In the Beginning
Danne Smith Mathis began her writing career at the early age of nine when she kept a poetic journal of her memorable family experiences.
What was life like growing up for you? What kind of family did you grow up in? Life was fun, challenging, educational. My father was a college president, and my mother was a second-grade school teacher. As the eldest of three girls, I had the privilege and honor to accompany my father to many of his political, social, and educational events.
My mother chose to stay home in the evenings with my two younger sisters. Accompanying my father
gave me exposure to the business, corporate, and social world that usually only “privileged” youth, as society calls them, had the opportunity to experience.
As the daughter of a college president and a second-grade school teacher, both of whom were English scholars, I had no choice but to learn how to write and speak well.
How old were you when you knew this was your calling and what you were going to do for the rest of your life?
I was age 9 when I knew writing was my calling and would do it for the rest of my life. During the summers, whenever I got in trouble, my parents made me come inside and write about my disobedience. Then, during the summer of the Newark riots in 1967, I began reading the poems of the Black American poets- Leroy Jones (Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and don l. lee (Haki R. Madhubuti).
I spent one day a week at lunch with the late Pulitzer Prize winner and playwright August Wilson during my college years. He encouraged me and showed me how to keep my voice as a Black woman poet while attending a predominantly white undergraduate university.
Were you a dreamer growing up? What kinds of dreams did you have?
I was a daydreamer. Daydreamers are creative and live in the moment they dream. I dreamed about being a wife and a mother- that was my most significant and most often dream.
How hard was it breaking into the business? We hear stories all the time of people who try for years and never make it, and then other stories of overnight “in the right place at the right time” sensations.
I did not break into the business I am in; God took me on a journey to it. It was the culmination of parents who were discerning enough to use the gifts and talents God gave me, parents who paid attention to me as an individual.
It was the culmination of academic successes and failures but never in writing. The collaboration of my mentors poured into me…mainly women I sought out early in my life…women I admired and whose lives mirrored what I desired in terms of success in business or education or simply life as mothers and educators.
Which one do you think there’s more of? Those who pay their dues, opportunity meeting preparation?
A few people pay their dues to know when the opportunity is meeting them after their preparation.
How do you maintain your integrity in an otherwise very competitive and sometimes unscrupulous industry, as business at times can be cut-throat?
Allow me to respond to the last part of this question first because I believe context is critical. First, I do not believe business is “cut-throat.” I think people are.
However, some industries are more prone to activities that can lead to and may even encourage deception and “cut-throat” mindsets. I do not see the industry in which I operate in that way.
I serve in the industry of proposal management, and I am an emerging playwright at the same time. I do not operate in anything evil. I do not entertain anything that moves in that direction. Not even a word on a paper that could
be misconstrued in a proposal response.
As far as my writing as an emerging playwright, my writings are based on truth, even though I am a creative writer. Period!
What advice do you have for others who have THE dream?
My advice would be this: define it for yourself. Never allow anyone to tell you what to dream or how to dream. I remember one Christmas Eve when I still believed in “Santa Claus.” I awakened from my sleep and thought I saw Santa and his eight reindeer in the sky.
To this day, I believe I saw that. I remember my father coming into the room when I called him to come to see what I saw. He saw it too and believed it with me. He never told me what I saw or did not see. He never told me to go back to bed. He dreamed with me.
When I married at the age of 23, I danced to a song written by composer and musician Chuck Mangione. The title of the song is: “Land of Make-Believe.” A line in that song sung by Ester Satterfield says: “dreams are the thoughts that you have hidden in your heart.” I believe that wholeheartedly to this day!
What is it about this that makes you do what you do?
Writing is not what I do; it is who I am. I learned at a very early age how to retreat to writing to stay sane in insane situations. These situations include being violated at age seven. These situations also included writing over 25 journals during a 26-year marriage (my first and only marriage) laced on and off with domestic violence.
As for my business, it is what I do. But what makes me want to continue as a writing entrepreneur is that I bring a unique style to any writing style. So for me, it is the challenge of making words work regardless of the industry I serve.
How difficult is it to maintain a work-life balance? What measures do you take to ensure that you have that?
On a scale of 1-3, 3! This type of balance comes with continued prayer, discernment, and emotional stamina. I recall when I had to go into work the night after a physical domestic violence encounter; it took everything I had to show up as though nothing happened.
I also remember when I went to get my 14-month-old grandson from Japan to bring him back to the United States while my daughter, a single mother, finished up her last year on duty there in the US Army. He stayed with me for eight months straight- just he and I- and I never had a consecutive night’s sleep the whole time he was with me. Motherless, teething, adjusting to new climates, and them some caused him and my sleepless nights.
It was that experience, at that time in my life when I chose my own family over my career, which to that point had been highly successful. If you want to know more about this story, read my chapter “Get the Language Right” in the anthology “Shut ‘Em Down: Black Women, Racism and Corporate America” available at www.danne10k.com.
Would you consider yourself a driven person? What makes you a powerhouse? What is the source of your strength?
Yes. I consider myself a driven person. I know this to be a fact because seven weeks after my knees were both replaced on the same day, I had to have a double knee manipulation. This happened three days before my 60th birthday.
I will not go into details, but suffice it to say that after that operation, my ortho doctor told my sister, who cared for me during that time, that I had to have this procedure because I was “an overachiever!”
I beasted that physical therapy. The bilateral knee replacement surgery was so harsh that scar tissue overtook the new knees. I had to have a whole new operation so the doctor could break up the scar tissue!
Yeah, I am driven! But what makes me a powerhouse is that in God, I live and move and have my being! He is the source of my strength and the strength of my life.
What are some things you do to wind down and relax after grueling events and preparations for them?
Ok, again, context is everything, and don’t judge. I’m a Jersey Girl, and sometimes it gets to me when people do dumb things. But the thing I hate most is when people lie and take others for granted.
The other thing I used to struggle with when I worked in corporate America was blatant racism. So, during those times, I would wind down by watching the “Godfather 2” movie. Otherwise, I get a glass of Skinny Girl wine and watch the “Andy Griffith Show” with my grandson, who is learning to play the harmonica whenever the show’s theme song comes on!
As I said, don’t judge! The other thing I do is sleep to rest, not to fight depression; that’s key. Mental health matters; some mental illness is rooted in lack of sleep.
What is your definition of peace? What is your definition of success?
Peace is discernment that passes all understanding. I have the feeling I know what I know, but I cannot explain it. That is what I felt when I came to know the Lord at age 23. I knew I knew Him. But I didn’t know how I knew that except that I asked Him to take control of me and that He did!
What is the one thing you want people to remember most about you and your work?
I want people to remember most about me and my work because my writing is God’s gift to the world through me!