Letting Go of Her Game Face
Acclaimed writer/director Melissa Johnson on how she transitioned from the world of sports to the land of art—and how she learned to put her vulnerability on the page.
If Melissa Johnson were to get a tattoo, it’d have a dart and the Rilke quote, “Live into the question.” Playing darts with a friend in San Francisco one time, Melissa realized that the harder she tried to hit the bullseye, the worse she got at doing it. “But that, I think, is my job as a writer,” she says, “not to get fixated on whether I'm hitting a bull's eye or hitting a wall, but to keep living in the throw.”
Once a college basketball star at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University, Johnson is very active creatively: she makes documentaries and branded content, is a creative consultant and writing coach, and has written scripted pieces and essays, including a great one for Narratively, about writing herself into a real-life rom-com. Johnson, who shot up to 6’4” in the eighth grade, was also shortlisted for an Oscar in 2016 for Love in the Time of March Madness, a short film she wrote and co-directed with Robertino Zambrano. In the film, she recounts the various outrageous things people have said about her height and its implications on her life.
As we approach the deadline for our 2022 Narratively Spring Memoir Prize, we’re spending May and June chatting with some of our all-time favorite Narratively memoirists about how they do what they do. Narratively sat down with Melissa to talk about artistic vulnerability, her approach to memoir, and the best advice she can give young writers (get health insurance!).