First in a series: A Writer’s Life: Masheri Chappelle
Still small voices. Do you listen to them? Some say they come from here somewhere near your heart, the voice of God. We get a feeling, premonition, perhaps a hunch. When you listen to them, you don’t get on that plane, and you don’t go down that road; maybe you buy that lottery ticket. Masheri Chappelle hears these voices. Only they can be forceful and even shake the house. She has the gift. She considers her spiritual and intuitive gifts a way to “assist others with their journey in the physical realm.”
Her life’s journey has taken her from Harlem on West 148th Street to a gifted high school in Connecticut, to an ivy league college on a full scholarship, and eventually to New Hampshire, where she is the chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, a nonprofit literary arts organization. Masheri is an award-winning playwright, a novelist, runs a successful intuitive consulting business, and works as a data analyst for her day job. Her novel, The Oracle Files: Escape, won the 2019 NH Literary Award for outstanding work of fiction. In addition, Masheri was integral in the recent collaboration between NH PBS and NHWP for a Hemingway writers challenge to coincide with Ken Burns’ broadcast of his three-part series, Hemingway.
She and I sat down for a long and revealing interview at her home in Manchester. She has transformed her yard into an oasis of nature and beauty where yellow goldfinches flit about and monarch butterflies feast on the plants she put in, especially for them. A goldfinch symbolizes positivity and optimism, and Masheri has that in abundance.
We start with her name. I ask if it is from a song by Stevie Wonder, “My Cherie Amour.” She explains she was named after a French dry cleaner her mother would pass every day on the bus on her way to work. Her mother, Vanetta Clark, was a switchboard operator.
“My grandmother said no one is going to know how to say that; call her Penny. And that’s my nickname, and that’s my writer’s name.”
“From Harlem, I went to the South Bronx. We were one of two black families who lived there. It was predominantly white Irish Catholic, and it transitioned into a Latino community. It was a great community. We didn’t have much, but you always had clean, pressed jeans and white sneakers. We had the necessities.”
Her first big break came in high school when she had an opportunity to test for Guilford A Better Chance, a high-quality public high school with a preparatory college track in Guilford, Connecticut. Guilford ABC “invites academically talented young women of color from underrepresented communities.” Nothing was going to stop Masheri from getting to the exam that would qualify her to attend Guilford. The day of the test, a winter storm covered the city in ice, and with sheer determination to get down icy streets to the trains, dressed in three layers of clothes, she made it, passed, and was accepted into the program.
“I credit that program for saving my life. It was an all-white school, and we were the only black students. There were seven of us. That opportunity changed my trajectory to what I could be. I was there for two years.”
After high school, Masheri applied and was accepted to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, on a full scholarship working on a B.A. in Theatre and Writing. It was there an academic advisor named Bill Hatch changed her life.
“Bill Hatch was from Texas. I took a set design class with him. You had to build sets as well as design them. He gave me the opportunity to be a Smith Scholar. I owe that man my life. This man elevated me, protected, and guided me. He’s the one who made me a playwright. He was a phenomenal teacher, and I owe him my writing career. He gave me faith in myself. He opened the door.”
“As a writer and as a leader of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, my goal is to instill the same in writers: to awaken, guide, and protect. I know this to be the ultimate gift to give a writer. To make sure they have the best and to cultivate a discipline and desire for that discipline. That’s what he did. As a result, my plays won the Denis Johnston Playwright Award.” This award is given for the best play or musical by an undergraduate.
During Masheri’s time at Smith, she met and eventually married her first husband, Barry. He is of the Jewish faith, and they have two daughters, Sierra and Sequoia. During the 13-year marriage, intuitive messages were flooding into Masheri, leading her into the business of intuitive consultation.
“It was an awakening for me. It was so matter of fact. It was joyous and came with intensity. We got calls from 8 AM to 8 PM from people for readings. I was getting $300 an hour from all over the globe to give readings. This is what led to my divorce. My ex-husband denounced my abilities, and it led to the breakdown of my marriage.”
“I have incredible faith in God. Unfortunately, I have been abused because of my psychic abilities. And so, this is why I fight so hard for New Hampshire Writers’ Project. It’s clear to me I was sent here.”
“I have two goals for New Hampshire Writers’ Project. One is to develop a writers’ colony, and the other is NHWP to be a source of great stories for the filming industry, the streaming industry. New Hampshire is an amazing place to write. The lakes, the mountains, the outdoor life. All lends itself to being creative and close to nature. Like in the Hudson River Valley for painters, I think New Hampshire is for writers. We need to make room. Strike the match. You come here because you want to write, to be a source of imagination. Everything that I have transcended has prepared me to lead—overcoming obstacles of abuse, both spiritual and psychic, and transcending that so that I can be a writer and to teach compassion and open people to a world they may not see.”
“All my books are based in the psychic realm. All my characters are presenting that dimension to teach them, and if they are on the cusp of it, to go through that door. It can be writing, poetry, screenwriting. I’m that girl to get you through the door to go on that journey. Understand God has a plan, and I’ve said this is the one place I feel I can be my full self, without apology, without holding back. I’m not afraid to lead and protect somebody to get them where they need to go. I have battled some serious battles, and I’ve come out clear, crystal clear about who I am and what I have to do, and you’re not going to change my mind. I fight for the NHWP members.”
Nevertheless, there was a message her spirit guide shared with her that gave her pause. He said it was time to try one more time. Love. One was awaiting her.
“My spirit guide woke me up and said, try again. It’s the last time. The spirit said he’s looking for the one. You are the one.” And so, in 2010, she met Donald LeBlanc.
“He was a Senior IT Administrator. He had a great job, and I knew he was a good person. Together, we fixed up the backyard of his house for my daughters. He said you do your writing and your intuitive work. This guy believed me. He was picked for me.”
“And then he got sick. He wasn’t diagnosed until 2016. It probably started in 2014. They haven’t diagnosed him in Alzheimer’s or dementia, but he gets medication for Alzheimer’s.”
“We married two November’s ago, needing to be able to protect him legally.”
“People get caught up in what they think a writer is. Life experience is the connection of the passion and ferocity of what’s going into the work. I have that vision. I speak with that conviction.”
“You see, I am Clair Huxtable, and I can be Queen Latifah, and God help you if you get me to Samuel L Jackson, just run and save yourself. This organization means that much to me. Someone tried to stop me from creating. That’s my gift.”
“New Hampshire Writers’ Project is an educational tool. It’s for those who can’t afford to go back to get an MFA. It’s for those who really have a passion for writing and who need a community to keep them moving with passion, dedication, and a determination to transcend.”
Photo by Pat Piasecki