Atlanta visual artist Monica “MG” McCollough examines trauma-healing and the reclamation of self-love and identity in debut novel

Life and its struggles often come at us fast, especially for Lavender, a young Black, indigenous girl coming of age in tumultuous surroundings.

Lavender’s story and thoughts of her once permeated the mind of first-time author Monica McCollough (pen name) for over fifteen years, but these days the fictional character is no longer a constant, unraveling idea that consumes the Atlanta-based author.

Lavender’s inspiring road to womanhood unfolds on the pages of McCollough’s debut novel “Songs of Lost Things: Sonata for the Sun” currently available on Amazon and online at Barnes & Noble.

Author Monica McCollough’s first book signing event.

“I have always been drawn to the stories of humans who are imperfect works in progress,” McCollough said. “Sometimes we need to be nurtured to grow in life because of hurt, our flaws or the traumas that we experience.”

In her new book, McCollough takes readers on a spiraling journey of self-discovery and the reconditioning of the human spirit through the book’s central figure, Lavender. Set in the early 1990s between Newark, New Jersey, and Montgomery, Alabama, the novel ruminates on familial relationships, generational trauma and various dynamics within lower and working-class Black America in both urban and rural settings.

“Lavender grows up as the daughter of a jazz guitarist. She is musically gifted just by the osmosis of being around it and through DNA,” McCollough said. “She’s like a musical savant in her early years, but as she goes through life, she begins to face different obstacles along the way and ends up losing part of herself and goes into survival mode like a lot of people do in life.”

As Lavender comes of age, McCollough shares her pains, struggles with mental health, and harrowing attempts to find self-love through immense loss, complex and often broken familial and romantic relationships.

McCollough breaks from painting her
debut novel’s cover.

Touching on the stigmas often associated with mental health in the Black community, the lasting effects of trauma on people’s lives and the coping mechanisms people use to manage life’s instabilities, McCollough creatively lures readers to immerse themselves in Lavender’s world.

“We all have to find that part of ourselves where we pour back into ourselves,” McCollough said. “Lavender develops a protective and defensive mechanism just to survive. This becomes her story — to overcome these things to find the reasons that she’s deserving of love, healthy relationships and a positive outlook on life.”

“Lavender doesn’t get therapy, but she definitely is a person who severely needed it. It’s a sobering reminder that we may not always find the answers to things in life. But, through Lavender’s coming-of-age story, we’re reminded of the reasons we love the resilience of the human spirit and rely on our human experiences to basically do something we all do every day, which is just try to move through this chaotic world.”

In telling Lavender’s story and delivering subtle references to race and the past within the narrative of “Songs of Lost Things: Sonata for the Sun,” McCollough unsuspectingly makes the novel as much about her familial ties in the South as its theme around Black womanhood and trauma-healing. Her pen name is even a homage to her family and southern roots.

“The Patriot” by Monica McCollough

“The narrative of the book is split between Newark and Montgomery, a homage not only to my family history but also to those countless Black families who experienced the Great Migration,” McCollough said. “A portion of my family, like many African Americans, during that era left the South to make better lives in Northern states. It was important for me to share this part of my family’s history through the book’s narrative.”

McCollough’s book also represents a new chapter in her career, which has mostly been defined by her work as a graphic designer and visual artist.

“Since childhood, I have always found myself drawing, designing or painting,” she said. “All through junior high and high school, I pursued art classes. I think I really realized the impact of my work when I won an NAACP award in an art competition while in school for my fine artwork. It’s one of the things that helped define me early on as an artist.”

A graduate of Auburn University, she spent her early career working at media companies, including the Montgomery Advertiser, as a graphic design artist. She credits her leap into working as a freelance designer to her early experience developing creations for Issa Rae, an American actress, writer, and the producer of the hit HBO television series “Insecure.”

“I was a big fan of her original YouTube series ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ back around 2010 before she had the huge following that she has today,” McCollough said. “I was able to just reach out to her by email to offer my design services to her back then. Because she was just starting out, she was like ‘cool, let’s work together.’ You can see some of the early logos I designed for her on season one of ‘Insecure.’”

McCollough and actress Issa Rae

Over the years, the designer has continued to work on projects intermittently for Rae’s website, social media, and production company. Her body of work also includes a host of projects with other Atlanta-based organizations, media companies and personalities.

A significant part of McCollough’s art is capturing the realistic representation of her subjects, whether it’s a portrait, black culture, historical imagery, or still life pieces.

“I would say a lot of my work is centered around black culture, and I also have a deep appreciation for historical themes,” she said. “History is probably my first love.”

Working with pastels and charcoal, McCollough enjoys creating fine art that often makes a statement about history and how its legacy is ever-present, intersecting with ideas on gender, age, and emerging political movements in both familiar and unexpected ways.

Like the strong, black historical figures frequently depicted in her artwork, the artist-turned-author hopes readers of “Songs of Lost Things: Sonata for the Sun” will equally resonate with the coming-of-age journey of the book’s main character Lavender.

“Lavender is a character that has been with me for decades now,” she said. “Her story is really about how people are deserving of grace and empathy. I hope that readers will see that we are all imperfect in some way, and we all carry our own experiences and baggage because we’re all just trying to make it the best way we can.”

Follow Monica “MG” McCollough on Instagram at @moni_shywriter or visit her website, monicamccollough.com, to learn about book signing events for “Songs of Lost Things: Sonata for the Sun” and her other projects.