Acclaimed author looks back at her life
06 Nov 2014 7:14 PM | Ron Wynn
Transplanted Mississippi Author achieves fame
By Ron Wynn
Mrs. Bertha M. Davis has endured and persevered through extreme poverty, child abuse, sub-standard segregated schools and low wage jobs to emerge as an acclaimed, award-winning author. Her 2007 memoir “Growing Up in Mississippi,” has been included in the Emmett Till library in Mississippi, and also was an Indie Excellence Book Award Finalist. Mrs. Davis has published six books, the most recent being a Children’s book titled “Jay’s Friend Kitty Brew.”
Mrs. Davis became an author in part because of the encouragement of friends and some co-workers. She kept telling her co-workers about her experiences, and they all universally encouraged her to write a book. She even shared some early pages with friends, but then a major incident proved the catalyst in getting the project completed.
“I had been trying to get together all my thoughts and organize them and I had about 100 pages together,” Mrs. Davis said during an interview. “I left it (the manuscript) at Metropolitan Hospital where I was working at the time. One of the girls at the desk was reading it and said this is really interesting. All the girls at the desk loved it. So that gave me the encouragement I needed to finish the project.”
“Growing Up In Mississippi,” which is now available on five CDs through Spoken Books Publishing, is an astonishing true story of a woman who as a young girl was so poor she couldn’t afford to pay fifteen cents for lunch money. She talks in vivid, exacting language about Uncle Wigley, an abusive character whose ugly behavior could have left a permanent scar on her psyche. But Mrs. Davis overcame all that, plus handled being married early in life and later enduring a series of low wage jobs. She also dealt with the problems that ensued when she relocated from the Mississippi Delta to Indianapolis.
The book eventually led to a fast friendship with its audiobook narrator Erica Dell. “I’d never met her before, but I really liked her voice on the project,” Mrs. Davis said. “Then we started communicating via e-mail and soon we became friends. I think she really brings a lot to the reading and makes what I wrote resonate.”
Davis was among millions of Blacks who made the trek from the South to the Midwest in the period between the 30s and the ‘60s. She added the initial transition was a tough one.
Hide message history
“When I first got to Indianapolis in 1965 people really looked down on people from the country,” Mrs. Davis said. “If you told them you were from Mississippi they would wonder if you knew how to speak properly or were even smart enough to hold a job. But at the same time, the Black community as a whole was closer. People pulled together. I remember growing up as a child in Mississippi that if someone saw you misbehaving they had no problem with disciplining you, then telling your mother and you’d get another spanking.”
“Now when you speak to children today, you better be careful what you say. You’ll have the parents up in your face in a second. We need to get back to the spirit of support and everyone pitching in to raise children the way it used to be. It seems that Black people are getting away from all that, both here and in the South.”
Lewis eventually graduated from Vocational Technical College in 1988 with an Associate Degree in Secretarial Science and Word Processing. She’s spent over two decades volunteering for the Outreach Prison Ministry. She’s received multiple awards in that role from the Indiana Women’s Prison for her service.
But today, Mrs. Bertha Lewis juggles being a mother, wife and in-demand author. She’s made return trips to Mississippi, including a reading at the school (Alan Carver High) where she once was unable to afford lunches. “That really brought a tear to my eye to be sitting there and having people come up to me with books to sign, and treating me like a celebrity. It made me feel great, but I also had a big flashback.
She’s already had six books published, but Mrs. Davis has enough material for at least another six. However, the next project on her list is an updated version of “Growing Up In Mississippi,” which she plans to have released sometime in 2015. There will also be another return trip to the Delta, and she adds that plenty of folks throughout Mississippi, even in some cases city mayors, have been inquiring about when she’s coming back.
As someone who beat incredible odds and stands as the ultimate example of success in the face of unprecedented adversity, Mrs. Davis has encouraging words for aspiring authors. “You’ve got to be disciplined, and willing to give up some things for your art,” She concluded. “You’ve got to make yourself write at a steady pace if you truly want to get something published and have it be worthwhile. Writing can be lonely and tough and not everyone can or should pursue it.”
“But if it’s your dream and what you truly desire, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it. I’ve lived long enough to see Blacks made strides and accomplish things that I never thought would happen, even a Black man in the White House. So today, there are no excuses for not pursuing your dream, whatever it is and wherever it takes you.”