Denene Millner: From Breaking News to Publishing (and Motherhood)

Denene+Millner
Denene Millner

Denene Millner

Erskine Isaac (courtesy: Denene Millner)

Erskine Isaac (courtesy: Denene Millner)

Denene Millner

Denene Millner

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I come from a working-class family with parents who toiled at their blue-collar factory jobs for decades before they retired with pensions and farewell parties replete with grocery store cake and congratulatory watches. Bettye and Jimy believed with all their might that unless a superior was taking you out back, tying you to a tree and beating you like a runaway slave, you kept those paychecks and those benefits until you hit retirement age or you left toes up. Good jobs, after all, are hard to come by. You get one, you keep it.

But pulling this off requires one to climb into a box and stay there.

I don’t like boxes.

I do like challenges, though. And especially my freedom. I was looking for each of these things when I left a good job and benefits at Parenting magazine and, in 2005, moved with my husband and children from metro New York, my then life-long home, to a little town in Georgia.

Courtesy: Denene Millner)

I had my reasons—good ones. My stress levels from working a high-powered gig, writing books and raising two young daughters had reached fever pitch, and my health was suffering because of it. Affording a family of four in the New York area was increasingly difficult. And frankly, I was tired of working so very hard to put money in someone else’s pockets, rather than using my talents for my own good.  And so I said “good-bye” to a life ruled by clocks and bills and other peoples’ orders and said “hello” to creating the life and career I wanted—one that allowed me to be a good mom to my daughters while building my own successful business as an author, freelancer and editor of an award-winning website that led to my founding my own children’s book imprint.

Now taking that leap of faith wasn’t easy. I am, after all, Bettye and Jimy’s child, and I actually appreciated those regular checks. But I’m also Bettye and Jimy’s daughter, which means I have some hustler in me, too. Before I even left New York, I secured a monthly advice column from Parenting magazine, making me the sole African American woman columnist for a mainstream publication in the nation at that time. That role also earned me a monthly check that added up roughly to what I brought home as a full-time employee after taxes and paying a nanny to care for my daughters. Can you imagine?

A sign that my “second act” as a freelance writer and author was a smart move came a month after my family and I moved to Georgia: I got a call from a publisher looking for a Georgia-based author to co-write a teen series set in Atlanta, and shortly after that, another call from an editor looking for an Atlanta writer to pen a relationship book with Steve Harvey. Those projects turned into the popular Hotlanta series and Harvey’s hugely popular Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man tome, both of which secured my foothold in the publishing industry as a children’s book author and celebrity memoirist.

In the meantime, I became kind of obsessed with the online conversations and connections that were being made on blogs about motherhood. As a full-time work-at-home mom, it was important to me to find the balance between the rigors of running my own boutique writing business and raising my babies in a way that made them feel wholly and completely loved beyond what I was capable of giving them while working a full-time job outside of the home in New York.

See, this part—being fully present for my daughters—was the most important second act I could have ever created for myself. And so in order to do that, I tailored one more aspect of my writing life around my most important mission and MyBrownBaby.com was born. MyBrownBaby is a website featuring deeply personal essays that dissect the intersection of parenting and race. With my dedication to penning authentic stories about the joys and challenges of raising African American children laid bare, and my journalistic background and connections front and center, MyBrownBaby became an award-winning, highly respected website through which I built an amazing platform—one that opened the door to my becoming a highly sought-after national parenting expert and a brand influencer, working with companies like P&G, Unilever, Disney and many others.

My parenting work, the success of my website, and my passion for books featuring African American children, also opened the door for me to found my own children’s book imprint, Denene Millner Books, a line dedicated to the everyday stories of black kids and families, written and illustrated by African American writers and artists. This year’s debut of the imprint will see four beautiful books heading to bookstores—two of them, “There’s a Dragon in My Closet,” by Dorothea Taylor and illustrated by Charly Palmer, and “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, feature sweet stories about black boys—a rarity among children’s picture books.

With 27 published books under my belt (including books New York Times bestselling books with Taraji P. Henson, Jessye Norman, Charlie Wilson and Cookie Johnson, one of my novels, The Vow, turned into the Lifetime movie, “With This Ring,” starring Regina P. Hall and Jill Scott), a thriving freelance writing career, an award winning parenting website and a children’s book imprint, I’ve managed to create a “second act” that stretches far outside what I saw for myself when I entered the business as a young reporter for the Associated Press back in 1990.

My God, I was so green back then—eager to write, hungry for bylines, ambitious. The heart and mettle I had back then took me from the overnight desk in the AP’s Albany bureau, to the halls of the statehouse, where I worked as a political reporter. My work there earned me a gig as a political reporter for the Daily News, where, later, I became an entertainment journalist whose stories earned me invitations to host morning drive radio shows, commentate on MTV, VH1, MSNBC and CNN, and write for top entertainment magazines. Later, my work as a senior editor at Honey magazine and Parenting continued to open doors for me across media genres. I had the time of my life as a young reporter and editor in those spaces.

Still, nothing has been more rewarding than following my passions and letting them take me to writing spaces I never could have dreamed—places that allow me to reach and grow and stretch far outside the box our profession tries so hard to keep each of us in.Courtesy: Denene Millner)

I think Bettye and Jimy are proud.

 

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1 Comment

One Response to “Denene Millner: From Breaking News to Publishing (and Motherhood)”

  1. Christa David on September 12th, 2017 7:11 pm

    Denene you’re such a gift an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing this and showing me that it’s ok to let go and expand even when the path isn’t so clear and my footing so sure. I love you sis. Keep winning for us!

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