August 5, 2021 • Q&A

Q&A with Anita Kopacz on Her Debut Novel, Shallow Waters

Anita Kopacz

Why did you want to tell this story for your debut novel?

The story of Yemaya, originally Yemoja, has always been a powerful parable to me. Yemaya is a deity in the Yoruba pantheon of spirits. She is often depicted as a Black mer being. When I first learned about Yemaya as a child, I learned that she watched over enslaved Africans as they traveled over the Middle Passage. That story was a huge inspiration to me in the process of writing Shallow Waters. I wanted to tell this story for my debut novel because I needed to find ancestral healing. This book is a personified tale of my healing.  

As your love letter to black women,” what is something that you hope that anyone, regardless of race, color, sex, or religion will feel when they read your book?

Yes, Shallow Waters is my love letter to Black women. My intention is that we all remember who we really are. A beautiful aspect that I noticed is that numerous people, regardless of race, age and sex have found characters that they deeply resonate with. There are some powerful white allies within the story. Shallow Waters is a historical fiction with real historical figures that have done some amazing things to help humanity. This novel is for anyone who is ready to heal their ancestral wounds. 

We meet your lead character, Yemaya, when she is a young girl, who is not yet aware of her powers. How do you see Yemaya influencing the women of all ages who read this story, who themselves are not aware of the powers they possess?

In the beginning of this story, Yemaya does not know that she is a goddess. Through many trials and tribulations, she experiences her own rite of passage. My wish is that everyone who dives into this journey awakes to their own divinity.

Along the way, Yemaya encounters many historical figures. How did you choose which people to include and why?

Many of the historical figures “told” me that they were supposed in the story by sending me signs. For example, my friend sent me a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. That same day, another person was talking about him and then I saw two posts with quotes from him. I checked how old he was during the time period of the story, and voila…a perfect match. I tried to find both figures that were well known and obscure. It was a perfect way to introduce largely unknown figures who have done powerful things in history.

Audiences are most familiar with mermaids from “The Little Mermaid.” In telling the tale of Shallow Waters’ mermaid Yemaya, you weave in history from the Yoruban and Afro-Caribbean traditions. How do you envision the perception and significance of mermaids changing after reading your book?

Diversifying the perception of mermaids is well past due. Every indigenous culture has a Mer being story or parable. From the Yawkyawk in Australia to Sedna in Inuit mythology. In different parts of Africa and the African diaspora, we have Yemaya, Mami Wata, La Siren and more. I am excited to see more mermaid stories expressed in novel form and the big screen. It’s time to share the age-old stories that have been ignored for way too long.

You are also the founder of an amazing nonprofit, Zero Fs Given. Tell us about that initiative and why you have zero Fs to give.

Zero Fs Given is a non-profit and campaign to raise awareness and help victimized and disenfranchised populations heal from sexual trauma. As a thriving survivor of sexual abuse, I am passionate about people healing from the wounds of sexual violence. Zero Fs Given represents a day of literally giving Zero Fs…a day of sexual abstinence to honor anyone who’s NO was not respected. I have Zero Fs to give because my healing inspires others to heal!