I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey to completing my first novel. To those of you who don't know me or my work and are visiting this page for the first time, welcome.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share with you a little of my progress as I begin research on my new book -- a yet-to-be titled historical novel, set in the 1920s and involving the founding and establishment of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the predominently African-American labor union, led by A. Philip Randolph. Sleeping car porters worked on the railroads, cleaning and preparing sleeping cars and acting as valets and waiters for passengers. The union struggled for more than a decade before they received recognition and equity from the Pullman Company.

As part of my research, I'll be traveling by train from Oakland to New York City, following the path of those porters from years ago. This trip will include a visit to the A. Philip Randolph Museum in Chicago. Along the way, I'll be sharing with you what I learn and experience. Thank you for coming along.

First Novel

Several years ago, I came across an interesting fact in a book called The Black Book -- slaves in Washington D.C. were emancipated in 1862, almost an entire year before slavery was abolished nationally. It stated that, at least, seven black men claimed compensation for a total of 28 slaves that they had owned. It was strange fact that stayed with me for a long time.

As an undergrad at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the opportunity to participate in many long discussions about race and race relations. What has always interested me was not only how African-Americans relate to America but how they relate to each other; so my novel, Fruit of the Seed, examines the question, what are the bonds that keep a growing diverse community together. Fruit of the Seed is a historical novel about a family of free blacks who owned slaves at the beginning of the Civil War. It is the story of the ties that holds a family together --of history, of faith and of memories.

I am seeking representation for Fruit of the Seed; however, you will be able to preview excerpts sometime this year. I hope that you enjoy it.

DailyLit: What I'm Reading Now

Friday, January 4, 2013

Was named John Steinbeck Fellow for 2012/2013. Gave my first reading this past December. It can be viewed on the following link.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Authenticity: The meaning of blackness

Au then tic i ty: [n] The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.

I’ve been thinking about authenticity a great deal lately. Perhaps it is a by-product of getting older; I am not so much impatient, as I am short on time. The older I get, I realize that I don’t have as much time for other people’s agendas because I’m trying to complete the items on my own bucket list. I want to make the difference clear because I could, if I wanted to, tolerate or indulge other people’s issues but I no longer have time to waste. Not if I am to do what I feel I was put on the planet to do. So instead of the usual equivocation, I’m going for the jugular - not out of malice, but out of necessity. I tell people what I think, how I feel and what I intend because it is expedient. How much time do we waste when we don’t tell the truth? And how much time passes while we get frustrated when our needs are not met? How much aggravation do we endure trying to discover the truth from one another, when a little honesty, up front is all that was needed? I can tell you, personally, that the difference in my life now and the way it was before is profound. The difference has been frightening and freeing because in coming to my own, I recognize that there are so many people who have not.

In my own life, I have had my authenticity called into question by my own family because I have a college education. How many of us have endured questioning the likes of a Congressional confirmation because our people suspected that education somehow changed us? We are forced to prove our authenticity by speaking Ebonics, sporting a dashiki or overpriced athletic shoes or watching an episode of Meet the Browns -- until we leave the family reunion and retreat to the privacy of our own homes, free to be ourselves. However, some of us, in the secret recesses of our consciousness are wondering ourselves – What does it mean to be black?

I ask myself – how should we define black (or any other) authenticity? Cornel West has written:

…blackness has no meaning outside of a system of race-conscious people and practices. After centuries of racist degradation, exploitation, and oppression in America, blackness means being minimally subject to white supremacist abuse and being part of a rich culture and community that has struggled against such abuse. All people with black skin and African phenotype are subject to potential white-supremacist abuse. Hence, all black Americans have some interest in resisting racism – even if their interest is confined solely to themselves as individuals rather than to larger black communities. Yet how this "interest is defined and how individuals and communities are understood vary. So any claim to black authenticity – beyond being the potential object of racist abuse and heir to a grand tradition of black struggle – is contingent on one’s political definition of black interest and one’s ethical understanding of how this interest relates to individuals and communities in and outside black America. In short, blackness is a political and ethical construct.

Blackness is a political and ethical construct. I understand this. Based upon our hundreds year history in these United States, people of African descent shared a social condition, which sought to control their individual and collective destiny. This social condition bound people of African descent regard of class, education and culture of origin. Then that condition seemingly disappeared. The mechanism of legal segregation and Jim Crow is dismantled and some members of a once united community begin to prosper. Without the social condition that once bound us together, what do we become? Who are we? What does it mean to be black now? I cannot disagree with Mr. West but blackness, not only, is a historical, political and social construct -- but also a cultural one.

Cul ture: [n] the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

But what about those of us who have defined not only identified it politically and ethically, but culturally? What if what I define as blackness has something do with a common history but also a common language, common habits, customs and worldview? The question then becomes what is or more specifically, which black culture? Urban, inner city? Rural south? Upper middle class? West Indian? West African? Which is more genuine? More black? Because all of these have a shared interest in eliminating racism but the cultures are different, aren't they? If that is the case, which is black?

Co opt: [v] To take or assume for one's own use; appropriate

ALSO To neutralize or win over (an independent minority, for example) through assimilation into an established group or culture

I’d like to believe that there is more that holds black people together than a common phenotype and a history of violently sustained racism and attempted genocide. I’d like to believe that what holds us together is deeper than that. Because the truth is, if that is all there is, then that really isn't enough to sustain us. We will continue to trivialize our history, allow others to define us and our identity will continue to co opted, regurgitated and sold back to us in bright shiny little packages by those who have no investment in either social justice or sustaining and nurturing our culture, however you may define it.

It is time to finally have a serious discussion about what it means to be black in America beyond the impact of racism. Understand that this in no way, means that we should abandon the fight against the institution of racism nor do I champion the argument in a post-racial society, the a discussion of race is no longer relevant What I am saying is that in our increasingly multi-racial, poly-lingual, it becomes increasingly important to understand who we are. As we live culture, we also create it. The continued creation of black should be deliberate, thoughtful, nurturing, not left to chance or in the hands of those with their own agendas. So what is it, people? Tell me, who are we?

Friday, July 17, 2009

San Francisco Writers Anthology

An excerpt from this novel-in-progress is published in the 2009 San Francisco Writers Conference Anthology. Available on both iUniverse and Amazon.

Check it out!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

T-shirts for a worthy cause

Hi, all. Below please find a link to a site selling t-shirts with a writing inspired message. The proceeds benefited a writer-friend of mine whose mother was a victim of a stroke. I hope you'll consider buying one. They are reasonably priced and go to a worthy cause.

http://www.cafepress.com/sequentialmerch http://marlasfriends.wordpress.com/

Thanks for your help.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop

I recently returned from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, which was a wonderful experience for me. The program included the nightly readings by both instructors and participants and it is now available for downloads. The link is below.


Please follow the instructions on the page. You can listen to me reading on TUESDAY* night and during the OPEN MIC** night. I'd check out the instructors reading too because it was fabulous. Check out Nancy Zafris, Rebecca McClanahan and Lee Martin on the first night, if you have time.

*I'm on near the end. * *I'm up about fifth or sixth that night.
The podcast will be available until December and then go forever. I hope you enjoy listening to it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recent publications

For a preview from my novel-in-progress, please check out University of LeVerne's Prism Review magazine.

For a excerpt from my first novel, Fruit of the Seed, please check out West Valley College's Voices magazine.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Barrack Obama and the Return of the Responsible Intellectual

Thank you, God! I am so glad to finally be able to come out to hiding. For almost a decade, I have felt like an outcast, subject to humiliated and ridicule. I have disguised myself in conversations about reality television shows and relative merits of various celebrity pairings. If I pointed out that the portrayal of an Asian woman in the X-men felt, oh, slightly problematic because she had been made to look like a Chinese Dragon Lady, a dreaded figure from the 1930s; I was told I think too much. I took to hiding my books behind copies of People and US, just to fit in. Don't get me wrong, I love Project Runway as much as the next person does. I will pick up a tabloid in the checkout lane to see pictures of Halle Berry's baby because, let's face it, I'm nosy. But I do not and have not made the mistake of believing that it is really that important. I never made the mistake of believing that that should be the content of national discourse or that discourse itself is somehow threatening and sinister. It has always been slightly disturbing this way in which our national discourse has been reduced to babble about celebutantes and how we have begun to accept it. I have grown accustomed to the stupor induced by reading my student thesis. One of which argued that single people shouldn't be allowed to adopt because they are unlovable. If they were lovable, they'd be married. I teach college. I blame myself for adopting the language of the masses. You know what I'm saying though; whatever. And like and like and like and like. Doesn't bother anyone else that Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader is not just a game show but also apparently the only question used to vet the final Republican candidate for vice president of the United States? But that is all over. Finally, finally, the eggheads won and smart people can come out of hiding. Tired of saluting a commander in chief better suited to being president of a fraternity than president of the United States.

What is most striking about Barrack Obama is he is unapologetically intelligent and unabashedly articulate. He conjugates his verbs without shame, using words from an actual dictionary. In addition, he engages other people in discourse as if he weren't afraid of opinions other than his own as if the engagement of other in public and spirited discourse was a means to finding resolution rather than a way of highlighting difference or a threat to his entire belief system. Shocking. This week, the President-elect broke bread with what is considered the conservative brain trust. A move that is unprecedented. He is engaged in dialog with 'the enemy,' rather than shutting his door and assuming that the only answers to the enormous problems that face our country will only come from the left. He has said publicly that this will be an administration that embraces science; yet Obama has also come to reestablish America, as a moral leader, as well.

Discourse, spirited engaged rigorous discourse is fundamental to a thriving democracy. Refusing to speak to an network, interviewer or another person because their opinion may be different than your own or because you are afraid of being asked difficult questions is cowardice. Intellectual in-breeding that leads to defective thinking, strangulation of ideas and reasoning. I mean if our only criteria for our political leaders is that they are like us, what will we get, overweight, debt-laden morally irresponsible good old boys and gals who we can pal around with? I don't want a president I can have a beer with, I want my president to be the smartest guy or gal in the room. Let's talk about what you get when you put an intellectual in office, someone who thinks before he acts but what's more important, let's see what happens when we have an engaged and informed electorate who knows what they believe and more importantly why they believe it so that when someone tries to strip them of their civil liberties, denies them their civil rights they know exactly what it is that they are losing and when they decide to go to war, they know what they are dying for.

It seems to me that we all have a unique opportunity to get re-acquainted with our government, to do more than simply having an opinion but a chance for us to think AND to participate. But calling on Americans to serve their country on MLK Day, President-elect Obama is reminding us that being intelligent is not enough. It isn't enough to simply sit in ivory tower or coffee shops and criticize others for their actions, that it is time that we take actions, ourselves. Certainly, now the time for rhetoric is over. The time for action is now.


© 2008 L. Rebecca Harris