This Is Your Country on Drugs

A new series, This Is Your Country on Drugs, sponsored by Greensboro Bound, explores the intersection of medicine, business, law enforcement, and money in the American drug epidemic by bringing in the best non-fiction authors and experts.

The series begins on August 15 with author Beth Macy. Macy is the author of the national best sellers, Factory Man, and Truevine: Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.

Macy’s new book, DOPESICK: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America plunges into the opioid crisis in Appalachia, from the early days of Purdue Pharma’s relentless marketing of its new drug OxyContin to an upper middle-class Roanoke suburb where white teenagers begin dying of opioid overdose.

From a single doctor in the poorest region of Appalachia to an ambitious District Attorney committed to holding Big Pharma accountable, from overworked law enforcement and judges attempting to contain the crisis to grieving mothers, splintered families, and strung out children, Macy tells these stories with a clear eye for detail and a searching humanity.

Beth Macy will speak at Scuppernong Books on Wednesday, August 15 at 7pm. Tickets are $30, which includes a hardcover copy of DOPESICK.

On Sunday, September 9 at 3pm, we’ll host Public Radio International Asia correspondent Patrick Winn, who will talk about his book SHADOWLANDS: Inside the Meth Fiefdoms, Rebel Hideouts and Bomb Scarred Party Towns of Southeast Asia.

Patrick will talk about his encounters with traffickers, vigilantes, motorbike bandits and others in Asia. He says, “It’s sort of a true crime book but I argue that the true crime genre too often fixates on deranged minds — whereas, in my experience, most criminals are rational actors in extreme circumstances.” In addition, he’ll discuss how their lives have been warped by geopolitical forces, including past U.S. foreign policy misdeeds.

On Wednesday, October 17 at 7pm, Pam Kelley will be at Scuppernong Books to discuss her book, MONEY ROCK: A Family’s Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South. Pam is a former reporter for the Charlotte Observer who has won honors from the National Press Club and the Society for Features Journalism.

MONEY ROCK is the story of Belton Lamont Platt, eventually known as Money Rock, a shoot-out, a botched FBI sting and Money Rock’s fate at the hands of a judge nicknamed ‘Maximum Bob.’ It’s a deeply American story that will leave readers reflecting on the near impossibility of making lasting change—in our lives or as a society—until we reckon with the sins of our past.

Over the next weeks, we’ll be adding more events to the This Is Your Country on Drugs schedule.

Please join us for these fascinating, thought-provoking events. For more information, call 336-763-1919.

 

 

 

First Draft, Take Two

Greensboro Bound launched a curated Open Mic series, First Draft, in April. The concept behind First Draft is simple: invite a few writers from different stages of their literary careers to read works-in-progress, then open part of the program up to audience members who want to read their works-in-progress. First Draft seeks to build writing community across levels of experience and genres. All writers, all bodies, all folks, are welcome. Perfection is absolutely not required.

Our first evening involved a goblet from which names were drawn for open mic slots. An installation art piece by Michael Thomas hung from the ceiling.  Michael, who just graduated from A&T University, was a featured reader. Other curated readers that evening:  High Point University senior, Lauren Fitch; poet Kate Kehoe; writer Deonna Kelli Sayed; and spoken word poet, Ashley Lumpkin. 

The back of Scuppernong Books transformed into a bonafide literary salon. From the Goblet of Readers came high school students, bloggers, storytellers, poets, and so many more.

First Draft is happening again on Monday, July 9th, at 7 pm, Scuppernong Books. Curated readers for the second First Draft are:

Shannon Jones is a bookseller and mother of two who writes frantically in the spare minutes between parenting and working. Never having ascribed to the idea that art and science are alien worlds, she continued writing fiction while earning her BS in Biology from Appalachian State University. She can usually be found outdoors or behind the counter at Scuppernong Books, where she has been known to press piles of her staff picks upon unsuspecting customers.

 

Ray Whitaker has been writing both prose and poetry since he was seventeen. He has two books published, and two at publishers for consideration. Currently Ray is working on another book, his fifth.  He draws on many of his work experiences in healthcare for inspiration. Ray does readings around the state, and is a member or the North Carolina Poetry Society and The Winston-Salem Writer’s Group. He has thrice been a “Writer-in-Residence” at the Weymouth Center For The Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, NC.  Learn more about Ray here.

A North Carolina native, Krystal A. Smith (i.e. K.A. Smith) is a Black lesbian writer of poetry and speculative fiction. Her poems have appeared in Tulips Touching (2011) and recent short stories have appeared in Ladylit Publishing’s Summer Love: Stories of Lesbian Holiday Romance (2015) and Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Fiction (2016)Krystal holds an M.A. in English from Western Carolina University, and a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University. She is the author of Two Moons: A Collection of Short Fiction (2018). Twitter: @authorkasmith

 

 

Open Mic slots are available and will be drawn from the Goblet. Open mic readers get 5 minutes. If your name doesn’t fall from the Goblet this time. Don’t worry. First Draft will be a quarterly program.

 

 

Finally Me! is Greensboro Bound

Near the end of school last year in Guilford County, fourth grader Lily Leach submitted her script to the popular ‘Write Your Own Opera’ contest. The winning entry would be cast, set to music, and performed. The contest, which also carries the name of Barbara Ann Peters, the former executive director of Greensboro Opera, is a collaboration among groups and local professionals who want young people to know that opera can be funny and interesting.

Lily’s story began on the first day of sixth grade for a character named Danyelle, who is sleeping. When her mother comes to wake her, her older sister, Ella, already is dressed and anxious to get to school. As the story unfolds, Danyelle feels the pressure to dance like her sister, who is as graceful as the ballerina they’ve seen in “Swan Lake.” When she dances in a performing arts class, the teacher tells her it doesn’t look as if she is having fun. ‘Finally Me!’ is the story of learning to be yourself in the face of the expectations of others.

David Holley, the director of opera at UNCG, was excited when he discovered Lily’s script among the submissions and immediately began visualizing a production.

He called on composer Mark Engebretson, whom he had previously worked with at Opera at the Carolina productions. UNCG students were cast as the characters Lily had written

For the opera’s big musical score, Engebretson tapped into the popular pop and rock music his own children were listening to — which often included a catchy and repeating hook. The 15 minute opera premiered in February and students were brought in from across the county to see the opera performed at the historic Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro.

Those attending Greensboro Bound will get a chance to see this unique opera on Saturday, May 19 at 1:00 pm in the Van Dyke Performance Space at the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center. This performance is free and open to all.

 

 

David Holley, Lily Leach, Barbara Peters, Mark Engebretson

Regional Small Presses are Greensboro Bound

As part of our inaugural  festivities, Greensboro Bound will spotlight five vibrant regional small presses.

You’ll have a chance to meet both the publishers and authors contributing to

the energetic publishing environment of North and South Carolina.

Blair is a new, nonprofit press combining the lists of Carolina Wren Press and John F. Blair, Publisher. They strive to publish quality writing, focusing on authors and subjects historically neglected by mainstream publishers, including women, people of color, authors with disabilities, and LGBT authors. True to their roots in North Carolina, they look to the many voices of the South–and beyond–as sources of work and inspiration. Their most recent publication is the novel Beaut by Donald Morrill.

The Blair Publishing panel will take place on Saturday, May 19 at 4:30 pm in the Nussbaum Room of the Central Library. It will feature publisher Lynn York and authors Quinn Dalton, Jeremy B. Jones, Sara Ficke, Erick Myers, and John Francis Trump.

Bull City Press was born in 2006. They currently publish a small quarterly magazine, Inch, and poetry chapbooks through the Frost Place Chapbook Competition. In 2015, they launched a line of fiction and nonfiction chapbooks when we merged with Origami Zoo Press. One of their most recent titles is Michael Parker’s Everything, Then and Since.

The Bull City Press panel will take place on Saturday, May 19 at 11:15 am in the Nussbaum Room of the Central Library. It will feature Associate Editor Julia Ridley Smith and authors Ellen Bush, Michael McFee, and Emilia Philips.

 

Founded in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1995, Hub City Press has emerged as the South’s premier independent literary press. Focused on finding and spotlighting new and extraordinary voices from the American South, the press has published over eighty high-caliber literary works, including novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, and books emphasizing the region’s culture and history. One of their most recent books is Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith, who will be appearing at the festival.

The Hub City panel will take place on Saturday, May 19 at 2:00 pm in the Nussbaum Room of the Central Library. This panel will feature authors Leesa Cross-Smith, Scott Gould, and Thomas McConnell.

Press 53 is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and has been finding and sharing remarkable voices since October 2005. They have earned a reputation as a quality publishing house of short fiction and poetry collections. Press 53 celebrates its 200th title with the publication of NC Poet Laureate Shelby Dean Stephenson’s Our World.

The Press 53 panel will take place on Saturday, May 19 at 3:15 pm in the Nussbaum Room of the Central Library. It will feature publisher Kevin Watson and authors Maura Way, Ray Morrison, Gabrielle Brant Freeman, and Joe Mills.

Unicorn Press was founded in 1966 in Santa Barbara, CA, and in 1972 it moved to Greensboro, NC. By then, it was the sole responsibility of Al Brilliant, who had founded the press along with Jack Shoemaker. Believing that readers should spend at least as much time reading a poem as the poet did writing it, Unicorn has produced poetry in every form: post cards to books: poems as individuals. Today, the press focuses on handbound chapbooks and smaller cohesive sheaves of poetry. Their most recent publication is DAY KINK by Tristan Allen Jih & Adam Vines.

The Unicorn Press panel will take place on Saturday, May 19 at 10:00 am in the Nussbaum Room of the Central Library. It will feature publisher Andrew Saulters and poets Amy Wright, Mark Smith-Soto, and Charlotte Matthews.

 

Greensboro Bound After Hours

Not only is Greensboro Bound bringing you over 50 programs and over 80 authors in three days, we’ve scheduled exciting and stimulating after hours events on both Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 8:30 pm. Here’s a taste of what you can find at downtown venues after the last speaker of the day. All events are free. Because that’s how we roll.

 

Friday Night, 8:30 pm 

Scuppernong Books

 

Lorena Guillen/Alejandro Rutty

Lorena and Alejandro will be playing City of Webs, music composed by Rutty in collaboration with Michael Basinski based on his poem of the same title.

The set will include pre-recorded sounds, keyboards and voice.

 

The Difficulties

The Difficulties are our hometown favorite ‘anti-meta, neo-beat, electronic garage gospel trio’ comprised of Mark Engebretson, Brian Lampkin and Rachel York.

 

Triad Upstage Cabaret

An Engaging Evening of Words with Josephus III

As a performance artist, Josephus displays his talents in a variety of venues including museums, galleries, universities, corporate settings and stage productions. He has performed for Oprah, opened for Kanye West and Floetry, shared stages with The Last Poets, traveled to Australia, London, Seoul, and South Africa as well as back and forth across the United States.

 

 

Saturday Night, 8:30 pm

Scuppernong Books

 

The Cloud Diary Music Project

Prior to publication of his novel, Cloud Diary, Steve Mitchell put out a call for musicians to respond to short scenes from the book. Nineteen musicians responded with twenty five original pieces of music. Laurent Estoppey and many others will be on hand to perform, with occasional short readings by Mitchell between songs.

 

Triad UpStage Cabaret

From Page to Stage, Ashley Lumpkin and Friends

Ashley Lumpkin is a Georgia-raised, Carolina-based writer, editor, actor, and educator. She is the author of three chapbooks, {}, At First Sight, Second Glance, and Terrorism and Other Topics for Tea, and one full-length collection,#AshleyLumpkin. She’ll be joined by Angelo ‘Eyeambic’ Geter, Monifa (SelahthePoet) Lemons, Morgan Renae Myers, and Jay Ward, to deliver some of the best performance poetry in the country.

 

Greensboro Project Space

 

Chris Stamey is a singer, songwriter, and record producer, as well as a founding member of the dB’s and the author of A Spy in the House of Loud.

He’ll have a conversation with music writer Eddie Huffman, followed by a short performance.

 

9:30 pm

The music of John Prine and Bars and Blues music played by a number of musicians, in conjunction with Eddie Huffman’s biography of John Prine, John Prine: In Spite of Himself, and Emily Edwards’ book Bars, Blues, and Booze: Stories from the Drink House.

Greensboro Bound Panels Focus on Diversity

When the Greensboro Bound Author Selection Committee began meeting in August 2017, we had the conscious purpose of creating a festival which included diverse voices across gender, race, sexual orientation, and economic category.

What does it mean to write, and to read, from within a marginalized community in today’s America? How can writers meet the challenges presented by the publishing industry and world around them? What does it mean to be an artist and a member of these communities?

This series of panels will explore these questions, and more, from a variety of perspectives.

Undocupoets Panel

Saturday, 11:15 am Hyers Theater, Cultural Arts Center

“Early in 2015, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Javier Zamora, and I founded the Undocupoets Campaign. We noticed that many first book prizes in the United States required their applicants to be U.S. citizens. We started a petition, signed by various people in the literary community, asking that undocumented poets be allowed to apply for these contests. The Undocupoets Campaign did lead to more open submission policies, but it did not put an end to discrimination against undocumented poets in many capacities. There is still work to do.

In the summer of 2015, Southern Humanities Review asked Marcelo, Javier, and me to curate works by undocumented writers for an online feature. This feature celebrates the lives and the resistance of nine undocumented writers from an array of experiences and writing styles. Throughout this feature, there is a grappling with nationhood, assimilation, separation from home and family, love and tenderness and war, resistance and survival.

I have learned so much from the undocumented communities that surround me.”

-from Introduction by Christopher Soto, Southern Humanities Review

This panel includes Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and Janine Joseph.

Transgender/Gender Fluid Writers Panel

Sunday, 1:00 pm, UpStage Cabaret, Triad Stage

“As a trans writer, I discovered after the publication of my debut novel that I got two general kinds of reader response. The first (and preferred kind) went: Thank you so much for your beautiful book. When I read in the author notes that you are transgender, it put the story into a whole new light. My ______ (a term for friend or relative) recently came out to me as ______ (a label somewhere on the LGBT spectrum), and seeing that you are trans helped me understand my ______ a little bit more.

The second kind of response went: I read your book and enjoyed it, but I wish you hadn’t shared the fact that you are trans. That’s the sort of thing that you should keep to yourself. I bet more people would read your book if they didn’t know you were trans.

These letters seem to me to sum up an impossible dichotomy that the reading public, and the public in general, asks of transgender people: to be hyper-visible and invisible all at once.”

-Transgender writer Alex Myers, Writing While Trans, Huffington Post

This panel includes Cameron Awkward-Rich, Coen Cauthen, and Jordan Rice.

Contemporary Muslim Writing Beyond Politics

Saturday, 3:15 pm, Hyers Theater, Cultural Arts Center

“That, however, is not the reason why it is dangerous to begin with the subjective; that danger is seeded in the fact that in writing while Muslim, my commitment to the secular and the rational is already considered suspect. To open with the story of experiencing that “othering” gaze in a Paris Metro years ago can reinforce the idea that Muslims globally are an irrational group, people in need of modernization and secularization, that they cannot make arguments based on reason, and cannot consequently recognize the necessity of the absolute freedom of speech.”

-Rafia Zakaria, Writing While Muslim: The Freedom to Be Offended, Los Angeles Review of Books

This panel includes Omar Ali, Sham-e-Ali Nayeem, and Deonna Kelli Sayed.

Latinx/Misrecognition Panel

Sunday, 3:30 pm, Nussbaum Room, Guilford Central Library

“At first, I wrote to make sense of experiences, like why my father prayed to a candy dish and why I stole money as a teenager and why the brutal death of the transgender teen Gwen Araujo haunted me. Writing provided me with a starting point for unraveling feelings and facts and perceptions and cultural commentaries. And then, while writing, I realized I was also reaching for love y cariño, for a way to love the broken places of my life and my community’s. And by the time I finished the book, I knew I’d done it for my younger self, that 16-year-old girl in New Jersey who didn’t have a book like this.”

– Daisy Hernandez, Interview, The Rumpus

This panel includes Daisy Hernandez, Naima Coster, and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo.

LGBTQ Panel

Saturday, 4:30 pm, Hyers Theater, Cultural Arts Center

“…In Whatever Light Left to Us is a collection of poems about the two poets’ [Jacobs’ and Brown’s] marriage. To write that, Jacobs said, she had to understand how she came to be her adult self. So she excavated her adolescence.

There was another motivation, too: Jacobs came to terms with her sexuality early on, she says, but she still recalls the loneliness of growing up gay in conservative central Florida. Even today, she knows young people can have the same isolating experience. She’d like them to have the reading material she didn’t, and to know that everything is going to turn out OK. Beyond that, she knows elements of her adolescent experiences were universal.”
– Jessica Jacobs, Interviewed in Creative Loafing.

This panel includes Nickole Brown, Jessica Jacobs, and Daisy Hernandez.

View the full program here.

Additional Programs during Greensboro Bound

There is always something going on in Greensboro and the weekend of May 18-20 is no exception.

In addition to Greensboro Bound programming, here some additional activities we think might interest you.


FLYIN’ WEST by Pearl Cleage
Presented by Scrapmettle Entertainment Group and The Drama Center at City Arts
May 17 – 19 7:30 pm May 20 3:30 pm
Caldcleugh 1700 Orchard Street Greensboro, NC 27406

After the Civil War, many former slaves, anxious to leave the south and avoiding the dangers of Reconstruction, went west under the Homestead Act to build new lives. Many were black women who overcame tremendous odds to work their own land and make a place for themselves. Set in 1898, Flyin’ West is the story of African-American female pioneers who settled their own land, built their lives together and became their sisters keepers in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas.

Playwright and author Pearl Cleage will be joining Greensboro Bound for our Memoir/Biography panel at 2 pm on Saturday, May 19.

For more information, and to buy tickets, click here.

TYPE : WRITE
Opens May 19 at the Greensboro History Museum
130 Summit Ave.

Greensboro History Museum’s phenomenal, newly created installation space investigates the sounds and sensations of typewriting. Take part in hands-on activities on vintage typewriters. Plus, see typewriters owned by Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, John Lennon and others from the Soboroff Typewriter Collection on view through August 19.

For More information, click here.

PICTURE : BOOKS
a fine art photography exhibition featuring the work of Regina DeLuise, Mary Ellen Bartley, and Curt Richter
Greensboro Project Space 219 W. Lewis Street May 18 – 23
Opening Reception Saturday, May 19 5:30 pm

 

Regina DeLuise

Drawn to the ineffable and the curious nature of the real, Regina DeLuise explores the visual complexities of contemporary experience through interiors, still life, portraiture and landscape photography. She is moved by the power of the photographic image and its uncanny ability to embody the depth and richness of the human experience. Her images reveal a great love of the medium, the recognition of light, circumstance, and a need to roam toward the unknown.

Mary Ellen Bartley

“Mary Ellen Bartley has a legacy of considering books. Her new project, Reading Grey Gardens is her fifth project focusing on the book as object, following Reading Robert Wilson, Library Copies, Standing Open, Paperbacks, and Standing Open. Her new project was found close to home on the tip of Long Island, when she learned that the books of the Beale family’s Grey Gardens have survived over the years. Her documentation of their library not only reflects personal history but also the interesting connections between book titles and the owner’s unique lifestyle.” -Lenscratch

Read about the Reading Grey Gardens series here.

Curt Richter

Thousand Words: Portraits from the Key West Literary Seminar is Richter’s latest collection of writers’ portraits. Among the renowned novelists, poets, and essayists included are Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Geoff Dyer, Adam Gopnik, Karen Russell, George Saunders, and Gore Vidal, to name a few.

“Curt’s the only photographer I’ve ever met who could actually talk.” – Pat Conroy

Nikki Giovanni is Greensboro Bound

Greensboro Bound is very happy to welcome Nikki Giovanni to the final day of the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival on Sunday May 20. Ms. Giovanni will speak at the Harrison Auditorium on the campus of A&T University at 6 pm.

The Nikki Giovanni event is now sold out. 

Giovanni is the author of numerous children books and poetry collections, including Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (William Morrow, 2013), Bicycles: Love Poems (William Morrow, 2009); Acolytes (HarperCollins, 2007); The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2003); Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not-Quite Poems (William Morrow, 2002); Blues For All the Changes: New Poems (William Morrow, 1999); Love Poems (William Morrow, 1997); and Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (University Press of Mississippi, 1996). In her first two collections, Black Feeling, Black Talk (Harper Perennial, 1968) and Black Judgement (Broadside Press, 1969), Giovanni reflects on the African-American identity.

Her honors include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1970, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Dedication and Commitment to Service in 2009, three NAACP Image Awards for Literature in 1998, the Langston Hughes award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters in 1996, as well as more than twenty honorary degrees from national colleges and universities. She has been given keys to more than a dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans.

Several magazines have named Giovanni Woman of the Year, including Essence, Mademoiselle, Ebony, and Ladies Home Journal. She was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She has served as poetry judge for the National Book Awards and was a finalist for a Grammy Award in the category of Spoken Word.

She is currently University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, where she has taught since 1987.

Naima Coster talks with Greensboro Bound

Interview by Gale Greenlee

Naima Coster is no stranger to Greensboro Bound. Back in July, she was featured as one of six authors in our first official event, Women’s Work: Writers on Truth, Beauty, Creativity. Since then, she’s been juggling stops from New York to San Francisco to promote her debut novel, Halsey Street (Little A, 2018). Set primarily in the gentrifying world of Bed-Stuy, the novel introduces us to Penelope Grand, a millennial art-school dropout who returns home to care for her aging father, Ralph. His now-defunct record store was a cornerstone of the community before sushi bars and coffee shops dotted the local landscape. We also meet Mirella, Penelope’s estranged mother, who attempts to reconnect from her home in the Dominican Republic. The story, like Coster, moves. I caught up with her on one of her off days from Wake Forest University, where she teaches writing. The Brooklyn-born Durham transplant (and winner of the 2017 Cosmonauts Avenue nonfiction prize judged by the Bad Feminist herself, Roxane Gay) talked about her work, about being black and Latina, and about living on your own terms.

GG: Naima, there’s a lot going on here: music, art, booze, mother-daughter issues, father-daughter issues, race and class. It’s smoldering. How do you describe Halsey Street? What is the story about, at its core, for you?

NC: At its core, Halsey Street is about place and how it shapes us, familial obligation and the way it is carried by women. Above all, it’s about being stuck — in memory, fearfulness, loneliness, in between worlds — and figuring out how to get unstuck and live.

GG: I’m always curious where stories start. Where’d the idea for Halsey Street come from? What was the genesis?

NC: Halsey Street was from many seeds: an essay I wrote for the New York Times about gentrifying Fort Greene, called Remembering When Brooklyn Was Mine, a curiosity about a daughter character who resists her homecoming, and the streets of Bed-Stuy that I loved and where I briefly lived.

GG: Can you talk about the role of race and class in the novel? Obviously, we’re dealing with gentrification, and young, white professionals and families moving into Bed-Stuy. How important are the changing racial, ethnic, and class demographics to the story and to your characters?

NC: Race and class are integral to the novel because they make up the fabric of the [characters’] lives. These elements affect how the characters see themselves, as well as the channels and barriers to connection between them. For me, race and class dynamics are part of the social reality of life in Brooklyn and, certainly, in the United States, and they’re also part of the most intimate realities of my characters who live in this context.

GG: In terms of characters, I love your rendering of Mirella. I was really rooting for Mirella and found her to be a sympathetic character.

NC: I’m fascinated by Mirella as somebody who wants to make amends but is still standing by her decisions and the decisions she made for her own well-being. I also think she’s interesting because her daughter, in many ways, is reproducing a lot of the toxic ideas we have about motherhood in our culture. Mirella did make some mistakes that I would not endorse, but Penelope gives her a particularly hard time. I think although Penelope sees Mirella chiefly as a bad mother, the reader gets to know her as a mother but also as a young girl, a little bit, and as a woman who had dreams and aspirations in her own right. Although I started the book with Penelope, Mirella was the greatest mystery for me and the most fun to try and crack into. She’s sort of [hmm…]  “monstrous” is a strong word. But to have the work of rendering her in more complicated terms than Penelope describes her was a good challenge for me as a writer.

GG: I’m wondering about your taking us to the Dominican Republic. You include some Spanish, noticeably not italicized, which I appreciated. Did you have any concern that readers might not be able to “go there” with you because of the language?

NC: It seemed important to include Spanish in this book, given who my characters are. It would feel untrue to their minds – because we are often in their minds – not to include Spanish. I was very deliberate in which words I thought had to be rendered in Spanish. And not italicizing them was also a way of showing that these words are not foreign to my characters. They wouldn’t appear in italics in their minds, and so they shouldn’t on the page. It’s a common practice. But I think it violates principles of point of view. That felt important to me. . . . I choose to trust my readers to engage in a way that’s active and requires some work from them. There are lots of things we don’t get as readers, even if it’s entirely in a language we speak — whether it’s unfamiliar vocabulary, an allusion that we don’t get or a sentence that we trip over. I think it’s a myth about reading that we get everything . . . and that the writer can somehow make a text intelligible to everyone. So I didn’t worry about it. . . . Readers will respond in a range of ways, and that’s beyond my control.

GG: How did you and your editor Morgan Parker (author of There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce) come together? You don’t get to choose your editor, and most writers of color don’t often see another person of color in that position.

NC: Morgan courted me, which was really great. She had read some of my stuff online and knew that I had a book that I was going to try and sell soon.

GG: That’s exciting.

NC: It’s very exciting, and I felt grateful for that, that she was interested in the work and was very honest about saying that she would be a good advocate for me and that she would protect my book. I believed her, and it was true.  It was great because there was no messy politics and thinking about the market. I just didn’t have to deal with that . . .

GG: . . . with the business aspect? Because it is a business.

NC: Yeah. But it was about the book. There was no fussing over things that I thought had nothing to do with the richness or strength of the book as a narrative. We could focus on that instead of “Maybe Mirella should have a more exciting job . . . because her story won’t fulfill the voyeuristic desires that readers have” or “Who wants to read about cleaning houses?” There were none of those presumptions. We could just focus on what mattered, which was the characters and their relationships in Brooklyn. So I was very lucky to work with her, very lucky.

GG: Speaking of powerful women in the writing world . . . you’ve gotten some major press and some big names calling attention to your work: Jacqueline Woodson and Angie Cruz. And of course, we know about Roxane Gay and your winning the CA Nonfiction Prize. Are you basking in this? Or is this surreal? How does it feel to receive that kind of congratulatory love from women who are really doing it and are now ushering you into the fold?

NC: It’s a huge gift to me, and I experience it as acts of generosity from these women. I feel very grateful for that, and I want to learn from them in their generosity. . . . I really do think it was an act of kindness, and I have been moved by it . . . . But it’s also unreal.

GG: You’ve been traveling a lot since the book came out, and you’re going to be part of Greensboro Bound. I’m curious about one of the panels. All of the writers on that panel identify in some way as Latinx. I’m curious about that connection for you. How do you feel about Latinx identity and misrecognition?

NC: It [misrecognition] has been a feature of my life for a long time. It still never feels good, but it’s something I’m quite accustomed to. I think it has made me appreciate being understood–on the terms that I want to be–that much more. I’ve been really grateful that there have been a lot of folk in the black reader and black publishing community that have welcomed me and celebrated the novel with open arms. I think sometimes people think “Afro-Latina, what does that mean? Does that mean bi-racial, half of this and half of this?” My whole ancestry is in the Caribbean. My family’s from the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Curaçao. I often feel that people who misidentify me, or attempt to identify me before I identify, don’t know the story of the Caribbean.

GG: There are so many references to music in Halsey Street. Are there songs that make you think of Brooklyn or the Caribbean, or that remind you of home?

NC: I have to say Naima by John Coltrane because I’m named after it. . . . When I think about Brooklyn, I always think about Mos Def. So Mathematics is a song I love. . . . It has this line: “Blacker than midnight on Broadway and Myrtle.” There’s an intersection in the book where they’re at Broadway and Myrtle . . . a major intersection. And then there’s a Dominican bachata that I always associate with my grandmother. It’s called Regresa Amor [by Raulin Rodriguez]. My grandmother used to sing it at family parties.

GG: I know this is your first novel, but it’s not your first work of fiction. If you had to pinpoint what makes Halsey Street a “Naima Coster” work, what would you say?

NC: I’d say, sensory immersion and place. Sensitivity to the inner lives of characters and the emotions that are deeply felt and often go unsaid. . . .

GG: That’s why I said “smoldering” earlier.

NC: I like that. And attention to memory, the bringing together of past and present in the same book, the same chapter and sometimes the same paragraph.

GG: What are you reading now?

NC: I’m reading Never Let Me Go [by Kazuo Ishiguro]. I understand how he got the Nobel. It’s really beautiful. I’ve also been reading The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips, which reimagines Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff as a young black boy in London. It’s a mosaic that captures different characters in different time periods. It’s about migration, race, and England, and family dynamics — a lot of the things I love, and I deeply admire Caryl Phillips. He’s brilliant.

GG: One last thing, and it’s super silly. I heard you watch Jane the Virgin. Who’s your favorite character?

NC: I love the relationships between the women. That’s the reason I watch. But I love Xiomara . . . this woman whose own mother’s disappointments have been heaped on top of her, but she’s still committed to being free and living her own way.

GG: I’m seeing an interest here – between the show and your novel – in free women.

NC: And in living on your own terms. I think about my own story as a child who became a scholarship kid at a prep school. I was thinking so much about how to earn my belonging through behavior and excellence. And it took me a long time to see how racist that is.

GG: . . . the whole politics of respectability.

NC: (Nods) So I look at Ximora, with her short shorts and her singing career, and I admire her.

 

Gale Greenlee is a Greensboro native and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her work explores the connection between black and Latina girlhoods, geography and social justice in kids/YA lit. When she’s not writing, she binge watches Jane the Virgin.

 

 

Who’s Coming to Greensboro Bound?

We had a party a few weeks ago to talk about all of the authors (over 70!) arriving in Greensboro May17-20 for our Greensboro Bound Literary Festival and some of the folks there helped us with the announcement.

We’ll have our schedule on the website very soon.

In the meantime, you can listen to Brian Lampkin talk about the festival on the new Greensboro podcast, Gate City Chatter.