Monday, January 19, 2009

Find Your Piece of Ground

Last week, I took my youngest daughter (9) to see Brian Copeland speak. He's the author of Not A Genuine Black Man, this year's Silicon Valley Reads, and he was doing an opening interview in Campbell. I'd heard Mr. Copeland speak several times. We both presented at East of Eden, and then again at Book Group Expo. It's not that I expected to hear new material. But I wanted to be there to support the opening of this great book, the story of a young boy growing up black in the 99.9% white neighborhood of San Leandro. (I've given away more copies of this book than any other.)
It was like a girls' night out for my daughter and me, as we went to dinner beforehand and played several games of uninterrupted tic-tac-toe. When we got to the theater and sat down, I marveled at how wonderful it was to be there, sharing this moment with my daughter. I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Mr. Copeland and his interviewer. Then I felt my little one tug on my sleeve. "How long does this last?" she asked.
Later when we sat down for a bowl of ice cream, I asked, "What do you remember about the talk?"
"Uh," She lifted her spoon to her mouth, as if to think. "He has three children."
Well, that's true, I thought, wondering again at how our world is shaped by what we hear or think we hear. And how she might grow up one day to tell her friends how she got dragged to this theater to listen to some man talk about his three children. How everyone in the city had come to hear about those kids.
What I remember of the talk is the story he told of how he got started writing. He was talking to his friend, Carl Reiner (producer, The Dick Van Dyke Show) and bemoaning the fact that he didn't know what to write about. Mr. Reiner said, "You have to find the piece of ground that you alone stand on. Then write about that." Copeland realized that nobody else could tell the story of a boy growing up in the heart of diverse California and at the same time experiencing segregation and racism as though he lived in Mississippi. When he figured this out, it was as if the gates had been opened. He had found his voice.
What is your piece of ground? What unique dish do you bring to the table of life? These words echo in my mind when I am at a loss for which direction to turn in my own writing...or even in my life.


Lynn said...

That's a nice picture, the piece of ground that you alone stand on. I like it.

Anonymous said...

We've been watching the PBS documentary on the history of comedy/comics, and there was a brief interview with Carl. Apparently he starred in an earlier, short-lived TV show about a comedy writer--which flopped. Then when the networks wanted him to write another series on the same premise, they assured him it would work, because..."we'll get a better actor to play you." !! But he wrote that, because--as he said--it was his piece of ground. Not sure what this says about me writing a historical novel set in Chicago! Except maybe my fictional piece of ground is for kids & teens?

Brian's book is amazing. I love what your daughter took away from his talk.:)

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