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Today is the first day of the Kickstarter campaign to bring Leaving Atlanta to the big screen. On Friday, I had a wonderful conference call with Aletha Spann and Karon Om Vereen, the independent film makers behind the project. They have been working on this project more than five years and it has been inspiring to see the level of dedication they bring to the project. They have made great strides, but there is still a ways to go.
Of course the big-picture (pun intended) goal is to make a feature-length film, but for this fundraiser, we are seeking to raise enough money to shoot a trailer to show to investors. There is a teaser video up on the kickstarter so you can get a feel for the project.
Just five minutes ago, I went to the Kickstarter page and viewed the video for the first time. (Leaving Atlanta is my first novel, but “Leaving Atlanta” will be Karon’s and Aletha’s movie. I wanted to lay low and give them some room without me looking over their shoulders like some over-protective parent) It was moving for me to hear the voice-over in a child’s voice. I almost said, “Octavia? Sweet Pea, is that you?!”
In our phone meeting on last week, I was so relieved to see that Karon and Aletha share my vision of the story. Simply put, although Leaving Atlanta is about the Atlanta Child Murders, it is not a police procedural. In writing the novel, I deliberately didn’t end it with the arrest of Wayne Williams, because I didn’t want to judicial timeline to control the story. I wanted to write about what childhood was like for those of us who grew up in Atlanta. I wanted to write myself, my friends, and my family into history because it seemed that the world had forgotten what happened to us, and sometimes like we had forgotten it ourselves.
This project is really important and this is why I am seeking your help. I know that times are tough, but any donation you could give would be greatly appreciated. I hope you will be able to help.
I just came to my blog input page and saw that I haven’t posted in a week. That may be a record. Why have I been so MIA? Because I am so crazy busy that all I can think about is how I can get done everything that I have to do. It’s because I am a college professor and my life is hectic. This is why this crazy little video (above) gave me pause this morning.
Almost everything said in this video is true– although there are some key differences between the MFA and the PhD, but I will get into that later. Yes, it’s really hard to get a tenure track job, even with beautiful letters of reccommendation and perfect grades. And yes, many many professor positions are out in the sticks. (You will not believe the places I have lived.) And what she said about the social life– it’s real baby! And the video didn’t even get into the nightmare than graduate school can be. It’s hazing sometimes. I regard the years that I spent in a PhD program as the worst years of my life, one of my few experiences that I truly regret.
As you may know, I ended up kicking the whole Ph.D. to the curb. I was only doing it because my parents (Dr. and Dr. Jones) were really into it. I decided to go for the MFA because my heart was in writing. The Ph.D. can take from five to nine years, while the MFA lasts between two to three. And, of course, creative writers are much more likely to write something that is actually read by avergage people. But other than that, the analysis in the video is pretty much on point.
So, why on earth would anyone go to graduate school in the Humanities? Because you love what it is that you’re studying. Once I got to my MFA program and was able to make writing my life for two years, I embarked upon the most satisfying journey of my life. No, grad school wasn’t a cakewalk. I had to deal with the people who called me an “affirmative action” candidate because they were jealous of my financial aid. And, it was no fun on the first day of classes when I was serving as a TA when I was pulled out of my classroom and accused of stealing an overhead projector. All of that sucked, but I loved writing my first novel under the careful direction of Ron Carlson. Graduating with Leaving Atlanta in my hand was worth all the crap I had to put up with.
I know that I am very fortunate to have a tenure-track position at a research university in a decent city. I had to put in my time teaching in places that are so far off the map that you wouldn’t know where they are. And those years were lonely and difficult. But in every place that I have taught there have been amazing students with whom I maintain relationships to this day. I know this sounds hokey, but nothing makes me happier than to hear from a student shaing some good news.
So, chuckle at the video above. If you’re already at a university, join the union and try and make change in the conditions under which scholars work. But if you have a passion for a subject and you want to study it. Go for it. But if you’re going to graduate school just because you like the idea of having the letters Ph.D. after your name, or because you can’t figure out what else to do with your life, get a hobby instead. Really. Becuase this life ain’t easy.
My new “Surviving The Draft” column is up. I’ve moved the schedule back from once a week to every other week so that A) I won’t be driven deadline crazy, but also so that I can post only when I have something good to write about. Today, I am writing about choosing names for characters. Here’s a little teaser:
When a fiction writer chooses a name, you must to do so carefully, as it should be a clue to the character’s background. Don’t underestimate “invisible” names—ones that sort of blend in with and strengthen the background of the story. (Of course there are many famous authors who take a different tack. Toni Morrison’s quirky names come to mind. Milkman! First Corinthians!) Quiet names can be workhorses in a story—not flashy but they do a lot of work. The name “Keisha” was really popular for African-American girls of my generation. Nothing says “southern belle” like a woman whose middle name is her mother’s maiden name. These names might not be fun—after all they have the banality of real life—but they can do some heavy lifting in your story. To tighten the strings on your story, try for a little traction by making tension between the ambition of the name and the life of the character.
Here are the winners of BEFORE YOU SUFFOCATE YOUR OWN FOOL SELF. Email me the way you can email almost anybody in America– firstname.lastname at gmail to claim your book.
Terrance Hayes gets a NBA nomination in the category of poetry. I heard Terrance read him this collection at the 92nd Street Y in April and it killed me. With Terrance, go ahead and believe the hype. Just don’t tell him that I said it. (You know how he is.)
And, oh yeah, a lot of other folks got nominated in a bunch of different categories. Go check it out.
The National Book Awards finalists are being announced today at noon (EST) and I wish I didn’t know about it. The truth is that I don’t want to care about the NBA or any of these other huge literary wards. I know– as you probably do too– that these awards do not necessarily reflect the best books of the year. And they don’t represent the most important books of the year, either. (I think “best” and “important” aren’t always the same thing.) But just to make things complicated, these committees sometimes get it right. But either way, I just don’t want to be invested in these decisions. It’s a recipe for heartbreak.
On the 60th anniversary of the National Book Awards, I was invited to blog about an award-wing book of fiction that was meaningful to me. I was shocked to learned than only in 1980 was an African-American woman chosen as a winner of this award. (It was rare tie- both Gloria Naylor and Alice Walker won the prize.) It was a really disheartening discovery.
Why why should I have been so bummed out? Not being on the list of winners didn’t mean that black women hadn’t written books that matter, that had changed people’s lives, and added to the national and international conversations. I should have been a little irritated by my discovery, but not all out blue.
But still I was.
Last year, when Jayne Anne Phillips didn’t win for Lark and Termite, I literally cried into my dinner plate. It was a very hard night. In addition to the fact that no women or people of color were honored that night, I was snubbed by a writer whom I admire and I was cornered in the bathroom by a woman who insisted that I give her tips on how to style her child’s hair. It was a pretty marginalizing affair.
Nevertheless, I will no doubt purchase a ticket to attend this year’s event. Why? Because I can’t quite let go of these events mean something, that a win for a book I admire matters. I mean, of course it matters in what it will do for the author’s career– but what I am talking is less quantifiable than that.
I know it’s foolhardy, but my relationship with these book prizes is like my relationship with a bad boyfriend that I just can’t quit. I know he’s trifling, but sometimes he’s nice, and I keep telling myself that his heart is good, and that he will change. Silly as it is, I keep holding out for happily ever after.
I haven;t forgotten about the raffle for BEFORE YOU SUFFOCATE YOUR OWN FOOL SELF. I wanted to do the raffle on video and I couldn’t find my little microphone thingie, then my accountant called me and suggested that me and Wesley Snipes might end up as roommates if I didn’t get my paperwork in on time… So, I haven’t gotten my act together. To make it better, I will raffle off TWO copies– one hard cover and the other will be a galley.
Meanwhere, here are some delicious recommendations– the roundup of the folks who entered the raffle and the books they recommended and why: