Sunday, July 31, 2011
University Book Store
The problem with journalist writing a book is that they go on book promotions and that can be painful. Once on stage reporters treat these junkets as if they were at a press conference and on the wrong side of the podium. Journalist are used to being in the safety of the press core asking the questions not answering them. At the podium, they often squirm and produce canned guarded boring responses. I understand. It’s the reporter’s nature to swim around with their kind, waiting for a sign of distress before they attack. Kind of like, well… a shark.
Not so tonight. As a speaker on the subject Ms.Juliet Eilperin's is fantastic and right before Shark Week beings she is in Seattle pumping up her new book "Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks"
It was a remarkable evening. Concise and direct, her speech flows without hesitation or remarkably without refereeing to notes. It’s a shame that due to the time restrictions at University Books she did not use her power point presentation for visual emphasis.
The best part of Ms. Eilperin's speech tonight may have occurred before the Author Event began. I arrive early, sit in the front row and chat with the Book store employees. To my shock, Ms. Eilperin's arrives early as well and introduces herself to the staff with a brilliant smile that would send a dentist into the poor house. I’m now ease dropping.
She is a gracious lady, unpretentious and without entourage perfect manners and speaks to the book store staff with respect. An audience member approaches her sounding like an academic or a researcher. She humbles herself to him by admitting her concern to get things correct. The man compliments her work, saying that she did a fine job at pulling together a vast subject like sharks and Ms. Eilperin seems appreciative. It’s such a sweet exchange I almost need an insulin shot.
As I sit in the front, she makes eye contact and I mention the excellent preview of her book in theSeattle Times by authorDavid B. Williams and again the woman’s face lights up.
“I just saw that today. I don’t know that person, do you?” Actually I don’t but with my note pad and tape recorder out, I guess I look like a media member. I mention write about author tours on this little blog.
“Oh she says. I will look forward to reading what you said about this.”
Maybe she was being polite but by now I found the woman so gracious I think I would paint her house if she asked.
Ms. Eilperin is not a Shark fanatic but admits that her work for the Washington Post led her to this book. The book is a tribute the environmental challenges that sharks fight for survival.
The subject of her talk is the current threat of sharks by man, specifically the Chinese cultural prestige to eat Shark Fin Soup. The author sites estimates of 35million -70 million sharks a years being killed for their fins only. The book, “Demon Fish” is not just political since it covers a wide variety of shark information but her talk tonight focuses on the shark fin trade
Once discouraged by a Communist system as a delicacy, Shark Fin Soup has gone into greater demand by the prosperous Chinese economy, and with China’s prospering, the taste for that prestige is growing. As the author points out Shark Fin Soup is a staple of Chinese wedding receptions and business is booming.
Things seem to be changing according to the author. Several countries are banning Shark fishing and some countries realize that the tourism from sharks may make them more valuable live than dead. It is akin to the fight by African locals to preserve the Elephant as a tourist draw, instead of killing them for their ivory tusks.
One young Chinese-American girl in the audience defends her culture (respectful not hostile) by saying that it is hard for young Chinese environmentalist to go against the grandparents and parent’s desire for Shark Fin Soup to be served. This was a perfectly reasoned statement and one that could invite all kinds of controversy depending on how it is answered or if the author is caught up in her own fanaticism. But Ms. Eilperin is skilled in her response and focuses on the environmental impact of the custom and not a damning of the Chinese people.
This served as one of the better audience commentaries of the evening because it was during the Q & A I wanted to stand up kiss Juliet Eilperin right on her big beautiful smile.
The hijackers were lurking in the audience. These kinds of people don’t ask questions. They look for affirmation of their personal opinions by asking leading questions and disregarding the speaker if the hijacker opinion is not validated. They try (and God do they try) to take over the speakers talk by making statements instead of questions, interrupting the author’s answer and acting like this public forum is taking place in the hijacker’s living room. Too often this happens and I hate it.
When these questions occurred, Juliet Eilperin would simply nod her head in agreement and motioning her hands saying “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” It was like watching a jump roper preparing to enter double-dutch. As the audience member blabbed on and on, Ms. Eilperin revved up her momentum, until that blessed moment when the audience member forced to take half a breath, and BAM, she breaks the hijacker’s speech by jumping in with some amazing fact and then continues on to the next question without appearing to offend anyone. It was brilliant.
I wish I could take that, bottle it up, and spray it around the room before every author reading. It would save a lot of unfortunate author readings.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
July 17, 2011
Sapphireis no joke. That’s the first thing that goes through my mind as she takes the stage to read from her newest novel, “The Kid.” Prior to that, I sit mystified. Yes it’s a warm perfect summer night but who the heck would not want to be inside the cement tinderbox basement of Elliot Bay’s dungeon to listen to an author whose previous work produced an Academy Award winning movie?
I am shocked the crowd is small. Fifteen minutes before the program is to start, I count twenty seven people but I expected over a hundred. I see the faces of the regulars who like myself, attend author readings regularly. Some Sapphire fans are reading her newest novel but many of the audience are engaged in political discussions. (More later) At exactly 7pm, the basement fills faster than a Nordstrom’s half off sale and the staff sets up another thirty chairs. Why do people decide to show up late to these things? And why did the two gay men next to me reek of onions? Damn it, I got a good seat too. It’s not the smell that irritates me it’s the audience.
Putting it blunt, where are the black people? Famous African American authors are few and far between on the speaking circuit. The Seattle African American community, show up in force when Toni Morrison, Terry McMillian, or Walter Mosley came to town but not tonight. Why? What is it about Sapphire that causes such a low turnout from the very community she comes from?
The room is not void of the African American community but the house is filling up faster and faster with that demographic I find highly entertaining/irritating: ex-hippies.
These are mainly female, white middle class AARP eligible folks, who attend lectures like this as a means of connecting to the kind of people they never grew up around. They are an intellectual know-it-all, crowd of elite snobs and prior to the author’s arrival I listen to the opinions of white people speaking up about the problems in poor black communities. Now, I have no problem with people having a point of view, (heck I write a blog) but what makes this gaggle of Subaru driving, left wing Glen Becks experts on the world of Sapphire?
Conversation volume is turned up as they shout their opinions over one another
to promote their personal causes; while trying to tell anyone in earshot that only they understand what the clueless masses don’t understand.Their sentences usually start with “I don’t understand people who…” or end sentences with “these guys don’t get it.”
I love it. Can’t wait to see how the speaker handles the Q & A session because I know some of these people are going to try to hijack the evening. This is why author readings can be so entertaining and here I continue to wait among the stench of onion on strangers.
Of course, Sapphire is not a pretender like these sycophants. She understands the plight of her novels subjects and the demons that fail those in social service organizations. She is a political voice of intelligent activism and when hearing her speak tonight there is little doubt she knows what she is talking about.
Anybody who has ever read Sapphire’s debut the novel “Push” which turned into the academy award winning movie “Precious” are aware of the novels harsh subjects covering incest, rape, illiteracy, domestic abuse and AIDS among the African American community. I’ve never read the book, but when flipping through sections of “Push” but I know someone has talent when their writing makes me physically ill.
Her newest novel “The Kid” is the tragic follow up to “Push” The book begins with Precious, having died of AIDS leaving her nine year old son, Abdul to the government social service system. This is Abdul’s story. A tale of abuse and choice that leaves him with a crack of hope in a world that has damned him to life in institutions.
Tonight, despite a hectic day of interviews, Sapphire finds the energy to read sections from the book as if she is trying to impress the audience: it works.
The author’s background (a veteran of the Slampoet circuit) serves both she and the audience well. It wasn’t a reading but a performance.
She has complete command of the stage. Maybe I shouldn’t be impressed given Sapphire’s background. Maybe I should have expected this magnificent reading tonight but night after night of hearing bad readings performed by unrehearsed authors has made me numb. I don’t write about all of them. So when I see an author on stage, remarkable as Sapphire was this evening, I appreciate the effort and I wish to God others were here as well.
“The Kid” is a collection of hard words describing a hard world and Sapphire’s talent makes these words palatable. She reads prepared comments off hand written notes, then reads sections of the novel as we follow Abdul’s journey.
She explains a lot of the novel. In fact she reads almost too much to entice the reader into buying the book. Thankfully, Sapphire doesn’t give away the ending, but she doesn’t leave much for the audience to discover about Abdul either.
The audience follows Abdul at his mother’s death bed to the bureaucratic nightmare of Foster homes, disconnected family relationships, self-awakening and graphic sexual abuse (both as victim and perpetrator)
Oh and sidebar about Sapphire. I loved her fearless nature. I loved how she called Andrew Sullivan a racist for his insensitive comments. It really frosted my cake, however, when during the Q & A session, she said Abdul should not be considered a pedophile because he himself is only a child.
So when fourteen year old Abdul sexually molests another boy in the orphanage what does that make him? A pedophile or a rapist of minors?
As I said it is a hard world that Sapphire writes about.