MY DAUGHTER HAS LEARNED TO read. This would be good news for any parent, but for a parent who is also a Reader with a capital R, a person who would rather go to the library than the mall, a person who credits books with saving her life--this is a joyful, joyful day. Reading is the key not only to learning and therefore academic success, but also, more importantly, to intellectual freedom. A person who reads is a person who thinks, and a person who thinks will not be easily manipulated by politicians or advertisers, or led astray by commercial or political forces.
There's a reason slave codes made slave literacy a crime. There's a reason Malcolm X said the most dangerous person in America is a black man with a library card.
On the day the galleys for my upcoming novel lump at the Sun arrived, I realized my daughter's newfound literacy also means something else, something potentially less positive: someday soon, my daughter will be reading my work. As I held the first copy of my latest novel in my hands, my daughter read the title and my name and clapped her hands with excitement. Then she asked,
"Mommy, what's it about?"
What could I say?
Jump at the Sun, which will be published July 1 by William Morrow, is a novel of motherhood. It is also a novel of race, of love and sacrifice, of contemporary life and the continuing legacy of slavery, of the costs and responsibilities of living the dream for which our parents and forefathers fought and several other things, but primarily it is a novel of motherhood. And not a sentimental one.
The Struggle Within
My protagonist, Grace, struggles mightily against the sacrifices and restrictions of motherhood, believing she has no options beyond the only two models of mothering she has ever known--complete abandonment, as chosen by her fierce, sharecropping grandmother, or complete and utter sacrifice, as picked by her intelligent but deeply damaged mom. It is a pendulum that has swung through many African American families, and Grace's struggle is to stop the swinging if she can. Yet her fight is not always pretty or sympathetic, and the outcome is not preordained. Nor would most of her thoughts about mothering make it to the inside of a Hallmark greeting card.
When I began the novel, my daughter was four, my son just months old, and the hormones still held me in their thrall. During the long, sometimes painful, sometimes tedious four years it took to complete the book, I worried about what my mother would...