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The Hilltop


Queen Sugar Author Visits Howard

By Anthony Brown, Culture Contributing Writer
Posted 6:40 PM EST, Wed., Sept. 14, 2016

The highly anticipated and recently debuted OWN series, spearheaded by director and creator Ava DuVernay, was first a riveting novel by Natalie Baszile that’s set in the hinterland of rural Louisiana.  The familial narrative she created has now been set to the small screen, expanding her voice and reach to a new audience.

After an 11-year writing journey, Baszile has brought to life a cadre of characters who illustrate authenticity and truth into the lives of people not often considered and rarely portrayed in accurate terms.

“I wanted the world of South Louisiana to really come to life” she said in front of a live audience at WHUT studios. “So that if you knew the region, if you’re from there you would read the book and would feel like okay, she got this right.”

To many, her commitment to authenticity is cemented by the dialogue and characters she’s created.

“You can almost see and feel the mannerisms of the book,” said Dana Williams, dean of Howard’s University English department.  “The banter comes across clearly; that’s how people talk to each other.”

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One big reason for this triumph may be that Baszile’s debut novel is inspired by real life.  It is an ode to her paternal family’s history, having lived for generations in the very area depicted.  And although she was born and raised in California, this is very much an internal experience representing her and the people she knew.  Giving insight that embedded within the larger arc of her book, she is telling a personal story.

“We consume media, but it’s not what it’s meant for,” shared Baszile.  The relationship between the creators of media and their intended audience is examined here.  “People of color are so often outside the story,” she said, proving the need and importance of having a broad and diversified collection of writers to reflect their own experiences and realities.  Then, these stories can be shared with the rest of the world.  

Her intention for writing is to “move black women and black people off the periphery in literature and film and to put us at the center, and tell a story that is different from so much of what we’re seeing on television.  There’s room for all of it,” she said.  

To encourage young writers at Howard University to make her aim come true, Baszile insisted, “you don’t have to wait for the book deal, the movie deal, [and] the gate keepers.  Be open. Experiment.  Do it now.  We are waiting to hear [your] voices and perspectives.”

As for “Queen Sugar,” the show by the same name, she commented that “this is going to be different,” but importantly, the Oprah Winfrey and DuVernay joint venture is “continuing the conversation from the series.”  It is poised to bring the themes of the novel to the forefront and ultimately achieve the same mission.  

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