My buddy, Alex, has written up his reflections on our three-day junket up to Bread Loaf. Here are mine—in the same format.
This is the fourth or fifth time that I have gone to Bread Loaf. The first time was in 2003 (at long last) as a fellow—an award given to new writers within a year or so of their first books. I remember being a little bit scared, worried that people could tell that I wasn’t quite of this world. By “this world” I mean the mostly white, really ambitious, buzz-wordy universe. Mostly there was no need for me to be so worried. Everyone was scared, but for different reasons. In the visits that follow, I go as a slacker. Maybe I offered a one hour class, but mostly I hung out. This time, as last time, I go to keep Natasha company. To hear her reading.
Alex and I have a fun drive up. We’re good friends and we’re good together. I have a new complicated hairstyle, which he compliments me on. In the car, we work on our private language of friendship. We invent new sayings. The three hour drive from his place to the mountain seems to take nine, but we get there. Natasha and Randall Keenan are walking up the sidewalk in front of the yellow clapboard buildings. I jump on the brakes, hop out of the car and give squealing hugs.
Alex goes to lots of craft talks and readings and learns things. But for me Bread Loaf is always about the people. Alex gives breathless reports of all that he’s gathered and tucked away in this busy mind. I ask him if my hair is okay.
Bread Loaf is a place where you can see people you haven’t seen in ten or fifteen years. People you didn’t even know were still writing. It’s a place where people try and give it another shot. It’s also a place where you see the people you see all the time on the circuit. At Bread Loaf you can see people that you’ve only met on the internet.
The mosquito situation is unbelievable.
When I say “young” writer I don’t mean age. There are a lot of young writers up on the mountain. Dolen has just gotten her galley in the mail. I can feel her excitement rolling off her skin in electric waves. Other writers were at that sad moment when you realize your first book isn’t going to solve your problems. Still others, on the brink, were wearing lucky boots or special shirt for ten minute meeting the agents and editors. It’s like speed dating, but you feel like your life depends on it.
I say to Natasha, “I think I may be aging out of this scene.” We’re at a restaurant off campus because we need a little quiet and a little adult food. We are doing last minute revisions to her new poems. She says, “Probably.” We order a really good bottle of wine.
On Monday night, Natasha reads from her new manuscript. We over-dress a bit, giving a little extra with the shoes. When she steps to the podium, Dolen and I scream and stamp our feet like we are at a concert. Reciting, Natasha’s in familiar territory, investigating history, but these poems are tonally different than the elegiac pieces that made up Native Guard. These new verses ask pointed questions. She doesn’t let anyone off the hook. These poems grab you by the throat. You can see the intensity on her face, in the space between her eyes when she pronounces the words. Natasha is the real thing.
The nest day, Alex and I get back in the bucket to drive back. We laugh a lot, sing Mariah Carey songs, and trade stories. I tell Alex that he seems like an elder statesman these days. He doesn’t say how I seem. When I get home, I feel like I have been gone forever, but it’s just been three days. Waiting for me in front of my door is my manuscript, marked up by my friend, Renee. I am eager to see what she thinks, but I am too tired to even open the envelope.
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.