Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Black Notebooks by Toi Derricotte

Since the election of Barack Obama there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not we live in a post-racial America. Does race still matter? I have spent a lot of my professional career thinking about questions of race and diversity. Race does divide us and even the election of an African American president cannot erase years of prejudice and hatred. Sometimes, being a well-meaning white woman, I don't know what to say or do. Ignore someone who is different, ask about difference and acknowledge it, pretend like there is no difference. There are no easy answers and this memoir by poet Toi Derricotte does not give me an easy way out.

I loved this book because it explains a point of view about race and race relations that I can never understand because I have not lived it. It acknowledges racism and the burdens of hundreds of years of collective mistreatment of African Americans through the eyes of a black woman who looks white. Her discussion of race and it's implication in her life are very very compelling. She considers the subtlest of racist comments and how they make her feel to the barring of herself and her professional husband from a country club because of their race or even the utter isolation she feels at an artists' colony when she realizes she is the only black face among a sea of well meaning artists. She does not want to be branded as "being too sensitive" but it is hard not to see and hear and take in all of the racial divides at every turn.

What I understand best about race and about being black is that you cannot escape it. One is black 100% of the time, and I have the white privilege of living in a society where my race is not considered all the time. I had heard that before in diversity seminars which I have attended, but never really understood it until I read and thought about Ms Derricotte's story.

In some ways her story seemed hopeless. As if we will never escape these feelings for each other. We will never be able to join hands and take part in the famous dream, but I also believe that in reading stories like this and in striving to understand each other we take tiny steps toward healing and ending racial divides. The writing and the insights in this book are beautifully rendered and emotionally compelling. Ms Derricotte is a fabulous and insightful storyteller. I think white folks need to read this book.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lying by Lauren Slater

"There is only one kind of memoir I can see to write and that's a slippery, playful, impish exasperating text, shaped, if it could be, like a question mark."
From Lying by Lauren Slater

I could puzzle over this fascinating tale for a long time. Lauren Slater has written a memoir about lying which isn't really true. It's a lie. So if it is a lie how can it be memoir? The truth is that Slater really writes as a metaphor. Her story, as compelling as it is, she claims as metaphor.

The tale she weaves is very sophisticated and full of subtle tricks and clever manipulations. The reader must constantly ask, is this true? Is this a lie? Does it matter?

At one point she observes that most fictions are made up of true events and most memoir has a lot of made up stuff. Who's to say what is true and what is not true?

The loose tale of this narrative which is also very interesting to me on a personal level is the author's coming of age beset by a very serious case of epilepsy. One of the side effects of this type of epilepsy is a propensity to lie. So is the story real or made up? At one time she lays all the possibilities out for the reader. All the different diseases she might have or might not and all the different ways this story might have been told.

This tale is endlessly fascinating...a puzzle within a story. Or a series of puzzles that make up a story...or don't. Everything is cast into doubt but everything seems true. The writing is so beautiful, the idea so brilliant, and the narrative so compelling that you can't stop thinking about it and flipping around her sentences and her words.

The story appealed to me because it is not boring and the words are carefully chosen and beautifully strung together. Some (like Oprah!) might get put off by the lying. Ultimately it raises important questions about the nature of truth and the difference between truth and fact.

Slater has a couple of other well known books about mental health and illness. I look forward to reading all of them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Its NANOWRIMO time again!

Dear Readers,

Apologies for not posting in awhile. I am embarrassed at my lack of posting. Most of my reading over the past month has been in the form of short essays and articles that I am reading for a class I am taking. I have also been doing a boatload of writing for this class, and some personal projects I have taken on. There will be lots more about some of those projects in future posts.

For now, any would be writers out there should remember the best kick-in-the-pants you will ever get for getting your novel off the ground is NANOWRIMO. National Novel
Writing Month is November and every day that month if you write 1600 words (or thereabout) you will end the 30 day month with a nice little 50,000 word novel.

Chris Baty, the founder and mastermind behind nanowrimo, has written a book on how to write your novel in just 30 days which I highly recommend. Because if writing a novel is on your bucket list, this might be the way to getter' done. It is fun. It is crazy, and the nanowrimo website has great chat rooms and writer support. I have participated 5 times. I won (finished 50,000 words) four of those five times. This year....I am not so sure. With my plate full of writing commitments that may earn me some actual money, I am not sure if I can nanowrimo. I'll keep you posted. But I may try that next best thing to nanowrimo and that is nablopomo.

Keep writing and stay tuned!