Of all the southern cities Atlanta is the one I’ve visited most. It’s got wonderful universities, peaches and Coca Cola (I know, not correct but it’s been my fave since I was a kid!). I attended the very first conference on Black Speculative Fiction writers at Clark Atlanta University more than a decade ago and met Octavia Butler!
Reading at Charis Books in Atlanta reinforced my love of the city the Allman Brothers band called Hot ‘Lanta. It turned out to be a real family affair. Charis collaborated with Zami NOBLA a local group dedicated to lesbians of color elders. That would be me and definitely Gilda!
I read to a full and enthusiastic house; and like most GILDA readings ethnic representation was wide. Funny how vampires break through all those walls that politicians want to keep putting up! What made it even more fun was family members went to great trouble to attend the reading. My brother, Phill, a dyed in the wool Yankee Wampanoag/French Canadian recently moved with his wife to South Carolina and hit the highway to make it to Charis.
My step cousins (more on relatives in later posts), who I grew up with in Boston, were originally from Mississippi and returned there; then relocated to Georgia after surviving Hurricane Katrina. So Catherine, her daughter and granddaughter popped in the car and came to hear me read from my work for the first time ever!
As I looked out at them when I read and when we all had breakfast together the next morning I thought this is what The Gilda Stories is all about: how we make family together against all odds.
The next day my spouse, Diane, and I made our way to Baltimore, or Charm City as it’s known. I hadn’t been there in more than 30 years. And I can’t really count this as a visit except as a visit to Red Emma’s Bookstore and Restaurant. It’s a huge space with great food, great books and an enthusiastic staff. It was a different kind of reading, kind of like being a cabaret singer: some folks sat in chair right up front but many more were eating at tables surrounding the ‘stage.’ But I could tell they were listening when a guy playing chess and drinking coffee gave me the high sign.
Here too the past met the present: my best friend from elementary school years, Irene, drove in from a nearby town to hear me read. It was fitting because as kids we stood in line faithfully every Thursday waiting for the Bookmobile, rain, sleet or snow! She became a librarian and that’s how we reconnected—she found me when The Gilda Stories was originally published. Even though we don’t have much contact, she too is family and part of the threads that wove together to create my novel and my writing life. I didn’t expect a book tour to bring my past into the present so definitively but it makes sense. Especially when I’m reading from my novel about being able to live forever!
It was fun to find out that Charis in Greek mythology is sometimes the goddess of charm. So I guess with Baltimore being Charm City this was the Charming leg of our tour! And as the sun set on Charm we, of course, stopped for the biggest and best (no bread filler!) crab cakes I’ve ever had in my long, seafood filled life. G & M Restaurant delivers…that’s all I’m going to say!!!
Next stop Philadelphia.
Jewelle Gomez is a writer and activist and the author of the double Lambda Award-winning novel, THE GILDA STORIES from City Lights, now with the new 25th Anniversary edition. Find out more about Jewelle Gomez HERE