Dear, Nova: An Open Letter on Queen Sugar and Stolen Stories

Nova Bordelon (played by Rutina Wesley). © The Oprah Winfrey Network

Nova Bordelon (played by Rutina Wesley). © The Oprah Winfrey Network

They say great acting and writing are the bearings of a good television show. That when these two elements combine, you can’t tell the character from the actor and you’re so emotionally invested that their behavior causes visceral reactions. Well, I am finally caught up on “Queen Sugar,” and boy, oh boy, is Nova a piece of WORK. (*spoiler alert* *trigger warning: sexual assault* Season 4, Episodes 1-4 discussed below.)


Dear Nova Bordelon,

Lots of people say that I look like you. Our divinely melanated skin, immaculately chiseled cheekbones, and ethereal bohemian vibes are twinning. I get it, I do.

But our similar physical markings are angelic compared to our shared shadow self.

We both desire to tell true stories. Even (especially?) the grotesque, horrific ones. And we have every right to do so—but, how we do so is critically important. 

I was inspired and proud when I saw you taking to your family’s history and post-it notes in Season 3. Devising an outline to simultaneously capture and transform the narrative arc of your lineage was brilliant. I thought there would be notes about resiliency. Urgent nudges for Black folx to be (re)connected to the Land. Pride in a Black father who, despite systemic racism and violent bigotry, was fixated on loving, guiding, and nurturing his children.

But, there was none of that.Rather, you excavated the lives of those closest to you (except you glaringly delivered yourself from your critical eye). Sis...that 4x4 in your iris is palpable.

I know the courage it takes to speak the truth, even when your voice shakes. To write with transparency even as your pen quakes. To click “publish” and know the impact your work will make. My own mother does not understand why I have to “spill my guts to the world.

The thing is, Nova...you are not spilling your guts. You are carving into the bowels of your dearly beloved and oozing their pain into the literary market. There is a difference between truth-telling and trauma-mongering. 

The thing is, Nova, these are not your stories to tell. There is a reason why some stories go to the grave. And while you are doing a fine job of exhuming everyone else’s horror stories, you are severely missing your own.

When you started reading your last minute addition to your memoir, I thought you were going to say that you were raped in that sugar cane field. I thought you were going to share your story as a victim of childhood sexual abuse. But that never came. And, if your father did indeed protect you in the most extreme way possible, well, darling Nova, you are ahead of a lot of grow- little Black girls.

I understand everyone’s frustration with you. and I am trying to give room for grace. But for all of the times that you have whimpered and cried about demanded understanding...not ONCE did you have a conversation with Charley, Ralph Angel, Aunt Vi, nor Darla. Not even Hollywood, Micah, nor Blue! But you got the nerve to go to abusive ass Jimmy Dale??

Your family is not a case study. There are statistics. There is data. You can be a researcher in and beyond the Ninth Ward! Your family didn’t deserve this.

I am still trying to resolve why these recent episodes are weighing so heavily on me. It’s likely because I am wrestling with writing my own memoir. I am conjuring the courage to lay bare my soul as I seek to bring light and healing to others. And I realize it will be a delicate dance in terms of how I portray my family through my writing. After all, there is only one person who is physically responsible for my childhood sexul abuse, but there are entire systems of silencing and shame in place that allows male sexual violence to be perpetuated.

With regards to very specific topics, one of my siblings and my soon-to-be former spouse have given me permission to be vocal. I did not ask for it. It was simply granted as they observed my work in the world. THAT, Nova, is how you get to include other people’s stories. You start first by telling your OWN. And once people see that you can be trusted with your own narrative, they will courageously trust you with theirs.

I have been doing work around my shadow self, lately. You know the parts of yourself that you would rather keep buried than brought out into the light? I know we don’t typically proffer our shameful secrets for public consumption, but it is often the very things that we want to keep hidden that need to be revealed the most.

What about when you were dating that white married police officer? Or fucking up all of your romantic relationships (with both men and women)? Or being a user? Or master manipulator? Where are THOSE moments laid bare for all the world to see? After all, you are the common denominator in all of these situations. You are the one who causes chaos. You are the one that can’t see beyond the tip of your nose. You are the weaver of your reality!

Anne Lammott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” But, darling Nova, you have not owned everything that has happened to you. You have, instead, mined the fields of your family’s souls, harvested the horrors of your loved ones’ hearts, and amplified the anguish of your ancestors. Nova, you have become the colonizer you claim to rail against. You have devoured your family members in ways that are insurmountable. Your intention was right, baby, but your approach was all off. 

I know Blessing and Blood is published and out in this (fictional world), but I pray you assess the damage and realize that playing the sociologist card is not going to serve you well. You made calculated decisions that will have indelible effects on your family for generations to come.

You are banned from ever sharing space with Aunt Vi, Darla, and Blue. You are on timeout with Charley and Ra. Micah loves you (but he’s going through his own traumatic coming of age moment). So I don’t know who you will turn to. While you are on your nationwide book tour, who will call you to make sure you have eaten? Who will text you photos of your nephew as he discovers a new pie flavor for Aunt Vi?

Your loss has me reflecting on my risks.

So, as I write, I will keep you in mind. And, if ever I have a question about whether or not a story is mine to tell, I will reference you. And, if I have to ask, then it’s probably not mine to tell.

It’s a tricky dance, sharing your story without telling others’. We are human beings, interconnected chains, which makes our stories inextricably linked. But there’s got to be a way to focus on you and let others’ be supporting, not starring.

I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out. But I’m certainly committed to doing things differently.

Signed,

Lyvonne Proverbs (aka a woman with a helluva story linked to other stories that are not her own)

Lyvonne Proverbs, MDiv is a body and sex-positive light-worker, transformational speaker, spiritual life coach, writer, educator, and conscious creative social entrepreneur. She is the founder of beautiful scars, an online storytelling agency focused on trauma, healing, and resiliency. By amplifying the voices of Black women who are also survivors of childhood sexual abuse and/or male sexual violence, she is aiding survivors (and communities, at large) to shift from silence to storytelling in order to eradicate gender-based violence. She can be found on Patreon, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as Twitter and Instagram (@LyvonneP).