Sunday, December 12, 2010
Though the women in the room were board members of non-profits, principals at foundations, and founders of companies and community organizations, the brunch wasn't about selling stuff or yourself. It wasn't even about networking really. Refreshingly, the women in the room could only talk about service -- and food. :-)
Together with her "Chef's Circle" our host Chana who launched the MichelleOBrunch series last year led the group in contemplating what we're currently doing to be effective community leaders and how we can grow in those roles in the new year. As we tucked into our catered Senegalese restaurant brunch -- banana pancakes, spicy blackened chicken wings, Eggs Benedict, spinach leaves drizzled with fresh carrot ginger dressing, french toast, Prosecco mimosas and wine -- we discussed skills and services we could offer each other to help take our respective volunteer and service efforts to the next level. It was a powerful, empowering, and satisfying experience.
Meanwhile, a photographer and videographer was capturing it all for posterity. The videographer asked those of us who wanted to share our thoughts on the brunch: "Why Michelle Obama?" I mentioned her realness; her admirable ability to keep her position and opinion poll standing in perspective, to cut through the faux impressiveness of situations to represent herself with honesty and truly connect with people e.g. hug the QE II when it's supposedly protocol to shake the monarch's hand; don a marmy sweater over her Narciso Rodriguez dress because, shoot, it was cold in Grant Park that January day when her husband accepted his victory as the first black president of the United States; her choice to place her children and family at the top of her priority list...
That realness was in full effect at the MichelleOBrunch and a reminder to me to keep it all in balanced perspective as I move into 2011. Yes, I must shill, but I also must chill.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
On Thursday, I went to Philly as part of the Free Library's Field Family Teen Author Series where I spoke with two sessions of three classes of high school seniors. It was pretty awesome -- especially considering how anxious I was about the event beforehand.
I wasn't sure how prepared/formal I needed to be so I peppered my contact at the Free Library with too many emails I'm sure. In the end, I decided to bring some visuals. I figured if I bored the kids out of their skulls, they would have something else to focus on for the hour session I had with them.
My fretting turned out to be unnecessary. While the slide show of images looped via the projector, I spoke briefly about my inspiration for Powder Necklace and read a tiny excerpt. When I looked up after reading, no one was sleeping. LOL. Then I opened it up for Q&A. I was delighted to find the kids had not only read the text, but they'd read it closely.
One of the first questions I got in the second session was something like "So, do you still keep in touch with the dude your mother sent you to Ghana for messing around with?" :-) I also got: "Did you really have to cut all your hair off?" Followed by, "Your hair didn't look that bad." Some of the questions yielded important tangential discussions about the "Black" story (the black story is not only African-American, it's African, Afro-European, Caribbean...too); survival ("Did you really drink brown water?" One student asked. "I could never do that." His friend sitting next to him noted, "You would if you didn't have a choice.") Needless to say the Q&A was my fave part.
After the questions we posed for pics. "Are these pictures going on Facebook?" "No," their teacher assured. (Hence, no pics of the kids.)
On a high from Thursday's success, I went to Poughkeepsie on Friday to do a session with a 4th grade class from Krieger Elementary in Poughkeepsie, NY. Staring at the wide-open faces of these miniature people, I suddenly feared an expletive would fly out of my mouth causing the three parents on chaperone duty to escort me up the stairs of the Vassar College bookstore where the event was held. But again my fears were for naught.
Leaning on the workshop leadership training I got as a mentor with Girls Write Now, I led the kids through an "Ice breaker" exercise that totally warmed them and me up. They shared with each other where they were from and one thing no one knows about where they come from which became the perfect jumping off point for discussing the dangers of making assumptions about people and as a result being disrespectful and insensitive. The kids were immensely, enviably honest as they shared from their hearts -- and they were totally up on their vocabulary words. "Do you guys know what 'murky' means?" Yeeeesss, they chorused. "Know what 'assumption' means?" "It's like guessing, right?" Yes! They were great. And they got even better during the Q&A session.
Their little hands shot up and they started firing questions at me: "How old are you?" (They were shocked to here I was more than two decades older than them. One kid generously said I looked 15. That young man is going straight to the top if I have anything to say about it.)
"In Ghana did you get a lot of presents for your birthday? What kind?"
"In Ghana did you ride on horses?"
"What did you wear?"
"What did you eat?"
"You were bald?!"
They were adorable. It all ended too fast. The good news is I got to catch up with a great friend from college who works at Vassar now, and meet her gorgeous little girl too.
Today, I returned to the Valley Stream Borders Books in Green Acres Mall for an in-store signing. Many a parent was corralling his/her kids through the pre-Black Friday semi-calm before the storm so I had to make my pitch fast as younger kids alternately squirmed out of their parents' grasps or launched into the store for the fantasy books on display. In many cases, parents would ask their older kids if my book sounded interesting. If they nodded yes, I was in; if not, they'd sashay away. LOL. It was great fun.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
I've always loved road trips for the scenic shifts so I settled into my seat, head trained out of the window trying to absorb all I could before the afternoon sky faded to black. But the real scene was happening on my train car.
My neighbors plugged in their portable DVD player, pulled out a buffet of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and sandwiches, and commenced to chomping and watching a Martin Lawrence movie with the volume on loud. As I watched them eat and cozy up under the comforters they'd brought with them, I looked down at my flimsy pink wrap that was doubling as my duvet (and covering my growling belly), and realized I had brought a knife to a gunfight, as it were.
After they polished off their packed dinner, I ventured into the snack car pissed at myself for not thinking to pack any food. I also wondered what would be on the menu in this car right next to the pissy restroom. But it was actually pretty palatable. Nothing scary at all. I ordered a DiGiorno pizza and a beer. While I waited for the pizza to be microwaved, a slurring, splotched-faced, bloodshot-eyed woman tried to convince the snack car attendant to sell her a screwdriver. "Ah cah walk a straight lih," she boasted. Very responsibly, he advised her to return for her orange juice and vodka once we got to DC -- two or three hours away at that point.
DC is where the train had to refuel/switch to Diesel and apparently, the train we were supposed to get the fuel from had derailed. I never got he details on what exactly happened, but we were stalled for two hours. I believe the conductor who'd been with us from Penn Station also ended his shift and so, for the new conductor, we had to show our tickets again. This was a problem for the old man sitting behind me.
He was traveling on a Thursday ticket, but we were on a Friday train. Lawdamercy, the new conductor argued with this inebriated 76 year old man (I'd overheard him tell his age to the guy sitting next to him) about the ticket for damn near the entire two hours we were waiting for the fuel change to happen. My Martin Lawrence movie neighbors even offered to pay the difference in the ticket just to end it all, but in the end, the conductor let it go with a warning and soon we were back on our way.
As we approached South Carolina in the wee hours of the AM in the pre-Daylight Savings pitch black, panic suddenly seized me. I was originally scheduled to arrive in Charleston at 5am. It would have been black as night and I was alone; thank God for that that unexpected two-hour layover! I ended up getting to Charleston station just as the lights were turning on in the sky.
It was going to be a 40-minute wait for a taxi -- "It's a Saturday morning," the station attendant explained, helpfully calling other cab companies for the packed station of haggard travelers -- so I followed Mike, a vet who grew up in Charleston, and "Mike" (Michelle), the Baltimore-raised wife of a Nigerian man who was surprising her son, a student at Citadel military college to the nearby busstop.
We waited by a train track for like 20 minutes before a bus came, during which time Auntie Michelle explained how she got the nickname "Mike" growing up in B'More in the '60s and '70s then leaving America behind in the '80s for Nigeria without knowing a soul in the country. "I always knew I would go to Africa, from a young age, and it's where I am. Whatever you want, wherever you want to be, speak it, and you will get there," she told me before we parted ways.
When I got downtown, the city loudly advertised the book festival. A banner streamed above Calhoun Street, and people were already streaming toward the Charleston County Library which was hosting the event. By the time I'd finished my southern breakfast of "fluffy" pancakes and made my way to the venue, the library was packed. One of the officiants said the library clicker broke at 300 people; the Charleston Post and Courier got the final headcount at 5,000! The place was packed as parents corralled their kids through the book-lined rooms for face painting and storytelling sessions while booksellers and vendors set up. And many many many people were already buzzing about the marquee guest: Nikki Giovanni!
I co-hosted a panel on "Getting an Agent and Getting Published" with publisher Lily Herndon-Weaks that was really well-attended, and had the good fortune of doing my post-panel signing right next to the table Ms. Giovanni was scheduled to sign at. People had already started lining up so I got up from behind my signing table and took advantage of the crowd, pitching just about everyone on that exponentially expanding queue about Powder Necklace. I was just a pitch machine. My goodness. I don't think I've talked that much or that fast in my life. LOL. I thank God that I was able to give my pitch unbroken on camera for a local Charleston magazine. A gentleman watching not only bought a copy of the book, but invited me to visit his church afterward as his priest is Ghanaian and he thought it would be nice if we could meet.
I was hesitant at first. I was exhausted and also didn't know this man from Adam, but I saw him chatting with the festival founder and many people who looked respectable greeted him warmly, so I went with him to church which ended up being a nice break from the non-stop my day had been. I'd spent the past to weekends out of town so I had missed my own church, perhaps God sent this man my way. After the service, I met the priest (who ended up randomly knowing a family friend!), and joined the congregation in the basement for chili and gumbo (!) for a fundraiser. I was so psyched to have some authentic gumbo and chili in the South! I gobbled my gumbo up and took the chili as a doggie bag for the Amtrak ride back.
The following day, I was the one chomping my chili and rice loudly as my seat mate expressed regret at not packing a snack. He grew up on a farm so he became my unofficial eco-tour guide, pointing out tree types and explaining water tables and patiently letting me lean over him to catch a shot of the cotton fields that were whirring by. The cotton looked like marshmallows! So fluffy and white standing on those straw-brown stalks. I got chills imagining great-great-great cousins and aunties and uncles plucking the white blossoms, marsh and swamp nearby...
As the lansdcape slowly changed from cotton and cattle, colored weaves, clapboard houses, and covered cars to tall buildings and bubble jackets, I marveled at how it always seems to go faster when you're returning home than when you're leaving home. I got a little wistful as we drew closer to New York. I felt my guard going up too with each stop, especially as the gentleman in the opposite row of seats loudly expressed his desire for some "f*ck and s*ck" action to whomever he was speaking with on his cellphone. When the train doors finally slid open at Penn Station, I split for the subway, making sure Mr. F*ck and S*ck was nowhere near -- familiar territory for the NYC Girl that I am. It felt great to be back home and know exactly where I was going, but I'd definitely like to visit Charleston again with more time to be a tourist.
(I've got more pictures on my Facebook page.)
Monday, November 1, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
This past Saturday I went to downtown Harrisburg, PA for the Capital Book Fest held at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. After speaking on a panel with fellow authors including Tinesha Davis and reading a short excerpt from the book, I went to work. I laid my table with my banner and books, then stopped every book lover that passed by with a "Can I tell you a little about my book?"
The college summers I logged as a retail sales assistant came in handy as I stood in my 4 1/2 inch wedge heel platforms for the next six hours pitching passersby. I must have spoken with over 100 people working hard to connect with each person for the few minutes they gave me their attention. By the end of the day, I found that my most successful pitches got to the point quickly (what the book is about); revealed my humanity (why I needed to write it); and made no assumptions about who the story might resonate with based on their look.
Whether they were wearing the modest long sleeved maxi dresses and bonnets of the Mennonite/Amish; tugging children and grandchildren behind them; or boasting tattoo sleeves, I approached every person that passed with my story and they returned the favor. I met a woman who could identify with the "broni" feeling I detail in the book because she had lived in Japan for years; a Finnish man who marveled at the American race problem even as he recounted stories of his school days with a Nigerian mate; an English teacher on the hunt for stories that would boost the self-esteem of her youngsters; a woman wearing impossibly high wedge heels too...
The story was the same on Sunday at my in-store signing at Willow Grove Mall. I spoke at length with a woman who hosted a Ghanaian family and had been in Ghana in August too visiting them. It turns out that her family friends know my Uncle Abeeku (the one I thank at the end of my acknowledgments). I met a man who had traveled across West Africa in the '90s overseeing the maintenance of road works machinery. I signed a book for a professor who teaches a course on chocolate. And I listened as another man shared that he had never thought he would amount to anything -- but he did and he have God the glory for it. I wanted to keep connecting with this generous cross-section of people and ended up staying in Willow Grove two hours longer than I'd planned.
I'm looking forward to my next scheduled Capital Book Fest date in Largo, MD and reading/signing at DC's Presse Bookstore.
Monday, August 16, 2010
For my first appearance on eTV's "Awake", I wore a Ghanaian print dress with flirty ruffle action on top. That got a nod of approval. But I got a partial side eye when I wore my cigarette pantsuit - also Ghanaian print - to appear on TV Africa's "Daybreak", but my mom let it go, as she did when I wore a Ghanaian print jumpsuit to a radio appearance and an impromptu television interview.
When I wore the woven batakari that once belonged to my Dad as a minidress, my mother was none too pleased. "In Ghana we don't wear it like that," she bemoaned, just as she has in the States when I've worn this same outfit. I probably should have listened to her and just worn something else because I got more than a few looks of confusion, surprise, even irritation in that get-up. My grandmother also gave my parents a talking to for letting me out of the house wearing it. Lol. Oh well, I wore it on the popular TGIF hosted by a tres cool cat who goes by his initials: KSM.
So come launch day at Silverbird I didn't want to show my mom the white buubuu I planned to wear. "In Ghana we don't wear buubuus for things like this," she reminded me when I showed up in the flowing white dress with embroidered collar. To appease her I took the pin out of my hair and let it fall in dolly curls to my shoulders even as I let my mom know a new Ghanaian was in the building.
That ended up being the refrain of this trip for me. In interview after interview I found myself defending/defensive about my Ghanaianness. I published the book in the States versus Ghana because I live in New York. Minus 1. I came to Ghana to launch my book even though I could have left the word to spread online. Plus 1. I attended secondary school in Ghana. Plus 1. I left for the States to go to college. Minus 1...
That said, there were some things I didn't understand that worked in my favor. Apparently, at book launches in Ghana books are auctioned off. Nice! I was able to raise a good chunk of change for my alma mater Mfantsiman Girls' Secondary. My experience at Mfantsiman was utterly life-changing and in celebrationof its 50th Anniversary it felt great to be able to give back in some small way.
for me in pretty much every sense of the word. First of all we stayed in the dorms and for two days I slept on a bunk and fetched water for my bath in the bathhouse. I almost left after day one as the, accommodations were a little too nostalgic for me. But once I reconnected with some old mates, I decided to get into it. Besides the dorms had vastly improved and we were staying in the newly built Yeboah House. An old dormmate remarked, "I'm so glad you wrote the book as none of the current students know what we went through."
Indeed 17 years later the school appears to be in MUCH better shape. There are two more dorms to alleviate the crowding and that well - the hideous well that we fought to fetch from in my day - has been broken down as there is no longer a need for it. Water tanks are all over the place - a few for each dorm. And water even flowed from the taps though water pressure is still an issue on some parts of campus.
The chapel is still the same size as it was when I was there, but they've added adjacent patio seating that seems to work okay for now. The dining hall is still the same size too so the girls eat in shifts. They've built sinks just outside the hall though so girls can wash their flatware and cutlery before heading off to classes or evening prep.
There's still room for improvement though. There are only 40 computers for nearly 2000 students and the computer room which was recently broken into is kept locked up. A student told me they only get in about once a week. How can these girls compete when they don't have regular computer access? Additionally, for all the renovations going on, many of the classrooms are in worse shape than they were when I was a student. As I walked the campus though I silently commended the unseen peeps who made sure those water tanks were put in place for the current students and realized that things don't just get better, we make them better. To that end, I'm committed to doing what I can to help make things better. I don't know how exactly yet, but I'll keep you posted.
Friday, July 2, 2010
For a hot minute, thanks to you, Powder Necklace was on Amazon's Top 100 Bestseller list!! Thanks to every single one of you who Facebooked it, bought it, tweeted it, reviewed it, and recommended it. Please help me keep the momentum going and tell your friends to put it on their summer reading and book club lists, pick it up as a gift, and otherwise support. I'm happy to call or Skype into book club meetings, answer any questions you have about the book/my writing & publishing process, or to sign copies of the book and mail it back to you. Let me know!
And thanks again!
"the work of many African American authors... has been lumped into one heap known as 'African American literature.' This suggests that our literature is singular and anomalous, not universal. It is as if we American authors who happen to be of African descent are not a people but a genre much like mystery, romance or thriller."
"Walk through your local chain bookstore and you will not see sections tagged British Literature, White American Literature, Korean Literature, Pakistani Literature and so on."
"For various reasons, the average, struggling, non-morbid Negro is the best-kept secret in America."
Saturday, June 26, 2010
It's been a CRAZY coupla weeks and I have so much to report! Come out to the Kente Cloth Festival party hosted by KenCar Fashion Magazine tonight and I'll fill you in on all the deets. If you can't make it out, they'll be streaming it live on the internet, so check it out and watch me do my very bad rendition of the adowa.
My sister-scribe, the genius Ayesha Harruna Attah will be in the house autographing her brilliant novel Harmattan Rain which was shortlisted for the prestigious Comonwealth Writers Prize so come support two authors and get your dance on too.
More to report after this weekend which includes:
1) doing a video shoot at Girls Write Now, the awesome org I volunteered with for four years where I had the pleasure of mentoring four sharp and insanely talented young women;
2) playing model and signing books for tomorrow afternoon's Beleza fundraiser for Manhattan's New Design High School
3) and cheering on Ghana's Black Stars in this afternoon's World Cup game!!!!
USA, you know I love you, but I'm rooting for the Black Stars today.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I'll be reading on July 10th at 2pm. If you're in the Queens, NY/Valley Stream, Long Island area that day, come through!
Saturday, May 29, 2010
l to r: Kwame Alexander, Victoria Christopher Murray & AALBC.com's Troy Johnson
I've been going to a ton of readings lately to support friends and also to study "reading performance" technique since as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm still trying to get the hang of this reading/interviewing thing. Last month I went to Isabel Allende's reading at Barnes & Noble and I definitely filed that in my "when I'm a rockstar" folder. Ms. Allende took the stage--after a Barnes & Noble rep gave the packed house a full preamble about what was and was not going to go down including no individual pics with the author and no personalized autographs, the room was just too packed for all of that--and read like a star, joking with the crowd about the presence of kids cramping her plans to read certain lovemaking scenes and fielding all manner of questions (there were a few crazies in the house) afterward with the deftness of a pro.
I went with my dear friend Daphne and her friend and when we went to get our books signed we were instructed to have the books open to the page she would sign so we could keep the long line moving. When we got to the table Ms. Allende's eyes lit up at us and she let us take pics of her signing. For the two seconds that we personally interacted with her, she made me feel like I knew her.
A few days later I went to my girl Kseniya's group reading. Kseniya is one-third of the writing group I was part of that helped me get Powder Necklace in shape and her writing is incredible. Reading her work made me want to read Pushkin and Dostoyevsky and all the other literature coming out of Russia/inspired by the tradition. In a darkly poetic bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ks read under a single spotlight to a room of filled seats. I stood on the sidelines wearing my camera like a backstage pass snapping away. In other words, it was very rockstar too, in an underground artist sort of way.
So I always subconsciously knew readings were about "performing" for the crowd in much the same way a musician or actor commands a room, manipulating the audience with body language, eye contact, inflection, and personalization, but last night I went to a reading at Hue-Man that inspired me in all the right ways to find my own reading performance style. I went to see my new writer friend Tinesha Davis read from her book Holler at the Moon. She read alongside Victoria Christopher Murray (who was doing an advance reading of her 14th book Sins of the Mother!) and poet Kwame Alexander who recited vulnerable and rhythmic pieces from his latest And then You Know and what was cool about what they did was when one finished, the other picked up, as if they were continuing where the other left off. Though their books seemed very different from each other as far as content, you got the sense that they were sharing different strands of this intricate story. It was exciting! And it made me want to buy all three books which I did.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
There were food trucks selling seafood, funnel cakes and smoothies; there was a bazaar of arts, crafts, and clothing tents; and there were two performance stages set up across Town Point Park. Less than 30 feet from the Literary Cafe tent where I spent the bulk of my time, Mario asked the screaming teens (and their moms) in the crowd if they wanted to "Braid [His] Hair". Fun.
The Literary Cafe was awesome. I got there on Saturday (5/22) just in time to listen to the panel on Self-Publishing. I like to think I'm driven, but these authors had me beat. Each one of them had not only written and independently published their books, but they had also worked to establish and negotiate individual relationships with booksellers across the country including Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon to carry their books. Later that day there was a "Black Love Today" panel that featured erotica author Bridget Midway and other writers whose books deal with family and love. Conversation got real as talk turned to marriage stats for black women and definitions/expectations of "submission" in marriage. There were a lot of platitudes being shared so my favorite part was when moderator and Literary Cafe chair Tiffany Smith asked each panelist to share their current relationship status; definitely put their comments in perspective.
I spoke on the "Teens & What They Want" panel on Sunday which Tiffany moderated with her teenage daughter. Four teens joined me and author Jonathan Queen to share what kinds of books pique their interest and what makes them pick up a book in the first place. I took mental notes mostly -- the cover is mui important, the synopsis on the back of the book should leave them with questions about the story that they want answered, they're more apt to read a book recommended by a friend versus their parents or teachers -- and chimed in with what about Powder Necklace would appeal to the young adult audience.
I mentioned that it was important to me to add a story about the first-generation American experience, specifically the experience of children born to African immigrants, to the discourse. I saw the adults nodding in appreciation, but what really seemed to resonate with the teens in the tent was the theme of moving/being uprooted that's in my book. They all related to the awful feeling of leaving the familiarity of friends, school and neighborhood behind to be "the new kid" somewhere else.
After my panel, there was the "Little People Doing BIG Things" panel which featured a team of brothers who had published 7 year old author Jayla Watts and fellow author 17 year old Bree Thomas who published her first book at 15 -- preceded by Tiffany Smith's youngest daughter's performance of Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise". They were so adorable.
In between panels, I got to meet several of the authors. Many of them had written several novels and they were all so encouraging and generous with their advice and info. I'm definitely looking forward to returning to Norfolk and next year's fest.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Yesterday, Harmattan Rain author Ayesha Harruna Attah and I did a joint reading at Bluestockings Books as both our novels explore the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. Against a backdrop of Bluestockings' intellectual candy store of tomes we each read excerpts that revealed our characters' complicated relationships with their moms, and in the process hinted at our own relationships with our mothers.
My mother and I are incredibly close and my relationship with her is much different from the one Lila has with her mother, but one thing that Felicia and my mom do share is a desire to define themselves as more than a mother. My mother made many sacrifices for us (I think it just comes with the mom job description), but I also saw her being a woman and wife. When we were kids, she and my dad would double date with my friends' parents. I loved watching her get spiffed up for these outings in her wide-brimmed hats, A-line mini dresses or puff-shouldered blouses tucked into cigarette pants, and stilettos. She was THE woman to me.
And as I got older I watched her really work to figure out how to balance her ambition to complete her degree while working like mad to help pay my insane college tuition and her own all while trying to make sure we ate breakfast and dinners as a family. Getting to see that up close, prepared me for the realities of womanhood and I feel it has given me a focused picture of what to expect when I eventually add the responsibilities of wife and mother to my plate.
Additionally, my mother made sure to pursue her passions. She made time to do the things she loved and as I get older and struggle to manage my time better, I don't know how she did it. I think she got it from her own mother and the circle of women that mothered her to womanhood.
Like the protagonist of Powder Necklace, my mother and I had several mothers. Our biological mothers as well as aunties, women who married into the family, older cousins, and family friends who shared their slice of woman cake with us, and in the process helped make us the women we are. None of these women were perfect. In many instances they didn't get the work-family balance right and they didn't always make the right decisions for their children or their families. But they were real women who loved and lived and continue to do so with passion and jokes and (now that I'm older) candid advice I can use as I confront the hard choices of womanhood.
One day, Lila will grow to appreciate her mother's choices (maybe not understand, but appreciate),; and she will love Auntie Irene, Auntie Flora, step-mother Joo-Li, Miss Nikki, and the other women in her life in ways she can't even understand right now. She will grow to reflect her Auntie Irene's pragmatism, her Auntie Flora's fabulousness, her step-mother's sweet spirit, Miss Nikki's "it takes a village" approach, and she will find herself relating to her mother's desire to find happiness for herself -- just as I have grown to become the woman my mother and the women in my life inspired me to be. Happy Mother's day, Mommy!
(There's more mom-gushing here.)
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
On Friday, I went up to my alma mater Vassar College to join two fellow alums in reading from our recently published works. Torrey Maldonado was to read from his book Secret Saturdays a gripping and vulnerable account of boyhood in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Tanikka Price was to read from her book of soulful and heartfelt letters Love Letter: A Black Girl Song and I was to read from my book. But first we had to present our works to the audience of Professors, Financial Aid Counselors, Desk Attendants, and others who knew us back when. There were a few students in the room who opted to skip the sun-soaked pre-Founders Day campus parties, but it was the Faculty in the room who had sweat trickling under the festive red buubuu I was wearing. I felt like I was doing my thesis defense all over again. LOL Of course, it was all in my head as my favorite professors sat beaming at us with pride and support as we each took turns explaining how they helped us each "navigate the duality" of being a person of color and modest means on a mostly white and wealthy campus. In the end my anxiety was for naught. It went really well. In between saying a gazillion "thank yous" I managed to articulate what inspired my book and read an excerpt. Books were signed and sold, and reconnections were made. Fun!
But back to excerpt reading for a sec. I never know how long is too long or short. On Saturday, I read at the Borders in Glendale, Queens. It was a pretty intimate audience of Laptop Tappers, studying kids, and people deciding on which book in their collected stack they wanted to read with their water/coffee/juice so I read two chapters. They were short chapters, but as I crossed one chapter and moved into the next I wondered if I was being self-indulgent. Thankfully, when I looked up, no one was sleeping on me. :-)
On Sunday, I went up to HueMan in Harlem to be interviewed on Urban Literary Review TV. Two authors were being interviewed before me so I watched them for inspiration on how to conduct myself on camera. Both Carmen M. Colon and Candi Sparks kept it easy and natural in front of the camera, alternately laughing and answering questions about their books. When I came on I was tense. An actor I recognized but couldn't quite place as far as which show/movie I'd seen him on, stopped to watch us tape at the precise time I took my seat opposite the camera. Nerve racking! But whatevs, I think I did my thing.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Neither attendant checked my ID which made me wonder if I could go into another store and autograph other books as Buchi Emecheta or Janet Fitch or Zadie Smith. Anyway, the wonderment ceased when I spotted a young man and woman who looked Ghanaian. I got focused and introduced myself and it turns out they were Ghanaian! I did an on-site sales pitch for the book. Shameless, I know, but it worked! They bought it and I signed it. Don't be surprised if you find me lurking in the New Releases section at a bookstore near you.
P.S. - I'll be reading and signing books on Saturday, May 1st at the Border Books in Glendale, Queens. Roll through!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
April 30th, 5:30pm
"The Art of Imagination in Three Voices"
A reading in the Vassar College Rose Parlor
with authors Torrey Maldonado and Tanikka Price
May 1st, 6pm
Reading at Borders Books
80-16 Cooper Ave.
Glendale, NY 11385
May 9th, 7pm (Mother's Day)
"Our Mothers, Our Selves"
A reading with Ayesha Harruna Attah at Bluestockings Books
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002
May 11th, 7pm
A Q&A at the Studio Museum of Harlem
with Binyavanga Wainaina, Bard Fellow, Director of
the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists,
and writer of "How to Write About Africa"
144 West 125th Street, New York, NY
Town Point Park
Now to the event: It was more than I ever could have hoped for.
First of all, the Harlem brownstone venue was amazing -- both symbolically and literally. Harlem is where the likes of James Baldwin, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston (among so many other talents) converged to make literary history as part of the Harlem Renaissance. And on a day that was a milestone in my own personal history, I was to read in an insanely beautiful brownstone with the sickest details. I'm talking intricate ceiling and crown mouldings and what looked like a hand-carved banister staircase. I couldn't have picked a better place.
Secondly, the turnout! I had invited friends via Facebook and sent follow-up emails; and I was happy with the large number of RSVPs -- but on Sunday morning the texts started coming with apologies. In the end, the room was packed and spilling out onto the stoop with fam, my best girls, friends I hadn't seen in ages, former co-workers, my current co-workers, bosses, and even the CEO! A big thank you to everyone who came and wanted to come!!
Thirdly, the program! My Ghanaian sister scribe Ayesha Harruna Attah read from her book Harmattan Rain. Her book, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, powerfully chronicles the experience of three generations of Ghanaian women making moves, breaking barriers, and seeking love amidst political upheaval and unexpected personal setbacks. Ayesha wrote this book in just nine months. In other words, she's a freaking genius.
After Ayesha read, voice actor Karen Murray performed excerpts from a Ghanaian story called The Mud Cloth while pianist George Francois accompanied her with explanations of Ghanaian culture and the text. And then I was up!
I was incredibly nervous for one main reason: I planned to read in my characters' respective British, Ghanaian, and American accents. Up until I got to the mic and did it I kept thinking about Baby from Dirty Dancing and "the lift". If I didn't do it, no one would know but me; but I so wanted to try. Thankfully, as I read, that anxiety fell away as I focused on just reading the story.
But then I ended up crying in the middle of my reading! I wasn't expecting to crack, but as I read from the part of the book when my main character Lila first meets Brempomaa, I thought of the best friend I made at school in Ghana and was so overcome with emotion.
When I finished reading, Malaika led a short Q&A and then Ayesha and I signed books and posed for pictures. I honestly don't remember much of what happened in that hour. I didn't drink a drop of the wine being served, but I was completely sotted with adrenaline and gratitude. Still am.
Shout-out to Desiree Jordan and my big sis who chronicled the day with pictures; and Troy Johnson from AALBC.com who shot the video!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
When I was a kid, I was embarrassed to be Ghanaian/African. It was the '80s, the Ethiopian famine was in full effect on a seemingly endless evening news loop, and kids at school thought it was funny to throw the term "African booty scratcher" around. Going to Ghana changed this for me.
As jarring as it was leaving all I was used to in the States, for other reasons it was a relief to be in Ghana. For the first time, my name "Nana Ekua" wasn't "different," and my dark skin wasn't a suffix for the phrase "you're pretty for a dark-skinned girl." I didn't have to explain why I didn't eat sandwiches for dinner or what language my parents were speaking. My identity as an African was no longer synonymous (in my mind or others') with poverty, disease, or head-shaking pity.
On the flip side, Ghana didn't have to remain the place my parents romanticized as the birthplace of perfectly-behaved children who respect their elders without question. Ghana and its culture could exist as every other place on the planet did and does: a hustle of people pursuing happiness and peace, with all the obstacles, opportunities, and music that hustle comes with. Ghana could be mine.
I get into a little of that in this interview with AfriPOP!'s Mawuse Ziegbe.Take a look.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
One hope’s deferred
One dream’s fulfilled
The latter’s back
On that I build
The faith to hope
It won’t be stilled
The empty cup
It will be filled
That hope I hope
So real it’s “rill”
In black & white
On parch with quill
I see it, son
Now I can chill
I’ve paid the bill
I’ve kissed, I’ve cried
You know the drill
I’ve climbed the hill
I’ve had my fill
My hope’s so high
Don’t need a pill
So Hope I’ll hope
Till you’re fulfilled
And then I’ll hope
For yet more still
Friday, April 2, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
3 things about this video:
1. I explain the meaning behind the Powder Necklace title
2. You might be able to see your reflection in my lips (shout out to MAC lipglass!)
3. The Serengeti-esque instrumental playing in the background makes me want to leap like a springbok (Pan-Africanism, baybee!)
I hope you like it!!
Sunday, March 14, 2010
*The editor of the book, intent on making it more commercially viable, would insist I make changes that would bleed the soul from my work.
*I would make most of these changes, hate myself for doing so, then assuage my self-loathing by reminding myself my book was being published!
*The publishing company would send me on a cross-country book tour -- right after they threw me a swank book release party.
I don't know where I got these assumptions from, but here's how it really went, plus other questions friends have asked about the process of getting the book finished, sold, edited, and published:
How long did it take you to write the book?
6 years. A year and a half to complete the first cohesive draft with helpful feedback from the two talented ladies in my small writing group. Another 2 years making tweaks based on the rejections and helpful feedback of several agents. A year and a half when I just couldn't look at the book anymore. (It was kind of like a literary post-partum depression.) A year of re-working the book completely based on more feedback from a generous assortment of friends who took the time to read the manuscript and share their honest critiques.
How did you write the book while you worked a full-time job?
Sleeping two to three hours a day and taking my laptop with me EVERYWHERE. I woke up around 4 every morning, wrote till I had to get ready for work; then I resumed writing on my commute to work. I repeated the process on my way home from work. I went to bed around 1 or 2. On days when I was not feeling inspired I would Google topics related to the book, line edit what I'd already written, read book reviews, research agents who might be interested in my book...
How did you find your agent?
I found my agent Elizabeth Jote on http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/. When I was looking, an agent who passed on my manuscript suggested I subscribe to the Publisher's Marketplace newsletter http://www.publisherslunch.com/, a free industry newsletter that announced daily news of book deals along with agents' and editors' contact emails! I pitched many agents this way. TIP FOR WRITERS SEEKING AN AGENT: Whenever I got rejected by an agent, I would always ask if they could refer me to a colleague who might feel different. 70% of them gave me the email addresses of other agents to pitch.
How long did it take you to get a publisher for your book?
Finding the agent took forever, but once I signed on with Liz, she sold the book approximately two months later. Needless to say, I LOVE my agent.
How much money did the publisher advance you for the book?
Nunna your bizness. :-) Suffice it to say I'm thankful I have a full-time job.
What was the editing process like?
The editing process was two-pronged. My editor Malaika Adero made constructive suggestions to improve the narrative arc of the book, then my copyeditor Carole Schwindeller went through the manuscript calling me on any grammatical errors and inconsistencies e.g. "she was wearing a sweater and skirt on page 3, how'd it turn into a jumpsuit on page 4?" No soul-compromising involved whatsoever. In fact, it was refreshingly collaborative.
Are they sending you on a book tour?
Not quite. You see, there have to be press people/fans of your work at these tour stops and since I'm still a youngun in this game, I'm not at that point yet. My publicist Yona Deshommes has been amazing about setting up readings and events in and around New York, where I'm based, and making sure editors of relevant national magazines, blogs and websites know about and have a copy of my book. That said, Yona just booked me at the Afr'am Fest in Virginia so I sorta feel like I'll be on tour.
The main thing I've note in this process is that getting an agent or publisher has not meant less hard work on my end -- it's just meant more hands to help with the work involved.
Any more questions? Feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. Thanks so much for reading and joining me on this journey. This is a dream come true.