I met Daniel Black at a dinner for the Townsend Award for Fiction earlier this year. His novel, Perfect Peace, was one of ten novels nominated for the best work of fiction in Georgia over the past two years. Daniel is kind, funny, and surprisingly down-to-earth for someone with such an impressive amount of literary success. After speaking with him, I returned home from the dinner eager to get my hands on his nominated novel.
The thing about little Perfect– the protagonist in Daniel’s stunning novel– is that she’s a boy being raised as a girl. I knew this from the jacket of the book. And yet, when Perfect’s mother Emma Jean is in labor, pushing out her seventh child after six sons, I couldn’t help but wish for Emma Jean to get the daughter she’d always dreamed about. Come on, Emma Jean, I thought, please give birth to the baby girl you deserve.
This is how Daniel pulled me into his story. He created a world of characters so believable, so sympathetic, so deserving of something better than the hand they’d been dealt, I found myself in denial of what I knew to be true.
And how could I not? In every passage of Perfect Peace, Daniel’s lyrical writing washes over the reader like a baptism. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs:
Just as he stood, the Jordan began to sing him a lullaby. He closed his eyes and swayed. The rough, coarse melody, bubbling up from the deep, soothed his aching soul. He listened, for what felt like an eternity, to the cry of the currents until notes reverberated in the abyss of his memory. He would recall the tune years later and hum it whenever his past threatened to overwhelm him. For now, he listened until his heart was clean.
In creating such a memorable character named Perfect, Daniel Black has also written the perfect story.
WHEN DOES HE WRITE?
I’m most prolific in the midst of a storm. The rain’s polyrhythm excites something deep in me, unleashing creativity which, otherwise, remains dormant. I think a shift in the earth’s atmosphere conjures a concomitant shift in my consciousness, causing me to find clarity and strength in chaos. I don’t know. It’s sort of funny, really, but a bright shiny day does me no favors. When dark clouds gather and winds begin to dance about, I hear voices and I see settings and I understand the resolution of tensions in a narrative. Perhaps I thrive in the rain because of the healing power of water and its recent descent from the heavens. I write well at the beach, too, so maybe it’s simply the presence of water I need to spark a literary inundation. Often, I find myself writing outdoors, especially parks, where people, animals, and insects abound. These life forms teach me about life, and that’s what I write about: the convergence of lives and life forms into stories that help us discover the dimensions of God. Even when at home, I cannot write with doors and windows closed. I must have the participation of nature, the sanction of ants and trees that what I’m writing makes sense and carries the power of transformation. Seldom do I write at home, yet whenever I do, it’s in front of the screen door or sitting atop my bed next to the window.
I don’t have a particular time of day I write. Truth is, I never have enough time to write. Writer’s block is hardly my issue; rather, my struggle is being interrupted often when in the middle of a nice flow. Or, more honestly, entertaining distractions when I should block out the world and do my work. Nonetheless, I press on, hopeful, most days, to get simply a page or two. Three is a grand achievement. Four almost never happens. I’m envious of writers, like Joyce Carol Oates, who seems to complete two and three manuscripts a year. I do not have such productivity. Yet I am consistent. Teaching full time at Clark Atlanta University during the academic year disallows me to write as often and freely as I might otherwise, so my summers and holiday breaks tend to be intense writing sessions. Some days I’m in front of the computer for 8 or 9 hours. When writing this way, I’m careful to sleep 8 hours, too, since a fresh, well-rested mind is the key to the production of quality literature over time.
So, when do I write? Whenever I can! The place isn’t nearly as important as the block of time. I’ve discovered that, actually, I can write almost anywhere–if given a few minutes of uninterrupted focus. I LOVE to write on the freeway as someone else drives in silence. Movement tends to awaken my senses, so a quick trip to Birmingham and back can easily result in a productive writing session. Most of Perfect Peace was constructed in Piedmont Park and on certain segments of I-20.
Finally, if granted the time, I can pretty much write anywhere. I just need some rain….
BIO: Daniel Black was born in Kansas City, Kansas, yet spent the majority of his childhood years in Blackwell, Arkansas. He was reared on the 500 acres of land his great, great grandfather purchased upon emancipation. A child who always loved to read, Danny, as he was affectionately known, was always a stellar student, graduating from Morrilton High School in 1984 in the top 2% of his class. He was then awarded a full, four-year scholarship to Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia where he was the only male English major. Maintaining a 3.8-4.0 gpa during his four-year tenure, he was awarded the Oxford Modern British Studies Study Abroad Award where he attended Oxford University during his junior year.
Upon graduation from Clark College magna cum laude in 1988, he was awarded a full graduate fellowship to earn his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University in Philadelphia. He graduated with honors in 1993, having written a dissertation titled “Dismantling Black Manhood: An Historical and Literary Analysis of the Concept of Manhood as found in Select Black Male Slave Narratives.” His dissertation evolved into his first major academic book entitled Dismantling Black Manhood. Sonia Sanchez, the nationally-acclaimed poet and public speaker, was one of his dissertation advisors and now serves as one of his literary mentors and elders.
In 1993, Dr. Black returned to his alma mater, now called Clark Atlanta University, where he began his teaching career as an associate professor in the department of English. Since 2004, he has taught in the African American Studies department and part-time at Morehouse College. His is the founder of the Ndugu-Nzinga Rites of Passage Society, an organization that aims to teach character and principle to African American youth. This organization, which caters to college students, boasts a 90% college graduation rate and has produced some 25 Ph.D.s.
In October of 2005, Dr. Black released his debut novel, They Tell Me of a Home, to national acclaim. The novel has been read in classrooms across America and was nominated for the 2006 Townsend Award in Fiction. His second novel, The Sacred Place, was released in February of 2007 and was chosen as the required reading for all 1100 incoming freshmen at Clark Atlanta University. His third novel, Perfect Peace, has recently been completed. He has traveled across America, lecturing and book signing at colleges, bookstores, and churches, to mesmerized audiences. His charismatic reading and vocal power leave listeners transformed everywhere he goes. Dr. Black is a musician, a scholar, a public speaker, a writer, a literary critic, a choir director, and a mentor to literally hundreds of black youth. His aim is to change the world—one self-loving child at a time.
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For more WHEN DO YOU WRITE, go here. See you next Tuesday!