Monday, August 24, 2009

A Momumental Birthday!

From Virginia:
Question: “Hey Mom! What do you want for your birthday?”
Answer: “A trip to the cemetery.”
Real question and real answer, asked and responded to in anticipation of celebrating Mom’s 86th birthday.

I can hear you now—“What kind of birthday present is that? The cemetery?” Not that there haven’t been plenty of visits to Forest Lawn—my maternal grandparents, many aunts, uncles, and cousins are buried there, along with my dad, so the cemetery is a place with which we are very familiar. But this time she wasn’t talking about a family visit. For many years she has wanted to take the official, guided, get on the air conditioned bus, Sunday in the Cemetery Tour. Alrighty then.

Forest Lawn Cemetery and Crematory Buffalo, is legendary, historical, notable—in short it’s apparently a big deal in the cemetery world. So yesterday, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the last day of her three day birthday celebration, that is exactly what we did.

I remember visiting the cemetery on a school field trip (yes, really, 4th or 5th grade). Other than learning that Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States (because really, who remembers old Millard) and Red Jacket, the storied, peacemaking Seneca Indian Chief were buried there, I recalled nothing from that little jaunt. And I was all ready to be seriously bored on this return junket. Man, was I surprised!

It seems that Forest Lawn was the 3rd public cemetery in the US to be built as a non-town center, non-church proximate graveyard. It was modeled after the legendary Pere Lachais in Paris to be a celebration of not just lives, but also of nature and art. Sculpture, hills, lakes, streams, creeks, ducks, bunnies and birds are as much a part of the 289 acres as are the graves, crypts, and mausoleums. FL is the final resting place of an eclectic assortment of folks: Buffalo’s own Super Freak, Rick James, the woman responsible for both the Pledge of Allegiance being recited in schools and the institution of Flag Day, the founder of the world famous Pierce Arrow Automobile company, the Fargo half of the Wells Fargo guys –and who knew that Wells Fargo also started American Express? The first African American Congresswoman, Shirley Chisolm is spending eternity in one of the mausoleums—and FL was the first cemetery in the country to offer public above ground burial—before that the cost was prohibitive for regular folks because you had build your own little granite castle. FL is also the only place on the planet that has (or ever will have) a Frank Lloyd Wright designed memorial—the Blue Sky Mausoleum ( And I have to say I was pretty intrigued by the tomb for one of the titans of industry, who commissioned his grave marker to include statues of his grieving wife, daughter and his MISTRESS! I’m guessing they left flowers on different days or did they visit together and go out after to toast the old geezer? Definitely a story there.

The tour even has actors in period costume who “appear” at various spots on the trip, board the bus and tell their saga…like Irving Berlin’s wife, Dorothy Metz. She got sick on their honeymoon and died 5 months later. Her pseudo-shade shows up and sings “Always,” a song he wrote in memory of her.

Saving the most elaborate for last, just like on the tour, is the storied Blocher Memorial. built by parents consumed with grief and guilt after their only son died, apparently of a broken heart. The folks (Dad made a mint figuring out that mass manufactured shoes should have both left and right feet and come in different sizes—duh!) did not approve when he fell in love with the maid. They sent him on a trip, and got rid of her while he was gone. After he returned he pined away.

Obviously I had a ball on this little adventure, as did Mom. Afterward we went to out dinner again (Friday & Saturday night too!). Lobster, steak, family, wine, love and a cemetery—all in all, a pretty unique way to celebrate a birthday!

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 2:00 PM 1 comments

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hot. Hot! HOT!!

From Donna

Hot, Hot, HOT!!!

The air conditioner in my car died. Just died, unceremoniously. One minute I was cool, singing along with Mary J. Blige (“Too strong for too long, and I can’t be without you, baby). Next moment there’s oven air blowing at me through the vents. I pushed buttons like a crazy woman. ‘Off’ was the only one that changed the situation. Notice I didn’t say made it better, although I guess still hot air is better than blowing hot air. I was not happy. I was even less happy when I took it to the shop and found out it would be $2,200 to fix it (Are you kidding!!!). Now, the economics of $2200 spent on a 9 year old car sporting 105,000 miles was clear to me—not happening!

Of course it waited until scorching, humid August to croak—it’s some law of the mechanical universe. I, however, decided I could take it. I reminisced about how we didn’t have air conditioning when I was a girl—not in the house, or in the car. Oops, we didn’t have a car. Anyway, back in the good old days (yeah, right) we got by with window fans, so I could do it now. We are all so spoiled by our gizmos and gadgets. Our foremother’s got by with no fans, or cars, or phones or shoes or. . . blah, blah, blah. Uh huh, right.

So, I’ve been driving around with the windows rolled down, like in the olden days. Did I mention there is no breeze when the car is stuck in traffic? Or that I now believe the inventor of the Easy-Bake Oven got the idea while stopped in a traffic jam, because I truly think I could bake cookies on the dashboard. I have to fight the urge to run over pedestrians and other vehicles because I want to keep going so I can catch a breeze. And that sweat drips off the ends of my hair and runs in rivulets down my face, and glues my skirt to my thighs—not cute. Or that now I remember clearly how hot I used to be as a kid, stretched out in my bed, PJ’s stuck to my body, tryin’ to get to sleep?

OK, it’s official. I have been spoiled by gadgets. So, I am officially longing for fall—sweater, anyone. And when it gets really bad, I may have to borrow my husband’s car. He barely uses it anyway.

Stay cool!

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 9:07 AM 1 comments

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What We Did on Our Summer Vacation

We hope you all are staying cool and having some hot fun this summertime. We’ve been under the radar for a bit, but definitely not idle.

Usually you write your, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” essay when you get back to school, but since neither of us is matriculating (and we haven’t for a LONG time), we thought we’d get a head start. The first half we spent writing, and we are ecstatic to announce we have finished our next novel. It’s called Uptown and we had a ball bringing back two characters that readers of Better Than I Know Myself have grown to know and hate—Dwight Dixon and his ‘take no prisoners’ daddy, King Dixon. Many of you wanted to know what happened to Dwight after Jewell left him at the altar. Well, he has joined the family real estate empire and he is developing luxury real estate in newly gentrifying Harlem. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, get ready because there is plenty of family intrigue to go around. Dwight’s cousin, Avery Lyons is back in New York after almost twenty years and her presence definitely stirs up the mix. Now, it’s always hard to judge a book when you finally write, “The End,” but our editor loved it so much she kissed the manuscript when she finished reading! We were too tickled when she told us.

We got the cover for Uptown even before we finished writing, and we have to tell you, we love it! We’ll share it with you soon, but we keep peeking at it and grinning. Uptown will be out in March 2010, so we’ll keep you posted. In the mean time, we are taking a chill—and working on the plot of our next book.

As most of you know, we lost a unique voice this summer with the passing of E. Lynn Harris. He was generous and open with fellow writers, and supportive of up and coming writers, like Celia Anderson, whose young adult novel, Love, Ocean he championed. We are reminded, and hope others are too, to cherish every moment, and to pay attention to our health. Maybe we can all get our blood pressure checked in his honor and if it’s high take steps to get it under control.

And just a reminder that our last book, What Doesn’t Kill You, is in the running to receive an Open Book Award for Best Fiction at the African American Literary Awards Show. Now, this is where you come in. This is reader’s choice and your votes will determine the winner. Voting is open until September 4th, so we hope you will log on and give us a vote. There are lots of your favorites nominated, and many categories so we hope you have fun and let your voice be heard. And definitely pass the info on to other book lovers so they can join in too. You can cast vote at: AALAS Award Vote Here (

The African American Literary Awards Show will be held on September Thursday, September 24th. Hope to see you there.

Stay cool, enjoy the rest of your summer, and Happy Reading!

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 4:49 PM 0 comments

Thursday, August 13, 2009

California Book Club Summit

Next month we will be participating in the very first EVER, California Book Club Summit ( and we are totally jazzed and excited. The Summit organizers do a great job of keeping us tantalized about the conference events with regular updates via their Summit Newsletter. However the latest edition focuses on the bookseller, the legendary Marcus Books and we wanted to share it with you--so with permission we are happy to post the following and we hope you take the message to heart and into supporting local business in your communities--wherever they may be!

Dear Summit Participants,

As we get closer to the Summit dates, so many people are sharing with me their feelings about supporting our authors and bookstores. In these challenging economic times with many African American businesses hard pressed to stay afloat, it is more important than ever to support them whenever and wherever we can. There are very few African American owned bookstores left in this country. Far too many black readers have been seduced away from our independent bookstores by the mega stores like Borders, Barnes & Nobel and the internet giants like Amazon. Articles have been circulating on the internet lately that publishing giant and black household favorites Ebony and Jet may be folding. Wouldn't it be a shame if our children and grandchildren grew up without knowing the pride of reading about "our people" in books and magazines written by our people? Support for the African American owned independent bookstores is crucial if this rich heritage is to go into the future with us as black people in some of the most politically significant times in the history of the planet. Black pride means black support on all levels.

The California Book Club Summit is proud to have Marcus Bookstore, the nation's oldest African American independently owned and operated bookstore, as its host bookstore for this inaugural event in September. Marcus Books will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2010. Their booth will be available throughout the Summit weekend for your purchasing needs and owner Blanche Richardson will speak at the Summit on the importance of collecting first edition autographed books and creating a personal library. Read the rich and colorful history of the store below. Order your books directly from them now and be sure to stop by and meet them at the Summit. Keep our authors writing and selling their books with the help of stores like Marcus Bookstore. See you at the Summit!!

Marcus Book Store - The History
Marcus Book Stores has been on the fore-front of the literary business for 49 years. Printing, packaging and promoting authors across the world. The oldest independently owned black book store in the country has catered to every level of reader in the community and abroad. This bookstore has been a pillar in northern California's political, social and economic structure. Founded and deeply rooted in the service of the people has afforded this classic institution the longevity thus far. Entering the half century mark for any business in this changing climate is an accomplishment in itself; however Marcus Books has continued to be the example of steadfast self determination.

Literary giants, award winning poets, music moguls, championship athletes, and entertainers from every aspect of the African-American experience and community have graced and embraced this national treasure as a sacred and hallowed sanctuary of knowledge and opportunity. Relentlessly establishing the importance of reading and critical thinking by opening the services of this entity to more than mere book or periodicals sales. Marcus Books is host, partner, affiliate or in conjunction with some of the most high profile, informative, exciting and free events in the bay area.

Three generations of the Richardson family have dedicated time and energy into this establishment. Here now 49 years later, with two bay area locations (San Francisco & Oakland), Marcus Books wants to continue serving the community and continue creating opportunities where there are none. It is a legacy too strong to break yet pushed to
the limits every year. If you have yet to visit either store, we invite you now. With your help and patronage this American Dream can continue to educate for another 50 years.

The Founders

Founded Marcus Book Stores in 1960 and hasn't stopped shaping and molding young minds since. Raye and Rich, as they are affectionately known as, met in Alabama at Tuskegee University. Both hold doctoral degrees and have taught students and scholars alike. Raye is the former department chair of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University and the Julian Richardson Press Company has printed and published over 40+ titles, in particular "Stolen Legacy" by George GM James.

Among Rich's literary and scholastic prowess he was an avid musician and found a perfect pitch once he and his new partner arrived in 'Harlem West'. Raye and Rich raised four children through the fragile fifties and stimulating sixties. To date, the Richardson family is vast and still continuing in the tradition set by Raye and Rich.

The blessed and fruitful union of these two is the backbone to Marcus Books. The very essence of the stores is embodied in the two who founded this great and powerful business turned catalyst. This venture was named after the honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Dr's. Raye and Julian Richardson have honored his memory and purpose by dedicating so much to so many.


Let's support ourselves, our authors and our bookstores by making The California Book Club Summit a weekend of African American literary celebration. See you at the Summit!!!

Sigrid Williams
The California Book Club Summit

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 1:49 PM 0 comments
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