Posted by: karensimpson | May 22, 2010

The Origins of African American Heros

During the Coyote Con session about mythic fiction, questions came up about where writers could find more information about the mythologies of Africa. My own work  pulls deeply from the African American myths, magic and stories,  so I thought I would share one of my favorite sources. I have read my copy of  The Hero with An African Face by Dr. Clyde W. Ford down to its gluey spine because it is as rich with passion for the subject matter as it is with scholarly research.

The Rites of Passage Organization said of Fords work

The Hero With An African Face identifies and explores the connection between humanity and divinity found throughout traditional mythologies of Africa. In the book, Ford takes readers on a journey into the mythologies of sub-Saharan Africa, presenting timeless insights into the human spirit that reveal the power and importance of ancient African myth. He places it among the great mythological traditions of ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Native Americans. It is also the first book to show the similarity between African spiritual traditions and their counterparts in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Native American spirituality, and other spiritual traditions worldwide.

Mythology was traditionally a means of healing self and society by helping people baring the circumstances of their lives into harmony with larger concerns. As Ford writes, “Myths bring us into accord with the eternal mysteries of being, help us manage the inevitable passages of our lives, and give us templates for our relationship with the societies in which we live.” In the book, Ford explores how African myths convey the perennial wisdom of humanity: the creation of the world, the hero’s journey, our relationship with nature, death, and resurrection. Ford shows how many myths reveal the intimacy of human and animal spirits, and explores the arhetypal forces of the orishas – the West African deities that were carried to the Americas in the African Diaspora. Ultimately, Ford points out that these myths enable us to see the history of African Americans in a new light – as a hero’ journey, a courageous passage to a hard won victory.

Dr. Ford  is also a wonderful novelist , dedicated to bringing back the nautical novel. Please check out his  literary work on his web site.

Posted by: karensimpson | May 11, 2010

Classic Black Speculative Fiction

W.E.B DuBois was an amazingly versatile writer and scholar. He wrote a speculative fiction short story called The Comet in 1920. It is included in the anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora by Sheree R. Thomas.

The premise of the story is that in a vaguely futuristic yet oddly contemporary world, a passing comet casts a shadow of death over Manhattan. Only two survive: a black man whose world has been one of poverty and hard work, and a white woman who knows only leisure and privilege. If humanity is to have a future, the two must build a new world from the wreckage of the old.

DuBois spent his final years in Ghana where he is still deeply revered. A small museum houses his extensive library, a bronze bust of him, academic regalia from Harvard and, finally, his outdoor tomb. During my visit to the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture , the guide took out a first edition copy of The Souls of Black Folks, one of DuBois’s personal copies, and allowed me to touch it. I was honored and thrilled.

If you have a chance give The Comet a read, and leave a comment about what you think.

Posted by: karensimpson | April 22, 2010

The Nature of Happiness

I think I truly began my journey toward becoming a writer twenty-two years ago in 1987. I was thirty-three years old, ten years into a dead end job, and still not sure where I was going in my life. The only thing I was sure about, was I wanted to be a writer, however,  that seemed like a Don- Quixote- impossible dream like goal that only other smarter, prettier and more imaginative people could achieve. Real writer didn’t look like me I thought, and besides what were the odds I  had any real talent.

But I had the wordy itch and finally it occurred to me that I at least needed to try and scratch it just once. One evening as I went to an event at a local community college, I saw a poster for the school’s literary journal Northern Spies. They were requesting submissions so I sat down  and over the next two weeks composed an essay about my grandfather. To my delight and surprise, Northern Spies accepted my little essay. There was a fancy reception and reading for those whose work they published. I remember being nervous as I got up in front of a small but appreciate crowd to read:

The Nature of Happiness.

On this winter day with cold so deep one could call the sun a liar, I have made my heart and archaeologist and sent it to sift through my past; down, down, down to the thin layer of subconscious matter that contain the faint images I have of my grandfather, who died when I was young.

Most of my memories of the Reverend Dr. John Van Catledge are created from my mother’s lore, but because he was what I wish to become ­scholar, writer, teacher most of what I understand about my grandfather flows from my small collection of his photographs and written works. Few photographers caught his smile. Some might say he had no love for the camera. To me, however, he embodied the African and African belief that constant smiling denotes a lack of seriousness, sincerity and character. What the Yoruba defined as ashe , a spiritual wisdom is what my grandfather projected with his calm eyes and sealed lips.

No, he had no mirth for cameras to steal, but his written work revealed a scholar’s joy of learning, a writer’s hope filled vision of life. There is one splendid letter he wrote to my mother about the nature of happiness. It is this letter I open now because today melancholy is too good a friend, contentment seems a distant rumor, and the sun still is a shameless liar. I will read myself well and whole again.

I didn’t know it back then, but the word, Ashe literally means “ it is so”,or “may it be so.” I believe now that when I wrote that word down and then said it aloud up at the podium. I set into motion, the full power of my dream

Ashe…it is so.

I am to be an author in a few months. Act of Grace, my novel will be birth into the world by Plenary Publishing come February 16 .2011.

Posted by: karensimpson | April 20, 2010

So … What ‘s the Novel About

Now that I’ve signed my publishing contract people ask, “So, what’s your novel about?” Because this book has been more in my head than out in the world, I usually end up hemming and hawing like I don’t know or can’t remember what I have been working on for a good chunk of my life  Truth is, it’s hard to summarize any novel in a few words. However, one of the skills writers who want to be authors have to learn is how to pitch their novel succinctly to agents, publishers, booksellers and, of course, readers.

The one sentence pitch for my novel Act of Grace sums up the essence of the novel and offers a taste of the conflict. It’s the no frills explanation I give when I’m asked about my work. This is usually all people want to hear. It’s enough to make them go, ” OH, that’s interesting.”

When Grace Johnson a bright, perceptive African American high school senior, saves the life of a Klansman named Jonathan Gilmore, everyone in her hometown of Vigilant Michigan wants to know why.

The longer pitch is below. This is from the heart of the query letter I sent to agents:

When Grace Johnson a bright, perceptive African American high school senior, saves the life of a Klansman named Jonathan Gilmore, everyone in her hometown of Vigilant Michigan wants to know why. Few people, black or white, understand her act of sacrifice especially since rumor holds that years ago a member of the Gilmore family murdered several African-Americans including Grace’s father. Grace wants to remain silent on the matter; however, she discovers the decision to speak is not hers to make. Ancestral guides emerge in visions and insist she bear witness to her town’s violent racial history so that all involved might transcend it.

With hindsight made telescopic by suffering and the wisdom found in African myths, Grace recounts a story of eye-for-an-eye vengeance that has blinded entire generations in her hometown. Haunted by anger and trauma she wonders if she can do as the spirits have asked and lead Mr. Gilmore, the town of Vigilant and her own soul on a journey toward reconciliation and redemption.

Writing about Grace, has been a powerful journey into the meaning of forgiveness and redemption. True to her name, my character has tested all of my assumptions about race and community. She has also reshaped many of my attitudes about the nature of good, evil, love and hate. I love Grace for all the hard and wild places in my soul she has forced me to explore. I hope with all my heart that readers will come to love and appreciate her as well.

Posted by: karensimpson | April 12, 2010

Word by Word

I am a quilter who is now about to becoming a published author. My first novel, tentatively titled Act of Grace, will be published by Plenary Publishing in February 2011.

Writing fiction, I have found, is a lot like quilting. You stitch thousands of words together to create an intricate pattern of theme, plot and characterization. Then, one by one, you layer all the pages, one on top to the others, to produce what you hope will be an interesting and powerful work.

It is my hope that this blog will become a place to converse about  all the thing I’m passionate about, be it the craft of writing,  books, African American history/culture, the quilting arts , culinary history or horses.

Some things about me:

I’ve taught African American quilting for over twenty years. I hold a Master’s in Historic Preservation and as a historian, I help museums and other historical institutions design exhibits that deal with issues of racial and cultural diversity. I am a foodie and own way to many cookbooks. I love horses and horse racing. Last, but not least, I’m owned by a five-pound shiztu-yorkie mix named Nyla, who only keeps me around because I have thumbs and can open her cans of food:)

Questions ? Leave a comment or shoot me a note at