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Empowering All Stories

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I listened to an episode of Glennon Doyle’s podcast “We Can Do Hard Things” this past week that featured an interview with one of my favorite actresses, Reese Witherspoon. They were chatting about Reese’s inspiration for starting her production company, Hello Sunshine, which she recently sold for $900 million (she will still oversee day-to-day operations along with her CEO, as they are both significant equity holders). Reese got the idea for the company when she became frustrated by the lack of female stories represented on TV and in film. Her husband pulled her aside and said, “You read more than anyone I know. Buy the rights to a few of these books and see if you can get them produced.” The spark for Hello Sunshine was born and has since resulted in streaming service book adaptations such as “Big Little Lies,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” and “The Morning Show," along with several feature films. It also curates a monthly book club, Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine, which has skyrocketed many authors to New York Times bestseller status (including “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which Hello Sunshine recently produced). 

Even though I don’t know Reese, I feel like we grew up together because we are the same age and I first watched her in the beautiful coming-of-age film, “Man on the Moon.” It was her movie debut and I’ve followed her ever since, watching as she fearlessly paved the way for female storytellers everywhere. As I  listened to the interview, I gave myself a pat on the pack for dipping my own toe in the “showcase female voices” movement. As a journalist, I’ve been telling stories for years. Then I started venturing into short stories, eventually launching a podcast. 

This past year, I completed a first draft of a thriller/suspense novel featuring a podcaster trying to solve the disappearance of her sister. Not long after, my family experienced a painful situation where some of my daughter’s high school classmates started giving her a hard time about proudly discussing her Mexican heritage. She was told she was “too white” to claim being Hispanic (with her blonde hair and blue eyes) and my son overheard some girls talking about the incident at lunch. He was upset and I immediately contacted the school principal, angry to hear about the dissection of my daughter’s heritage. My mother is Hispanic and so are both her parents. My kids grew up visiting this side of the family in Texas and love learning about the culture. 

Once we got through much anger and tears, I wondered if maybe the whole incident had been a lesson for me. I had two sisters in the novel I had just completed—what if I made them Mexican-American, like me? One sister could hide her background and the other one could embrace it. One could look like my daughter and the other like my son (brown hair and brown eyes). Their mother and aunt (who raised them) could have parallel feelings about sharing their genetic make-up with people. It would be a chance for me to explore my family relations (and how you can’t assume you know a person’s history by what they look like) in book form. These changes will go into my next draft, and I have a feeling they will be cathartic. 

What personal stories have you been empowered to tell? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.

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