In the category of ‘look what I found inside of this book’ comes a fascinating insight into what an influential author was thinking more than 30 years ago, and how an astute reader viewed that writer during a book signing event.
I have a copy of Jubilee by Margaret Walker, a 19th printing mass-market paperback that, in and of itself, has no particular value. However, this copy is inscribed and dated, not a common thing. What makes this special, though, is what’s inside: 7 small pages of notes from the book-signing event that took place on 1/23/78, in Memphis, TN. I am going to quote these notes directly, however, their use in other blogs is by permission only. It’s a straight stream-of-consciousness exercise and some of the handwriting is hard to read, I’ll do my best.
“1/23/78. Margaret Walker Alexander. Thoughts while waiting- I guess there are 45-50 in this room- What a pity. Billy Graham draws 10,000 and someone like this so few.
Father Meth. Minister born in Birmingham. -So mas 2? “For My People” was result (?). Mrs. Johnson thought- assumes blacks good- others bad- not so.
Written when she was 22. Written in 15 min.- all compared to Whitman, Robinson Jeffers but last stanza- working on Writer’s Project in Chicago. Last stanza what she wants for her people. Creative writing program at Yale . Jubilee represents 30 years of her life, creative forces, thinking.
Diff. between writing poetry, fiction. She knew many writers. Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, Bontempo, Langston Hughes, Yerby, Sterling Brown, Ellison , Robt. Frost, Sandburg, Harriet Monroe-Certain facts about writing you have to be taught. Yes- you can teach creative writing- not art. Teach structure, lang. control, character, plot, dramatize, create scenes
Can’t teach style, tone, philosophy- has to have his own.
She learned technique-novel. How to write at Univ. of Iowa + Northwestern(?). Teachers- Hungerford- season. Engel.- even terr.
Character- You know how to create character-
1. tell how looks – describe
2. tell how he talks- dialogue
3. how act
4. how think (20th- c) stream of consciousness
5. react to other people. Ch. Must be consistent. (edit note: Ch. here probably means character)
How to dramatize material + make it come alive
Hear music + rhythm in Jubilee– prose rhythm does it consciously.
Being sued by Roots (edit note: it was actually she who sued Alex Haley for copyright infringement. The case was dismissed)
Roots copies 3 bks. Haley is a rewrite journalist
Jubilee another bk of hers (?) (unintelligible)
Haley says he did 12 yrs. research- has testified he doesn’t know how to do research.
Intensify reality- exaggerate. Can’t be concerned w/critic. Satisfies herself. To what extent do black writers listen to white critics.
Bl. writer in Am(erica)- has been here since 1773- Phyllis Whatley. bl. writers status rocky + bad- estranged.
Rachel Lindsay-Langston Hughes.
Dunbar- Wm. Dean Howells
M. Walker- Stephen Vincent Benet
Creative Writer never concerned w/critic. Critics function- help develop taste.
3 sources of writers
She prefers 2.”
That’s the end of the notes. Some are hard to read, I’ve done my best transcribing them.