I’m headed to Recife, Brazil today to give a series of readings and lectures. Since most of my events are at universities, I expect to have access to internet, so I can hopefully update the blog. (I miss y’all!) Meanwhile, in case anyone reading this is in Brazil and isn’t too busy celebrating the Olympic decision, here is my schedule:
Monday, October 5. “The Writer and Her Teachers and Her Students: Reflections on Pedagogy.” Catholic University. 7:30 pm
Tuesday, October 6. “Remembering The Atlanta Child Murders: Literature as Advocacy.” Federal University of Parnambuco. 9:00 am.
Tuesday, October 6. “The Role of the African American Writer”, Pernambuco Book Festival. 3:00 pm
Wednesday, October 7. “Remembering The Atlanta Child Murders: Literature as Advocacy.” Joaquim Nabuco Foundation. 9:00 am
Wednesday, October 7. “The Role of the African American Writer”, Cultura Book Store, 7:30 pm.
Thursday, October 8. “Literature, Advocacy, and Pedagogy.” Catholic University, 9:00 am.
Thursday, October 8. “Remembering The Atlanta Child Murders: Literature as Advocacy.” Binational Center Brazil American Association, 7:00 pm.
I know I am running myself ragged, but I have just received an invitation travel to Brazil in order to participate in the The Recife Bienal do Livro 2009 and to give a lecture at Pernambuco Academy of Letters.
Thirteen hours is a long time to travel for a five-day visit– I am praying to the airline upgrade gods– but I’ve always wanted to see Brazil!
My residency is for 28 days. This costs VCCA $5040. (The artist is usually asked to pay $30 a day to help defray the expenses, but that’s only about 15% of the actual expense.) I am so grateful that in these tough economic times, the NEA will fully fund and support eight writers for a month-long stay. And of course, I am grateful to VCCA for offering me this wonderful gift of time an freedom to create.
On my last day in Kampala, I gave a lecture at the Uganda National Theater. Truthfully, I didn’t really expect many people to show up. The lecture, “Owning History: The Legacy of The Legacy of Martin Luther King”, was scheduled smack in the middle of the day. Further, the scheduled time block was two hours long. Me, being American, just couldn’t see folks coming out in the middle of the day for a two hour lecture by someone they never heard of.
Was I ever wrong. The auditorium was packed—even the balcony. This is a testament to the lively intellectual culture of Uganda. My speech was about the way that the legacy of MLK has been altered and stripped of its message of radical social change. I was nervous about the speech. Part of my worry was the matter of my accent. I practiced speaking in such a way that I pronounced all my consonants.
You wouldn’t believe the reaction to the lecture. I spoke for about thirty minutes, but the Q&A went on for about two hours more. Some of the questions were personal observations about the legacy of MLK and others had done extensive research and wanted my opinion about the legacy of other civil rights era leaders. And the name on everyone’s lips was “Obama.”
I don’t think I am doing justice to the experience by calling it a Q&A. This was very different from the tepid exchange you would expect after at lecture at an American university. Some of the questions poses were mini-speeches—more advocacy statements than questions. A few people were downright theatrical. One man gave something realy close to a rousing rendition of the “I Have A Dream” speech itself! I was called on the carpet for the imperialist foreign policy of the US. I was asked if African Americans are resentful of Obama “because his father was not a slave.” (I felt the need to point out that my dad wasn’t a slave either.) At the end, it was just so clear to me how much more informed people in other countries are. I cannot imagine an American audience with such a broad understanding of the history of another country.
Afterwards, I signed autographs, and took photos with hundreds of people. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. Afterwards, I was spirited off. I had a plane to catch.
I’ve just been invited to Kampala, Uganda to lead a writing workshop for FEMRITE, a women’s writing group. The residency program is for struggling writers identified by FEMRITE who are working on a book
or short story and need space and time to do so, as well as a facilitator to train them and guide the process. I’ll be there January 12-16. I am so looking forward to meeting with the women of FEMRITE. After the video conference I did with them this summer, I can’t wait to meet face to face.
About six weeks ago, I received excellent news. The United States Artists Foundation chose me as a member of the 2008 class. I, along with 49 other artists (8 of us are writers), were given an unrestricted grant of $50,000. It’s a gift of freedom award, designed to help us be able to take time off from our usual hustle in order to write.
You may not remember, but a couple of months ago, I was worried that I wasn’t able to really focus on my work. When I got the good news call, I was actually lying in bed feeling rather hopeless. Being chosen for such an honor was just the shot-in-the-arm, kick-in-the-pants, pat-on-the-back (choose your favorite cliche!) that I needed.
I would have told you earlier, but we were sworn to secrecy until the big announcement and celebration in Chicago this weekend. Oh my goodness! Talk about a festive occaision. Chi-town is already in a fine mood celebrating Mr. Obama, so just imagine the fun when 50 artists come to town. (Yes, I took pictures.)
The State Department has just invited me to Ghana in order to attend the 16th International African Writers’ Day Celebrations organized by the Pan African Writers’ Association (PAWA)! The festivities will take place over the first week of November. I almost declined the invitation because I didn’t want to miss the election. But then I found out that there will be an open house at the US Embassy in Accra. (And don’t worry. I have taken care of my absentee ballot.) I am so thrilled and I promise to take lots of pictures and blog my little heart out!
I am very excited to report that I am going to address FEMRITE, a Ugandan women’s writers organization on July 17– and I don’t even need my passport. The US State Department, which extended the invitation, has arranged for me to take part in a teleconfrence. The theme of the event is “Telling The Unfmailiar Story” with an emphasis on using contemporary literature to talk about history. I hope that I will be able to get some photos emailed to me from the Ugandan side of the conversation. More details to come!
I’ve just got the news! I’ll be spending eight weeks this summer at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
I been to many many colonies, but MacDowell is my favorite. It’s a nice space, so you feel pampered, but not so fancy that you feel that you should be eating bonbons rather than writing. I also love that MacDowell is pretty egalitarian. All the studios are unique, but they are pretty much equal.
(This is in comparison to, say, Yaddo. Over there, some people stay in what was once the suite of rooms reserved for the lady of the house. Others of us were assigned to what used to be maid’s quarters. I suppose there is nothing that can be done about that– Yaddo was built as a mansion for the super-rich and the architecture is what it is. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to spend the first week you’re there wondering how they go about assigning the rooms.)
Anyway, I am just thrilled to be making a return visit to MacD. (Lunch is delivered each day in a picnic basket!) I have applied three times since my first visit back in 2002 and have been denied, denied, denied. I starting wondering if I had done something to annoy them. (Did I eat too much? Monopolize the laundry facilities???)
I’ll take photos, etc while I am there and I will probably feature quite a few guest bloggers. If you have any ideas of who I should solicit, give a holler.
I am thrilled to tell you that Aletha Spann of 30Nineteen Productions has renewed her option on the film rights for Leaving Atlanta. I know this is just the first step on the road toward seeing the story on the screen, but it an encouraging development, indeed.
Did I tell you that I once tried to sit down and write a screenplay for Leaving Atlanta? (I was motivated by the odd experience of finding a screenplay for the novel sitting on my doorstep when I got home one day.) I thought it would be easy- afterall, I know that book better than I know my own hand. Also, when I was at MacDowell a few years back I met a very very famous and successful novelist/screenwriter who told me that he can adapt a novel for screen in three days. He just pretends to take longer so his employers will feel like they are getting thier money’s worth!
I bought the screen writing software, and wrote the first scene. It was so difficult. I had to take a nap. I have since uninstalled the software and I am leaving that movie aspect of things to the movie people.
Spring has sprung and the memory of cold weather is behind you already. I hate to be the voice of reason, but remember that winter will be here again before you know it. Make plans now to visit Key West in January. I will be taking part in the Key West Literary Seminar for next year and I wanted to let you all know about it.
The program is two-fold. There are the seminars and the workshop. The workshop lasts four days and members of the 8-12 member class will learn from established writers. The seminars are panel discussions and such about writing, and the writing life. There are two seminar sessions, and, sadly the first is already sold out. Act now to take part in sesson two. Or, if you prefer, just register for the workshop.
I’ve never been to Key West, but by all accounts it’s a pretty swanky destination. You’ll see that the tuition is not too pricey ($450 for the seminar), and there is some financial aid available and even a special grant earmarked for teachers and librarians.
Check it out. I’d love to see you there.
Below is the excerpt of my novel-in-progress, presented as a headline reading at the 2007 AWP Conference, held in Atlanta, Georigia. (February 28-March 3)
My father, James Witherspoon, is a married man. He’s been that way since before I was born, when he met my mother, Gwendolyn, at Davidson’s downtown. She was working in gift-wrap at the time, and he came to her counter with the electric carving knife that he had bought his wife for their ninth anniversary. My mother says she knew that something wasn’t right between a man and a woman when the gift is a blade. I say that maybe that means that there was a kind of trust between them, that he thought he could give her such a weapon and still sleep peacefully at night. But I don’t have to tell you that my mother and I tend to see things a little bit differently.
The point is that James’s marriage was never hidden from us. “James” is what I call him. His other daughter, Chaurisse, the one who grew up in the house with him, she calls him Poppy, even now.
When most people think of bigamy, if they think of it at all, they imagine some bizarre practice taking place on the pages of National Geographic. Some of us in Atlanta remember one sect of the Back-to-Africa movement, headquartered in the West End. The women were dealt out four to each man. From time to time, you can still see them, resplendent in white trailing six paces behind their mutual husband. If you spend anytime in beauty parlors, you will hear tales of new widows surprised at the funeral by the other grieving widow and her five kids.
It’s a shame that there isn’t a true name for a woman like my mother, Gwendolyn. My father James is a bigamist. That is what he is. Laverne is his wife. She found him first and my mother has always respected the other woman’s squatter’s rights. But was my mother his wife, too? She stood with him in front of a judge just over the state line in Alabama, but to call her only his “wife” doesn’t really explain the full complexity of her position.
I had the most delightful experience this afternoon. Angela Elam interviewed me for New Letters on the Air, a terrific nationally syndicated radio program. (When the interview is up, I will link here, of course.) I have done quite a few radio interviews and I am sorry to say that your average radio interview consists of the host reading the press release and figuring out questions he can ask based on that. On a few occaisions, I’ve been forced to write the questions out so the interviewer can have something to say!
So, imaging how pleased I was to meet Angela who can for the interview with copies of both my books looking well-read. She asked such wonderful, though-provoking questions that I would have been content to talk to her all afternoon– and maybe I would have if we didn’t run out of tape. We talked about everything from the craft of writing to the politics of publishing. Angela is a sharp woman, I feel lucky to have been interviewed by her.
Yesterday, Lee Smith and I were on the program at The Margaret Mitchell House. The title of our program was “Crossing The Line.” We each gave a short reading and then talked to each other about what it means to be a southern woman writer today.
If you have ever been around Lee Smith, you know what a dynamic presence she is. We talked aout the hard stuff and even managed to make it funny. I think we established that there is such a thing as southern writing– there is so much common ground between us despite the obvious differences of generation, race, urban/rural. I am usually fairly apprehensive about the question of “what is universal”, but talking with Lee Smith made me think that real connections that cross the line are indeed possible.
The crowd at the Margaret Mitchell House was sparkling and just plain fun. The Atlanta Writers Club was in attendance, the Margaret Mitchell subcribers, and just regular folk. Several members of this blog community showed up– which always pleases me. I took lots of photos, but I lost my page with everyone’s name and correct spelling. So, if you see yourself and the name is wrong or mangled, email me and I will fix it right away.
Well, I am tired tired tired. It’s only day 2 of AWP. I don’t know if I have what it takes to make it through Saturday. Photo album.