Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Erica “Rivaflowz” Buddington on…Celebrating Failure

Photo Courtesy of Erica “Rivaflowz” Buddington

Following online breadcrumbs often has its rewards, which was certainly true when I came across the work of Erica “Rivaflowz” Buddington during a spell of Twitter wandering. At age 26, Erica is already forging a writing identity to be reckoned with. She is a former HBO Def Poet, Brave New Voices Slam Champion, Upworthy.com fellow, journalist and emcee. Her writing has been featured in popular online magazines such as Ebony.com, MadameNoire, The Root and The Grio, and she publishes her own work on Rivaflowz.com and IfNoOneHasToldYou.com. She is also one of the youngest program directors of the Harlem Children’s Zone – a nonprofit pipeline agency that serves a 100-block radius of the Harlem community.

I invited Erica to share her thoughts on celebrating failure, and her reflections underscore one of the most important lessons all artists can learn: There is no “right” way to live a creative life. Here’s more of what she had to say.

What role does failure play in your creative work?

Failure is a huge part of my work. The failure of my relationships pulled the most beautiful prose from me. It’s the reason for my incredible spoken word pieces, the dating series and three unfinished novellas.

Those three unfinished novellas could also be seen as failure; however, their fragments have landed on my blog in short story form and helped to push my following to new heights. My lack of interest in finishing them also made me realize that they weren’t projects I was passionate about. That realization led me to the work I actually live for.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on failure?

Sometimes failure is a blessing in disguise.

[While] my blog was taking off and I was performing poetry everywhere, I kept feeling like I wasn’t a “real” writer. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously until I had a published book with my name on it. I didn’t feel like I’d be accomplished until I was on a panel with all of the greats discussing my work.

I traveled to California to take part in V.O.N.A., a workshop for writers of color, and studied with StacyAnn Chin, Willie Perdomo, Junot Diaz and many more. I ran away to Rhode Island where Callaloo hosted their workshop at Brown University. I spent days immersed in my short stories about the Harlem Renaissance or novel about Fort Green’s gentrification. But when I got home, I placed them in a drawer and forgot about them. I thought something was wrong with me…that my lack of immersion [in writing] upon my return to Brooklyn meant that writing wasn’t for me.

[Meanwhile,] I’d wake up everyday at 6 a.m. to prepare myself for work, writing long to-do lists and reading numerous articles on education. I’d spend the day jotting down data and innovating things to keep my students in program. There was so much consistency in my career as an educator and not nearly as much for my writing.

It hit me one morning, walking to work, that perhaps education was my forefront passion. Perhaps writing in between the cracks was all I needed to sustain. I could still be a “real” writer while educating the next generation. I wasn’t failing. I was winning in education and writing at my leisure.


Have you ever celebrated one of your failures? If so, what happened and why was that failure a good thing? If not, can you think of a failure that you should have celebrated and why?

I most certainly have celebrated failure. I’ve popped a champagne bottle or two when I was at the end of my rope with a task. Sometimes, there’s nothing else you can do. When you’re in this predicament, you have to look forward to the progression and mending. I think second chances are always worth celebrating.

What do you think keeps people from talking openly about failure?

A lot of people think failure equates with inadequacy. They are afraid of other folks’ perspectives on their challenges. From my perspective: Getting back up from failure is the strongest triumph of all.

What advice on failure would you give other artists & changemakers?

Most people aren’t waiting for you to fail; they’re watching to see how you get back up again. So get up, over and over again.

Thank you Erica for sharing your story! Be sure and follow Erica’s adventures on her website, Twitter and Instagram.

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