RIP Erica Kennedy

by Demetria L. Lucas

It is a perhaps precarious thing to write about the death of someone I did not “know,” but maybe could have. This isn’t like eulogizing Whitney Houston, even if she indirectly provided a soundtrack to parts of my life. I had no delusions that I would ever follow in Whitney’s footsteps.

Erica Kennedy is … different. Long before I committed to being a writer, I daydreamed about being one. And as I flipped through the pages of Vibe, reading and re-reading the words of dream hampton, Lola Ogunnaike, and of course, Erica, a fashion publicist turned writer turned author, I saw not just words, but possibilities.  When I found the gumption to tell my parents, “No, I’m not going to law school, I’m going to be a writer,” it was those women – and more—who turned my “maybe I can do this” into “yes, I actually can.”

I heard Erica was gone the way I hear most things: via Twitter. I’d logged on after an unusual hours-long absence due to writing deadlines. I caught a friend, one Erica and I shared, referring to Erica in the past tense. “Erica Kennedy was a great writer and friend,” she wrote. Was? Huh? I searched her name.

Erica, 42, was found in her apartment June 13, according to her cousin. The cause of her death isn’t publicly known. It took two days for news of her death to hit Erica’s writer colleagues, an eternity in modern journalism. Kimora Lee-Simmons, Erica’s best friend who appointed Erica godmother to her own daughters, Ming and Aoki, tweeted she was “devastated.”

I met Erica Kennedy in passing. At what industry party — an album release, a celebrity’s birthday, or a liquor company shilling its product — I don’t recall. After a while and enough open bars, they all seem to run together. I was a young writer with a few bylines and looking to make my mark. She was a veteran journalist and a debut author promoting her book Bling, and her face seemed impossible to miss. I knew of her before that, though, had been reading her words before I moved to New York. She didn’t know me, of course, but she did know my mentor, a colleague of hers, who was, in a way, vouching for me by introduction: “Erica, meet Demetria.”

I’ve never been one to stand out over celebrities unless I’d grown up listening to their music — Heavy D, Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte, etc. Writers have always been my rock stars. It took everything in me not to fan out and start listing my favorite pieces of hers. I kept protocol, kept my cool, extended my hand, and steadied my voice as I said, “It’s nice to meet you” just a bit too earnestly.  She chatted with my mentor, her friend, as I stood by, a silent observer, recounting in my head every article I’d read with her byline attached.

Erica was the writer who gave other writers hope. Most want to become an author, and while cranking out 2,500 magazine feature stories on deadline is par for the course, writing a book — usually 75,000-90,000 words — seems daunting. But it remains a one-day, someday dream most aspire to when they find they time.

Erica found it. Bling was a massive tome, one that hit the New York Times bestseller list, another widely held goal that seems particularly impossible, and her book was optioned by Marimax. “She was the black girl that made it,” said an editor I talked to Friday while we comforted each other. “I didn’t know her, but I was soooo proud of her.”

Over the weekend, I spoke to many friends who were also friends of Erica’s. The ones I know met her the way modern people tend to meet: online. For years, Erica maintained an invite-only Facebook group, a carefully assembled coalition of empowered women — the names read like a Who’s Who — that had something to say and fearlessness to do so. Some she never met, others she invited to Peaches, a Brooklyn bistro, to pow wow. Her friends tell me now she had “her corner” there. It was one of the real-world places Erica encouraged them to follow their dreams or inspired them to push harder at whatever respective feat they’d committed to. “It’s crazy that most of my closest friends I met through Erica,” a mutual friend shared. It’s crazy someone so accomplished took the time to make the connections. It’s rare.

Twitter is where I finally got to “know” Erica. Her second book, Feminista, had dropped, and she seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time tweeting from Peaches, which is walking distance from my apartment. After months of sharing pop-culture commentary on which celebrity had gone hog wild, I suggested we meet up, maybe grab a Brownstone Punch, Peaches’ signature drink. She agreed. But we never got around to it.

I had a demanding day job, a blog as she did, and I was writing my own book, one for which the success of Bling directly paved the way. I meant to call and set something up. Tomorrow, which never came.

RIP Erica Kennedy.

 

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Oh woooow! R.I.P!!!

    I have never heard of her, BUT if that is her in the picture, I have seen that picture. She was beautiful, and 42?! DAMN!! I thought she as in her 20s…..

    My sincerest condolences to her friends and family.

  • http://razzshairpalace.com melinda jg hyman

    RIP Erica peace and blessing to all your family and friends this was one of my first reading articles I read this morning.I also send my condolences to Minors and her family.God will heal you in time.

  • Tami

    Thank you so much for this article. I am not familiar with Erica Kennedy but I like to read & I like good writing. I will definitely look up her work….and your article is a great homage to her.

  • edub

    This was so beautifully written.

  • http://passionistaplace.blogspot.com posh brown

    there have been a lot of reported deaths lately (rodney k., yvette wilson, ect) but this one hit me the hardest. and, i never met erica kennedy either. but i have read her work in honey and vibe (i think). i also went to see her at a barnes & noble reading of her first book. although i didn’t know it until now, she was a she-ro of mine. later on, i found her blog (feministafiles) and enjoyed it. she would even write back nice comments and answer questions after i commented on her blog. she wrote her second novel and it made me angry with my myself that i had not worked on my childhood dream of becoming a writer (happy for her, though lol). knowing that she’s gone is sad…and scary. but, i intend to use it as something positive to get me on track. r.i.p erica k.

  • http://sparklebloom.wordpress.com Nina

    This is very sad news. I never finished reading “Bling,” but I remember reading about her success years ago. I wish peace and comfort for her family and friends.

  • http://pretty-with-purpose.com J.Denise

    Beautiful article.

  • http://www.rivaflowz.com Riva

    Beautiful Demetria. Absolutely Beautiful.

  • http://www.girlsbestfriendandcoblog.com thefashionistachic

    This was a beautiful post of an apparently remarkable women. I never had the pleasure of knowing Erica, I am sadden to hear about your lost. I wish you all the success in the world sister. I will be looking for that novel.

  • francais

    I can’t believe it!

    I was an avid follower of Erica’s blog Feminista Files and really enjoyed the new term “Feminista” that she coined that more aptly described many of today’s young, driven, modern women.

    Rest in Power and Peace Erica

  • Pingback: Contemplating Sickness & Suicide | Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman

  • leoni

    Demetria’s book is A Belle in Brooklyn. It came out last year.

  • A Lo

    Great read! Thanks Demetria for informing us about the death of Erika. Thanks for sharing with us how Erika inspired you. I don’t know her or you but the beauty of writing is that we learn about each other and the powerful things Black women are doing. I appreciate it!

  • Aja

    I loved her book “Bling”

  • Domonique

    I am so so hurt by this news! I loved that EK was accessible. I loved her books. I loved her blog. Her sense of humor. When she shut down her blog and her social media connects last year, I thought it was just in preparation for a new novel. I was waiting on the next big project from her. I was so sure this absence meant she was cooking up something awesome.

    I commented once on one of her photos from her bday album and she actually responded– a rarity even with people I know personally. We were both Aries babies and I’d wondered exactly what day hers was.

    I had this fantasy that I’d go to NY one random weekend and be riding the train, and coincidentally she’d be sitting right next to me and I’d get to tell her how smart and funny and beautiful I thought she was. Sigh.

    She’ll continue to be in my thoughts and my prayers.

  • fancypants

    Bling continues to be one of my favorite books. My thoughts are with her family and friends.

  • Eclecticflavor

    wow this one is a bit of a shock for me.
    RIP Erica Kennedy

  • Trueletterson

    Sad! Another beautiful, voluptuous, mis guided black women lost, wasted who went full boor trying to prove others social experiment [Femenism] at the expense of themselves, the black man and the black family when will they wake up!

  • Khalilah

    I don’t normally comment… but this is so sad. I read Erica’s book, Bling, years ago, and I loved it. It was one of those books, that I let a friend borrow, and I still didn’t get it back yet. I’ll have to buy that second book, Feminista…

  • Mike T.

    Thank you for this article. I grew up a few doors down from Erica, her mom and brother Kirk. And although I left NYC to move to Los Angeles and hadn’t seen Erica in many years,
    I remember her quite well: beautiful, intelligent and very funny. In recent years, I had read about her success and was proud, but I also somehow expected it – she had an elegant and defiant way about her!

    I had been meaning to e-mail her to congratulate her – and now, unfortunately, I won’t get that chance… I am shocked and saddened by her passing.

    My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. RIP Erica.

  • Raquel

    Nice article. I love talented and inspiring authors and I love reading. Sad story. Just goes to show that you should not “put off for tomorrow what can be done today” because tomorrow is NOT promised to any of us. Peace. :-)

  • http://www.EisaUlen.com eisa

    thank you for this lovely tribute, demetria.

    eisa

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