Yesterday, on my last day in Atlanta, I took a ride through Southwest Atlanta. This quadrant of the city is my home and the setting for all my novels so far and I like to take a quiet tour just to say thank you to the place that has nurtured me and my creativity.
Atlanta has undergone many changes over the last twenty years. In my second novel, The Untelling, I wrote about a neighborhood in the West End that is in the middle of gentrification. It’s a tricky this, this turning over of neighborhoods. But what I was seeing this time was neighborhoods in that same zip code that are not being “renewed.”
Paschal’s Motor Inn has been declared a historic landmark. After all, it was a regular meeting place for the titans of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Kind, Andy Young, etc regularly met there to discuss plans and just to enjoy the legendary fried chicken dinners. During segregation there were no other places that black folks could go and be treated with respect. After segregation ended, Paschal’s went into a decline as did the neighborhood. I think this is because that many black folks failed to realize that places like Paschal’s were nice places, not just places we went because we were not welcome elsewhere.
Paschal’s is a location that looms large in my imagination. You will find it mentioned several times in Silver Sparrow. It’s where Gwen goes on that fateful date with her ex-husband. (“If it’s good enough for Dr. King, it’s good enough for us.” It’s also where Raleigh and James go to enjoy jazz and cocktails. To see it now, you wouldn’t have the slightest clue that this used to be a special place.
I am pleased to note that there is a new Paschal’s restaurant– a lovely red-brick building about a mile a way from the old site. Pearl and I sometimes go there for brunch. But sill, it doesn’t ease the sting of driving by the historic building and see it boarded up and to see the buildings around it in similar states of disrepair.
Much of the southwest side of Atlanta is in a state of neglect that breaks my heart. It’s a shame and I don’t know what can be done about it.
I was so delighted to get an early copy of this buzed-up novel by the amazing young writer Justin Torres. I met him a few years ago at Breadloaf and was knocked out by his reading. And since then he has been racking up all kinds of awards. So far, this novel is a very short book that packs quite a punch. Cannot wait to finish it.
So, Silver Sparrow is a novel about James Witherspoon who has two wives. The other day on twitter, the people involved in the #silversparrow on-line book chat unearthed this amazing gem. Jimmy Witherspoon, a true bluesman, singing about his two lady friends. Enjoy!
This weekend, I traveled to Amelia Island, Florida to attend Mama Fancina’s Fancy Hat Literary Luncheon. Simply put, it was a magical event. The host, Jennie Blue (wearing a white hat), explained that the annual event is named for her gradmother who loved reading– and hats. Once a year, Jennie (aka Jay Bee) invites dozens of women wearing fancy hats to gather at the Ritz Carlton to discuss a new novel and honor the memory of Mama Francina. This year, she chose Silver Sparrow. I was there at the luncheon enjoying the delicious spread, but no one knew that I was the author. We came up with an elaborate cover story to explain my presence. I used the name “Zaria” in honor of my adorable neice.
This was no ordinary book club meeting, This was an extravaganza, full of surprizes for Jennie Blue’s guests. She pulled out all the stops! Instead of usual place card, each table setting included a hand-painted goblet with the luncheon logo and their guest’s name. There were lots of prizes given away, but the most sought after award was for “fanciest hat.” (The winner was a gorgeous woman named Celestial. I love that name, so Morrisonian!) And wait to see you the gift Jennie gave me. *faints* And then after the luncheon, she sent me to the spa! *faints again*
Since I was not identified as the author, I was on pins and needles as the group began discussing Silver Sparrow. The conversation was kicked off with a pageant. Jennie hired actors from Stage Aurora in Jacksonville to act out a crucial scene. They went all out with costumes and everything, totally earning the standing ovation offered when they left the stage. All the guests, including me, were beside ourselves because the stage show was not on the program. It was just the first of Jay Bee’s surprize gifts to this very special gathering.
After a rousing conversation, my identity was revealed. Jennie Blue announced that she was holding a raffle for “lunch with Tayari Jones.” She then called the names of the women sitting at my table. They approached the stage, looking a little confused. Then, Jennie announced that they had already won and that had, in fact, had dinner with Tayari Jones already. Then I took the stage and removed the black hat which shielded my face.
There were a lot of fun and games that day, but there was a more serious side, too. One invited guests revealed herself to be a silver sparrow daughter. We also talked about the importance of reading and the significance of building community. I know “Mama Francina” would be proud of her descendants.
I was incredibly honored to be invited by the members of Mama Fancina’s Literary G.U.I.L.D (Gifted, Uplifted, Inseparable, Literary, Descendents). The GUILD members and the invited guests embody the core values that we all hold dear– family, community, reading, and joy.
Pearl Cleage’s lastest Blue Hamilton novel stays #winning. This novel combines all the noir-ish intrigue of Baby Brother’s Blues and the optimistic romance of Some Things I Never Thought I Do. And you would think that would be plenty. But then, she adds vamipres. Black women vampires living in the West End area of Atlanta. I wanted to save this book for when my book tour took me far far from home, but I just couldn’t wait.
On May 25, Greenlight Books hosted the launch party for Silver Sparrow. It was a magical night, as you can see from this wonderful photo collection taken by Rachel Eliza Griffiths who was kind enough to shoot the event. Thank you, thank you, to everyone who came out to bless this boat.
My publicist, Lauren Cerand, recently shared with me an email I sent her back in 2005 when we were first working together on PR. She asked me to put together a wish-list that would serve as our working goals. With Silver Sparrow, we’ve been able to mark almost everything off the list. Yesterday, I received an email from an “aspiring” writer who had one simple question, “How did you do it?”
It’s a question I have asked myself. My philosophy goes against of almost everything that I have ever read about having a successful writing career. I don’t want to have a one-sentence elevator pitch. I don’t want to go anywhere just for the sake a making connections. I don’t even subscribe to Publisher’s Lunch. I am not saying that all those how-to books are wrong, but I do believe that there are other ways to go about having the literary life you want.
I use the term “literary life” instead of “career.” About four years ago, I was feeling very frustrated because my books were not selling enough. I don’t know what “enough” was, but I knew that I was nowhere near it. This worry was taking the joy out of my writing life. When I gave readings, I was looking at the bookseller when I should have been looking at the audience. This is not to say that I don’t want to sell books, but I didn’t become a writer just to move units.
A writer friend of mine told me, “This is an ugly business, but a beautiful life.