"You Can’t Stop Now"
Story and Photography by Laurie McCall
Bernard Snyder and I met one morning at one of his local writing spots, a boardwalk leading to a pavilion overlooking the marsh, a world away from tourists and traffic, a scene so serene the stories and poems flow freely without distraction. He speaks, and the inflection of his voice carries me through the highs of love and the lows of loss. His intonation suspends me just over the edge of adventure and then places me surefooted in the face of hope and determination. He is a storyteller and a poet.
Through a life of adversities, Bernard never gave up, not on living, not on dreaming, not on doing. His parents, Nathan and Florence Snyder, passed away when Bernard was only five years old. His Aunt Maggie and Uncle John Holmes took him in, raising him as their own. It was a good home and a good life, but then both of them passed away when Bernard was in his late teens. There’s still a lot of living and growing and learning to do when you’re at that age. Bernard moved back to Savannah, where he was born, and learned some of those lessons from the streets. He met a woman and fell in love. Together they had twin girls, followed by another daughter a year later. Providing for his family and putting his girls through college became his motivation.
In high school, Bernard was known for his 32” vertical and mad passing skills on the basketball court. Mentally tough with a killer crossover that could break ankles, he had all the moves, and everyone put him in that box—athlete. No one took the would-be philosopher/poet/writer/author seriously. He recalls a time on the court when a friend who felt slighted by all the attention Bernard was receiving called him out saying, “What you gonna do one day when you can’t play basketball anymore?”
Bernard said, “I’m gonna be an author.” His friend laughed, and Bernard just kept on walking—motivation. Another time, when Bernard was working as a chef in a local restaurant, he told his boss he was going to write a book. His boss laughed and said, “Bernard, what you gonna write about? I have a degree from University of Georgia, and I never wrote a book.” Bernard told him, “It’s not about you. This is not a competition.”
It was Bernard’s dream, and nothing was going to keep him from it. He’d been writing and collecting poems for years. Now he needed a place to put them. After the destruction of Hurricane Katrina caused the levies in New Orleans to break, Bernard wrote a poem called “If.” One day the waitresses in that same restaurant read the poem aloud, and one of the customers asked to speak to the man behind the poem. She asked Bernard what he was doing cooking in a restaurant with that kind of talent. “I’m on my way to Africa, but when I get back, I’m going to publish you,” she said. Bernard was blown away. He knew he had something special, something valuable, and he began researching what it would cost to publish a book.
And then he sold his ’89 Toyota Camry for $2,800, which he used to pay for the publishing costs and to purchase a 21-speed bicycle. He had his first book signing at the restaurant and made $1,100 on the first day. Eventually, that book paid for a ‘79 280ZX that he had restored and painted candy apple red, a tribute to his favorite artist, Prince, and inspired by the song “Little Red Corvette.”
Bernard soon discovered a few minor errors in his first book. He’d been in such a rush to realize his dream, that he’d sent the manuscript too soon. Those errors gnawed at his conscience, as the publisher required $400 to rectify the mistake. He decided to write another book, and this time it would be perfect. He edited each page 50 times. The first 25 times, he’d catch a mistake every time. After he quit finding mistakes, he went over it 25 more times just to make sure. He took almost four years before finally submitting it.
Bernard just kept acquiring more fans and selling more books. He thought about his girls and knew two books were not enough. He wanted to have something to leave each of them. “Three books,” he thought. He would be able to leave each the rights to one of the books. But when he finished the third, people kept saying, “You can’t stop now,” so he wrote a fourth, that one for himself, and he’s still writing.
“I’m glad I went through all the adversities in my life because it made me stronger, and it made me more aware of what I wouldn’t allow. Everything teaches you something,” Bernard said.
On Sale Now: Bernard’s books, all compilations of quotes, insights and poetry, can be purchased through Amazon and major books sellers.
Holy Achievement: So far Bernard has published four books: A Part of Me Vol. 1, If I Had a Son Vol. 2, The Mindset of a Mockingbird, and his most recent, Ahead of My Time.
Celebrity Status: Played basketball against the Harlem Globetrotters twice, once in the ‘80s at the Savannah Civic Center and again in ‘99 at Hilton Head High School.
Most Proud About: All of Bernard’s daughters attended Allen University. The twins are going back for their masters and the youngest is a sophomore.
Still Spicy: As a restaurant chef, Bernard’s chili was voted “People’s Favorite” at the 2012 Chili Cookoff at Honey Horn.