A reader in Belgium sent me the following e-mail, reproduced here with permission. It’s my first fan mail from the French translation, released by Steinkis in March. I’m so happy that French speakers have the opportunity to engage with my story, thanks to Steinkis.
I am a (Belgian) French-speaker and I had the opportunity to read the translation of “Darkroom.” (I read it yesterday actually.)
I loved it. I am particularly interested in autobiographical graphic novels. To my opinion, “Darkroom” is one of the ten best graphic novels of that kind that I ever read. I wait for a couple days and then I will re-read it, just as I use to do with best ones such as “Persopolis” (Marjane Satrapi) or “A game for swallows” (Zeina Abirached).
Thank you very much for having written it.
Hello, blog readers! March completes one year since the release of Darkroom. I’ve had a marvelous twelve months of nearly non-stop book events and more to come. Please see the Events tab for upcoming appearances around the state of Alabama.
Soon, I hope to get my hands on a copy of my book in French translation. Here’s a link to Steinkis, the French publisher’s catalog page.
I’m also awaiting news of the future translation and release of Darkroom in Swedish!
And March 28th is the anniversary of my immigration to the United States–fifty-two years ago! There’s much to celebrate!
Miami Book Fair International brought the second phase of my book tour to a satisfying finish. As always, I enjoyed meeting readers, kibitzing with authors, sitting in on presentations, and participating in a moderated panel entitled Promised Lands. It was held Saturday, November 17th. My fellow panelists were two amazing graphic novel author-illustrators, JT Waldman and Leela Corman. Please check them out!
The following media outlets interviewed me about Darkroom (scroll down for others):
1. C-SPAN Book TV (video clip)
2. uVu South Florida (video clip)
3. The Writer Magazine (not yet published, but here’s an image from WM’s Facebook page.)
4. Alive on South Beach, with Dena and Stewart Stewart, through SyndicatedNews (not yet published)
Friday, I head for the Miami Book Fair International, my first trip back to that city since I first set foot on U.S. soil in 1961.
My official appearance is on a moderated panel composed of other graphic novelists. We’ll be speaking on the topic of Promised Lands
at 5 pm in Building 2 of Miami Dade College, Wolffson Campus.
I also have two media appearances. On Saturday, November 17th at 12:15 pm Eastern, I’ll be interviewed on C-SPAN Book TV, and at 4 pm Eastern, on
Channel 2′s uVu, hosted by Neal Hecker.
The rest of my stay will be devoted to attending other authors’ sessions and meeting new readers. Hope to see you there!
Thomas Wolfe, I think I have proved you wrong. You can go home again. At least I did.
I just spent two gold-and-blue autumn days on the campus of Judson College in Marion, Alabama, speaking about my book to individual classes. In more than one way, my visit turned into a homecoming.
Marion is the town I grew up in and the setting of Darkroom. Since we lived only two blocks away, my siblings and I used Judson’s campus as an extension of our playground. I especially loved the children’s section of the college library. In the photo below, my brother Johnny and I are taking a peek at Jewett’s parlors. (1962)
In fact, much of my family history passes through Judson College. My father taught there. My mother and my sisters Ginny and Lisa (Lissy, in the book) all graduated from Judson. I attended during my freshman year before transferring elsewhere.
For my official Judson appearance, I spoke to a creative-writing class, an art class and two sessions of history. I received a royal welcome. Dr. Joann Williams, Dr. Chris Hokanson, Mr. Jamie Adams and Dr. Joe Frazer, along with several students, took special care in making me feel at home. At a book signing held in Jewett Hall’s parlor, I visited with old friends from Marion as well as new readers from campus and around town. Over my two-day stay, I interacted with students and faculty in classrooms and the dining hall. It’s a small school with the intimate feel of family. In our conversations, it became obvious that faculty members care about the teaching profession and that Judson students receive more individual attention than is usual in college life. Kudos to Judson College for providing a great college experience to many women over the decades!
Judson rolled out a red carpet for me, but one outcome of my visit was pure serendipity. I got to go inside my childhood home, the house depicted in Darkroom. No one from my family had been inside it since we moved out in the late sixties. This door opened for me because Christina, a student in the art class that I spoke to, recognized the house from my PowerPoint slides. She volunteered to contact her friend, the owner. Zeke Hazewinkel has owned my former home for three years. He invited us over for a visit. This was something I’d always dreamed of doing, peeking inside the room I used to sleep in, the kitchen where my mother cooked, the tiny bathroom that my dad converted into a darkroom.
Zeke is a generous guy with a passion for art and photography. He had no idea that his house was featured in a book, nor that past occupants had developed photos in his half-bath. He was kind enough to photograph the interior of rooms so that my siblings could partake in my visit virtually. He also took a couple of shots of me holding original drawings from the book against a backdrop of their physical counterparts. Take a look.
Considering the scores of classic and recently released graphic novels begging to be read, my collection of graphic novels is tiny. Each one here contributed at least a morsel of inspiration to my work or guided me through my apprenticeship.
Before I proceed, I’d like to invite readers to tell me about their graphic novel collections.
Persepolis, by Marjane Sartrapi, is where it all began for me. I learned about it in 2004 through my habit of reading the NYT book-review pages. My paradigm for what memoir was supposed to be underwent a dramatic shift as soon as I learned of Persepolis’s existence. Using powerful text and bold, black-and-white drawings, Ms. Sartrapi unfolds an intriguing saga of life in Iran under political oppression and how she joined the ranks of émigrés.
After Persepolis came out, I saw a glimmer of possibility. I could write my own graphic-novel memoir, although all I had in mind at the time was a miniature version. I would first create a forty-page illustrated memoir that I turned in as an academic project for my studies at The University of Alabama. Later, this novella grew into the bigger, published work. But between Persepolis and the completion of Darkroom, I spent some time exploring other graphic novels that captured my fascination.
Two of my earliest purchases were Stuck Rubber Baby, by fellow Alabamian Howard Cruse, and Blankets by Craig Thompson.
Stuck Rubber Baby isn’t a memoir, but it was the only graphic novel I knew of that dealt with the Jim Crow South. Its story may be fictional, but it bears the ring of truth, as if the author lived and breathed the milieu, which it turns out, he did. The art is eye-popping. Howard’s style leans toward strong contrast and tightly controlled stippling and cross-hatching. His use of typography is inventive and exciting to anyone that gets the visual power of text. Every page has a unique design, another point that made a special impression on me. Plus, the story is riveting.
As if Howard Cruse hadn’t already enriched my life enough simply by writing and illustrating a phenomenal graphic novel, a much closer connection formed between us. Dan Waterman, my editor at UA Press, invited him to act as one of the peer reviewers of my manuscript. This is a step required by academic presses before a book is approved for publication. When I received Howard’s response to my manuscript–an early illustrated draft–I didn’t know his identity, nor that of the other reviewer, whose identity has so far not emerged. I was impressed by Howard’s feedback. Several of his points were invaluable to the development of subsequent drafts and I have told him so in writing.
Alison Bechdel has just released a follow-up graphic memoir. Her first, Fun Home, is an intricate piece of writing that addresses complex psychological themes, including failed parenting, suppressed homosexuality and death. Alison grew up in an artistic and literary ambience, and it shows. Her examination of family life borrows narratives from Greek myth as well as modern classics of English literature. The structure of her novel is like a spiral staircase that revisits episodes and observations, but from increasingly higher planes as the novel progresses. As if by design, her drawings are the opposite of intricate. They are straightforward and although well executed, not splashy. The two go well together: a highly elaborate narrative with serious themes and simple, pared-down art.
Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons! is like no other graphic novel I’ve seen. It’s a combination of joyous collage and diabolically funny drawings accompanied by hilarious and poignant text. Lynda and I share an immigrant background. Her family is Filipino. Her drawings and collages invite the viewer to come closer and study the witty details buried within larger elements. I’m a big admirer of her uninhibited work.
Maus is a tour de force–everybody knows that. It predates Persepolis, but because the author substitutes human characters with animals, I mistook it for a children’s book and paid little attention to it until graphic novels in general became important to me. I’m in awe of Spiegelman’s storytelling. He masterfully weaves a contemporary story with a remembered story. The contemporary drama takes place between the narrator and his irascible father. The remembered story belongs to the narrator’s father and dates back to the hell of Nazi-occupied Europe. Maus delivers nothing short of epic power.
There’s a similar force to Josh Neufeld’s A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge. This isn’t a memoir or a novel, but a piece of visual reportage in the style of literary journalism. It tells the separate stories of five survivors of Katrina, starting from a few days before the storm hit. This book is an eye-opener. It breaks apart myths about post-Katrina mayhem, especially those horrors that were widely reported of Superdome refugees. Among other things, I’m impressed with how smoothly Josh manages potentially confusing story elements. The reader could’ve gotten lost in the transitions between characters or in the shifting passage of time and phases of the storm. But distinct color assignments, calendar-page dates, and strong narrative writing keep everything on track. This is a book with lasting impact.
Just a few words about the remaining titles:
La Perdida, by Jessica Abel is a fascinating fictional account of exile into contemporary Mexico.
The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar, has delightful art. It’s a wonderful story with enchanting characters and the full flavor of Algeria.
Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, is based on historical truth. During Jim Crow’s ugliest years, black newspapers in northern cities sent reporters to gather facts on the grisly and terrifying practice of lynching. Biracial reporters used their near-whiteness to sneak into those southern towns where lynchings were common. This book brings the reporters’ daring work into stark reality.
Stitches is the memoir of David Small, an artist with immense talent who has won major awards for the illustration of children’s books. We learn through this graphic novel that he grew up under horrifying circumstances. I’m not one to shy away from a memoir just because it contains distressing episodes or lacks an unmistakably triumphant ending. To me, David Small’s story is painful, but worthwhile, and artistically and powerfully told.
All Over Coffee is a single-volume reprinting of a series of panels by artist Paul Madonna. They originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicles. The panels depict architecture, landscapes, streetscapes and interiors from all around San Francisco. Madonna’s ink drawings are washed in sepia and shimmer with beautiful draftsmanship and interesting points of view. They are accompanied by text that seems to bear little relation to the scene, but which offers slices of the personal lives being lived within the city, all around the gorgeous scenery. It’s a book to reflect over, best enjoyed with a steaming mug of coffee.
Blue skies and mild temperatures—it was perfect weather for an outdoor festival. The University of Alabama Press invited me to hang out in their book-sales tent at the recently held Druid City Arts Festival. But there was more than book browsing going on.
For the people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the date April 27 is indelibly inscribed. Each survivor of the deadly tornado that made international news remembers something specific about that day. Telling one’s story has a healing effect. That’s why we gave festival-goers a small but meaningful opportunity to record a pictorial moment in their experience of the tornado.
The procedure was simple. We provided sticky notes and drawing tools and assured participants that they didn’t have to be accomplished artists. People jumped right in. The results amazed us. Have a look.
Spring has arrived and the University of Alabama campus is dressed in green. Appropriately for the season, I just spent two days in the refreshing company of writers, illustrators, educators, librarians and students at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference, held in a bright lecture hall on the second floor of Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library at UA.
Chalk up another one to serendipity. I only found out about this conference by browsing the School of Library and Information Studies website a couple of months ago. The conference chair, Dr. Jamie Naidoo, is a professor at SLIS who is nationally known for his expertise in multicultural children’s literature. Contacts were made and Dr. Naidoo graciously reopened the roster of presenters to let in a green-as-spring author—me!
The conference was a joy. When we weren’t listening to keynote addresses, attendees and presenters mingled freely, networked, and formed friendships. There’s nothing like sage advice and affirmation from those that have gone before you, and that’s what I received in abundance.
Now meet some of my new friends through a sample of their books:
Dr. Alma Flor Ada
Learn more: http://almaflorada.com/
Dr. Isabel Campoy, co-authored with Dr. Ada:
Learn more: http://isabelcampoy.com/
Dr. Monica Brown, with illustrator John Parra:
Learn more: http://www.monicabrown.net/
Learn more: http://megmedina.com/
René Colato Laínez, with illustrator Joe Cepeda:
Learn more: http://renecolatolainez.com/