We had the good fortune of connecting with Hazel Clayton Harrison and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hazel, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, a small steel town along the Ohio River. My family migrated there in the early 50s to escape the Jim Crow South. My father worked in the steel mill, my mother worked part time as a housekeeper, and we lived in a poor working class neighborhood. Though we did not have a lot of money, we had a tight knit family and community. By example, my parents taught us the values of hard work, education, and family unity. Neither one of my parents finished high school, but they were very intelligent. My dad used to say, “Get a good education. No one can take that away from you” and “Buy land, they’re not making any more of that.” My dad was good at math and managing money, while my mother was a writer and wrote lovely poems and letters. I inherited my passion for writing from her and was the first in my family to go to college. In 1968 I went to Kent State University where I witnessed the 1970 Kent State Massacre, which strongly impacted me. I felt that I had to graduate to help make positive social change. My father retired after working in the mill for 35 years and my mother raised five children and helped to support me financially through college. I guess they instilled core values in me because I earned my master’s degree in Education and worked in the IT industry as a technical writer and manager for over 30 years before retiring. After retiring, I started my own editing and publishing business, Jahlight Media.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I was little, I dreamed of becoming a writer. But I did not know of any professional Black writers or authors. Fortunately, my mother saw my talent and gave me space and time to write. I have written in several genres: poetry, fiction, essays and memoir. The genre’s are like my children, I love them all but the most needy captures my attention at the momen. I write about my experiences as a Black woman in America (parenting, relationships, Mother Nature, dealing with social injustice, racism, etc.) I am passionate about telling stories about Black Americans, stories that are rarely if ever told from a Black point of view. I am proud of all the poems, essays, fiction I’ve published and books I’ve edited for other authors. My most recent book is entitled “Down Freedom Road” and includes some of the poems and prose written on my journey. I am most proud of being the 2018-2020 co-Poet Laureate (along with author and publisher Teresa Mei Chuc) for the Altadena Public Library. Oh, yes, and my two children Angela and Elias who are budding artists. How did I get to where I am today? By never giving up. While working on my 9-5 jobs, I wrote my stories and poems in the early morning hours. I joined writers organizations, attended conferences and did all I could to hone my skills. It wasn’t easy but was worth the effort to fulfil what Buddhist call ‘dharma’ (my duty and purpose) in life. Along the way, I learned that gaining fortune or fame is not the best reason to follow the artist’s path. You must do it because it gives you a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose. About my brand and story, I want the world to know that my art is my life and my life is art. Fortunately, in retirement, I am able to dedicate more time to writing and editing and I only write and edit books that touch my soul.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Good question. I would take them to the Huntington Library and Gardens to visit the Japanese and Chinese gardens, and to see some of science fiction writer/author, Octavia Butler’s archives, if possible. We would have breakfast at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Pasadena and dinner at Smitty’s Restaurant on Lake Avenue. Of course, we would hang out at the beach (either in Malibu or Santa Monica). And if they visited during the summer, I’d take them to LACMA to visit the museum and perhaps check out a Latin/Jazz concert on Friday evening. We might also check out a play at the Pasadena Playhouse or the Mark Taper Theater.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shout out to my mother for encouraging me to finish college and pursue a writing career, and to the International Black Writers & Artists, Los Angeles for nurturing and mentoring me when I relocated to L.A.