The Next Big Thing
The Next Big Thing is a blog-tag of writers answering questions about the book they recently published or one that is forthcoming. Ching-In Chen, author of the novel in poems The Heart’s Traffic, tagged me. Here are my responses.
What is the title of your book?
\blak\ \al-fə bet\
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“The lean, musical poems in this touching second collection depict a Southern family after the death of its matriarch.”
What genre does your book fall under?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
My father used to say that I code switched all the time as a kid, and I am fascinated by the many ways different ethnic and social groups communicate in this country, the way we take pride in owning and transforming language. The title \blak\ \al-fə bet\ comes from Nikky Finney’s poem “The Blackened Alphabet.” It acknowledges, and praises, our beautiful differences.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About two years. In its early stages, the manuscript was known as Stitch (a reference to my family’s quilting tradition). But that was the first version of the book. It is now a very different document.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My grandmother’s death was and is the most profound grief I have ever experienced. In losing her, I was determined to praise her. She was a kind soul. I started working on a book of family poems in 2003 (my graduate thesis at Indiana University) but it took a different turn once my grandmother passed in 2005. She became the center of the story, and the manuscript underwent a series of revisions until it won the Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award in 2011.
Who will publish your book?
Persea Books published it on February 6, 2013.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
Most Way Home by Kevin Young and Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
My grandparents are the central characters in this story. They should be played by a duo with proven on-screen chemistry. My vote would be Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee if Mr. Davis was still with us. Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll would be my next choice. Mr. Poitier is suave enough to play my grandfather (that’s important) and Ms. Carroll is regal like my grandmother was. It could work.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
At the heart of the book is a new form I invented called the Fret. Once you read it, you will understand why. There are also some interesting documents that appear and help tell the story.
For next week’s post, I am tagging the following writers:
Elana Bell, author of Eyes, Stones, winner of the Walt Whitman Award (2012 Louisiana State University Press)
Ellen Hagan, author of Crowned (2010 Sawyer House Press).
Francine J. Harris, author of allegiance (2012 Wayne State University Press).
L. Lamar Wilson, author of Sacreligion (2013 Carolina Wren Press) winner of the 2012 Carolina Wren Press Poetry Series (selected by Lee Ann Brown).
Marcus Wicker, author of the poetry collection Maybe the Saddest Thing (2012 Harper Perennial) winner of the National Poetry Series Prize (selected by D.A. Powel.)