An interview with Andrew Mitchell Davenport
In her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston writes, “If you have received no clear-cut impression of what the Negro in America is like, then you are in the same place with me. There is no The Negro here. Our lives are so diversified, internal attitudes so varied, appearances and capabilities so different, that there is no possible classification so catholic that it will cover us all.” And so, too, does the fiction of debut novelist Cole Lavalais, a lifelong resident of Chicago, express true subjectivity in her Summer of the Cicadas. Over the course of weeks during the early spring, Lavalais and I exchanged letters about literature, history, family, and the artists who helped her along toward publishing her greatest achievement yet.
[This piece originally appeared in the Full Stop Quarterly Issue #3. The Quarterly is available to download or subscribe here.]
A.M. Davenport: Cole, we’re talking on the eve of your first novel’s publication; I find myself wondering what your journey has been like. Where have books taken you? What do you hope for your reader to find in Summer of the Cicadas?
Cole Lavalais: My intention is to present one woman’s experience at a particular moment in time within a particular context. Edwidge Danticat wrote a letter to her protagonist at the end of Breathe, Eyes, and Memory, and it’s always stayed me with. She apologizes for the ways the world will make her story representational for all young Haitian women, and I’ve never been able to forget it. That idea of a singular story is what sits at the center of Summer of the Cicadas. All of the characters are struggling to not be representational. So I hope readers feel as if they know Vi by the end of book, but also realize it’s all they know. Vi’s experience is not every black woman’s experience.
Chicago and the South play such integral parts in Vi’s life as she leaves the North for her college studies. 100 years after the Great Migration, what do you think Vi learns from her Southern sojourn?
Read more here: Cole Lavalais Interviewed on Full Stop
(Note: KIMBILIO thanks Julia for her ongoing service to our community. Since 2014, she has graciously volunteered to prepare manuscript material for our retreat.)
Andrea Lee writes the kind of dazzling, lyrical prose that delights with its boldness—over three acclaimed novels, a New York Times Notable short story collection, and many essays and articles in publications like Time,The New Yorker, and Vogue, she explores matters of race, class, and culture with an erudition that is as playful as it is sophisticated. It was an honor and a pleasure to talk with her about her life and work, and collect some additional thoughts on her essay “Notes for a Speech Never Given (The Nile Swim Club),” which appears in Gulf Coast 28.2.
Julia Brown: Where in the world are you right now? What’s on your mind these days? What’s absorbing your attention?
Andrea Lee: I have just spent a month of work and play in Bangkok, Thailand, but where I am right now is in my house in Turin, Italy. It’s a 600-year-old villa in the country, and from my window I can see woods, a field with cows, the city in the distance, and the French Alps beyond that.
Read the rest here: Interview with Andrea Lee
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
From the Evanston Public Library Blog:
Amina Gautier writes short stories, and her short story collections win awards. It’s about that simple. Back in 2011, for instance, her debut collectionAt-Risk earned the Flannery O’Connor Award and the First Horizon Award among other honors, and her 2014 follow-upNow We Will Be Happy won the Praire Schooner Book Prize. This past February Gautier continued the trend with The Loss of All Lost Things – a gripping collection of fifteen stories that explores the unpredictable ways in which characters deal with the loss of their loved ones, careers, reputations, and hometowns. Not only did her third collection win the Elixir Press Award in Fiction, but Gautier was also included on Newcity’s 2016 Lit 50 list and is set to receive the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award in October. Back on May 9, Gautier visited EPL to read fromThe Loss of All Lost Things as part of the 2016 Evanston Literary Festival, but if you missed her that night, have no fear. You can catch her this Saturday, June 11 at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, and what’s more, we recently spoke with her via email about her love of the short story form, her creative process, and the challenges of writing intimately about loss.
Read the interview here: An Interview with Amina Gautier
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
FROM SMOKE LONG QUARTERLY
Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Dennis Norris II
Your story, “Daddy’s Boy,” devastated me when I first read it, flooded me with discomfort. I had to step away and think about it, come back to it and read it again and then sort through competing emotions: admiration, disgust, sympathy. What sort of effect were you hoping to achieve with this story?
Well first, thank you so much for saying that, and for your kind words regarding “Daddy’s Boy.” This is a really satisfying question to consider because it tells me that as a reader this story asked you to work to receive it. Which is exactly the effect I’m hoping to achieve with everything I write. When I’m reading, the stories and novels that impact me the most allow me to work in partnership with the writer–in a very intimate way–and in that relationship, our combined efforts make the reading experience worthwhile. I hope a reader will return to my work, will need to do so, and will find something new, or deeper, or more challenging with each read, the same way that I do with the stories and novels that I hold most dear. But that means I have to do my part and deliver that story, which as I’m sure you know, is really hard to do.
Read the rest of the interview here: Rion Interviews Dennis