Advocacy comes in many forms. For Chloe Dulce Louvouezo, it means creating a space for Black women to share, feel and connect—a place where they are the “main characters.” Her new book, Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing, and Self-Trust, compiles the stories of more than 20 Black women who chronicle their experiences and tackle themes including identity, growth, grief and triumph.
Louvouezo herself has what she calls a “complex” backstory. The senior communications officer for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grew up in more than 10 cities around the world with countless host families. But as layered and interesting as her story is, Louvouezo says, “I don’t think that my story by itself could possibly illustrate how nuanced we are as a collective.”
Louvouezo speaks with Sweet July about how the book—and podcast with the same name and concept—came to be, what she hopes readers will take away from these stories and why she believes there’s no one-size-fits-all method to navigating life’s challenges.
“Life I Swear” was already a podcast, but can you talk about how it also became a book idea?
Chloe Dulce Louvouezo: Actually, the book idea came before the podcast idea. Everyone was introduced to the podcast first—as I was collecting essays and stories for the book, and as we were exchanging stories, myself and the contributors, it felt just as meaningful in conversation. Starting the podcast just felt like a natural progression of that. I think that we all intake and absorb revelations, insights and perspectives differently, and so I wanted to make these kinds of insights accessible. I wanted to start the podcast to [create] conversations—a way to normalize the vulnerability that comes through sharing stories.
What’s the value of having these stories live in both audio and written versions?
CDL: When we think about self-care, oftentimes, it’s thought of as a luxury. It can often feel so hard to carve out that time that is just for us. Selfishly and unapologetically, just for us. So I think having access to things that nourish us, even when we’re active and on the move, I think that’s why the podcast idea spoke to me. I was talking to someone recently just about the importance of [the] fluctuation of our voices, the tone in which we are articulating our experiences, all of the senses that come alive when we’re able to speak about our experiences that aren’t often translated onto paper. I think that helps the stories resonate in a different way.
When we’re reading, we’re really interpreting them for ourselves, which can be a beautiful thing because the words are resonating in the way they are speaking directly to us. The bottom line is that, hopefully, these messages allow us to illustrate our narrative in new ways. Hopefully, however, you get to that—either through the podcast or through written form—it finds you in some way.
How has your personal experience influenced the book’s theme?
CDL: For me, this book is personal as well—it is part memoir. And it does really reflect how I see my own personal growing into womanhood. My father’s side is from the Republic of Congo; I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo; my mother’s side is white American. She grew up in Italy, but she raised me in Niger, West Africa. And it’s interesting because my mom’s work took her to very remote towns and villages surrounding Niamey, the capital of Niger.
I come from many different places, several different families. While each has influenced me at different points of my life, I never really had that one defined home. So this sense of identity, even as I journeyed into womanhood and motherhood, forced me to think about where I identify as or in—in places, in people or in myself. Those three have kind of been a bit of a tug of war growing up and even as an adult. The theme of the book, which is woven through all of my essays and the essays of many of their other women, is: how do we come home to ourselves? Because once we are able to, I think that becomes the reference point for when we think about identity. And that influences healing. Then, once we are on an active healing journey, we’re able to trust ourselves. I do think of it as a natural progression into really feeling more confident, more assured, more validated from the inside out, in a world where we often don’t receive those things from outside sources and forces.
The book chronicles unique experiences including your own, but how, if at all, are these stories universally relatable?
CDL: The topics that are covered in this book are absolutely universal. There are essays on grief, there are essays on trauma, there are essays on heartbreak, breakthrough entrepreneurship, tenacity, resilience. I think all of these things are things that we all experience. Many people who are not Black women can read these essays, and it [can] resonate with them, or serve them in some way.
It was important for me to have these universal topics be told through the lens of Black women from across the diaspora. Because so often, our voices are not the leaders of these kinds of conversations. I wanted, for once, for Black women to be the main characters of those kinds of stories that we all relate to.
The book is described as being “a catalyst for change” — how do you hope it succeeds in being this?
CDL: When I think about the experience I personally had and that many of my friends and other women that I know have had in trying to work through our pain points in isolation, or siloed, it’s taken a long time because often we can spiral with our own thoughts or self-doubt can be the loudest voice in our head. And I think that when we are able to see our stories reflected in other women, it makes us feel not as alone and makes us feel seen and understood and more valued, more supported—even if not tangibly. Our readiness to tell our story usually doesn’t come until it’s met by someone who is also willing and ready to tell their story.
I think the word catalyst really is about being a launching pad for something. As I think about identity, healing and self-trust, those, to me, are the foundational things that we should be investing in on an individual level. So that, one, on an individual level, we can then lean more into our creativity, our liberation, our spirituality. But then, two, if we’re all doing this healing work on our own, then we can bring our healing selves to the collective.
As we get closer to the new year, what are some best practices in these areas that people can apply to their own lives in 2022?
CDL: What we need to be our best selves—to get through our healing journey—is so specific to us, that’s so specific to the context that we’re in. We can’t give blanket statements or a blueprint for how other people should be navigating their own healing. Do your own self-assessment, and I think that can only come in the honesty—the raw honesty—in reflecting and reassessing our stories. That’s the only work that we can do ourselves.
[But] you can be in need of healing and help others heal. You can be a mess and a messenger at the same time. That duality can exist at the same time. I do think in the spirit of leaning in and embracing both of those dualities, you can be working on yourself and supporting others. I think that you do that by being vulnerable in the midst of where you are right now. I really do hope that people find the bravery to tell their [stories] while they are in the midst of them. Because that can be therapeutic for you, but then it can be so inspiring for other people who can feel connected to you through your own bravery.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.