Telling stories matters. Telling stories that matter, matters. And telling stories that get to the truth of a thing (or person) may matter most of all—because it is in specificity that we approach the universal.
In her essay “Hair,” writer Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams describes the experience of having her mother brush and braid her hair. Her writing is punctuated with specific details, from the smell of the hair grease (burned cough syrup) to the feel of the rattail comb on her scalp. It summons domestic memories in the reader while historically and anecdotally aligning with larger conversations about beauty, access and the status quo.
On one of the startlingly clear, blue days that mark the best of “winter” in NEFLa, Hyater-Adams sat down with Folio Weekly to discuss her career, relocation and writing. One of the first things she notes is the “thriving art community here.” In fact, that’s one of the selling points that brought her from South New Jersey when she and her husband, Harold “Kinney” Adams, decided to re-engineer their life. However, she’s not blind to some of the area’s pitfalls, saying, “This is a space where you can be bold and make a difference—but if people feel threatened, they can also punish you in a very Southern way.”
That Southern way? Politeness with a “bless-your-heart edge.”
In her life’s work, Hyater-Adams has faced much more than genteel disapproval. Her talent and vision took her into a corporate career that, for the most part, she defined through her passion for writing and dedication to equity and diversity in the workplace. Specifically, she was a senior vice president of CoreStates Financial Corporation; prior to that, she was director of human resources for Horizon Financial. After her time among the pecuniary jetsetters, she founded and led a boutique consulting firm that specialized in using story and dialogue to drive change within Fortune 500 companies. Now, she heads up Narratives for Change, a social entrepreneurship practice involved in coaching, holding writers’ workshops, curating writing events and engaging in human rights-centered activism.
These are important things to note, not just as accomplishments, but as an indication of the manner in which the writer moves through the world. Narratives for Change is not a nonprofit.
“I am very clear as an entrepreneur and capitalist,” Hyater-Adams states. Then follows up: “People like to do ugly things with the word ‘capitalism.’ I ask: ‘What kind of capitalist are you?’ Because we all are.”
It’s a timely admonition as conversations around access, resources and access to resources dominate the headlines. Hyater-Adams poses questions: “[How can I] participate in a market where I can sell my goods and services? And live in a system in the context of ‘do no harm’?” In other words, how can we do good work and create revenue? For the former executive, the answer is to work with women and girls to “help them write and take their personal stories, unpack the political and use those stories for advocacy.”
One method of unpacking is community involvement. Alternate Roots is a 43-year-old arts organization with a regional mission to support the creation and production of original art rooted in community. Hyater-Adams convinced the group that it needed to present in this area, hence Roots Weekend: Jacksonville. As the project coordinator Hyater-Adams is bringing together artists, cultural workers, activists, elected officials and community members to engage in a creative dialogue. She hopes this cross-pollination of people, ideas and activities will affect policy. Why does she think it can happen here? Because she’s seen it work across boundaries, from the boardroom to the backyard. For this iteration of the event, the change starts at Yellow House (of note: Shavone Steele is one of four facilitators).
The weekend after Alternate ROOTS, Hyater-Adams is curating a poetry and spoken-word event at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. It’s the closing celebration of The Cummer’s current Augusta Savage exhibition, with readings of the works of Harlem Renaissance-era poets and commissioned poems by four local high-school writers.
Deeply sympathetic and deeply curious about other people, Hyater-Adams has also worked with GenWOW and See The Girl, aka Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. She mentors young women and girls, helping them push against a suffocation of spirit by asking compelling and catalyzing questions. For her, the bigger picture is creating a culture of sympathy and belonging.
A strong sense of concord is a huge part of what the writer brings to her own practice, too. In an essay “letter” to Edgar Allan Poe, she transitions organically from the comfort of watching television on a pallet of old quilts to the shivery-delicious terror our own minds can create “out of a night’s sound.”
She’s also skilled at framing a story with impressions drawn from personal life. To return to “Hair,” recollection charts the author’s professional, then personal, growth through the lens of her hair and hairstyles. But the essay doesn’t just map out a world that professional women must navigate; it specifically illustrates the nuanced tactics black` women use within a professional society that values white women’s hair as right and normal, over that of women of color. It’s a valuable lesson and reminder that honesty in art doesn’t just reflect the artist. The reader/writer/viewer can also create something out of their personal night, be it shadow, beast or hot comb.