I’ve just returned from Alabama where I attended my first Reader’s Luncheon as an Attending Author. Even though, I was not fully prepared for the extent of the swag (all I had was a $50.00 gift card to offer. I felt such a kinship with the Little Drummer Boy) it was a wonderful time. Many of the readers I spoke with spoke about how meaningful it was to have an afternoon to themselves away from their every day lives. A number of them spoke of children or an aging parent to care for.
I have been thinking about the need for self-care in the first blog post of the month. So this time, in June, I’m thinking how important it is to schedule time away from the cares of life. Believe me, scheduling that time is something that I still am working on. I’m not really sure how I should answer. What do I do to “get away” from the pressures of my life? While I think about it, feel free to let me know what how you “get away” in the comments.
It’s necessary to find time for yourself–another crucial aspect of #selfcare.
“This Little Light o Mine,” to me, is a spiritual song about the determination and value of self-expression.
The timing of my post on Mother’s Day coincides with my monthly post about self-care. I made this vow at the beginning of 2016 to dedicate one of my two blog posts per month and remind myself about how important self-care is. Today, I don’t have any one example in mind. Instead, as I’m wrapping up work on The Songbird’s Stand, I’m reminded of how many women in our lives have been silenced by the pressures and expectations of their lives.
Some may be mothers, or some may be caregivers of others. Their voices may be silenced by these life pressures. Tillie Olsen, in the aptly named book of essays, Silences, estimates that the literary work of only 1 in 12 women has been published and put forward in the world. Granted, Silences was written some time ago, but I believe that this statistic is still accurate and probably is even higher for women of color.
So if you have a woman in your life, and she doesn’t have to necessarily be a mother, one way to gift her is to make sure that she has the time and space to help her find her way to self-expression—whatever it is. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be creative. Women find themselves without this opportunity a lot of the time, and society as a whole, needs to hear more of these voices.
The need to find a voice is a theme of The Songbird’s Stand. I’m working hard on bringing it to you soon. Thank you for reading my blog and please, keep watching this space!
Ok. I’ve been quiet about it long enough. Now, here comes the question. Why aren’t you watching Underground? My sincere apologies to those of you who do not get WGNA to watch it—June and the DVDs will be here soon. However, for the rest of you, I hope that you use the comments to post your answer. Call it market research on my part as a historical fiction author who writes about African American characters. I’m also asking because I really want to know.
Underground is not a “slave movie”. I’m a little weary of people saying that they are tired of seeing “slave movies”. I do not count Django because Tarantino made it (don’t get me started on him). Twelve years a Slave is relatively recent but that was released years ago now. So unless you have the old Roots miniseries on a continuous loop (and I sympathize if you wish to forego watching the remake), I’m not sure what people mean when they say they are tired of watching “slave movies.” So if this is a standard response of yours, I would appreciate the time that you take to clarify. Thank you.
If these are other reasons people don’t watch a show that features the enslaved (since that is what we say now) population as full-fledged complex individuals with agency and who make choices, I need something more. I need specific reasons. I need evidence. This is a show we have needed for a long time and now it is here. It needs support. Now. Not when it’s over and it’s on DVD or Netflix. Now. Even if the producers choose not to make a Season 2, then we to show support for stories that show the complexity of the horrific and impossible situation of enslavement.
Sometimes I wonder if watching what people endured during this horrible time makes some realize all that someone in their past endured. Maybe that’s too much pressure, or too much to take in at once. Maybe you feel as if you aren’t doing your part in making your own history. Maybe you realize that the horrors that they show are only a fraction of what really happened. Well, getting the ratings of this show to rise is a way to help with visibility. It is a way of showing the powers that be in television, movies and yes, in publishing (where I do have a stake) that we want to see more shows like this. We need to see more movies where the enslaved make choices for themselves and their families, like Ms. Ernestine. We need to read more books with wide distribution that show emerging, brave heroines like Rosalee. If you feel guilty for not living up to their bravery, fine. However, let’s not miss this moment in time where, by giving a show an hour a week, that portrayals like this can increase and not diminish.
So, I’m just going to say it. The enslaved lived these lives of inhumane horror so that you can sit in your living room or bedroom each Wednesday at 10 p.m. and watch television. You can go get your bowl of popcorn or sit with your phone in your hand and live tweet to friends. You can post your outrage on Facebook. All in comfort. All because they took it all on. For you. For all of us.
April is always a very busy time at my college. It’s the time of year when the students begin to apply all they have learned during the previous months. Founder’s Day for the college happens in April. But another annual event takes place every April and that is the conference that celebrates Toni Cade Bambara.
I have seen how it is far too easy for the reading public to forget Black Women Writers. So, about 15 years ago, my college created this annual two-day conference surrounding the works and
legacy of Toni Cade Bambara who wrote amazing short stories, novels and essays. She was also a documentarian, an accomplishment I can only admire from afar.
So I take this post in April to celebrate this author originally born Miltona Mirkin Cade, who was also a professor at the same college where I teach. Her works are a rich writing legacy that we all should explore. I celebrate her because she was taken from us much too soon at the young age of 56. If you want to know more about the writer that inspired and awed other Black writers like Toni Morrison, you should read any of her works and celebrate her singular point of view.
This week I celebrate my blog’s third birthday. Everything was so new back then in 2013. I was a newly minted Golden Heart nominee who had to have a landing page for potential publishing offers. I still had my mother then, and I was determined to make my place in the industry, and had lots of hope that I would succeed.
Three years later, my mother is not here and the realities of the publishing world have recently presented themselves with the closing of Samhain, leaving the continuation of my “Migrations of the Heart” series in limbo.
So I begin my third year of the blog at a bit of a crossroads. It’s the crossroads that I believe, in this current climate, all historical authors find themselves. Should I write in a different time period? Write new characters of different ethnicities? Call my inspirational writing a failure and write sweet instead? Write contemporary? My conundrum is not unusual or singular, but what will be different is how I plan to resolve it.
I will have to make some decisions about my 2016 that I didn’t realize I would have to make. I may not make all of the appearances I thought I would, which is one reason why I don’t have that as a page as part of this blog. That’s ok. But the one thing I’ll stick with, and that is the mission of this blog: to keep telling the stories of history that people have not known before. In whatever work I do, I’m going showcase the humanity, spirit and resilience of African American people. Yes, that means as one New York Times bestseller author once told me, “Some audiences are smaller than others.” However, with the selection of The Preacher’s Promise as the reading book club selection at Spelman College, I have hopes that other Historically Black Colleges and Universities and institutions will be more receptive to what I do in the future. I have hope that my historical approach will not whither away, but will continue to spread and grow.
So, at this Easter holiday and blog birthday, I’m renewing my promise. My faith and hope in my task remain strong. The approaches may change and be different, but the end goal with always be the same. After all, a large purpose of story is to see the humanity in one another. My promise is to make that purpose hold firm, strong and true.
I’m having a fine time writing about March Simpson and how she got her man. Still, I’m reminded that I have not yet posted about what exactly inspired this story. I’ve mentioned my family’s singing group, The Gift of Song, and how they sang spirituals, (African American folk songs), during the 1970’s and 1980’s. They were far from the first to do so, however. In the wake of the Civil War, many of the enslaved wanted to hear no more of the spiritual music that they composed as they toiled in bondage. I made that reluctance part of the character of March’s father, Virgil.
Some understood that the songs reflected folk art. In Dark Midnight When I Rise, Ella Sheppard, one of the founding members of Fisk Jubilee Singers said, “The slave songs were never used by us then in public. They were associated with slavery and the dark past, and represented the things to be forgotten.” But a lot of people understood the songs were folk art and began to collect them.
One of the early collectors was George White, a teacher at a newly established school in Tennessee–Fisk. The school was having a difficult time raising funds to continue operation. A recently arrived teacher, George White, had heard some of the students singing and formed a group. They started traveling locally in Tennessee and raising funds for the school singing European-styled concert songs. As encores though, they would sing one or two of the spirituals. White noticed how those songs were received and proposed that they create an entire repertoire of the spirituals to sing the songs publicly on a regular basis. Some in the group didn’t want to. But what made the idea more palatable in the minds of many was the wedding of the spirituals with the European approach. By doing this, they created something different that took the spirituals to a new place.
It took some time for the group to grow into a worldwide phenomenon, but they did. The Fisk Jubilee Singers endured a lot of bigotry and suffered indignities during their travels. But they also touched a lot of hearts. Their music let everyone know of the humanity of the enslaved. By singing, they preserved the songs and they captured the genius of those unknown composers and lyricists of the music. They also built Jubilee Hall on the campus of Fisk University. You can click the link to see it.
I have linked the tracks of The Gift of Song singing “Ride the Chariot” and “Don’t be Weary Traveller” here.
When my character, March Smithson is called upon to make a sacrifice for Milford College, she resists. But when mysterious new teacher Julian Lewis asks her, how long will she be able to hold out? The Songbird’s Stand releases this spring.
The play, A Raisin in the Sun, is a piece of Black literature that is a strong part of my DNA. I grew up quoting from it. My family would reenact parts of it, we had seen the Sidney Poitier movie way too many times, and every time it came to town in one form or another (play, or the musical called—Raisin!) we would go see it. It never occurred to me as I grew up that the play reflected an author’s quest to tell a universally true story. That was something I learned about later, as a scholar, when I learned about the wonder that was Lorraine Hansberry.
Lorraine Hansberry lived only 34 years. She wears this look on her face a lot of the time as if she just doesn’t care what you think of her. Before she became the first Black woman playwright on Broadway and to win the National Critics Circle Award, she was an activist and pushed hard for Civil Rights for African Americans. She wrote for Paul Robeson’s progressive newspaper and for other liberal papers, outing herself as a lesbian in the 1950’s but again: She didn’t care what you thought. She even married a Jewish man but divorced him a few years later. Maybe he got on her nerves. She packed a whole lot of living into those 34 short years and left behind that great legacy of A Raisin in the Sun.
Hansberry came by her tenacity honestly. A Raisin in the Sun is based on her family’s story of what happened when they attempted to improve their lives in the 1930’s and tried to move to an all-white community. They stayed in the house and refused to move, even when their neighbors attacked them. Their situation became the basis of a Supreme Court case, Hansberry v. Lee. Hansberry had the nerve to take the ire of their neighbors and turn it into a Broadway success. The play that lives is an example of how universal a story can be. Her tenaciousness and just plain guts reminds me of what it takes to show that one struggle can stand in place for the struggle we all face in this tumult we call life.
In the midst of these calls for diversity in publishing, I needed Lorraine Hansberry to uplift me and remind me that each day is precious and to make each day count for something in this life. I hope she inspires you to do the same.