Remains

I carried my father in a sturdy cardboard box through the Nashville airport. He sat in my bag in the guest room at my friend’s house, and then in my suitcase at the Four Seasons in St. Louis. By the time I got to the airport for my flight back to Burlington, I knew to put him in his own bin going through security. The agents were respectful and even tender.

My father, my censor. How I miss him. I went down to Nashville to prepare him for the publication of Black is the Body over three years ago. He died the next morning, before I had a chance to give him the speech I had practiced. He wasn’t a reader, my father, but he was close to people who were, and I didn’t want him to encounter the family stories in the book through other parties.

“Emily, don’t write this down,” I grew up hearing from him. “You should write all of this down,” my mother would say. In that intersection, in that can’t win for losing, I became a writer.

 My father was a keeper of many secrets. I found evidence of my mother’s interior life in the things she left behind: letters, cards, poetry, scrapbooks. My father’s private life I can only imagine. There are people whose lives were shattered by his death; I talked to a few of them last week in Nashville, the first stop of my book tour. He was 83, but his life stopped mid-story. Who knows how it will end.

Take Care

My book came out three days ago, January 29. That morning, I was on NPR’s “On Point” with Meghna Chakrabarti. In the afternoon, my editor called to tell me that we were already going into our second printing. That night, my beloved local independent bookstore hosted my first book event. The house was packed with friends, former students and their parents, my kids’ bus driver from elementary school (with whom I used to exchange books in the mornings), neighbors (past and present), university colleagues, the woman who helped us furnish our new house, my hairdresser, my dentist, members of our church community, as well as many delightful strangers. It was great day and a wonderful night. I signed 100 books.

The next morning, racing home from a radio gig in the bitter cold, I slammed my finger in the car door. I went right into panic mode as I watched the blood pool into my nail bed. Luckily, my husband was at home and talked me down from the rafters, a job he’s very good at. Many icings later, I still can’t use my index finger on my dominant hand.

I have to laugh. In between worrying about how I’m going to sign books over the several days, I laugh. I mean, I can’t write. I can barely type this. But I have to write; there is no choice. I will have to find a way to work with the wound—which is exactly what Black is the Body is about, essentially.

 So, amidst all of this dream-come-true kind of excitement, I am reminded, with each keystroke, how essential it is to take care of the things you need.

I hope to see you out there!

Chick-fil-A

It’s good to be home! I am back from three full days in Ohio, where I gave two talks. On top of that, I visited Linda Krumholz’s Harlem Renaissance class this morning. I went in tired and distracted, preoccupied with the travel ahead of me. The students were so gracious and thoughtful, so kind. They were a special group and asked me the most interesting questions about my work than I have ever been asked. “Now I’m worried I’m going to forget to leave,” I joked. I saw a white male student look at the clock when I said that; it was empathetic concern, I had no doubt. 

When it was time for me to go, another male student escorted me to my car, per Linda’s request. 

“I’ve never escorted anyone before,” he joked. “Maybe you should take my arm.” We laughed.

                  “Do you have a jacket to throw over puddles so I won’t muss my dress slippers?” I teased.

We talked about his ambivalent fondness for Chick-fil-A (he identified himself as bisexual). I shared my secret shame over re-watching the first two seasons of “House of Cards.” He wants to be a writer. How? he asked. 

“Sit your butt in the seat and move your hand across the page,” I told him. “That’s all I know.”

College students: they make me laugh, keep me fresh, and give me hope. That’s why I teach.

Trouble

“You’re going to get into trouble,” a friend warned me as I was getting ready to publish my last book, a story about Carl Van Vechten, a white man, and his passionate attachment to blackness. Fear of getting into trouble had made it hard for me to write the book for many years. I swore it off. I tried to keep a straight face in sober debates about whether or not Van Vechten appropriated black culture. But I didn’t care. I was drawn to his messiness. It kept me awake. I didn’t care about answers, but I did care about the questions. Finally, I gave in to my own curiosity, and the book came to be.

Writing, for me, is about questions. I write because there are many things that fascinate, bother, and intrigue me, things I am sure have the same effect on other people. Writing is a solitary practice, but it is also about finding a community. Writing would be joyless for me if I weren't sure that there are other human beings out there who wonder at the world the same way I do..

I am writing this blog for those of you who are also drawn to mystery, propelled by curiosity, and excited about all that is ineffable in this life.

Welcome.