Library Fest-Tayari Jones
5:39PM Apr 6, 2021
Hello, hello, hello, Library Fest listeners. Welcome to Out Loud in the Library, a Durham Tech Library podcast. I'm your host, Courtney Bippley, reference librarian extraordinaire, and I'm here today to share an interview with award winning author Tayari Jones, who wrote An American Marriage, Silver Sparrow, Leaving Atlanta, and more. Her books have won such prestigious awards as the Women's Fiction Prize, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, the Aspen Words Prize, and more. She will be doing a Library Fest event on Saturday, April 10th, at 10:30am. And after listening to our conversation, you're not going to want to miss it. Tayari Jones is completely awesomesauce. Actually, she's better than awesomesauce, which would be... awesomesouffle. She's awesomesouffle. In all seriousness, the interview was a pleasure and an honor. Give it a listen and then go register for her event.
I am listening to An American Marriage right now. And the narrators are amazing. What kind of input do you get as an author in choosing the narrators of your books?
Well, this time this one I kind of pulled a fast one. My original idea was that I wanted to do the narration. And I found out that they don't really like the author to do the narration. If it's fiction, they like it if it's memoir, but not for fiction. And I found this out because there was this long email thread. And I'm the kind of person that when I get someone forwarding to me email, I will read it all the way to the bottom. You know, I think they forgot what all was down there in the bottom of the thread. And it was saying, "Oh my God, please don't let her audition" and "if we could just get her not to audition." And I was like, Oh, you know, like I was preparing to audition. But I knew I didn't stand a chance when I read that. So instead, I said, Okay, I said to them, you know, if you use Eisa Davis, I think I wouldn't even want to audition if you could use her. And they were like, "absolutely, done, sold to the lady in the red dress." So that's how I got kind of was able to maneuver that a little bit. But usually they have people audition and they they send the author about a one minute snippet and you choose one.
So you only get one minute to choose?
They don't really care what you think. I mean, this is the thing about all these other formats. They like, the author, they like you to stay in your lane. Your lane is writing the books. Just like your book cover is someone else's lane, designing the cover that will sell and they kind of want you to stay out of their business.
I guess that makes a certain amount of sense.
And you have to let go a lot of control. You just have to say, I mean, I have seen authors insist on a book design their cousin drew and it didn't work for the book. You just have to let the people whose job that is, to trust your team. And it's really hard because you know, I spent six years writing that book and this team has been thinking about it for like six months. So it's hard it's but you have to let go. You just have to breathe and let go.
When you're reading on your own do you have a particular format you prefer?
No, I mean different things. Like I like to listen to audiobooks for my things that are very straightforward like mysteries or like thrillers. Not even mysteries because with mysteries, I like to read with my eyes because I need to underline those clues when I see them like cause you can't with the audio. You can't really go back and find exactly what you were looking for. So, but, I do enjoy, like when I do my morning walk I love to listen to an audiobook for that. I'm not crazy about reading electronically, I will if I have to.
Can I tell you what I bought, I bought something called a book anchor. It's shaped like an anchor, you know, like you throw overboard and you slide it down the spine of the book and it holds the book open. So you don't have, to you can read hands free. So if you're doing something else, chopping vegetables, or whatever, you can hold your book open, it is amazing. And if it's in your purse, so if you're like at a bar reading a book, you can just have the book held open. And yes, I know that most people who go to bars don't do so to read books. But I think we book people I think we're a little different on that.
I will admit to having taken a book to a bar.
See, you need a book anchor.
Perhaps I do, I will have to look that up. What has been your relationship to libraries in your life?
Well, like all nerdy children, I love to visit the library. The West Hunter Street public library was my jam when I was a little girl and there was this thing called the Georgia book list. Or the librarians would make a list of books all children in Georgia should read over the summer and I was determined to read all of them and the teacher in the, not the teacher the librarian, would keep up with it in a little booklet. You know, every time I finished one you put a little check and I felt like just a little shining star. But as I got older, I've come to understand libraries in a different way since I've been an author because with the big NEA Big Read, which is partners with libraries, and when I went to Peoria we did an offsite library visit at the local food kitchen. We put copies of the books in the boxes. So food people come back for a book club, but what really struck me was that yes, I was a visiting author. Yes, it was a book club about my book. Yes, I was signing books, but their real hero of the day was the librarian when she was introduced all of the people, many of whom were homeless. They gave her a standing ovation. And at the end of the event, she indicated that she was going to be forgiving small library fines. Let me tell you, there was a, these are people many of whom are food insecure, homeless, they, everybody abandoned the table where the free sandwiches were given out. Nobody cared if I sign their books, the idea that she was wiping library fines so they could use the library again. And I was, I was, when I really realized just what value the library is adding to people's lives. That's a whole different thing than a little nerdy child getting a shiny star in a booklet and I've ever since then I've added libraries to my charitable giving because they're making such a difference in the community.
Well, thank you. I saw on your Instagram that you write using a typewriter.
Can you tell me about your first typewriter?
Well, the first one I bought as an adult, there were typewriters around the house when I was a child, and I you know, you do enjoy raising that ruckus, like you really getting something done. But the one that I bought when I got back into typewriters as an adult was it was pretty as this pink Smith Corona, and I bought it because it was so adorable. I called it Tuscadero because on Happy Days, Fonzie had a girlfriend named Pinky Tuscadero. And I thought of it as an artifact, just an object to own more than something to use. But then I started really getting into typing on it and using it to compose. I did it to break through a writer's block, because I find with writer's block, you can beat it by just switching something up. Just new environment, new pencil and when you have writer's block, you have a desperation, you're kind of desperate. Anything to break it. And so I started using Tuscadero as a typewriter to write my work on, not just a writerly object to have on my shelf, and it was just such a breakthrough and I've never looked back.
I've seen the pink with the ladybug. It's adorable. Is it expensive to use and maintain?
See, here she is.
It's so cute.
No, they're not expensive to use and they're they're almost nothing to maintain. Actually, you buy a ribbon about every, ribbons can last a couple three years. Ribbon cost about eight bucks, yeah, they've gone up to eight bucks. You don't have to get the typewriter maintained. I get mine oiled and stuff every couple years cost about $75 but you don't even have to get the maintain that often. I just do because I love my typewriter doctor and I just love interacting with him. Typewriters, you know, and they don't, the ones I have I don't even plug up so they don't take electricity. So no, I mean, they're, what I like about a typewriter is that it makes me work slower than if I'm on a computer. When I'm on the computer. I'm typing so fast. I'm not even really aware of what I'm doing. It's kind of like when you eat when you're hungry, eat so fast, and the plate is empty. So obviously, you're the one who ate it, but you don't really remember it. I feel that way about the writing. When I write on the computer. It's like I'm in this kind of fugue state. And I'm not being very intentional. But the typewriter slows me down. And like I said, I love making the noise. I mean, I just feel like I'm in here handling my business on my typewriters.
Yes, that sounds amazing. I read that you like writing letters. And I've grown to a new appreciation of snail mail during the pandemic. So I was wondering if you still send letters because you use them in American Marriage.
I love letters. And I love stamps. I'm so sorry that our listeners can't see the stamps I'm holding up for you. But I love all these vintage stamps. And I put them, I use I put the stamps on the letters, I don't save them in like a stamp collecting book, I just use them as postage. And the vintage stamps are part of the gift of the letter. Because the letter does three things. A letter, one, it is whatever information is in the letter that people are happy to find out whatever you're writing to tell them. Secondly, the letter is a gesture to say that I'm thinking of you. And thirdly, the letter itself is a souvenir. It's a souvenir of your relationship. The person can hold it in their hand, they put it in their drawer. So I like to dress them up with you know, nice stamps and stickers or whatever to make it just to make it a gift like even these stamps here that say thank you. When I write thank you notes I put the thank you stamp on the thank you note.
I also match my stamps to my letters.
Yes, as well you should. I mean, I even order my holiday stamps in advance to make sure I have all the ones I need.
Well, you don't want them to sell out.
No. And then I mean, it's a big thing. And everyone enjoys receiving mail. Even the people who kind of roll their eyes at the fact that I send mail nearly every day. No one ever is unhappy at receiving mail.
No. I love happy mail. My mailbox has become my happy place during a pandemic, even if most of the things in it are things I bought.
What are you excited about right now?
Right now I am excited about, I hate this is so boring, but I'm excited about one, getting my second vaccine which I will get one week from yesterday.
Yes, I had to drive four and a half hours to get an appointment.
Yes. But I think you know what, I've been trapped in my house for a year. The four and a half hour drive has been a pleasure and I'm gonna, so what I did for this shot number two is I made a hotel reservation down there. So I'm going to just make a little little short day and a half vacation. Read a mystery. And then get my second shot. So I'm very happy that I'm able to do that and just to be able to be a little bit more free. I mean, I know Dr. Fauci said, This does not mean you can cut loose, I get it. And I promise Dr. Fauci I will not cut loose, but I am looking forward to, you know, not being so afraid of people anymore. Not frightened and crossing the street when I see someone coming. I think this pandemic has made us, has to put distance between us as a community and as people because like when I cross the street when someone's coming, I'm not rejecting them personally. I'm sure it feels that way.
Teah, I got my vaccine last week, and I feel the same way.
You know, I have to say, Pfizer or Moderna? I feel like that's the new what's your sign?
Johnson and Johnson actually.
One and done.
So exotic. I, I'm a Moderna myself. I feel like I'm saying like, I'm a Capricorn.
I'm a Libra, do our signed get along? During the pandemic, I also have been doing a lot of listening to audiobooks while doing jigsaw puzzles. And I noticed that your book is on a jigsaw.
I saw that. I saw that. That was kind of a, it's so amazing to see my book in kind of like, in the culture, because I never had that experience before. And it startles me every time. I was in the international lounge in London, and I saw a copy of my book on a couple tables away. And I thought, how did I? Must really be sleepy this morning. How on earth that my book get way over there? And so when it was time for me to catch my plane, they announced it, I put my things in, and I walked all the way over to this other table, pick the book up and put it in my bag and the person someone said, hey, that's my book. And I was like, No, this is my book. Because it just didn't occur to me that a stranger two tables over would have a copy. It just, and then we sorted it out. And it was very fun. He and I, we took a picture together and all of that. But that was a moment when I was like, oh, this thing is bigger than I, than I have to emotionally processed it to be. That people who do not know me are going to be reading my book in public.
Yeah, that's huge.
It was really some-, but I can't. And just the fact that I walked two tables over and took that man's book. Two tables!
I mean, Ttchnically, you weren't wrong, it is your book.
That's what he said. That's what he said.
What is your research process? Like when you start a book?
It depends on the book, it depends on me. Some books I know more about than others. For example, my first book Leaving Atlanta is about growing up in Atlanta during the child murders. So I had a lot of atmospheric memory of what it was like to grow up at that time. And so I actually did the research, as I was writing to fill in the blanks, things that I didn't quite remember or double checking my own memory. But like with An American Marriage, because that did not have an autobiographical grounding, I had to learn, I had to learn more about prisons. And I did, I went to Harvard, I did all this research. But one thing I found I was doing all that research is that I was informed. I was outraged. I was a lot of things. But I was not inspired. Because a novel, if it's going to be any good has to be about people and their problems, not problems and their people. And so in my research, I had problems, but I didn't have people and the people you can't get from the research, you have to get them from, you can stumble across them as I actually stumbled across some people, or they have to come entirely from your imagination. And when you're writing them, you have to put your research aside, because when you have so much research, you have this impulse for the characters to look at the camera and say, "Did you know that x percentage of people," you know, like you can't help it? Because you just want the world to know what you know. And that is a hard impulse to put down.
It's like those special episodes of Law and Order where they're educating you about a subject.
Yes, they say, Wow, yeah, they started defining terms for you. Yeah, it's really hard not to do that. Especially because you've got this information that you think the world should know about.
And they should.
But they might not keep reading if you just info dump everything.
What was the last book that you read?
The last book I read was The Searcher by Tana French. It was good. I love her. And then I found out Tana French is not actually Irish. She's from Chicago. I read all the Dublin Murder Squad books. I had no idea she was from Chicago. My respect just grew. I was already respectful, but it just couldn't believe it. She's from Chicago, just the small details and the artistic easiness with which she writes about Dublin. I just assumed she was from there.
Amazing, I know.
That was super good. And I also read, um, Sherman Alexie, his memoir, it's a few years old called You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, about his mom. That was really good, too. I like reading. I like memoir a lot. I think it's because I'm nosy.
Do you think you'll write your own one day?
No. I am nosy and I'm all up and other people's memoirs, but I would never write one myself.
That's fair. Thank you so much for joining me. I look forward to your program at Library Fest.
It's going to be great.
Thank you again to Tayari Jones for coming on Out Loud in the Library to talk about book format, typewriters, the art of letter writing, and libraries. The link to register for the Morning Call with Tayari Jones on Saturday April 10th is in the shownotes. If you can check out her books, they are incredibly written stories that you will love. Fair warning though, you might shed a tear or two. I did. This podcast episode has been brought to you by Library Fest and the Durham Tech Library. Durham County Library, in partnership with Durham Library Foundation, is hosting their first ever library fest starting Monday, April 5th, going through Saturday, April 10th, 2021. Library Fest is a community celebration during National Library Week that showcases the library's exceptional services with a fantastic lineup of speaker events, including one with today's interview Tayari Jones. Library Fest will be a diverse representation of the many ways the library can be part of our lives. The link to the Library Fest website is in the show notes. So check it out and register to attend any and all of the many programs. The Durham Tech Library is a proud partner of library fest and we look forward to seeing you all there. remember to hit subscribe or follow this podcast so you don't miss the next episode. Have a wonderful day!