Well, I made it to D.C. I took the Amtrak from Newark Penn Station where I ran into an old friend, which I am taking as a really good omen for the festivities to come. The Amtrak was PACKED and everyone was in good cheer, at first. After an hour or so in, the train was stopped. Apparently we were on the rails behind the Obama train. When they stopped in Delaware to pick up Biden, we were stranded on the tracks. Then, the train went so slowly that I wanted to get out and jog ahead. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. TaRessa said, “It’s historical.” I said, “It’s hysterical.” I think this is going to be one of the themes of the weekend. When is there just too much performative drama associated with the event? I’ll let you know.
Anyway, we finally we arrived in DC. The energy in the city is sort of like spring break week. Lots of excited, giggly people with suitcases. I am glad to have traveled on Saturday when everyone was still in a good mood. Also, I think the Amtrak crowd is more likely to be made up of Obama supporters. At the airport, another friend said he overheard two McCainiacs. (I guess they are the last ones.) Anyway, he said he heard them say, “It’s crazy in DC this weekend. You would think they were handing out free gas and reparations.” (I *wish*. The little jaunt is expensive!)
I opted to stay a little outside of town in Bethesda. My hotel is pretty good but not good enough to justify the price tag, but I am not even going to worry about it. Tomorrow is the American Scholars Ball. I am mad that I let my friend convince me to leave the stilettos at home. Her reasoning, “We don’t know what to expect. What is there is no where to sit? What is we have to walk a couple of blocks to get to the Four Seasons? If you can’t walk, no one has any fun. And you are wearing a LONG DRESS! No one is going to see your feet!”
If you look at the time stamp on this post, you’ll see it’s about 6:30am. I am waiting for the shoe stores to open….
Today, was an excellent day in the FEMRITE residential writing conference. We rolled up our sleeves and got down to business. The day is structured so that we meet from 8am to about 10am—when we break for tea, and then back to work again until lunch at one. Afterwards, we get together again and work until 3pm tea and then plow on until 5pm. It took a while to get used to stopping for tea—which means hot chocolate and cookies, but it doesn’t take long to be accustomed to luxury.
The bulk of today was spent with my advanced class, who are in the picture. We workshopped a really interesting story about a girl returning to school after escaping abduction by rebels. The conversation went on so long, we almost missed our tea. As we sipped on our cocoa (made with hot milk, not water. Hot WHOLE milk.) we also discussed Dorreen Baingana, with whom I am obsessed. The conversation was lively and I think we all learned a lot from each other.
Tonight, there is a dinner with the folks from the US Embassy. It will be cool to meet them after so much emailing. Tomorrow morning, it’s back to the conference. There is a part of me that’s a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to do much sight-seeing. But at the end of the day, it’s the people that make a place and I have made such wonderful new friends.
I’m giving up on posting photos. That will just have to wait until I get home. I couldn’t resist, so you can follow me on twitter. (www.twitter.com/tayari)
I am having a really good time here. About thrity women are registered for the residential workshop. We are divided into two groups, beginner and advanced. We’ve only met one day, but there is such energy in the room.
Uganda has a bit of a different vibe than Ghana. When I was in Ghana, the people seemed very much into the idea of the children of the Diaspora returning home. I suppose this is a result of the Pan African rhetoric of their independence. Also, with slave dungeons dotting the countryside, there really is no way not to make a connection.
People here area very kind– especially my hosts. However, I often overhear people refer to me as a “foriegner.” I suppose that is what I am, but it is disconcerting to hear that word applied to oneself. I have read a lot of immigrant literature and this work comes up a lot, but I now can really understand how alienating this is.
Well, I need to get off this machine before it crashes again. Also, my driver is here to take me to the workshops. More later!
Yesterday, I went to a most amazing dance performance. My hosts insisted;although I was a bit tired they promised it would be worth staying up for. (I was a bit apprehensive. I tell you, they need a better word than plain “jet lag.” What I feel is much stronger than mere jet lag.
Anyway, they were right. The dance performance was breath-taking. the dancers hail from various ethnic groups throughout Uganda. You could just see the audience members swell with pride when their own group was represented. When I say dance recital, I know you are imagining sitting in a dull auditorium– but this was an outdoor event. The dancers, dressed in colorful costumes performed a series of narrative dances– it had all the story-line of Swan Lake but with triple the entertainment value and quadruple the emotion. The picture you see here, I snapped with my blackberry, but I hope to soon display the pictures I took with my real camers. (IT issues)br />
The highlight of the performance was the dance for peace. The women dancers keep adding pots atop thier hands as they danced. By the end, the pots stood ten high. The meaning is that those is power should be careful, ballance all the pots, and leave none to break– no matter how vigorous the dance.
I am writing this post from the lovely Protea Hotel in Kampala. I was so tired when I got in, that I didn’t even notice how posh everything is. I woke up this morning and thought I was in the W.
One thing I was looking forward to in Uganda was meeting the other TAYARIs out there. Afterall, the name is Kiswahili and this is east Africa. I imagined myself, at last, being a person with a common name. I saw myself buying TAYARI coffee mugs, key chains,and refrigerator magnets. It would feel like being a JENNIFER.
I was so disappointed when my wonderful hosts gently explained that TAYARI is not exactly used as a name here. It’s more like an abstract now meaning “preparedness” or “ready.” Not exactly coffee mug copy. I was so crushed that one of my hosts offered kindly, “we can always look.”
Just a quick goodbye as I head out for my trip to Uganda. I wanted to leave you with a nice collection of links to tide you over until I got back, but I am just too swamped. Pls forgive.
I’ll be in Uganda just about a week giving a workshop to the women of FEMRITE, a woman’s writers organization. The schedule is INTENSE. I’ll be in class about five hours a day, but I am really looking forward to it. (My hotel looks pretty swanky, but I won’t be spending much time in it!) I believe I will have internet, although I am not bringing my laptop. I’ll take photos and will happily post. No twitter this time, tweeting on my phone from Ghana cost me about $300!
On January 15th, at the National Theatre in Kampala, I’ll give a lecture for MLK Day which is going to be about the “gentrification” of his memory and how we, as writers, must preserve the truth as we experience it. I’ll also give a reading from my own work. Then, I’ll come on home and take a nap, then head out to DC.
I am not sure if tickets are available for the Dreams From My Father Inaugural Ball, but if they are, you should totally go. I’m going to be presenting awards to two of my favorite folks: Johnetta B. Cole and Natasha Trethewey. Also in the line-up: Pearl Cleage.
So, I am hoping to check in before I get home, if not, I’ll see you here on the 17th when I make my pit stop in Jersey to grab my ball gown.
Yesterday, the UPS man came to my apartment. I have to say that the sight of him is usually reward enough, but this time there was lagniappe: forty issues of Mosaic Magazine.
Ron Kavanaugh, editor of Mosaic never sleeps. In the box was a little note that read: Tayari, Mosaic represents a commitment to all writers of the African Diaspora. When you arrive in Uganda, please deliver these copies to the women of FEMRITE with my compliments.
Thanks, Ron. And to show my dedication, I am taking three pairs of shoes out of my suitcase to make room for these beautiful magazines. And if you need Mosaic in your life, subscribe. It’s just $15 for a year and $25 for two.
The NYT, more specifically MICHIKO KAKUTANI, is doing back flips over Jayne Anne Phillips’ new novel, Lark and Termite. I have to admit that I did a few back flips myself when I read the review. Here’s a peek at the acrobatics:
Ms. Phillips knows her characters so intimately and tackles their stories with such ferocity that the novel does not devolve into soap opera but instead ascends into the higher, more rarified altitudes of fable.
Jayne Anne has always been a hero of mine. I found a journal from 1999 in which I layed out all my writerly pipe dreams. One of them was “Meet Jayne Anne Phillips.” In the margin I’d written “possible?!?!” after that was a discouraged littel frowny-face. Imagine how it felt in 2005 when she called me on the phone, inviting me to join her at the new MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University. She told me that she wanted to start a program that would make a difference to all of us as American writers.
I was so impressed that I quit my other job, sold my house over the phone, and came out New Jersey to help her.
And now, she has a new book out– her first novel in almost ten years and it is a knockout.
Congratulations, Jayne Anne. You deserve all this and more. And I am sure that “more” is right around the corner!
Lately I have been spending a lot of time in the gym. In an effort to keep myself engaged as I trot on the treadmill, I like to read crime fiction, but only in big print. (I have to be able to read as I huff and puff.) On twitter, it was suggested that I try audio books, but I politely declined. I understand that audio books are helpful for people who have vision problems, but I don’t think that listening to the book is the same as reading it. In my opinion, listening to a book is more like watching a film adaptation.
Most audio books are read by actors who interpret the characters and perform them accordingly. As a writer, I work hard to avoid stereotypes in my work, to make everyone real to make sure no one is a symbol. I guess this is what we all do. Well, one audio book reader can undo all that careful crafting in five seconds. A badly performed accent can turn a beautiful character into an embarrassing caricature in only a few lines of excruciating dialogue.
The example above is such a nightmare, but even a “good” audio book tells the reader what to think, depriving her of the joy of reading the book and finding the voice in her own head. Because of this, I am not sure that letting the author read– as is suggested by Ask Nicola– is the answer. Even I were to do my own audio book, I would still be exerting undo influence on the reader’s experience. In writing classes we say that publishing a book is like putting your first grader on the bus for the first day of school. You’ve done all you can to prepare her for the experience, and you just have to trust that she’s ready. You can’t get on the bus with her and protect her from bullies and misunderstandings. You just kiss her goodbye, stand on the corner waving, scared to death, while hoping for the best.