Though best known for her dramatic antics and tell-it-like-it-is attitude on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," Nene Leakes has also become a dramatic, tell-it-like-it-is author. Voted Bravo's A-List winner for Guiltiest Reality Pleasure in 2009, Leakes has been busy recently heading up her Twisted Hearts foundation and promoting her new memoir Never Make the Same Mistake Twice. Never hit shelves Tues., Aug. 11. The spunky reality star speaks out here in anticipation of her author talk and book signing at Borders in Lithonia Aug. 13, 7 p.m.
Did you always aspire to become an author or was it a response to the persona Bravo has presented to its viewers?
I never saw myself as an author. A publishing company reached out to me. I said to myself, "How am I going to write a memoir? Memoirs are usually written by older people. I’m so young and my life is not over yet. I have a lot more life to be livin’." They told me I could just finish with a continuation. I couldn’t possibly fit everything in about my life. Writing this memoir was was like therapy for me. As I started to write about the resentment I had toward my mother for not raising me and the abuse I endured, I began to think some of it was too much. However, I tell the truth throughout the memoir.
Was there a readership in mind as you were putting the memoir together or where you strictly catering to Housewives viewers?
No. No. I just wanted to write the memoir and tell my story. When I finished, I was sure the book would be great for young women. I wanted women to learn from my experiences. As a young single mother, I was a part of the continuing cycle of women who had gotten pregnant young and were unmarried. Young women can definitely learn from my story.
Your memoir is titled Never Make the Same Mistake Twice, do you feel, past or present, you’ve made mistakes more than once?
[Exhales] I feel like I’ve made mistakes. My relationship with Kim is a mistake I’ve made over and over and over again. I’m telling you, I’m done with Kim. I’m so done with Kim Zolciak. I'm not open to apologies and hugs, I want nothing to do with her. Well, I’m open to business but nothing that involves being friends. She’s done so much lying and has caused so much confusion. Nowhere in our contracts does it say we have to be friends!
You are considered “the real” Real Housewife of Atlanta because of your tell-it-like-it-is attitude. What are the most scandalous things readers will find out while reading the book? And did you make an effort to discredit any of the rumors about your past and present financial and personal circumstances?
I wrote the truth about the rumors of foreclosure. I write about the jobs I had to take. I tell about becoming a stripper because I left an abusive relationship so that I could take care of my son. I needed to support him and get him out of a violent situation. I made a dedication in the book to my two boys. It says, "For my sons Bryson and Brentt, who are my biggest blessings." As a mother I made a promise to myself that I’d do whatever it took to take care of them. I love my boys. I put my son through private school with the money I got from stripping. I was able to stay home with my son during the day and make sure he got a great education. There’s nothing but truth in this book. I did what I had to do to make sure I was always there for my boys.
You’ve been married for about 12 years. Do you reveal the NeNe Leakes secrets to a successful marriage within the memoir?
On September the sixth 2009, it’ll be 12 years that Greg and I have been married, however we’ve been together longer. I already revealed the secret to a successful marriage on "Housewives." It airs this Thursday. Sheree and I sit down and talk about it. You should really watch the show.
Has your newfound stardom changed your family dynamics?
It hasn’t really affected my relationship with my husband and children. My husband and I have been together for a long time. My relationship with Greg is really strong. If we break up it wouldn’t be because of the show. Who’d know that this would blow up like this? That people would be after me all the time. I recommended all the women on the show. I gave the names of Kim, Lisa, Sheree and DeShawn. In the beginning it was hard. Now I have a thicker skin. The spotlight you get from TV can be a blessing and a curse. It builds you up and tears you down at the same time. The blessing is that I have so many fans that show love. I have haters too, but my fans really show me love.
The book details some of the hardships of your adolescence. You describe yourself as being the black sheep of your family and how hard it was being raised by a single mother. How did that affect the woman you are today?
I’m so strong. I’ve always been strong. I was raised by my aunt. It really affected me because she never showed me much love although she gave me everything I ever physically needed. I had great Christmases and holidays. But you need more. She never told me she loved me, and if she did I was too, too young to remember. She yelled a lot. So much to the point that I think I yell a lot unconsciously. My family sometimes asks me why I’m yelling so dang much, but it’s just a learned habit. I also feel like she leaned toward my brother more than me. But it motivated me to be better. Do more than what was expected of me. [Laughs] I have family nowadays that tries to associate with me because I’m famous. I have a difficult time accepting that. When I was struggling, they offered no help and was nowhere in sight. I have cousins and aunts inviting me over and telling me how I’m their favorite niece.
You also discuss the physical abuse you endured as a young adult while in a violent relationship, which eventually lead to the creation of your foundation Twisted Hearts. What would be your piece of advice to readers going through the same ordeal?
To any woman that's going through what I went through — leave. Find the strength to leave. I stuck around for years but I left because I didn’t want my son to be raised in a violent relationship. I didn’t have any money. He was making the money. And not that much money but it was more than what I had at the time. I didn’t have any resources, so I stayed. I didn’t have any family to rely on. They weren’t there for me. I‘d ask to stay with family members and they’d reply, "No. You can’t stay here."
I fought every day to get out of the relationship. That’s why I started to dance. To take care of my son. You have to have a plan to get out. When he leaves, make some calls to anyone you think can help. When he’s in the bathroom on the toilet call a shelter. Any effort is worth it. There’s lots of shelters and programs out there — things I never even knew about — that will take you and your children in. There are programs that will help you get a job, even in this economy. There’s always a way.
TV personality on a No. 1 show and now an author. What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m working on a shoe line called Strut. I have a large gay following. The gay men love me and are following me like crazy, trying to fit their big feet in my shoes. I’m trying to make a fabulous line for people with big feet, sizes 9-14. Not those granny shoes you usually see with low heels and plain. I want to design shoes that are top quality — like Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton. Another one of my ventures is going to Hollywood. I’m in the process of reading scripts right now. Being on television — reality is different — I want scripted work. But what I’d really love to have is my very own talk show.
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Phenomenal. Excellent article.