Iyanla Vanzant tells her story for the second time -- After penning her autobiography in ''Interiors,'' the author revisits her life once more in her new memoir, much to her previous publisher's chagrin

By Lori L. Tharps
Updated March 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s no longer news that Oprah Winfrey can pluck an author from obscurity and turn her into an overnight literary success. She did it for Jacquelyn Mitchard and Wally Lamb. But one Winfrey discovery, Iyanla Vanzant — who has two books on the charts, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up and In the Meantime — was a best-selling author before she set foot on Oprah’s stage.

In fact, Vanzant, a lawyer, Yoruba priestess, and ordained minister, has been familiar to African Americans for nearly a decade. In 1992, she penned the black woman’s empowerment guide, Tapping the Power Within, mining her own experiences as a survivor of child abuse, rape, and domestic violence. The book sold more than 100,000 copies, and Vanzant ascended to the rank of contemporary spiritual guru. Then Winfrey introduced Vanzant to mainstream America last year by making her a regular guest on her show.

Now, with her eighth book, Yesterday, I Cried (Simon & Schuster), Vanzant, 46, should gain more attention. In Yesterday, a mix of self-help and memoir, Vanzant revisits the events of her life from age 2 to the present, describing the abuse she suffered at the hands of a grandmother, her two failed marriages, and the birth of four children. Curiously, she refuses to categorize the book as an autobiography. Why? ”Because I’m not talking about the incidents,” she says. ”I’m talking about the [healing] process.”

Then again, Vanzant may be reluctant to classify Yesterday as an autobiography since, technically, she already wrote her life story, Interiors, for Harlem River Press (HRP) in 1993. The small, independent HRP paid Vanzant a five-figure advance to pen her memoirs — but after she delivered the manuscript, she had a change of heart. ”I wasn’t writing that book for the world, I was writing it for me,” she said to The Washington Post at the time. Glenn Thompson, HRP’s publisher, says he held the book for 18 months, but eventually printed Interiors. ”We’re publishers,” says Thompson. ”From our perspective, to hold on to a book indefinitely doesn’t make sense.”

In response, Vanzant sued HRP, claiming copyright infringement; she sought an injunction against the book’s sale and distribution. Although HRP was never found liable and Interiors was released in 1995, the litigation forced the tiny company to declare bankruptcy, and the book — never promoted by Vanzant — flopped. Thompson recently sold Vanzant the rights to publish Interiors as part of the bankruptcy settlement.

For her part, Vanzant denies that S&S is publishing Interiors all over again. ”I haven’t even thought about the fact that the two books were similar,” she says, though the most significant difference between the two memoirs is that in Yesterday Vanzant opted to tell her story in the third person instead of the first. ”They’re both books dealing with her life but in different ways,” says S&S publicist Christine Saunders. Trish Todd, Vanzant’s editor at S&S, adds that overlap between the two tomes doesn’t concern her because ”Iyanla owns the copyright to both books.”