From founding the nonprofit arts collective Red Clay to co-creating the independent film and visual arts studio TNEG, Elissa Blount-Moorhead has a career that resists easy categorization. At the core of the longtime producer, curator, artist and teacher’s work is a drive to empower other independent Black creators, especially those who confront systemic discrimination and defy expectations of respectability. 
Blount-Moorhead’s subversive first book, “P is for Pussy,” is in keeping with her trajectory. 

Illustrated by Turkey-born Meltem Sahin, “P is for Pussy” features an alphabet’s worth of double entendre (samples of which you can see throughout this piece). Blount-Moorhead says it is meant for parents who embrace feminism and sex positivity (and, hell, those who want a laugh). Although it’s similar in its irreverence to Adam Mansbach’s “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” “P is for Pussy” has some use for parents teaching their children the alphabet. This is the kind of subversive storytelling the first-time author supports in other parts of her career. We spoke with Blount-Moorhead about writing her first book, incendiary art and how “P is for Pussy” plays into future projects. 

Original cover art provided by author Cropped image of the "P is for Pussy" cover art.

You haven’t written a book of any kind before. What inspired to you to write specifically a children’s book? 

I wrote the book ages ago when my daughter, who is now 12, was probably 4 or 5. I wrote it because we would constantly look for either really beautiful books for her or things that were kind of outside of traditional children’s books. We had been collecting books—we had ones from when [I was] growing up, but we were also looking for new voices and artists. There were the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, and a few books [like that] that would make us chuckle. But there was nothing in the same vein of growing up with things like the Muppets that would appeal to adults and had different layers of comedy. 

On a a trip from New York down to D.C., [my husband and I] were reading a bunch of alphabet books with our daughter. I jokingly started thinking of alternative words, like “B is for booty.” [Laughs.] By the end of a trip, I had 26 letters as well as alternatives for each letter. I started this journey of trying to figure out if I could really write something that would be really racy but also appeal to kids—to see if parents could have a laugh. 

Provided by author Selection from "P is for Pussy."

So, ultimately, do you intend this book for children? 

I do! I categorized it in—I think the ISBN has it categorized as an adult book or humor not geared specifically for kids. I did that mostly because I wouldn’t want an adult to pick it up specifically for a kid and be shocked to see, “A is for ass.” But I tested it on my kids to see which things would go over their head. Even my 12-year-old doesn’t get a lot of the underlying meaning. The only one that my kids, specifically my 7-year-old, could tell is “ass” because they’ve heard that word. [Laughs.] But when kids are sort of pre-literate, like age 3 to 4 and just learning the alphabet, they take things for what you say they are. So I would love for kids to not be stressed out by words like “ass” that have meanings going back to the Bible, and to know that words are just words. [Laughs.] My dream is that parents will read it to their kids and snicker.

Right, it’s not like these words don’t have histories of their own that are bigger than our standards for what is and isn’t inappropriate. 

Right! And it takes the power out of things. Kids don’t know, until we ascribe the meaning to a word, that it has any other meaning. And they like words for what they are—things like “poo poo”—for the meaning as much as the cadence. 

Provided by the author Selection from "P is for Pussy."


Do you see this book working in conversation with some of the things you do for your film production company TNEG

I do. I was thinking about this book in the context of a couple of projects. One is a film project that I’m working on with TNEG, a documentary about kids growing up in alternative environments. It’s partially about ideas that were created by the irreverent Baby Boomer generation and how they decided to parent outside of the mainstream. I’m really interested in coming at things from different perspectives. 
I’m a woman, I’m Black, and I grew up in a city with parents who were creative and crafted lives outside of the mainstream. Another thing I’m maybe preoccupied with is non-White aesthetics. I’m trying to figure out what the rest of the world is laughing at, crying about and what moves them. 

“P is for Pussy” is available now via the book’s official website and Barnes and Noble