Young Writers on the Move

zora1Over the past five months, since the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, most of our news has been rather depressing and quite negative. Some of my most recent posts have been of that nature because of what has been happening in the real world. But let me share with you a positive story that will occur this weekend at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, in historic Eatonville, Florida. This small but quaint city, just north of Orlando, is the oldest chartered Black city in the country, and is where the great cultural icon wrote her most recognized work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Over the past six months, I have worked closely with N.Y. Nathiri, Executive Director of the Festival, to organize a two-day creative writing workshop for youth from across the country. For three years I have conducted a brief introduction to creative writing for the local high school students, attending the Friday Education Day at the Festival. However, this year we decided to expand the workshop and make it a two-day writing seminar, for young people not confined to the Orlando area. Initially, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off but recognizing the power of the name Zora Neale Hurston, and the opportunity for youth to participate in the festival, not only as writers but also as visitors to the entire event, I thought I had a shot. Now as we prepare to meet in Eatonville on Thursday evening and begin our workshop Friday morning, I can honestly write mission accomplished.

I have a total of fourteen young future writers coming from different parts of the country. They are as follows:

Michael A. Davis, Plainfield Central High School, Plainfield, Illinois (Chicago suburb)

Rashana Jackman, Boys and Girls High School, Brooklyn, New York

T’Kyah Hayes, Academy of Young Writers, Brooklyn, New York

Shafarisi Bonner, St. Joseph High School, Brooklyn, New York

Cameron Browning, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, Fayetteville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Cecilia Browning, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Nina Howard, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Amari Harrison, Hapeville Charter Career Academy, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Danielle Eatmon, Desoto High School, Desoto, Texas (Dallas suburb)

Johnnie Banks, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Dallas, Texas

Cindy Avila, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Cynthia Wright, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Kyana Alcazar, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Najel Franklin, My assistant and great niece, Alexandria, Virginia

I am thoroughly proud of these young people and of the sponsors who will attend the festival and workshop with them. I am proud of my fellow associates who will assist in teaching the workshop. Petra Lewis from New York, Tony Lindsay from Chicago, D. L. Grant, Branch Manager of the Carver Library in San Antonio, and kYmberly Keeton, Academic Librarian/Assistant Professor at Lincoln University’s Inman E. Page Library in Jefferson City, Missouri (kYmberly will not actually attend the workshop, but is preparing a reference guide on all the works written by Zora Neale Hurston as a research tool).

Once these writers return home, they will continue to work on the short story they conceptualized and began at the workshop. We will periodically meet through electronic media, and it is my goal for all of them to finish their stories by June 2015. Prosperity Publications will edit the stories and publish them as an anthology in the fall. Next year we plan to expand the number of cities and young people who participate, and in the years after, many more until we begin to make an impact in the literary community of this country.

You have to know that I have this crazy notion, that my Black brothers and sisters are not happy with the direction of our culture and want to turn it around. We now have identified parents and the chaperones, as well as the schools and organizations supporting this effort. This will work because those of us involved are driven by the passion for the written word, and a commitment to save our children from the ever-increasing negative influences they face, on a daily basis in their lives. We believe they deserve better and we plan to make that happen.

We invite you to join us on this trip with our young writers, who are now on the move for a positive experience about being young and gifted

BOYZ N DA HOOD? NOT HARDLY!

18815888Someone once argued with me that leaders are born not made. I had to think about that. And I found myself taking note of our young men who seem lost. Is it simply a case of a lack of opportunity? A poor work ethic? A lack of appropriate role models? Or the age-old oppressor – racism?

In looking back, it seems that the great ones always knew they were special – no matter the odds. They had a certain je’nai se quoi. You can’t buy it and you can’t fake it; it must be deep within. After meeting Chris and Dana Pittard, and their cohorts Tony Nelson and Hector Cooley through the written word, you will be convinced that these four young men knew they were special and destined to make a difference in the lives of the people they would touch later in life.

These young Brothers, three of whom are members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., knew what they wanted in life and set out to accomplish their goals. Dana, in particular, a West Point graduate, has had an influence on events on the world stage. He led the efforts to save thousands of starving Kurdish refugees desperately clinging to the side of a mountain top in Iraq. He turned back the threat of ISIS as the recent overall commander of American forces in Iraq. Major General Dana Pittard is currently the Deputy Commander Army Forces Central Command, and as a lieutenant colonel served in the White House as a senior military aide to President Bill Clinton. Dana’s brother, Chris Pittard, is himself an impressive leader – a former Army Ranger and honors graduate from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. He has repeatedly been named as one of Texas’ Best Attorneys in the field of employment and labor law, and is a partner in the firm of Forté & Pittard, PLLC. Tony, a Texas Tech alum and ROTC scholarship recipient, is a systems engineer with a major defense contractor; and Hector, who went to New Mexico State University on a track scholarship, specializes in internet security programs.

How did their journey begin? “The Transmanaut Chronicles,” is the true coming of age story of four African-American males just out of college and high school. The Chronicles features the two brothers from El Paso, Chris and Dana, who with their two friends, Hector and Tony, embark on an exciting road trip to California to unleash their own brand of Texas bravado in Chris’ college graduation present – a brand new, 1977, black and gold, special edition Trans-Am. The self-named Transmanauts take on all challengers to their manhood, encounter bodacious women, test the envelope at speeds over 120 mph, face off with L.A.’s finest with guns drawn to their heads, encounter gun-toting gang members, and survive dangers of the deep blue sea to return to Texas with incredible – but true – tales of their journey from boys to men!

Flashbacks, jaw-dropping dialogue, unabashed in-your-face attitude, and rolling humor diffuse tense and sometimes heartbreaking episodes. Set against a backdrop of vibrant Disco fashions, heart-thumping R&B funk and synchronized dancing, the story opens in California – surprisingly with one of the Transmanauts chained in jail! And that’s just the beginning!

The story is told after 30 years when these young men have grown into successful professionals – Chris, the attorney; Dana, the general; Hector, the computer expert; and Tony the air defense systems engineer. Learn how their Road Trip, and their unbreakable bond, changed the life of the beautiful Aurianna, the girl they met on the Road Trip – forever. A twist of fate that nobody could have foreseen!

“The Transmanaut Chronicles,” is a great read, full of humor, and drama with important life lessons for the young and old. Check it out on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, or the Prosperity Publishing website at prosperitypublications.com.

Remember, “Life is not a journey, it’s a Road Trip!” Enjoy the ride! And after you finish reading this amazing story, you tell me which side of the argument you believe. Are true leaders born or made?

BIBLIOGRAPHY ON CREATIVE WRITING FOR THE SERIOUS WRITER

Creative-writing-courses--007Since this is novel writing month, this bibliography is created for those writers of fiction who care about the quality of their work. There are two aspects to creative writing; the first of course being the writer’s ability to imagine a story that will capture the readers’ attention and provide them with an enjoyable trip filled with exciting characters, beautiful scenery, intriguing plots, captivating dialogue and an ending that will leave them wanting to read more. The other important aspect of writing is to know and understand the craft associated with writing acceptable fiction. A writer can accomplish the second aspect of the art by 1) taking expensive creative writing workshops, or 2) invest in books that have been written and will allow her/him to learn the craft through individual study. In order to assist those writers who care about the quality of their work as well as those readers who want to read with a discerning eye, I have compiled a list of books that will assist you in your endeavor. This bibliography is made available to you because Prosperity Publications believes that all writers should always seek constructive means to improve on their writing skills.

Category 1—
Books comprehensive in scope; concentrating on all elements of the craft

Swain, Dwight V. Techniques of the Selling Writer, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, copyright @ 1965, ISBN #0-8061-1191-7
Dwight Swain is known as the Guru on the craft of fiction writing. His book has long been the primary source of information on the craft. Mr. Swain has advised that, “No one can teach talent, but the practical skills of the professional writer’s craft can certainly be taught.” And that is exactly what he did over the years.

Vogler, Christopher, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 2nd Edition, Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, California, copyright @ 1998, ISBN #0-94118870-1
Christopher Vogler provides the writer with a step-by-step guideline for structuring plots and creating realistic characters. Through the use of innovative exercises, he helps writers troubleshoot and improve their craft, and will help empower the writer’s command of storytelling with the ancient wisdom of myth.

Frey, James N. How To Write a Damn Good Novel, St. Martin’s Press, New York, copyright @ 1987, ISBN #0-312-01044-33
James Frey has written a hard-hitting, no-nonsense approach to the craft of storytelling. This is a practical, systematic, witty and wise approach to writing a novel. It is perfect for beginners or professional writers who need a crash course in the down-to-earth basics of storytelling.

Zuckerman, Albert, Writing the Block Buster Novel, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @ 1994, ISBN #0-89879-598-2
If you plan to write the panoramic novel much like those written by the great James Michener, then you must read Zuckerman’s instructional book on how to create larger then life characters, magnificent scenes, and compelling story plots. Best-selling author Ken Follett has referred to Zuckerman as, “the best editor in the world.” He has taken his editorial skills and made them available to all serious writers in the pages of this book.

Gotham Writer’s Workshop, Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School, Bloomsbury, New York and London, copyright @ 2003, ISBN #1-58234-330-6
Eleven writers and teachers contributed to this work. It covers all the key elements of writing fiction in a very clear and concise way. If one is going to teach a course on the craft of writing, then this book should be at the top of the list of works to be used. The most effective summation of this work comes from the founders of Gotham Writer’s Workshop when they write, “There’s no easy formula for creating great fiction, but a fundamental knowledge of writing craft is, more than anything, what will allow your talent to blossom…”

Stein, Sol, Stein on Writing, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, copyright @1995, ISBN #978-0-3122-5421-6
The best way to describe this work is in the words and writing of the author. Sol Stein writes, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions, how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.” Nothing more need be said. Stein is recognized as one of the very best editors in the business.

Rhodes, Jewell Parker, Free Within Ourselves, Fiction Lessons for Black Authors, Main Street Books/Doubleday, New York, copyright @1999, ISBN #0-385-49175-1
Dr. Rhodes has written a comprehensive study of creative writing, but her examples are pulled from African American writers. Included in her comprehensive coverage of the craft are segments celebrating the beauty, strength and great attributes of the African American culture. Dr. Rhodes justifies her approach when she writes, “Never in four years of college or five years of graduate school was I assigned an exercise or given a story example that included a person of color. While the educational system and the publishing world have become progressively more welcoming of African-American authors, there is still little attention to educating, supporting and sustaining the writing process of African American authors. Her work is a successful attempt to eradicate that long-standing error.

King, Stephen, King on Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Pocket Books, New York, copyright @2000, ISBN #978-0-7434-5596-1
The first part of this work is a memoir on King’s evolution as a very successful writer. It reads much like a novel, taking the reader into his life as he grows to become the famous writer he now is. In the second part of the book, he shares with the reader what he knows about writing and that takes us into the craft. In the final section he explores ways on how the craft should actually be applied to the story.

Meredith, Robert C. and Fitzgerald, John D., Structuring Your Novel, From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript, Harper Perennial, A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, copyright @1993, ISBN #0-06-273170-X
This work illustrates techniques used by professional novelists to include the fourteen elements of structure. The authors use excerpts from Henry Fielding’s, Tom Jones and Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. The authors help the writer develop his/her theme (one of the most difficult exercises for the beginning writer), refine the plot and develop complete characters.

Marshall, Evan, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1998, ISBN #1-58297-062-9
Book agent, editor and novelist Evan Marshall has developed a 16-step “Marshall Plan” for the beginning as well as seasoned writer. If you closely follow his plan, according to the author, “there is no chance of working yourself into a corner or making critical mistakes in pacing and plot.

The Editors of the Writer’s Digest, Handbook of Novel Writing, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1992, ISBN #0-89879-507-9
This is the work of twenty-nine of the best editors, coaches, and writers within the genre. Each writer concentrates on a specific element in the fiction-writing genre. The students get a little extra in this work as the writers also discuss how to negotiate a profitable contract once you have followed their basic steps and completed your work. As a creative writing instructor, I have found this work one of the most useful in developing my lectures and I often go back to it as a refresher.

McCauley, Robie and Lanning, George, Technique in Fiction, Revised and Updated for a New Generation, St. Martin’s Press, New York, copyright @1987, ISBN #0-312-05168-9
These authors concentrate on the technical questions and practices of fiction. In the introduction they state that, “It takes as much technical learning and skill to write a good novel as it does to play a violin concerto and no person is born with such skills.” The technique is learned from exceptionally good teachers and these two authors are in that category.

Woods, James, How Fiction Works, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, copyright @2008, ISBN #978-0-312-42847-1
This work is much different than others of the same subject. Instead of a description of the elements it is an analysis of why they are important. In his analysis, some of the fundamental questions he asks, 1) what do we mean when we say, “know” a fictional character? 2) What constitutes a telling detail? 3) When is a metaphor successful? 4) Is realism realistic? 5) Why do some literary conventions become dated while others stay fresh?

Bickham, Jack M., The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1992, ISBN #0-89879-821-3
This is the most useful book for writers because it is a checklist of red flags in writing that will cause your manuscript to be rejected by agents and editors. It is the most helpful 112 pages you will ever read as an aid to your writing. Keep it on your desk right next to your computer and refer to it often.

Category 2—
Books that concentrate on specific elements of the craft.

Bickham, Jack M., Scene and Structure, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1993, ISBN #0-89879-906-6
This is probably one of the most important books you will read in order to learn how to avoid the major flaw of most writers, and that is to show the action and not tell the story. Agents, editors and teachers will stress to writers that in today’s market your novel must be filled with action and conflict, and your reader must feel as though they are experiencing what is happening. The author must disappear and the story stand-alone. It is called the invisible hand of the author. Bickham does a great job in this book demonstrating how, through good structure that leads to scene-sequel-scene, the writer can escape the trap of telling the story instead of showing the action. Scene and structure are the primary and essential elements that writers must master in order to move to other important aspects of the craft.

Kercheval, Jesse Lee, Building Fiction, How to Develop Plot and Structure, Story Press, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1997, ISBN #1-884910-28-9
Kercheval has produced a useful book to help the beginning writer understand how structure is key to advancing the plot from scene to scene. Her work will help the writer understand the essential role conflict plays in plot. She discusses in detail, the essential elements of conflict to include 1) conflict, 2) crisis, 3) falling action, and 4) resolution. A writer must master the use of these component elements in order to write a successful novel. She also has a chapter comparing writing a novel to a short story, and further discusses the novella as an art form.

Noble, William, Conflict, Action and Suspense, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1994, ISBN #9788-0-89879-907-1
How do you make your novel into a real and legitimate page-turner and not just part of the rhetoric that chosen friends place on Amazon when they call your work “a real page turner,” or “I couldn’t put it down until I read the last page.” In order to make those over-used words mean something, you must master the art of creating conflict, action, and to some degree suspense. In all novels conflict and action are essential, but suspense also can add to the intrigue of your story. This book is very useful in your quest toward achieving control of your reader through use of these particular tools of the trade.

Rosenfeld, Jordan E. Make A Scene, Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @2008, ISBN #978-1-58297-479-8
This book is comparable to Bickham’s mentioned above in importance to understanding scene construction in a novel. The author navigates the student through the basic fundamentals needed for strong scene construction, and also explains how other elements of the craft fit within the framework of individual scenes in order to provide structure to the novel. Like Bickham’s work, this also is a must read.

Swain, Dwight V., Creating Characters; How To Build Story People, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1990, ISBN #0-89879-662-8
The key to any successful novel are the characters you create to capture the imagination of your reader. Long after the basic plot, readers will remember interesting characters. The reader must love them, hate them, laugh and cry with them, but most important find them interesting enough to keep reading your story. The teacher Dwight Swain provides you with the ingredients necessary to create those characters, from the protagonist to the antagonist and all in between. It is essential that you master the art of building characters that are rounded and not flat, dynamic and not stereotype. Swain does that for you in this book.

McCutcheon, Marc, Building Believable Characters, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, copyright @1996, ISBN #1-58297-027-0
Some writers have created characters that have become immortal. Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas in Native Son, Langston Hughes’ Simple, Toni Morrison’s Sethe in Beloved, and Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. These well-crafted characters pass from one generation to the next and represent the prototype for other writers to follow when creating their main characters. McCutcheon’s book will assist you in also creating such immortal individuals. His work is very unique because it begins with a roundtable discussion of six novelists revealing their approaches to characterization. He also provides you with a questionnaire and once you complete it, you will know your fictional characters quite well. Finally, he provides you with a thesaurus depicting specific human characteristics that you can choose from to fit your characters. He provides you with everything you need to create people with great depth, and the potential for immortality.

BIBLIOGRAPHY ON CREATIVE WRITING FOR THE SERIOUS WRITER
Compiled by Frederick Williams, Executive Editor, Prosperity Publications
www.prosperitypublications.com

CLASH OF THE GENERATIONS

Representation and participation in the literary conversation have been an ongoing concern in African American Literature. Image Courtesy | The Nation.com
Representation and participation in the literary conversation have been an ongoing concern in African American literature for decades. Image Courtesy | The Nation.com

kYmberly Keeton is a young, Generation X artist with immense artistic talent and a strong appreciation for the literary and cultural history of our people. I met her when I extended an invitation to her to participate in San Antonio’s Black History Literary Weekend back in February. Since then, we have developed an uncle/niece relationship. Our age differences are quite unique in that she is post-civil rights and I am pre-civil rights. That age-gap explains the difference in our perspectives as to what should be the role or purpose of the modern day Black writer.

Often we will find ourselves immersed in telephone conversations about the nature of writing fiction (she likes experimental fiction and I prefer the conservative, time proven old style of telling a story). We also differ when discussing the function of the writer in Twenty-First Century Black America. Our conversations remind me of the differences that existed between Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes in their beliefs as to the duty of the Harlem Renaissance writer to the growth of the African American budding and definable culture. Their age differences were comparable to kYmberly and me.

Dr. Du Bois believed the writers had an obligation to write stories that uplifted the Black race. In 1926, he wrote, “Thus all art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailings of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used and always for propaganda, for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy.” According to Du Bois, art must serve to advance the rights of Black Americans through the writings of the Talented Tenth. One of the goals also was for cultural improvement.

On the other side, Hughes represented the generation of avant-garde, young radicals known as the Bohemians. He articulated their position in his article in Nation Magazine, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” when he wrote, “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

I happen to be a supporter of the Du Bois position and strongly believe that we need to write about the beauty, strength and unyielding determination of Black folk to make it in this country over the decades. We need to create heroes so that our young can have positive images to hang their hat onto. We also need to lighten up on the onslaught of writings that attack the very nature of our existence as a people, specifically much of the street fiction. We have an enormous amount of stereotypes to overcome that have plagued us as a people for a very long time. Free expression is a luxury we cannot afford at this historical juncture in our cultural existence.

My young niece and fellow writer disagrees with me. She believes that writers must have the freedom to express themselves. Do not put shackles on their right to say and be who they are. They should always be cognizant of the need to capture the African American experience in their writing. However, kYmberly believes that she has no obligation to alter her writing to meet a larger objective. If the artist is not allowed to write as they please, then they are not free within themselves. According to kYmberly, creativity loses its meaning if the writer must follow certain rules of the game, in order to fulfill only one specific goal. And the larger question is who has the right to define what those rules should be.

This seems to be the age-old question confronting African American writers. Richard Wright challenged the writers of the Renaissance. James Baldwin challenged Richard Wright and Amiri Baraka challenged Ralph Ellison. But today, there appears to be no challenge, but instead a sort of existential right for the artists to do their own thing with no questions asked. What is refreshing in my dialogue with kYmberly, is that at least we are willing to ask questions and challenge our positions, knowing all along that we do love the art and we do love the culture.

For the full text of Dr. Du Bois’s remarks please visit http://www.webdubois.org/dbCriteriaNArt.htlm

For the full text of Langston Hughes’ remarks please visit

Abogond.wordpress.com/2009/10/08langston-hughes-on-wanting-to-be-white/