PR’s Afropalooza Novel Pick: DESSA ROSE by Sherley Anne Williams

Yesterday, I wrote that I was so excited about Black History Month that I’d decided to celebrate this year by nicknaming BHM “Afropalooza.”  (I’m still feeling pretty happy about the nickname, by the way.)

In addition, I thought it would be really great to read a novel in February. Now, I like brand new novels. Those of you who read the blog regularly or who follow me on Twitter or have “liked” my Facebook Fan Page know that I’m not only a writer, but also, a serious reader as well.

But during Black History Month, I like to return to some of the past books that really made an impression on me. That’s why I chose Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams as the official 2012 PhillisRemastered Afropalooza Novel Pick.

You can find this wonderful novel on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle versions. For those people who prefer another bookstore, you can order from Powells.com by clicking here. Or you can order from BarnesandNoble.com by clicking here, where the book is available in print  and Nook form.

Or, if you prefer to visit a fabulous independent bookstore like The Wild Fig  (in Lexington), co-owned by the fabulous, brilliant novelist (and my good friend) Crystal Wilkinson, and her equally fabulous partner, the arist and poet Ronald Davis, even better! You have nearly two weeks to get your independent bookseller to order Dessa Rose for you.

We will have THREE Twitter Chats on Dessa Rose during the month of February, all at 4:00pm EASTERN STANDARD TIME: February 12, 19, and 26.  We will be using the hashtag, “#Afropalooza.” 

On February 12, we will discuss the Prologue and the first section. February 19, we will discuss the second section, and finally, on February 26, we will discuss the third section and the Epilogue.

If you miss one of the Twitter Chats, don’t despair! Because you can always read the timeline later on and catch-up.

Poster of Dessa Rose, the musical

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So let me tell you about this beautiful book, Dessa Rose, by Sherley Anne Williams.

I first read the novel nearly twenty years ago when I was in graduate school. I picked it up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the Book Rack, a great used bookstore that was around the corner from my apartment. I only paid two dollars for it, and there was no picture on the cover. I know you’re wondering how I can recall all that. I can’t. I still have the book. (It’s sitting right by me as I type this blog post.)

Set in the 1800s before the Civil War, this novel is based on true stories, and it depicts the unfolding friendship between two women, one Black and unfree and one free and White. Ruth Elizabeth (Rufel) lives on farm and has been abandoned by her husband. Dessa Rose is a runaway slave.  Their friendship is the miracle that defies the racial and social constructs of their time. (Yes, those are my own words.)

As a young, aspiring writer enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, the novel really made an impression on me, because I’ve always been interested in realistically depicted friendships and/or love between Black and White people, and I’ve always admired writers who could successfully get in the heads of all of their characters with a light hand–and an authentic, non-stereotyped understanding.

In Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams depicts her characters with so much grace, and I’ve returned to this novel so many times since. I recommend it to everyone, because Sherley Anne Williams did not get the attention she deserved, though she was a well-known poet.   And she was a respected literary critic as well.

AND there was an Off-Broadway musical based on the novel! It was featured at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

I just love Williams’s work so much, and she modeled to me on the page that I could write whatever the Spirit moved me to write, instead of being pigeon-holed into one literary genre.

So, I hope you will return with me or read the novel for the very first time. Either way, please join me on Twitter on February 12, 19, and 26 at 4pm EST to discuss Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams. And remember to use the hashtag, “#Afropalooza”! It’s going to be completely sassy all month long.

Afropalooza, Baby!–I just had to say it one more ‘gain.

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You Gotta Read This: Mythium

Front Cover of the First Ever Mythium Issue!

My first “You Gotta Read This” feature is on Mythium, a brand new literary journal focusing on writers of color, founded by Crystal Wilkinson and Ron Davis. When I say you gotta read this, I’m serious as some gumbo from the French Quarter.

Wait a minute: before you get turned off by the words “literary journal,” I want you to go back and read the blog posts I’ve put up over the past almost two weeks. In your short history with me, have I ever not kept it real with you? Enough said.

As a “poet and writer,” I read as part of my job; but as a certified “stone-cold regular sister” I want to read literature because I want to enjoy the writing, too. I don’t want to read literature because I’m supposed to—because it’s like oatmeal and good for me and will lower my bad cholesterol. I want my literature to make me feel good (and not just because my doctor says it will.) I believe there are a lot of people out there like me—of all complexions—who love good literature wherever they can find it, whether they are people who are writers or people who just love to read.

But you don’t just read great literature, you buy it, at the bookstore or online. Or at least, we writers really hope you do. Why? One word: bills-to-pay. (That was a compound word, but you get the message.) And you spend your money on literature, the way you do most things you think are worth it. Plus you know it’s worth it when when you read it, so when you open up Mythium, this fabulous new journal, you’re going to say, “Dang! Honorée was so right.”

Bet.

Full disclosure: I’m in this inaugural issue of Mythium, but so are twenty-seven other writers—way more fabulous than I am, for real, and this is no false modesty—including Michael Harper, Opal Palmer Adisa, and Reginald Harris. (If you haven’t heard of those writers, don’t be ashamed. But you do need to get to a library, like, immediately, post-haste.)

Now, back to the founders of Mythium, Ronald Davis and Crystal Wilkinson. Crystal is the author of two books of fiction, Blackberries, Blackberries (2000) and Water Street (2002), both published by Toby Press. Water Street was a long-list finalist for the prestigious Orange Prize and short-listed for a Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award in fiction. Blackberries, Blackberries was named “Best Debut Fiction” by Today’s Librarian magazine. Crystal is a faculty member in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA writing program and is currently serving as Visiting Professor and Writer-in-Residence for Morehead State University. She is a member of the Lexington, Kentucky-based writing collective, The Affrilachian Poets. Ronald (aka: upfromsumdirt) is a lauded visual artist, graphic designer, poet and full-time hermit influenced equally by lies, half-truths, mythology, politics and candy. He is currently photoshopping a host of prestigious credentials in preparation for a 2016 run for the presidency as the founding member of the political party, the right-handed gris-gris guild (anansi is its official mascot). Supposedly, he types pretty fast for a fat guy, the relevancy of which is being hotly debated. Also, he is au pair for secrets & shadows. And in the tradition of the athlete when confronted with the camera: Hi, mama; I love you!

Ronald and Crystal

Ronald and Crystal

Honorée: What made the two of you decide to start Mythium?

Mythium: Toni Morrison said once that if there is a book you want to read that isn’t out there yet, then write it. We found that after we had read journals [that focus on writers of color] like Callaloo, African American Review and a few others. And we spent a lot of time pilfering through mainstream literary journals in search of the writers of color.

H: Yes, it’s hard to find “us” in the literary journals. Sometimes you have to search very hard. On your website, it states that Mythium has a focus on “indigenous and diasporic” voices. Why did you both believe this focus was important?

M: “Indigenous” often equates to “non-white” or to plant and animal life in the academic realm; you never hear the phrase “indigenous Parisians.” So that is our collective call-for-fellowship to those cultures and “diasporic” for those of us honoring our ties to places of our various Origins.

H: The journal has a funky, quirky aesthetic—the artwork is just beautiful. How did you decide on the look for the journal, and who is the artist?

M: We are funky, quirky folk. No doubt about that but the visual aesthetic (with a bit of pinching and prodding from Crystal) is pure upfromsumdirt (Ron Davis). He’s our art director and the style is reflective of his personal aesthetic.

H: Well, I just love it! What sort of “feel” did you want for the literary selections you included in this inaugural issue?

M: Variety! Works that reset the baseline for literature from the gaps. We felt as though we had fallen into this vast pot of excellent literature that was guaranteed to be passed up from our mainstream counterparts. We have no doubt that this inaugural issue is full of not only prize-winners but work that holds up the banner for how diverse writers of color are.

H: There are a lot of literary journals out there. What do you think sets Mythium apart from those other journals?

M: We are not really trying to set ourselves apart. We are trying to bring it all together. Sort of glue (hopefully) that skillfully fills the vast gaps especially where the celebration of the cultural voice is concerned.

H: What are your goals for this journal?

M: It’s our child, we just want the best for it… for it to be happy and find a loving relationship with someone who respects it.

H: When does your submissions period start, and what sort of work are you looking for?

M: We accept submissions on a daily basis, but we do place limits to our reading periods. The reading period for Spring 2010 began October 1, 2009 and will last for 3 to 4 months. Writers should always check our website for submission updates.

H: Where can we find the journal?

M: Ideally, wherever you look! Amazon and Barnes and Noble carry us, and your favorite online retailer should have us or at least be able to order us, but readers can always subscribe directly for the best rate by going to the website. And make sure your local bookstore and library have Mythium. Ask somebody to order it!

H: Is there anything else important that you want us to know about Mythium?

M: That it goes good with plantains and coffee. Plus, we’re very grateful for the feedback, interest and support we’ve received from the Literary Community – authors, students and the voracious reader. Thank you.

Note: Because there are so many great people in the inaugural issue of Mythium, it was impossible for Crystal and Ronald to choose which selection from the journal to excerpt. Click here for a list of the writers appearing in the inaugural issue of Mythium.