Truth in Memoir is today’s Media Monday discussion from this Associated Press piece on NPR’s site. Greg Mortenson is asking judge to overturn the civil lawsuit claiming he fabricated events in his bestselling memoir, Three Cups of Tea, saying other authors could be subjected to similar claims and the result would be a stifling of the free exchange of ideas.
February is Black History Month in America. Those who don’t study American literature rarely discover the poetry of the slave Phyllis Wheatley that predates the American Revolution. While they may have heard of Frederick Douglas, the average reader is unaware of the thousands of written slave narratives that give voices to the individuals trapped in that era. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois wrote widely of the post-Civil-war black experience, influencing many of those who would later contribute to the brilliant arts, music and literature movement of the 1920s-40s that became the Harlem Renaissance. One can’t speak about African-American literature without recognizing Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou, some of which have passed and others are still contributing. This week in #litchat we’re celebrating the many contributions of Aftrican-American authors, both past and present, to the literary canon.
We are delighted to have author Jacqueline E. Luckett join us as guest host on Friday, February 17. Luckett’s new novel, Passing Love, features the best of this week’s celebration of African-American literature. In Passing Love, two heroines pass through two timelines and two continents to come together for a bittersweet finish. The novel opens in contemporary California, with Nicole-Marie as primary caretaker to her embittered mother and Alzheimer’s stricken father. Still numb from her divorce several years ago, yet wrapped in guilt as the other woman to a married lover, Nicole-Marie is galvanized to take back her life after her best friend dies from cancer. Drop back sixty years to World War II-era Mississippi, when 16-year-old RubyMae, the wild and beautiful daughter of straight-laced parents, meets devilishly handsome sax player Arnett Dupree. Take both heroines across the Atlantic to Paris, where each of these determined women forge new lives that hardens one and softens the other, then combines them both through a shared history.
In between the lines of Passing Love, Luckett examines the treatment of blacks in Jim Crow America, with sensitive illumination of how black soldiers were segregated and undervalued by the American military during World War II and scoffed at by white America when they returned home, yet hailed as heroes—and rightly so—in post-war Europe. She deftly portrays the complexities of the African-American individual, in this case RubyMae, whose complexion, features and hair provide opportunity to “pass” as white. Within this miasma, Luckett recreates post-war Paris, with its jazz-age nightclubs, cafes, intrigues and challenges, contrasting the ordinary freedom available to blacks in Europe, against the racial prejudice and suffocating restrictions of America. The title, Passing Love, is drawn from a poem by Langston Hughes, to whom Nicole-Marie refers often, poetry being a link between her and her aging father. While RubyMae is seen from her teenage years, the bulk of her story occurs in her twenties, yet Nicole-Marie’s maturity as a woman of a certain age—she’s 57—is ballast to maintain the balance of this elegant novel.
Jacqueline E. Luckett’s first novel, Searching for Tina Turner, put her on the list of writers to watch. A lifelong storyteller, Luckett spent most of her professional life in corporate America. In 1999, she took a creative writing class on a dare, from herself, and happily found her love of writing reignited. By a lucky coincidence, that same year she discovered the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) writing workshops and participated over the next four years in workshops with Christina Garcia, Danzy Senna, Junot Diaz, Ruth Forman and Terry McMillan. VONA provided a safe haven for a new writer still unsure of abilities, yet eager to learn. Luckett attributes much of her growth as a writer to the VONA workshops. In 2004, Luckett formed the Finish Party (featured in O Magazine, October 2007) along with seven other women writers–of–color. An avid reader and lover of books, Luckett is an excellent cook, aspiring photographer, and world traveler. She lives in Northern California and, though she loves all of the friends there, she takes frequent breaks to fly off to foreign destinations.
Follow Jacqueline E. Luckett on Twitter: @JackieLuckett.
Photo of Jacqueline E. Luckett (above): Ashley Summer.