The business of publishing is a curious curse. One writes a book and then has to discuss why one has written it, how one came about the whole idea, questions that originate not altogether in passion but more as a kind of formality, because one visits bookstores and book festivals and the people there have to ask something, after all, or else they just sit there and you just sit there and nothing happens. As an author of middling status, one seeks out these settings for conversations about one’s book and especially one seeks out interviewers who are interested in interviewing one about the book because, really, if one stays at home nobody is likely to think twice about the book and the whole business of writing it will pass for nothing. To talk about the writing is as necessary to the life of a book as air to the filling of a balloon. Having written something, one must then inflate it and see whether it will rise.
Having written this book called How I Shed My Skin, I undertake to do what I can to generate interest in it. These words sound tentative as I write them down, and yet the book itself is a thing in which I passionately believe, a story drawn from my childhood, narrating my own journey through bigotry into clarity. In the course of my elementary school education, I lived through school integration in eastern North Carolina, not thinking much about it at the time except that it was something that happened, mysterious as were many events in the world to an eleven-year-old. Black people and white people had been segregated from each other but I barely understood this, and the idea only became clear to me when the segregation was being dismantled. After integration, all children in our tiny community would go to school together, no matter what the color of our skin. That this fact outraged some adults in my little town stuck me as informative, for it told me that I was supposed to have a great opinion in the matter of whether I was black or white. So began a long journey of discovery about race and what it meant. This journey mingled with many others, and my simple child’s life (for so one is supposed to think of it) became muddled and complicated.
The journey I took, becoming friends with children who came into my sixth grade classroom, is told in the book I mentioned above and so I won’t rehearse it again here, though I will note that it is a good book, in my opinion, and you ought to read it. There are, of course, many books you ought to read and you might find you have no time for mine unless I say something about it that makes it more urgent to you. That is the reason for this commotion of blogging and traveling to bookstores and undertaking acts of publicity in order to inflate the book with air, so that it will either grow larger as an image or float up into the sky where it can be more widely seen. The better one sees my book, and the more often one sees it, the more likely one is to buy the book. And there you have the business of publishing in a thimble.
So here is a beginning at another kind of self-inflation, a virtual space called a blog in which I am storing these words in hope that someone might stumble across them, find them oddly interesting, and decide on that basis to buy my book, because it, too, might be oddly interesting. I am here in any case, bright and hopeful, tentative only because I am discussing myself, a subject about which I have very mixed feelings.
On the subject of my book, my feelings are very clear. I have told a story about a time when children were asked to face the bigotry designed into the world by the adults around them; when children were asked to figure out how to occupy the same classroom, the same school buses, with members of a race we had been taught was opposite to us. In living through this time, I learned how deeply the prejudice of my community had been written onto my person, and came to understand that I could change but that it would take a long time. The story was worth telling and is worth reading, and I hope you will find a copy of the book and see what the pages have to offer.