Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to welcome Andrea Hairston to our Spotlight blog! Andrea has won multiple awards for her fiction and theatre contributions, and she will be at our bookstore on June 25, from 4:00 – 6:00 PM with Jennifer Allis Provost and musician Pan Morigan for an afternoon of Banjos, Attitude, and Magick.
Thank you so much for joining us, Andrea! We’re happy to have you at our store and our blog. For those who don’t know about you and your work, what can you tell us about yourself?
I am the author of Redwood and Wildfire, winner of the 2011 Tiptree and Carl Brandon Awards, and Mindscape, winner of the Carl Brandon Award. Lonely Stardust, a collection of essays and plays, was published in 2014. My latest play, Thunderbird at the Next World Theatre, appears in Geek Theater. My third novel, Will Do Magic For Small Change came out in May 2016. In my spare time I’m the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Africana Studies at Smith College and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. I bike at night year round, meeting bears, multi-legged creatures of light and breath, and the occasional shooting star.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1950s, I planned on being a theoretical physicist or a mathematician. But I come from a family of storytellers, of big talkers and tall taletellers. Nobody in my family ever knew when to shut up. This got me into hot water at school. My mother was desperate and said, “If you get bored, write stories for me. Don’t disturb the other kids. They’re trying to learn.” Keeping out of trouble, I wrote epic adventure sagas for her. I’ve been writing epic adventure sagas ever since.
In college on the way to a physics/math major, I shifted to theatre and to writing and directing plays. My first full-length play was an alternate reality play about Einstein in which Marie Curie was a black woman revolutionary. There was singing and dancing, mystery and magic, science and comedy, and revolution of course.
Why Science Fiction and Fantasy?
In 1984, I was heading to the Gambia in West Africa, but I went to Germany instead. I’d studied the language because of my interest in German theatre and the Neue Welle—the new wave of German filmmakers. This was my first long stay outside of the United States, my first safari into a foreign culture—which of course turned into a journey into myself, an exploration of my world view, and an excavation of my identity, my country, my home. In the ‘80s Germans were always trying to rent me “girl’s” bicycles, with the crossbar curved down to accommodate my skirts. I didn’t ride “girl’s” bikes in the 1950s back in Pittsburgh. In the ‘80s, sweet old German ladies were always warning me to watch my bag around the former Yugoslavians who looked just like the other white people to me! Africans were still a Dark Continent exotic clump, but they were hard working refugees and engineers in Munich. Germans thought I was African because I spoke German, but a typical American because I went jogging every day. People in Germany did not mirror the Andrea back to me that people in the USA did. Germans also biked in rain storms and took theatre and artists seriously. This was all a great revelation. I was still on Earth, but it felt like a different planet than what I had grown up in.
In 1995, I decided to write science fiction and fantasy novels while a guest professor teaching African American Women’s Theatre at the Universität Hamburg. Now, at this point, finally, I was at home, but my Germany was Southern Germany, Bavaria. My German Family is from near Munich and I absorbed their values, gestures, and prejudices. So I felt like an alien marooned in Hamburg, in North Germany, across the white sausage border! (Northerners eat red sausage!)
While teaching in Hamburg I went to an international conference where many people were eulogizing Africa, proclaiming her demise, mourning the impossibility of any sort of African survival. Decolonizing the African (native) spirit was a hopeless futile fantasy. Folks kept telling me, the savages had to become civilized westerners! People have been telling me some version of that all my life. Actually it has been mostly men, like at this conference, talking over what the women were saying or trying to say before they got interrupted. I snapped. I used my theatre voice and good German to proclaim that there are other stories to tell! (Es gibt doch andere Geschichten zu erzählen!) And we were going to tell them so they had to shut up and listen! (Wir erzählen jetzt und Sie schweigen und hören zu.)
I wrote my first science fiction novel, Mindscape, because I wanted to imagine the wondrous world I want.
What sort of research goes into your writing?
Will Do Magic For Small Change is about theatre, physics, and bold girls who want to live and love out loud and on stage when folks would rather they fade into blackness!
I have always been interested in stories that haven’t been told, in characters who have been left out of the official narratives of the “American nation” or who don’t play on the world stage; I am curious about the lives that don’t get written down. I want to explore voices that were/are barely heard and I insist on telling of the unknown people who made me and all of us possible. I have been researching West African cultures and Native American cultures since I was fourteen. This is important to all my books. I am an Afro-Futurist committed to Indigenous Futurism. That means writing an alternate past and future.
To write Will Do Magic For Small Change, I researched Dahomey, West Africa and their warrior-women (who eventually fought French colonialists in fierce battles). After Dahomey’s defeat, a troupe of “exotic savage African women” performed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Nobody really talked to the warrior women or the performers so to tell a story about them, so I had to speculate on the scant historical record. By the mid- 19th century, Dahomey’s elite had grown rich selling slaves to the Europeans. The King of Dahomey bypassed the nobles and governed using a cadre of commoners whose status depended on his authority. Women had considerable power in Dahomey’s fluid if hierarchical society and could rise from slave to Kpojito—ruling consort of the king. Each male bureaucrat/agent working in the countryside was overseen by a woman courtier. The courtiers scrutinized the bureaucrat’s activities and advised the King.
Taiwo (my character) is one the so-called “Black Amazons” –wives of the King—not his bedmates, but his assassins and bodyguards, his army and political advisors. I explore what might have happened to such a woman. An alien from another dimension is a witness to her life.
What are some specific things you can share with us—no spoilers—about Will Do Magic For Small Change?
Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire. But at 5’10’’ and 180 pounds, she’s theatrically challenged. Her family life is a tangle of mystery and deadly secrets, and nobody is telling Cinnamon the whole truth. Before her older brother died, he gave Cinnamon The Chronicles of the Great Wanderer, a tale of a Dahomean warrior woman and an alien from another dimension who perform in Paris and at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Chronicles may be magic or alien science, but the story is definitely connected to Cinnamon’s family secrets. When an act of violence wounds her family, Cinnamon and her theatre squad determine to solve the mysteries and bring her worlds together.
So, about the banjo…?
I perform sections from Will Do Magic For Small Change and musical dynamo, Pan Morigan, sings songs she has written based on lyrics from the book. The melodies are influenced by blues, Irish music, and something indefinable—wild, syncretic.
Where can we get your book—besides ABSW?
Buy the book from Aqueduct Press: http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/978-1-61976-101-8.php
Or your local bookstore.
And how can we follow all your awesomeness?
Thank you so much for joining us, Andrea! We are looking forward to having you on Saturday, June 25, from 4:00-6:00 PM, with Jennifer Allis Provost and Pan Morigan.