Monday, January 26, 2009

Identity in Ink

At my book signing in Harlem last week, I gave a little talk (eek!) and took questions (double eek!) before the actual signing. It was my first bookstore appearance. I felt very official.

I uttered my remarks, feeling nervous, peeking at my notes probably a little too often. I drew only a small crowd, due to frigid weather and everyone’s inauguration excitement. Still, at question time, the few but faithful really stuck it to me. “How'd you get the idea for the book?” (“Um... that’s what my talk was about. Weren’t you listening?”) “You weren’t alive in 1968, so did you interview people who were?” (“Not really... it’s fiction, not a research paper. I used my imagination.”) “Why'd you use standard English, not Ebonics?” ("Um... no good answer for this, except that I don’t speak Ebonics, so...") You get the idea.

Then came the real kicker: “Do you think there are any identity issues you personally were dealing with in writing this book?”

I almost laughed out loud. The only genuine answer to a question like that is “Yeah. Duh.” I don’t mean to be flip – it’s an excellent question, but challenging to answer meaningfully.

I’m a black woman writing about the civil rights movement, so how could identity exploration not play a role? Fiction, for me, is about imagining myself in various circumstances. I write (and read) to learn. I write about things I love, things that make me nervous or disturb me, or to speak about what’s important to me. That’s forming identity, right?

Besides, I think anyone who writes anything at all deals on some level with identity issues. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, intentionally personal or ostensibly objective – what we write has to do with who we are. And trying to figure out who we are. Is that a journey that ever ends? I doubt it. Maybe when you’re old, you just make peace with the things you know about yourself and the things you don’t, but until then, isn’t pretty much everything about defining yourself in relation to the world?

For me, right now, it is. What about you?


sally said...

This story had me laughing out loud. My reaction to the questions were the same as yours. Oh boy...

I definitely think that no matter what you write, there is always a bit of soul-searching involved and a piece of you is left on the paper. I think that's why I've always loved writing, because you can tap into different parts of yourself and let it out in different ways.

And in case I haven't said it already, CONGRATS!

Pauline Karakat said...

Congratulations on your new book! I meant to come to your book signing, but this month has been particularly hectic for me! I just want to wish you every success, and if you are going to have any other book signings in the city, I am going to do my best to get there!

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