Just a quick post to let y’all know that I will be off theblog for a few days. I’m on my way to Vermont to
crash attend the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. On Monday, Natasha Trethewey will be reading some new poems that I am dying to hear. Also, a good three or four of the Amazing 8 will be on the mountain taking a victory lap, and I want to help them celebrate.
I am NOT taking my laptop, so I probably won’t be able to post photos until I get back.
See you on Wednesday.
Well, I suppose this is a happy ending. Remember the drama surrounding the whitewash of the cover of the YA novel, LIAR? If not, here is a recap in 140 characters or less: Main character is a black girl, but Bloomsbury put a white girl on the cover. After being questioned by readers, the author spoke out, the blogosphere and twitterverse joined in. Bloomsbury insists the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. (Since the character is a liar, who’s to say that she’s not just pretending to be black? Hence the image. #fail.) Now there is a new cover! (Yay, right?)
Micah, the main character of Liar, is dark and wears a short natural haircut. But the new cover girl for LIAR looks like Corrine Bailey Rae!
This is where things get tricky. Twenty-five years ago, many African American parents, librarians, and readers would be concerned that dark-skinned black girls feel marginalized by the prevalence of images of light-skinned girls. (And let us not forget that Alice Walker writes so lovingly of Their Eyes Were Watching God because Janie was the first dark-skinned heroine she had ever read about. And then, Alice Walker gave us Celie, Nettie, and Shug. This representation issue is real. It’s not just talk.) But now, since Bloomsbury took the cover situation to the next level by putting an actual white model on the cover, the new cover (which triggers my inner Pecola Breedlove) is considered to be a victory.
But seriously, this who situation has been very distressing to me. As a brown-skinned kinky-haired black woman who reads and writes about the same, I feel very disrespected as a reader, a writer, and a human being.
..to people who read this blog!
In addition to the MFA classes I teach at Rutgers-Newark, I have had the pleasure of leading workshops with writers who are not enrolled in a formal degree program. Although we work together only a short period of time, the classes really connect and keep in touch. I am so very happy to share with you some very good news from two of my former workshop participants:
Karen L. Simpson has found a home for her novel, Acts of Grace. Karen brought excerpts of the novel to the Callalloo workshops and I knew that she was on to something. Despite the high caliber of the work, the road hasn’t been easy. She tells the whole story on her blog. .
Tinesha Davis is also publishing her first novel! She brought excerpt of Holler At The Moon to the Jenny McKean Moore workshop at George Washington University, to the utter deilght of her classmates. Well in November, we’ll have it in our hot little hands.
Congratulations, Ladies. I love myself a happy ending.
I know that I am a bit immoderate about my affection for R. Dwayne Betts. That said, I want to encourage everyone in DC to come to his reading and signing at Busboys and Poets tonight at 6:30.
I went to the post office today to pick up all the mail that accumulated while I was in Virginia. Amid the catalogs, bills, etc. was my copy of Dwayne’s book. I tore open the envelope. As soon as I pulled it out, A Question of Freedom became the star of the whoe post office. You would have thought it was a newborn baby! Everyone wanted to hold the book, thumb through the pages, and write down the title. I know everyone is so gloom and doom about the future of reading, but that post office was full of regular folks and they were all digging Dwayne’s book. And even I was so hypnotized by the writing on the first couple of pages that I didn’t even notice my tax refund check! (That’s serious.)
If you go to the event at Busboys tonight, send me a cameraphone pic!
I actually started this post just based on the cover of I’m So Happy For You by Lucinda Rosenfeld. I just loved the orange of the dress and how the fingers-crossed gesuture worked with the title to let us know exactly what this book is about. The plan was to post the cover and let that stand in for today’s blog entry. The head line would be “Best Cover Ever” or something like that. But then, I poked around to see what the book was actually about and it motivated me to post in a little more detail.
I’m So Happy for You is a about a friendship that is wrecked when one of the friends starts to get all the good things that the other friend wants. Of course the “good things” are all sort of lame markers like a pretty house, a nice fiance, pregnacy, etc. (YAWN). But the root issue is worth thinking about.
What do you do when you and a friend are working toward the same goals and your friend suddenly blows up?
Here is how I almost lost a friend due to my own stupid insecurity. I have a friend who got sort of famous in the field. I wasn’t jealous of her, but I felt sort of intimidated by her success. Before things started going so well, I used to call her all the time. When I shopped for shoes, I would send her a cell-phone picture. What do you think? Too slutty? But when she started hobnobbing in high places, I felt silly doing these things. I started to worry that what used to be BFF behavior was now a bother– a distraction from her fabulous life. So what did I do? I withdrew.
Keep in mind that your friend is under the impression that she is the same person she always was. She’s wondering why you aren’t calling. She’s thinking maybe you don’t care anymore what she thinks of your shoes. Also, factor in this: if your friend’s life in changing rapidly, she needs her girlfriends now more than ever. This is no time for you to get insecure and flake.
Remember, you’re friends because you care about each other. It has nothing to do with your resumes.
There was drama yesterday in the twitterverse about an organization that offers to help writers with the MFA application process—for $335. The virtual feathers flew! I went over to the website to see what all the noise was about. My take: I don’t think it’s a good idea to pay someone to whip your writing sample into shape for your application. I am not saying that you shouldn’t have someone look it over and accept feedback, but I do not encourage you to hire an MFA expert. Here’s why.
You want to find an MFA program that’s right for you, and your work. Abramson Leslie Consulting highlights the fact that all of their consultants are graduates from Iowa Writers Workshop. As many people know, this program is thought to be the best in the country. Whether it is the best or not, it is not the only program in the country and it may not be the right program for you. (Sandra Cisneros said she hated it.) You need to let your work find a good home for itself; if that is Iowa, so be it. If it’s not, that’s cool, too.
I think of this like love. Let’s say that someone offered to make you over in such a way that would lead to you being attractive to a Certain Person. Let’s say for the sake of this post, that this was even possible. So, once you have been accepted by the Certain Person is it going to be a good match, really? When you take off the wig and the mask? When you start speaking in your real accent? You need to be in a program that wants to work with you in your true voice. If the way you WRITE isn’t accepted by a particular program, do you think YOU will be accepted?
This is not to be naïve. I know that there are benefits to having the right pedigree. I am not one to downplay privilege and benefits. And yes, it never hurts to be associated with a hard-core hegemonic institution like the Iowa Writers Workshop. I have been to Bread Loaf and it seems that nearly everyone crossed paths before at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Iowa, etc. (However, I think this is as much a matter of socio-economic class than the pull of the actual institutions.)
This said, let us not lose fact that the MFA is an educational process. I got my MFA at Arizona State University—not exactly a name-droppy place. But I learned so much studying with Ron Carlson. I won’t say he made me a writer, but he helped me take my work to the next level and I will be grateful to him for the rest of my life. ASU was the right program for me. I don’t know if I would have written the book I wrote had I been at Iowa or Columbia or Wherever the Hell. (I was a Ph.D. student at The University of Iowa for three years in the early nineties and I can say, unequivocally, that those were the very worst years of my life. Just writing this has made me upset. Seriously. It may cost me my writing day.)
But to get back to my original point, don’t pay someone to help you fit into the mold of a particular program. If you want to go to school, get your team together and let them vet your manuscript. Pick a school because you want to work with their faculty. Choose a part of the country that won’t leave you isolated and depressed. (Ask me about trying to get my hair done in Iowa City. Ask me about trying to go on a date.) Go somewhere where you are wanted, where the faculty shows enthusiasm for you and your work. Talk to students at the school and see if you dig them. You want to go somewhere where you will be nourished as person, which will noursish you as a writer.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that my sanity is worth so much more than to be able to coo over cocktails, “When I was in the Workshop….”