so here is my story of my brush with greatness!
first, Ms. Morrison was in a really great mood, she seemed rested and really full of energy and enthusiasm. My intuition, seeing her up so close is that she’s a person who gets energy from personal relationships, and there did seem to be a feeling between her and Umberto Eco.
so… after about 40 minutes of Q&A between Umberto Eco
mostly I was just flat out impressed with just how brilliant she is. I’ve watched every interview, read every interview, read all the books, so I obviously realised long ago she’s a genius but I really cannot put into words what I felt like to observe her in person. She is just so fluid and fast intellectually, strong yet poetic in her breathless way of speaking, so many things come together in her that I could not see on a screen or a piece of paper. a brilliant academic analytical mind, a person capable of handling complex emotions, yet a person who seemed very open, honest but also brutally severe when necessary in her ability to size a wide range of issues up. She really is amazing to watch over the course of two hours.
So…. she was very professional the entire time. After about an hour Eco opens up to questions from visitors and I sat silently and didn’t say a word. Then one person’s question leads to another give and take between Eco and Morrison that goes on for about 20 minutes and I start thinking that I lost my chance to ask her my question (that I have wanted to ask her for years) but I still wasn’t convinced to find the courage. Then I thought, here I was, 10 meters from one of the greatest authors in the history of the world, someone from my own hometown, and I was risking to lose the chance that for some short time, Toni Morrison would look at me and listen to me. Then I realised I didn’t want to miss this chance, as I would regret it forever. so…. I start hoping they will open the floor for more questions and indeed they did.
Here is a pretty meaty list of links. I hope it will keep you busy until the holiday weekend is over. Picture on the right is me strolling on the harbor. You can see it, but I am carrying a galley of Ru Freeman’s novel, A Disobedient Girl. I forgot how luxurious it is to read without a pen in my hand. My cell phone doesn’t really work up here, so I haven’t been handling my business from afar. I’ve just been enjoying life, making art.
But, um… As it is Memorial Day. Does anyone know where the party is
at in Oak Bluffs? I am digging the peaceful artist thing, but y’all know I am a social creature. Come on Jack and Jillers. Tell me the password to get into the secret hideout.
Okay, enough about me. Here’s the linky-dink.
Shelley is grappling with what “right” she has, as a white writer, to tell stories about people of color. It’s an interesting piece, really going there. I mean, is “my girlfriend likes it and she’s a woman of color?” a good argument. It’s not, but it kinda is, or it kinda could be. But is the other alternative to write a Seinfeld world, in which the PoCs are mysteriously removed from the planet? There’s a lot to tangle with over there.
For some reason, I’ve been following this man-on-man kerfuffle. Here is a recap if you are interested. Dave Eggers gave an inspiring speech in NYC the other day. People swooned. Ed Champion did not; he says the country is in a real crisis–this is no time for rainbows and unicorns. There was this other piece involving a check, but I didn’t understand it, so I won’t like. So apparently, there was yet another dude who did this sort of aggressive Q&A with Dave, who then wrote back a pretty annoyed response. There are a lot of writers and thinkers throwing names back in forth in these spirited discussions. No PoCs, but whatevs. There are some clubs you don’t want to get into.
Here’s one for all the Daddy’s Girls out there. We are making our fathers into better people.
The L.A. Times blog is launching a new feature: Writers on Writing. (Go get the link from Ericka. And while you’re there, get acquainted with her insanely helpful blog.)
The agent who discovered little ol’ me, and also Obama.
Can you believe that me and Eminem have something in common?
Professor Tracey is making a summer reading list. Can you recommend something to her?
Your paragraph should be like a hamburger.
Depending on how much you like narratives involving cats, you may (or may not) be a little amused by the happenings at the House of Ladylee.
And last, Mary Roach gives a TED talk for grown folks. This is better than a 10 years of Cosmo. (NSFW, depending where you work.)
Congratulations, Rutgers-Newark MFA graduates! These are members of our first graduating class. They are an oustanding group of writers. Their accomplishments are amazing, but their work, even more so. We are going to miss them so much.
(click on the mosaic for more!)
Remember a few weeks ago when I told you all about the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency? Well, I decided today to go scout out the location. Wowza. It’s beautiful. The photos on the website do NOT do it justice. I checked out the rooms. So pretty. Many have fireplaces. The common areas so also very lovely. The gardens are filled with flowering plants and sculpted trees. I didn’t take snapshots because I didn’t want to be rude, but trust me. Very very nice digs in a very swanky area. Apply. Apply. The residency is for October. (You can stay as little as a weekend, or you can apply for the whole month.) Deadline is at the end of the month.
How do you go about talking about a novel in a way that A) does justice to the project and B) makes it sound interesting. This is coming up for me a lot since many friendly people here on MV say, “So what are you up to while you’re here.” I say that I am working on a book and they say “tell me about it.” I have this sort of short hand for The Silver Girl. I say: It’s about bigamy. The lying cheating kind, not the religious kind.
That usually does the trick, but I am not sure it is a fair description of the novel. It’s really about the daughters of a bigamist, one of whom infiltrates the life of the other under false pretenses. But that’s sort of a lot to say, and it makes the whole thing sound trashy, when I am going to for a thoughtful meditation on the nature of family and the stubbornness of self-delusion. But see, that sounds boring.
I have run across two young writers who describe their books in terms of TV shows and movies. I don’t want to use their specific examples, but they would say something like “My book is a cross between LoveJones and The Shining.” I don’t know if it is a good idea to talk about your book as the illegitimate offspring of other people’s work. Every story is unique. If you can talk about it truthfully in terms of other books or movies, you probably need to rethink things.
At the end of the day, I am not sure you can really describe a novel in ten or so words in a way that really tells the truth. The indescribable part is the art, the magic of it. Think about Beloved. Can you imagine Toni Morrison at Yaddo, trying to describe her masterpiece-in-process: It’s about a ex-slave woman who kills her baby. Then the baby comes back and tries to take her man. It’s kind of like Roots meets “Fatal Attraction”.
Memory is a strange thing. I just knew that remembered former President Jimmy Carter crying on television, repenting for the sin of having “committed adultery in [his] heart”. I can even remember where I was when I saw him, I remember being confused by his confession and I remember my dad making fun of him. Or at least I thought that’s what I remembered.
In my new novel, a characters makes a sort of off the cuff remark about Jimmy Carter crying over hypothetical adultery. I pretty much pulled the scene from my own memory. Then, while eating my lunch, I decided to search YouTube for this famous speech. I was hoping for some details to really make the paragraph pop.
Well, guess what? Jimmy Carter didn’t cry on TV. That was Jim Baker. Carter merely gave this really odd (for a president, at least) quite in an interview with Playboy. I had to go and restructure the whole chapter.
The moral of this story, look up everything, even if you think you know it already.
The nice man from Verizon came by the apartment and hooked up my wifi! It was all I could do to keep from jumping into his arms. So here are some interesting links I found as soon as I booted up.
The movie based on Sapphire’s PUSH is now called PRECIOUS. Janice posted the trailer. I am so ambivalent about this project, but I think I should wait to see the film. (But does it seem like there is some hinky color stuff going on with the casting?)
Jeffrey Wright reads Walk Whitman.
Esquire announces a fiction contest. The catch is that they get to pick the title.
Al Pacino is starring in a movie adaptation of Gladwell’s BLINK. Am I allowed to wonder if any black actors will be on the cast?
For some reason James Frey will not go away. Oprah, do not call him again!
How BookScan can tank your career.
Remembering Eartha Kitt.
Did you know that another author can write a sequel to an existing book without the author’s permission?
Farai Chideya’s book party.
The Vermont Studio Center, where I will be in residence this Decemeber, has a lot of groovy scholarships. I love how specific they are. Check out the descriptions, and notice that there is one earmarked for members of Cave Canem.
Hi Everyone! I am just dashing off a quick entry to let you know that I made it to Martha’s Vineyard. On the way here, I did an overnighter with my friend, Jarita, in Woods Hole, where we enjoyed a $5.99 (!) lobster special. I also swung by Staples and bought two reams of paper– one to print out the 350 pages I’ve already written, and the second is to print everything out when I’m done.
Made Flesh, by Craig Arnold. It was an eerie experience to hear his voice coming from the speakers.
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. I will admit that I sometimes get a little weirded out when Europeans take it upon themselves to write from the point of view of Africans. I was not an easy audience, but by the three minute I was all in. I especially loved the way that he interrogates the idea of language.
Live Thorugh This, Deborah Gwartney. This one was my favorite, hands down. It’s a memoir about a mother whose daughters go punk and run away. I almost wanted to pull over so I could give it more of my attention.
The Little Giant of Aberdeen, by Tiffany Baker. Again, this is something that really isn’t my speed. I usually yawn whenever I see the word “witch” in summary. But despite myself, I was sucked in.
The New Haven Line, by Jeff O’Keefe. This was a little MFA-ish for me. I could almost hear the workshop saying “I wanted to see more of the dad.” But you know, the univeral human thing won out over my attitude. This story of a mother and son taking the train to New Haven for a funeral got me in the gut. Don’t ask me how.
I’ll be doing my regular blogging just as soon as the wi-fi situation get squared away in the place where I am staying. The Verizon guy is coming on Tuesday, and to tell you the truth, I am looking forward to the company!
The writing is going well. It’s funny to read sometihng I wrote three years ago. I recognize my voice, but I can’t remember writing some of it. It’s almost like I am reading a book written by someone else, but I am happy to say that I like it and am glad to claim it.
But enough about me. On the ride up, I listened to a number of writers read from thier work on The Writers Block. (You can download them to your iPod!) The website has a huge archive, but these were the ones I liked best.
Check those out. I’ll be back in the saddle soon.
I am posting this just as I am taking off for a month in Martha’s Vineyard. I’m taking the time to be alone and to write. I’m excited and nervous at the same time, as I have never done anything quite like this before, and I have never been to the Vineyard. Yes, I have gone to writers residencies, but I have never embarked on real solitude. It’s a commitment, I won’t lie. Although a family friend gave me a good deal, I am still shelling out a few bucks on the rental. I’ll have to get there, which means I had to get my car (affectionately known as “The Bucket”) serviced, and there is just also the realness of preparing to leave home for a month.
Why all the drama? Why not just set up a DIY writing clinic in my apartment. I do have a dedicated room just for writing. I’m getting away because I feel that I have been distracted from myself by my life. I have been way too busy being too many things to too many people and I have really gotten out of touch with my work. I know that this happens to everyone, but I feel particularly frustrated because I spend so much time telling other writers to put themselves first. But here I am, in the same trap as everyone else.
I am trying not to set goals in terms of word count. Although, I want to challenge myself, I don’t want to crack the whip. I want to be motivated by the story, not by people telling me how long it has been since my last book, not by the ticking of my tenure clock. The only thing I am committing to is to sitting down for five days a week and spending at least two hours working. I know two hours seems like a modest commitment when I have all day, but I figure two hours is enough time to get the fire burning if it wants to burn.
I’ll still be blogging, but probably not as much. I imagine there will be more post about the nuts and bolts of writing a novel, as less about the business of being a novelist, which is probably a good thing.
Preparing for this trip feels so different than other times that I have gone away. Maybe because there is nothing in it for me but peace and quiet. There is no resume line to be gained. I am not nurturing a fantasy about meeting people or making contacts. I feel like I am preparing to meet up with an old friend, and that old friend is me.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw this article about how Yellow Tail wine has done fine for itself, but has managed to tank the Australian wine industry. The upshot of the article is that Australian wine were once the hottest thing across all price points. People were loving them—the wines were diverse, interesting, and just cool. Well, enter Yellow Tail. As we all it’s a really popular brand, a really cheap one. ($7!) The problem is that people now think all Australian wine is sort of Yellow-Taily and the brands that are not cheap and sweet and being overlooked by people who like a more serious wine.
I bookmarked this because it reminded of the huge debate in African-American literature about the rift between so-called “street-lit” and so-called “literary fiction.” It also pulled up for me the debate about bookstore shelving and the implications for African-American writers. There have been some pretty well-documented meltdowns over whether or not street-lit is making all black writers look “bad.” (I think a more accurate question is whether is makes all of us look “genre”, but that’s another issue.) And let us not forget when a bookstore put all the African-American books behind the counter because of theft. (I got all sarcastic, but wasn’t really pressed.) When my students express dismay (in advance) that their books (when they write them) will be shelved in the African-American (or gay, or Latino) section they say, “When I look in that section, all I see books with naked people on the cover!” I have poo-pooed them, even laughing when Amazon grouped my novel, Leaving Atlanta, with Mama, I’m in Love… With a Gangsta.
Nevertheless, this Yellow Tail thing has got me just a wee bit worried. Not a big bit worried, but it’s got my attention. I had always attributed this concern that some black writers could demean the cache of others as paranoia. Sure, I understand that idea of the shared burden of representation. (I, personally, am always ultra tidy and nice when I attend writers colonies, for example, because I don’t want to ruin it for the next sister to come through. And note that in Nick Chile’s famous anti-street lit op-ed, he says in the first couple sentences that he was embarrassed by the genre.) Still, I had never really thought it was quite as serious as people make it out to be.
I still believe that it’s not Yellow Tail’s fault that all Australian wines are thought to be the same. I mean, the makers of Yellow Tail (who are not even Australian) have every right to make their $7 wine. (And lord knows your roommate has every right to drink it.) But at the same time, I can see how more serious wine-makers would be angry, and they have a right to be furious. But at whom?