Earlier this month, I had the chance to attend a signing by Pearl Cleage for her latest book, Just Wanna Testify: A Novel. I have several of her other books and I wanted to see what she was like in person. I was not disappointed and I don't think the full house she spoke to was either.
The event was put on at Atlanta's Hammonds House Museum, in Atlanta's Historic West End neighborhood. That was an appropriate place, since this and other books Ms. Cleage has written are set in that neighborhood. It was put on as part of Written Magazine's Wine and Words series.
It was a great evening. The conversation ranged from her books, to her next project, to politics (I didn't know she worked on campaigns for Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first African-American mayor.)
She told us a story about how when she turned in the draft of one of her novels, her editor told her it was her worst book. Even though others who read it told her it was a wonderful book, she was discouraged by what the editor said. She talked about the support and professional advice she got from a friend and fellow author, the late BeBe Moore Campbell. She took Ms. Campbell's advice, which was to find an agent who had her best interests in mind. The agent Ms. Cleage selected wasted no time in selling the book that supposedly was her worst work. Did I mention the book was her first one, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day? The Oprah book club selection? The one that spent nine weeks on the New York Times best seller list?
I love that she shared that story with us. I took notes, but I can't remember what prompted her to tell that story. She didn't have to. From some of the comments audience members made, they already admired her or found her to be inspirational. I think it was her living another piece of advice she shared: Learn how to control the things you can. You can control how you treat people. It was generous of her to tell us her first book was deemed to be unworthy. The other part of this story was, she didn't gloat to the previous editor about her success. I don't know if I would have been that generous. I might have sent the woman a signed copy of my book, with the Oprah seal on it.
That's me talking to Ms. Cleage! Another photog was nice enough to take this for me.I already enjoyed her work, but it was nice to find out someone whose work I like turned out to be a person I'd like to know better.