), and creativity.
How has motherhood impacted you as an individual, as a writer and as an entrepreneur? What do you hope for your children and the next generation of Black/ brown kids?
I grew up very nomadic and moved around a lot. Prior to having my son, I was on a quest to discover home in new places so I never felt fully anchored physically. I had a sense of restlessness – a feeling that there had to be something calling my name outside, and it was never where I was currently. Having a child grounded me, not just specifically to DC, but confirmed that wherever I am is already whole. I create my own home within the family I’m building, something I didn’t have at his age. I am more present in the here and now as I think about what fulfills me as a woman and mother. With motherhood has come a lot of clarity and intention around what I want for myself and my son. I want my son to have that same curiosity for dreaming and exploration balanced with being present and having a strong sense of mindfulness. I want him, like me, to create his own rules, to lean into the unknown, and to make himself available to new experiences. I want him to be free to live his life on a nonlinear path that defies expectations the world may have of him.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and as a writer navigating the publishing work?
The way this book came to be published was pretty divine. When I decided I wanted to write a book, I hired a book coach to help me get past the writing hump. While working with my book coach she shared that she was starting a literary agency, and asked if I could be her first client.
I hadn’t thought too much about the traditional publishing process at that point, figuring I would self publish. But she convinced me because she was so invested in the project. Once we got to the place of having the proposal done, she shopped it around. Weeks later, Harper Collins was the first and only publisher I spoke with and I went with them, eager as a first time author and admittedly impatient. This was March 2020, when a lot was happening around us and I do believe it was a collision of many factors that played into it being the right time for more stories from Black women on identity and healing.
I think my story is a publishing anomaly. It’s often difficult for first time Black authors to enter the publishing industry, where the disparities are huge. Only 5% of published authors are Black and roughly 80% of people who work in publishing are white. That includes not just literary agents, but editors, the sales team, publicists, distributors, bookstores, everyone in the ecosystem. Stories of diverse voices have so much power to shift perception so it is unfortunate when our stories don’t have the opportunity to be more broadly accessible through publishing.
When putting together Life I Swear, did you have a particular reader in mind? What do you hope the reader takes away from these stories?
This book was made with Black women in mind. Full stop. But also, if you’re open enough, I think this book can resonate with anyone going through a time of transformation.
I want the essays in the book to prompt readers to be more clear about the community they’re cultivating, the love they’re inviting in their lives, the boundaries they’re setting, and how they walk into this next season of life.
At Mixed Mag, we believe that storytelling holds the power to expand perspectives and create lasting change. In your opinion, what role does storytelling have in healing intergenerational trauma and paving the way for Black liberation?
Storytelling allows us to make informed decisions. I believe we’re all entitled to the backstory of how our families came to be. When the stories of our parents and their parents and their parents’ parents are not shared with us but the behavior, choices, and perspectives are, we can unknowingly inherit symptoms of the trauma that have been passed down to us. This can have big consequences for the decisions we make and relationships we enter, unknowingly trapping us into a cycle we can’t make sense of. Liberation is freedom at a collective level, meaning that when we’re able to heal our inter generational trauma by making the stories behind them more accessible for individuals, we do the same for community.
Rooted in her global citizenship, Chloe’s fifteen-year career in communications has advanced inclusive storytelling at organizations addressing education, poverty, and mental health. She currently serves as a Senior Producer at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she produces global storytelling video, podcast, and visual content in support of Melinda Gates and gender equality. Prior to joining the foundation, she served as Director of Communications for Services for the Underserved, one of the largest human services agencies in New York City, and a women’s college in Kigali, Rwanda.
Chloe is co-founder of Open Door Concept, a creative space in Washington, DC that promotes conversation, creativity, and community for local creatives and entrepreneurs. In addition to operations, Chloe hosts the business’s WRITERS ROOM event series featuring pairs of authors of color who offer workshops and facilitate diverse dialogue. She sits on DC Mayor Bowser’s Commission for Women, through which she supports citywide initiatives championing health and human services and public policy safety for women. Chloe is also a founding board member of HURU, which creates sacred spaces for rest experiences that foster emotional wellbeing and wholeness.
Chloe earned her B.A. in Journalism from Howard University with a concentration in Cultural Anthropology and her M.P.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from Georgetown University. She holds a professional certificate in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership from Cornell University. To learn more about Chloe, her work, press, and speaking engagements, visit www.chloelouvouezo.com.