I Won the Tupelo Quarterly Prose Open Prize!

It’s simply miraculous that anyone would sit and even read a story I’ve written, much less think it’s worthy of a prize. That’s what happened this month, and I’m so grateful and humbled. Thanks to judge Samuel Kọ́láwọlé who had these nice words to say about my story “America the Beautiful”:

“America the Beautiful” is more than a story of the unraveling of a relationship. In crisp, restrained writing, the writer captures the dreams, desires, and disappointments of a character searching for a better life. In recounting the character’s journey from Ghana to the United States, the writer offers us well-wrought scenes and a seamless movement through time. The protagonist is believable and well-realized. This powerful narrative grapples with the notion of home and what it means to be African in the United States. 

Eeeeeeeee! Now on to my other ongoing writing projects. More soon . . .

“The Burning”

I have a story in the Spring 2021 issue of The Missouri Review titled “The Burning,” and I’m loving every minute of it. You know, it’s hard getting published in curated literary journals. So many stars have to align— an editor has to make a case for why your story should be included. Many thanks to Associate Editor Evelyn Somers who took a chance on my little story about the ways intimacy can mediate the devastating effects of loss. And for seeing value in Black characters.

I also want to acknowledge Marc McKee, Managing Editor over at TMR who gave me an opportunity to read/record my story and who also had these words: “Your story, to me, is revelatory. The modulation of all the story’s elements seems to give everything not just its due, but everything’s real due. I don’t know that I know how to say anything better than that, except that in a story where everything’s real due means reckoning the massive gravities of trauma and watching two people make their way through, and making each other’s ways better, it’s one of the most hopeful stories I’ve ever read/heard. So, I just wanted to say thank you for that.”

Eeeeeeeeee!

You’re welcome, Marc. Sooo welcome!

Normal People

(The following has a few spoilers:)

This show gutted me. The final scene, episode 10, Connell and Marianne sit on the floor in her house in fictitious Carriklea. Connell has an opportunity to go to grad school for creative writing in New York City. Wait, tears are forming in my eyes right now just thinking of it. “I’ll go.” Connell says. Marianne says, “And I’ll stay. And we’ll be okay.”

But I won’t! Sniffles.

I can’t with them. I was in the height of my COVID anxiety when I binged this. I was bad. I cried because I was stuck at home with All. The. People. In. My. House. I freakin’ cried a lot. I cried because I am Marianne. I cried because I am Connell.  And, again, I’m  a Black girl who’s never stepped foot on Ireland soil. Didn’t matter. For two whole days I walked around with an Irish accent. Cheered when Paul Mescal got the Emmy nomination. This is the most unchaste television I’ve watched in a while and I was here for all of it! Teenagers going at it. It reminded me of all the sex I never got when I was in high school.

Now here’s your assignment: Watch it because it’s good and then read Sally Rooney’s titular book, on which the show is based, because it’s equally good. And then read Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. I’m not sure how I feel about the latter. I think I like it a lot, but I’m still mulling it over.

In Loving Memory: Candice Y. Hamilton

My friend Candice Hamilton died of Multiple Sclerosis last May, but I just found out two days ago. I knew that her health had taken a major downward turn in the last year or so. She’d had to move back in with her parents after all these years of independence. I checked in on her periodically via text messages. “Hi, babe. Thinking of you.” “Hey, how’s the weather been for you? I know you get on better with the cooler temperatures.” This last stretch; however, had been much too long. It had been nearly nine months since I heard from Candice when she texted me to see how I was doing with the Covid crisis and lockdown. I texted her that I was learning to play the piano. She thought that was exciting. That was the end of March.

She died exactly eight weeks later.

Recently, I sent her a belated Happy New Year’s text: “Happy New Year, Candice!! (double hearts) thinking about you!! I never received a response, which was not like her. She always got right back to me. If she got back to me the next day, she apologized for waiting so long to respond. The silence caused a feeling in my stomach. An emptiness. After six days I reached out again: “Candice, thinking about you, babe (double hearts).” Still nothing. That’s when I knew she was gone.

I went to Facebook for confirmation, finding RIP messages on her page immediately. I cried without crying in the front seat of my car. The fact that I had been walking around on Earth without Candice part of it for all these months struck me deep. Here are a few things I’ll miss about my friend Candice:

  • She was a good listener. If I needed to vent about school, or my kids, or my partner, she let me and always had the best, most practical advice, some I still use to get me from one day to the next.
  • She was so amazingly giving. Back during our days at Howard University, she was always flush with cash, and I was always broke. It was nothing for her to treat me to a quick lunch every now and again.
  • Sometimes I had money. And sometimes we’d walk to U Street and go to Café Nema and drink cappuccinos with shots of Kalua. And talk and talk and talk.
  • She was so smart, much smarter than I, and I loved that about her. I met her at the end of my sophomore year and she encouraged me to join Phi Sigma Pi, an honor fraternity (even the women were “brothers.”). We had the most fun hanging out and laughing.
  • She was short, and petite, and cute, with little Lilliputian feet. She walked so light, like on top of her own miniature clouds.

Oh, what can I say! Now is the time for poetry, but I’m no poet. I’ll say this, though. She was wonderful, and I loved her so much. I hope to God she knew that.

I Binged Boardwalk Empire

And boy am I happy I did. Where have I been living? Under a rock? How did I not know Boardwalk Empire is the answer to a lot of my problems. At this point, I should say that this is not a full review of the series at all. I’ve been watching it for the plotting. In fact that’s why I watch so much television and so many films. I love to see how stories unfold.

BE is an example of solid writing and rich storytelling, albeit predictable at times. Take for example the character Owen Slater played by the hottie Charlie Cox (Yep, Daredevil). As soon as he walked into Nucky’s house I knew he and Margaret were going to hit it off (see what I did there?). Their clandestine love caught me up in the feels. And while I saw that storyline unfolding a mile away, I couldn’t have predicted the tight spot Owen would ultimately find himself in (I did it again!). Reallllly tight. Two words  for you: wooden box.

I recommend making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich ( I know, specific, but just go with me on this ) and bingeing all five seasons of Boardwalk Empire for the gore, the plot, and Charlie Cox. You’re welcome.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom:Just Saying

Hello, ya’ll. I was about to call this a film review, but it’s not that exactly. This is more of a film rant. Don’t say I never warned you. Okay so let me get to it. A few spoilers ahead.

I wanted so badly to fall in love with this film. But I didn’t. I don’t have a problem with film adaptations. More than sixty percent of films have been adapted from novels or plays, but my chief concern as I watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was that the director didn’t seem to take advantage of everything that film has to offer. Yes, there is the whole business of an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief in the theater and to a certain extent film audiences too, but film directors have much more at their disposal. Just because the playwright sits Levee and the other band members in a small stuffy room, that doesn’t mean the screenwriter and director have to leave them there. Levee, played by the late, talented Chadwick Boseman gives this wonderful speech, providing necessary backstory about his experience with a white man who rapes his mother right before his eyes. Film can visually take us back to Levee’s moment of helplessness; a play cannot. The filmmakers miss an opportunity to open this narrative up, let it breathe a little.

I dozed a couple of times.

Now Viola Davis is the true gem of this movie. She is Ma Rainey. She exudes righteous indignation, swagger, power. When she was on the screen, I sat with rapt attention. My favorite scene was when she and her band members are in the recording studio, and she insists her stuttering nephew say a line at the beginning of the title song. Take after take after take. That was the high point. Wish I could offer more.

Anyhow, the film is worth a watch. I hope all the best for Davis in her Oscar run. Boseman might also be nominated for a strong performance in a so-so flick.

Hello 2021

I’m not going to pretend. I was really looking forward to jumping all in 2021 with both feet and wash a little of the 2020 muck off me. Unlike many people, I never believed that things were going to miraculously turn around in 2021. America’s got some work to do, right? But, whoa. When I saw folks scaling the walls of the Capitol building last Wednesday, my mouth flung open. I’m like, Where the heck am I? This doesn’t look like anybody’s United States.

And yet it is.

Honestly, I was stunned but not surprised. I had seen this brand of venom before. I was a community college professor for most of my professional life, the last few spent in a very red county in upstate New York. In those last few years, it became harder and harder for me to convince some of my students to eschew oppression because I was too busy dodging their vitriolic stares. It was exhausting. So when I watched those men and women on television, high-fiving one another, wallowing in all manners of foolishness, excitedly pushing past police officers on their way to overthrow the US government, I had one overarching thought: I need to be (What am I saying? We all need to be) VERY CAREFUL in the months and years to come.

Get. It. Done!

Black and White View of Woman Using a Laptop Computer

Okay, real talk, ya’ll. I always figured that once you write a novel, subsequent novels would just pour out of you like lava. I thought you would just automatically know what to do, how to draw real, lived-in worlds and compelling characters and killer dialogue. Not so. Last night I stared down my empty screen like I had never written a story of any length before. The way I see it, I’ve got a few choices: hang out on Twitter for an inordinate amount of time and get absolutely nothing done or put my fingertips to the keys and make words happen so the screen isn’t so . . . white and scary-looking. I like the latter, so I’m going to do that today and bang out as much as I can with fever, no worrying about whether it’s good (it won’t be). It’s the only way. Yay to resolve!

The Pesky Dinner Situation

Pasta, Food, Black And White, Gluten-Free

What am I going to do about dinner? This is the constant question in my house. And since I’m not the best in the areas of cleaning or doing laundry, feeding the people who live with me is my thing. And, in general, I’m good at it. But . . . I am also a writer. It’s taken me years to say those words out loud even though I’ve been writing since I was six and penned my first novel called–wait for it—The Cooking Mother. I’m not kidding, I swear! It was a novel about my own mother who would come in from work, tired as all get out, and have to cook dinner for us. Oh my Lordt! I think I just made a breakthrough. I understand my own life so much better now (thinking . . .).

Anyhow, I’ve been in the zone with my writing recently, I mean really getting in there. Characters are talking to me—they’re talking to one another (it happens, and when it does, it’s MA-GI-CAL), it’s been amazing. Then I look up and it’s 5:00. Dread. Groan. I ask myself, pasta again, Gail? Yes, pasta again. Thirteen minutes in the pot. Drain it. Throw some butter on it. Let the small people (and the hubs, too) go to town with the shaky cheese. Cut up green leaf lettuce. Voila. Family fed and alive.

Then it’s back to work for me! I hope my characters are still in the mood to chat.

I’m Launching!

NASA - Peering Inside the Flame: Fusion Imaging of the Final Space Shuttle  Launch

It’s been a stretch. I think I finally have a handle on this whole Maryland thing. I’ve eaten enough Ethiopian food to last five lifetimes and I’ve become reacquainted with traffic. Oh. My. Lordt! When my GPS says ten minutes, I know to multiply that by four. Now I’m not always late and sweaty everywhere I go.

About those film reviews. Well, 2020 was going to be my year to get all up in the theaters, catch something cool coming out of Sundance, but . . . sadly no. I, like the rest of you, am bingeing some pretty decent television and for now that’ll have to do. Coming soon . . . me quasi-reviewing television . . . Oh, and I’m always looking for recs, so don’t be shy.