Category Archives: Amanishakhete
Teens, teenage girls, African American authors, black experiences, young adult fiction, hip hop, politics, Portland, Oregon, Atlanta, new authors
Black Death, Cholera, Smallpox, AIDS, COVID-19: Fiction Authors have written about infectious diseases for many, many years
Black Death, Cholera, Smallpox, AIDS, COVID-19: Fiction Authors have written about infectious diseases for many, many years
As fiction writers our minds are far-reaching with imaginations that touch past, present and future earth up through the universe -Utopia and Dystopia. We’ve created stories about pandemics-plagues-epidemics long before Billionaire Bill Gates spoke in early 2019 about a potential pandemic.
One of my favorite authors is the late Octavia Butler, the first African American science fiction writer. Her novel Parable of the Sower followed by Parable of the Talents published in the early 1990s, is just right for today. Although both novels take place in an dystopian society, we can only hope this won’t reign true for the United States of America. Let’s hope.
From the desk of Amani Shakhete’s works in progress. A sci-fi novel.
Prologue: Out of nothingness she creates a beginning with no end, evolving into Source energy filled with hidden secrets and undiscovered life. Systematically, delivering planets—millions of them—orbiting their own family of stars. Life exists on every planet protected by infinite numbers of solar systems within their own galaxies. This active cosmic stage traverses 90-billion light years in either direction. She calls it the Universe.
“Put the universe on high alert! Prepare for battle!”
The urgent warning travels through a photo-voltaic energy wave spilling into trillions of galaxies. Dark matter created in cooperation with some of earth’s humans are working to push through a new World Planetary Order. The planetary alignment is under attack, the result of earth pulling too much energy from Mars, Jupiter and Neptune…
Amani Shakhete (right) talks with Author Sophia Jeffries (left) about Downhome Memories
Ten-minutes from downtown Atlanta in the city of Decatur a steady traffic of people flowing-in and out of a 10,000 square foot outdoor market; the inside jammed with slow-moving crowds of 50,000 people over Memorial Day weekend. The festival experience smelled of all-American hotdogs and burgers, pizzas, pretzels and assorted desserts set-off by music, poetry slams, workshops and cooking demonstrations. A mixture of races mingled, cutting across all four-corners of the market. Singles, couples and groups. Women and men (or maybe not the real deal). Inside the children’s interactive tent kids feasted on rainbowed snow-cones and cotton candy overwhelmed by crafts tables, storytellers, balloon makers and face painters. Despite the eclectic mix of activities, the primary reason for the event was stacked atop rows and rows of vendor tables. Those stacks featured thousands of fiction and non-fiction books promoted by old and new authors who coaxed attendees to buy, buy, buy at the 2018 Decatur Book Festival.
Although, as a writer, I have yet to experience the 11-year-old Decatur Book Festival, suffice to say, what I’ve shared about this popular literary venue was what I have been told by festival goers and also drummed up in my literal imagination. So, I’m even guessing some attendees stopped and chatted with the authors and even purchased a book. If not, why would any of the nearly 1,000 authors who show up each year, subject themselves to all talk and no sales?
According to one insider visitors explored the inside of a large green tent that featured a sampling of new writers dubbed as “emerging authors.” Once inside they had the option to gather in front of a tall white podium located at the front of the tent to listen to author presentations scheduled over the three days. Like at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, an intimate crowd of eight, sat in a row of chairs waiting to see author Sophia Litman Jeffries a playwright and poet who wrote the well-received stage play, “Washtub Filled with Prayers and Tears,” she wrote in remembrance of her late mother Marie Jackson Crittenden, also a writer/poet.
“What I found most annoying was the many White people who walked past the tent, looked inside, but chose to walk on by while Sophia was speaking about her book. Only our friends gave Sophia the attention she deserved,” explained Lyman. “Personally, I think it’s because of the time period in which Sophia’s book was written. As a historian, I believe that people are reverting to a time when races, here in America, were legally separated because of segregation,” he added.
Lyman’s perception may have had some validity. Take for example an article in Psychology Today online by Monica T. Williams Ph.D. William’s wrote, “Let’s face it, talking about racial issues makes a lot of White people, well… uncomfortable. Try it. I have. Some nod politely, some bristle, some change the subject, some launch into a disconnected political rant, and others just stand in stunned silence. We African Americans learn early that race is not the kind of thing we can chat about with just anyone. The message we typically receive is that White people don’t want to hear it (Ph.D.).”
In contrast to the noisy book festival, I interviewed Sophia Jeffries in a more intimate setting – her home – where she sat comfortably surrounded by remnants from her novel: a straw hat, stems of cotton and a burlap bag. The hat and burlap bag represented what cotton pickers used while picking cotton. Sophia said the book had its own original music she may use for a Downhome Memory stage play or movie, an idea she toyed with after hearing from her fans.
“Remember Lyman?” she asked her husband, a professional photographer and videographer, who created the cover art for Downhome Memories.
“Yes, I do,” said Lyman who is retired like Sophia. He also served in Vietnam and had lots of stories to share. When asking him questions about the book, he’d sometimes take a detour down memory lane but managed to bring it back to a pointed reference in Downhome Memories.
“You know I really enjoyed retirement,” said Lyman. “I had no idea I’d be helping my wife get her projects out there.”
Settled in the Jeffries dining room, I turned on the camcorder noting more than enough memory on the SD card for an hour interview that turned into two hours and then some.
Initially, we talked about our recent family reunion in Butler, Alabama. I asked Jeffries, “Is the Butler Reunion the impetus for the 1958 Wilson-Baker family reunion referenced in the novel as the Jones family’s most memorable reunion?”
“Fiction stories have some truth especially characters. They may remind you of someone,” she laughed.
Like the colorful outspoken cousin Fannie who showed up to the Wilson-Baker reunion for the first time in years. A lighted Pall Mall cigarette hung from her mouth as she spoke while holding up her purse intimidating the reunion members who knew of the 45-caliber pistol and switchblade in her purse. They remained quiet as cousin Fannie ran-her-mouth about private family matters until cousin Lucy, the reunion’s organizer, politely shut her up!
Despite the drama, the reunion was one of the highlights for the Jones family amid a tumultuous time of voter suppression, racial strife caused by white nationalists such as the Klu Klux Klan and defending civil rights. What happened then sounded much like today’s America causing African Americans to relive the angst of the 60s. Back when election boards would give blacks unpassable tests to register to vote or get a driver’s license. “Even blacks with PhDs couldn’t pass the tests,” said Sophia. “Tests like guessing how many marbles in a jar, and the number had to be exact.”
Sophia said she had no idea she’d be writing a 489-page novel, a compilation of many stories she started writing several years ago. A novel she did not write in a typical format but more like pieces of lovely prose pulled together into three chapters: I Know My Beginning; I Know My End; and I Don’t Know My In-Between, the longest section in book (137-489). Sophia said she formatted it this way to represent life.
“We all know our life begins at birth and ends at death, but we don’t know our life in between birth and death until it is written. I’m just glad I had Lyman to help keep me straight,” said Sophia.
Lyman added, “I worked closely with my wife. When she wanted me to read something I would, and had no problem giving her constructive feedback. Her finished product was a work of art.” Lyman applauded. “When Sophia writes she is a perfectionist.”
I Know My Beginning
The Jones family had a strong family bond. Spirituality or having a firm religious foundation was customary along with attaining a college education seen as crucial for a better quality of life. Sophia noted that the Black Christian church and education was a focal point for black families in the south. Education beyond primary school was the reason for the creation of Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Many white universities disallowed black students despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
As a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, Sophia gave credit to her Aunt Lila (her mother’s sister) who paid for her and her siblings college. She was the middle child among 7 siblings explaining that being in the middle was the best position to be in the family. “You learned from your older siblings and helped teach the ones after you,” she said.
All of the Downhome Memories characters have some of her, she admitted. Like Velma who was also a middle child saw and heard a lot of things others in the family may not have. She ended up having to share a room with her Grandma Pecolia when her two cousins Quinton and Tony came to live with them after their mother died. Sophia, too, had to share a room with her Aunt Lila. Velma was the first to receive an autograph copy of her grandma’s book she encouraged her to finish. Pecolia presented her book “When Black Voices Speak” to Velma on her high school graduation day.
Jimmy, Velma’s older brother, possessed what folks referred to as the “gift.” He could see and feel things, a reason for his ability to help his cousin Tony who lived with the guilt of not being able to save his mother. Tony finally came to terms with the fact he was not responsible for her death. Sophia said she also had the gift but the difference was she allowed “Jimmy to own it” and not be afraid of what he experienced or what others would think.
“My husband Lyman also had a strong family unit. Just hearing his stories helped me to define the Jones family and their community. I remember seeing Lyman’s father always dressed in a suit and tie – he had a master’s in social work. Lyman’s family often had those Leave it to Beaver moments. Like his family, mine and many other black families, we were certainly not the stereotypical destitute families you see and hear about in the news.
I Don’t Know My In Between
“Picking cotton for lunch money was more for fun than necessity,” said Sophia, who also picked cotton for lunch money. “I was a good picker, and paid 2 cents a pound making enough to pay for my own 25 cent lunch.”
The Jones children and neighborhood kids gathered after school and on weekends, in the middle of town, waiting for Mr. Berry the plantation owner to pick them up in his big truck.
“Getting with friends, singing, laughing and gossiping was the highlight of the trip to the fields.”
Sophia explained, “We actually owned land near the cotton fields in Tuskegee where we were raised not far from where some of the Tuskegee Airman lived.”
“The spring water creek I mentioned on Mr. Berry’s cotton farm, that was real. It was located on our land and that spring water was so good.”
The Chinaberry Tree in the Jones’s backyard was also symbolic, a sanctuary for Velma as it was Sophia who also had a China Berry Tree in her backyard. It was a great place to think through life’s challenges and fantasize about having sex with boys.
When it came to sex among teens, Downhome Memories didn’t hold back. In fact, it became a rights-of-passage for all the teens once they reached senior year in high school.
Sophia said “Just because it was the 60s didn’t mean that teens were not sexually active. They were just careful and knew of the consequences. They practiced safe sex.”
Lyman explained that parents back then put the fear of God in you. His parents warned him not to get a girl pregnant or face the consequences like getting put out of the house. Lyman also said when it came to sex scenes in the novel, he was the expert. “The language Sophia chose to use was different than how I worded it,” Lyman laughed. “I didn’t sugar-coat it. I kept it real.”
Unlike Sophia who wrote about the teen’s sexual encounters with sensitivity. In a scene with Velma and her boyfriend Tom, she wrote: “Tom wrapped his arms around her back… I saw passion in his eyes… there was an explosion of emotions as we explored the newness of each other’s bodies… I felt my fingernails digging into his back…I knew we were quickly getting to the point of no return.
Mary Mitchell was also influential in helping Sophia finally bring Downhome Memories to fruition. Mary invested $5,000 into Sophia’s work to push her to finish a project started in 1999.
“I told her I only wanted the money back when she started selling lots of books. But right now, I wanted her to know I believed in her, and she had to write her story.”
Mary said Sophia was one of the most compassionate people she knew which was why Sophia was able to write the book from her heart. In the book, the horror of a lynching rocked Mary to her core. She said she found it most disturbing.
“The lynching scene was hard for me to read,” said Mary. “It was so graphic, I could see it.”
In the lynching scene, Sophia wrote about Klansman tormenting and torturing a Black man and a Jewish man before wrapping nooses around their necks, letting them dangle and hang until death captured their souls. The seemingly peaceful passing of one of the men angered a Klansman who wanted him to suffer more. He even attempted to revive him by spewing curse words at him and the infamous “N” word.
“In my earlier years, I was considered militant. I didn’t take stuff from racists. Reliving scenes like the lynching would spark a fury in me I would rather forget.”
I Know My End
Sophia’s Aunt Lila was definitely her hero much like Grandma Pecolia in the novel. Pecolia was the matriarch of the Jones family. She never married her true love and was saddled with a family secret that caused quite an upset once it surfaced. It turned out that the Jones family was linked by blood to the town’s prominent wealthy white family, the Baileys. The notorious Sheriff Leland Bailey, famous for looking the other way when Klansman attacked and killed black residents, had a long-standing relationship with Pecolia. They were cousins (but didn’t know it) all the while growing up in Tylersville. The Bailey plantation was where the secret began with a 16-year-old slave named Effie who was forced to birth the elder Bailey’s children – Leland’s great-great grandfather, Shelby Bailey—original owner of the plantation where the secret of this lineage was buried at the Bailey Family Cemetery.
“The secret of Leland being “colored” was a secret he couldn’t risk anyone finding out,” said Sophia. “His wife Daisy knew and she helped him live that lie until their only son, Bobby Lee fell in love and married Suzy, a black woman.” Sophia explained, “They had a baby and named her Hope Lucille. It was Hope who brought healing to the family and forced Leland to own the family secret.
Sophia’s Downhome Memories: Picking Cotton for Lunch Money offered insight into the past with lasting implications for what it means to be African American. As the story wrapped up, it showed quite a few significant changes for blacks during that time. The civil rights movement brought about advances that included the Mississippi town voting in its first black sheriff and black school superintendent (Velma’s father). The Jones children all graduated college with honors, many went on to marry and have children. Like Velma. She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1972 with her Bachelor of Science degree. She split with her first love Tom and established a successful career in radio – New York City radio! She later married a boy named Kyle, had a baby girl and named her Lu-Lu.
In the words of Grandma Pecolia who lived to age 92, “When all is said and done, family is like a cracker jack prize. Whatever you get is yours!”
What you should know about The Talk, is that parents from the majority culture in the United States, will not have The Talk with their children. So, those of you, who don’t know about The Talk, find out at the links above, after reading my article.
For me, The Talk also hits home when it comes to fiction writing. I, often, include what I call “The Fiction Talk,” extending it beyond the words on a page.
At my university, the students in the Graduate Fine Arts program, are predominately white. Therefore, I find myself as the lone author in a writing workshop, for example, attempting to enlighten the students, who think The Talk in fiction, is off-putting or offensive. Attempting to explain, why I choose to demonstrate in some of my writing (depending on the character), why police, for example, profile African Americans. And although I am writing fiction, based on real life statistics, it contrasts their view of an “Officer-Friendly.”
What inspired me to also touch on this topic, is an article I read: Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published. There was a clever diagram in it, offering a snapshot of publishing categories, with a variety of sub-categories. The information promoted mainstream avenues. There was no mention of subcategories such as multiculturalism, urban fiction “dubbed street literature or gangster literature” fiction. Neither LGBT, or multigenerational for that matter, received a mention. Nothing wrong with that. There are authors who don’t want to be pigeon-holed. Book sellers do not classify my work under niche categories, but I have The Fiction Talk, like other authors, who do not feel compelled to shelve their work under niche categories, to have or not have, The Fiction Talk.
We live in a country divided by culture and race, despite some fiction authors claiming readers do not want to hear about it—claiming it does not exist. Much like the current White House Administration (Unnamed because I refuse to give them a voice) and their supporters. Writers expanding their words beyond mainstream ideals, must be more courageous and outspoken, keeping The Fiction Talk in the forefront. It is our right.
Publishing today can be a gamechanger, if you find the right avenue that works for you. Publishing is broader and includes more than adding self-publishing to the list. Given the additional sub-categories mentioned above, they do deserve a mention. Readers are very diverse, like writing, and reflect society of today. There are some readers, who hunt for titles, listed under their niche interests. I know a Lesbian woman who says she purposely looks for books labeled under an LGBT category. There are commercial publishers interested in these types of fiction categories. Authors may opt to choose one because of the difficulty obtaining a mainstream publisher; they may want to proudly display culture, opposed to following the lead of publishers, wanting manuscripts that assimilate culture, rather than tout real-life diversity.
There is a variety of ways authors can represent The Fiction Talk, for readers hungry to understand what all The Talk is about. Wanting to learn how to be more tolerant, rather than jump to defend. As determined writers, it is our passion to inspire understanding. That is why the title of this blog is: How About We Continue the “Fiction Talk.” A statement, not a question.
Remembering the old days. Sitting alone in a room – being a hermit of sorts – smashing out the next word on an old fashion IBM with no backspace, using paper or liquid white-out. Ugh! Or how about writing out an untold drama, in long-hand, on lined-paper, hoping like hell you don’t make too many errors because you made the mistake of writing in ink. Cause it looked nicer or would not fade as easy as in pencil? Who knows. From day one, writing a book in high school never to be published, was something I cared more about than almost flunking Algebra – only dad cared about. Okay, so maybe that is too far in the past for some. But, I have not forgotten.
Fortunately, authors now have far more resources to “write and write well (Connolly).” We don’t have to be hermits. We cannot afford to. If we are lucky, we have fulltime jobs to finance our professions. Us authors still struggling to brand ourselves. Unlike the well-established ones who can afford my favorite meal – a T-Bone Steak, Shrimp and Lobster with white wine followed by Cognac—Courvoisier preferably.
We must dream and dream big. Do so knowing that we do not have to live the life of a starving artist. Rather, live life and use it as the backdrop for more great stories. Take time to immerse in a good book; chat with fellow writers in virtual meet ups.
You are not alone in this great big universe of infinite words, waiting to inspire us toward the next great big book deal.
This is a blog I wrote a few years ago–updated with a title change. It is still relevant but my life has changed. I now live in Atlanta, GA. And this series, so far, has three-parts under the series title “The Tippy Ellis Story.” You can find her on Amazon.com and a host of other bookstore retailers.
As a new author to the fiction world, I am amazed at the wide range of talented black writers in this industry. Many authors we’ve heard of Carl Weber, Terry McMillian, Alice Monroe, Tony Morrison, Walter Mosley but numerous authors have yet to be acknowleged or celebrated. For example, if you search for African American authors on-line at Barnes and Noble the results will come back with over 3,000 titles. Amazing huh? Yep, black folks have passion for much more than basketball, singing and hip hop.
From what I’ve seen, even the most popular black authors rarely grace the front pages of major magazines or mainstream news. Seemingly, we have to fight our way to the forefront – to be seen – hoping to be heard and applauded for our works.
We have passion for what we do. Our individuality inspires great writers with great stories, offering ideals from a variety of black experiences beyond your typical street and hip hop literature, which appears to be growing in popularity – this is of no surprise.
Perhaps me being synical comes from living in a city called Portland, Oregon where blacks are 2 percent of the population if that. We usually get recognized if we commit a crime or if we belong to a closed niche group of black folks who the major news outlets recycle, making it sound like only a handful of black folks are doing good deeds, doing great things. I guess we can be grateful for our black media. But in my experience the geographical reach of black media, depending on where it is, is smaller. Further, the welcome mat doesn’t come easy and often expect to go unnoticed unless, of course, you already have the word celebrity attached to your name, or you know so and so at the corner store or church. There are exceptions.
So what advice is there for new black authors on the scene or for those interested in joining the long list of names already in the industry?
I’ve spent the past almost year writing my first novel, the first in a series, Diary of Tippy Ellis “Mama’s Daughter” and opted to self publish after having a focus group of early readers review the final draft. Inspired by my own life surrounded by often tragic circumstances, the Diary received raving reviews. I’m also a marketing and branding professional by trade so I am fortunate to have skills to self promote. Yet, I’ve found that introducing myself to the fiction world isn’t easy. So far, I’ve been met with resistance and the money train is nearing empty.
To get the credit we deserve? I guess I have to rethink what that means. Change my blueprint and adhere to my mission for this series, which is to “Give young black women a voice” and to keep the spotlight on violence against women. Both are crucial causes worth fighting for. Hence, I don’t need credit for that but the drive to continue the movement. Onward to part two.
Boss Amanishakhete, author and Word-Soul artist
Trailer: Diary of Tippy Ellis “Mama’s Daughter” by Boss Amanishakhete
Atlanta and Portland provide backdrops for a dynamic story about Latonya “Tippy” Ellis – 17 and black – who battles the pressures of drugs, alcohol and sex, while coming to grips with past family secrets. Through dealing with the trauma of murder and violence, Tippy learns to navigate the gauntlet of close friendships, love and life.
Diary of Tippy Ellis “Mama’s” Daughter” is currently on-line at Createspace.com and Amazon.com (paperback and kindle)
“Science fiction is the only genre that depicts how society could function differently. This is the first step towards progress as it allows us to imagine the future we want, and consider ways to work towards it. It also makes us aware of futures we wish to avoid, and helps us prevent them. (Klus)
This powerful statement by Dr. Klus sums up what I have learned over the past 10 weeks regarding science fiction. And that it is much more than a popular genre that can sell thousands of books just because. The ideas and foresight coming out of the minds of deep and futuristic thinkers, takes us on a journey of human spirit, turning longing for a more exciting future or something better than our present into possibilities or even reality. This very thought inspires me to finish my sci-fi novel. Although, admittedly, I have often thought about setting it aside and crawl back into my comfort zone.
But the dream of a Utopian society I want to create in this new read, is not without struggle. Such is life when trying to build something bigger and better. So far, working through this novel with the help of fellow students, continues to offer me a look inside this infinite and ever-expanding universe with so many dimensions we can only see through writing sci-fi. Like Klus says “Everything that’s physically possible is actually happening somewhere.”
Chatting it up with fellow writers in my virtual meet up reminds me, I am not alone in this cosmos of infinite words, waiting to inspire me “to imagine the future I want, and consider ways to work towards it.”