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By Fatima Shaik

This review of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration was first published in the New York Bookwoman.

My aunts and uncles went to Chicago and New York in the 1940s but returned home to New Orleans. Cousins went North in the 1950s and remained while others relocated to California. I found respite from segregated Louisiana in Canada with my parents in the 1960s, while other relatives tried out Mexico. But only after reading Isabel Wilkerson’s award-winning The Warmth of Other Suns did I fully realize my family’s role in the massive phenomena called The Great Migration—the exodus of six million African-Americans from the South over six decades from 1915 to 1970.

Readers who may not have personally experienced this exodus certainly know blacks with roots in the South. Wilkerson noted that they brought their food, culture and attitudes to the American mainstream—their greens and fried chicken, their music that birthed Motown and Miles Davis, and their black churches that sprouted in the urban interior like mushrooms after a rain. Wilkerson described the migration by railroad to Chicago and New York. People sat surrounded by luggage in the Jim Crow car at least until the Mason-Dixon line and frequently beyond. They carried their quilts, fried chicken and boiled eggs. They left with children in tow. Some migrants went by automobile. Pershing Foster drove 2,000 harrowing miles by himself, most of the trip without stopping because there were no colored hotels—and only dangerous roadsides. He was one of the three people on whom Wilkerson pinned the narrative of the migration and its effects, after she interviewed 1,200 people over 15 years.

In one case, Ida Mae Gladney snuck out of Mississippi because her family’s landlord-employer would not allow them to leave. Gladney went to Chicago but now visits Mississippi frequently. George Swanson Starling, who came to New York and wished never to return to Florida, now is buried there. Louisianan Pershing Foster rubbed elbows with California’s black celebrities, but appeared melancholy amid his riches before he died and was cremated near Hollywood. Wilkerson’s migrants had full lives once they escaped Southern racism and improved their conditions, but their freedom came with tolls.

Wilkerson’s book also dispels many negative interpretations of earlier research about Southern blacks who moved North. Among the myths are that Southerners brought urban blight. But, in fact, there were so many people migrating so quickly that housing was not available and the existing housing was segregated and unkempt. There was also Northern white flight once communities became integrated. The Promised Land – the coded name given the North since the era of 19th century slavery—did not always deliver on its promises of equal opportunity, fair wages and social fluidity.

The Warmth of Other Suns put the migration of African-Americans into national and global context—for example, opening the United States to the concept of diversity which later aided immigrants from Asia, South and Central America, and the Middle East. The Warmth of Other Suns reminded us that a book is an important cultural repository, different from other media.

A book such as this engages us both intellectually and viscerally. The Warmth of Other Suns offers a compelling narrative about the people we see every day, and may not have noticed. A good book opens our eyes and minds.

Fatima Shaik is an expert in the Afro-Creole experience. She writes for adults and children, and is currently working on a non-fiction book about a society of 19th century free men of color in Louisiana. Check out her website, www.fatimashaik.com.

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By Fatima Shaik

The owner of KGB Bar, Denis Woychuk, poses with Rhona Whitty, Linda Epstein, and Sonia Kane.

About 50 WNBA-NYC members and friends navigated through narrow East 4th Street, went up two flights of slanted stairs and crowded into the famous KGB Bar to participate in the second annual Open Mic on May 23, 2012 at 7 p.m. The journey was an adventure to the trendy East Village club and, then, to countless locales in members’ 5-minute readings.

Listeners went into the classroom of a Jewish student in racist South Africa, the mind of a young girl meeting her mother’s new lover, and the back seat of a car on a drug-infused trip to a mental hospital. The audience witnessed tender, poetic tributes to an Alzheimer’s parent and to a long-standing, compatible-incompatible couple. Spectators experienced the anger of an abandoned daughter and the wit of a man obsessed with all things big. The diversity of places and genres cannot be described, but some responses can.

Three of the night’s readers: (from left) Deborah Batterman, Marilyn Berkman, and Fatima Shaik

There were gasps when a man smothered a bird and his unsuspecting human victim entered the room, knowing glances when a husband and wife interacted with their unemployed son, laughter when a narrator defined “learning to drink like a lady,” and attentive silence when protagonists arrived in surprisingly new and poignantly all-too-familiar places.

The two-hour expedition moved swiftly thanks to emcee Linda Epstein, and the wayfarers quenched their thirsts for beverages and camaraderie (comrade-ry?) in the KGB Bar’s small, red room displaying the red flag with the gold hammer and sickle.

This post is from guest blogger and WNBA-NYC member, Fatima Shaik. Fatima is the author of four books of fiction for adults and children set in her native New Orleans. She is currently researching her first non-fiction book about the members of a hidden Afro-Creole society in the 19th century. She teaches writing at Saint Peter’s College.  To learn more about Fatima, visit her website at www.fatimashaik.com.

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Our industrious WNBA-NYC members have been busy, as ever!  Take a look at what some of our members have been up to.

Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft has launched her new website, www.ziva-bakman-flamhaft.com. You can also go to www.war-widow.com, which features her book, War Widow, and other works.

Susannah Greenberg, WNBA-NYC Publicity Chair, will moderate a panel event on book publicity for self-published authors at Book Expo America’s uPublishU, at the Javits Center on Sunday, June 3 at 2:30 PM. Read more here.

Janice Harayda will speak about book reviews — the good, the bad, and the ugly — at the BEA Bloggers Conference panel, Monday, June 4. Janice runs One-Minute Book Reviews, which was recently named one of New Jersey’s best blogs by New Jersey Monthly and ranked among the Top 40 book blogs by blog-ranking services such as Technorati and Alexa Internet.

Enid Harlow will have a new story published in issue 23 of North Atlantic Review.

Fatima Shaik spoke on a panel called Creoles and Citizens: Being Afro-Creole in New Orleans, 1836-1921, at the Louisiana Historical Association. Fatima also read her short stories at Xavier University of Louisiana in April 2012.

Rachel Slaiman had an article published in Latin Trends Magazine, entitled, Are You a Starving Artist or an Aspiring Professional?  Which Term is Correct?  The Five O'Clock Follies

Theasa Tuohy will read from her new novel, Five O’Clock Follies, at the Prince Street Gallery, 530 W. 25th Street, 4th Floor, Wednesday, May 30. Public is invited. Gallery opens at 6 PM, reading is at 6:30 PM. Reception follows. (Five O’Clock Follies will be published on October 15th by Calliope Press.)

Skeleton Woman Mingmei Yip‘s latest novel, Skeleton Women, will come out in June, published by Kensington Books. In the vein of Angelina Jolie’s SALT and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Skeleton Women is the story of a singer/spy, a magician, and a gossip columnist scheming to survive the gang wars in the 1930’s lawless Shanghai. Find more information at www.mingmeiyip.com.

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Join us tomorrow, May 23rd for WNBA-NYC Open Mike Night at KGB Bar!  We’ll be reading from  7:00 – 9:00 PM at KGB Bar, located at 85 East 4th Street, NYC.  The list of readers has been finalized, the authors are prepared, and now they just need an audience!  Look who’s reading:

Even if you’re not reading, come on down for a fun evening! Order a drink from the bar, sit back, and enjoy an evening of original work by your fellow WNBA-ers!

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Ever wonder what the fabulous women of our NYC chapter do when they’re not taking part in WNBA board meetings or attending one of our many events? Here are some of the interesting things members get up to around town.

Deborah Batterman was featured in Ashley Barron’s Author Interview Series. Read what she has to say on why she’s drawn to writing fiction and essays plus the challenges of publishing and promoting one’s work.

Talia Carner gave a lecture entitle ‘Princess or Prisoner: the hidden world of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women  in the early 1900s in Jerusalem’  at the West End Synagogue on Thursday, January 12.

Susannah Greenberg, of Susannah Greenberg Public Relations, was interviewed by Linda Leon on Blog Talk Radio’s ‘Book that Author’, a talk show devoted to authors, editors and other book professionals, on Friday, January 13. Susannah was also a guest blogger on CoryPutmanOakes.com, writing about her Top Tips for Young Adult PR. More info atwww.yaltichat.com.

My Mother's Boyfriend
Alice Jacoby
‘s new YA novel My Mother’s Boyfriend and Me, is the story of what happens to fifteen-year-old Laurie after her mother’s hot new boyfriend moves in with them. ‘Look Inside’ features now available on Amazon.com, and on B&N too in the near future.


 

Fatima Shaik‘s essay ‘What Are You Reading: Literacy in the Age of Electronic Thinking‘ appeared in the October issue of the New Orleans Tribune newspaper and on its website.  (Please note that the website reference to the July/August issue is incorrect.)

Jill Tardiff, WNBA’s Chief Representative to the United Nations, will attend the Annual Committee on Teaching about the United Nations, (CTAUN), February 3. This year’s theme, ‘Education IS a Human Right.’  (Read Jill’s current report in UN Corner.)
HelenWan
Helen Wan*‘s debut novel, The Firm Outing will be published by Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, Summer 2013. The novel tells the story of a young Chinese-American attorney about to make partner at her prestigious firm, but finds it difficult to reconcile the firm’s business practices with her own ethics. For more information, check out the report in Publishers Weekly.
*Helen met her agent, Josh Getzler, at last year’s WNBA-NYC Query Roulette. If you’re interested in taking part in this year’s Query Roulette, please go here.

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One book (written from the heart) – Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

One wisecracking author (English accent preferable) – Helen Simonson

One devoted agent – Julie Barer

One team of experts at Random House – Editorial, Susan Kamil; Marketing, Avideh Bashirrad; Publicity, Karen Fink; Paperbacks, Jane von Mehren

Mix well and serve to bookstores and book clubs via hardcover, e-book and paperback. Then, enjoy the results — a first novel that is now available in 20 countries and translated into 18 languages, which has spent 36 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and has sold almost 400,000 copies in paper in less than a year.

“The Making of a Bestseller: From Acquisition to Market,” described a palatable success to about 70 audience members on November 9th at a panel event of the Women’s National Book Association – New York Chapter. Moderated by Jane Kinney-Denning and Manuela Soares, Pace University Publishing Program professors, the event took place at Wix Lounge .

Author Simonson described writing Major Pettigrew as leaving the “10% hairy margins” of literature and approaching “something authentic to me and what I wanted.” Her vision was an English village, a cottage, a retired man and the Pakistani woman who lived down the block.

Julie Barer saw Simonson’s initial chapter of Major Pettigrew for the first time in 2006 but the book wasn’t finished. “Once a year,” Barer said, “I’d send a note saying, ‘Wondering how that book is coming along.’” When Barer finally read the manuscript in December 2008, “I sat in my big white chair by the window and I didn’t move until the end.” At the time, the economy was slowing down and the book business looked dim. But after reading Simonson’s book, Barer said, “For the first time in weeks, I felt happy.”

Senior Vice-President and Editor-in-Chief of Random House, Susan Kamil read the manuscript and bought it immediately – even donning her coat and leaving her office to interrupt her boss’ lunch across the street to get a swift go-ahead for acquisition. “Your gut and your experience are what you have to go on when you have to act quickly,” she said. The editing process was brief, but during this time Simonson comically recalled for the audience that she had misinterpreted Kamil’s handwritten notes saying “love this,” thinking they said, “lose this.” Simonson took out some of her “best jokes.” Later, she had to reinsert them.

Avideh Bashirrad, Vice President, Director of Marketing at Random House, said that a focus on book clubs helped Major Pettigrew. It also sold quickly in e-book, boosted, in some part, by Oprah’s endorsement of the Kindle around the same time.

When Karen Fink, Assistant Director of Publicity at the Random House Publishing group found herself daydreaming about whether “the Major and Mrs. Ali” would take a cruise together, she realized just how much she loved the characters. Her marketing team put together a plan: “I (heart) the Major.”  The love theme resonated with the media, including the New York Times, where critic Janet Maslin reviewed the book “like a love letter,” Fink said.

“Really crucial in paperbacks is timing,” added Jane von Mehren, Senior Vice President, Publisher, Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. She pushed to have the book on sale in November to get the holiday buyers and lists, and studied the competition.

When Simonson got on the road to promote the book – an 8-city tour, then a 17-city tour – Fink said the author needed no media training. Simonson said, “I’m a stay-at-home mom with two kids and I don’t get out much. So give me a mike and I can go all night.”

The whole team’s enthusiasm for the book and the process showed. The WNBA-NYC audience was thoroughly satiated. A delicious evening.

This post is from guest blogger and WNBA-NYC member, Fatima Shaik. Fatima is the author of four books of fiction for adults and children set in her native New Orleans. She is currently researching her first non-fiction book about the members of a hidden Afro-Creole society in the 19th century. She teaches writing at Saint Peter’s College.

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