by Juanita Alexander
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saundra Terrell, an engaging and delightful author who grew up and was nurtured in our very own Parkside community. I was spellbound as I listened to her discuss her childhood experiences and her latest book, WATER THICKER THAN BLOOD.
She explained that the underlying ‘theme’ of the book is that “you can have people come into your life in a meaningful way and that they can have more impact on your life and often be more supportive than your blood relatives”. Ms. Terrell’s book is a work of fiction but she feels it is filled with characters that everyday people can relate to based on their own life experiences. Characters like Johnny Mae who suffers from unrequited love and Pearl who must deal with feelings of inadequacy because she feels she is too dark and too fat compared to her prettier’ sister, are people most of us can empathize with.
Saundra Terrell moved with her family to Parkside (near 42nd and Viola Sts.) when she was about six
years old during the 1950’s. She attended Leidy Elementary School (the ‘original’ Leidy before the larger school was built). She remembers a beautiful neighborhood with grocery stores, pharmacies, and produce shops lining Parkside Ave. and nearby streets. During the 1950’s, the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish and Leidy was racially mixed. She believes that Parkside began to experience a decline when people moved into the community who were not homeowners and who did not have a vested interest in maintaining their properties. It is her belief that the decline of the neighborhood accelerated when a nearby restaurant was converted to a bar, leading to fights and other undesirable activities.
Despite the challenges facing Parkside today, Ms. Terrell remains deeply connected with her childhood community. Her sister still lives on Viola Street, right next to the original family home that her son is renovating. In addition, members of her late husband’s family still live on Viola Street.
Although her first book, NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MY OWN, was published fairly recently in 2009, Ms. Terrell’s interest in books and writing dates back to her childhood years. In the fourth grade, the teacher would allow her to put on plays after the recess break. All of her classmates eagerly looked forward to her plays and wanted to be characters in her ‘productions’. When other children were outside playing, she stayed indoors and read Nancy Drew romance novels. She especially related to the character of Allison in the sensational 1950’s best seller Peyton Place because Allison wanted to go to New York and become a writer. Ironically, despite her obvious talent, she had low self-esteem as a child because she was a poor speller. However, she compensated for her difficulties with spelling by using words she found in books she read. Later on, in life, she found that other people identified with her early feelings of inadequacy.
Ms. Terrell’s creativity is not limited to writing. From the age of six she enjoyed just taking needle and thread and creating. After her husband’s death in 1999, she opened a business on City Line Avenue in the former Iroquois. There she sold crafts, jewelry, and dolls representing African-American family figures. In the near future, she intends to resume creating crafts, especially dolls and pictures made from cloth materials. All of her creations (crafts, books,etc.) are marketed under her business name, SAUNDRA TERRELL ORIGINALS.
As we concluded the interview, Ms. Terrell expressed her passion for books and writing by stating, “It’s almost like the books write themselves and the characters and stories just come to me. I cannot imagine a world without books. I hope people get the same feeling when they read my books”. After talking with her I was so moved that I went to my local Barnes and Noble store and ordered a copy of WATER THICKER THAN BLOOD. I am encouraging all of our Journal readers to do the same.
Ms. Terrell has scheduled two upcoming book signings (September 23rd at the African-American History Museum and November 6th at Thomas Jefferson Hospital). Please try to attend these events and be sure to go to her website http://www.saundraterrell.com/ to learn more about this multi-talented lady who makes Parkside proud!!