Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hearing Tayari Jones

I want to use Thursday as an opportunity to highlight an author or a book blog. But I'm cheating a bit today by writing about a recent reading I attended.

The author reading was Tayari Jones, who is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I write about her - and link to her site,, a lot, so it feels like cheating to highlight her today.

But it is my little blog after all.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to check her appearances calendar in case she was coming to Florida. It seems rare that any of the authors I love come near my home, so it was really just a little hopeful check. Turns out she was going to be in a town about an hour away the very next week.

So of course I went.

She read at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. It's a small, private college. I've never been to the campus, but I think I've been through the town once before.

The event was full - students there get a "cultural credit" for certain events, which is cool. I sat in the back because I got lost and was a few minutes late. [College campuses can really be tricky if you're not a part of the student/faculty/staff there - signs, people!]

She read from The Untelling first. I haven't read it in years, but was really pulled in as she read a scene that involves sibling rivalry, a red velvet cake, a terrible accident and women who can stop traffic. I'm always surprised when, aurally, I lose the author and really hear her as the characters at a reading. That was the case with Tayari Jones - she was the character and I really wanted to go back and read The Untelling again.

Tayari next read a story she wrote for a contest that required the work to be three minutes long. It was wonderful and fun and really was a story. I am amazed by short stories that are that short.

Tayari was wonderful - the creative, sassy and intellectual spirit really shines in her.

And I was fortunate enough to introduce myself to her, chat a bit and have a picture taken with her. I've "friended" her on Facebook, but I'm really just a fan, not someone who actually knows her. She was very gracious and kind - and stylish. I was taking notes in case one day I am out there reading from my own work.

Now, here are a few things I found that were odd about the event.

When Tayari finished reading, the organizer stood up and said she'd sign books and that there was food in a side room. There was no attempt to see if there were questions.

It may have been because of the travel arrangements, which I understand. It just seems very unusual for a reading not to have any questions. Of course, I just wanted to hear more from Tayari - next time, I guess.

Also, in the days before the event, on the local NPR station, I heard an add that began with a mention of the university name. I was actually excited in those few seconds, because I thought they were actually advertising Tayari's visit. Cool!

Except they weren't. It was an ad for a Nobel prize winner in the sciences who would be speaking later in the month. I get that a Nobel laureate is a big, big deal. It was just interesting to me that they wouldn't not put the money toward advertising an author's visit. Especially since it seemed the crowd at Tayari's reading was only students and faculty - important and their number one audience, for sure. But it didn't seem like there was a big community contingent- I'm 90% certain of this, but since I didn't poll the group I can't say for sure.

So it was wonderful to meet her. I hope she'll come back to my area of Florida - or anywhere in Florida, soon.

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