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I have heard many black women writers confess that they were adults before they knew that black women could even be writers at all. Right now, I am thinking about how fortunate I am to have never doubted that it as possible for a black woman to be a writer. Like everyone, I had to go through a lot until I realized that I, myself, could be a writer, that I had something to say. But thanks to Alice Walker, I never thought that I was excluded because of who I am.
Watching Alive Walker, I knew that the life of the writer would not be easy. Yes, she was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and the only one– to this day– to have won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Still, she faced immense criticism for The Color Purple. I have never heard any writer spoken about with the venom with which some African American critics attacked Alice Walker. At the same time, I have never seen anyone stare down the hate with such love, generosity, and bravery.
Alice Walker is a trailblazer. She opened doors for writers who came after, but I want to give her credit for what she did for all of us as readers. The Color Purple is a gift. Those characters touched all of us deeply. They are bright purple patches in our American quilt.
I recently took a trip to Brazil. It was meant to be a work-cation– sightseeing, beaches, but also writing time. It also involved about twelves hours on a an airplane. I llike to think of myself as a with-it person, so I decided that I would read e-books while I was away. Afterall, I am a superfast reader and I wouldn’t want to be carrying two weeks worth of books. No, not hip super-techie me! iPad baby. Nook app.
I ordered the books from but forgot to actually send them to my device. No worries, I thought. I’ll just zip them from the cloud when I get on the place. Didn’t the promo material say the jet was WiFi enabled? Well, there was no WiFi on board, but that was okay. I entertained myself with the movies offered by my friends at American Airlines. (Young Adult wasn’t bad.) When I got to the villa in Brazil, there was no WiFi there, either. (Moral of this story– don’t believe anything you read in promo materials.) So there was was, stranded for two weeks with nothing to read. Keep in mind that this was a communal living situation– think The Real World. And everyone that was ever a nerdy child knows that a good book can give you privacy in your head, even when you have no privacy in real life. And I had NOTHING. Before you can suggest it— there was no sense looking for a bookstore since everything would be in Portugeuse.
Yes, I know that this falls under #firstworldproblems, but it was a little bit of a wake up call to me. The ebook requires a certain amount of infrastructure and privilege. Not everybody in America– let alone the rest of the world– is plugged in 24-7. And let’s say that I been able to download my ebooks, I wouldh’t have been able to share them with my new friends in Brazil.
The ride back was a nightmare. For one, No movies because I lost my upgrade. (That’s a long story which I will only tell over cocktails.) And second, I had nothing to read, having exhausted the SkyMiles catalog on the outbound trip. All around me people were flipping through paper books with what looked to me like joy. Glee, even. On my lap, my iPad mocked. I know this sounds dramatic, but I was in flight twelve hours! There is only so much solitaire and Texas Hold ‘Em a person can take.
Next time, it’s real books all the way.
Leaving Atlanta, my debut novel, published in 2002, will always be my baby. In many ways, it’s my most personal work, grounded heavily in my experiences growing up in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders. Many Americans don’t know that between 1979-81 almost thirty African American children were murdered in my hometown. Those of us who grew up in Atlanta will never forget. It’s no wonder that I chose this as the subject matter for my first book.
And while child murder is a dark topic, I had a lot of fun writing Leaving Atlanta. I got to go back and remember lots of wonderful details from childhood. I pulled up memories that were on the edge of being forgotten forever. There were little things like a weird orange colored, peanut butter flavored candy called a “Chick O Stick”. I also pulled up a photo of a boy I had known who was murdered. He was a couple of years older than I was, and a bully. In my memory he was this huge kid, but when I saw his photo, I realised that he had been just a baby, really. Understanding this was maybe the hardest thing about writing the book. My personal connection to this project as so deep that I added myself as a minor character.
Well, about three years ago, Leaving Atlanta and my second novel, The Untelling, were put on “print on demand.” This basically means that if someone wants a copy of the book, she has to wait for the publisher to print one up. The books were expensive and took FOREVER to get to the reader. In addition, they were never available when I gave readings. I was very unhappy about this, but there was little I could do.
But there was something that readers could do, and they did it. Thanks to the success of Silver Sparrow, more people have discovered my work and have been curious about my other titles. Enough people have shown interest in Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling that Grand Central Publishing has begun printing them again. I was so delighted when I gave a reading last week and saw a stack of Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling on sale beside Silver Sparrow.
Thank you, so much, everyone for making this possible. It means everything to me.
Like everybody, I have a long list of books that I have been meaning to read. I have another list of books I am in the middle of reading. Yes, I am one of those people that have one book that I am reading at home, another at work to read at lunch, and then there is always an audio book on my iPod. And then, there are the books that I have actually read. So, here’s a quick round up.
Passing Love by Jacqueline Luckett. It’s a lovely, romantic novel. If we ever get some snow this winter, I would recommend curling up with this in front of the fire with a nice hot chocolate.
Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston. I have been hearing Pam Houston read from this for years and now it’s finally out. It’s a hard book to summarize, but I’ll try. This is a collections of vignettes about her live and loves as she travels all around the world. See, that doesn’t do it justice. Trust me. It’s really good. And, I am in it, as myself. (My first cameo!)
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson. I gave this to my dad for Christmas.
After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God by Jacqueline Holness. I am trying to branch out and read more non fiction and spiritual works. I am also interested in just hearing the stories of women who have had so many different experiences with the church.
A Gathering of Waters by Bernice MacFadden. It’s a new look at the story of Emmit Till. Very creatively rendered. NPR is doing backflips.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s a memoir and basically everyone in the entire twitterverse is madly in love with it.
Creatures Here Below by O.H. Bennett. I think I need more books by brothers in my life.
Okay, that’s all for this list. I’ll update every month. And after I finish the books, I will post my thoughts on Goodreads. Tell me, what’s on your TBR list?
I am thrilled to see that Silver Sparrow is a Semifinalist in the Goodreads Readers Choice Awards thanks to write-in votes from readers. Now, I am asking you to help Silver Sparrow to make it up to the next round.
Thank you so much for being so supportive and just generally awesome.
I actually read Anita Hill’s new book, Reimagining Equality this summer, but it was just released yesterday. This is the what I wrote for the back of her book. It doesn’t really do justice to this complex and full-of-heart book that is clearly a labor of love.
“Combining the sincerity of memoir and the rigor of sociology, Anita Hill looks at home as a physical space, but also as a microcosm of American society. The women profiled in this engaging and moving book illustrate the challenges of living in America as a raced and gendered person while simultaneously demonstrating the beauty of resistance and the triumphs of family, community, and faith. Hill connects the dots between the home-making efforts of African Americans just after Reconstruction and the heartbreaking (and enraging) consequences of the subprime mortgage scandal. After reading this book, you will never see a house as just four walls and a roof. It is a dream and we, as Americans, are the dreamers.”
—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
(In other words, read this book.)
I just finished reading THE FAMILY FANG by Kevin Wilson. I scored a free copy at ALA this summer but I was too busy moving and touring to settle down to read it. About a month ago, I heard Kevin give a delightful reading at Harvard Bookstore so I scooted it up my to-read list. I am so glad I did.
If you are a person who enjoyed The Royal Tannenbaums, this is a book for you. It has all the idiosyncrasy of that film, but the richness that makes a novel really satisfying.
I started off reading it just for the quirkiness. Here’s the plot– two kids have grown up in a most bizarre family. The parents are performance artists and use the kids as part of the act. Sometimes, the children don’t even know there is a act. Now Buster and Annie, grown up and messed up, are forced to move back home. (I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil.) I chuckled my way through the first third of the story– what wacky parents! But somewhere around page 150, the narrative snuck up on me and got deep.
This is a novel that made me re-examine my own childhood and childhood as a concept– To what extent are kids bit players is all of our parents’ performances? Can you ever really grow up? And while we’re at it, what is art, anyway? What is love? What is sacrifice?
All of this, and it’s damn funny, too.
Bravo, Mr. Wilson. I am so proud of you!
This lovely coming of age by Bridgett M. Davis is one of my favorites. I love coming of age stories. This one is set in Detroit, so all you Michiganders should check it out. I was knocked out when I first read it a few years ago, and I decided to read it again. Rae is a character you will fall in love with. It’s a great book club pick, but also a great read if you happen to be on a really long book tour and need to lose yourself in a terriic story.
Michele Norris’s engrossing memoir is about the stories our families leave untold. This book is about the way that ordinary people resist prejudice with a quiet dignity. It also makes the case for women who put their pride aside to feed thier families. There’s no shame in taking care of the people you love. THE GRACE OF SILVENCE is a tough book in sections, but always inspiring and really well written. These are stories to be passed down through the generations.
I was so delighted to get an early copy of this buzed-up novel by the amazing young writer Justin Torres. I met him a few years ago at Breadloaf and was knocked out by his reading. And since then he has been racking up all kinds of awards. So far, this novel is a very short book that packs quite a punch. Cannot wait to finish it.