Deesha Philyaw (’15) Interviews Cole Lavalais (’13, ’15)

Deesha Philyaw (’15) Interviews Cole Lavalais (’13, ’15)

Cole Lavalais’s arresting debut novel, The Summer of the Cicadas, engages with a mother-daughter relationship, mental health, and first love, set on the campus of small black college in the South. The novel’s main character Viola (Vi) Moon is still emotionally fragile after a recent hospitalization at a mental health facility, but she’s also determined to step into her future. As she begins her freshman year in college, she gets involved with Perry, the only son of an elite black family. Then a family mystery further threatens Vi’s stability and leads her on a search for her father. From the devastating opening chapter to the final, revelatory pages, Summer of the Cicadas is a fresh, unforgettable story about the struggle to heal from wounds of the past.

Lavalais is a fellow of the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction, VONA/Voices, and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops. She has been awarded writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts. Her short stories have appeared in publications including Obsidian, Apogee, WarpLand, Tidal Basin Review, and Aquarius Press. She holds an MFA from Chicago State University and a PhD from University of Illinois at Chicago. She has taught writing for over ten years. On the South Side of Chicago, Lavalais teaches a community-based writing workshop and hosts Colored People’s Time, a bi-monthly literary salon featuring fiction writers of color.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cole Lavalais about Summer of the Cicada, why she’s a huge fan of outlining, and the importance of dedicated communities for black writers.

Read the interview here: Deesha Interviews Cole

Coal Lavalais (’13, ’15) Interviewed on THE TOAST

Coal Lavalais (’13, ’15) Interviewed on THE TOAST

In Cole Lavalais’ debut novel Summer of the Cicadas, Viola “Vi” Moon hopes to leave her experience at a mental health facility behind when she enrolls in a small black college in the south, but the stability she hoped she’d gain fractures more quickly than she anticipated. Vi thinks the best way to regain her sanity is to begin a relationship with Perry, the only son of a black, Southern elite family. When Vi struggles to find her place in school and with Perry, she launches an obsessive search for the father she can’t fully remember or completely forget.

Summer of the Cicadas is a striking debut that challenges the reader to figure out what is real, what is true, and what is now. Lavalais turns the idea of legacy upside when characters are confronted with inheriting family secrets, mental illness, respectability politics, and deception. Who or what haunts us as we try to find ourselves, stuck with family names and histories we didn’t choose? How much of our histories should we hold on to as we prepare for our futures? In a telephone interview, Lavalais talked with me about the stigma of mental illness, diversity issues in publishing, and how black women writers can support each other.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE: Cole Lavalais on THE TOAST

KHALIAH WILLIAMS (’13, ’15) & THE BALTIMORE RENAISSANCE

KHALIAH WILLIAMS (’13, ’15) & THE BALTIMORE RENAISSANCE

by Michal B. Tager

from What Weekly

Khaliah Williams and I meet on the Avenue in Hampden, where many young, artistic folk have moved in the past ten years, transforming a bastion of the working-class into a new artistic Mecca of Baltimore. She is early for our meeting, highly polite and very well-coiffed; we both order coffee and discuss punctuality and organization, a trait we both prize. We both live near the coffee shop, Spro, which is filled with professionals and artists. Not that long ago, this scene would have been unimaginable.

If anyone had told me fifteen years ago that Baltimore is where young, up-and-coming writers and artists were going to migrate, I would have told them they were dreaming. To me, Baltimore was where people either never left or wound up so they could commute easily to D.C. It wasn’t a destination of choice.

Now, however, young people and mavens of art flock to Baltimore, eager to join the flourishing scene. They come from writing programs and small theater companies, graduates of life and universities. Khaliah Williams came from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, one of the more prestigious MFA programs in the country. When I ask Khaliah why she—and other writers— come to Baltimore, she says, “Everyone from Iowa [Writers Workshop] moves here. Baltimore is having a Renaissance and people want to move here.”

Read the rest of the profile here:  KHALIAH WILLIAMS & THE BALTIMORE RENAISSANCE