Tonya Hegamin

IN TONYA’S OWN WORDS…Tonya Cherie Hegamin is the noted author of the young adult novel M+O 4EVR and co-author of the YA poetic novella, PEMBA’S SONG.  Her praised picture book, MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD was featured in USA Today and Ebony MagazineMOST LOVEDreceived the Christopher Award for “affirming the highest values of the human spirit” and the MLK “Keeper of the Dream” Award. Tonya received her BA in Poetry Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School University. Ms. Hegamin is an alumna of Cave Canem, the first fellowship retreat for African-American poets, and Hedgebrook, a writing retreat exclusively for women.  Tonya is the Creative Writing Coordinator at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. Her website is

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid.  I always knew I wanted to be a writer.

Give a brief description of your debut novel, M+O 4EVR.
A YA {young adult} novel that tells a poignant story of unconventional, unconditional love. There are two constants in Opal’s life: her dad’s grungy green baseball cap and Marianne, whom Opal loves as a best friend . . . and more. But nothing stays the same forever. When Opal receives some horrifying news about Marianne, she suddenly must live her life and make decisions based on one person instead of two. With the help of her family, and guided by the story of Hannah, a runaway slave, Opal begins to free herself from the weight of her memories, her ghosts—and her own truth.

Tell us about Opal, the protagonist and heroine of M+O.
O is the romantic dreamer, the loyal friend, a fierce lover and sensitive baby of the family.  She’s a secret planner and a wild woods woman.

Describe the connection between Opal and Marianne.
M & O are star-crossed!

Had Opal confessed her love, do you believe Marianne could have been saved? Why was she so afraid to share her feelings?
M was on a runaway train with or without O.  I’m working on a sequel that will explore her side of the story.  Somewhere deep inside, O knows that she can’t save M, even though she tells herself she can.  Subconsciously it stops her from sharing the most important feelings in her heart.

Do you think anything could have saved Marianne?
I’m saving that for the sequel!

Opal, Marianne and their families, as well as the small Pennsylvania town, each contributed to the beauty of this touching story. Where did the idea for these characters originate?
I’m a Pennsylvania girl!  The characters are all a small (or big!) part of me.  I spent so much time getting to know them and mapping out their stories that at times it was as though I was just taking notes as they told their stories.

Does anything in M+O mirror your childhood? Do you identify with Opal or Marianne?
They’re both a part of me.  I grew up in a small PA town and was often “the only one” and felt isolated.  I loved to go into the woods and create an imaginary world.

What was the significance of the character Hannah to the novel?
Hannah and Mine are examples of “Unconventional unconditional love” of their time.  I wanted to show folks who had faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds just to live their lives.  I wanted M and O to have a remembrance of the past—for M it scared her, but for O it healed her.  History always informs the present and future, our interpretation of it makes us strong or weak.

You have written two other books, Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story and Most Loved in All the World: A Story of Freedom, geared toward young audiences. What do you enjoy about writing children’s literature?
Writing for kids and teens has limitless possibilities.  They suspend their disbelief eagerly.

What do you hope young women to take away from M+O?
I want them to know that loving with courage makes life magical.

You’ve said “writing has been like falling in love.” What did you mean by that statement?
Falling in love is intoxicating—that’s like generating an idea for a book and the beginning stages of writing.  Staying in love or making a relationship work takes patience and a lot of willingness to understand yourself and to be understood.  That’s not as easy as it sounds.  Writing and loving require that you let yourself be vulnerable.

What is a typical day like for you?
I have a sporadic schedule and get easily bored by routine.  I teach a few days a week, I write a few days a week. In between I’m on the phone and/or looking out the window.

What do you do for fun?
Lie in bed reading and watching movies; cook for loved ones; hang out with nature.

What are your favorite books? Favorite authors?
Too many to name!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Writing full time!

What motivates you to write?

What piece of advice can you share with aspiring writers?
I tell my students that writing isn’t easy and not always fun.  You have to want it more than anything and still find a way to be ok if it doesn’t amount to much.

Why do you feel it’s important for black lesbians to read M+O 4EVR?
Of course, it’s imperative that we see ourselves in what we read but I want them to enjoy the story most of all!

Reviewed August 2010

Tonya Hegamin’s Reviews

One thought to “Tonya Hegamin”

  1. Hi,
    My last name is Hegamin. Since is not common, i’m sure we are related. Maybe we can talk and discover is there is a link.

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