The Power of Possibility

Monique Greenwood's latest book is a black woman's guide to joy and success

January 16, 2002|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When a New York book agent approached Monique Greenwood about updating Helen Gurley Brown's 1980s manifesto about "having it all," the then editor-in-chief of Essence magazine thought it over. And she decided that women today wanted more than what the Cosmopolitan editor's straight-talking guide to love, success, sex and money had to offer.

Brown's best-seller suggested, among other things, that, "she who has the most toys wins" - an idea Greenwood felt did not suit today's woman. So she found another publisher and crafted her own take on Brown's 1980s creed - "She who has the most joy wins."

"I don't believe we care about having it all anymore," says Greenwood, who led America's premier magazine for African-American women until last summer. "Now, we really want to have what matters."

It is a consistent theme in her new book, Having What Matters: The Black Woman's Guide to Creating the Life You Really Want (William Morrow, December 2001, $25).

In it, the 42-year-old writer-businesswoman offers African-American women a "how-to" guide of sorts, meant to help them chart their own version of personal and professional success. Greenwood blends folksy conversation with cultural references in discussing everything from career and relationships, to finance and fashion tips.

"I wrote this book as a blueprint for black women, really, about achieving dreams," explains Greenwood, who appears tonight at the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library as part of seven-city book tour. "It's about our pleasure, our pain ... about living fully and authentically. In light of Sept. 11, I think it's more important now than ever."

Throughout, Greenwood asserts that to achieve a life with value and meaning, women don't necessarily have to work harder, or put more items on their "to-do" lists - a predominant theme in Brown's Having It All, published in 1982.

A shift in perspective or a change in attitude can help one shape, manage and create the life she desires, Greenwood says.

"If we look in our own families, most of us can see examples of incredible success, people who have achieved in spite of great odds. For black women, it is a matter of understanding our great legacy and believing that anything is possible."

Greenwood is an avid believer in the power of possibility - in fact she might be its poster girl. "I was raised very modestly," she says of her childhood in Washington. "However, my family was warm and supportive. My siblings and I were always made to feel special."

After studying journalism and fashion at Howard University and graduating with honors, Greenwood stayed on to attend business school, earning a master's degree in management. After college, she moved to New York and began a 15-year career as an editor with Fairchild Publications, known for its fashion and children's trade magazines. Her day job wasn't the only thing keeping Greenwood busy. Seven years ago, she and her husband of 12 years, Glenn Pogue, purchased an 18-room Victorian-era brownstone in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Akwaaba Mansion - from a West African word meaning welcome - is now a bustling bed and breakfast, not to mention living quarters for the couple and their 10-year-old daughter, Glynn. Greenwood and her husband have since opened a restaurant and coffeehouse on their block and purchased nearby buildings to develop community-friendly shopping space. They also run a second B&B in Cape May, N.J., (Akwaaba by the Sea).

Along the way, Greenwood has found time to launch a literary society for black women (she also co-wrote The Go On Girl! Book Club Guide for Starting and Sustaining Book Clubs), sit on boards like the New York Urban League and earn a "Points of Light" award from former President George Bush for community service.

"I used to be at the bottom of a very long to-do list," says Greenwood, when asked about her various responsibilities. "Writing this book forced me to look in the mirror. I stopped trying to do it all. I realized I could not take care of others if I did not take care of myself."

She said as much to readers, after resigning her high-profile post at Essence last August, a little more than a year after assuming the position.

So when she's not catering to her restaurant clientele, tucking her daughter into bed at night or flying across the country for book-signings, Greenwood might be found luxuriating in a hot bath, entertaining guests at home or hunting for items for her black memorabilia collection.

"I want to take life one day at a time," she says.

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