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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Karyn Parsons

Best known for her role as Hilary Banks on the NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Parsons is now founder and president of Sweet Blackberry, a nonprofit whose mission is “to bring little-known stories of African-American achievement to children” through animated shorts. Her middle-grade novel, “How High the Moon,” set in the Jim Crow South, was released in March.

Where do you come up with your best ideas?
Most ideas come to me while driving, bike riding, or on a long walk. My mind often makes observations it isn’t allowed to land on and explore in the hustle of life: Characters, circumstances, curious situations. Then I just have to follow them and see where they lead. The trick is making a note of the thoughts when they come. The best ones easily evaporate.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
I still have several poems and homemade cards that my kids and husband have given me over the years.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
I dedicated my book “How High the Moon” to my mom, and I intended it as a gift to her.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
I’m not sure if it’s the biggest, but deciding to stand up and be a writer, after wanting to for so long but not having the courage, was a challenge I’m happy to have faced down.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
I’d love to be a film editor or a cellist.

“I try to get silly, childlike, carefree, out of my head, moving my body, dancing, playing.”

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made?
Jumping into my organization Sweet Blackberry without a plan. I think if I’d have thought about it too much, it would’ve been too daunting an endeavor and I probably would have scrapped the whole thing. I just jumped into the deep end. I had to learn how to swim. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’m proud of where the organization is now, and I’ve grown scales, my swimming’s gotten so good.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
Vacillating between the complete elation of presenting my first novel to the world and the utter despair of visiting my sick mom in the hospital — and back and forth, and back and forth — during my book launch month.

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
I wish I had gone to college. I almost went to The New School as an adult. In addition to it being expensive, I was turned off by how long it would take. Pretty foolish. Those four years still passed, only I had no degree at the end of them. Soon I had children and the college experience I’d considered was out of the question.

How do you relax?
My favorite way is a long, deep-tissue massage, preceded by, and followed by, some sort of spa action: sauna, steam, jacuzzi. It sounds so good. It doesn’t happen nearly enough.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
The south of France.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
I remember when my grandfather died at our house: seeing him lying still on the floor of our small bathroom, on his back, a small pink washcloth covering his face. My father had placed it there while we awaited the ambulance.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?
Not everyone is going to like you when you do well.

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
I try to get silly, childlike, carefree, out of my head, whether it’s moving the pen across the page with abandon, not caring what I put down, or moving my body, dancing, playing. It’s important to try to get back to that childlike free space where you’re not judging but remembering to go towards joy.

What is your proudest moment?
Giving birth to my first child. I felt like Wonder Woman. I was amazed by what I was capable of. I call upon that experience sometimes when I need to remind myself of how incredible I am.

What would you like to experience that’s on your “bucket list”?
I want to see the Aurora Borealis.

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