Archive for May, 2014


It was March 1999, and I had been invited to the Children’s Defense Fund property at the former Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee by my Spelman sister and icon CDF founder Marian Wright Edelman for the dedication of The Langston Hughes Library. Architect Maya Linn had designed and re-serviced the barn on the beautiful wooded property into a natural, sunny library that did its collection and namesake proud.

Assembled there with Dr. Edelman that weekend was an extraordinary group of people that included Rep. Maxine Waters, John Edgar Wideman, Hillary Clinton, Joyce Carol Oates, Martha Stewart, choreographer Louis Johnson, Andrew Young and readings on separate evenings by Toni Morrison and Dr. Maya Angelou.

It was heady company, indeed. I met folks whose work and lives I had followed and admired since I was a beginning journalist in the ‘70s. However, the image I treasure from that incredible weekend in Tennessee was the sight of my husband, filmmaker Jonee’ Ansa, coming in from a cold rainy night, entering the classy white heated tent set up for an elegant supper with who else but Dr. Maya Angelou on his arm! Let me tell you, they came strolling in, arm-in-arm, like dear old friends! Chatting and laughing and whispering. I watched for a moment, stunned.

Jonee’ and I had only been separated for a moment. As we had entered minutes earlier, we had spied Dr. Angelou arriving in a plain black sedan. She was led to the canopy but there was a glitch and no one was right there to greet her. Well, Jonee’ looked at me and I said “Yeah!” So, he swooped in to keep her company while I went to alert the event co-ordinators that Dr. Angelou had arrived. I delivered my message and hurried back to the entrance to “assist” my husband with Dr. Angelou.

That’s when I saw the two of them mosey-ing in in deep conversation as if they were the only two people on the planet. Shoot! I hesitated to interrupt, you know.

Just then, I saw one of the event organizers standing to the side, like me, watching the happy couple as they paused to enjoy a new guffaw. I rushed up to tell her that no one was greeting Dr. Maya Freaking Angelou!!

She gave me a side-glance and informed me that she had tried and had “been informed by Dr. Angelou” that she, the literary icon. was having a “conversation” with that gentleman. Here, she pointed to Jonee’ and continued, “and would appreciate not being interrupted.”

I looked at the white girl for a moment who gave me another side-eye and, I thought, “Have I lost my mind?! Let me get over here and get my husband!”

Yeah. But I was honest with Dr. Angelou after I interrupted the tete-a-tete. I -reintroduced myself and asked her if it was going to necessary for me to take off my earrings and those heels and fight her in that elegant setting to get my man back for the evening.

Dr. Angelou didn’t miss a beat. She threw back her big beautiful head, let out a peal of a deep throaty laughter that resonated in that tent and looked at me and Jonee’ with joy. She then assured me I could have him back.

It was not my first encounter with her graciousness, wit and joy.

A decade before in 1989, when I had published “Baby of the Family,” my first, longed-for novel, Dr. Angelou was one of the top writers I made sure received copies of my book hot off the press. Amazingly enough, soon after, I received a personal note from Dr. Angelou in my P.O. box on St. Simons Island thanking me for sending the book. However, she wrote, she had already bought her own copy, read it and enjoyed it by the time mine arrived. She gave me encouragement, pride and the hug this baby of the family so needed from a writer I admired and loved.

Dr. Angelou loved Jonee’. She loved me and my work. She loved the idea and actuality of me and him together, artists, creating, collaborating, pissing each other off, sharing.

Of course, we loved her for that as well. For wanting us to be happy and creative and independent and trusting. And in her inimitable way, she showed us how she felt with a nod to the dedications in all my novel: “To Jonee’, whose love sustains me.”

A few years ago, Dr. Angelou sent us copies of a couple of her books. In “Letter to My Daughter,” the inscription reads:

“A token of thanks to Tina McElroy Ansa and Jonee’, whose love sustains her.
Joy!
Maya Angelou”

TOMORROW’S BLOG (as promised): “Respecting Your Process/Finding Your Voice”

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My Career, quick read

I’ve been a writer and editor my entire working career.

I always knew I wanted to write fiction. (Southern black girl listening to middle Georgia tales growing up.) It was a dream, however, that I could hardly dare speak of. One of my early mentors at Spelman College, Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles, was the first authority to state, “Don’t you know you’re a writer?” My heart still races at the memory of that moment.

But to find employment that paid me to write, edit and learn about craft was an answered prayer. My first job was as copy editor on universal desk of the morning newspaper The Atlanta Constitution (now The AJC). First African-American woman in the newsroom…in the 1970s!! Did feature writing, news reporting, editing, layout. Left in 1979 to free-lance and write fiction. Worked couple years at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.

AJC desk
(Here I am in 2012 back in The AJC newsroom where I began journalism career in 1971. Photo Credit: Jonee’ Ansa)

Found my “home” on St. Simons Island, Georgia, part of the history/culture-rich stretch of sea islands off the Southeast Have lived here 30 years. The region has embraced me. Everything from the terrain to the vegetation to the people, my folks, here inspires my work and writing.

My first novel “BABY OF THE FAMILY” published in 1989. Four other novels have followed: “UGLY WAYS,” “THE HAND I FAN WITH,” “YOU KNOW BETTER,” and “TAKING AFTER MUDEAR.” Working on sixth novel and with filmmaker husband Jonee` Ansa on movie adaptation of “BABY OF THE FAMILY.”

In 2004, established The Sea Island Writers Retreats on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Have since held these writers workshops on St. Simons Island, in Atlanta, Maryland, Florida and at high school and colleges around the country.
In 2007, founded independent publishing company, DownSouth Press which published “TAKING AFTER MUDEAR,” my fifth and most recent novel.

In 2010, began another career path as a raconteur with the first of my Moth Mainstage stories performed in New York City.

TOMORROW’S BLOG: “Respecting Your Process. Finding Your Voice.”

books2When I was little, I was always that girl who knew that she wanted to spend her life telling stories. I had never met a writer then. In fact, I did not see a writer face-to-face until poet/writer/teacher Nikki Giovanni came to Spelman College when I was a senior. However, I grew up in Macon, Georgia, a mid-sized town in the South, in the 1950s and 1960s, surrounded by and immersed in African-American culture that respected reading, writing, stories and storytelling.

My grandfather told us ghost stories before we went to sleep. The folks who came to my father’s juke joints told me the stories of their lives. My great aunt Elizabeth Lee, a good Christian woman, told us morality tales to keep us on the straight and narrow. Even my mother gossiping on the phone to her friends seemed to my little ears to be fascinating and imaginative stories.

I write fiction about the lives of black folks with some connection to the tiny mythical community of Mulberry, Georgia. I write about the internal journey as well as the life journey of my characters, my people — from the 19th to the 21 Century — who are doing what each of us is doing: Fighting or not fighting to live!

As a bow and thank-you to my people — inside and outside the family — who sparked my young imagination with ghost stories told for different reasons, all my fiction has an element of the supernation at its core. Besides being a wonderful, fruitful literary device, the anchoring of my fiction firmly in the metaphyical world of spirits, belief systems, ancestors and powers has given my work the heft of authenticity and resonance. It’s the way I always wanted to see black folks’ lives on the page.

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I grew up at a time when the written word was respected and appreciated by black folks. In my household, books were everywhere, and everyone was always reading different books that interested them: love stories, Westerns, adventures, contemporary fiction. I grew up hearing my family say, “Oh, you know, Tina’s going to be a writer” because I had expressed interest in writing and telling stories.

I feel my greatest contribution to African-American literature thus far is that I have done exactly what I have wanted to do: tell stories.

For the past 35 years, I have published five novels (I’m working on the 6th now.), written for newspapers and magazines, created a writers retreat for emerging and established writers, told stories as a raconteur on The Moth mainstage, and traveled the country reading from my work, lecturing and teaching. My respect for the written word, especially the stories that spring from my African-American heritage, culture, and family and my support of other writers also constitute what I feel is my greatest contribution to African-American literature.

My perspective has, necessarily, changed along with the business over the decades. In the early years of my publishing life in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, there was not nearly the competition from so many other writers looking to get published.

Today, writers have to be more flexible, ingenious, savvy and willing to do the work, which sometimes involves skills other than writing and editing, such as marketing, public speaking, kissing babies. : )

But to be a writer, one must put the writing first.

Hi my people,
Just wanted to remind you all that today, May 26, and all this week, I’ll be blogging about my writing and answering questions about why I write what I do, my process, what I’m working on right now. Join me here and leave a comment.
Tananarive Due invited me and Daniel Jose Older on The Writing Process Blogging Tour this week and got me blogging again. Thanks, dear!
Here we go!

If Not Now, When?!

I’ve lived long enough to know that whatever you teach you will be learning within like 24 hours. So, if you’re trying to teach someone about compassion, be ready to ante up some compassion right quick. The Universe takes you at your word and says, “Oh, yeah?”
Having said that, I still continue sharing this post.

Here goes to all us creators of one kind or another:

Two words…I have two words for you and myself. These are words that I want us to burn into our consciousness. These are two words that should be on your mind first thing in the morning when you awake and then all through the day as you go about your routine. When you see something that you know has your name all over it, whether it’s a chore, a pair of gorgeous shoes on sale, an idea, a new job, an undiscovered park, a new route to work, a person who could use your help or expertise or smile. Whatever! These are the words I want you to remember. They are words that will change you life. Are you ready?

“Right now.” That’s it. Nothing more. “Right now.”

Those two words can change your life. If there’s anything you’re dreaming of becoming, of doing, of having, of achieving, of sharing or giving…right now. Those are the words that you should repeat to yourself whenever you find yourself putting off efforts, projects, phone calls, emails, visits, prayer, quiet time, meditation, joy, laughter..

How many times have I practically fallen over a great idea and not followed up on it. “I’ll check it out later this month when I get a break,” I tell myself . And the idea passes undone for someone else to make a load of money on, get credit for or change the world or their community. Or even worse, the idea never gets done and brought to fruition.

Or how many times have I thought of someone and put off calling them for days, weeks only to discover later that a call from a friend would have lightened their load back then. Or when have I not returned a phone call and lost an opportunity to promote my books, my ideas, my business, my name, my friends?

You know what happened? I didn’t do it RIGHT NOW!!!

For some reason, perhaps because procrastination is so comfortable to human nature, doing things RIGHT NOW is a challenging lesson to learn. Yet it is one that can be life-changing once we get a handle on it and find ourselves facing, handling, doing things RIGHT NOW.

That’s how this post got shared.

Hi Folks,

I know it’s been a minute…well, a few minutes…since I’ve posted, but I’m back on the tractor and ready to work and

share. As a writer. Teacher. Gardener. Editor. Publisher. Filmmaker. Raconteur.

So, I’m gonna jump right in. 

I began my writing career as a journalist at The Atlanta Constitution, as the first African-American woman at the morning newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia.  This was back in the 1970s. Although I liked being a jounalist a journalist, I always knew that I wanted to write fiction: stories of my family, black folks in the South. I published my first novel, BABY OF THE FAMILY, in 1989. And since then, I have published four  more novels (UGLY WAYS, THE HAND I FAN WITH, YOU KNOW BETTER  and TAKING AFTER MUDEAR) as well as book reviews, essays, magazine articles, and op-ed pieces. But in the back of my head and in my heart, I knew that I also wanted to do more in the field of literature.  In addition to writing, I knew I yearned to start a retreat for emerging and established writers in the Georgia Sea Islands where I have lived for the last 30 years.

The Sea Islands off the coast of the Southern United States are the repository of so much of African-American history and culture. I knew this would  be a great place to offer workshops, discussions and sharing about creating black literature. I wanted to offer a safe place for writers who had never been published to interact with established writers and new writers like themselves to sharpen their craft, share their work and improve their writing.

I thought about this endeavor for more than a decade before founding The Sea Island Writers Retreats in the fall of 2004. A couple of years later, we have decided in addition to the Writers Retreats held on the Sea Islands in the fall, to take the Sea Island Writers Retreats on the road to cities across the country where we can reach even more writers who cannot make the trip South. Since then, we had held the retreats with our faculty including Pearl Cleage, Zaron W. Burnett Jr., Valerie Wilson Wesley, Shay Youngblood, Blanche Richardson, Valerie Boyd and myself in cities throughout the Southeast.

To find out more about the retreat and if you’re interested in us bringing the Sea Island Writers Retreats to your city or area, go to my website http://www.tinamcelroyansa.com  and fill out the registration or interest form.