Cindy Similien-Johnson has always dreamed of being a writer ever since she was a little girl. Inspired by the works of award-winning, Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, it was through her works that Similien-Johnson was able to share experiences on what it’s like to be a Haitian-American woman.
“When I came across her book as a high school teenager at a public library, it was the first time I saw reflections of myself in literature. With this experience, I understood the importance of creating or reading books which empower children of color,” Similien-Johnson reflected.
She soon enrolled at Barnard College of Columbia University, Danticat’s alma mater, as an English literature and creative writing major where she can do the same for other young, first and second generation caribbean youth. She started writing books for women where they can discover and live a more purposeful life — the same tools that helped her achieve success.
Through that, Similien-Johnson managed to find the sweet spot between being a Haitian and American woman and her writing reflects such. While, yes, she understands the complexity and duality in her identity, she’s not only learned to embrace it, but also put in a format where generations to come can relate and see themselves in her works.
Knowing the need for Haitian culture in children’s books, Similien-Johnson transitioned into children’s literature to empower families and children to help them learn more about Haiti’s culture. Her latest book, “Haiti is” is the complete embodiment of such.
Founding Goal Chic, a women and girl empowerment initiative to give them guidance on how to pursue their goals and purpose. Asked numerous times on how she managed to create the life she lives, Similien-Johnson felt that it was right to write self-help books to help them along the process. Her books include; Goal Chic!: Changing the World, One Goal at a Time, Living Expectantly: 30 Days to Living An Authentic Life, and How to Stay Motivated: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Living.
With May being Haitian Heritage Month, read on to find out how what this Haitian-American go-getter is up to, her company CSJ Media Publishing, some hardships she’s experienced as a Haitian-American writer and some of her favorite Haitian dishes.
Tell me a little bit of what is CSJ Media Publishing? And why did you start it?
CSJ stands for the first initials of my name. My journey as a writer started in 2006 at an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Retreat in Port Jervis, NY. Ever since then, there was a high calling on my life: to serve God through writing. For many years, I neglected the fulfillment of my purpose because of my own fears, doubts, unbelief, etc.
A breakthrough came one afternoon in February 2014 when I was challenged to be the woman of God I was created to be. I decided to take on the challenge and pursue God and discover who I am in Him. Later that year, I founded CSJ Media Publishing as a platform to use my gifts and talents in writing to uplift others. My mission is to inspire, encourage, and empower people through the written word.
What do you hope people get from your books?
I want to instill hope in my readers after they read my empowerment books. For my young readers, I want to instill wonder about other cultures For those who read my cookbooks and cultural books, I want to instill knowledge about my Haitian culture.
What can we as customers and as Haitian people do to see more multicultural people in the arts and publishing world?
You can support the works of the authors by attending their events and buying their books. In addition, spread the word on social media sites so that more people can be aware of them.
What’s your artwork process like?
There’s a quote that I love from a famed artist. He said, “I start with an idea and it becomes something else.” The process starts with an idea. I have many ideas. I choose to work on one at a time, giving God the space to take it where it needs to go. Like clay, I mold the idea and cut out the unnecessary pieces until I see that it is fit enough to be released to the public.
What are some of the hardships you’ve experienced as a writer?
I have many stories to tell, but one of my challenges is finding the time to write them.
What do you think is missing the writing landscape, and how are you trying to bridge the gap?
I think the writing landscape is missing connections, collaborations, and a sense of community. Writers, by nature, work independently or in silos. A lot of good can be done if authors combine forces to change their communities. I decided to launch Author Talks in May 2017 to bridge that gap, particularly in my Brooklyn community.
What should young aspiring authors do to get their foot in the door?
I encourage young aspiring writers to tell their stories unashamed, and connect with other writers in their community. Nowadays, being a writer is not enough. As writers we have a responsibility to not only share our stories but also be active in our communities.
Tell me a little bit about your ‘Cook like a Haitian’ cooking series. Where did the idea come from and what’s your favorite dish to cook?
The idea of writing a cookbook was spurred by my desire to preserve the meals I had while growing up in a Haitian household. One of my earliest childhood memories was the time I visited relatives in Haiti one summer. I remember sitting at a table in a backyard filled with banyan trees. For breakfast, I had meals like Mayi Moulen (Cornmeal) with Sòs Pwa Nwa (Black Bean Sauce).
As I got older, somehow (and unfortunately), I got disconnected from my roots. I lost my sense of cultural identity and the ability to understand and speak the Haitian-Creole language. There’s an African proverb that says, “We must go back to our roots in order to move forward.”
A few years ago, I decided to learn everything I can about my Haitian culture. Consequently, I began cooking and compiling the recipes from my childhood. The “Cook Like A Haitian” cookbook series is my way of not only persevering traditional Haitian recipes but also helping others reconnect to their Haitian roots through food. My favorite dish to cook is Banan Peze. It’s so easy to make!
What’s your take on the importance of food in Haitian culture?
Food plays a major role in the Haitian culture. We are known for our Pumpkin Soup and Black Rice. Every time I take a bite of Haitian food, I take a bite of our history.
If you want to find more of Cindy Similien-Johnson’s work, you can find them here on her Amazon author page. If you also want to join the Trendy Tripping community, and see the different memberships we provide, click the home page for more information.