In her podcast Word To Your Mama, Ritzy Periwinkle showcases diverse voices with common themes of non-linear career paths, normalizing mental health within marginalized communities, women in male dominated spaces, and much more. After years of working in various cubicles in the music industry, she decided to launch Ritzy Periwinkle, a moniker for personal art exhibits, and now a vehicle to provide creative direction, graphic design, illustration, strategic branding and more to a broad spectrum of clients and causes. A proud supporter of culture, justice, and diversity, she is dedicated to ensuring that her role as a strong, Latinx, female creative pays respect to those that helped to pave the way.
Bookworms, I had so much fun talking to Ritzy. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, including representation in Children’s and YA books, and artist’s need to constantly create, the rewards of therapy, our mutual shame at not reading more Octavia Butler, and the biggest question of all: how can we convince an author to write another book in a series?
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Discussed in this episode:
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (Attention Bookworms of a Certain Age: click that link to see the modern, updated cover for this classic!)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir by Jennifer Lewis
Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
Parable of the Sower Octavia E. Butler
Best Book Ever Episode 008, Marion Hill on “Memory and Dream” by Charles de Lint
Octavia E. Butler Landing
Parable of the Sower movie
Discussed in the Patreon Exclusive Clip
Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz story by Lilliam Rivera, illustrated by Steph C.
What If… Animated Series
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Hello, Bookworms! Welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss. And today I’m talking to the beautifully named and brilliantly brained creator, artist, and podcast host Ritzy Periwinkle, who joined me to talk about why Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera is the Best Book Ever.
Julie Strauss: Hi Ritzy! Welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast!
Ritzy Periwinkle: Hi, thank you for having me.
JS: Well, how can I resist? You’re the most delightfully named human I’ve ever met in my life.
RP: Thank you!
JS: Ritzy, will you tell my listeners what you do?
RP: I’m a creative director. I work for myself under Ritzy Periwinkle, which is really my moniker. It was what I started my business and what eventually I ended up using as my moniker when I exhibited as an artist. I worked in music industry for a long time. And now, because of the pandemic, I’ve had to pivot and have different types of clients, but I’m a creative director and also a podcast host, but mostly a creative director.
JS: What is the name of your podcast?
RP: Word to Your Mama.
JS: And what is that?
RP: It’s about a LatinX mama – myself – and giving a platform to my amazing multicultural tribe. Common themes are nonlinear career paths, normalizing and destigmatizing mental health, women in male dominated spaces, people of color in white dominant spaces. And I believe a common theme as well is music and creativity and joy.
JS: You said you used to display art. What kind of art did you do?
RP: I was a multi-disciplinary artist. What really brought me into the world, where I traveled an exhibited all around the world, was designer vinyl toys. So, if you go to Comic-Con and stuff like that, you’d see a certain section where it would be a different art. Little vinyl figures. There would be signings and they’re collectibles. So that really propelled me into that world, but I would do everything from painting, to 3D sculpture, murals. It was everything and anything.
JS: The vinyl art that you did – was that something that was commissioned by a franchise? , did you do Marvel Bobbleheads? Or were you creating your own products.
RP: I was creating my own things custom wise, but then I was also part of a series where it was an actual figure, the same type of figure where they commissioned a group of artists to do one of a series. And so each artists did their own interpretation of that figure. I didn’t do anything specifically for any studios as far as 3D art, but I did do, do you know the Topps cards?
RP: They do baseball cards. They also do franchises. They do Star Wars, Lucas film cards. And I was able to do that. I was in Galaxy 6 and was one of the artists featured on that. And that was, I would say, one of my best nerd moments, no doubt. I was a huge Star Wars fan. To do something like that was legitimate, and I was freaking out. Because of what I was doing, that led me into a pile of names to be given and chosen for that.
JS: I’ve never met an artist who stops making their art, even when the circumstances change. Do you still create your own art, even though we’re not having comic cons right now and that kind of thing? Do you still have a creative outlet?
RP: It’s really been interesting for the past couple of years. I had a surgery in 2016 and it kinda messed up my entire, I feel like my molecular structure. I was just really trying to get back into feeling like myself. And I haven’t really created in that same way since then. But I feel like, looking at everything, I’ve always been a creative person. My creative outlet during the pandemic was starting the podcast. I feel if I was creative in a way. I just have to create something. And express myself in some way, and it doesn’t matter what medium. And I think that’s what I had to really release and be okay with, but I haven’t yet. But the good thing is, I think that being in so introspective and having this time forced upon us has really made me look within and I’m on the cusp on wanting to create again. Whether it’s drawing, painting, 3D stuff. I feel it. And it’s a feeling I haven’t had since 2015. So I’m pretty excited about that. I’m excited to see what the next year brings as far as creativity in that realm.
JS: That is exciting. And don’t you love it when you are able to divorce your creative impulse from the need to be productive? Even if you are not making a fortune on this work, that act of doing it is still so important.
RP: It’s very important. I feel like we’re all artists. We forget about that. And we all have those activities that we do that allow us to get in the zone that all of us artists do. If anyone is listening who does anything creative knows exactly what I’m talking about. You get in that zone time, it could be six hours, but you feel it was only 30 minutes because you’re in the zone and nothing else matters. All the noise is quieted. I feel like we all have that one or multiple things that allows us to get in that zone, whether it’s dancing by herself or reading a great book. You’re in the zone. You don’t want it to end. And I feel like that’s important. I feel that it’s so important to me. I see the impact of not being able to get in those zones, not being able to release or express myself in any type of way. I really can see the impact of that.
JS: How did you become such a creative person? Were you raised by artists or was art really encouraged in your childhood?
RP: No, not at all. I love all art, but my first love of any type of art was music. I always say that it saved my life. Being a child of immigrants.. being really poor, being in an abusive household, you know, I don’t know what age bracket we’re all in, but we had three major networks. So music was the only thing that I kind of had control of. We didn’t have streaming back then, kids. It was tapes, listening to the radio, being alert and trying to record from live radio. That was my first venture into creativity, and something that really was able to take you to different spaces and different frames of mind and different worlds, even. I would get grounded all the time. And so I would be left in my room and I would started collaging letters. It was a big thing we did back then, handwritten letters to our girlfriends, sometimes guy friends. And then I would go and be above and beyond and do collages and make 3D letters that could also be purses. Anytime there was any opportunity in a class where you could get extra credit by doing something extra, say English class, a poem class, you could do a drawing or something, I would do that. But it was interesting, because I never thought of myself as an artist. Back then, art seemed so elite, so unattainable. It wasn’t like we went to museums on the regular. What I thought was an artist was someone that painted. At those impressionable ages, I was like, oh, I don’t paint all the time. I don’t draw all the time. So I’m not an artist. It wasn’t until high school, I went to a performing arts high school, and it wasn’t until we went on a field trip to a graphic design firm and I was like, oh! Being creative, being left side and right side brain together, I can express and communicate. That was finding myself a little bit. And then I ended up going to school for graphic design, but also you have to take other art classes. And I was finding other people who felt the same way as I did, where they weren’t drawing all day. They weren’t painting all day, but they were artists, they were creatives. I found my tribe then, and that’s when I knew. I also was into the music industry. And then I became an accidental artist. People were asking me to exhibit. That was never a plan, but sure. And then traveling around the world, exhibiting around the world, it was amazing. It was a dream. I had never even dreamt that for myself.
JS: Where did reading and books fit in this creative life that you have led?
RP: One of the first books that I remember reading, where I didn’t have to read it and I was reading for pleasure, was Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. I remember thinking, I can relate to this. I understand this. This is me now. And I thought that that was going to be the catalyst for me being a voracious reader. It was not. It wasn’t until maybe college, after college, probably, I had all these friends that were voracious readers and I was like what are you reading? How are you finding it? They’re like you need this, try this, try that. I just didn’t have the time, I guess. And then it wasn’t until Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, I was reading it and I couldn’t put it down. And then I was like, these are the types of things that I want to read. And then it wasn’t until, I guess you could say, my adult life when I turned, when I was in my twenties, that I was like, oh, I like reading this type of stuff.
JS: What’s your sweet spot these days? Where do you like to hang out in the bookstore?
RP: Right now, it’s a combo of, I guess self-help but they’re more research, data-driven books. The Body Keeps the Score, stuff like that. Social science, psychology research. Also biographies of people that I’m really interested in, that I like because of whatever they do. And then also really good young adult books. If you could do a Venn diagram of that, that’s where I’m at right now with my books.
JS: How did you find this book? We’re talking about Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera today. How did you first come across this one?
RP: Full disclosure, Lilliam Rivera is a good friend of mine. She’s like a sister to me, and I love her. But just because we’re friends, those that know me know that I’m really honest. And if I don’t like something, I can’t fake the funk. Her first book came out and I loved it. The Education of Margot Sanchez. With any creative person, your sophomore there’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes it doesn’t live up to the hype of your first book. But then I read this and it exceeded my expectations and I actually loved it more. It resonated more with me than the first book. She’s come out with amazing books since then, and she doesn’t disappoint. It’s been fantastic to read other books in the same lane as her, and with no bias and straight honesty, I’m able to say you are an amazing writer. Timing tone, length. I feel like she has it all. And because I was going to talk to you today, the first time I read the book and I couldn’t put it down and then this time I thought it’d be interesting to listen to the book. It took a little bit to get into just because of the actor’s voice and her tone and already knowing the story. I feel that was a little bit of an obstacle, but once she got into her flow and I got past that, it was great. And I feel I got different hints and clues of why I love this one.
JS: Did you have input, or were you part of the process of making this book at all? Or was she thanking you just as a friend and supporter?
RP: I mean, I can’t speak for her, but we felt it was as supports She told us what she was writing about, but nothing more than that. As far as I can remember, she kind of, says, oh, this is what I’m thinking about, kind of a quick overview, that’s it. And then out of all of it out of nowhere, she just comes up with this stuff. I was crying when I read it the first time. And then, if it’s a book or an album, I’m all about the liner notes, the thank yous, all that stuff. So I was reading it, just reading it, and when I saw my name and my other friend’s name, where we call ourselves now that, that same name as the crew, the LMCs, I was crying even more. I was like, oh my God. It’s special. The book is special in so many different ways. What did you think of it?
JS: I really liked it very much. And I did not expect to. This is not my genre. This is not my section of the bookstore. I’m not much of a YA reader; I never read dystopian books. Not for any big reason, except it’s just not my wheelhouse. And so I kind of went into it going all right, let’s get through it. And by the end of it, just like you said, I could not turn the pages fast enough.
JS: Why don’t you tell my listeners what the plot of this book is for anyone who maybe hasn’t come across it yet?
RP: Okay. Just to set it up, this book came out in 2019. Which I think is super important because of how timely it is, and the themes. If I would describe it to a friend, it’s about Chief Rocka, or Nalah, the head of this girl gang in a futuristic Bronx. I feel the tables are turned. Women are in charge. They’re the ones that the men have to bow down to. And it’s her journey of self-discovery and figuring out if this life is everything she thought it was.
JS: So tell me why it hits you so closely? Because I get the feeling you would have liked this, even if your friend hadn’t written it.
RP: Totally. First, I loved it because I feel like I saw myself on so many different levels. You know, being tough. The history that I’ve had, the history of trauma of abandonment early on. Death of a mother – that’s me. Abandonment from her father – that’s me. And I feel that also the over lying hip hop connection to everything. If you’re really big hip hop fan, you get all these little nuggets of hip hop references, from her name to different things that are mentioned in the book. And that speaks so much to me. But I think a huge connection is how pain and trauma and trying to switch the roles of being “strong” by being violent, and being hard and angry, really resonated with me in her journey to the discovery of a different sense of self. It hit everything. I think that’s why I was crying. I’ll probably start crying right now. When I was relistening to it, I wrote some things down and I remember she said at one point, Nalah says that hate can push you forward in many ways. And it’s that thing, especially as women, or people in general, you’re told what, doesn’t break you makes you stronger. It breaks you and it messes you up. And I feel that I really connected with that, because I thought I have to be strong. I thought I was always strong and I didn’t need anybody. I read this at a great time, I read this when I’ve already done the therapy, and it was like, oh no. You were just hiding from the pain. That was a defense mechanism. You didn’t want to let people in because you’re afraid of being hurt. Your mom died when you were young, your father left, you have abandonment issues. You’re not strong and everything in this book, it was just a lot. I think it was so personal. I don’t know how it is with the younger generation now that have books like this available. I think it’s such a gift. I had Judy Blume and I could relate because it was about a girl around my age, going through similar things and, and, and I grabbed a hold of that tightly, cause that’s all I had. But to have been able to read something like this, as someone who looks like me, someone from similar backgrounds, I mean, it still nourished that younger version of me.
JS: I was also thinking about what an incredible experience it would have been for people like me. I was a very avid reader when I was a kid, but I only read books with people who looked like me. What a different place – you know, it’s easy to make these grand predictions, but for me, for my life, I would be a different person, if I had grown up with Black Panther, and with this book and with heroes and warriors who didn’t always look just like me. I think we would all really have evolved very differently. It’s exciting to think about kids picking up this book.
RP: Yes. Yes for sure. I mean, I feel like maybe that’s why I didn’t become a voracious reader when I was younger, because I was well, Judy Blume, and this is it for me. No one’s telling me or letting me know of any other similar books that I could really latch onto. And I think that’s what I was searching for. I was searching for escapes. That’s what the music, TV, movies, all provided for me. I needed my books to do either the same or I wanted to be able to see myself. And I didn’t see myself, whether it was a white girl, my age with similar situations, dealing with similar situations and things. Your past, you can’t move. They always say that, right? You can’t move forward unless you know your history, you know, you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future. Ziggy Marley, it’s in the song. He says it all the time and it’s true. Whatever you’re not dealing with, it comes to get ya. And if it took something for Chief Rocka, her other name, for her to finally deal honestly with their past, for her to move forward, and for her to see what had been in front of her this entire time. The realization. You know what, I really feel she did an amazing job. And now with the pandemic and people being introspective and people going into therapy and learning that going into therapy is not you go in and you’re fixed. It’s a lot of ugly, hard work. On TikTok, there’s a whole thing: What is something that you learned about healing that you didn’t know. And everyone’s just like, I didn’t know how ugly and hard it was going to be. In the book, it was an ugly, hard truth. It was physically painful for her to go through. Mentally, spiritually painful. But once you got to the other side, who’s to say without spoiling the book, but the possibilities are endless. And that’s what we all have to do for ourselves. I can’t move forward until I go into the deep, darkest pits, and put that mirror in front of myself and deal with all the ugliness. And it’s going to hurt and you’re going to fight. And I think that’s where a lot of us were like, we don’t want to do that. Nah, we’re cool. I don’t want to. But you have to. As someone who has gone through it many times, you need to do itThe rewards are far exceed the deepest, darkest pits of pain that you may experience. I promise you that.
JS: And you lose other people, which also happens in this book. She loses people on her way to winning herself back.
RP: Right. And I think that’s the beautiful thing. She has to be willing to do that, sacrifice that. You those relationships. And then, what she was doing is something that we all do: were those relationships even really real? Were they authentic? Right? You rethink of all of that stuff, but you keep moving. I was excited for the ending. And I reached out [to Lilliam] again. I remember I did it the first time and I did it a couple of days ago when I refinished the book. And I was like, I don’t remember what you said, but are you going to make another one?
JS: This is my next question! I was wondering if you had some personal intel.
RP: She said no. She’s like, let me not say no. There’s none right now. Never say never. And I was like, oh, I want to know what happens. I want to know what new battles.
JS: That is really interesting because it does feel like it could definitely go on.
RP: If the Lords and dragons above make this into a movie, or better yet a series, or better yet an animated series, I want to see it all and I’m excited.
JS: We would want to know what happens after this book ends because it’s not “solved.” At the end, it you’re very much at a new point. But nothing is fixed. So we got to put a little pressure on her, right? What do you do? You’re buying her a good Christmas gift this year, right? Can I Venmo you some money for her Christmas present?
RP: I’m so excited that you really enjoyed it as well. And the points that you made are great.
JS: I’m looking forward to giving it to my daughter. I know she would love it. I call her my Book Whisperer. She’s really into YA that’s interesting and challenging. And I know she will love it. It’s definitely a book that you want to read for yourself, but also pass on to the young people that you know.
RP: Oh, for sure. For sure.
JS: So, Ritzy, tell me what you’re reading these days.
RP: So I just finished a couple of biographies. Right now, I’m in the middle of Jennifer Lewis, The Mother of Black Hollywood. Because I love her so much. I feel like she’s my mom or something. Her story is amazing. Her story is as crazy as she is, but in the great way. But I also was interested in reading it because I know she’s bipolar, and I wanted to read her journey of dealing with that. So I’m almost done with that. Before that, I finished Dear Girls by Ali Wong, the comedian. And that was great. Next I am thinking of, I’ve never shamefully have never read any Octavia Butler. And my friends like Lillian, we have this crew, we’re also the LMC, (shout out to Lilliam and Elisa), they both have, because they’re voracious readers and they recommended to start off with Parable of the Sower. So I’m thinking about startin that.
JS: We are about to do that on the podcast, I believe in October. My friend Marion is coming back on. He’s a major Octavia Butler fan, and he’s appalled at my lack of Octavia Butler in my reading canons. So he’s educating me.
RP: Awesome. So we can discuss offline what you think and the reason why she keeps coming up. You know, when The Rover Perseverance landed on Mars, I had put my son’s name on there two years prior. It was had a chip with like 14 million names on there. So of course, we had to watch the launch. And when it landed, the landing area, they named it Octavia Butler Landing. I keep getting these signs, symbols and clues that I need to read. You know what I mean? So since then I was like, ah, which one? And asking around.
JS: Yeah, she’s really having a Renaissance right now because I believe it was last year or the year before that she finally hit New York times bestseller list. And then something is being made into a movie. Parable of the Sower, maybe?
RP: Yeah, you’re right. I think I remember seeing that. Yeah. It’s a Renaissance. She’s always in the ether. She’s always around.
JS: I’m so glad she’s finally getting her due. Well, this has been so lovely talking to you. I really want all of my listeners to go find your work. Will you please tell them where they can find you?
JS: I want to thank you so much for joining me. I hope you’ll come back anytime you have a book that you love, that you want to talk to me about. And, you know, pass on the email of your friend, Lilliam, so we can all give her a little nudge.
RP: I will. And when this episode comes out, I won’t even tell her this. I’ll just be like, so Lilliam, listen to this…
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Thanks for joining me today. And I will see you at the library.