Born in Trinidad, Pascalle Onika Lewis now resides in Brooklyn, New York, where she recently completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at Medgar Evers College. Her first self-published books of poetry entitled Collections of a See Through Soul - Portraits and Collections of a See Through Soul – Bardvillian Symphonies were both written under the pen name Onika Pascal, debuted in 2008 and the latter in 2009. Since then, she has been working on many projects, a novel titled On the Eve of Goodbye as well as penning a memoir titled Becoming More Than Just An Orange.
Pascal's talent of turning words into phenomenal stories and pieces of art is one that is infectious. Pascal's publisher, Pam Osbey of Osbey Books, Inc. solidifies this: "With words that pierce your soul and beg you to enter the temple of openness and curiosity for life, Onika Pascal's pen commands your attention at first glance. Working with this inquisitive soul whose spirit is unique through a lens all her own, I have been honored to see the progression of a writer who has only touched the surface of her literary purpose."
When she's not writing, Pascal serves as a group leader with the Misunderstood Youth Development Center, a non-profit organization that provides a place for youth to express themselves. It is here that Pascal has shared the wonders of poetry with the teens in her group.
Learn more about Onika at her blog.
A compilation of poetry and prose that gives such vivid imagery that the words seem to dance. Its prose is engaging and its poetry is true to life. If you didn't appreciated the art of poetry before, this collection of writing will.
Let's start with an easy question - as hard as it is to get published today and as much work goes into being an indie-publisher (if that's your mode of publication), why do you keep coming back to the WORD, to the writing?
In my “light-bulb” moment of deciding to publish my writing, mainstream was much of a scare for me, simply because I didn’t want to toss myself into the sea of all the famous authors. It’s a competition out there and I wasn’t prepared for that. I wanted to make a dream realized and like you said, it is hard to get published today, so going the indie route afforded that possibility. And I don’t regret it. I actually applaud it; it makes me believe in myself and definitely supports my confidence to keep writing. Writing is my passion, I’ll always return to it.
What three writers have influenced your writing and how?
I have done at least three interviews already and have been asked this question and probably gave the same replies each time I was asked. I love reading literature that gives my imagination a surge. And though I have many who have influenced my passion for writing, you asked for 3 and it’s a tough pick, but will tell you my top 3 and why.
Maya Angelou first and foremost. Her writing is my motivation. She’s poetry, she’s fiction, she’s literature, and she is my she-ro. After reading “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and “Gather Together In My Name” and her countless poems, I fell in love with the notion of putting out work that’s just as valuable. Her writing is true to life. Her words are woven in such a way that the imagery is almost 3D…it’s the best I can describe it. I read and imagine myself in the moment. That’s how I want to write. I want my readers/audience to see themselves in my character’s role, in that place and time that I write about and to let my words play a scene in their heads as they read.
Nikki Giovanni: Poetically she is phenomenal. Her prose and poetry reminds me that there’s a purpose to writing. I re-read her collection and get a renewed reason to write. She’s mindful of painting a picture with her words. She spells out her passion with every literary piece she publishes. It’s what I aim for. Am I aiming to high? Maybe, maybe not…but I love knowing that I have a standard to work with.
Elizabeth Nunez: Author of “Prospero’s Daughter”. She is a very recent influence. I’ve read “Prospero’s Daughter” twice. First time was to see what the review raved about and the second time to really take in her writing style. One it took me back to my days as a child in Trinidad. She’s Trinidadian born. As I. But her background isn’t why she made the list. Her craft in making a story come to life is. I pictured myself on the island. I pictured the country club, the police constable. My dad was a constable, so with the read I was imaginatively placed in her words. For me that’s what reading is about. Seeing yourself in that place and time, amongst the characters, in every word and picture it paints.
How do your beliefs, values, and cultural awareness reflect themselves in your writing?
Ahhhh, my beliefs! My belief that one must always persevere to reach their goals resonate with just about all that I write. You see it in my blogs, my poems, my prose and soon to in my upcoming novel. My values of respect and decency has its place in my writings as well. In that I’m mindful as a mother that one day my son will read my work, mindful that I have my grandparents and my mother, my elders, cheering me on. I want it to be tasteful. Not that I’m perfect but I have a sense of who I am and what I want to stand for. My culture is in my blood. My first and second collection of poetry has something dedicated to that. It’s inevitable. It may even show up in my first novel as well. How can I leave it out when it’s my genetic makeup? It won’t always be present in story lines, but it’s very much present in my being. It helps me be who I am for the readers.
What are some of the themes you find yourself circling back to in your writing?
Most of my writings revisit the theme of perseverance and love. It’s my own personal regimen for success. And a writer writes about what he/she knows. I couldn’t make it up if I tried.
I selected you as an October feature because your "writer's heart" connects with me. When I read your works, I sense your passion for writing and for conveying images, sounds, emotions, feelings to your reader. If you could, describe what "the heart of a writer" means to you.
And I was truly floored with appreciation that you reached out to me for the interview. I thank you for the kind words and as you know, I too feel heavily connected to you as well. I believe it’s why we click. Hmmm, what “the heart of a writer” means to me! To me that means the pleasure of knowing words are there to tell a story and as a writer you can use them infinitely to convey a message of your emotions. In my first collection I stated that they say a picture paints a thousand words, but I always beg to differ and say that words paint a thousand more. So many pictures are painted when reading something that a writer has to have heart to give that gift to a reader/audience. So the “heart of a writer” comes from his/her love for words. And as I say, if words came gift wrapped, everyday would be my birthday.
Yes, writers "feel" the need to write, but we have to be realistic, too: writers WANT to get published. Talk a bit about your publication journey and some of the important things you've learned while on that journey.
For a very long time I wrote only for myself; my poems, my stories and of course in my journals. But when I decided to publish my poems, I didn’t imagine ever being on this path. It was to be a one time, self published book. I found information via google and decided to go for it. But a snowball effect took place and here I am. I’ve learned the importance for my work to be copyrighted before putting it in the hands of others is mandatory, I’ve learned to have a budget to work with, I’ve learned to not feel intimidated by others and especially, learned to be confident in my work. With two books under my belt, a first novel to be published and all I can say about the journey is that it is a learning experience. I have my fears of being tossed into the sea of veteran authors, however, this world is big enough for all of us to dream and accomplishing what we set out to do is the only thing that should matter. And that’s just it…I accomplished that. So my journey isn’t one built on competition, but one that makes me feel completed in bringing a dream to fruition. We all have what it takes to succeed, we have to persevere (there goes that theme again, :-) ). So though being published wasn’t quite a fleshed out thought, its one that I fell into but I’m learning with every step I take.
Writers are more than writers today; they are publicists, marketers, brands, a whole product aside from the book itself. What are you doing, as a writer with many hats, to market/promote yourself and get your works into the right hands?
It’s so funny that I’m answering this question. For weeks I spent with pen and paper, mind to thinking as to what is my purpose on this journey. Sure I love to write and want to put something out there with content tasteful enough for readers to oooo and ahhhh about. Yeah it’d be nice to have that. But then what? In looking back at who I am as an individual and the people I’m surrounded by, I finally found my niche. As a writer with many hats, as you put it, I aim to help inspire and motivate other single mothers and anyone in general who has a dream and have that fear to pursue it. I’m one of many who have had the fear, but broke the barriers and made it happen. But that in accomplishing that dream of theirs, it’s to not focus to heavily on success but just knowing that they can make a dream realized and knowing that achievement can be satisfying. So to be a marketable product, I have the help of my publicist to reach out and find the audience that my writings pertain to and be that product that instills something in them to go after their own dreams.
What are you working on next?
Aside from my grad school applications, I am currently working on my novel “On the Eve of Goodbye”. I’ve been working on it since 2006 and now feel like it is completed and ready for the process to be published. I’m hoping it would get picked up by household name publisher…as a writer your dream expands and the recognition is as rewarding as publishing it yourself. I’d love to see this out on the shelves and in the hands of avid readers of a wonderfully woven skit/plot. I’m excited for it and hope to have it out no later than summer of 2010.
Taken from Collections of a See Through Soul – Bardvillian Symphonies
What I remember mostly about it was the darkness and eeriness of the room. It was so enclosed and so guarded. The humming and mantras caught me off guard because I never understood what the singers were saying. It scared me a bit, but yet I felt safe. I paid it no mind when I saw the sponge cakes and colored caramel popcorn and sweeties and cheese‐paste sandwiches that lined the table in an adorning manner. At the end of the event, they would all end up into one bag creating a popcorn‐sweetie‐cheese‐paste sandwich‐cake. Everything just mashed together as though it was a collage. I enjoyed it though.
It was the highlight of the event for me. I wondered how fat their god was. My Allah was a thin man with a matching whitish gray afro and beard and dark skin that made molasses bow down in shame. He was darker than all the Negroes put together. I’d sit in the far corner of the room and wondered when they’d finish. Sometimes, it’d last longer than the time before. So I never knew. Yet I always came. And when I was there, I never truly liked the sprinkling of the water. I was never able to time when it would hit and when it did, I’d jump out of my skin, startled like a deer in headlights and then I’d jump back into it seeking warmth and comfort and love.
I’d come to this event because I was bonded to my cousins in such a way that I experienced their living as though we were one. And this event made me look at them in awe, holy and special, for they knew God. I visited them on some days and Sundays. Sundays were the best, except when six o’clock came and the streetlights came on. It meant that it was time for me to go home. But there would be one streetlight that struggled to come on as though it knew I wasn’t ready to go, so it stayed dim, for me.
The humming got louder and my heart got louder with it. Pounding as though that god they were summoning was trying to come though by way of my heart. And that woman who spoke in a different language knew just when he’d get here. As I tried to decipher he hieroglyphic tongue, someone beat me to it and responded to her with a baritone voice. Powerful she was. The leader I gathered her to be. Some sang happily, while some cried. Was it a happy cry? I didn’t know. I watched just as a child would. Full of confusion, yet finding humor in the instances one would seem to hit the roof and come back to earth full of glory. In 1985, nothing was serious to me.
I wanted so badly to ask how they’d know when to stop. But my aunt, in her red head wrap would shoot me a look from under one eye. The look had magical powers, for it shot across the room, through the humming and hymns, and it’d be able to creep into my ear and say “Chile, doh cross meh here tuhday…yah hear meh?” Too afraid to even wonder what the other eye would have to say, I’d watch quietly at the other children who were used to this play and ignore the magnificent spiritual antics and dances going on.
When my heart slowed to its regular pace, it was when I thought he had arrived. It was when he had come. He too would eat with me, the very same popcorn‐sweetie‐cheese‐paste sandwich‐cake. He would sit and pick it apart like I did, hoping to separate the 9 popcorn without losing the cake to crumbs. Spiritually, I didn’t know how powerful prayer was and how seriously things in life needed it. This event, these women and their humming and their mantras and their God taught me that. It was their thanksgiving. No turkeys were involved, but the spread of food was immaculate. Just as if the native Indians taught them as well. What they taught me was how to listen to God. He’d come when my heart raced to the pace of lightning, when it would beat as hard thunder and when it fell as though it was 135 feet in the air. I’d listen to Him the way I listened to Him back in 1985. Like a child.