Nashville native Nichole Perkins’ dynamic, deeply felt new essay collection Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be takes its title from a Prince song — bonus points if you know which one — and weaves a love of music, movies and pop culture throughout while also exploring love, friendship and family. It’s a captivating read — observant, funny, sometimes slyly so, honest and curious. You may know Perkins from her writing on everything from Megan Thee Stallion to mental health, from her contribution to the collection A Measure of Belonging (see our interview with editor Cinelle Barnes), or from her work on the podcasts This Is Good for You and, previously, Thirst Aid Kit.
And if you don’t know her work already, you may have seen her new memoir on all sorts of recommended book lists. In any event, Sometimes I Trip is a great place to start! Musing editor Steve Haruch caught up with Perkins via email.
SH: First, how are you? How have you been coping with All the Things?
NP: Hey, I’m well, thanks. The past year and a half has been a challenge to say the least. I’ve been drowning myself in romance novels and favorite TV shows to escape reality. Sometimes it works.
SH: You live in New York, but your author bio says you’re a writer from Nashville. Can you talk a little about that decision?
NP: Being from Nashville, being from the South, is very important to me, and has shaped who I am. Keeping Nashville in my bio honors who I am, my family, how I was raised. It’s one of the first things I tell people when we’re getting to know each other. I came to New York to advance my career. It’s a great place, but I’d never want to be a New Yorker, and New York wouldn’t want me to claim it. No matter where I end up, Nashville is home, and I’ll always keep it close to my name.
SH: Did the process of writing the book change your perception of your hometown — or your upbringing in Nashville?
NP: There’s a chapter about the first (and so far, only) time I took shrooms, and as I was tripping, my voice changed into something I didn’t recognize so I called my good friend from high school because I wanted to get the Nashville back in my voice. I wrote that out and pretty much left it at that, so my editor asked me to dig deeper. Why was it important for me to hold on to Nashville? That gave me a chance to think about my conflicted feelings about no longer living at home. I love Nashville. I love my family, but when I’m home, those Southern expectations of what I should be, as a woman, as a Black woman, weigh me down. Writing the book didn’t change how I feel about home, but it made me realize that no one knows what to do with me in Nashville, and I often end up feeling very alone there.
SH: Can you talk about the genesis of the book? How did you know you had the makings of a collection?
NP: In January 2017, I moved to New York for the BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellowship, which was about shaping us into better culture writers. By that point, I’d read and seen the success of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist collection and Meaty by Samantha Irby, plus I’d often received good responses for my own personal essay writing I’d done online. Between the work I’d done for the fellowship and my previous work, I thought I could build something. My incredible agent Kiele Raymond reached out to me as a result of the fellowship, and I showed her what I had and the ideas I was thinking about. I knew I wanted to thread pop culture through my stories because it’s been such a key element in every corner of my life.
SH: One of the themes of the book is trying to live outside others’ expectations. Do you think that has shaped you as a writer?
NP: Oh, absolutely. There is a certain snobbery when it comes to questions like “what is good literature?” Many people think in order for it to be “good,” as in worthy of recognition and honor, the writing must be convoluted and complex, and it must leave the reader wrung out emotionally in some way. Of course, I want to create strong emotional reactions with my work, but I don’t believe in creating something very few can get. So I try to be as accessible as possible when writing, pushing back against the idea that only a chosen few deserve to understand good writing. I’m not writing to confuse people. I’m writing to be heard and acknowledged in a world that wants me to be invisible. In writing Sometimes I Trip, I also wanted to push back on the idea of having a neat, happy ending — that I’d gone through some difficult things and now everything is A-OK. I’m still figuring things out!
SH: Finally, we always ask: What do you love about independent bookstores?
NP: On a physical level, I love the coziness, the home-away-from-home many independent stores have. They don’t always have a lot of space, but they still invite you to stay a while. Overall, I love the gumption of indies. They’re all little engines that could.
Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be will be published Tuesday, Aug. 17.