Saturday, October 25, 2014

Writers4Higher features Glenda Bailey-Mershon

Welcome to Writers4Higher

The purpose of the Writers4Higher blog: to feature authors in a new light, a fresh look at the way writers use their talents and life energies to uplift humankind. Writers4Higher doesn’t promote religious or political views. Authors are asked to answer three simple questions: simple, yet complex.

This issue, Writers4Higher features

Glenda Bailey-Mershon

Hi, Glenda. Welcome to the Writers4Higher family!

1.      Tell me about yourself. Your book(s), your life, your inspiration.

Some days I feel like a snake, most of me behind, and that part is my ancestors. One day, I will shed my skin and be clothed anew, and that new skin will be my descendants. This is how I was taught to think of myself, as the culmination of my ancestors' existence, as my children and their children will be the culmination of mine. Everything I do is out of respect for one and for the benefit of the other. It is a life in which I am never quite alone. Completely myself, but also a product of our past and a worker for the future.
It took me a long time to understand that many people see themselves as only themselves, not as some creature dragging centuries of predecessors behind. It took me a longer time to understand that I was fortunate in this way. Any other life would seem lonely to me. I can't say how it would be for others.
I grew up in the Deep South in a family that had roots from many parts of the world. As a child, I found this quite confusing. My elders talked about people born generations ago as if they had just left the room. And those people belonged to some mysterious groupings that were hard to grasp. Indian, but not that kind of Indian, was the way some past family members were described. And I was constantly told I looked like this one or that, held my fork like that great aunt, loved pepper like my great-grandfather, had a rebellious streak like a great-great-great-great grandmother so many times removed that she was born around the same time as the United States. When I asked questions, not much was explained.
So mostly I made up things in my head. I loved Peter Pan because he never had to enter any adult conversations, unless he was eavesdropping while planning a mischievous raid. Jo in Little Women was my best friend because we shared a determination to learn everything we weren't supposed to know. Emily Dickinson stopped me cold with her books like frigates and lines that set the world into rhythm. That was the world I lived in. Every Saturday, my father took me to the library and I set in with a vengeance to read everything those brick walls held.
School was a problem. I loved it because I could ask all the questions I wanted and generally got an answer. My parents were distrustful of it, didn’t want to set foot inside, because neither of them had much schooling and both felt uncomfortable talking to teachers and principals. So school was mine and mine alone. But if I needed help there, I was on my own.
What an irony that all these many years later, I look at my work and see how much of it is an extended conversation with people far in my past. How my great-grandmothers whispered to me about the life of Evangeline, the Romani woman whose mystery is at the heart of Eve's Garden, my first novel. How my own attempts to explain to my son that one can be oneself and still the culmination of people from continents and centuries away informs the long poem, "Answering Spring at Red Clay," in my chapbook, sa-co-ni-ge/blue smoke: Poems from the Southern Appalachians. And a conversation with my father, attired as usual in grease-stained overalls, about a Gold Coast art opening intrigued me enough to form the basis for another chapbook of poems, Bird Talk.
It all comes together in a way that I know is uniquely me, but which is inspired so frequently by them. O longo drom, the long road we have traveled together, winds from the Silk Road to here, where I sit in Charlotte in my mint-walled study, looking at a poster about Caroline Herschel, the astronomer, by Judy Chicago while I try to make sense of the musical words winding through my head.

2.      Where do you see your writing taking you in the future?

Everything is always going in several directions with me. I'm working on a poetry collection and two novels while also finishing up some short stories that I hope will make a collection. At least, if the question were, "What are you working on?", that would be the answer. Instead, let me try answering what you asked, which I think requires more introspection on a late Sunday night when everyone else, including the dog, is asleep.
My writing is a dialogue not only with ancestors and great-great-great grandchildren, but with writers whose work I admire. I'm reading young writers like Paul Yoon and Rebecca Lee and thinking about how tradition and change are constants that keep us seesawing, but maybe that's a good thing, a way to keep the pendulum swinging hard enough to discover new territory.
I'm constantly re-reading masters like Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and Ursula LeGuin who ask us all, what really matters in life? What will last when we're all stardust in some future star field?
In the meantime, I'm trying to just master the language, one paragraph at a time.
So I'm writing a very contemporary novel on the subject of greed, about a young woman with a closet full of expensive trinkets she doesn’t even like, whose inheritance is a labyrinth of past intrigues. What does she really deserve, that's what she wants to know.
A much more light-hearted work is set in a bookstore and florist on Chicago's Northwest Side, a sort of oddball romance between damaged people.
I like writing about partnerships, how unlikely pairings rescue each other, because that has certainly been true in my life. Help comes so often from unexpected quarters.

3.      How do you use your talents/time to help others?

When my family made no sense to me, I turned to the civil rights movement to understand what Americans mean by race. That movement taught me that you either step over the line for people who aren't like you, or you turn your head and stick with what you know. There really isn’t much room for in-between when the chips are down. The ground is covered with chips right now, it seems to me.
Feminists helped me grow up, and that is another debt I will always try to pay. Writers give me new worlds every day, and I owe them some attention, too.
I'm uncomfortable talking about what I do. My parents taught me to be of service and I hope I am. Mostly, when all works well, we get the community and the world we work for.
One community that I do enjoy is Jane's Stories Press Foundation, for whom I've edited four volumes of work by women writers, the last, Jane's Stories IV: Bridges and Borders, by women in conflict around the world. And I'm working with a new nonprofit, the Foundation for Romani Education and Equality, which will provide tutoring and educational opportunities for Romani youth and also serve as a cultural foundation.

Would you like to find Glenda?

Check out the links to this talented author:

Amazon Author's Page:

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Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern Twist

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