Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's that ripping sound?!

Saturday morning, I arrived at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association Trade Show in time to catch the last half of a breakfast event featuring Christy Jordan (author of Southern Plate), Robert Barclay (author of If Wishes Were Horses) and James Swanson (author of Bloody Crimes).

Robert was the last speaker and he shared his journey to finishing If Wishes Were Horses and the different experiences that gave him source material for the book. As he was talking, I heard an odd sound to my right. I didn’t turn at first – my focus was on Robert and his story.

Then I heard the sound again and again. I recognized it as the sound of paper being ripped. Really, in a room full of booksellers, authors and book lovers, the sound of paper being ripped.

A woman sitting in the back was ripping sections out of a book. I wondered if it was her book or a journal. And why in the world she’d decided that in the middle of someone else’s even she’d do the ripping – the loud ripping – and disturb the event. She did it over and over again.

When Robert was done, he took questions. The Ripping Lady stood up and said that she supposedly knew a girl who was interested in equine therapy and would have loved to give her the book, but that the author had taken the Lord’s name in vain and had bad language in it, so she couldn’t give it to her. And why did he (the author) ruin the book that way?

Yes – really – that was what Ms. Rip-em-out said.

Here’s what Robert said in response (he said more than this, this is what I captured by hand): “I’m not going to defend my writing. Writing is a matter of taste. … I’m sure there isn’t a book in the world including the Bible, that could not be improved.”

Of course Ms. Rip-em-out protested that – but Robert had closed out the event and she was drowned out by the vigorous applause after his cool handling of the ripping incident.

I realized later in the weekend that this week is Banned Books Week. So maybe Ms. Rip-em-out was doing a little performance art to remind us of the importance of books, freedom of expression and our freedom to choose what we want to read and share based on individual values.

Even if she really meant it, she still reminds us that there are people who want to control the content of our books.

If you are wondering about Banned Books Week, go check out the following links.

Banned Books week site: What you can do
American Library Association page
Top Ten List of Challenged Books - 2009 (I've only read 4)
Twitter and Banned Books Week (NYTimes blog post)
Ban my books, please (Carleen Brice's post, tongue in cheek, about increasing attention for books by banning them)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

SIBA 2010 Trade Show

The Southern Independent Booksellers Association holds a trade show every fall. And this year, I was able to spend a few hours there! It’s been a book nerd dream of mine to go for years.

Here’s a little more about SIBA from the web site: SIBA is a trade association which represents over 300 bookstores and thousands of booksellers in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and Mississippi.

I first looked up SIBA more than 12 years ago when I was trying to figure out how I could do something connected with my passion for books. One of the ideas I explored was becoming a bookseller (bookstore owner). I found SIBA while doing research about what it takes to operate a bookstore – and while I let go of the idea, I never forgot that every year in the south there’s a trade show for booksellers. With publishers giving out information and copies of the season’s upcoming titles.

Because I never became a bookseller, I never pursued going to SIBA. A few weeks ago I decided to see where this year’s trade show would be – and it was scheduled for Daytona Beach, just over an hour’s drive for me. This would be my year – and Wanda Jewell, director of SIBA, graciously reached out and let me know that I could have a press pass.

(Thanks, Wanda!)

So I went up for just a few hours on Saturday. Most of the education events were on Thursday and Friday, but I had commitments that I couldn’t move. (And I missed so many good panels and author talks – not happy about that).

But I made it there in time to hear 2 – the three breakfast speakers on Saturday and to spend a long while walking the exhibitors’ floor.

One of my concerns about going, especially after seeing the agenda, was that there might not be a lot for me to sink my e-teeth into because there were not a lot of African American authors that I recognized on the schedule.

However, on the exhibit floor some of the publishers had titles that will be great to talk about here. And I loved the academic press displays – the latest in history, memoir and cultural texts.

What I also underestimated was how much food culture is represented at the trade show. But of course the South is very food-centric. And I think about food probably more than I should – but at least now I’m thinking more and more about fresh, vegan food – lots of interesting titles, including Raw Foods (W.W. Norton).

And there were so many children’s titles – I love seeing what the new titles are for kids and thinking about how the young people in my world will receive them.

I’ll be writing about SIBA most of this week – too much to unpack tonight. But I am so glad that I went – I connected with book people, found titles that I can’t wait to read, and was able to fully engage in the book world. I always love doing that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

No Makeup Week (not a books post, per se)

Did you know that Sept. 23 -27, 2010 is (was) No Makeup Week?

I didn't until I saw it on Afrobella's blog. I then followed her link to see RabbitWrite's original post about it.

At first glance, I thought - oh well, at least I don't have to think about that. Because I wear makeup about 4x a year - and that's if I have a high frequency makeup year. Then I read RabbitWrite's post - and the part about women wanting their female colleagues to wear makeup reminded me of something I heard when I was 19 or 20. I worked that summer in a hospital and I remembered hearing two women snickering about a job candidate who had just interviewed. They were laughing because "she didn't even have on any makeup."

Oh how I remember that. And I wondered about that - was it really necessary, mandatory to wear makeup. I didn't wear makeup regularly - but I wore it more than I do now. Never to work, but for nights out with friends (and I was a nerdy girl, so there weren't many of those - but a few).

After that conversation I knew that not wearing makeup could be held against me, but I didn't know what I was doing. And I didn't really care yet.

It's 20 years later and I still don't wear makeup, but I really am beginning to care about it. It's more accurate to say that I'm beginning to worry about it.

Even though I have been a feminist since childhood and reading The Beauty Myth gave my dislike of and lack of confidence about makeup the support of feminist ideology, I am beginning to waver.

Age is a big part of that slow shift. Aspiration is another. I still wonder how differently I would be perceived if I were a savvy user of beauty products. And I remember the difference in reaction when I am wearing even the littlest bit of makeup - I now wear lipgloss several times a week!

Is it time for me to figure the makeup thing out and stop making every week a makeup free week? It feels like the grown up thing to do. And the most successful women around me are often makeup people.

So no makeup week is making me explore all the reasons I don't wear makeup and whether I'm ready to let them go or address them.

My reasons are these:

It feels terrible - hot, itchy.
I shine like patent leather.
I sometimes see women in makeup that makes them look older - yikes!
It feels like a big time drain - I love being able to get up and get out quickly.
I don't think it's healthy.
I think the societal expectation of wearing it is one of the light oppressions.
I have no idea what to do or where to begin.
I'm not a fan of fake things on my body - nails, hair, makeup. But I've considered fake hair lately as well.

And my reasons for thinking about wearing it are:

Age - I want to be as beautiful as possible, even now.
Image - I still want to be one of the cool, successful girls (now women) who are stars.
Skills - I think I should know what to do and not be standing in a discount store buying makeup the night of an event.

So that's where this makeup free woman ended up after thinking about No Makeup Week.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing and mothers

A woman can't really achieve her greatest artistic goals/potential if she has children. I've heard some version of this (or wondered about it) many times. Most recently during a writers workshop (in conversation outside the actual workshop).

Now that I'm a mother of two hearing something like that is a blow. It feels like a death sentence for my dreams. Could it really be true? Am I, as a mother, forever doomed to achieve less, be lesser?

Of course it's not true that we mothers are lesser or that our work is somehow inadequate. But it is very hard to argue the point with the perception that so few women writers (and of course I focus on writers) reach the highest levels after motherhood.

Unless you count Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Edwidge Danticat. (Note that I got in world-renowned, award winning writers and that was just thinking of Black writers).

Still, it is hard as a mother, to hear that raising children is the thing that keeps you from fully raising your art. I think there's so much more to it - like figuring out support and societal pressure and assumptions about what a mother must do (sacrifice is considered a must - what?).

I am wishing there were more residencies and workshops that are mom (and parent) friendly. (If those programs are out there - please do drop names in the comments.)

Tonight I read Lisa Belkin's post about her residency experience in Florida and it made me think of this subject. Maybe I will have some more coherent thoughts later - but just needed to raise it tonight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Art in our lives and hands

Earlier this month, Varnette P. Honeywood passed away. Even if you don't know her name, you likely would recognize her work and style. One of her pieces was featured prominently in the Huxtable home on The Cosby Show. And she created the cover art for all five of Tina McElroy Ansa's novels. (Go look at those covers again - completely unique on your shelf, right?) [Full disclosure - Tina is my friend and mentor].

Read Tina's tribute to Varnette P. Honeywood here - it is a beautiful piece.

Ms. Honeywood's work comes immediately to mind when I think about Tina McElroy Ansa's novels. I can't think about Ugly Ways or The Hand I Fan With without seeing those covers. That is powerful - an image that stays with you just as long as the story.

I do not think most book covers achieve this now. And maybe, with the increasing popularity of ebooks, this will continue - the cover becomes irrelevant.

I'm definitely a pro-technology person. But I will miss (already do) the use of artwork for book covers. Thoughtful, powerful pieces that make a cover a frame-worthy piece. I don't have enough art in my life. And I may never be a collector of original work, but I love beautiful design and art in "real" life - covers of books, posters, beautiful fabric.

The book cover still moves me. I have a hard time buying books that just have a photo cover (this may also be because some of those books are positioned as "urban" fiction). I still look for a piece of art, something a little less revealing than a photo. (I don't mean revealing as in showing too much skin - but revealing as in too easy to read - leaving nothing for the mind to explore).

I am sad to hear that Ms. Honeywood has passed. Her work is wonderful and I especially loved her depiction of children (Little Bill is her creation as well - that who beautiful community).

I know there are other artists doing beautiful, culturally specific work. I wish that publishers would find them and give novelists an opportunity to have visual art connected with their words. And I hope that our independent and self publishers will reach out and find an artist - think of the collaborations that we could cherish.

Here is some of the coverage about Ms. Honeywood.

Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
New York Times

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Uncovering history

I have been very intrigued by the stories about Isabel Wilkerson's new book, The Warmth of Other Suns, about the great migration of African Americans from the south to the north and west. She explores all the individual reasons they left in the middle of last century and focuses on three individuals to weave the tale. And she writes about the conditions they left, apparently without repeating what we've all heard about already.

She's gotten a lot of coverage - and I'm so happy to see it. I hope the book has a big impact -it sure sounds like it will be a popular read as well as an addition to college courses. Here are links to some of the stories. (I heard her on NPR - I certainly hope to hear her live during her tour).

Detroit Free Press (Recalling an African American that remade America

NPR - Fresh Air (Great Migration: The African American Exodus North)

New York Times (A Writer's Long Journey to Trace the Great Migration)

Boston Globe (A Moving Legacy)