People of Charlotte: Patrice Gopo Sees All the Colors of Lifeby Mai-Lis Bahr on July 10, 2019
People of Charlotte, meet author Patrice Gopo.
A woman of Jamaican descent who grew up in Alaska, Patrice dove headlong into writing while living in South Africa after graduate school. She and her family eventually moved to Charlotte, where her career has truly hit its stride.
The North Carolina Arts Council selected her as a 2017-2018 Literature Fellows, and the Arts & Science Council named her a 2019 Regional Artist Project Grant (RAPG) recipient. Excitingly, Barnes and Noble also promoted her book, All the Colors We Will See, as a Discover Great New Writers selection. And, that’s just the start of her good news.
It’s significant enough to have an acclaimed author living and working in the Queen City, but Patrice is very involved in the Charlotte creative community, encouraging and teaching writers of all ages and experience.
Below, our friends at People of Charlotte get to know Patrice better and share excerpts from All the Colors We Will See to underscore her answers.
Q: How did your family end up in Alaska?
My parents emigrated from Jamaica to Alaska before I was born.
“I go back two generations and see our black grandmothers, our Indian grandfathers, and even further back, a white great-great from England. Together these shades of skin, different countries and cultures, formed future generations beneath a vast umbrella of being Jamaican.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 122
Q: Tell us about your book, All the Colors We Will See.
All the Colors We Will See is a collection of personal stories that tie together to form a larger narrative. I explore the idea of how being different affects my quest to belong. The book is a collection of essays that I have been writing since 2011. I possess a deep sense of hope that sharing my stories will help make the world a better place. Worlds can be shifted through reading. While we recognize our similarities, we develop a better space to also honor our differences. Learn more about my book here!
“Could it be that I am not trying to belong because I want to remain my true self?” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 4
Q: How did you find your publisher?
My agent found me from an online article. She connected me with my publisher, and I signed with them in 2017. At that point, I had a third of the book left to complete which I did during a fast and furious six months.
“Sometimes the very thing people say never happens actually does, and I write these words with deep gratitude.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 223
Q: Let’s talk about your education since you are quite educated.
I would say I have an affinity for being in school and for learning. I received my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. Along the way, I realized my interest started to veer away from my degree. After working at Eastern Kodak for a couple of years, I enrolled at the University of Michigan. I knew I wanted to use my skills to impact under-resourced communities. I left graduate school with two degrees: an MBA and a Masters in Public Policy.
During that time, I focused on economic and community development. I was interested in the field of microfinance as a mechanism for material poverty alleviation.
“But what I longed for was a split sky open, to become a scholar of more.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 93
Q: You also spent time in Cape Town which set you on a new course. Please share that story.
At the end of graduate school, I applied for a grant to go to Cape Town for 10 weeks and work with women, helping them start small businesses. While there, I met my future husband who was originally from Zimbabwe. After leaving Cape Town, I returned to Anchorage. Feeling called, I then flew back to Cape Town and got engaged. After marrying in Jamaica, we lived in Cape Town.
“More than a decade later, in early June, I leave behind my Alaskan summer. I arrive in a Cape Town winter that holds the city in a shivering trance, replete with misty mornings, a handful of bright days, and an everlasting cold requiring the bulk of sweaters and scarves.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 138
Q: How did your time in Cape Town awaken the writer within you?
When I returned to Cape Town, I didn’t have a work visa. I had more time to spend with my own thoughts, so I started writing some of my personal stories and began sharing my writing through an online magazine. While I was happy with my writing, I knew I wanted to learn how to become an even more effective writer.
“But after some time in Cape Town, I realized my classification as a black American unlocked certain conversations with black South Africans.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 145
Q: How long have you been a resident of Charlotte?
We’ve called Charlotte home for 8 years. As a writer, I love how Charlotte provides access to great classes and teachers. I have grown so much as a writer in this city. As a mother, Charlotte is a beautiful place to raise a family. We have since had our second daughter here.
“Charlotte seemed like a place filled with possibility for our black family, a city exploding with a bounty of opportunities.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 201
Q: Storytelling is a calling for you. Why?
There is a power that comes from sharing personal stories. I know I am richer because of them. Common threads appear through storytelling and we gain perspective about the different ways others see and experience the world.
“We reached out over great distances to link with others we might not even know. Together we all sat beneath an indiscriminate sun and remembered that there was something shared.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 37
Q: As a mother, you are an incredible role model for your daughters. What do they think of the work you do?
Oh, thank you! My girls see what I do as fun—”Mom wrote a book.” They know I have an author background. And from that, they have learned that we can be complicated and have an array of skill sets while being able to step into whatever we do with confidence. We raise our daughters to be confident in whatever path they choose.
“Watching you grow gives me hope because you begin better than me and better than my generation.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 225
Q: What has your involvement been with the Charlotte writing community?
I created the curriculum for Charlotte Lit to help people find entry points into their story. Stories bring all backgrounds together which makes our community stronger. Good things are birthed here. And, I feel fortunate to be able to give back to our community. I am offering while people are pouring into me.
“In those fragile beginnings, that crucible produced a writer. I exchanged a fledgling career for a thing I couldn’t have imagined. The aspirations of old found new life with a pen, a computer, and the blank lines of a notebook.” – All the Colors We Will See, 220
Q: You not only connect to people through the written word but through the spoken word as well. Tell us about your speaking role.
I love public speaking for the ability of the spoken word to help bridge divides in race relations and promote human understanding. The spoken word has the ability to move mountains. For instance, after speaking to a group of middle schoolers, they began sharing their own stories with one another, unprompted. While not everyone is wired to write a book, I think we are all still storytellers. I hope my audiences are inspired to self-reflect on the stories that they possess and need to get into the world.
“Before us a woman with beautiful locks stands and speaks with thunder into the microphone.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 196
Q: Where can we hear you speak?
I have spoken about storytelling and finding our identities to numerous corporations, nonprofits, schools, universities and conferences. I always welcome additional opportunities, so please reach out to me if you would like to collaborate. I also teach and speak about writing essays and about being a writer. In August, I will be teaching a workshop on how to transform essays into a book. I feel driven to speak about topics related to race relations and racial justice as well.
“I wouldn’t find peace by changing my appearance. So after years of striving for another look, I wanted my curves, my complexion —and my hair.” – All the Colors We Will See, Page 158