Making it happen with poet Cassandra Alfred

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Cassandra Alfred holding a blue scarf in the air
Cassandra Alfred photo by Adam Biggs

The poem embodies everything I have learned about being a black woman in modern society 

Cassandra Alfred holding flowers
Cassandra Alfred photo by Adam Biggs

Cassandra Alfred was born in Montefiore Nyack Hospital and raised in the New York—New Jersey region. She juggles two high-stress—and highly opposite—careers.

By day, Alfred is a nurse. By night, Alfred is the author of the acclaimed This Is How You Love Her poetry book with invites to partake in everything from Rockland Poets to Paterson Poetry Festival to Jersey City Women’s History Month.

Alfred has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a minor in Psychology and has always been driven to succeed. I sat down with the true Sagittarius to discuss social justice and healing through poetry in the most unpredictable year yet.

2020 has been very historical. The Coronavirus Pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have been the two primary discussions of the year. As a black woman who is also a nurse dealing directly with COVID-19, how has this affected you personally and professionally?

Cassandra Alfred: The Coronavirus Pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement were two emotionally charged issues that occurred simultaneously, making it difficult to cope with. Lack of resources, lack of equipment, and scarcity of staff were all preexisting issues within healthcare. Hence once the virus hit, the industry was really turned on its head. Employees were forced to work exceptionally hard while dealing with an increase in patient death, coupled with emotional strife within their own families. The BLM movement affected me because I witnessed those who look like me being harmed and murdered at the hands of police aggression. It pains me because I feel these disastrous outcomes could be avoided with an adjustment in policies, improvement in communication, and ultimately if we as a society simply cared more for one another.

In 2019 you authored your first book, This Is How You Love Her. What was your inspiration behind the book?

Cassandra Alfred wrapped in a blue scarf
Cassandra Alfred photo by Adam Biggs

CA: From an early age, writing has always been a therapeutic space for me to express my feelings. As I matured, this evolved into writing poems, which provided me a more succinct method to convey my feelings. Once I began developing my professional career, and it did not meet all of my expectations, I realized you need to put effort into what you want to accomplish in order for your dreams to materialize. I was still affected by traumas I endured during childhood, which led to writing my book, resulting in a very cathartic experience.

Is it difficult to juggle two careers that are very much opposite one another, or do they help balance the other out?

CA: It is a challenge. Nursing takes a lot out of you mentally and physically due to the nature of the job, especially working in an emergency department where you need to be on point the entire time you are on the clock. By the time you get home, you are exhausted. You still have to deal with personal obligations and responsibilities. Thus, the room for creative growth is slim. You must be focused to write a book, establish yourself as an author, and promote your work. It is a far different career than I imagined. Fortunately, a lot of publicity I have received has been through word of mouth, social media, etc. I need to put the peddle to the metal because I am self-published, not to mention more secure in my career as a nurse.

What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

CA: The pro is that you get to do it your way. You are in control of all the details ranging from the cover art to the blurbs, to the formatting. It is very much do-it-yourself, which is also the con because you must rely on yourself to network, locate venues, and collaborations to generate publicity. If you were not before, then you will learn how to be business-minded, particularly if you are attempting to garner a following and make writing your career.

Given that This Is How You Love Her was your first book, it was very much cumulative in that the inspiration behind it spanned much of your life up until release. Are you going to be releasing a second book, and if so, what will it focus on?

CA: I will release a second book. The release is to be determined as we are still in the thick of the pandemic. However, I have been writing since the release of my first book, and I have grown considerably from the person I was when I wrote the book to who I am now. The content will be different, which is not a bad thing. That is art. Take the music industry, for example; sometimes people look down on artists when they alter their material, others love it. Now that I am more mature, I realize you change as you get older, and that is a positive. It indicates you are actually learning from life’s experiences.

What poem are you most proud of?

Cassandra Alfred standing and holding flowers
Cassandra Alfred photo by Adam Biggs

CA: I would have to say, “If Only,” which is located on page 43. It is essentially a spoken word piece. That is one of my proudest works of art because I wrote it at one of my most vulnerable points in life, having felt pulled between several identities and being influenced by factors outside of my control. The poem embodies everything I have learned about being a black woman in modern society and challenging those notions. If I need to love myself by myself, then that is what I am going to do. Even now, I look back at “If Only,” and I applaud my younger self. Despite the fact I was unsure of my footing at that point in life, I was still strong enough to declare I am good enough, even if it’s not good enough for everyone else. Being true to yourself is more rewarding than being everything someone wants you to be.

Is it hard to expose so much of yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable in the work you do?

CA: It is not difficult for me to be open. I have always been a very honest person. Nevertheless, I understand it is uncomfortable for most people to get in touch with their emotions. My hope with this book is to provide a safe space for those who are in a guarded or fragile state to experience their emotions without judgment but rather compassion.

Who do you think could benefit from your book the most?

Cassandra Alfred holding a stethoscope
Cassandra Alfred photo by Adam Biggs

CA: I believe anyone who has ever struggled with self-esteem, self-love and being misunderstood could benefit from this book. Specifically, those who don’t fit into our social construct or anyone who has ever had thoughts which differed from what our modern society teaches. That is women, minorities, the LGBT community, those who grow up knowing they are different and accept those differences despite that it may not be what’s popular. However, anyone can read the book and find something that relates to them.

What has been your biggest learning lesson this year?

CA: I have had many learning lessons this year. My biggest takeaway is that we are not alone in our struggles, although it may appear that way on the surface. I work with people of many different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. We are all making adjustments and sacrifices, both professionally and personally, to stay afloat. It is comforting to know you are not the only one dealing with transition. I am a perfectionist, and being cognizant of this enabled me to be less harsh on myself.

To follow Cassandra Alfred visit her on the web TheWomynWhoWrites.com, Facebook.com/TheWomynWhoWrites, @TheWomynWhoWrites