I can't believe the novel has been out for nearly a year, but it has, and the paperback is in stores now. I'll be traveling over the next few weeks talking about the book (Michigan! Iowa! Texas! Virginia! Minnesota! California!). You should come to an event and say hi.
On September 30th Buzzfeed announced that I'm a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree for 2015. This makes me only the third person to be named an honoree and simultaneously on the National Book Award longlist (the other two writers are Téa Obreht and Phil Klay). I was nominated by ZZ Packer, a writer and teacher who I admire very much.
On October 14th I found out I made the shortlist for the National Book Award. The finalists were announced on NPR's Morning Edition. After they read the names in the fiction category, two correspondents gushed about my book in a way that made me feel tingly and ridiculous because I was smiling at the radio in my kitchen like it was a real person.
I'll find out if I win the National Book Award at the awards dinner on November 18th. My mother will be there with me. We need to get new clothes for this.
I'm teaching a 6-week writing workshop in NYC! It'll be Thursday evenings starting October 15th, and I'll likely bring things I've baked from time to time, if snacks are your thing (they are absolutely my thing). Space is very limited, so I encourage folks to apply soon.
Complex characters are essential to a successful work of fiction; they test the boundaries of our ideas and compel readers to invest in a story through its end. This workshop will focus on the relationship between character development and narrative momentum. Through reading, writing and discussion we will examine methods to make our characters feel real, and our fiction energetic. During this six-week intensive workshop, each student will workshop twice. Following their in-class critiques, students will meet with the instructor for individual conference.
I spoke with Joe Fassler, a fiction writer who runs the By Heart series for The Atlantic online, about my favorite line or passage from literature:
"One line from the book, from an early section where Hurston is explaining her methods for collecting folklore in the South, stuck with me especially:
Mouths don’t empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing.
This line changed how I thought about the work I wanted to do. It’s not about having a background that lines up with the characters you’re writing about, I realized. That’s not the responsibility of the fiction writer. Instead, you have the responsibility to be sympathetic—to have empathy." Read the entire piece here.
This month marked the one-year anniversary Michael Brown's killing, and the start of the Ferguson protests. My friend Zinzi Clemmons asked me if I'd like to write something for Literary Hub as part of a series featuring other young black writers.
I wrote this: "Keyword Search: 'Ferguson' and 'Mike Brown.'
There are also thoughtful, moving pieces from twelve other young black writers. You should read them.
August 11 marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Watts Rebellion, or Riots, depending on whom you ask. The LA Times asked me what I think those six tumultuous days should be called, and you can read my response here.
While I was away in Vermont for the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, I found out that THE TURNER HOUSE made the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize shortlist. I was already honored to be among so many wonderful books on the long list, and now I am excited to still be in the running.
I admired Tayari Jones well before I asked a friend to introduce me to her in Washington, DC in 2012. Back then, The Turner House was about 200 pages long, and not nearly as "finished" as I told people it was. Tayari toasted to my fledgling book just the same, buying my friend and me a round of rose. Two years later, she agreed to blurb my book, and I was overjoyed. I happily sent her the email reminders she requested to make sure she found time in her schedule to read my book every day. Tayari selected me to be the person she featured in Poets & Writers magazine's 2015 First Fiction issue (which you should buy). I tried to say smart things during our chat, and I learned a lot from her in the process.
I am excited to be in conversation with Tayari on July 15, at 7:00pm at the Barnes and Noble Upper West Side as part of the Harlem Book Fair. I hope to see you there. I'll also be signing books the following Saturday in Harlem. If I see you at both events, maybe it'll be my turn to buy the rose.
I'm beginning to think that all good news comes to me when I am on the subway. First it was news of my O, the Oprah Magazine and Essence reviews, now it's news that I am among an estimable group of writers long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
About the prize, from the center for fiction website: "Our First Novel Prize is awarded to the best debut novel published between January 1 and December 31 of the award year. The author of the winning book is awarded $10,000 and each shortlisted author recieves $1,000. The Short List will be announced on September 15, 2015. The winner will be announced at our Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner on Tuesday, December 8 at The Metropolitan Club."
"Flournoy gets at the universal through the patient observation of one family’s particulars. In this assured and memorable novel, she provides the feeling of knowing a family from the inside out, as we would wish to know our own." -Matt Thomas, in a wonderful review at The New York Times.
"In my own fiction, I wanted to examine what it felt like to be aware of a neighborhood transition as it happens...I looked to novels set 60 years prior, during another period on the precipice of large-scale neighborhood shifts."
Read the essay at Literary Hub.
I am full of gratitude at the amount of support and messages of encouragement I received on my publication day yesterday. I'm still basking in the glow of my first packed reading at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles last night, but I thought I'd take a minute to share the rest of my reading schedule. I hope to see some friendly faces on the road.
There's less than a month until The Turner House arrives, and I'm overwhelmed by all of the advance love it's getting. I was in Brooklyn waiting for the C train when I heard that I had a review in O, the Oprah Magazine. I ran back out of the station to a bodega and snatched the magazine off the rack so quickly I'm sure the owner thought I was going to steal it. There's a picture of me alongside my review in Essence, and when the newsstand clerk saw me (awkwardly) eyeing myself, he offered to give me a copy for free. I bought it though; Kelly Rowland and her adorable baby are on the cover, how could I not? I'm also grateful for the love shown in Redbook and Better Homes and Gardens.
The Spring 2015 issue of The Paris Review is worth picking up for many reasons. It has the first in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, and Art of Fiction interviews with Lydia Davis and Hilary Mantel. There's a poem from Major Jackson called "Italy" that I'm looking forward to reading. Also, THERE'S AN EXCERPT OF MY NOVEL THAT I'M VERY EXCITED ABOUT! It's called "Lelah," and on top of the obvious feelings of joy and humility I have for being in such an illustrious publication, I'm also happy that The Paris Review selected "Lelah" in particular. She is the first character I "knew," the one whose story came to me when it was well underway. She challenged me to figure out how she got to where she was in her life, and to develop where she needed to go next. You can read the first page of the excerpt here, and buy the issue or subscribe for the rest.
"Encompassing a multitude of themes, including aging and parenthood, this is a compelling read that is funny and moving in equal measure." Read the full booklist review here.
Kirkus Reviews calls me a talent to watch.
I've also learned that THE TURNER HOUSE is a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection for Summer 2015! The official announcement will be in March, but you can pre-order the novel from them now.
You can win one of five advance read copies of my novel.
Visit this link, sign up for Goodreads if you haven't already, and add the address where you'd like the book to be shipped.
Contest closes on 1/28, and it's only available to readers in the US.
For my profile, Daniel Lefferts talked to my agent and editor about the process of getting the novel to print. My agent Ellen Levine says she first read the book in 2012, which is true. But she met me in 2010. I'd only written 15 pages at that time, which wasn't enough to give to her, but I was so impressed with her career and client list that I didn't want to miss an opportunity for face time. I sat across from Ellen and lied through my teeth. I said I was halfway done with the novel, that I knew how it would end. She asked me about plot points and for more details about certain characters, and I shot back answers. I hadn't thought about some of those characters before then. It was exhilarating because I was forced to make decisions about the book that I would have otherwise put off for months, being the indecisive person I am. I stuck with a lot of those decisions over the following four years. I faked it, and gave myself concrete ideas to work with until I made the book a reality. I'm glad I did.