Introducing Professor, Editor, Author Liz Atwood!

It is my pleasure to introduce Liz Atwood, a “triple threat” in the world of words. Liz and I have been friends for years, actually decades. We first met when we were newspaper reporters in our 20s for the Richmond News Leader in Richmond, Virginia. She first told me about her book project a few years ago and I’m delighted to announce that The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison: America’s First Female Foreign Intelligence Agent will be available from Naval Institute Press September 15th and is available for pre-order now.

Liz Atwood

Here’s more about Liz:

Liz Atwood is a former reporter and editor at the Baltimore Sun, where she first learned about Marguerite Harrison, the Baltimore socialite and Sun reporter who worked as a double agent in the 1920s.

A few years ago, Liz decided to find out all she could about this fascinating woman. She read her military files at the National Archives in College Park and traveled to Moscow, Russia, to see Harrison’s prison records at the archives of the Federal Security Bureau. She pored over Harrison’s writings and interviewed one of her granddaughters who had vivid recollections of the woman she called “Granny.”

The result is the first published biography of Harrison’s life. Although other authors had written articles and chapters about Harrison that relied heavily on her memoirs, Atwood discovered that Harrison was not always truthful in reporting the extent and nature of her work for the U.S. Military Intelligence Division and the State Department. Harrison’s story is one that is more complicated and more important than she previously revealed.

Atwood grew up in Luray, Virginia, and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Virginia and a PhD in public communications from the University of Maryland.

She is an associate professor of journalism at Hood College in Frederick, Md., where her research focuses on how journalists contribute to political and social change.

She lives in Catonsville, Maryland.

More information about Liz can be found on her website.

THE LIZ ATWOOD INTERVIEW

What was your writing process like? Did you have any rituals or favorite workspaces?

I had a fairly short time to write this book. I was on sabbatical for one semester in the spring of 2018. I also had heard that another author was working on a biography of Harrison and I really wanted to be first. As a former journalist, I’m used to writing on deadline, so I set myself a goal of writing a 30-page chapter every week. I usually started around 9 in the morning and wrote until afternoon. I wrote most of the book at a desk in my bedroom, although I proofread pages wherever I happened to be—on the patio, at my father’s house and at the beach. I don’t have any particular rituals, except forcing myself to sit down and write, even if what I put down is not very good. I like to get my ideas on paper and then go back and rearrange and refine.

Did you always want to be a writer? If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Yes. I’ve been writing stories since I was in second grade and this passion was behind my decision to study journalism and work as a newspaper reporter. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be teacher. I’m lucky that now I can be both.

What motivated you to write this book?

When I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical at my college, I decided I wanted to use that time to write the best story I knew that had never been written. That was the story of Marguerite Harrison. I had heard about her when I was reporter and editor at the Baltimore Sun and saw her photograph outside a conference room door. When I started to look at what had been written about her, I found book chapters and articles and an unpublished doctoral dissertation, but no published biography. In addition, previous authors had relied heavily on Harrison’s memoirs, and I discovered she was not always truthful, or at least not forthcoming.

How did you first learn about Marguerite Harrison?

I probably first heard about her in conversations with other reporters and editors at the Sun, but as I noted above, I really became aware of her name and what she had done when I saw her photograph and a brief description of her work outside a conference room door at the newspaper office.

Did you learn anything about Marguerite Harrison that surprised you?

The most surprising thing for me was how important she was as a trailblazer in the foreign intelligence service. Women have always been spies, even in this country, but our government was reluctant to send women overseas for fear they would fall in love with their targets or not give accurate information on military matters. Harrison was a talented linguist who knew Europe well. She persuaded the Army’s Military Intelligence Division to hire her at the end of World War I.

She later described herself as a newspaper reporter who dabbled in espionage. Her accounts make her seem almost foolish. But she was actually quite shrewd and sophisticated. The top men in Military Intelligence trusted her with some of the nation’s most sensitive missions and she spied for our government for several years beyond what she admitted to in her books.

Did you learn anything about the world of espionage that surprised you?

I had no idea how complicated it is. While I was researching this book, I also read John le Carré  spy novels for insights. The intelligence services operate on a need-to-know basis. Harrison’s files are filled with letters from government officials wondering if she can be trusted or if she was a Communist spy. So while she was working for one office in the Army or State Department, those in other offices didn’t necessarily know about it.

What was your research process like?

I started reading her extensive files at the National Archives that describe her mission and reports on her two imprisonments in Russia. I then went to Moscow, Russia, to review her prison files. At the same time, I was scrutinizing her memoirs and newspaper articles. When I started to compare her accounts with the official records, I realized she often did not reveal the complete picture of her work. For example, she wrote that she had no idea that traveling to Russia in 1920 would be risky. That’s absurd. There were at least a half dozen Americans held in Russian prisons at the time and the Bolsheviks had broken up at least two American spy rings. It was a risky mission and she and her commanders knew it.

Why do you think Harrison had never been the subject of a published book-length biography?

I think many authors were fooled by the superficial story line: spoiled and headstrong Baltimore socialite, bored and grieving after her husband dies, decides to become a newspaper reporter and then a spy. She comes off as a woman who flits from one thing to the next. But she actually was rather ruthless and calculating. She knew how to be what she called “charming” and she played her seeming naiveté to her advantage.

Describe your path to getting a publisher, difficult, easy, something in between?

I first tried to find an agent. I wanted to sell the book to a trade publication rather than an academic press because I thought the story had popular appeal. Also, the academic publishers tend to price their books very high and that discourages sales. I tried for almost a year to find an agent, but without luck. Then I started to look at the academic presses. Johns Hopkins University declined the book, but an editor there suggested Naval Institute Press, which published Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October.  The editors at Naval Institute Press were enthusiastic about this project from the start and I was very glad they agreed to work with me.

What do you want people to think about as they’re reading or after they’ve read the book?

I want readers to appreciate that Marguerite Harrison played an important role in the creation of our intelligence services. Most women spies had previously relied on exchanging sex for secrets. Most famous, of course, was German spy Mata Hari. Harrison used her brains, not her body to gather information. She was not always nice and she was a terrible mother. But she set an important precedent. By the time of World War II, thousands of American women were working for the foreign intelligence service and of course today a woman is in charge of the CIA.

What’s next for you, another book project?

Yes, I’m working on a book about journalists who have died in America as a result of their work. I was moved to do this after the Annapolis Capital Gazette shooting in 2018. I knew one of the victims. This is going to be my love letter to journalism. Not all of the victims are heroes, but America should know that despite our guarantees of freedom of the press, nearly 70 journalists have been killed in this country because of their work.

What’s the Story…on Angie Chatman?

I had the pleasure of meeting Angie Chatman in Taos, New Mexico, the summer of 2018 when we were both fellows of the Kimbilio Fellowship program for fiction writers of the African Diaspora. Fellows come from all over the country and some from outside of the U.S. Angie and I discovered that we both lived in the Boston area and have kept in touch ever since.  Angie is frequent contributor to Business Insider, and her articles, essays, and short fiction have been anthologized in prominent print and online journals. She is also an extraordinary storyteller and has performed stories for The MOTH, StoryColliderMassMouthTell-All Boston, and the television series Stories from the Stage (WGBH). I’ve watched her tell stories and have been riveted. 

Angie Chatman

LB: Have you always wanted to be a storyteller? When did this interest begin?

AC: No, I didn’t plan on telling stories on stage in front of an audience. That’s scary, nerve wracking and embarrassing.  I’m a writer; I tell stories on paper. However, my friend, Robin, saw an advertisement to learn how to tell and pitch stories. I was beginning my career as a freelance writer and I knew I could use some additional training on pitching. We went to the class. Robin and I both pitched and were asked to tell for the Holiday episode of WGBH’s Stories from the Stage. The energy in the room was palpable and such a rush. I can see why actors, comedians, and performers love being on stage.  

LB: How has the fever pitch of the Black Lives Matter movement this year affected avenues for you to do storytelling?

AC: Because of BLM, storytelling outlets want to get with the program and ride the publicity wave. Having been in the news business you understand how that works. So instead of having one or two people of color on the stage, there are now shows where all of the tellers identify as black. 

LB: How has BLM movement this year opened up additional opportunities for you to tell stories about race, injustice, and other socially relevant topics.

AC: In addition to being able to be on the program, nearly all of the themes are centered on social injustice towards black and brown folks. Storytelling is an industry albeit a small one; the producers are responding to market pressure. I’m hoping that this will change this industry in some way. Previously, it had been my experience that producers – who are typically white – shied away from these topics. I don’t really blame them, most of the audiences are white and white people thought racism was over once we elected a black President.

LB: What is your favorite story to tell and why?

AC: That’s like asking what’s my favorite book. I love all my stories – and all my books. After all, my stories are about my experiences. Even the painful ones are useful to revisit now and then to remind myself of lessons learned.

LB: Do storytelling and your writing complement each other? If so, how so?

AC: Oh heck yeah. Telling and writing are two sides of the story coin. Both have magical powers, which engage the imagination of an audience. Both set a scene, develop characters, introduce an inciting incident, and land the ending. The only difference is a storyteller shows what happens by using vocal tone and modulation, body movement and gestures. All a writer has are marks on paper. 

LB: Why is storytelling important?

AC: At their core stories are about love, heartache, growing up, risk, and failure, everything and anything about the human experience. Every story connects us because stories, especially the good ones, remind us of our shared humanity. That is why storytelling is so important and is a timeless artform.

LB: For someone who wants to become a storyteller, where do they begin?

AC: Since I got into storytelling after taking a class, I’m biased. That’s what I recommend. However, there are story slams all over Boston, the greater New England area, and around the country where you throw your name in a hat and hope you get picked. You can start there as well.

Angie Chatman is a writer, editor, and storyteller. She lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with her husband, children, and rescue dog, Lizzie. Angie earned her MFA in creative writing from Queens University in Charlotte and an MBA from MIT. She teaches at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. Follow her on twitter and find out more about her on her website.

The Diversity Gap in Publishing

I am new to the publishing world, my debut novel, The Talking Drum  was published at the end of May, and I didn’t have a sense of the publishing landscape in terms of the value placed on works by black versus non-black authors. That is, until the arrival of the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe. The hashtag was created by the fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney to highlight the disparities.

I now know that black authors have been having these conversations for quite some time. The conversations picked up speed and drew more attention from the public in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests throughout the United States and other parts of the world regarding police brutality and racial injustice in general.

As an author who is African American, the threads of conversation under the hashtag drew my interest. I followed the tweets closely. Black and non-black authors disclosed the amounts paid for their book advances. The disparities were stunning.

I researched further and came across the Lee & Low Books Diversity Baseline Survey. Lee & Low is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States. Their 2019 survey—an update and expansion from the 2015 survey—captured information from a large segment of the publishing landscape with all Big 5 publishers participating, all major review journals, and academic presses and literary agencies.

The survey found that overall, the publishing industry is 76% white, 5% black, 6% Latinx, and 7% Asian. Editorial staffs are 85% white, 1% black, 2% Latinx, and 5% Asian. Marketing and publicity departments are 74% white, 4% black, 5% Latinx, and 8% Asian.

I was particularly interested in the findings about book reviewers, being a book reviewer myself and having had my book reviewed by upwards of 40 reviewers during my book launch. I know the impact reviews can have on book sales and publicity. The survey found that among book reviewers 80% are white, 4% black, 3% Latinx, and 4% Asian.

Needless to say, the people behind the books serve as gatekeepers, who can make a huge difference in determining which stories are amplified and which are shut out. If the people who work in publishing are not a diverse group, how can diverse voices truly be represented in its books? The survey found that 71 % of African American fiction is sold by indie and self-published authors. Sales figures show that these books are selling, there is a market for them, but the Big 5 publishers—Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan—largely ignore them.

It took me 10 years to get my novel published. I have no idea if biases or prejudice had anything to do with the length of my journey. Along the way I got great feedback from literary agents and editors who helped me make the novel better. When I finally got a contract, it was from a small press in Toronto, a women’s press that has the mission of publishing women of all backgrounds.

I wonder if I’ll face similar challenges with my second novel. If I acquire a literary agent, will the agent be unable to sell my book to a major publisher? Will I be shut out because of race?

In this era in which reading lists are popping up on the internet urging the public to read black authors, buy black books, and support black-owned and operated bookstores, there also needs to be an outcry over the lack of diversity in the publishing world and the pay disparities between black authors and white authors and between black authors and other authors of color. Unless the publishing industry is held accountable, improvements will not be made.

“Late” Is A Relative Term

Television news is a young person’s game.

I first heard that assertion from my broadcast journalism professors and class advisors, and then later from workshop presenters at national industry conferences. The statement was an undercurrent that gradually grew into a drumbeat for us who toiled as young reporters at stations in small town America. We were encouraged by our colleagues and mentors to keep our resumes and news clips up to date in anticipation of moving every year or so to an incrementally larger and better paying news market. The goal was to reach our “destination station” with its requisite prestige, prime time newscast slot, and comfortable salary as quickly as possible, especially if we were women.

The cautionary tales were all around us. When I was hired by my first station in Champaign, Illinois, there were murmurs around the newsroom that the female anchor of our evening newscast was involved in tense negotiations with management over her contract. For years she’d had her multiyear contract renewed without a problem, I was told. This time around management wanted to give her only a one-year extension. In the TV news business, it’s common knowledge that a one-year contract extension is a station’s way of hurrying you out the door so that you can be replaced with someone younger and/or cheaper. The news anchor was in her mid-30s at the time. Many of us in the newsroom had no doubt that in the eyes of management she had aged out, this in spite of the fact that her male counterpart on the anchor desk was at least 15 years her senior and continued to be offered multiyear contracts.

At another station, the female morning news anchor, in her late 40s to early 50s could not convince management to move her to the evening newscast, the more coveted time slot. She started looking elsewhere. We knew this because calls came into the newsroom from other station managers wanting to check her references. She was eventually let go during a station reorganization.

At my last station, before I decided to quit television journalism to pursue work at a nonprofit, tense moments ensued when the evening anchor returned from maternity leave to resume her duties that had been handled during her absence by a much younger female. For weeks following the more senior woman’s return, she would ignore her co-worker’s overtures for conversation and exchanges of pleasantries. I saw this episode as an illustration of the fears women in broadcasting feel of easily being replaced. Years later, in an unrelated development, several of the on-air women sued the station for age discrimination.

During my 10 years in television I came to know that the TV newsroom was a pressure cooker for a multitude of reasons, and for women, age is one of the biggest. It’s like a ticking clock that begins to resemble a time bomb as the years pass.

Now with that chapter of my life behind me but always near my consciousness, I can’t help but contrast that experience with my entering the world of publishing as an author. I have seen the attention the literary world gives to young authors, the lists of contests, grants, and awards highlighting and touting the accomplishments of writers in the early years of their adult life. I’ve skimmed the headlines—Buzzfeed’s “20 under 40 Debut Writers You Need to be Reading,” Bustle’s “25 Books Written by Women under 25,” Goodreads’ “Authors Under 30,” and Poets & Writers’ “30 Below” contest and many others.

A 2010 survey conducted by fantasy novelist Jim C. Hines in which he found that the average age for novelists to make their publishing debuts was 36 to 37 is often sited when aspiring authors are looking for a benchmark.

But to my relief, I have not seen signs of favoritism of youth and ageism in the literary world when it comes to aspiring authors of a mature age—over the age of 40—pursuing book publication.

The list of well-known women whose first books were published when they were over 40 is lengthy. Annie Proulx, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Isak Dinesen, Elizabeth Strout, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Maya Angelou are in that group. And this year the literary world welcomed a number of mature debut female authors to its ranks who I’ve had the pleasure of either meeting through our literary endeavors or becoming acquainted with through corresponding with them as a fellow debut author of a mature age.

Vivian Gibson: The memoir by the 70-year-old author, The Last Children of Mill Creek, ranked number 4 on Publisher’s Weekly’s Bestseller’s list for the week of May 16, 2020. Gibson began writing short stories about her childhood memories of Mill Creek, an African American neighborhood in Saint Louis that was destroyed in 1959 to build a highway, after retiring at age 66.

Dr. Bettye Kearse: A retired pediatrics specialist in her late 70s is the author of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family. Kearse traced her family’s history from the antebellum South to present-day California and Boston and investigates long-standing claims that she and her relatives are descended from U.S. President James Madison.

Dr. Rita Woods: The physician and medical director who always felt a pull toward writing is the author of Remembrance, a complex novel about loss and survival told across 200 years by four women, united by the color of their skin and the supernatural powers they command. 

In a recent interview Ruth Greenstein, publisher at independent Turtle Point Press, described discovering and working with younger writers who are gifted as “an unparalleled thrill” and a “kind of honeymoon.” But she added that when the work of an author is exceptional, age is not an important factor. “What counts is passion, energy, originality. I find that older writers tend to have more to say—more wisdom that’s worth hearing and remembering,” she added.

Greenstein’s interview was published on Bloom, a literary site devoted to highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. The fact that this website exists is an indication of the literary world’s embrace of the mature writer. Bloom is also a community of artists and readers who believe that “late” is a relative term. I couldn’t agree more.

Reading Suggestions During this Turbulent Time

In light of where we are in the country right now, days after the George Floyd murder and the brutal attacks and killings of other innocent African American by the police and others, I’ve compiled a reading list for those who have been asking the question, “What can I do to help? What can I do to be part of the solution to resolving hatred and racial bias?”

One thing people can do is develop a better understanding of the Black Experience by reading about it.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement 

During his 28-year career, Matthew Horace rose through the ranks from a police officer working the beat to a federal agent working criminal cases in some of the toughest communities in America to a highly decorated federal law enforcement executive managing high-profile investigations nationwide. Yet it was not until seven years into his service- when Horace found himself face down on the ground with a gun pointed at his head by a white fellow officer-that he fully understood the racism seething within America’s police departments.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

Invisible People: Stories of Lives at the Margins

Every human being has an epic story. The late Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Alex Tizon told the epic stories of marginalized people—from lonely immigrants struggling to forge a new American identity to a high school custodian who penned a New Yorker short story. Edited by Tizon’s friend and former colleague Sam Howe Verhovek, Invisible People collects the best of Tizon’s rich, empathetic accounts—including “My Family’s Slave,” the Atlantic magazine cover story about the woman who raised him and his siblings under conditions that amounted to indentured servitude.

Make Change

Activist and journalist Shaun King reflects on the events that made him one of the most prominent social justice leaders in the world and lays out a clear action plan for you to join the fight.
As a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, Shaun King has become one of the most recognizable and powerful voices on the front lines of civil rights in our time. His commitment to reforming the justice system and making America a more equitable place has brought challenges and triumphs, soaring victories and crushing defeats. Throughout his wide-ranging activism, King’s commentary remains rooted in both exhaustive research and abundant passion.

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America

When Darnell Moore was fourteen, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they thought he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn’t the last time he would face death.

Three decades later, Moore is an award-winning writer, a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In No Ashes in the Fire, he shares the journey taken by that scared, bullied teenager who not only survived, but found his calling. 

Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism

For the reader who wants to learn more about black feminism, Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks is considered one of the most important and comprehensive works on how sexism and misogyny specifically affects women of color. 

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! I’m a literary debutante!

Printing Press

@TheDebutanteBall @ InannaPub #diversebooks #diverselit I am thrilled to report that I have been chosen for The Debutante Ball, a group blog for authors making their debut in the literary world. The blog is in its 12th season and celebrates 5 up-and-coming authors. Debutante Ball LogoFormer Debs include bestsellers in the genres of women’s fiction, mystery, literary fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and more. I’ll be blogging every week during the 2019-2020 season on a variety of literary topics, interviewing authors and hosting book giveaways as well as sharing exciting details about my big “dance” toward the publication of my novel, The Talking Drum, which is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in May 2020. The Debutante Ball was established in 2007. Check us out here.

Find your favorite read while in the back seat of an Uber

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Many of us who love to read and love to write have bemoaned the loss of brick and mortar bookstores over the past several years—the chain stores as well as the independents. We’ve wondered if our society will lose interest in reading and if the online booksellers are speeding up the demise of bookstores. We writers have wondered if we’ll have a decent-sized audience who will read our work. My fears were calmed recently while I was on a business trip. To get to my destination, I had to connect at Philadelphia International Airport. Killing time between flights I happened upon what is called the Philadelphia Book Exchange, a welcoming little cove with benches and chairs and a slot for dropping off books for others to read and selecting books that you’d like to read. It’s located at Terminal A-East. The airport also has a virtual library, which lets visitors access the Free Library of Philadelphia’s electronic collection of e-books. It’s located in the D/E Connector.

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And also during my trip I was delighted to see that my Uber driver had placed some delightful readings in the seat pocket behind the driver’s seat. It’s encouraging to see new avenues for inspiring reading.If you’ve seen libraries, bookstores, or book exchanges pop up in unusual or untraditional places, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

 

Mark your calendar for the first-ever Women’s Fiction Day!

WOMENS FICTION DAY

June 8, 2019, marks the first Women’s Fiction Day. Sponsored by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, the occasion is in celebration of women’s fiction authors, novels, publishers, booksellers, and most importantly, readers who appreciate women’s fiction and the power of a great story. As a fiction writer myself, I am very pleased by this news. Women’s fiction includes layered stories in which the plot is driven by the main character’s emotional journey. The stories can be contemporary or historical, and may have magical, mystery, thriller, romance, or other elements.

June 8th was chosen because it’s a celebratory month and many people enjoy summer reading. Summer signals a time to slow down, relax, visit a local library or bookstore, and discover new novels to experience during this beautiful season – and throughout the entire year.

Ways to Celebrate Women’s Fiction Day:

• Visit http://www.womensfictionwriters.org and subscribe to the free Read On! Newsletter where we’ll keep you up-to-date on new women’s fiction authors and titles. • Visit the WFWA shelf on Goodreads to find hundreds of titles.

• Visit your local library and/or bookstore to discover new authors and novels. • Follow WFWA on Twitter @WF_Writers or Instagram womensfictionwriters

• On social media, #bookstagram your favorite book and include a photo or stack

• Host or attend a women’s fiction book club event.

The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) was founded in 2013 and is now the premier organization for women’s fiction. The organization fosters an online community of inclusion and opportunity, and provides resources, professional development, networking, and support for aspiring, debut, and published women’s fiction authors, as well as industry professionals.

A Black History Month reading list

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Reading African American literature is a great way to celebrate Black History Month. In recognition of this observance, I offer my list of top 10 books (in no particular order) by authors of the African diaspora (people of African origin living outside of the continent).

  • Gloria Naylor–The Women of Brewster Place
  • Naylor won critical and popular acclaim for her first published novel. In later years it became a television miniseries. In The Women of Brewster Place and subsequent novels, Naylor gave intense and vivid depiction of many social issues, including poverty, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and social stratification of African Americans.

 

  • Zora Neale Hurston–Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Hurston was an anthropologist and influential author of African American literature. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God is her most popular work.

 

  • Angie Thomas–The Hate U Give
  • This young adult novel–which is now a major motion picture– felt so real to me that at times I had to put it down and let the book cool off for a day or two before continuing. The Hate U Give debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for 50 weeks. Thomas’ goal through her fiction, is to shed light on issues that many African Americans face.

 

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates–Between the World and Me
  • This emotionally searing work is written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son about the feeling, symbolism, and realities associated with being African American in the United States. Coates is an author, journalist, and comic book writer who gained broad attention during his time as a national correspondent at The Atlantic.

 

  • Langston Hughes–The Short Stories of Langston Hughes
  • My favorite writer, Hughes was a poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist and was best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. This collection of his short stories showcases Hughes’ literary skill and artistic ability.

 

  • James Baldwin–Another Country
  • The works of novelist, playwright, and social critic James Baldwin explored the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions. The novel, Another Country, published in 1962, portrays themes taboo in their day, including bisexuality, interracial couples, and extramarital affairs.

 

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–Americanah
  • Nigerian author Adichie won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award for this novel taught in many university classrooms, that traces the life of a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. to attend university.

 

  • Edwidge Dandicat–Claire of the Sea Light
  • This Haitian-American novelist and short story writer has won numerous awards and is gifted at using many different forms of storytelling. Claire of the Sea Light shows a town scarred by violence and corruption and social disparities but also filled with hopes and dreams.

 

 

  • August Wilson–Fences
  • The works of playwright August Wilson included a series of plays, known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for drama. Each work is set in a different decade and depicts comic and tragic aspects of the African American experiences. Fences, which became a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington, is but one of August’s exceptional works.

 

French Riviera and City of Light venues are reminders of the novelist’s impact on culture

 

LISA AND HARBOR

As I strolled through the streets of Monaco, on a recent working vacation to Europe, I was impressed with the number of tourists that crowded the tiny city-state-country-microstate along the Mediterranean coastline. Tour BusSome rode by on packed double-decker tour buses. Others flipped through racks of scenic postcards and sized up Grand Prix T-shirts at the ubiquitous souvenir shops. I joined the crowd at noon on the grounds of the royal palace for the changing of the guard and shared sidewalkCASTLE space with others to ogle the display windows of the luxurious boutiques. When I got to the square at Monte-Carlo, I was annoyed with myself that my camera was in my pocket as a Maserati rode past. As I peeked into the Monte-Carlo Casino from the grand stairs (you have to pay to get in, be a high roller, and properly attired) I began to ask myself: “What has given Monte-Carlo such an important position in popular culture. Of course, memories of the glamorous Prince Rainier III and his wife, Princess Grace are part of it, but a larger influence, in my opinion, has been that of Ian Fleming. The spy novelist described the casino extensively in his first James Bond book, Casino Royale, published in 1953. The Casino Royalecasino also appeared in Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye. Add to that the movie adaptations and a marketing bonanza was born. As I watched well-coiffed, wealthy patrons glide up to the entrance, a framed publicity poster of actor Daniel Craig in the role of Bond came into view near the casino entrance.

During the Paris portion of my adventure and tour, novelist Victor Hugo’s name was highlighted as we approached the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral. Known for its NOTRE DAME AND LISA.2jpgflying buttresses, gargoyles, and colorful rose windows, it suffered desecration in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Soon after publication of Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1831, popular interest in the building revived. The cathedral continues to play a large role in the landscape of The City of Light and in people’s imaginations.

The popularity of both Monte-Carlo and Notre-Dame illustrate the ability of novelists to play a role in keeping venues in the international spotlight decades and sometimes more than a century after their work has been published.