Happy 3rd Birthday blog and an Easter promise


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.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers–how Kickstarter worked in the 1870’s

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47df-b73a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.rI’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.



To Be Young, Gifted And Black – the saga of Lorraine Hansberry

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.

Zora Neale Hurston and the Spiritual Song


Zora Neale Hurston was not a fan of the Fisk Jubilee Singers style of singing.

Last week, I was reminded of the strong opinion  Zora Neale Hurston had in her perspective of how spirituals should be sung. For her, things started to go wrong with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. She talks about this in her essay “The Characteristics of Negro Expression”  and blames them for putting forward this folk material in the wrong way. She insists: “I am of the opinion that this trick style of delivery originated with the Fisk Singers: Tuskegee and Hampton followed suit and have helped in spreading this misconception of the Negro spirituals.” She calls their style, “the Glee Club Style.”

As a Zora Neale Hurston scholar, and the daughter of a spirituals scholar, I was always torn by the insistence of her way and from what I knew in what I had grown up with.  I’ve decided, and I hope Hurston might agree if she knew the current cultural climate, that we’ve got to hold on to these cultural treasures in any way we can. As you read this blog post, these works of literary art and faith are fading from our culture.  From my perspective, holding on to something is better than nothing.


To me, the difference in how these songs are interpreted made for a natural conflict in my upcoming work, The Songbird’s Stand. My heroine March Smithson has her own views about the songs of her childhood, but the mysterious new teacher who comes to Milford College, Julian Lewis, has his own ways. Who will win?  Is there such a thing as a victory in a battle of wills over intellectual property?  I hope to bring you the answer at the end of March.


Meanwhile, here is a selection from my family singing group, The Gift of Song, as directed by my father.  This song, “Don’t be Weary Traveller” is another one of those clever code songs, if you listen to the words. Aren’t the singers just welcoming some tired dude to Jesus? Listen closely. Just amazing.




Zora takes care of Zora

It’s great when people say they “just love Zora Neale Hurston.” Wonderful, because she most certainly loved herself. As she was. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. She was unafraid to fully accept who she was in American society. She made no apologies and no excuses. Her ideas are still too radical for a lot of people, but most especially women, to accept. Despite all of our advances, today’s women still make excuses for themselves, and if asked, will express the desire to “change something” rather than loving themselves for who they are.

Zora was way, way, ahead of her time in that she didn’t have list. This is why, if someone says they love her, they need to be ready to embrace all of Zora. A lot of her philosophy was expressed through themes in her novels, but more directly in her essays and in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. In her landmark essay “How it Feels to be Colored Me,” her take on racism is truly memorable, “I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me.” People are still blown away by this take on racism. Her view shakes readers by their shirts: You are the stupid one if you let race separate us. Amazing.

She talks about pride in who she is at the beginning of the essay: “I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.” She clearly means to confront those who embrace a potentially distant heritage rather than embracing the one right in front of them.

Zora showcases her pride in herself the moment she steps out of the door: “At certain times, I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue,…for instance.” A number of readers want to take that as conceit or arrogance. So a woman just be proud of who she is without those labels? Very radical.

However, if you profess to love Zora, you have to love all of her. When most people speak of their love, they mean her most famous novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Usually, they aren’t talking about her conservative viewpoints, her Republican politics or her stance against Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, et. al. Her stance against that landmark decision wasn’t entirely radial at the time. A number of very famous Negro League baseball players were against Jackie Robinson joining the major leagues for the same reasons. But no one wants to talk about those stances now. Too hot. Too controversial.

Another controversial part of the famous essay says: “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you.” Her attitude here has been assessed as flip, or disrespectful. Her dismissal of slavery as directly involving her is echoed in the views of young people today.

She held many complex viewpoints about many things: her attitude towards marriage, her decisions not to have children but a career instead, her shifting, elusive sexuality as well as her attitudes about race are enough to make her an equal opportunity offender. She wouldn’t have cared. Zora didn’t seek to satisfy you, but sought to satisfy herself. Her lesson in self-care, to me, was to take care of herself first.  Admittedly, she did this to the exclusion of other people in her life, including her family who professed not to know that she needed closer medical attention at the close of her life. She just didn’t tell them. She probably thought it was her business and not theirs. And then there was the matter of the way she didn’t have much to pay for her funeral or even for a headstone. But if you know Zora, then you know her attitude about that was probably, so what? I’m dead. What do I care?

She may have even known that literary warriors like Alice Walker would care enough to come along and validate her enough to put that late date that she wanted on her headstone. This week it was Zora Neale Hurston’s one hundred and fifteenth birthday. Not that other, higher, number. Folks better recognize!

My word of the year and changes in the blog

20151114_0928142015 has been quite a learning year for me. 2015 always be the first time I realized that I’m not young anymore, the first time I had to go see the doctor again after a physical, the first time that I’m faced with the fact that I don’t wear a red cape and that I’m not immortal.  So my word of the year reflects my understanding that I have to do better for myself by making sure that instead of rushing through things, or overly worrying about the future, I need to take time and experience Joy while I am in the moment.

It’s going to be a tough one. I’m pretty hard headed. I have a lot of pressures in my life. But clearly I have to find a way to deal with these pressures so that I can experience joy on a much more regular basis. I must do better. For example, most folks know that when authors release a book, they mark the occasion in some way. Maybe they have dinner with their families or buy a special piece of jewelry to mark the occasion and make it special.

So, what did I do to mark my three releases this year in the “Migration of the Heart” series?


What did I do for myself after I won two awards this year?


Any celebration after the 4.5 star review from RT magazine?


That is a shameful record. I have got to do better.  Even if the people in my life don’t see or understand my accomplishments, I have to see them, acknowledge them and not downplay them as if they didn’t matter.  Because they do.

So, you may have heard, The Representative’s Revolt, the third book in my Milford series, released the other day.  And yes, so far I’m keeping up with my old record of doing nothing. I’m racking my brain to think of what I can do to commemorate the occasion. It’s hard because I’m such a nerd. I don’t wear jewelry, I don’t like fancy restaurants because I always feel as if I can make it better (and cheaper), and I’m allergic to flowers. But I will do something. Feel free to hold me accountable.

My blog will change a bit in 2016, so that I keep these lessons in front of me. (I told you I was hard headed).  The first blog of the month, which will still appear on the second Sunday, will be focused on someone who might have learned this lesson about self care the hard way.  The second blog of the month will still focus on the historical knowledge I’m researching for my novels. At other points in the month, I may still post about something worth reporting about myself, as I have been doing. But 2016 is a year where I become a student, and I’m determined to get the lesson.  And en(joy) the learning process.

Thank you so much for your support and a Happy New Year to you all!

Updates and stuff

My goodness, I was so busy being Immersed two weeks ago, I forgot to put up a blog post! Well, as I launched a new book in November and am preparing to put out another in December (The long-awaited The Representative’s Revolt) I guess that I am human.  But I’m stopping here to inform you all that, A Treasure of Gold did win the RT best cover poll for November.  Thank you for your votes!

Now, A Treasure of Gold may be selected to participate in the RT cover of the year poll. I don’t know how all of this works, but I will keep you posted if my book is selected to participate. The slate will be revealed sometime in the middle of December, so I may make up for the missing blog post anyway. The next blog post–the last for 2015–will be the reveal of my word for 2016. I chose it a while ago, because I was forced to. And that’s all I’ll say for now. 🙂

In the meantime, please know that I appreciate all of the support, votes, book purchases and even comments for all my endeavors.  It means so much.