Wilmington author, Elaine “Cissy” Brown grew up on the East side of Wilmington, Delaware, during a time of integration. As a young girl, she discovered her love for writing, singing, and theater. Deciding to forgo college, Elaine moved to Atlantic City. In Atlantic City, she pursued her singing and learned photography.
Once her daughter was born, she left singing and started writing seriously. During this time, she published Secret Songs of Sara and Who Took The G Out of Glademore. Her newest novel, Love, Sex, Lies in the High-Rise explores the sexual lives of seniors who are discovering themselves later in life.
A Conversation With Elaine Brown:
What was it like growing up in Wilmington as an African-American woman?
Growing up it was very comfortable. There were restrictions where we could eat. There were restrictions where we could use the swimming pool. There were restrictions where we could live. But because I had a musical group that I belonged to, a lot of that we never really felt because i had an outlet. We stayed, as they say, in our lane. Neighborhoods were integrated at the time, but our schools weren’t. So, I actually did not feel any pain here in Wilmington because we had so many resources for where we could go. Only when I look back and realize the restrictions, do I associate how it was growing up in Wilmington.
How has Wilmington changed since you were a child?
Well they used to call this Uncle Dupy town because of the Dupont family. Once they integrated the schools, we lost all our kindness and looking out for one another in the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods were disposed of, they did a lot of urban renewal. Whole families were scattered all over. I hate to talk about it, but there has become a lot of crime here in Wilmington. It’s still a beautiful city, and it’s still safe to raise your children. But, there are areas where there is crime. We are getting better jobs. We have black mayors. It’s changed a lot, but it looks like we are going backwards in some areas.
What made you choose to skip college for singing?
Ignorance and I say ignorance because academically I didn’t realize that I could go to any college and study music. I could have gone to Juilliard, but we didn’t have the money. Because I couldn’t go to Juilliard, I didn’t want to go to college at all. What I did was go to Atlantic City and learned the profession of photography. And I also sang until my first child. When I got pregnant, I moved back to Wilmington.
What compelled you to start writing?
Being the only girl with four brothers, I could do something for my girl time. I was young we had a garage in back of the house, and I would get old records and I would play them and sing along with the records. I just loved growing up and being a girl.
Has Wilmington influenced your books?
No. My books come from within. Wilmington has done me well. Where I work, they’ve supported me, but i don’t think they’ve embraced me enough. Now, the first book, yes, Secret Songs of Sarah, but that was 19-20 years ago. I still have my following crowd though. I don’t know, I feel like maybe they should embrace me a little more.
Has your singing influenced any of your books?
No, I don’t sing anymore. I used to sing jazz. Once I had my daughter, I stopped singing, and I started writing and poetry and theater.
How has being a woman of color influenced your writing?
When I first started writing books, I really thought I was the only one here in Wilmington writing a book, but once my book was on the shelves, it seemed like al the back women in Wilmington and everywhere else came out and wrote their books. So, no it hasn’t influenced my writing.
Tell us about your newest book.
My newest book is a kicker. It’s about seniors living in a high rise apartment in Philadelphia. In the book there are about six or seven characters, main two, Duke and Cebee. It talks about their erotic pleasures with one another. There is a group of people who sit in the recreation room reminiscing about their past. A lot of them are fabricated stories. You have sexual scenes in the book that will make your jaw drop…I like the reaction that people have because it’s a fun book. It’s not a nasty book. It’s simply about older people enjoying themselves.
Most recent book centers around senior citizens, do you feel that there was a voice that was lacking?
Yes. Because the characters in my book are older. Back in the day it was taboo to talk about sex. So, unless you had a group of friends that would share with each other that was the only way you knew what type of sex was going on. Other than that there was no literature out there about them having desires and feeling as they get older.
How was the senior experience different from the younger adult experience?
The fact that you can still have an experience that you never thought that you could. Take an older woman that meets a man the same age. At first they think: “we’ll just sit and have dinner and talk or go to the movies.” But for some reason they develop vibrations just being together, maybe him just rubbing her hand, you start getting these feelings and the next thing you know there is something inside that says- “Oh, I still have it.”
What genre did you like writing best?
All three. There are three different genres. I had to find those different genres in myself because it wasn’t something that I set out to to do. What comes about is that you are sitting around and and you decide to start writing on a pad, and the next thing you know you’ve done a chapter and realize, “ I haven’t done this before.” You never know where things come from. I’ve done some science fiction too. I just haven’t put them in a book. I do have little small manuscripts. I have so many unexposed manuscripts that I’ve started. It’s not writer’s block that you have, it’s just that there are so many other things that go on in your life. But you have to come back to it.
Would you have written different books if you were younger?
Probably so because of the younger experience. Being younger the only thing I could talk about was my music and my poetry. I wouldn’t have the experience that I’ve had with these books because I wouldn’t have been that old. I guess you could talk about your first boyfriend, but that’s more like a diary. I think your diary is your first novel.
How has your writing changed over the years?
It goes all over the place. It’s changed for the better. I like every book that I’ve written. I’m proud of them.
What plans do you have for the future as far as writing?
Right now, my plans are for marketing and hoping that someone will hit me up and say we want to mass produce, so it will give me freedom to write something else. I was thinking last week about what I was doing when I was younger. Why was I in a certain frame of mind. Back then, the things I write about were taboo. You couldn’t talk to your mother or girlfriends about it. That would probably be a book that I would pursue next about self-discovery.
Written by Shoshana Kohn