Do You Want A Copy Of My New Novel?

I hope you like it!

Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

If you do, you’re in luck. My team at Algonquin has offered to give away three copies! To enter the contest, just leave me a comment. On Tuesday February 1, I will draw the names of the winners and post the video here.

I was so glad when Algonquin agreed to this giveaway. The early copies are usually reserved for media people and bookstore owners, but I really wanted to share with the readers of my blog. I asked for one copy for the giveaway, but they gave me THREE. (I have the best publisher in the world. Really.)
But enough of me getting all sentimental. Here’s a little cut and paste from the jacket copy–

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered.
As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.
At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.

Wanna read it? Let me know.

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I’m Indiebound

Last week, I attended the American Booksellers Winter Institute, which is the conference where booksellers gather to see what’s new for 2011. I am very very grateful to have been asked by my new publisher, Algonquin Books, to attend the event. The Winter Institute was a really great event. You know how everybody is always saying the book is dead? Well, it’s hard to believe that when you’re in a room full of booksellers, brimming with excitement about the written word, written on paper.

Being there was quite an education. I have blogged before about why you should buy your books from independent bookstores, but after attending the Winter Institute, I am more committed. Booksellers are women and men who help connect readers with the best books. They attend this Institute to meet the writers, to see what we’re all about. One woman said to me on the elevator, “I want to get your book in people’s hands.” I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t want to seem crazy.

But seriously. The indies represent resistance to the homogenization of our country. They call them “indies” because they are independent. Buying decisions are made in-house, not from some corporate entity that knows nothing about the community. You may remember my big box store horror story—I was in Arizona and I went to a big chain to sign my stock. I was told that they wouldn’t carry my book because there are not enough black people in Arizona. This decision didn’t come from the community, but from some big corporation that underestimated me—and the local citizens. The independents in Arizona carried my book because they know that book people read.

The economy is tough right now and I know that the chains offer deep discounts. It’s tricky because technically a big chain offering 30% off is selling the exact same merchandise as an indie that sell the book at full retail. However, although the book is the same, what the indie offers is a level of quality service that you can’t really see. Indie booksellers act as curators. They read everything to bring you books they love that you will love too. (I know you have heard this before, but if you were at the conference last week, you would see how true this is.)

I get lots of email from folks complaining that they can’t find my books in the big box stores. They say all they see are books with half-naked women on the cover. Who is making the decision that these are the only books that African American readers want to see? Not the indies.

I know that sometimes the one-click convenience is irresistable. But please make a point to buy from the indies, too. We need them. And right now, more than ever, they need us.

In the comments, please leave the name of your local bookstore. And if you love it, tell us why.

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When Keeping It Real Goes RIGHT


Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

Do you love the picture here? Please say yes. This is Chaz Fleming who plays Jashante in the short film version of Leaving Atlanta. Producer, Aletha Spann, snapped this and a few other candids on her cell phone at the rehearsals on Saturday.

In Leaving Atlanta, Jashante is the boy that is sort of from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s only in the fifth grade because he’s been held back and is sort of dangerous and exciting to LaTasha. And, as you can imagine, he is sort of dangerous and not exciting at all to her daddy! But here’s the thing. He’s in the fifth grade. How scary can a fifth grader be, even if he really should be in the sixth, or even the seventh? Chaz Fleming is perfectly cast in this role. You can see all of this on his face. The thrill of being bigger than all the other kids, and the same of it, too. And, I imagine, you can see why Miss Latasha Denise Baxter, is so attracted to him. Tween love. Ain’t it grand?

You can see some of the other on the Leaving Atlanta: The Film tumblr page.

I love the casting choices so far. When I look at these pics, I see kids, not “actors.” One thing I think is wrong with so many Hollywood movies is that the people don’t seem real. Those of us who grew up in Atlanta during the Child Murders will tell you– we were still real kids doing real kid stuff. People sometimes say to me, “You poor thing, you must not have had a childhood!” But we did have a childhood. It was sometimes stressfull, sometimes scary, but it was our and it was lovely and funny, and heartbreaking, innocent at times, and disillusioning at others. Because of the events of 1979, we were not quite like other kids, but in so many ways, we were just like you.

Aletha says that she will release the actors headshots soon, but she wanted me to see them first as Tasha, Monica, Jashante, etc. I am so glad she did.

Delighted, actually.

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Walking in Memphis or Remembering MLK

This is a piece I wrote a few years ago about visiting the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered in 1968.

I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, right downtown, just off Peachtree Street. You can’t get more Atlanta than that. As you can imagine, the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King is everywhere in my home town. After all, he grew up there. He’s buried there.

There’s another city in this country that cannot forget Dr. King: Memphis. Although we claim him as a native son of Atlanta, Memphis is where he died on April 4, 1968.

I had never thought much about the burden of Memphis until I was on my first book tour in 2002. I was headquartered in the legendary Peabody Hotel for an entire week. The Peabody is known for its lavish appointments and the ducks that swim in its opulent fountain. My ten days in the Peabody were uncomfortable. For one thing I was homesick and longed for the stripped-down accommodations of my little apartment and also, I was the only black person in the hotel that wasn’t working there. I felt under intense scrutiny each day– I imagine I was something of a oddity to the white people staying there the black people were counting on me to represent.

I was raised in a “movement” household, so you know I wouldn’t have been in the Peabody with my nose in the air, treating the black employees like servants. Instead, I called everyone “ma’am” and “sir” and tried to need as little help as possible. I eventually got to know everyone on staff and soon people wanted to know where I was from. When I said, “Atlanta,” everyone wanted to talk about Dr. King.

Up on the roof, where the famous Peabody ducks live in their “penthouse”, I was sitting at a little table. The view wasn’t spectacular or anything, I just wanted to be in a space where I could be myself, where I didn’t have to sit up straight, cross my legs and the ankle, and be a good talented-tenther and make everyone proud. I was tired, lonely, and depressed over a crappy review in People Magazine. (The caption under my photo read: “Jones: a partial success.”)

While I was sitting there wondering why I signed up for this life in the first place, the “duckmaster” lead the pampered birds up to their cages. After they were all squared away, he sat himself down at my table. He was wearing a red jacket with gold braid, but close up I could see that underneath was a regular janitor’s uniform.

“Quackers,” he said. “I’ve had about enough.”
“I hear you,” I said.
“You the one from Atlanta?”
“Yes sir,” I said.
“I sure hate that Dr. King was killed in Memphis. I hate that it happened on our watch. He never should have come here. They set him up.”
“Who?” I asked.
“THEM,” he said and gestured at all we could see from the rooftop. “I sure hate it.”
“Oh,” I said, with that weird feeling you get when you understand what someone is saying, but not quite.
“You been to the Lorraine motel yet? I pass it on my way to work everyday. It’s just up the street. It’s a museum now. You should go on over there.”
I was pretty tired and didn’t feel like going anywhere. Sensing my hesitation, he added, “It’s free.”

Being an Atlanta girl, I have visited all the King memorial sites in my hometown. I visited the boyhood home with this small signs telling you that these were not “ML’s” actual toys but toys like the ones he would have played with. When relatives came to town, they always wanted to visit the white marble crypt on Auburn Ave. I’ve seen all those things a million times, but I can’t say that I FELT anything.

The museum at the Lorraine hotel wasn’t free, but I paid the entry fee. At first it was like any only civil rights museum. If it had a brand name it would be “struggle-lite”. There were no really disturbing images, just the segregated water fountain signs, etc. I was bored. Why had the duckmaster sent me here?

At the very end of the exhibit was rooms 306-307, where Dr. King had stayed in on the last day of his life. The curators took care to recreate the atmosphere. There was a coffee cup half-full, an unmade bed and other personal touches that made it seem like Dr. King, Andy Young, Jessee Jackson, et al had just been in here making plans. When I crossed the threshold of the room, I tripped a switch that caused Mahalia Jackson to sing “Amazing Grace.” I felt it all over my body. I closed my eyes for a moment and took a careful breath before looking out onto the balcony.

We have all seen the famous photo of Dr. King’s compatriots pointing in the direction from which the fatal shots rang out. At the Lorraine motel, saw the view as they must have seen it. I saw with my eyes what Dr. King must have seen in the last moment of his life. There was nothing so memorable in that view.

The parking lot has been recreated: three fin tail cars are parked at an angle, just like in the picture. I stared out until my vision blurred with tears maybe and fatigue. Behind me, I the voice of Mahalia Jackson poured out of invisible speakers. This was hallowed ground. I took a cautious step out onto the balcony.

I cannot remember leaving the museum or the walk back to the Peabody. Back at the hotel, I ran into the duckmaster; this time he was wearing the janitor’s uniform.

“Did you go?” he said.
I nodded.
“It got to you?”
I nodded.
“Course it did,” he said. “You from Atlanta. Just think how it feels for those of us who live here.”

Posted in Current Events | 2 Comments

Love Story Of My Life

  • What was on the NYT best seller list the day you were born? For me, the #1 bestseller was “Love Story”.
  • Is the MFA a ponzi scheme? And what does it mean that there are hardly any African American writers mentioned in the piece?
  • I really like Willett Thomes’s blog. I first met her when I awarded her first place in the PEN Writers Exchange contest.
  • Library of Congress gets a HUGE donation of vintage films which will be streamed on line!
  • Hidden literary messages in the Mona Lisa?
  • A year after the earthquake, Edwidge Danticat reflects.
  • Chimamanda Adiche is judging the NPR 3-minute short-story contest!
  • And the finalists for the Story Prize are…
  • Chic hotel for book lovers in PARIS.
  • Alisa Valdez Rodriguez reads the first chapter of her entertaining new novel. I enjoyed it.
  • RIP Manie Barron. He as the first editor to notice Leaving Atlanta. I will always remember his kind note.
  • Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    A Gift For Laverne

    Pretty Pretty Pretty

    Originally uploaded by mono1980

    Anyone who has ever taken a workshop from me knows that I have this thing about significant objects as a way to ground a story and build characters. In SILVER SPARROW, there is a crystal punchbowl that is dear to a character named Laverne.

    In the novel, this punchbowl is the most elegant thing that she has ever seen in her life. Keep in mind that the year is 1958 and she is only 14 years old. She’s a poor girl living in a country town and this pretty crystal bowl is something that a rich family gave the maid because a couple of the matching cups were broken. Picture Laverne over at some boys’ house and they have mixed spiked punch in the bowl. She’s sipping this punch, enjoying the way the light plays on the faceted glass, she’s got her pinky out the way she learned in home ec. glass. The punch is sweet and a little warm from rum. She feels so pretty and it’s so nice to be kissed….

    I am in Seaside, Oregon this week, teaching a class. I was visiting a local antique shop and I saw a punch bowl that looked a lot like the one that so enchanted Laverne. I bought it, even though I have no idea where I will put it in my little apartment.

    I know Laverne is not a real person, but in a way she is. So this is a gift to her. An offering a sorts. On my pub date, I am going to invite some friends over for champagne punch. Just a little homemade ritual to honor an imaginary girl.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    What The Huck?

    Well, that little link I posted yesterday wasn’t enough for on the subject of removing the word “nigger” from Huck Finn and replacing it with “slave.” I went ahead and wrote a full blown op-ed for AOL News. Here’s a snippet:

    The editors of NewSouth say it’s an effort to help Huckleberry Finn, which often has been banned, find its way back into classrooms. They argue that they are not censoring the novel, but updating it for 21st century sensibilities.
    “Huckleberry Finn,” almost always regarded as an American classic, is a story of an unlikely friendship between Huck, a white adolescent, and Jim, an enslaved black man. I find it peculiar that the concept of human chattel is not too harsh for young readers, but a six-letter word renders this work obscene.

    Here is the rest of the piece.
    And writers, you should really join A Red Room rep who knows my work, suggested that I write the Op Ed and helped me place it with AOL.

    Posted in Current Events | 1 Comment

    Censorship is Boring Links

    Jim and Huckleberry Finn

    Originally uploaded by Dunechaser
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates takes issue with removing the word “nigger” from Huck Finn.
  • Amelia Pontes write a letter to her 14 year old self- do not be afraid to write.
  • Three new stories by Zora Neale Hurston have been discovered and cast new light on her legacy.
  • 18 crazy celebrity book deals.
  • Winnie Mandela: the opera.
  • Ten excellent links for writers.
  • Are African Americans being left out of the e-book revolution?
  • Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    New Year, New Fears, New Resolve

    roshanda and keith, prom 1989
    You may wonder what “Roshanda and Keith, Prom 1989″ has to do with getting your act together in the New Year? It’s about love and fear. For me 2011 is all about facing the blank page. One word next to the other. Details, here.

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    You CAN Take It With You– and you must!


    Originally uploaded by Jayegirl99

    As 2010 winds down, I know a lot of us are busy with our resolutions. I’m all for making plans for the new year, don’t get me wrong. But I want to think a little bit about the year that is passing us by. More specifically, I want to think about what things from 2010 do I want to carry with me into 2011.

    My dear Spelman sister, Brigette (oh how I love her!) has a lovely New Year’s party and the highlight is that you write down the things you want to leave behind on little scraps of paper and then you gleefully toss them into the fireplace. Then, we all write down what you want to accomplish in the new year and put the paper in tiny envelopes which Lady B will mail to you around June 15, so you can chart your progress. (2010 was aces for me. 10 out of 11 things on my list—DONE!)

    But there is one little piece missing and I am adding to the ritual to make the assessment more whole. Ask yourself: what went right in the year behind us that you want to carry into 2011?

    The thing about New Year’s resolutions is that they are a little bit too handed. Sometimes, thinking about what you want to get done in 2011 can also be a way of beating yourself up for what you didn’t do in 2010. I’m all for improvement, but sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit. So, to sort of balance things out let’s make a list of what we did right and pledge to keep on doing it.

    I am cooking tonight and there will be every kind of champagne cocktail you can think of. (So drop by!) But will be making our lists of what we want to take with us into this new year. I have these pretty little note cards and envelopes which I will give to each person. Then when everyone has written something on card—and everyone will write down something. It’s so easy to forget the good stuff, but I know that each one of us has something worth holding on to! So then, once the lists are written and tucked into the envelopes, each person will tie a ribbon around her envelope. This symbolizes a tether, holding to you. I think of the tether like the string on a child’s balloon, connecting it to you, while still letting it soar.

    Posted in Writing | 1 Comment