Writing about Real Life and Restorative Justice
Alessandra Harris Profile
Alessandra Harris Profile
What attracted you to writing, and what role did faith play in your path along the way?
When I took an inventory to discover my charisms, writing was at the top of the list. I do feel I have a God-given gift to express myself through writing. As I have grown and matured in my faith, I have had more opportunities to combine my love for writing and faith.
When did you start writing for online Catholic media?
In 2020, a group of lay Black Catholics and I co-founded the media news site Black Catholic Messenger, which is geared toward the African American Catholic community. We recognized that Black culture and the Black Catholic experience are unique and have specific concerns and needs not met by secular or Catholic media. I have written for the National Catholic Reporter, America Magazine, US Catholic, Notre Dame’s Grotto Network, The Catholic Worker, and Where Peter Is, just to name a few.
Your most recent work of fiction, Last Place Seen, published by a small independent press, won 1st place in the Best Thriller category for the Indies Today Book Awards. How was that accolade personally affirming?
I am pleased that the message I wanted to convey in Last Place Seen struck a positive chord with people. I wanted to humanize people who were formerly incarcerated and their families and portray just how hard it can be for people to get back on their feet and re-enter society after a conviction.
What keeps inspiring or challenging you to write about topics related to your Catholic faith?
There are 3 million Black Catholics in the United States and many historically Black Catholic Churches that date back to the 1800s, yet I hear people say they did not know that Black Catholics exist. I am inspired to write about topics that are relevant to my life as a Black Catholic wife, mom, and US and global citizen through the lens of my faith as well as my personal experience.
Which faith-related topic do you find yourself writing about frequently?
I have written on a diverse range of ideas on my personal blog since 2015 and through numerous Catholic publications. Mass incarceration, viewed through the lens of segregation and Jim Crow, is one of the most critical issues facing African Americans and our society today. I feel that God is calling me to raise awareness about it. I am excited for my next book, and my first non-fiction book, In the Shadow of Freedom: An Enduring Call for Racial Justice, with Orbis Books, is coming out next year.
What other activities has your faith inspired you to take up outside of writing?
In early 2021, I became involved with Abolition Apostles, a pen-pal ministry that connects people who are not incarcerated with people who are. I have developed great friendships with two women who are currently imprisoned, and my faith has inspired me to do that.
How do you feel your faith has and continues to transform you as a disciple of Christ?
In the last few years, I feel Jesus has called me to put my faith into action and answer a prophetic call to make the world a better place for people on the margins of society.
If you could choose one to two words to describe your writing to a Catholic reader who is newly acquainted with your work, what would it/they be and why?
Real life. I have faced many challenges in life, and I feel it is important to explore how one’s circumstances and opportunities influence the life-impacting decisions people make. In my first two novels, I explored marriage, mental illness, trauma, and family dynamics. In Last Place Seen, I portrayed how hard life can be for the formerly imprisoned and for people living in Silicon Valley who are generally struggling to pay the rent. Also, I wrote about how wildfires and climate change impact people’s everyday lives. I write to convey reality in the context of restorative justice and faith.
Alessandra Harris was born and raised in Santa Clara County and attended St. Justin’s Elementary, Archbishop Mitty High School, and San Jose State University, where she completed degrees in Comparative Religious and Middle East studies. She is an award-winning novelist, wife, and a mom of four: two college students and two high schoolers. She is an avid Golden State Warriors fan and an active parishioner in the diocese.