Reyna Biddy is Heaven-Sent
An Interview with the Los Angeles Poet
- Interview: Fiona Duncan
- Photography: Saamuel Richard
On Valentine’s Day 2017, Reyna Biddy’s I Love My Love was re-published. Like E. L. James of Fifty Shades fame, Biddy—a Los Angelean, b. 1994—initially self-published her dark romantic debut. A self-helpful family drama told in spoken word, I Love My Love attracted an independent audience of over 10,000 in its first run. Its second coming got Biddy on one of Amazon’s #1 Best-Seller lists, and her presence and audience keep growing.
Biddy would willfully say goodbye to almost all that. She “hates the internet,” loves solitude, gets migraines, and has social anxiety. Her book, she claims, was a way to drop out of college. Neither of her parents went. They—a Jamaican father and Mexican-Texan mother, 24 and 16 when they had her—were bent on Reyna’s graduating. What Reyna wanted, to quit, “wasn’t an option,” she says, “until I came to them with a set plan: I have this book, I’m dropping it, I’m going to be successful, and I’m dropping out.”
Now she is self-sufficiently living off her poetry, having inspired her mother to leave her father, whose abuse I Love My Love storied. She is in a committed romantic partnership and working on a second book project. Sitting in a West Hollywood hotel bathroom getting made up like a twenties starlet, Reyna Biddy is on. She speaks precisely as her lips and lids are lined, an expert on mad love, self-love, and her raw, mutable, grateful, God-sent self. Reyna Biddy is seriously composed, like her book, which goes: “I know shit sounds mad corny but, for real. I make use of everything inside of me.”
If I had it my way, I would just go into hiding and write. I wouldn’t post or be online at all. I wouldn’t do anything social because that’s not who I am. I like solitude, and I just hate the internet.
On Leaving in the Screw Ups
My best feedback has definitely been from SoundCloud, from “A Message To Women.” There’s a different register when you can hear the person who wrote something, saying it the way they would like to say it. There are emotions you can hear—I leave in every screw up. If I accidentally pause too quickly, or I have to take a huge breath, I leave all of that in so you can feel the emotion. I think that is what captivates the listener.
Before I write, I pray. I ask God to use me. Sometimes the things I’m writing, I don’t even know I’m writing.
On Spoken Word
The majority of my following isn’t Black, but spoken word is a Black art. It is a jazzy, bluesy art. I grew up on spoken word. My dad used to watch Def Poetry Jam. I would sit there and watch it with him. I remember feeling so much from it. I was like, yo if I could do this one day and make people feel the way I feel, that would be a dream. I love Sunni Patterson, but my favorite spoken word poet ever is Aja Monet. She has this one poem called “Is That All You Got?” It is like hip hop and poetry. I credit my entire style to her.
I’ve realized that I have a big influence, and because of that influence, I carry myself a certain way. For instance, I’m not going to have a photoshoot where I’m in a bikini in the middle of the park—not that it’s wrong—but that’s not me. In my head, that’s not how you get respect, from all angles of the realms.
On Learning to Listen to My Intuition
A lot of people don’t know what intuition is. They know there is a gut feeling there, but they don’t know that it’s supposed to guide you. My parents are very intuitive, so I knew from them how to move in certain situations, but I didn’t know the dynamics of how intuition really worked. I didn’t know how to meditate. I didn’t know how to really listen to it, I didn’t know how to trust it. You can listen to intuition all you want, but that doesn’t mean you trust it.
I cry—oh my god—all the time! I haven’t cried in a while. But in 2016—I probably cried every day. I cry about everything, anything beautiful to me. If someone is saying something extremely powerful, I’ll cry. At church, I’ll cry. The other day I was watching this documentary on Netflix about Koko the gorilla, and I was just sitting there bawling. My tears are all silent.
On Working at Staples
Hell. The thing about Staples is—every single place has a different type of customer, and the Staples customer is not a voluntary happy customer. They’re like, fuck I gotta go get some ink. Or, damn my kid needs—it’s never a happy reason. Starbucks, you’re going in there because you want to go in there. Staples sucked. The energy was always bad.
On Using My Image
I know that I have to take pictures, because that’s way the internet is set up—if you don’t take pictures, you don’t get as much traffic as someone who does. Before I didn’t see it as a tool, I saw it as a crutch. I don’t want anyone to be a fan because of how I look. Eventually, I was like, alright, this is sort of a form of self-hate, and the reality is, I look the way that I look, and I write the way that I write. Regardless of what’s trafficking you to my page, it’s me. I know that I was placed here to do something. I know that technically, what that means is, I’m literally an angel.
I’m willing to listen to what you have to say. That has been my power—to hear what you’ve gone through, what you have to say, and not judge you. I’ve been judged, you’ve been judged, everyone’s been judged. I know how it feels and you know how it feels, so now, I’m not here to judge you—talk to me.
A lot of us have freedom and we don’t even realize it. To be able to walk into a grocery store and not be recognized and be completely at peace. To be able to walk down the street and be completely at peace. Freedom can be a lot of things. It can be the freedom to not be in school, to not have to pay thousands of dollars in debt, to not be locked up.
Addiction is continuously running back to a person, place, or vice that makes you feel really good—sometimes. Addiction is knowing when things have played their part in our lives, but being unable to let go, even after we've recognized they have served their purpose. Abuse can be an addiction.
On the Mistakes We Make
I think a mistake that young women make is to think that every boy that comes into our lives is supposed to stay. Whereas with boys, they have learned all their lives that they are supposed to be the center of attention. I think men believe so much in themselves, and have such big egos at a young age, that they think, for example, that they can have intercourse with a girl because “she’s cute” and have that be that. They don’t realize that these girls have feelings. We’ve allowed men to be disrespectful. We as a collective—moms, sisters, girlfriends, all of us.
On My Back Story
I grew up in a six-person one-bedroom household. We had bunkbeds. My mom’s bed was next to our bunks. I started with the top bunk. It was next to the light, it was very hot. I was very overweight. I broke one of the wood slats, and my mom was like “get the hell down.” [Laughs]
On Releasing Ourselves from Cycles of Abuse
Sometimes we are in relationships we are unsure we’ll ever be able to live without, so we decide to compromise. We compromise our beliefs, our feelings, our morals even. We put ourselves second out of fear of discomfort, or fear that we may not be able to find anything like this again, or simply, because we don’t want to let go. We don't want them to move on without us. We don't want anyone else to experience the love we once experienced with these people. So, we hold on. We choose to ignore the reality of the situation, and almost become naive to it. If we have to question whether something is mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse: 10 out of 10 times, it is. If you feel like you could possibly be in a cycle of abuse, distance yourself. Find God—whatever, or whomever, that may be to you. Whether peace be to God, whether happiness be God, whether love be God. Find your way to a healthier state of mind, look at your situation from an outside perspective. What if it were your loved ones going through what you are going through? Your sister, your best friend, your mom?
On Being Part of a Self-Love Trend
As soon as I started to write about this stuff—self-help, self-love, self-care—it started to become universal. I don’t think I stole from anyone, or anyone stole from me. I guess it was just a wavelength that many people felt. We finally reached a point where we were like, yo we’ve got to do this better, we’ve got to treat ourselves better, and we put it into the air. I didn’t know Justin Bieber would write a song called “Love Yourself.” I didn’t know that Kendrick Lamar was going to write a song called “I Love Myself.” I just so happened to be caught by this wave. I happened to see a cycle of abuse towards women in my family, so I wanted to uplift women. Kendrick might have seen a cycle of abuse in his Black community, so he wanted to uplift Black people. We try to uplift what and who we know, we wish that someone who looked like us uplifted us when we were young.
My definition of success is to be comfortable in every way, not just financially, but spiritually, emotionally, and physically. But the reality is, for all of those things to happen at one time, it’s almost impossible. You can’t always be comfortable in every aspect of your life. I think for me, success is to accept everything as is and be comfortable with that.
- Interview: Fiona Duncan
- Photography: Saamuel Richard
- Styling: Brittny Moore