- Book Tour
- Cambridge Chronicles
- Cocktails With Writers
- Community Service
- Current Events
- D.C. Diaries
- External Posts
- From The Archives
- Guest Bloggers
- Jersey Journals
- Leaving Atlanta Film
- Living For The City
- Real Lives, Real Stories
- Surviving The Draft
- The Artist's Way
- The Writing Life
- Toni Morrison
- Travels & Rambles
- Writing Life
Today is the 130 anniversary of the founding of Spelman College, and African American woman’s college in Atlanta. As you may know, this is my alma mater; I will celebrate my reunion this year. Alma Mater literally translates to “nourishing mother.”
Since Silver Sparrow will be published in about six weeks, I am doing a lot of interviews. One question that comes up again and again is “How did you become a writer.” For me, this questions gets serious when I talk about my time at Spelman. Spelman is where I took my first creative writing class. Where I first learned to say, I am a writer.
Before I went to Spelman College, I was an invisible girl, average in every way. I knew that was “bright”, whatever that meant, but I never thought of myself as someone with something important to say. I knew that I enjoyed writing and always got good grades in English, but I didn’t really feel like a young woman on the verge.
Almost immediately after walking through the ornamental front gate, everything changed. All of a sudden, I was known for my writing! People were constantly asking for my opinion. I ran for editor of the school paper! I because the student-faculty liaison on the student government.
I tell people this story all the time and they poo-poo it. It wasn’t Spelman, they say, it was YOU! I am not downplaying my own role. I did work hard, but Spelman let me know that it was possible. Without this shift in my thinking– at such a crucial time in my developments– I know I would not be the woman I am today.
The picture you see above was painted for Spelman by Vanette Honeywood, who graduated from Spelman in 1972. Sadly, she passed away earlier this year. Ms. Honeywood was one of many alumnae whose names were always in the air, reminding us that black women who had stood where we were currently standing had gone one to do amazing things. Marian Wright Edleman, Alice Walker, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Pearl Cleage, Tina McElroy Ansa, Esther Rolle.. And many others.
Happy Birthday Spelman, from the woman I am, but especially from the girl I was in 1987. I never could have done it without you.
I know that i haven’t been blogging like I usually do. It’s because I am *completely* consumed with the pre-publication of SILVER SPARROW. As you may know, I spent five years writing this novel and I want to make sure that everything goes just right. I’ve got a great team– Algonquin Books is all over it. We’ve got an exciting tour scheduled and excellent media hits. My independent publicist, Lauren Cerand, thinks of everything. So, I am good hands, but there is still so much to do. (Don’t even get me started on the Quest For The Perfect Traveling Hairstyle and guess what, I am going to be on the road six weeks with just a carry-on bag!)
But to keep you in the loop, here is a little excerpt from SILVER SPARROW. I hope you like it. She’s my baby.
When the Center For Fiction asked me to make a literary list to celebrate the publication of Silver Sparrow, I wasn’t sure which way to go. I almost made a list of my five favorite southern novels, but the decision was too weighty. Among other challenges, I would have had to define what I mean by southern… and that was just too deep for a short form list.
So I thought about it.
And I decided to make it a little fun and list my five favorite cheaters in literature. After all, SILVER SPARROW is about a one man who has two wives. The idea of romantic multi-taskers really intrigues me. For my list, I only put the ones who are not destroyed by guilt. I love The Awakening, but when Edna drowns herself in the ocean, it was sort of a buzz kill.
So, check out my list, and if you want, add your faves in comments. And don’t be shocked by the first cheater I site. You know NO list is complete without a little ToMo.
Once you have done all you can to your novel, story, or poem, you need someone to look at it. Over at SheWrites I give some helpful hints on assembling the group of people who can help you take your work to the next level. And as a bonus, I offer five tips for writerly ettiquette!
In my graduate workshop last week, there was a student struggling with a memoir. He was frustrated about how to wind from one moment of his life to the next. What he submitted in class was a long piece, weighted down with a lot of logistical details and back story on his family. I couldn’t tell he hadn’t had a lot of fun writing it and, I sort of felt that as a reader. When I spoke to him about the piece, he gave me the idea that he wanted to get to the “good” parts—when the story heated up, but he had to get himself there, and this was the problem. I advised him to just write the parts he wanted to write. The metaphor was that his life was like a box of Lucky Charms cereal. He was being a good boy and eating everything in his bowl, writing down everything that happened. But to capture the full emotional intensity of his experience on the page, he needed to just pluck out the marshmallows, and leave the flakes behind.
By this I meant that he should write only the good parts, the irresistible moments—the marshmallows. Once he is done with those, we will organize it into a shapely draft.
I am sharing this because I think that there may be readers out there who are making the same mistake. You think you have to write the story in a chronological way. But I saw write whatever you feel like writing. Don’t think of new ways to steal your joy from yourself. Write the parts of the story that are burning to be told. We’ll worry about the rest later.
Well, it was okay.
As you may now, I go to AWP and I usually have a grand time, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. The book fair is like a candy store. And there is nothing I love more than an exclusive reception.
For some reason, I couldn’t quite get my AWP mojo on. I suppose it was inevitable. For years, I have heard writers complain that it’s like a vipers’ nest. Or that they get overwhelmed by all the people. I once remember being a young writer– this was right before Leaving Atlanta was released– and I was eagerly chattering on to an older more established writer that I admire. She looked at me and gave a weary semi-smile and said, “Give me your card. If I promise to buy your book, will you promise to stop telling me about it.” My little feelings were hurt and I was quite embarrassed, but… Ten years later, although I would never say something like that to anyone, I kind of understand. So, Grumpy Sarcastic Older Writer From Yesteryear, I apologize and I salute you.
The social dynamic was also a little intense. I has some interactions with friends which caused me to lose some of the respect that I had for them when we were friends not in the context of Writerpalooza. But by the same token, there are friends that I emerged after the three days, closer than ever. So I think I came out ahead on that front.
Oh, my book? Oh yeah, that. Well, I gave a reading that I wasn’t all that pleased with. Murphy’s Law was in full effect. I can be something of a perfectionist, so I was kicking myself… until a professional setback took over and there was no need for me to kick myself, since that setback was all upside my head. (Again, thank heavens for real friends.)
But there were a couple of lovely moments. Even though my reading was off, the others on the Algonquin Panel were *magic*. (Caroline Leavitt.. wow.) Then, there was the panel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington fellowship. it was absolutely inspiring to hear from people who actually knew the woman in whose name this award is endowed. Her children spoke, as did her old friends. I am honored to have been the 30th recipient. When some of my students from five years ago showed up, all grown up and doing well, I teared up like an old lady at a graduation.
So that’s the round up. I didn’t even take any pictures. I didn’t even tweet.
It was like that.
If you do, you’re in luck. My team at Algonquin has offered to give away three copies! To enter the contest, just leave me a comment. On Tuesday February 1, I will draw the names of the winners and post the video here.
I was so glad when Algonquin agreed to this giveaway. The early copies are usually reserved for media people and bookstore owners, but I really wanted to share with the readers of my blog. I asked for one copy for the giveaway, but they gave me THREE. (I have the best publisher in the world. Really.)
But enough of me getting all sentimental. Here’s a little cut and paste from the jacket copy–
With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered.
As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.
At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.
Wanna read it? Let me know.