Welcome to Coffee Talk with the Darby Crew, where we get the inside scoop from our favorite voices in the outdoor, fitness, and wellness industries. This month, we're checking in with freelancer Latria Graham on what it's like to juggle 50-70 projects a year, how she feeds her creativity, and where she's planning to go next.
You cover a variety of really interesting topics, from Southern food and foodies, to historical and iconic African American figures, to diversity in the outdoors (plus-sized athletes, people of color, and women). If you could interview anyone past, present, or future, who would it be and why?
Phillis Wheatley. Her collection of poems, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" is the first documented book written by a black woman and the second published by a woman (after Ann Bradstreet) in what is now America (back in 1773, Massachusetts was still a British colony).
When I was in Boston a couple of years ago, I held a 1st edition copy of her book. I decided to retrace her journey through the city—from where she is believed to have disembarked from the slave ship after her transcontinental voyage to where she lived as a young woman, and finally to where she might've died. Her story made me realize how much freedom I have as a Black female writer in America right now. While I was in Boston, I went all of the places she wasn't allowed to go because of her color—the 250-year-old libraries, hallowed halls of learning at Harvard. Basically, anywhere that people of color weren't allowed to go while she was alive that are still in existence. We know more about her than we know about most enslaved people, but I'm still frustrated by the holes. There's so much that we don't know about her. I want to talk to her so that we can complete her record.
It seems you are often on-the-go. How do you prioritize your time to ensure that you have time for yourself to feed your creativity?
At the start of 2020, I said I was going to force myself to make space for creative projects that mean a lot to me, even if they aren’t short-term money makers the way my magazine pieces are for me. Every Sunday afternoon, I make myself sit in a library and do a creative brainstorming session. It’s not about perfection, just about getting ideas on paper. I use an artist’s sketchpad because lines are distracting, and they coax me into thinking in a linear way and force me into thinking in full sentences—I usually think in phrases. I don’t get to use my computer or check my phone. It’s amazing what you can get done in two hours when you minimize distractions. Doing this puts me in a great headspace for the week and I start Monday hopeful and focused. I’m also a meticulous list maker. Every night before I go to bed, I get everything out of my brain by writing it down. I keep a pad at my bedside in case I forget something. When I wake up, I grab my phone, a cup of coffee and start working my way down the list. I always have to have a plan of attack.
People often think freelancer and freeloader are the same thing. For years I’m pretty sure my mom thought I sat at home in yoga pants eating Hot Pockets and playing video games, but I put out between 50-70 projects a year, so I have to manage my time well or everything gets way out of whack. My daily planner (I’m old school and use a paper one) breaks my day into 15-minute increments. I schedule in my breaks (Pomodoro Technique!) and I try not to take non work-related phone calls during the day. When I’m off, I’m truly off—my phone is in my purse and my family and friends have my undivided attention. It’s my way of letting them know if they need me that I’ll be there.
In addition to that last question, where’s your favorite place to recharge and reconnect to yourself?
Hunting Island State Park, not far from Beaufort, South Carolina. It’s the perfect escape because my cell phone doesn’t work there—so no obsessively checking emails or taking calls. I often go in the off-season, and most of the time the beach is empty. I pull out my blanket, picnic lunch and a book, and listen to the sounds of the water. I didn’t grow up going to the ocean, so big bodies of water like that fascinate me.
Say it’s a sunny, 75-degree day in Spartanburg, where would we find you?
At Camp Croft State Park hiking with my Portuguese water dog, Luna. If I can only get away from my desk for an hour or so, I hit Hatcher Garden, closer to town.
What song/artist is on replay for you right now?
In the car I have artists like Valerie June, John Legend, Gregory Porter, Jorja Smith, Esperanza Spalding, and Yuna on constant rotation. I listen to the older 90's divas—Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and the like—when I'm doing chores. When I'm working, I have a thing for video game music and/or movie soundtracks, so I stream a lot of Kathryn Bostic, Danny Elfman, Emile Mosseri, Daniel Pemberton, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer. Spotify has a Women of Soundtracks playlist that highlights female-identifying movie soundtrack composers that I like.
If we were coming to visit you, what restaurant would you take us to in your hometown to have a real taste of SC?
A lot of the good old-style places have closed up shop and they’re being replaced by franchises. That’s gentrification for you.
For South Carolina old-style cooking we’d eat with Pierre Salmon at Monarch Butterfly Café. For upscale new-style cooking we would eat at The Kennedy and finish off the night at their bar—that place has one of the best intentional, well thought out menus in the Southeast; the décor is breathtaking; and their cocktails list…*chef’s kiss*
Are you into podcasts? If so, what podcast should we check out that you’ve been into recently?
I’m all over the place: NYT’s Still Processing, Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy, Dis-Order which breaks down Disney films, and New Books In African American Studies are all worth checking out.
Let’s pretend you could have an all-expenses paid trip to anywhere, where would you go?
East Africa—I’ve got a 6-week trip through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania that I’m dying to do. Can you imagine standing on the edge of Lake Victoria? Hiking through Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park on Zanzibar Island? *swoon*
You write A LOT, but let’s flip it and hear about what you’re reading right now.
I’m having trouble with my ability to suspend reality and dive into fiction right now, so I’m pretty nonfiction heavy at the moment. I have books scattered everywhere—in the car, in the bathroom, at the dining table, at my bedside. I’m scared of being somewhere without one. I just must have a book. In rotation at the moment: Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path, Nathalia Holt’s The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History, Darryl Pinckney’s Busted In New York: Essays, and Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirrors.
Tell us about an upcoming project you’re excited about?
On the culinary side, I found a 100-year-old cookbook and I’m trying out some of the recipes in it. I’m ready for spring so I can perfect my technique on a couple of desserts I started developing last year. I make shortbread and floral-infused caramels from the lavender, jasmine and roses in my garden.
On the adventure side of things, I’m preparing to tackle the Trans-Catalina Trail as a shakedown hike (nothing like being stuck on a literal island to make you choose the right gear!) before heading off on hiking trips in Japan and Italy later this year.
What's something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know how to use a combination lock. I’ve tried lots of times over the years, but no dice. In middle school and high school, I carried all of my books with me all day because I couldn’t figure out how to get in my locker.
Find Latria at latriagraham.com or on Instagram at @mslatriagraham.