Thomas, Trisha R.
Trisha R. Thomas
Trisha R. Thomas's debut novel, Nappily Ever After, touched an emotional chord with African-American readers, among them film star Halle Berry, who acquired the rights to the 2000 book. Eight years later, Berry was set to play the role of Venus Johnson in the film version of Thomas's story, whose heroine in a single day becomes fed up with her high-maintenance, chemically processed hair and her commitment-phobic boyfriend and embarks on a journey of personal growth that will change her life. Venus, said Thomas, is "like many thirtysomething women I know," she told Essence writer Robin D. Stone. "She's still trying to figure out what's right, what's wrong and what will get you the success that you've been told you deserve."
Thomas was born in 1964 and graduated from California State University at Los Angeles in 1988 with a bachelor of science in business administration. She spent the next decade in various professions, including marketing consultant, bridal-store owner, artist, and middle-school teacher, and along the way married and became mother to three children. She was living in northern Virginia in the mid-1990s when she began writing Nappily Ever After, and she soon became so absorbed in the plot and the life of her fictional character that "I would forget to pick up the children from school," she confessed in an Essence interview with Patrik Henry Bass. "I would look up and think, Where are my kids?"
Nappily Ever After was rejected by nearly three dozen publishers and literary agents before Crown Publishers signed Thomas and helped her craft it toward its final version. The story is set in Washington, D.C., and begins when thirty-four-year-old advertising executive Venus Johnson, exhausted by the time-consuming and costly regimen necessary to maintain her long, straight hair, tells her hairdresser to cut it all off, which leaves her with a short, fuzzy—also called "nappy"—Afro that stuns coworkers, family, and friends alike. It also empowers her to challenge her boyfriend of four years, Clint Fairchild, to end his perpetual skittishness about commitment; Venus has supported him through medical school and is ready to move forward now that he has become a physician. When he balks, she cuts him loose.
Earned Terrific Reviews
The rest of Nappily Ever After follows Venus through several life changes and challenges, including trouble at work and knowledge of Clint's new girlfriend, Kandi, whom he suddenly seems ready to marry. Thomas's debut novel won a number of impressive reviews, with Booklist's Vanessa Bush asserting that the work "places her in a league with Terry MacMillan and Bebe Moore Campbell." Delorese Ambrose, a critic for Black Issues Book Review, noted that "Thomas delivers up a powerful, funny and sensitive coming-of-age novel. She is, without doubt, a talented newcomer to the fiction scene." A Publishers Weekly contributor conceded that Thomas's examination "of an African-American woman's journey to self-acceptance is not without flaws … but Thomas refuses to let her characters slide into stereotype, and she keeps the pace fast and funny."
Thomas was struck by the fact that the concept of "nappy" had resonated so deeply with readers. She had originally titled the story "Dreamin Lye," after the caustic chemicals used to relax black hair, but decided to use a different pun for the title as a way to show that Venus's story was a journey of self-discovery that ended on a positive note. African-American booksellers told her the title was a big selling point, and in an interview she gave to the GRITS Online Reading Club, she reflected that the word seemed to tap into a common theme for African-American women: "Going natural is like a dream inside all of us, being free of the pressures, living for oneself, and not feeling obligated to have a certain look."
Thomas's second novel was an abrupt departure from her first, in both subject matter and tone. Published in 2002, Roadrunner is the fictional tale of a once-celebrated baseball player named Dell Fletcher who was known as the "Roadrunner" because of his speed around the bases. Fletcher's life has begun to unravel, however, with persistent injuries leading to a substance-abuse problem that is ruining what was a happy home life with his devoted wife and two children. When an argument turns physical, his wife, Leah, calls 911, and the arresting cop is shocked to see how far the athlete he idolized as a kid has fallen. On the way to the police station, Officer Lopez decides to give Dell a tour of some of Los Angeles's seamier streets as a way to show him where drug addicts eventually wind up. Lopez and Dell end up in an altercation and the car crashes, and in the chaos Dell shows he can still live up to his nickname and takes off running. In the ensuing weeks, Lopez is drawn to Leah, while the missing and possibly amnesiac Dell becomes the target of a quasi-romantic predator himself. In a Black Issues Book Review critique, Robin Green-Cary pronounced it "even better" than Nappily Ever After, noting that "Thomas weaves a wonderful story of love, betrayal and redemption."
Venus Returned in 2004
Thomas's readers, however, clamored for a Venus Johnson update, which was satisfied by Would I Lie to You? The Journey of Venus Johnston in 2004. This novel finds Venus now the head of a marketing firm in D.C. and engaged to a software entrepreneur, Airic Coleman. On a business trip to Los Angeles, however, she meets former-rapper-turned-business-mogul Jake Parson, and the attraction is both instant and mutual, despite their ten-year age difference. Back at home, however, Venus's mother is hospitalized, and the medical crisis reunites her with former boyfriend Clint. When Airic comes under federal investigation for financial wrongdoing, she battles with her feelings for the much-younger Jake and the lingering anger she feels toward Clint. In the end, Airic is acquitted, but she leaves him anyway and begins a new chapter in her life—that of mother. In Nappily Married, published in 2007, Venus is married to Jake—who is a dutiful father to a daughter who may or may not be his, but a decidedly less faithful husband. When Venus catches him cheating, she returns to the hair salon and demands they straighten her hair. Once again, Thomas gives her protagonist career challenges, too, with a mysterious series of events plaguing the struggling community hospital to which Clint has lured her to come on board as its much-needed public-relations executive.
The film rights to Thomas's debut, Nappily Ever After, were snapped up by Halle Berry just before she won an Academy Award for her role in the 2001 film Monster's Ball. Other work commitments and Berry's 2007 pregnancy pushed her starring role as Venus Johnson up to a 2008 release for the film. Thomas bowed out of the offer to write the screenplay, feeling that was best handled by more experienced professionals, and she did admit that she had some reservations about Venus's story being translated for the big screen. "I never thought Nappily could be a movie," she told the GRITS Online Reading Club, because it had "too much feeling and thinking. It's a deeply layered story, very character driven, so I just couldn't picture it, but then I was convinced by one of the producers that it was also very entertaining." She was buoyed when she learned that the Hollywood studio executive most interested in bringing the novel to the screen had also made Legally Blonde, which she had seen and thought that "there was a great message hidden in all the laughter."
At a Glance …
Born on May 28, 1964, in San Diego, CA; married; children: Tahira, Tiffany, Quinlan. Education: California State University at Los Angeles, BS in business administration, 1988.
Career: Worked as a marketing consultant, artist, and designer; owned a bridal store; middle-school teacher until 1999; signed to a book deal with Crown Publishers, c. 1999.
Addresses: Agent—Marie Brown Associates, 625 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
Thomas, who lives in Washington state with her family, is working on a fourth installment, Nappily Faithful, planned for a 2008 publication date. She finds it hard to give up the character who enthralled her so much that her children were left waiting at school. "I love Venus," she told Mika Ono Benedyk in Essence. "She is imperfect. We're indoctrinated to be invincible, but we're all going to make mistakes."
Nappily Ever After, Crown, 2000.
Roadrunner: A Novel, Crown, 2002.
Would I Lie to You? The Journey of Venus Johnston, Crown, 2004.
Nappily Married, St. Martin's Griffin, 2007.
Black Issues Book Review, January 2001; September-October 2002; March-April 2004.
Booklist, November 15, 2000; June 1, 2002.
Daily Variety, January 29, 2002.
Ebony, March 2004.
Essence, June 2002; February 2004; October 2005; August 2007.
Publishers Weekly, November 6, 2000; January 12, 2004.
"Interview with Author, Trisha R. Thomas," GRITS Online Reading Club,http://www.thegritsbookclub.com/Interviews/TrishaThomas.html (accessed December 26, 2007).
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