Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why We Opened A Bookstore Part II

Someone asked me recently "What did you learn from opening a bookstore and then watching it close three years later?" Apparently not a darn thing. We've done it again.

The NEW Wild Fig  nestled in a diverse community at the corner of Eddie and Limestone is a booming area. In addition to more new books than used, we've added boutique items such as t-shirts, tote bags and pencil cases (all with a literary flair) and we have a fabulous cafe in house serving a variety of high end coffee and espresso drinks (all of our coffees and teas are organic). Other food items include yogurt parfaits, personal six inch pizzas made from quality products, smoothies and cup salads. We also carry an array of baked goods from Midway School Bakery and a cooler with drinks made here in Kentucky such as Ale 8 and Banyantree Chai.

There is no doubt that gentrification is alive and well here. We are one of a handful of black owned businesses on Limestone. Here on the north end there's a barbershop and to my knowledge there are no other black businesses until you reach House of Soul and Sav's Grill in the two and three hundred blocks of Limestone.

Recently we have had a string of visitors who once lived in the house that is now the building that holds our bookstore. Two of them (a couple) recently came into the store complaining about being displaced  before the house was bought and renovated. I can hear the frustration in their voices. I can empathize with circumstances. It's a long story too lengthy for my intention here but apparently the young woman of the couple has some kind of dispute with her father when he sold the house that she was renting from him. After she was evicted our landlord bought the house, renovated it, and rented it to us.

So the building is beautiful but we understand what we understand. That this was someone's house for years, long before we got here. That gentrification wears two faces and that we are still straddled in both worlds and experience the double consciousness that WEB Dubois so poignantly wrote about so many years ago. We see the children playing on Eddie Street and I have great plans to make sure they all get a book. I see the neighbors (both black and white) eye us suspiciously, as though they can't decide if we are for them or against them. In he coming weeks, I plan to knock on all the doors along Eddie as though I am a politician, introducing myself, explaining what we are trying to do and to invite them to the open house that we will be having during Night March from 6 to 8 p.m. next Friday.

Today I met Mr. Ernest Bryd while I was taking out the trash. "You want some coffee?" I yelled out to him. He told me he couldn't see well so I took him a cup of Kenyan. I tried to give it to him as a goodwill gesture but he insisted on paying me for it. We talked awhile. He told me about his niece. I told him who I was and what I was doing over there at the new place. He nodded his head and reminded me of my grandfather when he changed the subject and said that his niece would be coming soon or at least he thought she was coming soon. I told him I would let him get on with his day. He said "Like I tell my niece I ain't going no where." Every time I see Mr. Bryd from now on I will take him over a cup of coffee and I have asked everyone at The Fig to kind of watch out for him. I'm not sure that all of the neighbors will be as warm and friendly as Mr. Bryd but I hope they'll put up with me and maybe they'll come in when they are curious.

On the other side of this fence I've seen curious potential shop goers drive slowly by our place. Some even park in front of the house/building and look for awhile before they drive off. Some decide to stay and shop and drink and laugh. I don't know if it's the facade of the outside of the building that still looks too much like a house that's off putting or if they are still a little gun shy about the neighborhood or if simply they were just getting their bearings for another day when they have more time. Time will tell.

We are working hard and we've put all of our finances into this endeavor. One of our children has quit her fairly secure job to come work for us. We love our beautiful, shiny space and we have hand selected every book with a potential buyer in mind. We are wild in our selections. We are traditional in our selections. We are trying to forge a niche market for book buyers. We don't have all best sellers neither do we only cater to the avant-garde though we are rather proud to be eclectic weirdos.  Maybe you will find our new books on some other bookstore shelf but maybe you won't. I described the Wild Fig recently as a literary country store with an eclectic twist.

Perhaps we are a little crazy. Perhaps we are totally mad. Perhaps you will come check us out. But maybe you won't. We are scared. We are excited. We remember what closing the previous bookstore felt like. The memory of having lived through closing one store is horrifying. We know our neighbors have memories too. We know this house/our new bookstore home was filled with multiple families over the years.

There are three young women who work in our kitchen. Two are our daughters, the third is a sweet young woman we hired. They are all twenty something. They work hard and they giggle. When I'm shelving books, I often think about all the women who have probably worked in that kitchen over the years and the girls who most likely giggled at their hips. There are scratches in the hard wood floors that are attached to somebody's memories. I acknowledge this. The young woman who visited recently said "This was my bedroom," and she spread her arms out circling the room. I wanted to hug her but I didn't. I didn't think she was ready for that. I told her to bring her daughters by for a book and that I hoped they were doing well.

Our store is again named for Kentucky's beloved novelist Gayl Jones who doesn't live too far from our doors. As Jones said in her poem Wild Figs and Secret Places "Memory is a mosquito/pregnant again/and out for blood."

I read a New York Times article that declared"...Print is Far From Dead." It discussed the comeback of the book and then cautiously advised that "the world is changing too quickly to declare that the digital tide is waning." That's how I would describe us cautiously optimistic that this new model will work and that we will be planning readings, community discussions, collaborations that will benefit neighbors and community. That people will be gathered around tables in our small cafe for years to come with their eyes glued to a good book. That we can be successful business owners and provide good goods and services around the world of books. This is what we love. We love what's happening here. We hope you will fall in love with our vision too.

Don't hesitate at the step, no matter what your reason. Come into the brick house with the purple accents. Come in and let's talk. Let us show you around.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rant #453: How To Heal A Broken Heart

For years I have watched people make fun of me and allowed them to think that I don't see them.

Once at a  mixer a "friend" was making fun of what I had on. I admit I am prone to the eccentric and you can never tell what I might wear on any given day. Most times I get dressed with the idea that I am daring someone to say something negative. But on this particular day I wasn't dressed too strangely and on top of that  I wasn't feeling well and was kind of leaning on a bar trying to make it through this meet-and-greet where we had both been hired to teach. I was sick as a dog and had a multitude of chaos going on back home. I was just trying to cope. It was all I could do not to run from the room in tears but I didn't.

Once a friend was making fun of my voice--low and at times inaudible in a film we were both in. Everyone else was loud and perhaps more articulate. Of course part of the problem was that my part of the film had been taped in a completely different environment and I had the portable crew and not the fancy studio setup. The other part is that I was a nervous wreck as I'm prone to be while being filmed.This "friend" has always thought me kind of stupid because my brain almost always moves more quickly than my tongue.

Once one of these same friends was overheard by someone they thought was a stranger making fun of my weight. "She's going to die early," or something to that effect they said. I, more than anyone, know that I have carried an extra one hundred pounds since the birth of my girls some twenty five years ago. I want to lose weight, of course, but I am comfortable in my skin and strive to be healthier. I love myself unconditionally and am very realistic about "high school skinny" and its permanent illusive nature.

I vowed to write them both a letter but I never did.

Once a "friend" made fun of me because he thought I was waiting for news from a big literary prize like half the other writers in the room and whispered something to the effect of "I hope she doesn't think anyone's calling her." The truth was that I was looking at the phone because I was again working out of town and was worried about my children. I certainly wasn't expecting a call from my agent about reaching a rung on the fame ladder. It's never been my thing. That's not why I write and it will never be why I write.

 Funny that nearly all these soul violations have been delivered by men but certainly women have done this too. And one of the violations mentioned above was delivered by a woman. These are people that I love as much as I love my own blood relatives. All of them are chosen family. I keep quiet. I am the woman my grandmother raised me to be. Quiet. Willing to let bygones be bygones. I secretely forgive them again and again and choose to love them still.

Sometimes I talk about them to other friends. In this way I commit the same sin but I never snicker behind their backs in their presence thinking they can't see me. I never say any cut throat, mean thing. Sometimes I tell this third party one of the stories I've told all of you and admit the hurt and feel a sense of relief for verbalizing it. And then I grow tight lipped again.

I hug these friends when I see them and I mean every hug. I always rehearse some speech in my head and hope they'll tell me they are sorry for hurting me. But I never say anything.

I am not a hater of fun. I grew up with cousins who were like brothers and sisters who could cut each other like knives when we wanted to. I am not immune to dishing the dozens. This kind of talk is part of both my African American culture and my Appalachian culture but it's different when you snicker over your cupped hand at somebody you are supposed to care about.

So to everyone who has done this (some of you I love dearly) just know that I am beyond the age of bullshit. I will call you out. Think I won't? Try me. I'm not trying to start a fight but I won't run from a verbal joust about this from now on. And I won't allow you to make fun of other people either.
I have reached an age of love and I know that there can be no true forgiveness without accountability. I don't think I'll mention the past. I'll keep it to myself but I am steadfast in my resolve to speak out next time I see it happen.

As bell hooks says, "For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?"

I see it as a part of my own healing to hold people accountable. Will they be transformed? I don't know but I know that I have been.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Turning The Page at Wild Fig Books: A Bookstore Story

As most of you know my partner Ron Davis and I have owned The Wild Fig books for three years. We are artists and dreamers and want to continue to be an integral part of the Indie Bookstore movement. Wild Fig Books is the people's store. It always has been. We have continued to support writers and readers not only in Kentucky but across the country. Please take time out to read our story in our Indiegogo campaign. Give to the campaign. Share the campaign on your social networks. Order books. Drop in and buy books. Schedule a reading. Any of these things would help ensure that we continue to be a part of the literary conversation.

Click below for more information:

Thursday, May 1, 2014


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102.... 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. 116. 117. 118. 119. 120. 121. 122. 123. 124. 125. 126. 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141. 142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147. 148. 149. 150. 151. 152. 153. 154. 155. 156. 157. 158. 159. 160. 161. 162. 163. 164. 165. 166. 167. 168. 169. 170. 171. 172. 173. 174. 175. 176. 177. 178. 179. 180. 181. 182. 183. 184. 185. 186. 187. 188. 189. 190. 191. 192. 193. 194. 195. 196. 197. 198. 199. 200. 201. 202. 203. 204. 205. 206. 207. 208. 209. 210. 211. 212. 213. 214. 215. 216. 217. 218. 219. 220. 221. 222. 223. 224. 225. 226. 227. 228. 229. 230. 231. 232. 233. 234.

This is what I write at the top of the page. I am a Black woman and I have never seen 234 Black girls before. So I try to imagine my three Black daughters in their place and multiply that by...but I can't do the math. I add on my three Black granddaughters, my cousins, my sisters, my aunts and it still doesn't work. I add on all the Black girl faces I have seen at family reunions and at church while I was growing up and it still doesn't add up to 234. I cry.

At least once an hour all night, I cruise the internet looking for some word of them. I can't imagine the anguish as a mother. I hope I never know this kind of pain. I lie awake thinking of the mothers. Thinking of the girls.

The news (I have to dig for it) tells me that they were kidnapped by a militant group and possibly sold to Islamic militants as brides for $12 each. I am outraged and can't fathom such a possibility. This worries me and I sleep only off and on and constantly check my phone for new information.

I can't imagine, even one, or two girls forced into trucks and kidnapped by uniform wearing thugs. But their are 234 of them--girls between 14-18--kidnapped, scared somewhere in the forest. They have possibly been wedded off, which means that some of them are being raped. All are being held against their will. I cry. And feel helpless. Some of them escape. Perhaps some of them escaped and were recaptured.

I write FB post in the middle of the night. I whisper I love you to my daughters who I hope are safely in their own homes sleeping while I write this. I whisper God please. If you are there God please. I pace the floor.

I pray that the Nigerian government gathers enough resources, internal strength, money, whatever it is they need to rescue these children.

And what about our government?

We run quickly toward the eradication of terrorism. Sometimes too quickly. We drop bombs. We send ships and sonic equipment and specially-trained personnel. What are we doing to fight this? What can we do? And I'm asking that of my government, myself, and I'm asking that of you.

And what of race?

I'll keep it simple. If there had been 234 white schoolgirls who were kidnapped anywhere in the world and being sold as brides, what do you think would be happening right now?

There are 234 Nigerian school girls kidnapped, two hundred and thirty four young women with are just beginning their lives, who have not had a chance to even begin to fathom their potential.

There are 234 Black girls missing,

There are 234 girls missing, which means 468 parents who are missing their daughters and a potential 936 grandparents who have a missing granddaughter. I can't grip my mind around the expanse of this tragedy.

Monday, February 24, 2014


I received a text earlier today from my dear friend Nikky Finney urging me to help her get the word out
about the petition below. A link on her FB page was accompanied by this post:

Dear fearless lovers of truth and poetry,
As many of you know the story of LaVena Johnson is close to my heart. When I wrote the poem "Florissant: for LaVena Johnson, 19" I intentionally wanted to join other voices calling for an official inquiry into her rape and murder. Here is a new campaign we simply must not miss being part of. Please please please sign this document. Do it now. Please step into this arena with me and link arms with others who refuse to let this story die along with LaVena. She could have been any one of our daughters, sisters, mothers, selves.

- Nikky

Other Resources:

USC professor highlights problem of sexual assault in the military (a rcent article about Nikky's fight for LaVena's justice)

The Silent Truth  (a film feature LaVena Johnson's parents) Petition (Please sign)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Creative Burst in an Otherwise Mucky Week

It's been a long while since I posted. Honestly, I have been living in a whirlwind. Spread too thin? An understatement. A friend recently sent me a FB message that began "I see from your FB post that you have a lot going on..." I wish I had a long list of fabulous things that I could post here or something profound but I don't have that right now. In fact, I feel as though today there is barely any of me left.

This week I have a husband with a damaged cornea (more than a month back and forth was cute when he made his first appearance as a pirate on Halloween but it's not cute any more..for some reason it will not heal); my mother is recovering from having a fistula placed in her arm for dialysis (her healing is exacerbated by diabetes and kidney disease and stubbornness (of course); and a plethora of other things that I won't go into at this time.

So the sunshine in the day is that in the midst of all the chaos Ron and I decided to collaborate for a moment....well it took a little bit longer than that but it was nice to feel creative for awhile and even nicer to do something together.

Several people have asked me about my short story "Holler" which first appeared in Slice  in 2010 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the journal's editors. Later anthologized in Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia and TalkingAppalachian: Voice, Identity and Community, 
Holler gives a glimpse into the lives of African-American characters who live in the hills of Kentucky. I am grateful for the number of friends and strangers who have used it in their classrooms.

The story is narrated by a woman who has just lost her father-in-law and tries to cope with the brokenness of her husband, her brother-in-law and the rest of the family she's married into. The story is also about the family's choice to stay loyal to their rural way of life even after the patriarch is found dead and lynching is suspected. And it's about the disconnection between city and country people irregardless of race. It's also about a lot of other things but you can read it for yourself.

This story is a spoke on the wheel of a short story cycle that I am working on. 

I asked Ron to design cover art for the story, which I love. 

While you are in e-book land check out two other short stories that you might enjoy.
Rules for Virgins

When It Dawns On Them


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Celebrating 12 Years in Print:

For Marita Golden, Marie Brown, Judy Sapp, Matthew Miller and Christine Wilkinson, who all believed even when I didn't.

It has been a long time habit of mine to wake up at 4 a.m. to write.

This morning I woke up to play "catch up" with my classes at the university.

In the shower, I bemoaned the fact that since the beginning of the semester I had spent little to no time dedicated to the final edit passes on  a book that I have been working on for several years. These spells of nonwriting always spiral me into the  Am-I-A-Real-Writer? place. It's a dark place that makes me fatter and dreary and mean.

The water was spraying, I was trying desperately to at least write a poem in my head so that my writerly lust had been satisfied for the day.


Then I thought about my first book Blackberries, Blackberries.

Twelve years? Really?

Yes! I have been in print for 12 years so that is something to celebrate.

What made me think of it in the first place?

Today is the final day that you can get this first work of mine for $1.99 through Amazon's Top 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or less chosen by the editors of AmazonEncore for January. I meant to do a bit of self promotion earlier in the month but life got in the way. So there! Twelve years (whoo-hoo). Buy the Kindle version for $1.99 (whoo-hoo). I feel slightly better like a teeny tiny baby step toward feeling better. But I will embrace it before that witch on my other shoulder throws back her head, laughs and says "So what heifer it's been ten years...." Blah. Blah. Blah.She's queen of the dark Am-I-A-Real-Writer place (cave).

Now off to campus and maybe I can squeeze in some time to get these edits done and keep the woman who lives in the cave who rears her head to mock me in the shadows