the beloved black body (II)


Went to a book talk yesterday on Meri Danquah's anthology The Black Body @ The Brooklyn Museum.

The first reading I attended on this book was at Bluestockings Bookstore in the Village last November. At the time the event was slated to begin, the bookstore organizer started asking attendees, some of whom were friends of the author, whether Meri had called to say she was coming. As they confirmed, Meri arrived thirty minutes late in no hurry and a floor-length leopard print jacket.

She didn't apologize, didn't even mention her lateness, instead launching into a reading of her prologue before introducing some contributors seated in the audience, two white men, who read from their essays (one about dating a sexy black actress and the other about loving black music, both slightly fetishized). It was interesting hearing white men sharing very beautiful and personal sentiments about the black body. I suppose I have always been somewhat skeptical.

And Meri's essay, about raising a daughter in the U.S. away from a self-affirming, loving community in her native Ghana, and all the havoc this dissociation wreaked on her daughter's sense of self, resonated very personally with me.

But it was the militant, defensive responses Ms. Danquah offered during the Q & A that turned me off and away. She bristled visibly, irritated or annoyed at most of the questions, as though we should all fully study her and not ask that she cope with and understand the audience in front of her.

Nevertheless, I approached her to sign my copy of the book after several fraught moments at the cash register questioning, am I buying this just as a means of talking with her? do I even like her? am I buying this to support her just because she's a black/African/woman writer?

My pen barely worked and, for several moments, she scribbled circles on the page waiting for the ink to run. I reminded her that we had spoken once over the phone, when my father met her at a conference in DC and then again over email about my book project. I waited for that moment when the recognition came, her glassy eyes warming--and chilling again as she pulled away from the connection, cloaked in her leopard jacket, scribbling some nonsense ("Keep on writing") in my book and handing it back to me, turning to someone else.

All told, it cost me twenty dollars and my self esteem.

I suppose I was deep in the writing and just needed some compassion, some acknowledgement, something more than she was willing to give. I spent the hour afterwards talking with one of my writer friends about how guarded Meri was, rehashing the intricacies of her depression and antisocial behavior--laid out in her memoir, Willow Weep For Me--and trying unsuccessfully to forgive her. I resolved to step back from famous writers until my book was done, and my own fragile esteem had also re-cloaked itself.

At any rate, attending First Saturdays at the museum last night, couldn't help but wander upstairs to the book talk, hoping to lay eyes on Ms. Danquah again and meet some of the black contributors who couldn't make it before. She didn't even show up this time.

I often wonder how we learn to be-love each other, to be-love ourselves. I wonder why I sought to connect with Meri again though the first go around taught me better. Maybe it is human to seek connection/love from those who would deny us. And maybe the most well-intentioned of us can sometimes be the most unloving.

Even I, last night, found myself eager to end a too-long conversation with a long-time-no-see friend simply to walk alone, staring absently at the paintings on the wall.

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  1. She must have been having a bad day. But that shouldn't be an excuse because business and personal matters should be kept separate. U needed encouragement and as a fellow writer, she was meant to give it.

    That shouldn't affect your writer's self esteem sis. If it were me, i'd confront her that instant, how rude!

  2. Writers should be honoured that people read their books. The greatest compliment you can pay writers in my opinion is to tell them these four magic words "I read your book". And to attend a writer's book talk should make them feel honoured beyond all honours.

    When we read a book, wether we are curled up in bed on a rainy day or sandwiched by commuters on a train, we actually invite the writer into our lives - at that moment, we are at our most open and defenseless as we allow the writer hold us by the hand and take us on a journey, to show us a new perspective of reality that may make our eyes mist over and our hearts thrilled by new visions.

    How can a writer not be humbled and honoured by the reader's willingness to take that journey with them?


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