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.
Last night, there was a strange gathering at Eyedrum, an Atlanta gallery.(By strange I mean, men in blood-spattered tank tops, a nurse wearing white leather and platform shoes, and the plastic corpses piled in the corners.)
The gallery, Eyedrum, is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. If you have read any of my novels, you will know that I know MLK Dr. like the back of my hand. Or so I thought. Eyedrum is on the *other* side of MLK, near the Oakland Cemetery which houses such dead celebrities as Margaret Mitchell and Maynard Jackson. Who knew there were galleries, lofts, etc way out there? Not me, and not Natasha Trethewey who was riding shotgun.
Existential Question: What is urban renewal? When you get lost in your own hometown.
But enough of my musing. The point of the gathering (and the point of the post) was to celebrate the winners of this year’s Creative Loafing Atlanta Fiction Contest. (The theme of the contest was BLOOD, which accounts for all the party-strangeness.)
After serving as one of the judges, it was a great pleasure to meet the writers in the flesh after first meeting them on the page. Congrats to Brett Bender and the other winners! You can find their stories on the CL web site.
A few weeks ago, I received a message from Edie Greene asking if I would like to be on “Writers”, a series that runs of Mississipi public TV. When I was just at the very start of my career, I did an interview with Gene Edwards and he remembered me. Would I like to come back and be on “Writers.”
To tell you the truth, I didn’t have time. My life is nuts. I am teaching, writing, giving readings, and chasing The Brand New Heavies all over the country. My plate is full. But I liked Edie Greene and I did remember the Gene Edwards interview. It was my first time doing television and I was scared to pieces. I remembered Gene Edwards as an intellegent and kind man who made me forget I was even on TV. So, I said yes, and I am glad I did.
The interview was a roundtable affair with me, Ellen Douglas, and Suzanne Hudson. We are three southern women writers representing three generations and three different worlds. We talked about what he had in common and we discussed the ways that our lives and out writing differ. Gene Edwards was a perfect fascilitator, tossing easy pitches but pitching a curve ball every now and then. Gene kept the conversation lively and intense. (And, might I add, he was wearing a gorgeous suit!)
The show will air in May. I’ll let you know when they post the link!
not me, but The Untelling did get a runner-up award. Notice that I mention this up front. I didn’t make you read through my whole post to find out. (In this, I am trying to lead by example.)
The Hurston/Wright Awards were held at the D.C. Press Club last night. It was a fancy affair– $125 tickets, after-five attire. I kept it simple, black tea-length dress, silver shoes, bag, hair ornaments. There were many celebrities there– by this I mean people you can actually recognize, not just writers. S. Epatha Makerson, the “sister from Law and Order” was the M.C. She was a little bit toned-down than she was in the 2002 ceremony. The highlight of that event was her quip to David Anthony Durham who, in his acceptance speech thanked his wife for all the sacrifices she had made for his career. When Madame M.C. returned to the mike, she said, “She worked while you were sitting home working on that book! Umph. That better be a good book!” This time, she made jokes about having a pay alimony to her ex-husband. When Baltimore publisher, Paul Coates, upon receiving the North Star Award thanked his ex-wife, Ms. M.C. gave her hearty approval. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
This year, H/W upgraded the statuettes. In previous years, winner received a statuette that looked like the Oscar, but black. (By that I mean they were black and they were BLACK.) But now the winners are given figures of Egyptian gods.