Influencer: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

The award-winning author on learning, living, and exploring in the Ocean State


You have lived and taught all over the US and the world including Namibia and The Netherlands. What brought you to Rhode Island?

I came to Rhode Island to start my PhD at Brown University. I am a student in the Theater Arts and Performance Studies program. I made some good friends here very quickly so I felt comfortable almost immediately. I like the communities that I’m part of here, like my youngest daughter’s school community on the South Side, the other graduate students at Brown, and the artists I’ve met.

Your most recent work, children’s book Layla’s Happiness, was awarded the Ezra Jack Keats Honor for writing, a prestigious award given to writers and illustrators whose work reflects diversity. In a year like 2020, did this achievement have a special significance – personally, culturally?

Being awarded the Ezra Jack Keats honor for writing means a great deal to me, not so much because of the devastating year we just had but because of my journey. I’ve been writing for over 20 years. I had three books published before Layla’s Happiness. They all were well received, but even if you put those books together they would not match the reach of Layla’s Happiness. The Ezra Jack Keats honor meant that my work was being seen and being recognized in a way that had not happened before. As much as I’d like to pretend I don’t care about having my work acknowledged, the honor touched me. Now I feel like my journey has been useful in some way.

As a poet, writer, educator, student, and wife and mom, you are someone with many balls in the air, any tips for finding balance?

I often say I don’t balance them. My goal is to be present in whatever I do. Also I’ve had a lot of support. My parents supported my dreams of being a writer early. They used to go to all my poetry readings in New York. My mother used to proofread my cover letters and poems before I sent them out to journals, contests, and residencies. Now my husband is a great encouragement. He often sees possibilities where I don’t and he is always telling people about my work. The point is no artist is an island; community makes my work possible and it makes it worthwhile.

What are some of your favorite local places?

Going to the beach has really helped me through some stressful times. We went to Barrington Beach a lot last summer. My husband and I also like to go on nature walks with our five-year-old daughter. He picks places and we go and walk on trails. I am not a hiker but as a New Yorker, I love walking. And being able to walk in the forest is perfect.

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