Monday, February 20, 2006

My Favorite Author, Tayari Jones, Comes to Town :)

This weekend, I had a rare chance to see two of my favorite writers, Tayari Jones and Pearl Cleage. They had a conversation, Q&A event, and book signing as part of the Sisterspeak and More program at Spelman College this February.

What an event! I took quite a few pictures… Note: I am a member of the BADDEST book club in the ATL, Circle of Friends II… Below are a couple of pictures of both authors with my infamous and fabulous book club president, Shunda Leigh…

Now I love Pearl Cleage… She is a professor at Spelman.. But she wears many hats: playwright, essayist, novelist, feminist… She was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey to pen a poem, "We Speak Your Names", for the Legend’s ball last year… She is a wonderful writer, and she is one of the few writers whose books I will buy in hardcover, the first week they hit the bookstores…

She has a new book coming out on February 28th, Baby Brother's Blues, and I plan to buy it AND read it by the end of next week… Shunda had an advance copy... It took everything in me not to SNATCH IT when she sat it down for a moment!

But many of you may not have heard of my favorite author Tayari Jones… She is a Spelman College graduate and a English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana. I hadn’t heard of her either until I read the short story “Press and Curl” in the African American Short Story Anthology Gumbo: A Celebration of African American Writing. “Press and Curl” is a short story about a young girl getting her hair straightened, in preparation for a funeral….

Now all the sistas out there…

you KNOW you remember getting your hair straightened…
…the smoke coming off that HOT ass straightening comb (which, by the way, was heated up in a hot metal chamber--scratch that, my Mama was bootleg-- she heated the hot comb up on one of the eyes on the stove) , the pressing oil, the hair grease (we used the green Afro Sheen... Ultra Sheen Cosmetics), all the sounds of that hot comb sliding slowly through your hair, sizzle, sizzle, etc… I even have a hot comb burn on my shoulder to this very day!

Don’t act like you don’t know!! Ya’ll remember that ish!!

And if you don’t know already from reading my blog…


Really though…

And sitting down in the kitchen getting your nappy be-be shot hair straightened is about as NOSTALGIC as it gets…
There was an ART to that thing! You were something special if you could straighten a girl's hair without damn near burning off a ear or scorching a neck or forehead...
Um, yeah... "Press and Curl" brought back some serious memories for me! I mean, have you seen anyone even THINK to write about that subject? Something that just about every little black girl experienced as a child??

After I read that story (three times), I wondered, “Who in the hell is Tayari Jones and what ELSE has she written that I can get my hands on RIGHT NOW!!?”

So I looked her name up on, and saw that she had written a novel…

I went to the bookstore and bought it that very day…

I read that novel, her first novel, the highly acclaimed Leaving Atlanta in two days. Leaving Atlanta is a historical fiction story that has the Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children cases of the late seventies/early eighties as a backdrop… It is a fictional novel about 3 children that were growing up during that time. It was the first piece of historical fiction that I’d ever read… Heck, I didn’t know what historical fiction was until I read this book.

It made me cry.

I was a sixth grader in the ATL during the time of the Atlanta Child Murders Era, and she captured the way my friends and I felt during that time perfectly… all the angst, all the fear, the uncertainty… I remember the worse thing you could say to someone back then was “That’s why ‘the Man’ is gonna get you!!” Saying that was MUCH worse than cussing somebody out… She captured that perfectly and then some…

Her second novel, The Untelling, is about a young woman living in the ATL who has to “untell” a lie, and at the same time, come to grips with things that have happened in her past family life… (This is NOT a good synopsis of the novel. This novel was so deep, deep off the doggone pages, with so many layers, and I can’t summarize it in one sentence. Hell, this post would be 10 pages long if I tried to summarize it.) The Untelling touched me just as much as Leaving Atlanta did…

The Untelling was awesome, yet spooky… Some of the hoods I have lived in were richly detailed in that book. (I grew up in SWATS, MLK corridor, Ben Hill, and Adamsville before moving to College Park). All of the things I go through currently with the crackheads in my ‘hood are detailed in that book… I almost wondered if Tayari Jones did some undercover work in my hood… I asked a question during the Q&A session about her research in the area of gentrification, because it was so real… she mentioned that she had been interested in such real estate issues…

(Come on Tayari, you can tell me… you spent a little time in the hood as an undercover crackhead! The sequences you had in the book were a little too, um... REALISTIC!!)

(And look at your braids, Tayari... They are FIERCE! You are a true ATLien...I bet the same girl that braids all the ATLien rappers hair braids yours...)


These were the first books that I’d ever read where the city of Atlanta was not only a backdrop for a story, but was actually a living and breathing character in the story…

Dang, I wish I could write like that!!!...
**Ladylee setting fire to the Ph.D. dissertation and several scientific publications and ferociously spiking them out of the Mazda into the middle of Peachtree street traffic**

Now this sister is the main reason I want to write… I might even take a class...I had NEVER read books like hers before. I’d never read LITERARY books (note: LITERARY, not that urban drama commercial fluff B.S.) about my city, about things so similar to what I’d gone through growing up in the ATL… books with SO many layers… so much symbolism, great use of metaphor, simile, description…books that I am thinking about for days after I read them.

I will always follow her career… She’s already winning book prizes…I see a Pulitzer on the horizons…

Oh yeah, Tayari, you’re friendly now…

She put out an APB for me (Where is Ladylee?) on her blog a couple of weeks ago because I was missing in action… I couldn't figure out the new comment procedures. (Simple things like that leave me stupefied). It took several emails to prod me to figure out what the heck to do....(Now THAT was hilarious... scary but hilarious!)

And posing your books so that you could casually show off your shoes... That was quite original and oh so wonderfully ghettofabulous!!! I bet NO author has EVER thought of that! (Hey Shoe Queen Blogger Serenity 23, I think you should do that when YOUR book comes out, girl!)

And Tayari has given me some of the best writing advice ever… She sent an email one day after I posted a comment on her blog the first time, about how I was not an aspiring writer, but how I am a writer because of what's in my heart... So, um... I walk around the job with my nose in the air...

Step BACK! I am a writer... GET THE F*** BACK! (LOL!)

I expected someone to pass around an offering plate after Saturday’s Q&A after all the knowledge she dropped… I needed a tape recorder or something... I AM SO INSPIRED!

…but, um... when you make Oprah’s book club, homegirl, or win the Pulitzer, etc…

Don’t ACT like you don’t know me… I’m not all that quiet…Don’t have me out in the audience getting “negroidal” and embarrassing you… Don't let the ATLien come out of me!!


But seriously, if you haven’t read anything by Tayari Jones, do yourself a favor and cop one of her books… She has a couple of short pieces over on her blog that left me speechless and clutching my imaginary pearls (Have You Known Me Lately? and Some Thing Blue).

Look here, um Tayari...

Those two stories were a bit, I don't know... FULLY loaded with possibilities. Tayari, I'm going to need for you to stretch those two stories out into epic novels, and go ahead and put those out as soon as possible, if you don't mind... I need to know what happens to those main characters...

Just a request :)

Do yourself a favor and check out my favorite author!

Trust me... It won’t be too long before you wish you had!!


  1. I really enjoyed this post. I have read several Pearl Cleage books. I had never heard of Ms. Jones until you told me about her. I will have to catch up on her work. As far as the pressing comb, if you check my archives, I have also written about that process and holding my ear down for dear life. And then getting shirley temple curls with some other thing that was placed on the stove. And by the way, I used to have this image in my head of when I write a book, I have this photo of me as a kid in the summer with braids in my hair and i'm sittin in a wagon. I wanted that to be my book cover, b/c it reminds me of living in the country. But I may have to rethink that and find the fiercest pair of shoes I can find and just put them on the cover. You know make that my trademark... Good post. You've gotten me inspired now. I'll have to try my hand at a short story.

  2. @S23...

    Oh YOU had to hold YOUR ear down, too? Thought I was the only one who had to do that! Remember your heart skipping a beat when your finger slipped and you accidently let your ear go with the hot comb lurking close by??? LOL!!!

    I have to go check your archives and read your hot comb story!

    Yeah, pose with your shoes on one of your book covers... That's some serious love of shoes right there... I met Tayari at the NBCC in Atlanta, and she had some FIERCE shoes even back then. (Now girl, you know I am a Sneaker Gal, so for her high heels to catch my eye... they had to be all that...)

    And go head on and write your short story... you've already given me much help and advice on one of mine :)

  3. Okay so I'm sitting here reading this post thinking "Damn, if I only were an ATLien...membership has its priveleges!" You know I'm hating on you even as I second your sentiments on Tayari Jones. I met her at the NBCC last August as well and though I had not heard of her before, I quickly read everything I could find that she has written and read her blog religiously as well. I still have not figured out how to post a comment on the new system [which stopped me from entering the contest to win Pearl's book] though I did register...once again, technology threatens a beautiful literary relationship. I'm glad you got to see her and Pearl even if I didn't, and I'll do my best not to be too big of a hater whenever this event crosses my mind...

    Re: the press and curl...I lived through that ritual every Saturday for years. My aunt would press my hair using that same Ultra Sheen grease you speak of, and whenever she would burn me [which was a LOT!], she would say that she hadn't burned me, it was just the grease melting on my scalp. Damned child abuser...Thank God for perms!

  4. ladylee, I was just coming over here to tell you that you've been tagged.. and I stumbled upon all this love. ((HUGS)))

  5. @ Sharon.... Ha! Ha! HAAAAAA!

    You couldn't be here... I thought while I was at the Q&A, "Dang, Sharon would LOVE this" since we are both writing and need all the advice we can get... There was some dude recording with a camcorder... If I wasn't so scary, I may have tried to slip that brother a $20 for a bootleg copy!

    And the comment section on her blog... just tell it that you will share your email address (it goes to her only NOT the public)... that's where my mishap was...

    Oh, and your Aunt used that same LIE with you too... My mother rarely burned me, but when I would hiss and squinch up my shoulders, she would say "Girl, be STILL! I ain't burning you, the grease is hot and melting."


  6. @ Tayari...


    *Clutch the Pearls*

    Lo and behold, she comes to my blog and leaves a comment instead of lurking and sneaking...


    Then she has the nerve to TAG me...

    Humph... Someone call Security!!

    Hey, man, I need some cash for my bootleg ATLien PR services...

    But hey, I'll gladly take a tag and I'd like to um, kindly suggest that you creep me on the low-low the 1st 100 pages of the next book (the first 175 words was such a freakin' tease... How dare you!!)


    Thanks for stopping by to see YOUR shrine to YOU!!!

    I'll send all one million of the pics I took to you tomorrow!

  7. You are oh so right about Tayari Jones. I'm in Charlotte and I saw her post that she was going to speak at Spellman. But damn, damn, damn, I forgot this was the weekend!!!

    She's the BOMB!
    I didn't know she was included in the Gumbo anthology. I'm dusting off my copy now. Going to read it again. I've been getting the old Press-n-Curl for the last 18 months -- about it give it up. I think I've been burned more now than I ever was as a kid!

  8. @ Sherri...

    Dang Celie, haven't seen you in a while, where you been?


    You missed a good Q&A, Sherri...

    Don't cry... here's a tissue...

    And here's a nice punch bowl... feel free to do a Florida Evans and smash it to the floor and yell
    "Damn, damn, DAMN!"


    Alright Ms., no excuses, you should have jumped in the hooptie and got on down here! You should've been front row center!!!

    And you are still hot combing your hair? Ha! My Aunt still straightens her hair...

    Funny Story: my Aunt is married to a white guy, and she laughingly told me that he was a bit horrified when he saw her stretching a steaming hot comb through her hair for the first time ("J... what ARE you doing to your hair?!?!?!")... I would give ANYTHING to have been there to see the look on his face!!! Too funny!!

  9. I loved this post! You just wait Lady until you get your books out there and fans will be flocking over you. Now, hold on. Is that YOU in the black? I had NO idea you were THAT pretty! I didn't picture you like that! Not that I didn't think you would be pretty by all means, but let me just say those little cartoon pictures do nothing for you! Girl you look good! I mean from the skin down to the clothes! I see a Covergirl commercial in the works for you. Lady, hurry and get your books out there then you and I can do a commercial. We'll be the foxiest authors around. You already saw me but I never saw you and it's amazing how different it feels when you see someone you've been chatting with. And girl you don't look anywhere near 36! I would have thought you were in your twenties. Oh, man I can't get over it. It's so good to SEE you. I loved this post and thanks for sharing I am so glad you had a good weekend. Love ya'! And yes, I got your email. With your slow behind, LOL!

  10. @ Stacy_D!!!!

    Ha, ha!!! LOL LOL LOL

    THAT AIN'T ME!!!

    Go back and read the post, woman! That is my book club president Shunda Leigh!! Leave it up to you to not read closely!!!


    I can't put my picture or real name on my blog... Rumor has it that a memeber of evil upper management has been printing out stuff from my blog... A picture would prove that I, "GUBMENT NAME" am the Infamous Ladylee!!! I don't need any more trouble out of them...

    You are crazy!!! And Shunda is a diva, always picturesque... I'll pass your compliments on to her!!

    And glad you loved the post, girl!!

  11. Lady that's Shunda? Oh Shunda's one of my writing group pals! Oh I'm sorry, girl! I assumed it was you. I guess my eyes were skipping. But I am sure you are just as pretty! Now isn't this something, LOL? I feel like a fool. I hope I didn't embarrass you or anything. Shunda looks younger here than in her other pictures. That's why I didn't recognize her. Well...(Stacy taking the foot out of her mouth and crawling back into the mouse hole in the wall) LOL! I'm sorry, Lady. LOL!

  12. Lady, Shunda is slow as heck too with the emails. She's supposed to get back with me about Booking Matters Magazine. Sisters are slow as I don't know what with these emails! But I love you both, LOL! And yes, pass my comments. She'll probably bust out laughing.

  13. @ Stacy-D...

    Well, homegirl, learn to read... reading is fundamental!!!

    And you being an author... I thought you would know of her through Booking Matters Magazine... and she's a writing group pal? And you didn't recognize her??? You getting a little forgetful these days, hunh oldgirl???


    Oh, I have to email Shunda some pictures... I will be SURE to tell her that you are looking for her and she needs to catch up with you!!

  14. LOL! Stop picking on me, Lady! Seriously she looks different in these pictures though. She's supposed to get back to me about Booking Matters. We emailed each other last week and I guess she has to get things ready before she contacts me again. I am on break from posting on my blog until I finish up some things. I changed my blog design. Check it out if you get the chance.

  15. i'm buying a couple of her books on amazon RIGHT NOW! thanks for the heads up, ladylee!

  16. @ATlien Nikki...

    Yeah, ATLien homie, I think you would really dig Tayari's work, since you yourself are such an incredible wordsmith and poetess...

    Plus you are pure ATLien and you run these hard durty south streets! (LOL)

    Let me know what you think!

  17. LOL. I was wearing that orange sweater there, too!


Slap the *crickets* out the way, kindly step up to the mike, and SAY something!!