Shelf Media hosts the annual Shelf Unbound Indie Best Book Competition for best self-published or independently published book. You can find the winner, finalists, long-listed, and more than 100 notable books from the competition in the December/January 2023 issue of Shelf Unbound.
In one moment, author Meagan O’Nan’s life changed. She suddenly found herself an outsider, both to the life she had known and to the life she did not yet know. A gay woman in Mississippi, she had been outed —and she wasn’t ready for it.
Feeling unworthy of the life she had always wanted, Meagan left her home and all that was familiar to her in order to find herself. At rock bottom, she screamed to the Universe, “I want to be loved the way that I love!” It was in this desperate moment that her answer came. It wasn’t what she had expected; it required her to break down all the walls she had built around her heart from her coming out experience. It required her to heal.
The only way for her to be Held And Free was to return to Mississippi and come out of her story.
About The Author: Meagan M. O’Nan
Meagan O’Nan is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and vulnerable storytelling expert. She is the author of the award-winning book, “Creating Your Heaven on Earth,” “Courage: Agreeing to Disagree Is Not Enough,” and “Held And Free.” Meagan is also a member of the Forbes Coaches Council where she produces regular content for Forbes.com.
Meagan has spoken to thousands of people at live events since 2008, including alongside internationally recognized spiritual leaders such as don Miguel Ruiz, author of the best-selling book, “The Four Agreements,” and she has appeared multiple times in local and national media. Meagan even received a personal note from Desmond Tutu after hearing a talk of hers on forgiveness.
Meagan is passionate about creating deeper connections through speaking, workshops, and through her executive speaker coaching. Her approach is unique in that she uses storytelling as a way to overcome differences and generate healing. For the last decade, she has been a significant voice for the LGBTQ community in Mississippi, speaking with pastors, university representatives and classes, on the radio, and on the news as a voice offering unity and cooperation. Meagan now lives with her wife, Clare, and their daughter, Merit, in Starkville, Mississippi.
Interview with Meagan M. O’Nan
Tell us a little about your book.
MO: I think it’ll be nice to hear how Kirkus Reviews wrote about my book. It’s a better synopsis than I could ever give (let me know if you want something different):
A gay woman returns to the conservative Mississippi town where she grew up in O’Nan’s heartfelt coming-out memoir.
The author begins her narrative in 2004 when, as a student at Mississippi State University in her hometown of Starkville, she was outed as gay by an ex-boyfriend; the revelation shocked her Catholic family and elicited warnings of damnation from friends and her campus Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In turmoil and doubting her faith, O’Nan moved to Florida and then Colorado, weathered a volatile year-long relationship, met her soulmate, Clare, and stayed close to her parents while they struggled to accept her sexual orientation. Yearning for family and authenticity, she moved back to Starkville with Clare and found that its Bible Belt culture had grown more gay-friendly in the intervening years. The author debated gay marriage with a Baptist minister on local television, delivered an address for National Coming Out Day, and, in 2018, gave a speech that moved the Starkville City Council to grant the town’s first Pride Parade permit, all with the support and acclaim of neighbors. Along the way, she fully reconciled with her parents, married Clare, and gave birth to a daughter.
O’Nan’s story is an illuminating portrait of the evolution of attitudes about homosexuality during the 21st century. It’s also a record of her own journey, away from church-instilled feelings of fear, shame, and worthlessness and towards self-acceptance. O’Nan’s prose works in many registers, from passionate intensity (“From the depths of my soul, I screamed out to the Universe: ‘I want to be loved the way that I love!’ ”) to delicate evocations of romance (“The soft crunch of the fresh snow lingered while we remained silent, unsure of what to say next….My right cheek sat next to hers for many moments before they glided past one another and we connected for our first kiss”). O’Nan’s search for a true home will resonate with readers of all orientations.
An engrossing story of love, growth, and changing times. – Kirkus Reviews
What was your inspiration for the idea?
MO: Anyone who ever feels like an outsider and wants to create more acceptance and unity in the world understands this dilemma: You are fueled by a fire within to make a difference, but changing others is impossible work. So you get burned out. You feel hopeless. You feel powerless. At some point, you realize the outward work has to become inward if you are going to retain any joy at all.
The question then becomes, “How do you make an impact and stand up for a cause without feeling like you need to change who other people are?”
My answer was to share my story. This book.
I’ve told my coming out story and shared my personal struggles over and over throughout the years on my blog, on the news, on Mississippi Public Radio, on stages and in classrooms at Mississippi State, in one-on-one conversations behind closed doors, in the grocery store, and even on Facebook Messenger. It has never been my intention to change people’s minds with regard to their beliefs about whether being gay is right or wrong. I know what it feels like for people to try to change who you are.
I wanted to find a way to love myself, and sharing my story fulfilled my need to unburden my heart and gave me an opportunity to connect with others in powerful ways. I wanted to understand, and I wanted to be understood. In order to get both, I had to be vulnerable and willing to receive love. We need authentic connection in order to thrive. But someone has to take the first step. And I don’t mind taking that step even though it is often scary as hell.
What was the experience of writing this book like for you?
MO: Tumultuous. It was a 2-year, extremely intense process. Even though I had told many of these stories in years past, there were many I had not. Writing this book was an unveiling for me. It pushed me to dive into memories that I didn’t even know still existed. In some cases, it took me months to get through a chapter. Once I made it through the bulk writing of the book, the editing process was also tough to move through. However, in the end, it was a process that I needed to help me heal another layer or two. I’d do it again.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this?
MO: I learned just how hard I could push myself to finish a project. I learned how to extend myself grace in those harder writing moments. I learned that there is so much freedom in putting it all out there so that I could let go of so much and move on with my life.
What is the one thing you hope readers take away reading this book?
MO: I hope they will see themselves in my story. I hope they feel something real. I hope they feel like they truly know me when they are done reading it. Ultimately, I hope that my readers will believe that peace is possible inside of themselves.
What are you working on next?
MO: I have a series of books that I am developing. They include my photography and prose writing – much like what I am offering on my Instagram page now: https://www.instagram.com/megonan/
Article originally Published in the December/January 2023 Issue “2023 Indie Best Award Winners”