So last night we hosted Samuel Park and Diana Abu-Jaber for their new-in-paperback novels, This Burns My Heart and Birds of Paradise, respectively. For Ms. Abu-Jaber, it was a relatively conventional affair. She did some interviews in the afternoon, and got to Boswell just before 7.
But for Park, it was a bit crazier. His game plan was to take the bus up from Chicago, but just before departure, his bus driver quit. They called up a replacement, but that driver wasn't ready, and it took about 90 minutes for that driver to arrive.
And yes, the traffic out of Chicago was terrible. They'll call it NATO traffic when the story is told to grandchildren. Just before Abu-Jaber went on, Park called. We picked him up and got him to the store. A little talk, a little conversation, some signing and though a bit out of the ordinary, it turned out to be a pleasant evening.
Our talk continued during the signing, focusing on their latest novels, which interestingly enough, both have heroines who break the mold for cuddliness. Both authors have strong senses of place. And both have interesting cultural backgrounds to work with. Abu-Jaber is the child of a Jordanian father and an Irish mother, while Park is of Korean parentage, but was raised in Brazil. Both authors found themselves using their cultural heritage in some of their writing, and yet other times, have felt hemmed in by it.
With all those cultures in play, I started feeling a bit hungry, and suggested that the perfect spot would be La Merenda on National, with its world tapas. Just a snack, mind you.
Regarding this pull/push with material and cultural identity, it's really no different from the mystery writer who wants to write an epic historical (Ken Follett) or the science fiction story (Walter Mosley). Isn't this the challenge of every published writer--do you let yourself fall into a formula and find an audience, or do you keep trying new things, and find yourself starting from scratch with each new venture?
Of course I started riffing on one of my favorite subjects--that women writers are subjected to more "boxing in" pressures than men. It's just another variation of the type (men) versus body parts (women) cover controversy. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that book clubs should read Park and Abu Jaber's novels in succession.
So today, something completely different. I met Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow, at Riverside High School, where she graciously agreed to speak to the AP English classes. What a wonderful talk! But it's been long few days and I'm tired. Tomorrow's Ben Merens (hooray, we made the Shepherd Express calendar) and after that, no authors for a week. I sort of feel naked just talking about it.