Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Q&A with Lynda Smith Hoggan




Lynda Smith Hoggan is the author of the new memoir Our Song: A Memoir of Love and Race. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Los Angeles Times and Westwind. She is professor emeritus of health and human sexuality at Mt. San Antonio College in Southern California.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and how long did it take you to write?


A: Hi Deborah! And thank you for asking about my book. I knew as early as the mid-1980s that I wanted to write this book. But as you’re aware, it’s a long road from wanting to write a book to actually writing it. I didn’t even start until 2014, about 30 years later.


The impetus to start is described in Chapter 1. I was living in the Southern California foothills when wildfires were becoming ever more prevalent and life-threatening. There was a fire not too far away from me, and I was preparing for a possible evacuation order.


Besides the things I knew I needed to save, I was also worried about bins of memories that I kept in the garage. In one of them were my prized letters from college lover JT. I dragged the bin in onto my bed and found his letters. I only took time to read the first one, but it transported me back to being 20 years old in 1972.


I knew from that moment that I would begin writing the book, for two reasons. It is still one of the sweetest love stories I know. It’s also a cautionary tale about holding on to your heart’s desire.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write Our Song, and how would you describe your feelings toward JT today?


A: The impact of writing the book seemed nearly as powerful as the love affair itself. Because, of course, I relived it as I wrote it.


From the giddy excitement of meeting him and then learning that he found me just as captivating as I found him. Through the growing intimacy we developed but also the challenges we faced—that he was African-American and my parents were racist; that our colleges were six hours apart in those days when we couldn’t even afford long distance phone calls; and maybe worst of all, that I already had a boyfriend studying overseas whom I was reluctant to end things with.


And finally, when JT and I could not withstand these pressures and broke up, I relived that absolutely horrific heartbreak. I raged and sobbed through that ending in my book as if it had just happened.

And yet, as readers of the book find out, JT and I weren’t finished. There was still more to come.


How do I feel about him today? Disappointed that JT did not want me to publish this book. Some guilt that I could not honor his wish, even though everyone else I’ve come in contact with has assured me that I have the right to tell my story. Saddened that, for legal copyright reasons, I had to change the words from his letters—because he was an athlete who identified as a jock, but he also had a bit of the poet in his soul, and I’ll always feel his words were better than mine.


No matter what, I love JT. I will always be grateful for what we have shared.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Just as books metamorphose during the writing, so do their titles. Our Song was not my first choice. In the beginning my working title was The Year of You, because that’s what our initial love story was, one year that shook us to the core. But that title sounds as if I’m speaking to him (You), and I wasn’t, I was speaking about him and us.


Then the phrase “exploring without a map” began to recur in my book, meaning what young people do when they’re navigating adult life for the first time and individuating from their parents’ expectations. I took that as my next title until I realized that it didn’t really tell what the story is about.


My book is full of song lyrics. The crossover music of the time (soul/rock/Latin) was very exciting to us, and when we didn’t trust our own words, we used songs to express many of our feelings. One beautiful such song is “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” written by Tommy Chong and recorded by Motown, about an interracial love story. Since ours was that as well, I took that song as my next title.


Unfortunately, my publisher, Brooke Warner of She Writes Press, didn’t like any of my titles! And publishers feel quite proprietary about titles; they feel they know the business better than writers do.


So she proposed Our Song, and since music is such a big part of our story, and we did actually have an “our song,” I liked it. I added the subtitle A Memoir of Love and Race so readers would know more explicitly what the book is.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?


A: Just as I take pleasure in reading a sweet and sensuous love story, I hope readers will, too. But in a larger sense, the story is really a tragedy. As I said before, it’s a cautionary tale about holding on to your heart’s desire.


At a pretty young age, I was given what I still think of as a great love, and yet I was not able to keep it. My parents were racist, and I was afraid to stand up to them. Distance, and the difficulty in communicating long distance back then, was our enemy (even though it did result in those lyrical letters that I still treasure).


Most important of all, I had another boyfriend whom I was reluctant to break up with. Even now that boggles my mind, although I explore the reasons in the book. That made JT feel insecure about me, as of course it would. And then a friend of mine took advantage of that to turn JT away from me.


Had I been a more mature person, or had I been given that missing “map” by my parents, JT and I might have survived those things. No matter what happened later, that is a tragedy. Because we missed out on all those years that we might have had.


And lastly, this: although I’ve been writing since early childhood and had some publications in the 1970s, I nearly stopped for several decades. I now consider that a big mistake. I’m lucky that writing comes naturally to me, but I know I would be a better writer today had I kept up with my craft.


I’d really like to encourage people not to stray from their own creative expression, whatever it is, and even if they can’t always give it their all. It’s a source of self-fulfillment like no other, and it just gets better with time.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I really want the people who would enjoy it or learn from it to hear my story, so for a while I’m going to be doing readings and other events to make readers aware of my book.


Besides that, I blog on my website. I participate in two writing groups, and here and there I publish something else (my tiny love story “Clarity at Karaoke,” recently appeared in The New York Times). And I have ideas about a second memoir that I’m exploring.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Folks can buy my book at the usual places: (which supports independent bookstores),,, and local bookstores. Leaving a review of my book at Amazon would be awesome!


And please check out my website and blog at, where you can also contact me; I’d love to hear from you! I also have an author Facebook page at:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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