Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Extraordinary

I just returned from the most extraordinary week in southeast Michigan and a series of book events--six of them in four days. I must have spoken to hundreds of people, both in groups and individually. I was delighted to learn that high school students at Cranbook in Bloomfield Hills and the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf school in Ann Arbor have been reading my book. Some of the Waldorf students came to my reading at the Ann Arbor Public library, and they warmed my heart with their earnestness and interest. I met people from my past, people who knew my sisters, people who knew my parents. People who did remember me from elementary school and high school. People who didn't remember me from elementary school and high school.
     I read from my book, spoke about identity and Halloween, spoke about dreams and aspirations (what drives us and what limits us). I read passages from my novel--the opening scene in which Harry is driving to work, the one about Harry and the bike giveaway, the one about Harry's visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts when Diego Rivera is painting the frescoes, the one about Ruth on the way to her meeting, the one about her when she finds herself at Margo Solomon's Moroccan luncheon.
     The capstone event was my visit with the U-Michigan Honors students and parents. I first met with them in an informal lunch setting, where I spoke about my life path, from shy, intimidated college student who never said a word in class, to editor and writer, now standing before them and not even nervous. A miracle. Here is the story that one student wrote about that lunch. Later that afternoon, I spoke to an audience of parents and students in one of the university's big lecture halls, and even then, I WAS NOT NERVOUS (unbelievable).
     At that session, I read a section of the novel that I had not read aloud before. It's from the beginning of the Riot/Rebellion chapter, when Alvin and his friends are heading out on a Saturday night, and it's the closest the reader gets to Alvin's inner life. I'd never thought about reading that scene aloud before. I've always felt a little skittish about Alvin--that perhaps I had taken too big a risk in trying to write from the point of view of a black teenage male. But I remembered something from a recent book event, where the facilitator pointed out that the wide-ranging book discussion had failed to say much about either Alvin or his father, Curtis, and that perhaps this represented a kind of discrimination or ignore-ance. So I read to the U-Michigan audience about Alvin, and I loved doing it. I felt that the section had energy, momentum, that it portrayed him (and his anger and his doubts and his wisdom) with respect. And I'm so glad I chose that section.
     I could say a million more things about this visit to Michigan, but now I am back, and now I am exhausted. Plus I am undergoing the rebellion of the electronics--both my oven (with Thanksgiving coming) and my laptop (with another novel to write) seem to be in a state of distress. And I have an award event to attend tonight--the prose competition of the Guild Complex (which I judged).

5 comments:

Margaret P. said...

Oh, I read the student's account of your Honors "talk" and it brought a little tear to my eye. It must feel absolutely wonderful to connect through your novel to the upcoming (for some reason I want to avoid the word "younger") generation. Congratulations!

Susan Messer said...

Thanks so much, Margaret. It was truly wonderful. And I know what you mean about "younger," but those students definitely were younger than me.

Jim Poznak said...

It's true, Susan was not one bit nervous at any of the events. Susan's presentations and discussions were all brilliant, lucid, and detailed. She held her audiences, including the students and college professors, in rapt attention. The attendees formed long lines, seeking her autograph and one-on-one conversations, which Susan generously gave. I know all this, because I was there.

rasirds@cox.net said...

Thank you for continuing to keep alive the issues of city where my heart will always live.

Kudos!

Susan Messer said...

And thanks to both of you. Jim, my literary escort, makes much of this possible (like running out and finding me all the specialized toothbrushes I needed during a break in activities).

Rasirds, I appreciate your continuing support.