Catherine Joy White, acts, makes films and is an advocate for gender equality …
And now she’s adding ‘author’ to her lists of achievements with the publication of her debut book, ‘This Thread of Gold’ – a celebration of Black womanhood.
Please introduce yourself …
Hi, I’m Catherine Joy White and I’m an actor, author, filmmaker, founder/CEO of Kusini Productions and gender equality expert for the United Nations. I have Jamaican/British heritage and was born in Northampton in the East Midlands before growing up between there, Yorkshire and Wales.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
Hectic but golden.
Tell us about your latest project This Thread of Gold …
This Thread of Gold is a celebration of Black womanhood, weaving a gorgeous tapestry of resilience to bring together narratives that celebrate the triumph of Black female resistance. Throughout history, acts of defiance have taken place in secret, in kitchens, churches, through trusted networks. Others were projected onto a global stage through art, politics and activism. From Alice Walker to Beyoncé, from Audre Lorde to Doreen Lawrence, from Aretha Franklin to Zendaya. In This Thread of Gold I chart my own journey to self-discovery through the prism of extraordinary women to create a beautiful tapestry of Black joy. It was published in the UK on 22nd June by Dialogue Books and will be published next year in the US by Penguin Random House’s Tiny Reparations Books.
Though you’re known for being an actor and filmmaker, what nudged you into the world of books, and why did you go the non-fiction route rather than fiction?
I’ve always been writing, from as early as I can remember. In fact, on publication day my dad dug out an old school report where, age 5, I had written (and I’ll leave the spelling mistakes intact!) “My best thing is writing. I really enjoy reading. Mrs Otley says when I grow up I’m going to be auther.” I used to craft worlds for my sisters, writing countless stories and inventing games. So I think becoming an actor/filmmaker and now author makes sense. In terms of this particular book, I wanted to write something that chronicles the joy of Black womanhood – and trusts itself that this is enough. Traditional narratives focus on oppression, but This Thread of Gold is a celebration – and a call to arms. I hope it will permanently correct a historical record, change a narrative and inspire a generation. It is non-fiction but perhaps not in the traditional sense. It is poetic and lyrical which I think is the creative in me. A fiction book is definitely on the cards though! I already have a lot of ideas…
At what point of your career does this book find you?
I feel a real joy to be in a position where I am able to tell new stories and bring my work into the world in such different but connected ways; from acting to directing to writing to activism. However what I would also say with this, is that in writing This Thread of Gold and researching the lives of so many incredible women I also found myself on a real journey of learning about myself. I am one of life’s eternal optimists and have spent a lifetime avoiding anything I don’t want to think about. In writing This Thread of Gold I found myself facing up to some truths for the first time. So I suppose I would say that I am on a journey of discovery currently.
What were your initial steps to bringing This Thread of Gold to life?
It actually started life as my university dissertation. I can still remember the moment I told my supervisor that I was going to write it on Beyoncé. There was a long silence (!) but I stood my ground, creating a world crafted as a menu which explored how from Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé’s Lemonade Black women had used food as a means of resistance.
For the book I moved away from solely looking at food and so my research methods were broad; books, the internet, trawling archives to find the women of the Windrush, interviews, conversations, trips to the Caribbean; I went all in with it. I knew that I wanted to set the book out in three sections: Reclamation, Recreation and Resilience. Once I knew who I wanted to write about I would map connections – who might work well together. Sometimes this was thematic; Diane Abbott and Stacey Abrams – as two politicians – felt like they would naturally belong in a chapter together. Other times it could be geographic, or the fact that they were fighting to make a better life for their children, or a pure gut instinct on my part that their stories would complement each other.
What did you learn about yourself along the journey and are you comfortable being an author – are there more books in you?
In Chapter 5 – Warrior, I revisit the works of the brilliant Audre Lorde, in particular looking at something called “overextension” which she wrote about whilst she was fighting cancer. In writing about how we don’t have to be ‘warriors’ – we don’t have to ‘overextend’ ourselves by doing the most at all times – I grappled with some hard truths about myself, challenging myself to question my own drive to do everything and achieve as much as humanly possible – even if it means juggling five full time jobs, caring responsibilities and never ever saying no.
Through the journey of writing the book I would say that I have more of an awareness now of how to try and take care of myself even when life gets hectic. Writing it has definitely taught me to be kinder to myself – I have started practising the art of saying no – and taking a break! (And it feels good!) I am loving being an author. My next project is a series called The Black Take which is already under way and will also be published by Dialogue. But I am itching to write my first fiction book too … watch this space.
Reading the reviews – the words ‘essential‘ and ‘finally‘ and ‘beautiful‘ come up, how have the positive reactions felt to you and why do you think it resonates so well with your audience?
It has been the most incredible feeling. To see a pioneer such as Afua Hirsch who is genuinely a hero of mine call my book “essential” and a “stunning debut”… I don’t really have the words for how that feels. The critical reviews have been astonishing too. It’s so exciting. Every time I walk past a bookshop and see it in the front window or “recommended” as a special pick it makes me feel very emotional. This is my debut book and so I really had no idea how it would be received. For it to go down so well I think speaks to its tone of joy – it is truly a celebration and I think that is needed. That it is written so lyrically and fuses genre and form I think makes it unique, and as I mentioned I have also been very honest which is always something I appreciate as a reader so perhaps that has something to do with it. It is also definitely hugely thanks to my incredible publishers and all of those who have been reading and spreading the word.
And I read that part of the book will be made into an animation … Is this happening?
That’s right. I’ve adapted a chapter of the book into a short animation which I will also direct and we just announced the incredible Gugu Mbatha-Raw as our star. It’s called To My Daughter and is adapted from the final chapter of my book which is called Daughter. I wrote it fuelled with rage the morning after Roe v Wade was overturned in America. What started as a furious letter to all women hoping to reclaim our rights became a joyful letter to the daughter I hope I will one day have and I guess by default the next generation of young women. It has been described as part guidebook, part exuberant narrative and part poetry – a rich, visual standalone piece intended to inspire and embolden the next generation of women. Emmy winning/BAFTA nominated studio Lupus Films are producing and we have applied to the BFI for funding.
Highs, lows, solutions …
I would say time was the biggest obstacle. I worked full time for the United Nations, and similarly juggled multiple acting jobs (two seasons of a TV show, a couple of theatre jobs and a couple of films) as well as making short films and running my production company! I eventually realised I needed to physically get away from my life as it wasn’t going to stop without me making it happen. This was the best thing I could have done and I spent last summer in France writing on trains and in cafes and just being removed from the distractions of life. Highs definitely include getting to talk to readers and hear what the book has meant to them, the incredible launch party (where everything was Black owned), and unveiling a mural in Shoreditch which featured some of the women and was painted by the very talented Linnet Panache Rubaya (Leonard Street, go check it out).
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
What’s your current plan B?
Keep smiling and remember that it isn’t over until you want it to be.
What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?
Sad, diary clashes meaning I’ve had to make some difficult decisions. Mad, the heatwave in Europe is such a stark reminder of the climate crisis and it’s so hard not to feel helpless in the face of it. Glad, getting away and having a little break – I am currently on a train from Marseille to Paris and will end up in the Netherlands.
What are you watching right now?
I just finished the last season of Succession. Wow.
What are you reading right now?
A Proof of Sugar, Baby by Celine Saintclare which I am loving.
What are you listening to right now?
A lot of SZA.
The last thing you saw on stage?
Does Beyoncé count?
What’s on your bucket list?
To run a marathon on every continent, to win an Oscar and to be Prime Minister.
Where’s your happy place?
Paris is the place that where I feel most like myself so either there or anywhere by the water. I’m a real water baby!
Celebrate someone else …
My sisters. They are my true soul mates and they inspire me every single day.
Celebrate yourself …
I travelled to Wales the day before publication and took a copy of my book to my Nan. She emigrated from Jamaica back in the 60s and when I gave her her copy she told me that it had always been a dream of hers to write a book but now I had lived her dream for her. Nobody in my family even knew this was an ambition of hers and it still makes me cry every time I think of it to know that I have made her proud.
Whose footsteps are you following in?
As I write in This Thread of Gold: “the furious, glorious women who came before me.”
I’m currently writing my first TV series which I’m so excited about and can’t wait to share more when I can. My debut film Fifty-Four Days is about halfway through its festival circuit journey and is picking up so many incredible awards along the way. This Thread of Gold comes out in America next year so things are ramping up there as we move towards US publication and I am doing lots of talks and events here in the UK as well as starting work on The Black Take, directing To My Daughter, auditioning for new acting jobs and trying to remember to sleep every so often haha!
Where can we find you?
Where can we see & read your latest work?
This Thread of Gold is out now in hardback and audiobook available online and from all bookshops (support your local store if you can!) – Hachette.
For news about my films go to @kusiniproductions and for the latest updates and screenings of Fifty-Four Days search @fiftyfourdaysfilm