Guernica Magazine

Tyrese Coleman: Writing the Truth, Unbound by Genre

The author of How to Sit discusses her mixed genre, multi-generational essays about black girlhood, womanhood, trauma, and triumph. The post Tyrese Coleman: Writing the Truth, Unbound by Genre appeared first on Guernica.
Photo and cover image courtesy of Mason Jar Press.

Tyrese Coleman can’t pinpoint exactly when she decided she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her how to be. Was it when she was a young girl, and her grandmother slapped her foot to chastise her for crossing her legs like a grown woman? Or was it later, after she allowed herself to mourn that same grandmother’s death in a way even she worried might not be acceptable?

Just like there is no one way to live, there is no one way to write a memoir. Coleman’s debut collection, How to Sit, a memoir in essays and stories, declines to fit into any one traditional genre. Published by Mason Jar Press in September, the book leaves us wondering where the author’s life ends and her fiction begins—and whether that distinction matters, so long as her emotional truths are faithfully rendered.

In her author’s note, Coleman describes the work as a combination of “nonfiction and not-quite-nonfiction” about living between fantasy and reality. At its heart, How to Sit is a multi-generational story of black girlhood, womanhood, trauma, and triumph. It reminds us that when fact is inaccessible—whether physically or emotionally—we carry the truth in other ways.

Born and raised in Ashland, Virginia by her mother, great-aunt, and grandmother, Coleman shared a house with a rotating cast of male occupants until she was thirteen. There, she learned how to escape into fiction: to “open a book, press the scratchy paper to her face, harder, so she was almost inside it.” Eventually, she began writing in her own diary, creating “a new page, a new place, where he doesn’t exist, never existed.”

After college, Coleman pursued a law degree. But once she passed the Maryland Bar Exam, she returned to her craft, and has since published stories, essays, and criticism in , , , , , , and elsewhere. She’s now a writing instructor at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda,.

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