BALTIMORE _ Sitting in Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 4 a.m. is no one’s idea of fun. But after a whirlwind three-stop book tour over four days, I was eager to get back home to Detroit, to Desi, to rest and to the next project.
But what a joy this has been. The tour began on Wednesday, the morning AFTER Mayor Mike Duggan gave his annual State of the City speech at a west Detroit high school, appropriate since his focus was education. Our intrepid City Hall reporter Katrease Stafford and I joined Ryan Garza to capture the event. I, of course, was there for the children.
The next morning, I headed to Louisville, Ky, my old stomping grounds, where I was a columnist at The Courier-Journal for four years. I was the guest of the Rev. Kevin Cosby, pastor at St. Stephen Church and Simmons College, where old friends teach. As expected, an audience of more than 100 offered insightful, poignant and heartfelt comments and questions, and Pastor Cosby was brilliant as always. I’ll add a transcript soon.
But the day began with a lovely woman from Simmons, Von Purdy, picking me up and insisting that we have coffee at the just-opened, $315-million Omni Hotel, which the paper described as “an upscale blend of guest rooms, apartments, bars and eateries that backers bet will spark new waves of investment downtown.” The first floor looked like an upscale mall with eateries, bath products, wines and restaurants. Hotels, even in smaller cities, cannot just be hotels anymore.
Oh, forgot to mention that Von drove me past my old neighborhood on the way. We went looking for the first home I bought in Louisville, a fixer-upper in Old Louisville that I worked on years before Chip and Joanna Gaines became my inspiration for everything. It was right where I left it, still in decent shape. (Someone needs to trim the front shrubs, but the revitalized neighborhood is holding).
After coffee, we headed to St. Stephen, where Rev. Cosby has built a community, a place where not just his congregation but where so many people can find everything they need. The Family Life Center, in addition to the auditorium where I spoke, had two full-sized gyms, a new football field across the street, classrooms and a soul-food restaurant. (I’d show you a photo of the baked chicken and best-green-beans-I’ve-ever-had, but I ate them).
After a stirring conversation and an appearance on Rev. Cosby’s podcast, where he was gracious enough to share the book, I left St. Stephen and Louisville and headed for …
TAMPA _ When I say that the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference was one of the biggest and best things I’ve ever attended, I would not be exaggerating. Thousands of writers, publishers, editors of literary journals, poets and a bunch of folks deciding who they are becoming all turned out for workshops on being better writers, learning about MFA programs and creative writing fellowships and — just to support each other. My focus was a workshop on effectively establishing time in a novel and what first time novelists can teach. I also attended one on writing about real subjects, even in historical fiction rather than biography. My question: How do you know when to do which? So many hidden figures deserve their own official biographies, but historical novels sell.
I also attended a session with – and got to meet – Edwidge Danticat, the brilliant Haitian-American novelist and short story writer.
She was as gracious as she is talented and signed a copy of her book with the words “I can’t wait to read you.” Made my day. I can’t believe I’d never been. I don’t believe I’ll ever miss another one. They’re already advertising Colson Whitehead for next year’s keynote.
Since it was my first AWP, it was my first time signing so of course I had to text my friends, Tami Winfrey Harris and Carolyn Edgar, to gush about my joy. And they immediately told me to look up our new mutual friend, Deesha Philyaw, a Pittsburgh writer they adore. I didn’t have to look for her. She was waiting at the Wayne State University Press booth, where she had already purchased “The Burden.” I LOVE the people I’m meeting on this new writing journey. As I caught a LYFT to the airport, I met a great guy who’s a recovering addict and magician who was so inspiring I wanted to write about him. But I won’t. Chad is telling his own story to people across his region. Next stop was …
BALTIMORE _ I arrived Friday night JUST IN TIME to see the game of the century, which is every UNCvsDuke game.
It was great.
But Saturday belonged to “The Burden,” and I was so honored to have the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists host me at Nancy for a discussion that became so powerful that it could yield another book. My gratitude to Leonard Pitts, Jr. (The Blueprint), an essayist in “The Burden,” who joined me for a powerful afternoon of necessary talk and to the BABJ team, especially Nicki Mayo and Maria Morales, who were exceptional. And thanks to my life-long friend Tony Salters (well as long as we’ve been real adults) for being there to drive me around, carry my books and take photos. And I didn’t realize until I was headed home that we didn’t get a picture of us. (I’d draw one but I have no artistic skill). But we now what we look like. #ThisIsUs. I love Baltimore!
The whirlwind trip ended back at BWI, where I sit and count my blessings, which continued even until the end. My LYFT driver, J.D. upon learning that I was an author, asked to buy a book and asked me to sign it. As I teared, I signed it as I do most: “Courage.” And I let him know he had made my day, a day that was only four hours old. Hell, he helped make my trip.
ROCHELLE RILEY’s essays on this blog are personal. No reprints without permission. You can read her newspaper columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley. Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley – and she’ll thank you for it