Queen Sugar au­thor en­cour­ages South Florid­i­ans to dream

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By ISHEKA N. HAR­RI­SON ihar­ri­son@sfltimes.com

MI­AMI – Natalie Baszile said she tried to love alu­minum for 11 years, but her core iden­tity as a writer just wouldn’t let her. So she took a leap of faith and left her fam­ily’s busi­ness – Baszile Met­als, which sold alu­minum to the aerospace and air­craft in­dus­try – to pur­sue her pas­sion.

There are many of us who are be­yond grate­ful that she did. Oth­er­wise we wouldn’t have the ac­claimed tele­vi­sion series “Queen Sugar” based on her book of the same name, which mil­lions tune in to watch faith­fully ev­ery week on the Oprah Win­frey Net­work (OWN).

As the key­note speaker at the Book and Au­thor Lun­cheon hosted by the Greater Mi­ami Chap­ter of The Links In­cor­po­rated, held Sept. 30, Baszile en­cour­aged oth­ers to take the risk of fol­low­ing their dreams.

“To me, it’s not only about the end re­sult, it’s about ... the ex­pe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing some­thing ev­ery day. What joy does that bring you in your life?” Baszile asked. “Ul­ti­mately I’m not so sure it mat­ters if you break through and you are some kind of su­per­star. It’s about learn­ing how to find joy in the process of cre­at­ing some­thing ev­ery day just for your­self.”

The room was filled to the brim with women (and men) from all walks of life who’d come to hear Baszile speak. She be­gan by clear­ing up how she, who was by all ac­counts a Cal­i­for­nia girl, could write such an au­then­tic Louisiana story.

Her father was from Louisiana, and even though he left as soon as he had the chance after ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the hor­rors of racism, he would re­turn home ev­ery year to take his mother on a road trip.

Even­tu­ally Baszile be­gan join­ing her father and grand­mother and would soak in the sto­ries they shared about Louisiana along the way. Due to her fa­mil­ial con­nec­tion, Baszile said she had per­mis­sion to tell Lou­siana’s story.

She spoke about how she loved books by Toni Mor­ri­son and Zora Neale Hurston, but no­ticed in the 1990s, the style of black lit­er­a­ture be­gan to change.

Epic nov­els had been re­placed by books with naked black women and pro­fane mes­sages on the cov­ers, and while she noted there was a place for that, she said they weren’t the sto­ries she wanted to read. “They did not rep­re­sent the peo­ple and ex­pe­ri­ence that I knew to be the African American ex­pe­ri­ence,” Baszile said. “My job as a young as­pir­ing writer was to be a part of that con­ver­sa­tion.”

And so she ap­plied the no­table words of Toni Mor­ri­son who stated, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been writ­ten yet, you must be the one to write it.”

So in 1999, Baszile said she con­fessed to her father that her love af­fair with alu­minum was non-ex­is­tent and he gave her his bless­ing to pur­sue her pur­pose.

She re­layed how for 11 years she wrote the story of Charley Bordelon, a sin­gle mother who in­her­ited some land in Louisiana, re­count­ing the years she spent re­search­ing and de­vel­op­ing the story. She said she cold not have writ­ten “Queen Sugar" with­out the help of na­tive Louisiana farm­ers and res­i­dents.

“So many peo­ple in Louisiana opened up their homes and their lives to me,” Baszile said.

Baszile also talked about the mo­ments she met Leigh Haber, the book ed­i­tor for O Mag

azine, learned that OWN wanted to op­tion her book for tele­vi­sion, spent a day with Ava Duver­nay, then spent time with Oprah at her home.

She said she was very thank­ful for the way her work has been re­ceived.

“It is deeply grat­i­fy­ing be­cause in all of the years that I spent writ­ing the novel, my dream re­ally was to reach read­ers and to reach an au­di­ence who I felt was thirsty for por­tray­als of black peo­ple, peo­ple of color in a way that they had not seen or read, and so the way ‘Queen Sugar’ has been re­ceived and em­braced is re­ally a dream come true for me,” Baszile said. When asked if she was sat­is­fied with the way OWN had adapted the book for tele­vi­sion, Baszile ex­pressed con­tent­ment. “My wish for the show was that they main­tain the heart and the spirit of the book and to con­tinue my mis­sion, which is to re­ally cel­e­brate the di­ver­sity and the range and the nu­ance of African American life, and I think they’ve done that in the show so I’m pleased, I’m very pleased,” Baszile said.

The day be­fore the lun­cheon, Baszile had spo­ken to hun­dreds of stu­dents at Mi­ami Dade Col­lege. When asked why she takes the time to make such ap­pear­ances, she said it’s her duty to share her story and in­spire oth­ers.

“I feel that my jour­ney, the path that I took to write this book, it was a strug­gle in many cases but it was filled with joy and I also think it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know that they shouldn’t give up on their dreams, so if I can share my story and if I can tell a young as­pir­ing artist that it’s worth it to pur­sue the things that gives their life mean­ing then that’s my job be­cause I had peo­ple along the way who did that for me,” Baszile said.

“Es­pe­cially for stu­dents of color who might be feel­ing pres­sures to make cer­tain life choices for en­tirely le­git­i­mate eco­nomic rea­sons. A lot of times they ig­nore the thing that they’re most pas­sion­ate about and I would never en­cour­age peo­ple to be fi­nan­cially ir­re­spon­si­ble, but I am say­ing its im­por­tant for peo­ple to find the things that in­spire them and to in­cor­po­rate that into their life in some way. To lose that spark that thing that gives their life joy is a mis­take and I just want them to en­cour­age them to keep go­ing.”

She said the most grat­i­fy­ing out­come of her work is know­ing some­thing she cre­ated has made such an impact on life and cul­ture.

“For me to be part of that and to have of­fered my com­mu­nity some­thing that is cel­e­bra­tory and up­lift­ing and also ex­plores the dif­fi­cul­ties all at once is why I write,” Baszile said. “For ex­am­ple when you go on the set and you see so many peo­ple of color who’ve been given op­por­tu­ni­ties … and to see the way the book and now the show have been able to launch ca­reers is be­yond my wildest dreams. It just shows that a piece of art can re­ally af­fect change and it can change peo­ple’s lives.”

PHOTO BY ISHEKA HAR­RI­SON FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

Queen Sugar au­thor Natalie Baszile, left, re­sponds dur­ing a Q&A ses­sion mod­er­ated by Lo­cal 10's Ter­rell For­ney at The Greater Mi­ami Links lun­cheon.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BY ISHEKA HAR­RI­SON FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

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