Our Resident Artists for #GreensboroBound19

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In its second year, Greensboro Bound has launched a Resident Artists program designed to bring together literature and visual arts. Greensboro Bound’s resident artists will circulate among festival participants on Saturday, May 18, creating work that reflects the spirit and energy of the festival. Festival participants will have the opportunity to witness the artists as they work and interact with them as they conduct their projects.

In coordination with local partners in the arts—Elsewhere and the Center for Visual Artists—Greensboro Bound has selected the artists in residence for the inaugural year of the program: Burlington-based artist Hannah Barnhardt, and Greensboro-based photographer RJ Hooker.

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Hannah Barnhardt is a visual artist working in illustrations, sketches, watercolor, and photographs. Her ongoing reportage project is based in the creation of live drawings. “I collect a lot of material for illustrative work from observing the world and drawing scenes like a reporter,” says Barnhart. For the festival, Barnhardt will produce large-format work that creates a real-time response to panel presentations.

RJ Hooker is a photographer whose work blends a documentary approach with close portraiture. Says Hooker, “I’m interested in amassing and displaying a record of direct, black and white portraits that speak to the diversity and humanity of Greensboro.” Hooker intends to work with as many different participants in the festival as possible, from attendees to volunteers to presenters. For his project at Greensboro Bound, Hooker will work in monochrome film and develop exposures through a traditional darkroom process.

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Festival participants will have the opportunity to witness Barnhardt and Hooker at work, converse with them about their projects, and become part of their art throughout the full day of programming on Saturday, May 18. The resident artists will be working throughout the festival footprint—look for them at Scuppernong Books, the Triad Stage Cabaret, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, the Cultural Center, the Greensboro History Museum, and the Greensboro Central Library.

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Catching Up with GB18 Authors

Here at Greensboro Bound, we take pleasure in bringing you, not only authors you’ve read and loved, but writers you will love WHEN you read. Sometimes, we showcase emerging or underrepresented authors because we want to encourage a sense of adventure and an ever-expanding literary landscape.

We like to celebrate the success of our Festival authors and cheer as their books make their way into the wider world reaching broader audiences, sometimes changing shape to become songs, movies, or television shows.

In the week before we announce our 2019 line-up, we thought we’d share a partial list of some of the successes of 2018 Greensboro Bound authors over the last year.

Nikki Giovanni has not slowed down, even at 76. Read this interview with her from earlier this year in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Eddie Huffman, author of John Prine: In Spite of Himself, is working on a new book about Doc Watson.

Emilia Philips’ new collection, Hemlock, was recently published by Diode Editions.

Jim Minick has an essay titled How to Make Cornbread, or Thoughts on Being an Appalachian from Pennsylvania Who Calls Virginia Home but Now Lives in Georgia in Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy from West Virginia University Press.

Wayne Johns released his debut collection of poetry, Antipsalms, from Unicorn Press.

Hal Crowther’s Freedom Fighters and Hell Raisers was published by Blair. You can read the Publishers Weekly interview with Hal here.

Jessica Jacobs‘ collection, Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going, was published by Four Way Books.

To Those Who Were Our First Gods, by Nickole Brown, was a Rattle Chapbook Series Selection.

Ashley Lumpkin published I Hate You All Equally: A Collection of Conversations and the Bull City Slam Team was a semifinalist at the National Poetry Slam.

Steve Mitchell has been book-busking in small towns with guitarist Ben Singer and recording Cloud Diary with live music. Cloud Diary was shortlisted for the Sir Walter Raleigh Award.

Beth Macy previewed Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America at last year’s festival before it was published. Her book has gone on to be a New York Times Bestseller, The New York Times Top 5 Books of the Year, on the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post Best Books of the Year lists, and it’s been optioned for film.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, one of our UNDOCUPoets, published a new collection, Dulce, with Northwestern University Press and has recently completed his memoir, Children of the Land

Stacy McAnulty’s SUN! One in a Billion was named a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Dan Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing became a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller.

Carmen Maria Machado’s work was featured in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, Best American Essay 2018, and Best American Short Story 2018. Her debut memoir, In the Dream House, will be published by Graywolf in October. Her short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties was optioned for television by FX.

 

Prelude To A Festival

“At the still point, there the dance is.” —T. S. Eliot

I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Deonna Kelli Sayed, the Festival Coordinator for Greensboro Bound. You may have seen me around downtown, or at the 2018 TEDx Greensboro, or behind the registration desk at a North Carolina Writers’ Network event.

I’m thrilled to meet you, and I’m glad you’re #GreensboroBound.

The T.S. Eliot quote above is considered to be one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. At least, that’s what the Internet says. The Internet is known to be wrong, on occasion.

The sentiment expressed in the sentence, however, beautifully captures the muffled fury of A Prelude to a Festival: the four months prior to Greensboro Bound where our organizing machines quietly churn to deliver what will become four days of free programming during May 16-19, 2019.

Things may look still to you, but I assure you, things are anything but.

To plan a literary festival is a frenzy, at times. A joy! A clumsy dance! After all, we’re writers. We don’t know much about dancing.

To make a festival happen, it requires a troupe of donors, volunteers, community partners (like UNCG University Libraries), the City of Greensboro, lovers of cheese straws (more on that in a minute), an independent bookstore (Scuppernong Books), authors and readers who are enthusiastic to attend.

To make a festival happen takes blind faith, dumb luck, and nine months of honest work.

In the Beginning…

The very first Greensboro Bound meeting occurred in late 2017 over cheese straws and wine. A group of dedicated folks gathered and issued two very important edicts:

• Greensboro was getting a literary festival, dammit!
• Cheese Straws would henceforth be the official food of said festival.

(Perhaps the reader is unfamiliar with the Southern Cheese Straw. Again, the Internet offers its wisdom.)

A nonprofit, Greensboro Literary Organization (GLO) was formed. In less than nine months, we raised more than $120,000 and gathered together 80 authors, 5000 readers, and a few llamas for the May festival. Just so you know, a llama pooped in the library, much to the delight of the children. Every author received homemade Cheese Straws.

At Greensboro Bound, we take our edicts very seriously.

In the Fall of 2018, we curated a series, Immigration Stories, partially funded by support from the NC Humanities Council.  Another Greensboro Bound series, This Is Your Country On Drugs, featured Beth Macy, who also spoke during the 2018 festival. Greensboro Bound’s Authors Engaging Students program put authors in front of almost 6000 public school students in Guilford County, and we donated 500 books to classrooms and elementary school libraries. 

Listen, we weren’t kidding when we first huddled over cheese straws and declared that we wanted to organize literary stuff.

And now…

#GreensboroBound19 is happening. The official author reveal will drop during the first week in March. What I can share now: Zadie Smith is scheduled to deliver the Saturday night Keynote Address. Her presence at the festival is in partnership with the University of North Carolina Greensboro Libraries. Fred Chappell will perform with puppets, and young readers will enjoy interactive programming with Children and Young Adult authors.

As we enter our sophomore festival year, it’s time to introduce the motley assortment of writers and community-based individuals behind Greensboro Bound.

Author Hospitality and Green Room
• Ashley Sharkey | Greensboro Literary Organization Board
•Dabney Sanders | Greensboro Literary Organization Board | Project Manager at Downtown Greenway (Dabney is the maker of cheese straws, by the way.)

Author Engagement and Adult Programming Committee
• Dr. Gale Greenlee | Scholar on Black and Latinx girlhood and social change in Kids/YA literature
• Steve Mitchell | Author | Bookseller & Co-owner of Scuppernong Books
• Julia Ridley Smith | Author | University of North Carolina – Greensboro

Children and YA Programming Committee
• Cathy Bentsen | Retired Media Specialist with the Guilford County Public Schools
• Steve Colyer | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member
• Dr. Gale Greenlee | Scholar on Black and Latinx girlhood and social change in Kids/YA literature
• Shannon Purdy Jones | Mom to Penny and Dominique | Bookseller at Scuppernong Books

Fundraising and Donation Relations
• Ashley Sharkey | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member
• Cheryl Kersky | Experienced Fundraiser
• Dabney Sanders | Greensboro Literary Organization Board | Project Manager at Downtown Greenway
• Ellen Fisher | Children’s Author | Greensboro Bound’s Author Engaging Students Program
• Steve Colyer | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member

Location Committee
• Glenn Perkins | Curator of Community History | Greensboro History Museum
• Andrew Saulters | Author | Owner & Publisher at Unicorn Press
• Marcia Woodward | Volunteer Extraordinaire for all sorts of Greensboro events

Vendor Liaison
• Wilson Lester | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member | Executive Director of the Greensboro Community Development Fund

Volunteer Coordinator
• Paula Pierce | Board of Directors of Downtown Greensboro Incorporated

Prelude to Magic

I recall a subtle moment during last year’s festival. It was Saturday night when it felt too late to be called evening, but it wasn’t quite ready to become morning. The air, humid. A drizzle had colored the streets with a metallic sheen. A festival author stood on a Greensboro sidewalk and open her arms wide before she bellowed:

“I declare this city to be something grand!”

She put her arms down, hugged me, then said, “I love Greensboro!”
.
Her enthusiasm captured what many at Greensboro Bound felt during the festival weekend: the air seemed somehow changed, like the presence of writers had altered the cosmic alignment of downtown.

The volunteers listed above, as well as many others not yet named, will again turn downtown into something otherworldly during that third weekend in May. We hope to organize four days full of literary wonderment and awe. We hope that you, the reader, will be part of the magic.

Here’s to all the cheese straws we could possible eat between now and then.

See you soon.

Here’s some authors and audience members from last year: Carmen Maria Machado, Dan Pink, Nikki Giovanni, Lee Smith, audience members and lunchtime opera.

 

May-Lee Chai discusses Useful Phrases for Immigrants

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May-Lee Chai

Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories

Thursday, November 1 at 7pm   Scuppernong Books

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With luminous prose and sharp-eyed observations, Chai reveals her characters’ hopes and fears, and our own: a grieving historian seeking solace from an old lover in Beijing, a young girl discovering her immigrant mother’s infidelity, workers constructing a shopping mall in central China who make a shocking discovery. Families struggle with long-held grudges, reinvent traditions, and make mysterious visits to shadowy strangers from their past—all rendered with economy and beauty.

With hearts that break and sometimes mend, with families who fight and sometimes forgive, the timely stories in Useful Phrases for Immigrants illuminate complicated lives with empathy and passion. Chai’s stories are essential reading for an increasingly globalized world.

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“Chai’s stories alternate between depicting Chinese immigrants in the United States and migrants in China, reminding the reader of the ties between those who left their homelands and those who stayed. Immersive and complex, Chai’s characters confront questions about class, family, sexuality, love, longing and more. The sign of a strong collection is one where the stories work together to inform the reader, and Chai’s eight tales do just that.”

-Crystal Hana Kim, Washington Post

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“Delving into fractured families, hoarded secrets, and the cultural and personal negotiations at the heart of the Asian American experience, May-lee Chai’s Useful Phrases for Immigrants is distinguished by writing as elegant and delicate as a snowflake.”

-Foreword Reviews

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“The eight stories in this collection contain multitudes. May-lee Chai interrogates heavy subjects with a light touch. She grants each character the gift of a gleaming voice, rendering them as shaped by circumstances, while also transcending them. Useful Phrases for Immigrants is more than merely ‘useful’; this is essential reading.”

—Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage, judge of the 2018 Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman.

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“The nightmare is always that there’s one story and then your family — or you — are compared to it,” says Chai. “I would hope that Asian American readers would appreciate the diversity of the different characters… and feel that there is space for their own story to be told as well.”

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May-lee Chai is the author of ten books, including the memoir Hapa Girl, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book; the novel Tiger Girl, which won an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; and her original translation from Chinese to English of the 1934 Autobiography of Ba Jin. Her award-winning short prose has been published widely, including in Glimmer TrainMissouri Review,SeventeenCrab Orchard ReviewThe RumpusZYZZYVADallas Morning NewsChristian Science Monitor, and San Francisco Chronicle. The recipient of an NEA fellowship in prose, Chai is an assistant professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.

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Immigration Stories, a joint project of Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, will explore the immigration and refugee experience in America through the lens of writing: fiction, non-fiction, and works for children. We’ll highlight the stories of the immigrant and refugee population as well as the issues, especially as they impact and affect the local community. Immigration Stories responds directly to these issues by providing the community with the opportunity to interact and engage in a series of public readings, panel discussions, and conversations with writers, scholars, and their neighbors. For more information, call 336-763-1919.

This project is made possible in part by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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The Pauls Bring the World to Children

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The Pauls Bring the World to Children

October 26 at 5:30 pm  Scuppernong Books

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Baptiste and Miranda Paul write children’s picture books, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. Their last book together was Adventures to School, which details how children from thirteen different nations travel to school each day, and their upcoming book (releasing in 2019), I am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, tells the story of Tantoh Nforba, who is bringing clean water and organic gardens to his central African nation. The Paul’s work concentrates on the diversity of human experience, the diversity of our planet, and how individual efforts can bring about big changes. Find out more about them here. And here.

We are happy to host them, as a part of our series, Immigration Stories.

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Baptiste Paul is a man of many talents—from woodworking to gardening to entertaining hordes of children for hours on end. Born and raised in the West Indies (St. Lucia), Baptiste is a native Creole/Patois speaker and enjoys roasting his own coffee and chocolate as well as eating anything he can cook on a grill. Baptiste holds degrees in environmental studies and political science from Bucknell University. His previous book is The Field, which, Kirkus Review called ‘an excellent picture book debut’.

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Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s author who has worked as a freelance writer, teacher, volunteer zookeeper, and more. She began writing in elementary school, thanks to her wonderful teachers. She also enjoys science, trivia, and board games. Most of Miranda’s heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things—including her own kidbots who invent all kinds of gadgets with their super-handy dad. Her previous books include One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, Water is Water, and Blobfish Throws a Party. Her most recent book is Mia Moves Out which gives readers “the pleasure of seeing adoptee characters confidently negotiating a sense of home and belonging”, says Kirkus Review.

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The Pauls will be visiting two Guilford County Schools, Archer Elementary and Lindley Elementary, on Thursday through Greensboro Bound’s Authors Engaging Students program, then will appear on Friday, October 26 at 5:30pm to talk about writing children’s books with Gale Greenlee.

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Immigration Stories, a joint project of Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, will explore the immigration and refugee experience in America through the lens of writing: fiction, non-fiction, and works for children. We’ll highlight the stories of the immigrant and refugee population as well as the issues, especially as they impact and affect the local community. Immigration Stories responds directly to these issues by providing the community with the opportunity to interact and engage in a series of public readings, panel discussions, and conversations with writers, scholars, and their neighbors. For more information, call 336-763-1919.

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Ali Noorani talks Immigration and Changing Communities

Immigration and Changing Communities

with Ali Noorani, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum

Monday, October 22 at 7pm Scuppernong Books

What really drives America’s ongoing immigration debate? To answer this question, Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, interviewed nearly sixty local and national leaders across the nation, finding voices in faith, law enforcement, and business communities to paint a nuanced picture of America that looks beyond the blaring headlines to understand how communities across the country are confronting immigration and the changing nature of the American identity. In There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, Noorani reaches across the political spectrum to offer a new approach to politics, one that confronts problems and pushes all parties outside of their comfort zone, in order to reach solutions.

Whether describing a pastor speaking to the need to welcome the stranger, law enforcement advocating for Muslim refugees, or a farmer’s wind-whipped face moistened by tears as he tells the story of his farm workers being deported, Noorani helps readers that America’s immigration debate isn’t about policy; it is about the culture and values that make America what it is. Especially now, when we feel our identity, culture, and values changing shape, the collective message from all the diverse voices in this inspiring book is one of hope for the future.

“An essential book to understand the fear, challenges, and opportunities on both sides of the immigration debate. This book, in many ways, explains why Trump won the election and why an honest debate on immigration is urgent. Your neighborhood depends on it.

-Jorge Ramos, Senior News Anchor, Noticiero Univision and America with Jorge Ramos

As its mission, the National Immigration Forum brings together moderate and conservative faith, law enforcement and business leaders to weigh in with media and policy makers in support of practical and commonsense immigration, citizenship and integration policies.

Ali Noorani is a frequent commentator and has appeared on The Diane Rehm Show, MSNBC, On Point, and Marketplace. He is an op-ed contributor to CNN.com, FoxNewsLatino

In Noorani’s Only In America podcast, faith leaders, law enforcement officials, business owners and others speak openly about the way culture, identity, and values are shaping and defining our country, and they offer a constructive way forward in the immigration debate.

 

Immigration Stories, a joint project of Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, will explore the immigration and refugee experience in America through the lens of writing: fiction, non-fiction, and works for children. We’ll highlight the stories of the immigrant and refugee population as well as the issues, especially as they impact and affect the local community. Immigration Stories responds directly to these issues by providing the community with the opportunity to interact and engage in a series of public readings, panel discussions, and conversations with writers, scholars, and their neighbors. For more information, call 336-763-1919.

This project is made possible in part by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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.

 

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.