Thursday, June 24, 2010

Colston Whitehead Book Tour Review

Third Place Books 6-20-10

I wish I could be as cool as Colston Whitehead. Cool like Miles Davis when he stopped a live Grammy’s appearance to tune his trumpet. Or cool like that sweaty bald Commander in “Top Gun” whose voice never cracks while Iceman and Maverick are under attack.

Colston Whitehead is cool like that. I know cause I saw it.

The self described the “fashionable, skinny, black, guy with fine hands and small wrists,” is compares himself to another famous Harvard alum now in the White House. Mr. Whitehead worked for the coolest newspaper in the land, the Village Voice. His work in the last twelve years allowed him to place his finger on a new era of the African American conscience.

Tonight he delivered a reading to remember.
Mr. Whitehead is not the first author I have seen use props or music during an author reading nor is the first to have music for accompaniment. He is, however, the first I have seen to use an IPAD and to play music (Donna Summer?) to prove a point.

The author is polished, calm, intelligent and well rehearsed: all the things I consider necessary for a successful author reading. Personally I found his routine funny and captivating but as any comedian will tell you, if the audience is flat then even Robin Williams will bomb. Mr. Whitehead’s humor and effort was wasted on an audience so flat, you could have used their affect as an ironing board.


Imagine how the cool sheen would fall off of President Obama if his teleprompter failed in the middle of a speech. Here in the middle of his reading, the author stumbled and stalled and panicked upon discovery that half his speech was missing.

Third Place employees run to look in the green room, is emptying his bag in frantic frustration. The flat perfunctory crowd waited as silent, hell there was hardly a nervous giggle while Mr. Whitehead looked for his notes. Then, Mr. Whitehead did something I had never seen at any kind: he stopped and ran out to his car.
I hoped he would return though there are some authors I wish to God would leave in the middle of the reading and in the future just might suggest that but Mr. Whitehead bravely returned. (Then again Third Place can sell any books unless he signs them)

When he did return without his notes, I witnessed a man, embarrassed and apologetic finish his commentary with grace and dignity from memory. After all the show must go on, but there was no need for apologies because afterward the crowd warmed up and this is what makes author readings and Mr. Whitehead so cool.

ON HIS READING: have a suspicion that Mr. Whitehead takes steps to read his work out loud before committing to publication. When author’s do this, I find the readings do not sound like writing but a story meant for the eyes and ears. Elmore Leonard says that if it sounds like writing he get rid of it and when following that rule it makes the reading portion of the presentation a pleasure to hear.


One interesting tidbit I find worth of mention was Mr. Whitehead found difficulty writing the first third of a book. Many times authors complain about the difficulty of middle and the end. When pressed as to why, Mr. Whitehead used the analogy of a car trip. “When I start out I know where I am going right?”

For Mr. Whitehead the first person or third person or narrative structure of the book is the hard part. He claims he writes in various forms trying and failing until the correct style emerges to match his tale. He averages about six to eight pages a day and can only work in the mornings taking as long as six months to establish the first outline/draft. The way the words flow out from the page through his mouth indicating a man who works hard, really hard at his art.

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