Monday, July 14, 2008

Reading: July 19, Maple St. Book Shop

Maple Street Book Shop
7523 Maple St
New Orleans, LA 70118-5098
Phone: (504) 866-4916
1:00-2:30 PM
Saturday, July 19

Dedra Johnson will read from and discuss SANDRINE'S LETTER TO TOMORROW.
Trade Paper | 5.5 x 8 | 211 pages
ISBN: 978-09788431-2-0 | $14.95

"...the dialogue is fast and lively, and Sandrine's first-person narrative delivers immediate, searing drama."—Booklist

"[An] aching debut...[with] echoes of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings..." —Publisher's Weekly

"Reading Dedra Johnson's Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow, I was fully in the presence of the mind, heart, and soul of a richly rendered, fascinating fictional character. I knew I was also in the presence of the brilliant voice and sensibility of a major new American writer. This is an important novel by a true artist."—Robert Olen Butler

"Dedra Johnson has caught something wonderful in Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow. She writes brilliantly about childhood, New Orleans, the intricacies of a vexed family life. Sandrine is a remarkable debut novel that will catch your heart."—Frederick Barthelme

Monday, April 28, 2008

One Book, One New Orleans

Know a great New Orleans book? Think the whole city should read it? Then go suggest it at One Book, One New Orleans.

Help us select the book for the 2008 annual community-wide reading project! We’re now considering the book all of us will read together later this year.

We’re seeking a work that relates to our community at this moment and will inspire us in how we relate to each other.

Our past book selections have been A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines in 2004, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry in Spring 2005, and Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward by Nine Times Social and Pleasure Club in 2007.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All Over the Internets

I've been busy and too tired from being busy to post all the places I've been and still am on the Internets so here's the round-up:

Conversations Book Club interview at the Richard Wright public library:


AuthorViews interview at the NOLA Bookfair:

Carp(e) Libris review and book giveaway

Carp(e) Libris interview

Thanks, Diane, for reviewing my book, hosting the giveaway, and posting the interview. It was great fun. Next book, I'll do it all again.

And an oldie but goodie: Crystal K.'s interview on WTUL, part of the Katrina Warriors Network reading project: The Podcast

Thanks, Crystal. It was a lot of fun and when my life is less like a race to the grave, we should do it a 3rd time. With questions from listeners this time, yeah, like my friend Preston Allen is doing at his All or Nothing blog.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conversations Book Club New Orleans: March 15!

Conversations Book Club in New Orleans will host authors C-Murder ("Death Around the Corner") and Dedra Johnson ("Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow") at the Comfort Inn & Suites Downtown (356 Baronne St./ 504.524.1140) beginning at 1p.m. Admission is free.

For details, visit or call 601.664.8805.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Review: Press-Register, March 2

It's an honor to be read like this.

A child at the crossroads Innocence, awareness intertwine in Dedra Johnson debut

Sandrine's first escape route comes through the books she reads voraciously, among them "Little House on the Prairie," "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Watership Down." She also reads biographies of Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune and Harriet Tubman. She defines herself through the words of writers and the lives of historical icons, and she uses these lessons to find her own voice. In keeping with Tubman's example, Sandrine and her classmate Lydia, also an abuse victim, become an Underground Railroad for one another:

Lydia showed me how to hold keys in my hand with the points sticking out, a sharp fist to scratch, poke or punch with. I told her the back ways we took to school and she said I was smart, that she hadn't thought of it.

Johnson lets objects and moments tell their own stories when she shows the reader a blurred Polaroid of a mystery woman on the mantle and a jar of Mamalita's pomegranate jelly. She also writes of Catholic schoolchildren who wear their house keys like rosaries. Johnson skillfully lets these scenes breathe and keeps the reader within the present-tense moment. The effect pays off. There is no adult Sandrine looking back, putting her childhood in perspective. Johnson shows her protagonist in real time, the questions in her life still intact and unanswered.

In one scene, Sandrine and her classmates make papier-maché American flags to celebrate the Bicentennial. Perhaps this image captures the essence of "Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow," the story of a young girl crafting her independence. To that end, Sandrine draws upon lessons learned from the kindnesses and cruelties she has encountered in her young life. In a powerful debut effort, Johnson shows us how these acts affect the lives of children.

Ravi Howard, Mobile Press-Register, March 2, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

March: NYC and Boston!

Grant Bailie and I will be reading together this month and in April. March dates:

Thursday, March 6, 7 PM--McNally Robinson, 52 Prince St. (between Lafayette and Mulberry), New York, NY 10012

Also Thursday, about 10-11 PM--

National Small Press Month Reading Marathon: Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ The Bowery Poetry Club:

7 pm to Midnight / $6

Eileen Myles (Wave Books), Noelle Kocot (Wave Books), Lynne Tillman (Soft Skull), Jen Benka (Soft Skull), Brenda Coultas (Coffee House Press), Ted Mathys (Coffee House Press), Alex Rose (Akashic Books), Camelia Entekhabifard (Seven Stories Press), Veronica Liu (Seven Stories Press), Martine Bellen (Belladonna Books), Lila Zemborain (Belladonna Books), Dan Machlin (Ugly Duckling Presse), Rachel Sherman (Open City Books), Leni Zumas (Open City Books), Sharon Mesmer (Hanging Loose Press), Marie Carter (Hanging Loose Press), Melissa Buzzeo (Leon Works), Tisa Bryant (Leon Works), Bob Holeman (Bowery Books), Paul Mills (Bowery Books), Radhiyah Ayobami (Bowery Books), Rachel Levitsky (Futurepoem Books), Erica Kaufman (Big Game Books), Corrine Fitzpatrick (Sona Books), Dedra Johnson (Ig Publishing), Grant Bailie (Ig Publishing), Camilla Trinchieri (Soho Press), Anne Landsman (Soho Press), Jason Schneiderman (Four Way Books), David Lawrence (Four Way Books).

For more information visit or call 212.764.7021.

Friday, March 7, 7 PM--DIRE Reading Series, 106 Prospect St., Cambridge, MA

Monday, February 25, 2008

Needed: NO Prose, Poetry, Art

Blacklight, the journal of the Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago, is seeking submissions for an upcoming New Orleans issue. The website has some outdated information (and a soundtrack--you have been warned) but you can contact Nabeel (current president and editor) directly at Nabeel says he is looking for submissions that "deal somehow with New Orleans, geography, or space." Contact him for more info.

The deadline is mid-March.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dillard: Reading, Book Signing, Reception

Dillard University
2601 Gentilly Blvd.
Stern Hall Amphitheater
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
7:00 p.m.
Free & Open to the Public

Novelists Alice Wilson Fried & Dedra Johnson (me!)

Poets Valentine Pierce & Mona Lisa Saloy

Sponsored by Dillard University Lyceum, the Creative Writing program, and the Division of Humanities

picture of AWF from AWF's official website
picture of VP's book from Portal Press website
picture of MLS from

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Chicago? Need a Signed Copy?

Contact the NOLA in Chicago Network, a group formed after Katrina to help New Orleans expatriates and lovers support New Orleans. Your purchase through NOLA in Chicago will benefit Schools Count, a non-profit asking schools what they need and getting it for them! Check out their site at

For more information, email

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Conversations Book Club New Orleans: POSTPONED!

I had a great time in MS this week, especially at Crystal Springs High School (details and pictures at Conversations Book Club). The book club today is canceled for a couple reasons, including the expected nasty weather, but I will be at the March Conversations Book Club-New Orleans. More details soon!

Thanks Cyrus and Robin and Martin! Can't wait to see you again! And thank you, thank you to Crystal Springs High School, Mr. Bradford (pictured) and Ms. Crisley!

Monday, February 11, 2008

This Week: Mississippi!

Tuesday, February 12
Conversations Book Club will be talking live via conference call to bestselling authors Clarence Nero ("Three Sides to Every Story") and Dedra Johnson ("Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow"). This will be at the Pearl Public Library in Pearl, MS, beginning at 6 p.m. CST. Admission is free. For details, call 601.664.8805 or the library at 601.932.2562.

Wednesday, February 13, 5 PM
Off Square Books, 129 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS
New Orleans native Dedra Johnson will be at Off Square Books to sign and read aloud from her latest book Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow.

Off Square Books is Square Books' annex store located just across the crosswalk on the southeastern side of the square at 129 Courthouse Square next to AC's Bed & Bath.

Thursday, February 14, 5 PM Signing, 5:30 PM Reading
Lemuria Books, 202 Banner Hall, 4465 I-55 North, Jackson, MS 39206

Friday, February 15
Conversations Book Club
will host author Dedra Johnson ("Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow") LIVE and in person in a series of events with its various chapters in Mississippi.

Saturday, February 16
Conversations Book Club in New Orleans will host authors Clarence Nero ("Three Sides to Every Story") and Dedra Johnson ("Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow") at the Comfort Inn & Suites Downtown (356 Baronne St./504.524.1140) beginning at 1 p.m. Admission is free. For details, visit or call 601.664.8805.

For more Conversations Book Club events and details, check out and/or

Monday, January 28, 2008

February Readings

Friday, Feb. 8, 7 PM
Book Cellar, 4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL

Saturday, Feb. 9, 2 PM
Reading, Q&A and book signing sponsored by the NOLA in Chicago Network and the Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago
Bartlett Dining Commons Trophy Room, University of Chicago
5640 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL

For more information about this event, email
For persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate in this event, please contact ORCSA at (773) 702-8787.

Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7 PM
Square Books, 160 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS

Thursday, Feb. 14, 5 PM
Lemuria Books, 202 Banner Hall, 4465 I-55 North, Jackson, MS 39206

Friday, Feb. 15
Jackson, MS, events TBA!

Saturday, February 16, 1 PM
Conversations Book Club, Comfort Inn and Suites Downtown (346 Baronne St.)

Possibly another at the end of February in NO...details soon!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Conversations Book Club: NOLA Debut!

I will be there, Saturday, Jan. 19, 1 PM, Comfort Inn and Suites Downtown (346 Baronne St.). Details below:

On Saturday, January 19, 2008 book lovers and fans from Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia will converge on New Orleans for the debut of "Conversations* New Orleans," hosted by radio/television show host Cyrus A. Webb.

Conversations Book Club in New Orleans is pleased to be uniting readers of all genres, races and genders around great books and authors. Meeting at the Comfort Inn and Suites Downtown (346 Baronne St.) every 3rd Saturday at 1p.m., the group will talk about authors that are making an impact on the literary scene and get to meet them live and in person.

Moderated by Conversations Book Club President Cyrus A. Webb ( of Mississippi, the group will host authors Corey "C-Murder" Miller (DEATH AROUND THE CORNER) and Latricia Peters (GIRL, NAW!) in its first meeting and announce some exciting news for book lovers worldwide. Special guests include Mississippi author Vocele Savage (A LETTER TO MY SISTERS) and Louisiana authors Dedra Johnson (SANDRINE'S LETTER TO TOMORROW) and Clarence Nero (THREE SIDES TO EVERY STORY).

Webb and Miller began working together in January 2007, bringing a series of scheduled conference call discussions with book lovers in Mississippi and listeners worldwide to chat about Miller's bestselling novel DEATH AROUND THE CORNER. After the success of the phone chats, Webb and Miller were able to partner again to orchestrate his visit to Mississippi--- the author's first-ever stop outside of his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana in promoting his book. The response was over 2000 attending the two days of events and hundreds of books being sold in the state. (Watch Conversations' exclusive tv interview with Miller by visiting here:

For details, feel free to visit or contact Cyrus A. Webb at You can also contact Webb's assistant, Robin Garder, at 601.664.8805.

C'Mon. Join the addiction: Get hooked on books!

Monday, January 14, 2008

from Interview with Chris Volk Regarding Black Writers and Literature

Q: Do you think Black authors have a unique perspective because of being Black, or is that irrelevant? If they do have a unique perspective, do you think they're writing things that non-Blacks can relate to, or are their experience foreign to most other races/ethnic groups? I guess what I'm asking is whether most Black literature is based on a past of poverty and oppression that any struggling ethnic group can relate to, or is it unique to American Blacks?

A: To the extent that some (not most) African American literature is based on a past of poverty and oppression, I think it speaks to all groups who have struggled against these - however, the black experience in the U.S. is unique in many ways: the length of their history in the U.S. going back to the 17th century, the fact that they were brought to the U.S. unwillingly as slaves, and also that the form of slavery to which these Africans were subjected in the west was in many ways the worst the world has ever known (the only one which considered slaves as chattels, of no more significance than ownership of cattle).

The other important thing to realize in looking at African American literature is that in many ways it is part of a world literature or a trans-Atlantic literature. The term "diaspora" is used to indicate the spread of those of African descent to most parts of the western world. So my own personal perspective has been broadening to include Afro-Caribbean writers (many of whom left the Caribbean and went to England, France, Canada and the U.S.), Afro-Brazilian, and African writers. In fact, if you are talking about a writer from Puerto Rico or Cuba who has come to the United States, is that writer a Latin American or an African American or both?

One other point: the best literature is universal - Thus Grapes of Wrath speaks to all readers, not just migrant farm workers, and I think so does Wright's Native Son, and Baldwin's Go Tell It on a Mountain and Zorah Neale Hurston's Jonah's Gourd Vine, to give just a few examples.

Q: Do most Black authors only write about Black characters? I'm curious about this, as Caucasian authors seem to write about all nationalities and racial and ethnic groups (although perhaps not with the authority that an author from a particular country or racial or ethnic group brings to writing), and most of the admittedly few current Black authors I've read seem to stick to Black characters and Black situations.

A. I guess I am partly curious about why you say that white writers seem to write about all nationalities and ethnic groups. Certainly one sees this in children's literature where in the past the writers were almost exclusively white, but the children were often from different countries, or little black children. But I think in serious literature it is much less common for a white writer to have the protagonist of the work be of another race. Again, in the past, some Southerners wrote novels in dialect, but these were intended to confirm white readers in their belief that Negroes were simple, child-like, happy folks, or untrustworthy and shifty or whatever.

I don't want to say that there aren't any exceptions, because of course, there are but they are precisely that, exceptions: To give just one very modern example, Susan Straight is a white woman who set her first few books exclusively within the black community but she was married to a black man and living within that community at the time and her books stand out precisely because they are uncommon.

Some other interesting exceptions occurred during the Harlem Renaissance when you had a white woman like Nancy Cunard create the massive anthology "Negro" or Marc Connelly write a play like "Green Pastures" Langston Hughes referred to this phenomenon rather uncomplimentarily in one of his poems, but the fact remains that the Harlem Renaissance was a time in which it was "popular" to be black. Similarly, during the Civil Rights era and the Black Power movement, there was a certain allure to the whole scene which led to many writers who were not black featuring black protagonists.

However, it is true that most white writers have, in a sense, more freedom to write totally outside their own culture or their own experiences. They have been given this freedom by society, where they are not expected to "uphold the race" and by publishers. However, one of the ongoing issues for many black writers is not just expressing themselves creatively but also how much of an obligation do they have to work to correct injustice through their writing. Should they always be thinking of the white reader who might read their books and find his/her stereotypes confirmed if they described a black man as brutal or unfaithful (a criticism leveled against Alice Walker and Gayl Jones, for example)?

Richard Wright, whose books focused on the daily injustices blacks faced in America, felt that Zora Neale Hurston was wrong in writing her novels about a self-contained black world. I just got a copy of Bronze, the second collection of poetry by Georgia Douglas Johnson, a minor Harlem Renaissance writer. Her first collection was criticized because it dealt with the "heart" and not race, so this was her book of poems on race (although still infused by the heart), and in her last book, she again ignored race.

An interesting example is Charles Perry: his first and only published novel Portrait of a Young Man Drowning, was based on his own experience of juvenile gangsters in his Brooklyn neighborhood, but it features almost exclusively white characters - a decision made, according to Perry's daughter, out of a fear that issues of race could cloud the humanity of the characters. Did this make it harder for him to get published?

Just two more very different examples: Many people still do not realize that Frank Yerby was a black man. His earlier books did not have a picture of him on the dustjacket, and almost all of his books are historical fiction, adventure novels, and so on, set almost exclusively within a white world. When Charles Chesnutt published his first book, even though it used dialect, it was thought that he was white. In fact, he was light skinned enough that he could have easily passed for white, but instead his novels became increasing more "political" and less popular. What had been considered his last novel, The Colonel's Dream, was published while he was still relatively young, and only a few years after his first, and sold poorly. In fact, a recently found later novel of his has just been published, and this is the story of a man who grows up thinking he is black, and discovers that he is white (does this count as a black writer writing a novel with a white protagonist?)

So African American authors have both pressure from others in their communities to write about black people for many different reasons and from publishers who find it easier to keep writers in a 'box', a desire to overcome the prejudices and injustices they have faced, a dramatic history to write about is it surprising that they mostly write about black characters?

Q: Do you believe it is harder, today, for a Black author to find a publisher? To be marketed as a mainstream author by publishers? Or do their works command a smaller audience which discourages publishers from pushing their work?

A: Most African American writers would be considered 'mid-list' writers. I think that all mid-list writers are having problems now in finding publishers, but yes, this situation is probably exacerbated for black authors. I recently went to a signing by Mary Monroe, who just published her second novel more than 10 years after her first one and the reason was that she could not find a publisher. I can give several other examples of women who have had good critical reviews, or even won prizes for their books, but they wind up with no publisher for a while.

Marketing is, of course, another issue and it is one that becomes very obvious in some bookstores where African American writers are for the most part put in a separate section of the store. In a way, this increases the 'ghettoization' of black authors, by implying that only black readers will be interested in their books. Writers like Toni Morrison obviously have broken out of this, but I think this trend is increasing.


Q: Do you think that popular Black authors are helped a lot by the publicity Oprah gives their work? What other venues or people are helping Black authors?

A: I can't really give a complete list of authors Oprah has selected, but it seems to me that her effect has been much more dramatic on some of the white woman writers she has selected: specifically, I am thinking of her first selection, Jane Hamilton, who was very little known until that happened.

In a sense, Oprah is much more conservative in selecting African Writers: many have already won recognition. Toni Morrison was already a Nobel Laureate, Ernest Gaines had won the National Book Award, Crosby books were already all best sellers, etc. I might be missing someone but offhand I cannot think of an unknown young African American fiction writer who she selected.

interview by Shirley Bryant

IOBA Standard, Vol. II, No. 3 (Dec 2001)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Readings in February

It'll be another few weeks before the distributor has another set of books. UNO's bookstore should have some soon and I've seen 5-6 at Loyola's bookstore and at the Barnes and Noble on the Westbank. Two signed copies will be auctioned off at Aububon Charter School's Spring Gala at the Elms Mansion January 18 (details at the school website).

So far in February, I will be reading in Chicago; Jackson, MS at Lemuria; and Oxford, MS at Square Books. Chicago in February!