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Author Archives: TayariJones
Today is my birthday– my fortieth. I’m feeling pretty good today, not having any “What’s it all about, Alfie” moments and I am grateful for that. I’ve got a sparkly day planned– spa in the morning, and El Debarge concert tonight.
People have been asking me what I want as a birthday gift. Besides “Silver Sparrow” themed jewelry? I would like you to make a donation to Leaving Atlanta, the film.
So far, our fundraising efforts have been amazing. We have raised over $10,000! What we would like to do now is to raise the number of backers. When we take our short film to potential funders we want to show how many people believe in this project. Giving a donation– as little as five dollars– is a way to say that you believe in indie art and you believe in this project and reclaiming this history. And for today, all $5 donors will get a LEAVING ATLANTA postcard signed by the birthday girl. (And it’s so easy to give! Kickstarter uses your amazon account!)
And if you can’t afford to chip in, that’s alright. Support comes in many forms. If you can, post our Kickstarter link on your facebook page. Urge your friends to kick in five bucks. This is grassroots, for real.
And it’s my birthday!
About three years ago, my agent contacted me to see how things were coming along with my new novel, SILVER SPARROW. I told her that is was going well and she asked me if I had a hundred clean pages that we could submit to publishers. I was very excited. Who wouldn’t want a new contract and the security (and ego boost) that would bring? She sent the pages out and.. well.. the manuscript was rejected all over town. This left me in an unpleasant predicament. I had a manuscript that was about one-third through, and was said already to be unpublishable. I wasn’t sure if I should even bother to finish the novel.
For months, I wrote nothing at all. It seemed pointless. My characters which I thought were so loveable and complicated had been undressed and shamed. (Some of the rejections were so pointed that I cried. One even suggested that I didn’t “understand fiction yet.”) And this was to be my third novel.
I’ll spare you the suspense by telling you that SILVER SPARROW will be published in May by Algonquin and I could not be more delighted. I am telling you this up front because this isn’t a success story. It’s a don’t-forget-who-you-are story.
I can’t even express how heavy this has been weighing on my mind. I don’t really like to blog about my problems while they are happening, so this is why I was pretty silent these last few weeks. Just when we were wrapping things up with the novel that I thought was called SILVER GIRL, this popped up on Amazon.
I was totally devastated. It was decided that I should change my title because it’s bad bad news to have two books called the same thing pubbing in the same season. Just imagine if you heard me on NPR or something talking abotu MY Silver Girl and you see a big-a display for this other book and bought it.
I cried, y’all and cried some more. You know how when Charlie Brown and them cry and the tears fly out from around their heads like bullets? Well that was me. Projectile weeping.
I had invested so much in the title SILVER GIRL. What was going to happen with all my plans for my Silver Party? And even more than that, was the feeling that I was not in control of my book and by extension my life. As Shirley Anne Williams said in her masterpiece Dessa Rose— Can’t I have nothing?
The up side of this is that my friends really came through. My phone was blowing up with folks sending titles. My daddy really went above and beyond. He said he felt like he was trying to win a prize off the radio. My favorite title he sent was “Hey! What Do You Mean That’s Your Daddy?” (The novel is about a bigamist–two wives, two daughters, one big secret.) All my friends came through with suggestions, but nothing was quite perfect. We came really close, I am freiends with some really smart people, but still…
Then, in a phone brainstorming session with my friend Mitchell we came up with the best title ever. Even better than my beloved SIVLER GIRL. We were discussion something else entirely and he said, “I know my portion.” I said, “What do you mean by that.” He said, “It’s from the song, His Eye Is On The Sparrow. ‘Jesus is my portion.'” I almost choked on my cup of coffee. That song is in my novel like three times.
And with that, SILVER SPARROW, was born.
I feel good about the title and I love that I came to it with the help of all my friends and family. When I wrote this novel I was at a very isolated period in my life. I was on my own and I pulled through, but while it was good to know that I could do it all by myself, it was sad, too. So this little crisis at the end allowed me to ask for, and to receive help. The book is really finished now. It’s been blessed with love.
So, ladies and gents–
SILVER SPARROW to be published by Algonquin Books on May 24, 2011.
photo: Miriam Berkeley
This is my much belated report from the National Book Awards. As you may know, I try to make the dinner every year. I think of it as the Nerd Prom. As you remember from high school, prom can be everything you ever wished for, or it can be a nightmare ala Carrie by Stephen King. For me, the NBA have visited each end of the spectrum. Last year was a total nightmare and this year was a little bit magic.
I can’t even say for sure which was the highlight. Of course, Terrance Haye’s win in poetry was a super-duper thrill. Terrance is a friend and a genius. I just KNEW he had won when Cornelius Eady, chair of the poetry committee practically ran to the stage to announce the results. Now, usually the poetry chair gives this sober statement about how all the writers are brilliant and how hard it was to choose just one. Cornelius said all that, but I noticed that he was bouncing a little bit on the balls of his feet like it was all he could do to keep from breaking out in a little jig. It was a beautiful moment indeed.
But who couldn’t help buy cheer Jaimy Gordon whose book was published by a press so small that they weren’t sure they could afford to print enough copies to accomodate demand. And Patti Smith? Swooon. And why was “Because the Night” swimming in my head all night?
On a personal level, it was lovely to be seated with my colleagues Jayne Anne Phillips, Rigoberto Gonzalez and Alice Elliot Dark. Also at the table was my favorite virtuoso, Tiphanie Yanique– eight months pregnant and being honored as one of “5 Under 35.” I also connected with some old friends, squashed an ancient beef, and drank a whole bunch of bellinis.
It was a beautiful night all the way around.
Several folks on twitter have asked me for advice regarding applying for an MFA program. Here is the best advice I have.
I think I’ll do another post about what to do once you’re accepted, but let’s go about this one step at a time. If you have questions, leave them in comments.
So, I went to see “For Colored Girls” this weekend. I didn’t really like it, but I didn’t know how to go about saying why not. But I think I have put my finger on it.
When I was first exposed to the play by Ntozake Shange, I was a young girl. My mother had gone to see it, which was unusual. I have very few memories of my mother getting dressed to go out, so I knew that this was an important event. I didn’t go, of course, but I have a vague memory of Mama coming home, impressed, or maybe emotionally spent.
I read the play and saw a production of it when I was a student at Spelman College. I remember feeling moved by the tragic scenes, but also amused by the more light-hearted monologues, and ultimately SEEN by the story.
Although I was about seventeen years old and didn’t know much about such heavy business, I could empathize with the actors’ emotions. At the time, one of my biggest concerns in life was Not. To. Get. Pregnant. So the abortion monologue represented my greatest fear come to life. At the understatement, “I was pregnant and ashamed of myself,” I wanted to run on stage and give the actress a hug.
And the monologue about the little girl who discovers Toussaint L’oevuture in the library- that was me! And the little hard-headed boy she met afterwards, Toussaint Jones- I had a little boy like that in my life. His name was Roy. (And I loooooved him like only a ten year old can.)
And, to be honest, I am sure the production of the play I saw couldn’t have been very good. Teenage actors reading “Beau Willie Brown?” We really didn’t have much “stuff” for somebody to run off with. But still, there was something of US in there and, as the play said, “we loved her fiercely.”
Flash forward twenty years and I am going to see “For Colored Girls”, the movie. In theory, I should be even more affected as I have enough miles on my personal odometer that some of the experienced in the play are my own, too.
But, something about this movie locked me out. I wasn’t able to identify with anyone. All I could think was, “That’s not me.” Janet Jackson’s type-A career woman looked like what people who wanted to keep me back warned me I would become if I kept achieving– hard, unlovable, emasculating brothers left and right with all that scary accomplishment.
Maybe it was the hyperbole that got me. Who gets a back-alley abortion in 2010? The back-alley-ness eclipsed any thoughts about what it means to be a pregnant teenager “and ashamed of myself.” Terminating a pregnancy is plenty serious and plenty scary even when performed in a clean, well-lighted clinic– which is most women’s experience.
Ntozake Shange made being a “colored girl” serious business, a dangerous proposition, a “metaphysical dilemma” to be conquered, but a rich life if you worked on it.
Watching this movie, I felt like the film makers were saying, “Black girl, it sucks to be you.” (Side bar: Dear Whoppi, in the name of Pecola Breedlove, please stop accepting roles that require you to describe yourself as “ugly”.)
And don’t even get me started on the men! Y’all know I am a black woman of nearly 40 years, so I have seen some thangs. But the men in this movie are the low-downest, dirtiest, no-count– yet preternaturally sexy and shirtless– men I have ever heard of. I couldn’t help but think, “Why don’t I ever get dogged out by somebody that looks like that!”
But seriously, I vote with Linda Villarosa here. This production reduced the men to menaces with six packs. I am no apologist for men and their misogyny but this was way way over the top. If I didn’t see myself in the film, Lord knows I didn’t see my daddy, my brothers, or even my trifling ex boyfriend. (Not calling no names, but if he reads this, he’ll know it’s bad that it didn’t even remind me of him!)
It’s an amazing and affirming thing to see yourself in art. That mirror can be the things that convinces you that you really exist, that you really matter. But with this movie, it was like looking into a funhouse mirror– and despite some gorgeous performances by the actors– I saw myself and everyone I love pulled stretched and bent until I couldn’t recognize us anymore.
1963, by Steve Schapiro
Just a sweet counterpoint to the moody, dark, James Baldwin we love so much. It made my morning to see this photo of him shaking a tail feather with a CORE worker. You can almost hear his friends just outside the frame, calling him “Jimmy” and egging the brother on.(h/t MDot)