A Friend of the Written Word

I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite authors, Tayari Jones, at the Gaithersburg Book Festival back in May. She’s the author of a fascinating and breathtaking new novel, Silver Sparrow, that has garnered much critical acclaim in the literary world. When I learned that she was going to be one of the featured authors at the book festival, I knew I had to make the trek from Baltimore to Gaithersburg to see her.

It was mesmerizing to hear her read from Silver Sparrow. Her words floated off the page and danced in the air, stirring up all kinds of thoughts and emotions in the standing-room only crowd. A very lively discussion about Tayari’s book, the subject and the writing process soon followed. It’s strange to say, but for some reason I felt energized and affirmed as a writer on that day.

After the reading, I went over to the authors’ signing tent to get her autograph. While waiting in line I gripped the book in my hands, its gorgeously iridescent cover shimmered in the sunlight.  When my turn finally came, Tayari and I chatted for a few, brief moments before she signed my book: “To Kimberly, Keep putting words on the page. Tayari Jones 2011.”

I started reading Silver Sparrow when I got home that evening and couldn’t put it down. It only took me a few days to finish the novel and then to start touting it to friends, family and my “tweeps” in the Twitterverse.

Since then, I’ve been reluctant to loan my copy of the book out for fear of someone else falling in love with it and not giving it back. So imagine my surprise when Tayari Jones tweeted the other day that she was signing bookplates for readers. I jumped on it. Even though she had already autographed my copy of her book, I asked for a couple of signed bookplates for copies I had planned to give to a couple of friends. She graciously obliged my request, and she included a signed bookplate for me:

From one friend of the written word to another, thank you for the affirmation, Tayari! My novel is a work in progress, but I’m still putting words on the page...

Master Class

My first job out of college was teaching introductory telecom courses part-time at Baltimore City Community College. On a whim, I responded to an ad the school had placed in The Baltimore Sun. Three weeks and a phone call later, I was hired. Who know getting a job teaching college was so easy?

I was all ready to change the world. My students would learn about communication, and when the semester was over they’d be ready to change the world themselves, armed with the knowledge to write powerful speeches and scripts, create television shows and radio programs, and work for Oprah. I was giddy about the opportunity to teach college students some of the things I just learned only a few years prior. All I needed was a little confidence and a can-do attitude.

The man that hired me, Dr. Lester, was an interesting character. He reminded me of an older, more diminutive Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. He seemed unfazed by my lack of experience and assured me I could teach the students how to take a computer apart and identify parts on the motherboard.

“All you need to do is tell them to flip to the back of their books and use that diagram to do their lab work,” he told me. This was coming from a man who offered me the job after a fifteen-minute phone interview.

Fast-forward to the first night of the second semester. I was running late…not a good look for an instructor. I jogged into the building, past the security desk and onto an awaitng elevator. The other person on the elevator — a portly, scruffy-looking older gentleman — was going to the same floor as I was. He was clutching a brown bag, smelling like he had doused himself with Colt 45 or maybe Old English. He smiled; I nodded. The ride to the third floor was taking far too long.

The man muttered a hail of curse words under his breath before he said, “Gotdammit, I’m gonna be late again.” Then he looked at me. “What class are you going to?”

“Intro to Telecom.”

“Good,” he smiled. “I won’t be late by myself then.”

The thought to let him know that I was the instructor never crossed my mind.

“You know anything about this teacher?” He tucked the brown bag under his arm and uncrumpled his class schedule. “Williams, Kimberly,” he read aloud. “You know anything about this Kimberly chick?”

Actually I do. I know her very well. I know she’s late for class. I decided that I’d let my silence answer his question for me.

The scruffy man decided to introduce himself just as the elevator crawled to the third floor. “Hi, I’m Hercules. Hercules Clark.” He chuckled. “I hope she ain’t one of them uptight broads that flips out when you’re late for class.”

No, I’m not an uptight broad. I’m just Kimberly. And things are about to get really awkward.

The elevator dings, the doors open and Hercules stepped off and strolled down the corridor. It was 6:31. Late.

I let him go in first. After all, it’s boys before broads, right?

The classroom was full. There were three seat left: two in the back row and one at the front for the instructor. Hercules trotted to the back, probably expecting me to follow suit. I stopped at the door way, gathered what little composure I had, and walked to the podium.

When Hercules turned around to see I was at the front of the room, he filled the air with an endless stream of profanity. “I guess you done already gave me an F, huh?”

I couldn’t stop laughing, grateful for an icebreaker even better than the one I had planned.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Kimberly, ma’am,” Hercules apologized. “I called her a broad in the elevator.” He explained to the class.

Several of the women in the class chided Hercules for using such a derogatory term, and for insulting their poor little instructor (that would be me). Wanting to make a point, yet not wanting to go overboard, I just offered Hercules a few words of advice in regards to addressing and interacting with women. From there we moved on to the business of learning.

I later learned that Hercules was a disabled vet. He had taken my class to have something to do with his evenings. He seldom was absent for class, although most of the time he was there he was nodding off.

For the work that Hercules did while he was awake in class, this broad gave him a solid C-.