Shirley Strawberry Serves Up Love Advice

Shirley Strawberry has released her new book The Strawberry Letter. i i

Shirley Strawberry has released her new book The Strawberry Letter. Amy Ta/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Ta/NPR
Shirley Strawberry has released her new book The Strawberry Letter.

Shirley Strawberry has released her new book The Strawberry Letter.

Amy Ta/NPR
YouTube

"The Steve Harvey Show" Features "The Strawberry Letter."

She gives guidance to more than eight million listeners a day as the co-host of "The Steve Harvey Morning Show." A listener favorite is "The Strawberry Letter" segment. Now, her tips come in a book of the same name. Strawberry talks more about some guidelines she lives by and how she translates them for listeners.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALLISON KEYES, host: I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, lots of us enjoy jamming to our favorite music when we fly, but what are the best tunes to hear when you're flying into combat? We get a taste of what's tickling the ear of Vernice FlyGirl Armour, the first African-American female combat pilot. That's in a few minutes.

But first, if you need advice, Shirley Strawberry is ready to give it. As one of the co-hosts of the hit syndicated radio program, "The Steve Harvey Morning Show," Strawberry keeps listeners on their toes with her romance advice segment called The Strawberry Letter. Fans write to the show for help with dicey relationship issues like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE STEVE HARVEY MORNING SHOW")

SHIRLEY STRAWBERRY: I recently found out that I am pregnant and my husband is ecstatic. But the truth is, the baby may not be his. I have been secretly having sex with my husband's grandfather. This has been going on for almost a year now. And I honestly don't know where to stop. When our mortgage got behind, grandpa came through and made the payment. And he only wanted me in return. How can I tell my husband what me and his grandpa have done?

KEYES: And an unconventional problem gets an unconventional response from Strawberry.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE STEVE HARVEY MORNING SHOW")

STRAWBERRY: How stupid are you, lady? I mean, really. I don't see an out for you. If you tell your husband, it's not going to go well. He's going to kill everybody.

KEYES: Now Shirley Strawberry is bringing that same spirit into the pages of her new book, "The Strawberry Letter." To talk more about that and the business of dishing out relationship advice to strangers, I'm joined now in our Washington studio by Shirley Strawberry. Welcome. And thanks for coming in.

STRAWBERRY: Well, thank you for having me, Allison. What a treat this is.

KEYES: Absolutely. And a fellow South Sider from Chicago.

STRAWBERRY: Yes, from Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: Before we get to the book, I've got to talk about that radio segment. How did that happen? I mean 'cause that's kind of the coolest job.

STRAWBERRY: Well, yeah. I mean, very blessed. That's all I can say is very blessed to have a job like that just where you can go and have fun every day. Just have a lot of, lot of fun. So many people don't like their jobs or don't enjoy their jobs, but I'm not one of those. It's just a blessing and I certainly don't take it for granted, Allison.

KEYES: So at what point did Steve say, you know, I'm going to need you to come and do these letters on the radio?

STRAWBERRY: Well, we actually kind of decided it together. We started the show locally in the Los Angeles market 10 years ago, actually. We've been together 10 years. And we wanted to do something to set our show apart from all the other morning shows that were out there. So my last name was Strawberry. That is my real last name.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STRAWBERRY: And then there's a hit by the Brothers Johnson.

KEYES: Right.

STRAWBERRY: Remember that? "Strawberry Letter 23." So we've said we'd combine those two and then do like an advice column on the radio with listeners writing in to get advice from us. And that's kind of how it started.

KEYES: Did you start out getting a flood of letters?

STRAWBERRY: Well, it was slow at first, but because the letters were so outrageous, they were so outrageous, people started tuning in and talking about it at the water cooler the next day and things like that. So it just kind of grew into a life of its own. And now it's like our own little radio soap opera. Everybody tunes in to The Strawberry Letter.

KEYES: I've got to ask, I mean as you've said, that some of those letters, I mean, wow. There was one where there was some guy who was in jail and his wife wasn't in jail and there was pregnancy going on on both sides. I mean, how much of that, when you answer, is entertainment and how much of it are you trying to take seriously?

STRAWBERRY: Well, if it's a serious letter, you take it seriously. If it's a crazy, bizarre letter, you take it as seriously as you can. And then, you know, which is what, really, my job is, to get to the face value of the letter and just to answer that. Steve's job is to read between the lines. And if there's anything that can remotely - concerns comedy and that he can glean from that, he will do that, you know. And he goes, takes it over the top and crazy.

KEYES: I am shocked. Shocked to hear that.

STRAWBERRY: I know. I'm sure you are, Allison.

KEYES: So how did the book happen? Were you following in Steve's footsteps and said, hey, that worked pretty well for him?

STRAWBERRY: No, not at all. I was perfectly happy with just doing The Strawberry Letter as it comes on the radio every day. I had no problem with that whatsoever. But so many people asked me when - especially after Steve wrote his book and I had the honor and the privilege to be in all of his writing sessions and to help him - he asked me to be there. So not knowing at the time that that was why I was in there to, in the future, write my own book, I didn't know it at the time. But just - people asked me, when his book came out, and people said, okay, well, when is your book coming out, Shirley?

And when so many people asked me that, I said well, okay. Well, maybe I need to look at this a little differently, because I kept saying nah, pooh-poohing it, all of that, kept saying no, I'm not - that's not what I do. So here it is...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STRAWBERRY: ..."The Strawberry Letter," because so many people asked me basically.

KEYES: You put so much personal information in that book. I mean, you talk about the difficulty of looking for love is a single mother...

STRAWBERRY: Yeah.

KEYES: ...getting pregnant while you were in the process of getting out of a difficult marriage. And, I mean, was that hard for you, to just put it out there like that?

STRAWBERRY: Yes, it was hard. I'm a very private person. But, you know, I really wanted to let the audience know that I'm a real person. I'm more than what you just hear on the radio. I'm more than what you see when we film our TV show. I'm a real person that has had challenges in her life. Some of the ones like you've mentioned, challenges in relationships, challenges from being a single parent, being in an abusive relationship, things like that. I mean, those are real challenges, real-life situations. So I wanted to - my audience to be able to feel and touch me.

If I was going to do it, I didn't want it to be just a book with just letters, okay. Let's dig a little deeper, and that's how it came out.

KEYES: One thing I really loved was that in the part when you were talking about your divorce, you wrote: Why be bitter when life is so short?

STRAWBERRY: Yeah.

KEYES: You know, how did you get to that place? And what advice do you have for other women who are still?

STRAWBERRY: Yeah. I was bitter, very bitter at first, especially. After we divorced, our marriage was tough, and it makes you bitter sometimes because you over-think yourself. You go back over it. Well, if I had just done this. Or why did I marry him in the first place? Or ugh. So at some point, you just have to let it go at some point, because when you look in the mirror and don't recognize who you are, or you see these frowns in your face and you know that's not who you really are...

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

STRAWBERRY: ...that's not you in your spirit, then at some point, you have to say, hey, listen. Enough is enough. I made the mistake. Here's what I did to contribute to this relationship, and - because it wasn't all him. I have to take some responsibility, as well. So I have to learn to forgive. I have to - I want people to forgive me for things that I do, so I have to forgive him. I have to forgive the fact that the marriage didn't work. And I have to forgive myself and move on. And that frees you and allows you to move on with your life.

KEYES: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm talking with Shirley Strawberry, co-host of the "Steve Harvey Morning Show" and author of "The Strawberry Letter."

One of the things that really got me was talking about allowing your mother to raise your daughter.

STRAWBERRY: Yeah.

KEYES: And then you asked your daughter if she wanted to move back in with you. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

STRAWBERRY: Well, yeah. Because - and you work in radio, and you know the challenges that we face in this particular field.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

STRAWBERRY: Especially morning radio where I work, you have to be at work so early. So it's hard to find a nanny or a babysitter to come over that time of the morning to help me with Sheridan, with my daughter. So my mom just said Shirley, you have to go to work. I'll take the baby. So I was just thrilled that my mom said that and she was willing to do that. The only problem was that she lived in another state.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

STRAWBERRY: She lived in Arkansas. So I had to make that sacrifice and that very tough decision to let my daughter go with her. And you make the best - or you try to do the best as a parent, and especially as a single parent. And it was a sacrifice, and you do the best you can. That's all I can say. So I'm blessed that it was my mom who took on the responsibility. And my daughter turned out great, but it was still hard, you know, to be away from your daughter. It's just hard to be away from your child.

KEYES: What's that say to other mothers that are trying to deal with the challenge of a career and family?

STRAWBERRY: Yeah. It says a lot. I mean, I was raised by a single mom, so it's just difficult. That's the one thing I never wanted to be, because I saw how difficult it was for my mother. But she did it. You do what you have to do as parents. You just do what you have to do. So to single parents out there, what I do say is do the best you can. Make the best decisions possible for your children, and own those decisions. And then don't be so hard on yourself.

Just, you know, forgive yourself, because that is hard and you do suffer from guilt. I know I did. Because you want to - that's why you have children, so you can see them on a daily basis and raise them and kiss their boo-boos and things like that. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STRAWBERRY: But I was in my daughter's life, and I am in my daughter's life as much as I possibly can be - birthdays, holidays. She spends summers with me, spring breaks, all of that. We have a great, great bond. She wrote a letter, as you know, I'm sure, to me in the book, and boy, did that tear me up about really how she feels about this whole situation. And at such a young age, she's torn, too, because she and I mom have such a great bond and a great relationship. And then, of course, she loves me and wants to be with me. So it's hard on everyone.

You know, and when my daughter does come to live with me, it's going to be hard on my mom. So, ugh...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STRAWBERRY: ...Allison.

KEYES: I've got to ask you this: There are some who might wonder what you're doing giving out relationship advice. You don't have a PhD and you've, you know, you're still a single, black woman...

STRAWBERRY: Yeah.

KEYES: ...out looking for love. You're a single mom. What qualifies you for that?

STRAWBERRY: Well, thank you for asking. And that is one of the questions that people ask me: Who are you, and to do this? Well, number one, I can say this: I have experience in bad relationships.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: Right.

STRAWBERRY: I can tell you what not to do, okay?

KEYES: Who doesn't?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STRAWBERRY: Okay? I can definitely tell you what not to do. I don't bill myself or necessarily think of myself as a relationship expert or anything like that. And you're right. I don't have a degree or anything in this area. But like I said, I have life experience, and I try and lead by example.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STRAWBERRY: It's tough for anybody. I mean, some people are better coaches than they are players when it comes to this relationship game and all of that. But...

KEYES: So you can always tell somebody else what they should be doing.

STRAWBERRY: You can always tell somebody else what to do, but when your life comes into play, it's something totally different. I just give my opinion, basically.

KEYES: You said that one of your greatest regrets was not getting a college degree...

STRAWBERRY: Yes.

KEYES: ...and it really affected her self-esteem.

STRAWBERRY: Mm-hmm.

KEYES: Why don't you just go back to school?

STRAWBERRY: Well, I am. I'm making plans. As soon as I come off the book tour, that's like going to be one of my number one or two priorities. I definitely plan to do that, because I'm mom now, and I have to set that example for my daughter because, of course, I want her to finish school and go to the highest level of education that she possibly can. So kids mimic what you do more than what you say. So I want to be that example for her - even more than for myself, I want to show her.

KEYES: Shirley Strawberry is author of the newly released book "The Strawberry Letter." She is also a co-host of the syndicated radio program "The Steve Harvey Morning Show." She joined us right here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thanks so much for being here.

STRAWBERRY: Well, thank you so much for having me, Allison. This has been a pleasure. You're in beautiful surroundings. I love it. I love NPR, and thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.