Andy Warhol is quoted as saying, “everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.” Mine came and went with my quote in the New York Times calling Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, racist. I’ve since replied to those who sent me “dislike” mail (we aren’t allowed to say hate in our house!) that it was my “Joe Biden” moment. Probably not the best word to describe her novel, but it was a heat of the moment rant. However, I still detested the novel and felt a white author’s portrayal of African American “help” offensive and totally lacking credibility. But what I am thankful for is The Help put me on a journey to read more African American authors who are credible voices for African American experiences.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Sugar, by Bernice McFadden (the 1st in a year long journey to pump up my African American literary IQ). I adored Sugar and said, “…this book will envelop you and break your heart.” What I didn’t expect was for Ms. McFadden to visit Gerbera Daisy Diaries and quote me on her own blog!
Thus began an email chat that has developed into an author interview, book giveaway, and a dinner invitation next time she is in my state! Like manna from heaven!
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Sugar’s publication, Ms. McFadden agreed to a “chat” and offered TWO signed copies for a giveaway.
Melissa Mc: Sugar was your 1st book, how long had Pearl and Sugar been cohabitating in your imagination before they were put on paper? Were they based on real people and experiences?
Ms. McFadden: Sugar started as a poem back in the late 80’s. Eventually, I expanded the poem into a short story. I was writing short stories back then. I had no idea that I had an entire novel in me. When I felt I was ready to make the leap from short fiction, it was SUGAR that begged me to tell her story and so I did. I do think that many parts of the novel were fostered by stories I’d heard told around my grandparent’s dining room table.
Melissa Mc: As an Arkansan, one of the things that initially attracted me to the book was the locale. Why Arkansas? Unless you are Maya Angelou, Arkansas is not the most popular locations for literature!
Ms. McFadden: Honestly, I had no idea why I chose Arkansas! When I was writing SUGAR I had no idea that the town of Bigelow actually existed. I never checked I just pulled a name out of my mind and went with it. It wasn’t until I received a letter from a reader who actually grew up in Bigelow, Arkansas that I knew it was a real place.
Melissa Mc: This book involves a cast full of women, all of whom are violently opposed to Sugar taking up residence. In a broader sense, why do we as women have a tendency to feel threatened by someone so different? I have a 9 year old daughter, and I already see defensive, suspicious tendencies between her and her peers (luckily, not quite on the scale as Sugar, Shirley and the rest!).
Ms. McFadden: We, meaning men and women, are territorial, just like animals; it is a part of our DNA. But I do feel that women react a bit more aggressively then men when a so-called outsider invades their space and threatens to shake things up. Especially if the outsider is more attractive and interesting than they perceive themselves to be.
Melissa Mc: From what I have read, your road to becoming an author took you through corporate America, Fashion College and travel/tourism school ---were you a “writer in hiding” during those years?
Ms. McFadden: I’ve been writing every since I could read. And I started reading very early. At the age of nine I distinctly remember announcing to my mother that when I grew up I was going to be a famous writer. But that dream drifted away for a number of years because at that time there was no literature available written by many” living” African-American writers, and so naturally I thought that it would be improbable that I would be given the opportunity to publish. By the time I was in my early twenties, that had changed and there was a plethora of African-American authors to choose from. This reignited me and I began writing and submitting stories, but no one would publish them. I received 78 rejection letters for SUGAR over nearly a 10-year period before I finally secured an agent and consequently a book deal.
Melissa Mc: What is your writing routine? Do you write at a set time everyday or when the mood hits?
Ms. McFadden: For many years I only wrote at night, but now I write whenever the characters call on me, and that can be at any hour of the day or night. I do not write everyday, but I do have writing marathons where I work for three days straight or until I am completely exhausted. After that I may not write another word for weeks.
Melissa Mc: What authors inspire you and what books do you recommend for those unfamiliar with African American literature? (Especially those of us who are trying to find an alternative to The Help.)
Ms. McFadden: I am a fan of a many writers, but I would have to say that I have been greatly influenced by Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, J. California Cooper and Gloria Naylor. I would direct those readers looking for well thought out, compelling and moving stories that range in scope from literary to contemporary novels written by writers of colors to seek out authors such as Donna Hill, Dolen Perkins -Valdez, Carleen Brice , Bonnie Glover, The writing duo Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, Elizabeth Nunez, Connie Briscoe and Tina McElroy Ansa.
Melissa Mc: Can you tell us about Glorious your latest novel?
Ms. McFadden: This arguably the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance and Glorious is my tribute to that magical era in American History. It is a historical fiction and so readers of GLORIOUS will meet some of the major figures that helped shape that period.
Glorious is set against the backdrops of the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights era. Blending the truth of American history with the fruits of Bernice L. McFadden’s rich imagination, this is the story of Easter Venetta Bartlett, a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer whose tumultuous path to success, ruin, and revival offers a candid portrait of the American experience in all its beauty and cruelty.
Glorious is ultimately an audacious exploration into the nature of self-hatred, love, possession, ego, betrayal, and, finally, redemption. Glorious will be published on May 1st, but is available for pre-order .
Thank you Ms. McFadden! This has been a delight!
As I said, Ms. McFadden is offering TWO signed copies of Sugar to TWO lucky readers! To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment with a valid e-mail address AND become a follower. To double your chances, you can blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post. This giveaway will be open until Saturday, February 20th at 11:59 p.m. CST; and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck!