By Christopher Pagan, Class of 2022
Recently retired Saint Peter’s University professor Fatima Shaik visited Professor Ernabel Demillo’s 10 am News Writing and Reporting class on Thursday, March 4th, to discuss not only her life but also being a black woman writer with the release of her new book, “Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood”.
Shaik is an American writer and journalist who has written several children’s stories and adult literature. In her recent works, with the novel, “Economy Hall”, Shaik touches on topics such as the first civil rights movement, white supremacy, and the freedom of blacks in 19th century southern United States.
Students learned many things about her life leading up to the publication of her new book, especially what it was like being a black female writer in her time.
“If you’re not in the book, then write the book,” Shaik told the class. This was something her father often told her when she complained about not seeing enough representation in the stories she read.
Shaik faced many hurdles as a writer, having to give up many of her creative freedoms while she was working as a reporter. Shaik told the class that in the beginning, she had to give up these freedoms because she had to write what she was told to as opposed to writing what she wanted but soon she challenged that idea.
“Instead of waiting for people to tell me what I should write, I’d go to them with something that I think I should write,” said Shaik
In addition to overcoming these writing limitations, Shaik was often challenged by her peers, she recalled an incident she had with a female coworker of hers.
“I had a master’s degree at NYU and she was a blonde with a high school diploma, and she told me the only reason I was hired was that I was black.”
Shaik never gave up and continued to pursue her writing career aside from what people had to say, telling the class, “If you wanna be there, you have to do more than what they say.”
Shaik went on to become an acclaimed children’s writer, with her books, “On Mardi Gras day” and “The Jazz of Our Street” which showcased her upbringing in New Orlean to “Melitte” the story of a young slave girl growing up and realizing that she was a slave.
Shaik told the class that the book she believes will have the biggest impact on future generations is her latest book, “Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood”. Her new book takes place in a New Orleans community that existed from 1836 to 1935 and it follows, Ludger Boguille, one of the members that became an activist after the civil war.
When talking to the students about her book Shaik made many connections with the events that happened in her book to events that are happening today.
“When people are talking about these armed militias that are forming right now, and voter suppression, what you’re watching is the blueprint of what happened the last time, read your history, that’s exactly the way it went down,” said Shaik.
Shaik went on to discuss the injustices happening today and why it is so important to make those connections because when we make those connections, that’s when change starts to happen.
Finally, Shaik left the class with a piece of advice that she would have given to her younger self, and that was, “Inspiration is for amateurs”.
She stressed not to wait for inspiration as that is a hindrance to any writer. She told the students it’s important to have discipline, and go out and find what they want to write about instead of waiting for it to come to you.
Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood is available on Amazon and Bookshop.org.