Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Literary Luncheon The Book of Me, Prompt #13

A collage of books by authors who have inspired me.

If I had the chance to have a meal with those who have impressed or inspired me, who would be on the guest list?

I would make it a dinner with authors.

I love to read, and my taste is all over the place. I love fiction, non-fiction, biographies, and auto-biographies, political commentary and occasionally I read and enjoy poetry. So my literary luncheon is planned, but who would I include and where would I have it?

First of all, I would have it at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Now don't get me wrong, New York is an amazing place, and interesting to visit, but I could never live there. So why would I have my literary luncheon in New York? Well simply because of the Algonquin  literary history. So, in the spirit of the writer's round table I want to have my guests meet at the same place so that we may chat and learn from each other.  And of course I have to admit, I would be the one learning, for they are already accomplished.

The guests, in no particular order would consist of the following:

Isabella Wilkerson. This amazing woman and author of "The Warmth of Other Suns" has written a piece that so elegantly explains a self liberation process of people that hav made America what it is today. Had several million African Americans never left the south, so many amazing accomplishments in politics, education, medicine, music would never have occurred. Ms. Wilkerson studies this phenomenon, and has put in order some of the mysteries of who we are, by simply pointing out one of the most amazing migrations and acts of escape from oppression. Her words and her simple point make we want to discover, all of the migration stories of each branch of my family, and to tell them.

* * * * *

Margaret Walker. Author of Jubilee. This book is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It is this book that first exposed me to the harsh realities of slavery, yet she told this story in an amazing way that I saw my own family reflected. I saw an early ancestor of mine Minerva, brought with the Houstons and Millwees from South Carolina, to Alabama, to Arkansas. Through the story of the enslaved people in Jubilee, Margaret Walker opened my eyes, when I was quite young, to the power of words, and of telling a story.

* * * * *

Langston Hughes. He is a favorite writer and thinker. I guess his story is one of those that I feel a closeness to. He has an amazingly rich family history of abolitionists and learned men such as John Mercer Langston. And I feel inspired by his growth process and transformation as a man who responded to his own calling. He came to embrace his literary calling after a last sad meeting with his father, when crossing the river from Mexico to the U.S. He found his voice by looking at the river. And from that trip, came his work, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." From that point onward, he became all that he was to be. Brilliant, articulate and a man of thought. I appreciate the process that Hughes went through in his lifetime, and somehow, like Hughes, "my soul has grown deep like the rivers"

* * * * *

Zora Neale Hurston. This amazing woman was everything. Sociologist, novelist, anthropologist, and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, she was a woman of vision. Because of Zora, we have the voices from the south, when she went and recorded long forgotten rural folks. She knew that their folk songs, and their culture were important, and she let not only the writer grow, but also the anthropologist emerged when she captured voices of the forgotten poor. Zora never made much money and died in obscurity, yet, she mingled with the best, Langston Hughes, Dorothy West and so many more. And today she continues to inspire.

* * * * *

Paul Laurence Dunbar Son of a freedom fighter, this humble man in his own poetry told us in Sympathy that he personally knew "why the caged bird sings" And as a genealogist and after discovering that I had ancestors who were also civil war soldiers, I truly embraced the story of what happened, "When 'Dey 'Listed Colored Soldiers and My 'Lias Went to War."

* * * * *

James Weldon Johnson is the one poet who taught me how to pray, when he wrote the poem. "The Creation."  His opening words spoke about the everlasting endurance of God: "............and God stepped out on space. And He looked around and said,  "I'm lonely, I will make me a world."

The Creation from the book, God's Trombones

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Haki Madibhuti. This is the only luncheon guest that I will say, changed my life. When I first met his words, he was the poet Don L. Lee. He also wrote a simple book of essays From Plan to Planet  and it was that tiny book that cleared my head when I was a young 20-something year old woman. I was not long out of college trying to figure out who I was. He made it simple, in a handful of essays, and he reminded me that it was ok to be who I was, and not let others define me. He gave me the courage with simple essays to let go of toxic people, and to find my own path in life.

* * * * *
Maya Angelou This daughter of Arkansas, is one of the few writers whose essays I have devoured over the years. Interestingly, I have also met some of the very same people whom she knew during her years in Ghana. But it was her ability to describe events, people, and places, that have made me pay attention to her. And the fact that she has often described her own life in progress through her many autobiographies, that is what has intrigued me the most about her. From her autobiographies to her poems, I have been inspired. And sometimes I didn't really want to be inspired by her story, but she is a woman who has truly invented herself and invited readers to follow her journey along the way.

* * * * *

J. California Cooper. I only saw her once at a book signing event in 1990, but this lady with an amazing story telling skill is one who has warmed my heart. When I read her stories, I simply understand that we all need love in our hearts and in our lives. I hear the voices of women and men, and feel them, and through her words I can actually imagine myself "Swimming to the Top of the Rain."

* * * * *

Octavia Butler Now I have to admit, I have not read every book written by this author, but there is something different about her. She explored a genre not populated by many people of color--science fiction. But she took a passing interest in this genre, and turned it into art. She was the recipient of a Macarthur Award--the genius grant, and this amazing lady explored the past and even addressed the period of slavery within the science fiction genre, with Kindred. And she pointed out that even when the heroine returns to the present time, she was permanently changed.

* * * * *

Bebe Moore Campbell
I first read this woman's work some thirty years ago, when she wrote the story of her many summers with her father, in the work, "Sweet Summer, Growing Up With and Without My Dad". In this work, I saw a child raised in love though her parents were divorced. She had the love of her mother and aunts whom she sometimes referred to as "the bosoms" but I saw even more love pour forth when she described the trips home to spend time with her father, in the Tidewater area of Virginia. This "Daddy's girl" reflects the love between father and daughter, and the growth process as years passed by. I would later re-discover the writer again, through other works, especially "Singing in the Comeback Choir.

* * * * *
Beverly Jenkins
This woman is a part of my life today. Now I must admit that I did not discover Beverly Jenkins on my own. A genealogy buddy recommended her to me and insisted that I read Topaz. She let me know that Ms. Jenkins is a romance writer. Now---I never read romance novels, and was not interested. But, my friend Argyrie insisted, because, she pointed out, "She wrote about your people."

Yeah right!! My people? But she insisted again, because this was a novel that involved Indian Territory, and Light Horse, and one of my heroes, Bass Reeves. Hmm.......I decided to take a look.

Well, my life was forever changed! First of all, I found a writer who actually should not be called a Romance writer--but more accurately, she is an author of historical fiction. With Topaz, I read the story of a Black Seminole in the late 1800s escorting a wagon train of black women to an all black town on the western frontier, similar to the historic town of Nicodemus. With Night Song, there was the black teacher in the Freedman school, who met the Buffalo Soldier. And then there as Indigo. Hester living in Ohio as a free woman of color, has a home that is the stop on the Underground Railroad. There the readers met free people of color, and see them in their day to day lives. We also meet John Brown the Abolitionist, and one sees the Quakers and how they helped people to escape from bondage. And most importantly the reader learns how people lived in the years of the abolition movement.

Each one of her novels takes the reader accurately through a little known period in history, where people of color lived. She shows the reader exactly how they lived, what they did to live and how they went through their day to day lives. Her unique skill is that her main characters are modeled after actual figures from history.

This is the only one of the guests at my literary luncheon whom I have met, and can actually call a friend. I had the honor to explore some of the family history of Ms. Jenkins, and even had the chance to present some of it at an event in Michigan a few years ago. And one of my goals for 2014 is to re-read several of her works.

* * * * *
So as I close the guest book for this luncheon, I look back and smile and feel grateful that through a love of words, inspired by my mother, my life has become enriched by these many men and women of the pen.


Kristin said...

This sounds like a dinner I would like to attend.

Anonymous said...

Hello Angela,

This is an inspiring article.
It is making me think of which authors I would invite!

Peace & Blessings,
"Guided by the ancestors"