Queen Sugar' Writer Felicia Pride on Her Lifelong Pursuit to be Undeniable on the Page
May 22, 2020
Felicia Pride celebrated her 39th birthday in her very first Hollywood writers room; ironically, about 20 years after her first-ever published piece.
The celebration happened in the writers room for OWN’s Queen Sugar, where Pride has been working for two seasons.
It's been a busy few years for the Baltimore native, who moved to Los Angeles just five years ago. Even in quarantine, Pride's schedule is full.
She released Tender — a film she wrote and directed — online. It was her directorial debut. Pride is writing several other scripts including an indie feature inspired by her mother, sister and niece; and producing a weekly free newsletter she started eight years ago to help up-and-coming creatives.
She's had a successful few years, but it's been a hustle 20 years in the making that began long before Pride had the title of screenwriter.
Pride graduated in 2001 from Towson University in Maryland with a degree in marketing. Having a business degree meant she would easily land a job, and as a 21-year-old new graduate, that was an exciting notion. After graduation, she moved to New Jersey for a gig in corporate America — a position as a marketing coordinator at Panasonic. She was living what she describes as a Sex and the City lifestyle, but at the end of the day she was bored and unfulfilled. To fill that void, she decided to do something creative. She began writing.
Pride found a side hustle as a local journalist after landing an internship at The Black Reign Community Newspaper, based in Staten Island. She wrote about culture and entertainment, and her first published piece was in 2001; a review of Mary J. Blige’s album No More Drama.
"When I saw my name in print that confirmed it all," Pride said.
"I was like, 'Oh, I like this! I want to do this!’ I felt validated in many ways."
After several years of a corporate lifestyle with a side journalism hustle, Pride decided she wanted to professionalize her new craft. In 2003 she enrolled in graduate school at Emerson College in Boston to study literature and publishing.
She graduated in 2005, moved to New York City and began work full-time in publishing while writing novels on the side. In all, she wrote six books while living in the city. But then, she says, her full-time work began to "dry up." She was struggling to make ends meet in publishing. Pride decided to leave New York and move back to the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, where she says she made a fatal mistake: She stopped writing.
Pride became an impact producer and used her marketing degree to start her own consultancy business, working for various social justice projects. She developed campaigns for films, books and radio shows, helping other creatives better leverage themselves. She did this for years before finding herself where she had started while working in corporate America; unfulfilled and yearning to create.
Around 2008 she decided to start writing again, but this time she took a stab at screenwriting. Although she didn't fully understand the screenwriting structure, she had a voice from years as a novelist and journalist. She wrote her first script, and it fulfilled her in a way she could have never imagined.
"I realized this was my form of writing because it takes the economics of journalism in terms of having to be tight with your words and mixes it with the imagination of prose, or fiction prose, so it was a match made in heaven for me," Pride said.
In 2014, after years of chasing checks as a consultant and withered from the lifestyle of a freelancer and small business owner, Pride's mentor asked her, "What do you really want to do?"
Pride responded that she wanted to write and create.
Her mentor said, "You should move to the biggest market in the country for that — Los Angeles."
Pride packed her bags in 2015 at 35 years old and moved to Los Angeles six months earlier than she had initially planned. With only one feature script to her name, she hoped she was making the right decision.
"I was nervous, but it felt right," Pride said.
"I've since learned to use age as an advantage. I think there is something to be said about having life experience and stories to discuss."
For a few months after the move, Pride worked at a marketing agency in project management and eventually landed a role in film distribution. She admits she didn't do much writing during this time and instead worked mainly on improving her one feature. In 2017, almost two years after beginning in film distribution, she was accepted into a film screenwriting lab. Then, a few months later, she was laid off.
"I was in the screenwriting lab and I was so creatively fulfilled, and it was a reminder of why I'm here, and then I got laid off," she said.
"When I got laid off, that's when I buckled down and got serious about my goal to become a full-time TV/film writer."
Pride hired a career coach to help her plot her path. She began taking classes for writing, particularly for television writing. She worked on her portfolio as she still only had written one feature. Instead of finding a full-time job, she took odd jobs, virtual jobs, and part-time gigs to make ends meet, while committing her entire focus to writing.
Then she got her first break: an acceptance into NBC’s Writers on the Verge program. From there, her good fortune only continued to blossom. She sold her first feature, Really Love — the one she had started writing 10 years before — to Macro. It was supposed to premiere at SXSW in March 2020, but the festival was cancelled due to COVID-19. She also sold an erotic romance film to Universal with Will Packer signed on to produce. Pride eventually secured an agent at Creative Artists Agency, sold a pilot, and then got staffed on Queen Sugar.
"Getting my first staffing job was so amazing," Pride said.
"Working on a show created by Ava DuVernay was incredible. She's such a force in the industry, and she's been so supportive of me personally and given back so much. And to be able to tell such nuanced stories — important stories — and to be able to tell them so beautifully was a gift."
What's her advice to aspiring screenwriters?
"Have a healthy relationship with the work," Pride said.
"I think it's easy to make ego, accolades and awards the most important thing, but when you have a healthy relationship with the work, everything else is on the other side."
And Pride added to never stop writing, learning and enjoying the journey.
"I love, love, love what I do,” she said.
"My goal is to be undeniable on the page, and that's a lifelong pursuit."
Written by: Allison NorlianAllison Norlian is a three-time, Emmy-nominated journalist who has worked as a television reporter and anchor in markets around the country. She has covered a variety of stories from the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to President Trump’s travel ban in the fourth circuit court of appeals. Allison has also won AP awards for her work and a Catalyst For Change award from the Arc of Virginia for her reporting on the disabled community. Allison just moved to Los Angeles with her screen writer husband and two cats and is excited for all LA has to offer!