Monday, January 24, 2011

Black, Female and Nerdy-licious
Interview With '32 Candles' Author Ernessa T. Carter
Part 1

A book about a funky, nerdy black girl--YES! So here’s the story…

Davie Jones childhood in Glass, Mississippi is no crystal stair. She grows up poor with a physically-abusive mother. Her mom is also the town’s easy lay. Classmates call Davie “Monkey Night” because of her dark skin and being a nerd doesn’t make her social life any easier. Then a new kid comes to her high school, James Farrell. Davie gets deep, pitbull puppy love for the wealthy jock who barely knows she exists. How does Davie get through these tough times in Mississippi and later blossom into self-love under a California sun? Molly Ringwald movies of course. It’s the plot to Ernessa T. Carter’s debut novel “32 Candles.” Carter pulls off a story that will make you fall out laughing, crying and gasp "oooh no" during the juicy parts.  Even mega author Terry McMillan gave the new author a shout out on Twitter for her unique storytelling style. I interviewed Ernessa about her book and the possibility of it becoming a movie. Then we got personal about our childhoods, love, hair and how she’s handling in vitro fertilization.

Why a book about a black girl's love for Molly Ringwald movies?

I happen to be a black nerd who grew up in the ‘80s. Even though I don’t have very much in common with my main character Davie, you do kind of want to read about someone who is a little bit like you. In the books I read I felt like, especially, in terms of black literature and especially dark- skinned characters; women in novels were not dark skinned. Or they had these perfect glamorous jobs and just needed a guy. Or it was the other end of the spectrum with dark skinned women. They were kind of like Precious--aggressively down trodden…It kind of made me want to read something about somebody who started off with nothing but gained wisdom, experience and perhaps even love along the way.

I definitely related to the character because I’m of a cocoa complexion. Growing up I was a nerd. I still am a nerd and am proud of it. I also remember too being picked on for my skin complexion. Did you encounter that when you were growing up?
No not at all. Just kidding. [laughter]  No, of course. When I was growing up I went to a Lutheran school and I was the darkest girl in my class. That was an interesting experience. You really wanted to crawl out of your skin. You just hated the skin that you were in…At the same I think it was really great. I wouldn’t trade my experience. I think there’s a big difference between growing up and being traditionally beautiful and saying, “Of course everyone told me I look good.” I think there’s something to be said for finding your own beauty.



You said you went to a Lutheran school. Where was this?
St. Louis, Missouri

Where there other black students there?
Mostly black students. I remember one white girl and white boy in the classroom. It was a pretty middle-income school.

Tell us more about the main character.
To borrow from our president she has the audacity of hope. Which is something you don’t see with a lot of characters like her. Basically she goes and sees the John Hughes movie “Sixteen Candles” for the first time when she’s seven years old and decides that’s the way she wants her romantic life to go. Did your high school romantic life resemble the movie?



I did not have the Molly Ringwald experience, which is funny because growing up I thought I would. We watched movies like “The Breakfast Club” and thought that was how high school was going to be.

You said earlier in the interview, “Why a black girl and John Hughes?” …When you go back to those movies there aren’t really any black people in them. There’s something almost derogatory said when Molly Ringwald’s character is mistaken for having a black boyfriend in “Sixteen Candles.” Yet I know so many black women like me, and like you, who identified with these movies and kind of this was how high school is going to be.


Would you say Davie idolized those movies?
She does idolize and build up her heart cult if you will. Also I think it says something about the characters like, “How dare you, someone so low on the totem pole dare to have that dream” but at the same time it’s one of the things I respect most about her. Obviously it gets her into a lot of trouble but I love that she decides, “Yeah I want that” and pursues it. It’s disastrous.  [Laughter]

[Laughter] But aren’t teenage years often disastrous?
I always say in my opinion if you’re going to write a play you might as well write an opera. One of the things I respect Davie Jones for is if your teenage years are going to be disastrous, why not really go for it.

Her disaster wasn’t even just social in school. She’s abused by her mother. I was reading the book and I saw “The Color Purple.” I saw “Precious.” I saw “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” because Davie stops talking from her mother’s abuse.  What influence have some of these books had on your writing?

Well Maya Angelou grew up in St. Louis so obviously not only did we study her in school but she is a local hero. And it proved to me growing up in St. Louis that you could get out and have a life beyond St. Louis. So obviously “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” meant a lot to me. “The Color Purple” is my favorite book of all time.  “The Color Purple” has a happy ending. Most books about down trodden, dark-skinned heroines do not.


You brought up the down-trodden black character. When you look at books and films, a common theme is black women being abused. Some people are critical of this and say “Can we see images of black women where they aren’t being abused?” Others say, “Hey, this is real life. This happened to me and I’m glad it’s coming out.” Why has abuse become such a part of black women’s literary canon?

Right now there’s this national dialogue of “the poor black woman.” No one wants to date “the poor black woman.” “The poor black woman” gets abused all of the time and no one really appreciates her…I want to see “The Burning Bed” which is the ‘80s movie where Farrah Fawcett plays an abused wife and sets her husband on fire and then goes to trial. And I also want to see something a little fluffier like the mini rom-coms [romantic comedies] that came out in the ‘80s. So with the black woman’s experience right now it’s not that I don’t want to see “For Colored Girls” which is one of my favorite plays of all time. But I also want to see happier movies on the big screen. You want a diversity of the black woman’s experience.

I read in Variety that Miramax acquired the rights to your book. Is there anyone you have in mind you’d want to play Davie?

Well, just to set the Miramax thing straight. Miramax acquired the rights and then Miramax closed.

Oh no.

You don’t really see very many books becoming movies, especially black books, right after they’re published.

That’s why I was really impressed.

We’re working on getting another studio or production company.

Is there anyone you have in mind to play Davie?
It changes. Right now I’m kind of hot on Kerry Washington playing Davie. There aren’t a lot of dark-skinned actresses in Hollywood right now. It would probably be an unknown. There’s a really great theater actress who I actually went to school with, Susan Heyward. If she ever decided to come out to LA I would love for her to be “the unknown.”

Was she in that recent theater production of “Sabrina” ?

Yes.

I love “Sabrina.” That’s one of my favorite movies.

[Heyward] is an amazing actress. I had many occasions to work with her and she can do anything. You should see her as a romantic lead. She can make you fall in love with her no matter who you are.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2

4 comments:

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. Will have to check it out.

    I grew up watching movies like Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful as well as television shows like 90210. I remember being disappointed that there were no black characters because I grew up in suburbia and would've loved to see more people on t.v. like me. Then, I realized I was the first generation like that in my family (and many of my contemporaries were probably the firsts in their families). Now that my generation is grown, hopefully more stories like this will become available for younger generations.

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  2. I wanted more black characters in these movies and TV shows as well. Remember when 90210 had one episode with a black character. I think it was Vivica Fox. I'm going to give my litte teen sister a DVD copy of "Sixteen Candles." I think she'll like it. She may be shocked to see people use phones with cords, LOL, but I think she'll get the message. Who did you think was cuter on 90210? Brandon or Dylan? I think Dylan was hotter but I would probably date Brandon because I don't like bad boys.

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  3. I wanted to drop a note to say that I bought 32 Candles for my Kindle based on this intv w/ the author and I am LOVING IT!

    Thank you so much for making me aware of Ms. Carter. I am looking forward to more of her writing. Thanks again.

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  4. Hi LaDa,
    I'm glad you're enjoying the book and you liked the interview. Isn't it a great read? I love it because it's different. Enjoy the rest of the book!

    ReplyDelete

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