“But ironically, amidst the wide range of inequalities that America shoulders – inequality is the great equalizer for Blacks. No one cared that I was born in a different country… In one glance, it was easy to deduce I was just Black – an equal part to one blanket “Black” race and one social status.” – Rowana M. Abbensetts-Dobson, Departure Story

The experiences of Black immigrants are largely invisible to Americans, despite their growing numbers – 4.2 million throughout the country (The Immigrant Learning Center, 2020). 

In her debut novel, Departure Story [Published June 1], Rowana invites us into the world of Celestine Samuels, a young Guyanese woman arriving in the U.S. for college, carrying the hopes of generations before her, while imagining new opportunities for personal growth.

Celestine’s studies are interrupted with devastating news - her beloved Uncle, a Guyanese politician, has been murdered as a result of rising turmoil within the government. She feels lost and homesick, but turns that grief into action, and joins the Student Council Diversity Committee, advocating for Black creatives on campus. Eventually, Celestine meets resistance from the administration, and so-called friends alienate her. All the while, “home” haunts her dreams, and eventually leads Celestine to investigate unforgivable family secrets, and uncover answers she may not want to know.

Departure Story is my love letter to the Diaspora,” Rowana says. “It’s a novel about displacement and creating home… It’s also about finding your voice within the chaos and making a stand for what you believe in wherever you are. Celestine gets to a new country, and she’s testing the boundaries of her power in love, friendships, and politics… I hope it will make some Black girl who is reading white male authors in her American lit class feel seen.”

Rowana M. Abbensetts-Dobson is a wordsmith and editor from Brooklyn, NY. She holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Kenyon College. As a lifelong writer, she has made it her mission to help women heal through telling her own story and inspiring others to do the same. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a publication designed for women of color to share mental and emotional holistic wellness experiences.


What inspired you to share Celestine's character and her story with us?  
I wanted to write a different kind of Black girl heroine. I feel like so many of the Black women I’ve seen in the literature are either wise beyond their years, plucky and resilient, or somehow beyond reproach and flawless. We are not often allowed to have flaws in order to make it into mainstream pop culture, and when we do show weakness, we are judged so harshly for it. What I love about the main character, Celestine, is that she doesn’t have everything together, she doesn’t know it all, she frequently wrong, and yet I hope I wrote her in a way that still feels redeemable and relatable to other young Black women who are stifling under the world’s expectations. 

Tell us a bit more about the book. What do you hope readers will take away from reading Departure StoryDeparture Story has a little bit of every type of story, it’s coming of age, it’s an immigrant story, it’s a love story, it’s a heartbreak story. Most of all it’s a book about finding yourself and how painful and awkward that can be. I hope this book gives readers the message that finding yourself or knowing your purpose isn’t something that comes easy or overnight. I talk to a lot of writers and we are always worried about “finding our voice” as if it’s lost or trying to run away. In Departure Story, Celestine moves with her emotions, with her gut feeling, and her intuition and it brings her further than she could have imagined. 

In what ways is Celestine like you? In what ways is she different? I put a little bit of myself into every character I write, including every character in Departure Story. Celestine represents some of the boldness I wish I’d had at her young age, but folks who know me well will notice I’ve planted some specific differences in our personalities to avoid folks thinking of the narrator as me, the author. Celestine is more of a left-brained analytical type while I’m a right-brained creative. For the story, I drew from some of my real-life experiences, but other stuff is completely made up!

How has the process of writing and publishing a book in the pandemic been for you? Most of the writing happened before the pandemic but I went through the editing process and the publishing process. The world changed so drastically so quickly, I was forced to slow down and make sure I did it right! My original publishing date was set for February around my daughter’s birthday. I was stressing out to meet that deadline, but at a certain point, I realized it wasn’t going to happen and I needed to go back to the drawing board. The pandemic taught me the power of intention and perseverance over quick results.

What did you enjoy the most about the writing process? The least? I love that in the zone feeling of writing when the scenes are just flowing, the dialogue is just flowing, and it feels like the words are coming from a divine source. Much of that gets cut in the editing process, but there are pages, even whole chapters that are close to what I originally wrote six years ago mixed in with passages I rewrote or added only months ago. The key is to make it all feel seamless, which is its own art form. So my favorite part was writing and creating the characters. My least favorite part was editing. I worked with a professional editor, Destiny Henry of Alexandria Marble Editing. Going through the process of perfecting the manuscript was challenging, but so worth it for the results! 

Speaking of the writing process, I would love to know more about yours. Is your writing space filled with vivid images, blooming plants, and soothing music as you write? Do you turn off your phone hours at a time to avoid distractions? What makes you arrive at your most inspired place? I wish I had a neat and easy writing process to share with you! In the morning, I write more for myself. I love journaling and I believe that writing our own affirmations can be very powerful. I do a lot of creative writing at night. That just seems to be when I can get in the zone. I’m also a mom so the baby is asleep. I put on a playlist that matches the mood of whatever I’m writing and try not to judge myself while I’m writing.

You do such an amazing job as an advocate for mental health in communities of color, particularly with black women! What motivates you? What inspires you to keep going? How can others become advocates and bring mental health awareness to their respective communities? I’m really inspired by my community. Even when I’m struggling with my own mental health, I can be candid about it and receive so much support. When I’m feeling good, I like to be that person for others. I’ve learned that we can’t walk our journey alone, there will be so many people and opportunities sent to keep you going. My daughter also inspires me. I want to make her proud and show her what is possible for Black women. 

Mental health awareness starts with a conversation with yourself. It’s asking yourself the tough questions and being accountable for the answers; whether that means finding a therapist, confiding in a trusted friend, or stepping up your self-care routine. You really can’t advocate for what you don’t practice, so to all who are reading, take care of yourself! And be real with your struggles. It’s okay to take off the superwoman cape and let folks know that you also need support. 

Readers can stay informed on Rowana, Departure Story, and all things Spoken Girl Publishing by visiting these social media channels:

on Instagram: @spokenblackgirl 
on Facebook: @Spoken Black Girl Mag 

Departure Story can be purchased from, on Amazon, and on Barnes & Noble

I would like to thank Rowana for her time and the opportunity to share this interview with you guys. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram to stay posted on all things Spoken Black Girl, including more information on new release, Departure Story

photo credits: Adeline Artistry

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