Stacey Abrams has a dual identity. Or so says the website dedicated to her nom de plume, Selena Montgomery.
Years before making history on Tuesday night by becoming the first Black woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor, Abrams had a career writing romance novels as her side hustle while attending Yale Law School. In her book “Hidden Sins,” Montgomery writes about runaway teenager named Mara Reed who teams up with a sexy forensic anthropologist to confront a gruesome discovery — a room full of one hundred dead bodies from an unsolved crime. In “Reckless” she tells the story of Atlanta lawyer Kell Jameson who is forced to confront her past as an orphan when the head of her orphanage in rural Georgia is accused of murder. Montgomery's publisher describes her as “a lawyer by day and a writer during every waking hour.”
I have yet to read one of Selena Montgomery’s eight novels, but as a Georgia voter, I love that she is a part of Stacey Abrams. Abrams has established herself as a trailblazer in the political realm alone: She became the first African-American to lead in the House of Representatives when she was elected as the Georgia House Minority leader in 2007 and was only 29 years old when she was appointed Atlanta’s Deputy City Attorney. But the fact that she allowed herself to fully embrace her passion for writing while rising through the ranks of Georgia’s leadership, for me, adds another layer to her candidacy.
It takes an extraordinary amount of self-love and confidence to accept and nourish the different, seemingly conflicting sides of yourself. Writing romance novels and designing tax planning structures aren’t exactly complementary interests. As a burgeoning politician, indulging in writing is not as not as shrewd as say, taking up golf as a hobby in order to better network with the higher-ups. If you’re writing sagas about undercover operatives and steamy romance plot lines, you’re doing it because it’s what you love to do.
Granted, Abrams created a pen name because she was aware of the risks associated with projecting both identities under the same name. I’d be surprised if her opponents didn’t use it as a way to undercut her credibility, as has happened with female politicians who have dabbled in this space before. But that risk has not stopped Abrams from selling over 100,000 copies of her books, according to her website.
Then again, it takes an extraordinary amount of self-love and confidence to succeed in a space where you don’t look like everyone else in the room. Abrams has let her narrative voice shine through her campaign rhetoric. A daughter of a librarian and shipyard worker, she frequently talks about growing up poor, Black, and a woman in an environment that was not designed for her. “This journey has been about understanding myself, but it’s also a journey to get past what I expected of others,” she said in an interview with Refinery29.
Abrams explained that her biggest challenge in her run for governor has been navigating the dual pressures of stereotypes and authenticity. “I was deathly afraid of meeting those stereotypes, of being what they think of when they think of a Black woman in politics. I was also afraid of not being honestly myself. And what if part of who I am meets those stereotypes? Part of being a leader is being able to navigate how to process and manage those two pieces.”
Abrams creating a new narrative not only about the viability of a Black woman governor in the south, but also about Georgia politics.
In doing so, Abrams creating a new narrative not only about the viability of a Black woman governor in the south, but also about Georgia politics. In a state that is routinely dismissed as a part of the Deep South red block, Abrams is doubling down on her strategy of pushing a more inclusive Georgia and championing liberal values.
This contrasts the approach of her opponent in the democratic primary election, Stacey Evans, who tried to appeal to white, suburban swing voters by running on a more moderate platform. Instead of trying to win over Republicans and independents, Abrams made it her personal mission to expand the electorate by registering more minority voters in the New Georgia Project. Between 2014 and 2016, the organization registered more than 200,000 voters of color.
“It's not that Georgia is a red state. We're just blue and confused,” Abrams said in a radio interview with SiriusXM's Karen Hunter. Paired with this electorate-expansion strategy, the democratic candidate plans to win over voters by having authentic conversations with them. She talks about bringing her whole self to campaign events, whether that’s at a Kiwanis club where she is an obvious outsider, or at an Atlanta beauty salon. “We're going to run a ground game and we're going to treat voters with respect and we're going to invest in their voices."
When I hear Abrams talk like this, I hear Selena Montgomery. I hear the thought-processes of a writer and the conviction of a woman who has many selves but a singular voice. “Part of Ms. Montgomery’s strength is her characterization,” her website reads. “[Her characters] are solid creations, complex individuals who are breathing, flawed individuals.”
Call me biased, but I instinctually believe in someone like Selena Montgomery who understands how to wield the power of narrative. I’d vote for someone with an empathetic mindset over a candidate who capitalizes on an us-vs-them dichotomy any day.
And despite the fact Stacey Abrams has been belittled and otherized her whole life, she does not seek to do the same to people who are different than her if she becomes governor. Her leadership is inclusive of everyone. “I want America to understand that I understand. I see them. While our narratives may not be the same, our stories are.”