Holding On To What Matters

Tomorrow, I am leaving to go to Cambridge for a year to accept a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University.  This fellowship is such a gift—for the full year, my main responsibility is to read, write, and interact with other artists and scholars.  (No committee work! No papers to grade! No hellish commute!)When I received the call notifying me that I had been chosen for this award, I literally danced in the street with my dear friend, Rigoberto Gonzalez.  We stopped traffic and the motorists on Grove Street did not share our joy.

I am a person who believes that His eye is on the sparrow and the title of my book, Silver Sparrow, is a nod toward that sacred hymn.

As I have been packing up to go, I have been unearthing old photos and I came across this one, taken at the Breadloaf Writers Conference back in 2003.  I feels like at least a lifetime ago.  When this photo was taken I was at an outdoor book signing reception.  I wasn’t anywhere near being an “it girl”.  I was just a first time novelist trying to figure this whole thing out.  Breadloaf, as you may know, is the scene of scenes for emerging writers.  And, alas, I was not one of the Cool Kids, but I had a novel that I had written with my whole entire heart.

I was standing around feeling awkward when a woman approached me and asked me to sign her book.  She said she had read it almost a year earlier and had brought her hardcover copy to Vermont with her and would I sign it.  I still remember how moved I was.  Back then, it was still a miracle to me that anyone had heard of me, or had bought read my book.   There was no signing table for me, so she said, “use my back.”  I can’t even begin to unpack the metaphor.

I feel like finding this photo on today of all days, is a little reminder to me to remember where I’ve come from and what I am here to do.  I recently received an email from a silver sparrow daughter  who said she was moved and healed by my novel. I won’t violate her privacy by posting her words, but it reminded me that literature matters and telling/reading/hearing our stories makes a difference in our real lives.

It’s no accident that these messages have come in now, just as I am on my way to Cambridge.  These  are loving anchors, attaching me to what really matters as I move myself forward.

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Silver Sparrow On Line

Tayari _D3Y_2088adj_cropped bnw Did you miss the Silver Sparrow tour?  Here is a list of interviews and readings that Tayari did while she was on the road. Click to listen.

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Straight To The A: Silver Sparrow in Atlanta

Atlanta Skyline Connector

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Win A Copy of the Silver Sparrow Audiobook

**To enter, leave a comment on this post**.

Heather Alicia Simms and Rosalyn Coleman Williams
Heather Alicia Simms and Rosalyn Coleman Williams

When it came time to record the audiobook for Silver Sparrow, immediately knew which actors I wanted for the job—Heather Alicia Simms and Rosalyn Coleman Williams.  Both are exquisitely trained actors; you may have seen them on Broadway in August Wilson roles.  In addition to their technical expertise, both are women who put their souls into their work.  I was honored and delighted when they agreed to record the voices of Dana and Chaurisse—the bigamist’s daughters at the heart of Silver Sparrow. And I was delighted that BBC AudioGo allowed me to have so much input.

Here are the highlights of an email conversation I conducted with Heather and Rosalyn about their experiences voicing Silver Sparrow.

Tayari:  I just want to thank you for doing this project.  I listened to it straight through which is rare for me.  Usually I feel like the audio book really changes my intent, but you two did an A+ job.  Thanks for taking such good care of my baby.

Heather:  I love, love, love this book.  You are an incredibly beautiful writer with a gift for ensnaring the reader into what may seem like an unpalatable situation and providing us with an outlet to be empathetic toward it in spite of our personal mores. Wonderful, wonderful!

Tayari: Silver Sparrow is divided into two sections, one from the point of view of Dana the “secret” daughter and Chaurisse the “legitimate” daughter.  Heather, what did you enjoy most about recording Dana’s world.

Heather: I had a great time trying to capture Dana’s youthful spirit. I loved seeing the world through her eyes. I especially loved when she figured out how to maneuver  through her complicated and quite painful world of being an outside child. The fun for me was in the complexity of the character.

Tayari: Was there anything about the part that was challenging?

Heather: Uncle Raleigh’s voice was the most challenging because I didn’t want to give away too much of the story through his intonations.  I was very aware about his tone when he spoke to Dana and especially Gwen. I remember thinking that although James had the stammer which is technically challenging to record, I didn’t want to reveal Uncle Raleigh’s emotional intentions prematurely.

Tayari: What about you, Roz?  What was the highlight of recording the experience from Chaurisse’s point of view?

Rosalyn: Getting lost in the story and experiencing it again for the like the first time.  Feeling the love of the family. 

Tayari: You read Chaurisse’s part which involves a lot of minor characters.  Was that challenging for you?

Rosalyn: The women in the salon were a challenge because I had not really thought about them and I didn’t want to capture them without making a comment on them.   And not take away from the reader’s imagination of them. 

Tayari: As the writer, people always ask me which of the characters I identify with most.  What about you two? Which character did you relate to most closely?

Rosalyn:  The first time I read the book I related to Dana’s isolation and loneliness, as a teen I felt lost in the same way.  When I recorded the book I was on the other side and felt a curious attraction to Dana. But my heart was with my mama. When I recorded the book I was Chaurisse. I am really more of a Chaurisse anyway, flawed, loved, sheltered. Regular hair. Brown skin. Hard working.  That’s me.

Heather:   I would say that I related to Dana the most.  I wanted to give her the wisdom of someone well past a first love but recognized that some of the indiscretions were those that I and many of my friends made in the past.  Her intelligence, drive and ability to be self-sufficient were characteristics that were comfortably familiar.

Tayari: Thank you both so much being so beautiful and so brilliant.

If you would like to win a copy of the audio recording of Silver Sparrow, just leave a comment and I will enter you into a drawing.  I’ll announce on Tuesday, July 26th.

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Silver Sparrow Events: Flyin’ West

 

  • Saturday, July 9th, 7pm– Tempe, Arizona
    Changing Hands Bookstore
    Reading and Signing
  • Monday, July 11, 7pm– Albequerque, New Mexico
    Bookworks Bookstore
    Reading and Signing
  • Tuesday, July 12, 6:30– Durango, Colorado
    Maria’s Bookshop
    Reading and Signing
  • Wednesday, July 13, 6:30pm– Telluride, Colorado
    Between The Covers Bookstore
    Reading and Signing
  • Thursday, July 14, 7:30pm– Denver, Colorado
    The Tattered Cover
    Reading and Signing
  •  

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    Do Silver Sparrows Perch In Your Family Tree?

    Yesterday, I was on the Diane Rhem show discussing Silver Sparrow.  I have been a fan of Diane Rhem for years.  (A 2003 interview with Maxine Clair on the show helped me figure out how to write the first chapter of The Untelling).  So you can imagine how pleased I was to be invited to appear on the program.  Diane is a wonderul interviewer. I felt so comfortable, as though I was in her living room.  You can tell that she loves books.

    The highlight of the program was the second half of the hour when listeners called in.  The phone completely lit up as soon as we started talking about secret families, the subject matter of Silver Sparrow.  At the start of the show, Diane said to me, “I don’t know anyone in this situation.”  I said, “Not that you know of.”  And almost as though I had planned it, all of the callers wanted to tell the story of the silver sparrows perching in their family trees.

    One woman said that her father had another daughter who was her same age– just like the characters in Silver Sparrow.  But the caller’s story contained an interesting twist.  She and her sister shared the same name.  Another caller from Salt Lake City said that he has three fathers– his biological father, the man who signed his birth certificate, and his step father.  Another person told a very complicated story of a set of siblings who are confronted by another set of siblings at the father’s funeral.

    Diane said to me: This is most extradorinary.  I said, the matter of secret families and unacknowledged children is extraordinary– how can you deny your own children?  But the sheer volume of calls shows that this situation is sadly mundane.

    Listen to the interview here.

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    What I’m Reading on the Plane: Shifting Through Neutral by Bridgett M. Davis

    This lovely coming of age by Bridgett M. Davis is one of my favorites. I love coming of age stories.  This one is set in Detroit, so all you Michiganders should check it out.  I was knocked out when I first read it a few years ago, and I decided to read it again.  Rae is a character you will fall in love with.  It’s a great book club pick, but also a great read if you happen to be on a really long book tour and need to lose yourself in a terriic story.

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    Silver Sparrow Events: June 26-28

    Sunday, June 26, 6pm– Harvey, Louisiana
    Barnes & Noble, 1601 Westbank Highway
    Author Meet and Greet

    Monday, June 27, 6:30 pm– Baltimore, Maryland
    Enoch Pratt Free Library
    Poe Room, 400 Cathedral Street
    Reading and Signing

    Tuesday, June 28, 7:30pm– Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Free Library of Philadelphia
    Reading and Signing with Danielle Evans

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    What I’m Reading on The Plane: The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris

    Michele Norris’s engrossing memoir is about the stories our families leave untold.   This book is about the way that ordinary people resist prejudice with a quiet dignity. It also makes the case for women who put their pride aside to feed thier families.  There’s no shame in taking care of the people you love. THE GRACE OF SILVENCE is a tough book in sections, but always inspiring and really well written.  These are stories to be passed down through the generations.

    But it from an indie.

    Read an excerpt.

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    Chee and Jones on the Pleasures and Challenges of Difficult Stories

    Over at the Algonquin Blog, Alexander Chee and I engage in some #realtalk about writing, publishing, race, and the pleasure of difficult stories. (excerpt below)

    TJ: My favorite novels are about difficult subjects. Beloved, anyone? I am drawn to these stories because I like to be emotionally challenged by a novel. I like to walk away with a new understanding of something that troubles me. I read to grow and I think I like to write for the same reason.

    The most difficult literature really pokes at the seams of an accepted morality. There are a lot of books that seem to grapple with difficult topics like, say, racism. But you will notice that the racists are often extreme cartoon characters which don’t encourage the reader to see himself.

    I like to write a novel with a conflict that leaves me stumped. I like to feel like I am trapped in a maze and I write to find my way out.

    AC: “Bigamy” strikes me as just that kind of a maze. It is such a charged word, but it also has a fusty, old-fashioned quality to it. It’s “racy” and yet not. What I love about the novel is how it makes bigamy the floor, or the background, and moves off toward the very human stories of the people involved. What were some of the keys to understanding it this way for you as you wrote it? How did you, in other words, get past the cliches around this charged topic?

    TJ: The thing is that I don’t really know of many cliches around the topic of secret families, because it is something that is spoken about so seldomly. The only cliche I can think of is that the man dies and everyone shows up at the funeral and pandemonium ensues! I had to just remember that everyone in the story loves everyone else in the story and it wasn’t my job to avenge anyone. That I just had to remember that every person in this love quadrilateral has a legitimate point and need. They all want a family. They want to be included and secure. And that’s not racy. It’s human.

    the full interview here.

    Alex offers further reflections on his excellent blog

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