Oh my goodness, this is my last blog post as the Fiction Writing Grad Ambassador! I’ve been working open houses for the Grad Admissions office since 2009 and will certainly miss meeting new students, plus spending the occasional Saturday with Cate, David, the Sarahs…and those Fox and Obel turkey club sandwiches. Thank you to all of them for the opportunities, fun, patience and bacon.
I’m enjoying life after graduation. I’ve been getting up at 6am to write before work every day, and am on track to finish my novel by Labor Day. Work-wise, I’m still teaching young inmates through Storycatchers Theatre and have started teaching an ESL class at Solex College. And, if you want to know more about my latest publications and upcoming readings or just see what I look like sitting on a fire escape in the dark, please check out the News section of ChrisLTerry.com.
Thanks for reading and for spamming,
Over the weekend of June 15th, I went to Los Angeles to teach a writing workshop at the Mixed Roots Lit and Film Festival. Mixed Roots’ site describes the festival as, “Celebrating stories of the Mixed experience. Each year, the Festival brings together film and book lovers, innovative and emerging artists, and multiracial families and individuals for two days of workshops, readings, film screenings, and live performances, including music, comedy and spoken word.”
Mixed Roots was founded by actress Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow, the author of “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.” I first heard about the festival while interviewing Heidi before her appearance at the 2012 Story Week, and knew that I, a biracial writer, absolutely had to go. So, I submitted a workshop proposal and crossed my fingers. My workshop, “Writing Significant Racial Moments for Young Characters,” was accepted, and I bought a plane ticket to L.A.
While I got to see some great stuff, like a reading by kindred spirit and “Incognegro” author Mat Johnson and a documentary on the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case, the most important thing that I experienced was community. As Mat Johnson pointed out during his reading, this was the only time he’d ever been in the racial majority in a room. It was a powerful feeling to be in a place where the things that have made me feel, at best, unique and, at worst, isolated, made me fit in. And, that feeling spilled over into my workshop, where roughly thirty participants shared and wrote stories inspired by a list I’d made of what I guessed to be common experiences, like someone asking “What are you?” or a time when someone didn’t believe that you were related to one of your parents.
Along with the feeling of fitting in came a new, unsettling question: If I make art that stands out because of its mixed race themes, what makes it stand out when being mixed race is no longer a novelty to the audience? My first answer was that that’s a wonderful worry to have, but then I also realized that this concern should just drive me to continue to create quality art, to write stories that bring together people with those shared experiences and that illuminate those experiences for people who have not had them. And, to write stories that are just good stories, regardless of subject matter. Stories that move my (as of now, hypothetical) book from the “Mixed Race Authors” shelf to the “Literature” shelf.
It was a lot to think about, and smile over, as I drove my rent-a-car up and down Sunset Ave., blasting TLC and Neneh Cherry. It was an experience and a revelation that I was pleased to have.
I should emphasize three things:
1. I never would have met Heidi Durrow if it wasn’t for Columbia’s Fiction Writing department.
2. I would never have had the guts to write about my biracial experiences if it wasn’t for Columbia’s Fiction Writing department.
3. I would never have had the ability or credentials to develop and teach my workshop if it wasn’t for, you guessed it, Columbia’s Fiction Writing department.