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Profile of Helena Andrews, author of a book about successful but lonely young black women

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Helena Andrews, author of "Bitch is the New Black," talks about her collection of essays that provide a satirical look at successful young black women living in Washington.

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Andrews' résumé is a snapshot of upward mobility. She graduated from Columbia University, majoring in English literature and creative writing, worked at O Magazine, then went to graduate school for journalism at Northwestern, and in 2005 landed as a news assistant in the New York Times Washington bureau. At the moment, she is not working, but waiting for all the deals to be sealed with the movie.

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But there is more. Born in California, grew up on Catalina Island and in Los Angeles. Her mother is a lesbian. She has seen her father once, when she was 6 months old. When Helena was 7, her mother decided to move to Spain, but the girl's grandmother kidnapped her.

Is this a true story, you ask.

"Yes, it's my life story."

Helena's mother, Frances Vernell Andrews, 57, who lives in Stone Mountain, Ga., says in an interview that it is indeed a true story. When she read the book, "initially it was like walking down memory lane from my child's perspective. Initially she kept saying, 'Mommy, you can't read it. I am not showing it to anyone.' I had come up to Washington for Thanksgiving two years ago. I went on her laptop and e-mailed some of the chapters and read them when I got home. She didn't know initially. But I said I needed to know a little bit about what you are putting out there. But I was delighted. She is a terrific writer."

In the book, Andrews recalls the abduction. And her mother recalls the story, too. "We were on our way to Spain and my mother didn't feel I should go," Frances Andrews says. "She wanted me to stay and marry this man. She drove us to the airport and said, 'Go in and check your bags. The baby can wait.'

"I go in and get my boarding pass. I come out and my mom is gone. I thought she must be circling the block. I waited two hours. Then I gave up and went back to my mom's home and sat and waited. She came back without my daughter. She said, 'You need to settle down and stop chasing the world,' " says Frances Andrews. "I am a lesbian. My family thought I should not have had a child."

She promised her mother she would settle down. "Just bring me my child."

Her mother brought Helena back and Frances left town with her daughter for an island.

All about attitude

Helena Andrews says she is a mean girl. That is where the title of the book comes from.

"It's much easier if you have a mask, 'Don't [expletive] with me.' Then you don't have to worry about office politics." She once asked a colleague, "Why does no one say hi to me in the morning?"

"Because you are a bitch," the colleague replied.

Andrews wasn't offended. That is her way of moving through the world. That way you don't get hurt, you mask any softness or weakness inside.

She doesn't look like one of those mean girls. Perhaps that is the point. Andrews has that innocent cheerleader, preppy look, even as she strolls her neighborhood of Northeast Washington, with her cute little black pug dog in her arms.

The homeboys on the sidewalk part like a sea to make room for her. A man rolls down the window and asks her to buy him a car. And she smiles. She turns around and smiles again. He has no idea who she is.


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