by Nura Ahmed
A Washington-born mother of three and grandmother of five, Sharon Blake grew up in White Center in the only Black family in her neighborhood. She grew up with members of the KKK harassing her family often. Meanwhile, at home, her alcoholic stepfather abused her because she was the darkest-skinned member of her family. Blake grew up angry and afraid. She did not know how to handle the racial trauma she experienced both inside and outside her home and ended up resorting to drugs as a teenager.
Blake became addicted to crack cocaine for over two decades. Through therapy, dedication, and hard work, she was able to get clean as an adult. Three years into her sobriety, Blake realized she wanted to help others like her. She worked as a case manager at the Tacoma Rescue Mission for five years, helping the houseless population in Tacoma get the resources they needed to get back on their feet.
Meanwhile, to try to heal from all the trauma she had personally gone through, Blake turned to writing. In 2014, Blake ended up writing her first book, Chronicles of Pain: Leaving the Pain of the Past Behind, a memoir about the racial violence she had experienced both inside and outside her home, her struggle with addiction, and the trauma she had experienced as a result. Writing her first book became her salvation. “When I say writing literally saved my life, it really did,” Blake said.
Blake wanted to make sure her first book (“her baby,” as she puts it) was in the right hands. But as a first-time author visiting publishing companies, she quickly realized how impersonal the publishing industry was; how vulnerable it felt not to be welcomed with open arms; and then how uncomfortable it became as people started commenting on her book and personal story.
At the time of writing and publishing her first book, Blake was still working as a case manager at the Tacoma Rescue Mission. Although she loved her job, she wanted to do social work in different ways. Blake knew that sharing one’s story is healing. She decided she wanted to help other people tell their own stories and, in the process, heal from their traumas, as Blake had healed from hers.
This decision led Blake to start Life Chronicles Publishing in 2015, a Black-owned publishing company in Seattle. Blake’s mission is to share the stories that can “heal, inspire, and help the people that hear them.”
Shortly after she founded Life Chronicles Publishing, Blake published her second book, I Am Beautiful: The Evolution of Beauty, an anthology she cowrote with eight other women. I Am Beautiful tells the women’s different stories of recovery, looking at what it means to heal from different types of trauma. This time, Blake published the book under her own imprint, finally having the control and comfortability to tell stories the way she wanted to.
Blake’s own first-time author experiences propelled her to specialize in making sure that other first-time authors get everything they need in the publishing process and that they are supported mentally in telling their truth outwardly to the world. Blake wants to let others know that “it is OK to talk about what happened to you.”
Blake treats every new first-time author she works with like family, giving them the personalized attention that most publishing companies aren’t able to provide and making sure they get to tell their stories the way they want to. “I try to get in touch with every author in some type of way,” said Blake. “The people that are connected to you need to hear your voice. They need to hear your message.”
Under Life Chronicles Publishing, Blake has published two bestselling books, Mija and Mariposa, both written by Kim Guerra, who was one of Blake’s first-time authors. Life Chronicles Publishing’s staff consists of three editors and a cover-design manager. Some of the staff are part of Blake’s family. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” Blake said of her beloved team.
According to a 2019 study by Lee & Low Books on diversity in publishing, 76% of the overall industry is white, and only 5% is Black. These numbers look at publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents. Moreover, the racial makeup of the publishing industry hasn’t changed in the last four years. It is a tough industry for BIPOC to succeed in.
There were many times Blake wanted to quit publishing. She didn’t know how to run a business, and the industry was rough and overwhelming. But Blake kept reminding herself why she had started Life Chronicles in the first place. Now, Blake says, running her own business is one of the most beautiful achievements of her life. She doesn’t care about the money as long as she knows she is helping people be able to be freed from feelings of guilt, shame, and hurt.
“It is super important for me to continue … my healing journey by helping other people tell their own stories,” Blake said.
Nura Ahmed is an organizer, writer and artist based in Seattle and South King County.
📸 Featured Image: Sharon Blake (Photo by Misty Talkish courtesy of Sharon Blake)
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