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Thursday, April 15, 2010

My First Powder Necklace Reading!

Before I get into what happened at the reading, I want to give a shout-out to my editor Malaika Adero who is also the founder of Up South, Inc, an organization committed to promoting and celebrating global storytelling traditions. I wanted to do something special to celebrate the publication of my first novel, but the truth was/is, my funds were limited, and work is busy. By planning and producing the Up South event the week of my release, Malaika took the pressure off me. For that, and so much more, I can't thank her enough!

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 who shot the video!