Terry McMillan- 2012

Terry McMillan

Accomplished writer known for her novels detailing the search for identity and love in the African American community

Turning a Letter into a Literary Career

By Peter Freedman 

Sending 3000 handwritten letters to bookstores among a variety of other literary hubs is one way of advertising a book; it is not the route most would take (HistoryMakers). Those letters would, in turn, lay the foundation of Terry McMillan’s literary career. Since then, McMillan has published a dozen books earning everything from a variety of literary awards to the title “thwarter of book biz gatekeepers” (Wheeler). McMillan has forged herself a successful career and a loving family. Turning a fractured childhood into a revolutionizing career as a novelist is an incredible feat; McMillan brings a fearless individuality to the forefront of her literature and personal life. 

McMillan grew up with a shattered family, as she makes clear in a series of taped interviews on the HistoryMakers digital archive. She describes scenes of brutality, noting that her father was a kind and gentle man so long as he wasn’t near a bottle. By night, he was a beast let free. McMillan went into further detail, describing one night when she was 14 during which she remembers her dad holding a knife to her mom's throat. A threat echoes around the room, and she responds to the call, unable to tolerate his behavior any longer. McMillan would take the knife, with the same passion she used to push her way into the literary world, from her father before throwing him across the room. Knife now up against his throat, the young author-to-be would all but beg him to answer for his threat as she asked “How’s it feel to be on the other end of this? What does that feel like?” (McMillan, Terry). With that, McMillan’s recollection of the night concludes, and the experience that would lay the framework for her literary prowess is revealed.  

Jumping into the present day, there are two key points to discuss in McMillans career: The way she uses her past in her writing, and the reason her writing is so well received. Beginning with her past, McMillan clearly draws some inspiration from it. The first published work, Mama (1987), is about the life of a single mother raising 5 children after forcing her alcoholic husband out the door (McMillan, Terry). While this plot doesn’t play out similarly to her life, it isn’t a leap in logic to think that - especially after the traumatizing night described above - McMillan would wish her dad had been thrown out of the house. This rift between expectation and reality shines bright to the world. While professionals have been known to criticize her works, the public has pushed each one of her simple, witty, and largely relatable books to bestselling status.  

Through each of her 12 novels, McMillan has pushed her writing as simply “Writing what feels honest,” creating a path from humble beginnings to present day success (Wheeler). Where Mama dove into McMillan’s past, the rest of the novels are known for their witty and advisory attitudes (McMillan, Terry). The importance of McMillan’s work, however, goes far beyond that. The books are known most prominently for being books to “prove this mindset [of books about the African American community needing to be ‘smart’] wrong” (The Guardian). The more simple, wholesome approach to writing McMillan takes differentiates her from a history of scholarly works and other African American authors who all write with an undertone that desires acceptance. McMillan even said at one point that she “doesn’t write for the movies, for the public, or really for anyone” (Wheeler).  

Fearless individuality can be seen in a number of other world-renowned entrepreneurs. Elon Musk recalls sleeping in a one room office he rented with his brother, sleeping all day and spending all night working on his first website. Microsoft and Facebook both started in college dorms, and likewise McMillan’s writing career began with her childhood. The fractured family she was raised with forced her to develop her own identity and taught her to stick with the choices she made from a young age. The trauma she suffered likely helped her find a moral compass, and today it all shows through in her writing. McMillan is active today on her Facebook page, making occasional political statements among event announcements and even the occasional teaser to the career that she says is nowhere near its conclusion (McMillan, Terry).  

Works Cited 

McMillan, Terry. “Her Books.” Terry McMillanwww.terrymcmillan.com/her-books. Accessed  8 Feb. 2021.  

McMillan, Terry. “Terry McMillan.” Facebook, Facebook Inc., 2016–2020, www.facebook.com/ms.terrymcmillan. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.   

HistoryMakers. “Terry McMillan’s Biography.” The HistoryMakers, The HistoryMakerswww.thehistorymakers.org/biography/terry-mcmillan-39. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.  

Wheeler, A. (2020, March 31). Novelist Terry McMillan on LOVE, death and 'dirty secrets'. Retrieved February 08, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/31/novelist-terry-mcmillan-interview-its-not-all-downhill-from-here 


By Leila  Abbas

In the year 2012, Terry McMillan had already established her influence as a best-selling author, characterized by her empowering African American heroines. Terry McMillan who has worked on getting herself out there, for her stories to be read, “Terry McMillan became a literary superstar during the 1990s.” (Encyclopedia, 2021). Terry McMillan's popularity from writing started in the 1990s and to this day she still writes works relating to the hardships of African American women, making her just as relevant in 2012 when she visited Millersville University. Terry McMillan provides encouragement to those in hardship by the strength of the African American women she writes about. 

Terry McMillan writes about heavy topics especially in the matter of black women in relationships. She provides a common theme that women should be strong and stand up for themselves in harmful toxic relationships. Terry McMillan’s work is very reflective of her own life and very straightforward toward African American women's life with a dark setting, but the heroines prove to be strong independent women who stand up for themselves in their hardships providing her hopeful perspective into her art which is inspiring to readers (Wheeler, 2020). She has stated that she is surprised by the reaction she has received for her writing (Dionne, 2020). Not having expected the number of readers who enjoy and who are inspired by her strong-willed female characters. Terry McMillan writes what she wants to write about. On the surface someone may not expect to pick up a story about something like a middle-aged woman, but the reality her message can be applied to all sorts of people. Terry McMillan leaves her readers with many inspirational messages she said once in an interview, “There’s a lot to live for, and sometimes we have to think about our lives differently, put a little more into it, and take some responsibility for it.” (Dionne, 2020). Readers can enjoy the connection they can make towards the story she writes about, leaving all the more impact she has on readers. Anyone can enjoy the realistic burdens the characters face, the romance, the comedy, and the quirk of the feisty African American women to draw a message of strength to their own life.  

By 2012 McMillan had some of her most influential books already written. “Terry McMillan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, A Day Late and a Dollar Short, and The Interruption of Everything and the editor of Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction.” (“Audible.”). Terry McMillian has a creative mind, that allows her to write her stories with interesting twists that invest you. She was able to have many best sellers by 2012 by her genuine talent, and string willed leadership to stand up for oneself.  

During 2012, when Terry McMillan visited Millersville University, she was 61 at the time and she maintained the same message to people as she does today. Terry McMillan writes what she wants to write, often reflecting her own experiences and making them into fictional works. The element of her own understanding and research accumulated provides an understanding message to the overall African American community. (Wheeler, 2020). Her significance is that she is able to provide inspiration her writing of realistic hardships with her own fictional twists. She implements her own experiences in her stories dealing with the hardship of relationships as an African American. The women in these stories put a strong foot down. The characters McMillian writes about, can be perceived as role models who have dealt with lots of struggles, but still can prove their resilience by making a stand.  

At the time of her visit to Millersville University was during President Obama’s presidency, when Michelle Obama, first lady was a remarkable icon for African American Women. (McMillan, Terry). A turn in America’s history for African Americans, and influential African American women taking a stand themselves. Terry McMillan herself is an advocate for African American women's rights through her writing which would be impactful as long as it is relevant, whether in 1990, 2012, or today.  

Works Cited 

“Audible.” (n.d.). Terry McMillan – audio books, best SELLERS, author bio. Retrieved February 13, 2021, from https://www.audible.com/author/Terry-McMillan/B000APV7XE#:~:text=Terry%20McMillan%20is%20the%20%231,of%20Contemporary%20African%2DAmerican%20Fiction. 

Dionne, E. (2020, March 31). When it comes to AGING, Terry McMillan wants you to KNOW  'it's not all downhill from here'. Retrieved February 08, 2021, from https://www.shondaland.com/inspire/books/a31982662/terry-mcmillan-new-book/ 

Mcmillan, T. (2013, November 20). With grace, first lady makes history. Retrieved February 13,  2021, from https://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/with-unapologetic-grace-first-lady-makes-history-100100 

Wheeler, A. (2020, March 31). Novelist Terry McMillan on LOVE, death and 'dirty  secrets'Retrieved February 08, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/31/novelist-terry-mcmillan-interview-its-not-all-downhill-from-here