The emails and calls came in one after the other over the the past few days. In most cases they began with this statement: “Out of an abundance of caution …” To be sure, coronavirus is affecting every American institution, including the book tour I launched in February for my new memoir, “Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism.”
Like many other industries, the book industry is also affected in the face of this pandemic. According to Publisher’s Weekly, book fairs, book festivals and library conferences are delaying or skipping some of their 2020 programs. Some book clubs are not meeting. Authors, like the award-winning Terry McMillan are grounded for now. McMillan posted this on Twitter about her newly released novel: “For the health and safety of everyone, I have canceled my book tour. … Stay Safe.”
I encountered a neighbor this week on our morning dog walks.
“I’m enjoying reading your book,” said “Mrs. G,” a Jewish woman who ordered “Coming Full Circle” online. Over the past few months we have had conversations about our respective work lives while our dogs sniffed the ground around us. I learned about her career as a speech pathologist and I kept her up to date on plans for launching my memoir.
“I just finished the chapter where you didn’t accept the job opportunity in Atlanta,”she told me. She said she is anxious to read where I would go from there.
The Atlanta job opportunity she read about would have put me in a job I didn’t want, at a time when local civil rights proponents were demanding that the morning Atlanta Constitution and the afternoon Journal hire more African American reporters. I wanted to be a copy editor. My memoir is jam packed with stories about how my career developed after growing up in the Jim Crow South, yet I dared to become a daily newspaper journalist.
The robust book tour where I shared some of my stories at universities, museums, churches, and events for children as well als senior citizens has been interrupted by official and self-imposed social distancing. I look forward to rescheduling talks and signings in Washington, DC, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta, Greenville, SC, Montgomery, St. Petersburg, FL and in my hometown of Savannah, where readers inspire me with their rapt attention to my stories and with their questions.
In the conversation with my dog-walking neighbor, she cautiously admitted that she knows very little about civil rights or African American history — history that she is beginning to learn about in the stories she’s read so far in “Coming Full Circle.”
“I know Jewish history and the path of my ancestors to this country, but I’m learning so much by reading your book,” she told me. I assured her that I want to expand my audience of readers, and that I didn’t write the memoir only for African American readers.
Right there on the street, where our dogs were tugging on their leashes urging us to continue the walks, Mrs. G offered to reach out to someone connected to the local Jewish Federation to see if they might want to schedule a talk about my memoir.
This gives me hope that the conversations about race and gender, southern culture, journalism, diversity, leadership and hope for improved appreciation of the differences among us that we started when “Coming Full Circle” was launched will continue to enlighten people who are willing to hear and read my story.
Meanwhile, as author McMillan has said, stay safe.