At this rate, I may become a Southern gal.
Yesterday, I returned from the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia where I had a wonderful time. I sat on a panel along with Chris Castellani and local heroine Dori Sanders where we discussed ethnic literature. The question posed to us by moderator Carmen Harris: should authors strive toward a consensus narrative? That is, should we downplay our respective racial and ethnic heritages in an attempt to create something more "universal."
I have "universal" in quotes because I find that when popular artists are pressed to do something "universal," "mainstream," or "broad," what is sought is actually something not universal at all. The assumption is always that nothing in my experience is universal, mainstream or broad. That I as a an Afro-Latina from a working-class family in urban community am not the norm. On the contrary, I am the "Other," and for acceptance I should draw attention away from my "otherness" in an attempt to "crossover" for no one who is not just like me would be in my stories.
In other words, "universal" becomes a code for "white."
And this whiteness we should strive for is bland, devoid of ethnicity, class, religion or any of the other things that make humans complex and interesting. So a consensus narrative, in my opinion wouls ont only be white, it would be a narrow whiteness that excludes Catholics, Jews and Buddhists. There would be, for example, no Italians, Irish, Germans, Polish or Greeks. And you can forget about western cowboys, rural farmers or urban bus drivers.
Well. Chris (the son of Italian immigrants raised in Delaware) and Dori (an African American daughter of the South) and I agreed. At best, a consensus narrative would be terribly boring because of the richness in humanity that would be lost. At worst, it would be dangerous as people who could be deemed "other" by the those with power would be rendered invisible.
The South Carolina Book Festival was wonderfully organized and well attended. On Saturday night, they treated the authors to some home-style BBQ at a place called the Palmetto Pig. If you're pretentious, you might not have appreciated the checkered table cloth, bandanas for napkins and the serve-yourself buffet. . . and your stuffiness would've caused you to miss out on some damned good fried chicken and iced tea.
I had some great conversations (and even a few debates) with authors Millenia Black, Tyehimba Jess (who posed a great question to our panel that linked hip hop lit to the Black Arts Movement), and Darryl Lorenzo Wellington (who wrote an interesting review of the book written by Strom Thurmond's daughter for The Nation).
In fact, Essie Mae Washington-Williams was at the Palmetto Pig with us, sporting a cherry red suit and a grey hat. The whispers at our table -- from African American and White local authors alike -- is that they wish she would have held her infamous father accountable for his racism. I haven't read her book, but according to the local authors, it reads as someone who is still yearning for the unattainable acceptance of her absent father.
BTW, you all have Milennia to thank for the fact that comments are permitted again on this blog. Until she mentioned how much she wanted to respond to my RANDALL IS RIGHT post and could not, I had no idea that I had accidentally turned off the capability to post comments! And here I was thinking, "Gee, everyone's stopped reading my blog," because I used to get (and appreciate) your comments all the time. You can imagine my confusion when I posted commentaries about such controversial topic as The Apprentice and The Boondocks, and no ventured an opinion! I guess when some joker decided to post spam and I changed the features to prevent that, I unknowingly went too far and shut the whole darn thing off. I'm so sorry, you guys! And thank you to my "labelmate," Millenia!
It was also fun to connect with my other labelmate Electa Rome Parks (that's Electra without the R) and her charismatic and funny homegirl Sharon. Jennifer Lopez, Terry McMillan, Star Jones. . . what did we NOT talk about? (Sorry, I ain't telling you what we said. All I'll say is this: if you've wondered about it, chances are, we did, too!) And inspirational fiction author Reshonda Tate Billingsley and I commiserated over the mixed blessing having multiple book deals.
I came home on Sunday night from my brief but enjoyable trip to Columbia, SC to fantastic news. I have been invited by the Carolina Circuit Writers Consortium to be their 2007 Artist in Residence. Now not only will I be headed to the Triangle Area (for you hardcore Yankees, that's Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, North Carolina), I will be there for several weeks at a time, teaching young people of color the joys of writing. I'm so excited about the opportunity, I can't sit still. In fact, I'm headed there in April to meet with CC Writers so we can being planning this amazing program.
Hopefully, while I'm in the Triangle, I can set up an event to meet more of my Southern readers. Maybe my experiences will inspire the next Black Artemis novel. It'd be hot to set a hip hop story in the South if I can learn enough about the area to do it right. Any ideas?