This blog entry comes to you live from the Acela train to Washington, DC. I have been aboard the train about twenty-minutes and I have have already eaten ALL the snacks I brought with me. (What does that say about my personality?) Anyway, I am on my way to DC because I am teaching in the 2010 Hurston/Wright Writers Week I am really thrilled about the opportunity and this is why.
In 2000, I won the Hurston/Wright Award for college writers. It's important because it was really the start of my career. Before winning the prize, I had been going through a looooong dry spell. Really long. Seven years long. I had written a novel that I couldn't publish and I had a fat notebook full of short stories that just couldn't get any traction. I'd applied to all sorts of prizes-- Even the Huston/Wright Award.
Every year around my birthday, I would send off my entry, humming with optimisim. Around Valentine's Day I would get my rejection letter. Well, in 2000, I noticed that I was still feeling happy all the way until Februrary 20th or so. What was different this year? Well, I didn't get that pretty Hurston/Wright envelope with my rejection enclosed. When I realised it, I got mad. "They didn't even have the decency to send my rejection letter! Trifling."
Literally, a day later, I received the call saying that "Press and Curl," an excerpt from Leaving Atlanta had won first place! The prize, $1000, was more than what I lived on in a month! And, frankly, I hadn't won anything since I placed in a writers contest in eleventh grade.
Shortly thereafter, good things started happening for <em>Leaving Atlanta</em>. I won a couple of other prizes and in May, the book deal. I'll never forget winning the Huston/Wright.
The winners were driven from the hotel to the awards ceremony in a stretch limo! If you know me, you will know that I was way overdressed. (If it's worth doing, it's worth over-doing.) The other honorees were Selly Thiam-- a 19 year old prodigy, and Faith Adelele-- a fabulous memoirist. With us in the limo was Gloria Naylor. I was so in awe of her that I was almost afriad to speak. She was so bored, that she didn't feel like being spoken to! To this day, this is a funny story that Selly, Faith and I tell whenever we get together.
Finally, it was time for my reading. I had practiced my little heart out. Just as I started on the first lines, "My mother tells lies..." There was a gasp in the crowd. A gentleman in the back had passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Thirty minutes later, I took a deep breath and read again. "My mother tells lies..." I paused to make sure that no one else was going to fall out.
It was a beautiful night. I will be forever grateful to the Hurston/Wright Foundation for giving me that first affirmation when I needed it so bad.
It is an honor to be asked to return. It's going to be a great weeek.