Terry McMillan Proves That ‘It’s Not All Downhill From Here’
Her latest novel is a testament to her commitment to Black women’s lives and to her individual craft
In 1995, my nine-year-old self watched as Whitney Houston, Lelah Rochon, Loretta Devine, and Angela Bassett took the screen in Waiting to Exhale, the eponymous adaptation of Terry McMillan’s 1992 New York Times bestseller. At the time, I had no idea how revolutionary it was to see four Black women that were smart, beautiful, and successful at the center of a story on romance and womanhood in film.
In work like Waiting to Exhale, McMillan shifted the narrative of Black women as protagonists in contemporary fiction in the late 1980s and early ’90s by extracting them from proximity to Whiteness that was often seen as more commercially viable. Not only did she help Black women see themselves, she showcased Black women in a way the world was not as familiar with viewing them. In displaying the vulnerabilities, desires, and romantic faux pas of Black women, she tapped into a more culturally diverse audience. Regardless of ethnic background, this multidimensional portrayal of her characters related to all women and resulted in over three million books sold, an 11-week NYT bestseller list stint, and an $82 million box office hit.
Over three decades into her writing career, the accomplished novelist continues to push the boundaries with stories of Black women of a certain age at the center of her work with the release of her 11th book, It’s Not All Downhill From Here. The novel tells the story of Loretha Curry and the chaos that ensues when her husband unexpectedly dies on a surprise birthday trip. Not only is Loretha grieving, but she is also managing an aging mother, an alcoholic daughter, and an array of ancillary characters that stumble into her life. In her true-to-form storytelling, McMillan highlights friendship, the complexity of life and family, and navigating the truth of aging — its triumphs and pitfalls.
O, The Oprah Magazine revealed the cover, and Publisher’s Weekly called it a “delightful novel [that] balances inspiration for renewal with the hard facts of aging.” In spite of all of her success, McMillan remains immensely humble. “It means a lot on paper, but for me what it…