The Coffee Will Make You Black
Reading Group's On-line Chat Transcript for Our May Selection

Pictures of a Dying ManPictures of a Dying Man
(Click title or book to order online)

by Agymah Kamau

Format: Hardcover, 227pp.
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Pub. Date: September  1999 

This Discussion Occurred
June 7th 2000 9:00 PM EST

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[Thumper6488] Hello
aalbc> Agymah is having difficultly (technical) I'll keep you posted on his progress.
[carolinagirl] hi thumper
[carolinagirl] ok
[carolinagirl] i am really looking forward to this interview.
[Thumper6488] Good. I am too.
[Thumper6488] Did you enjoy the book
[carolinagirl] I read the book about three months ago, so I have been refreshing my memory
[carolinagirl] I liked the book alot. The writing is very good.
[carolinagirl] The story is also very good.
[Thumper6488] I agree.
[carolinagirl] I have yet to read his first novel.
[Thumper6488] Not yet. But, I plan on it.

[Thumper6488] I meant to say, me either
[carolinagirl] Where is Amygua located?
>> agymah has joined channel #XC.1141852
[Thumper6488] I think he lives in Virginia
[carolinagirl] HI
[carolinagirl] Hi Amygua. I think that he has joined us
[Thumper6488] Hello Agymah. Thanks for stopping by.
[carolinagirl] Must still be some technical difficulty
[agymah] This is Troy Logged on as Agymah. I'm on the phone with him and will be reading the posts and typing in his responses
[carolinagirl] I am getting a warning on my screen. I may be disconnected.
[carolinagirl] I have a question
agymah> Ok
[Thumper6488] carolinagirl: if you are disconnected, logg back on
[Thumper6488] What's the question
[carolinagirl] I am still here. The warning disappeared
[Thumper6488] Good.
[carolinagirl] What is your background as far as writing is concerned?
[carolinagirl] I have another warning sign.
agymah> I've been writing for ten years
[carolinagirl] Did you enroll in creative writing classes? Write poetry?
agymah> I studied with Paule Marshall in the MFA program at VCU in Richmond

agymah> I started my first novel flickering shadows in 1991
[carolinagirl] How did you become interested in writing?
agymah> that was published in 1996
[Thumper6488] Agymah: what was the inspiration behind Pictures of a Dying Man?
agymah> I wrote pictures in 1998, published last year
agymah> Inspiration -- I was interested in the issue of identity
[carolinagirl] Does the inspiration for writing come from oral histories that you have heard while growing up?
agymah> asking myself questions whether I'm who I think I am or the sum other people perceptions
agymah> Yes
agymah> My model is always the oral tradition
[aalbc] Are the characters reaL?
[carolinagirl] Humor is pervasive throughout the novel. Is this because you are an optimist about the human condition?
agymah> No it is all made up
agymah> No I think humor exists in even in tragic situations

[carolinagirl] Have you considered using another setting other than the Caribbean for other novels?
agymah> The t
agymah> The third novel is set in the US
[Thumper6488] After reading the book, Gladstone Belle was still a mystery to me. Did Gladstone understand himself?
[aalbc] This is a trilogy how are the stories connected
[carolinagirl] Are the characters from the Caribbean?
[carolinagirl] oh, i see
agymah> The stories are connected by theme some of the characters reappear in each story


agymah> Yes he understood himself, but nobody understood him
[carolinagirl] how long did it take to write the ...Dying Man?
[aalbc] Do consider him a positive character (Gladstone)
agymah> I was not thinking of that as I wrote the novel. I was thinking of him as a human being 
with the strengths and weaknesses


agymah> Three months
[Thumper6488] I know this may sound like a silly question, but I have to ask. Who was the narrator.?
[Thumper6488] What was his name?
agymah> I wrote them while i was at two writers colonies, writing sometimes 18 hours a day
[aalbc] that is amazing
[carolinagirl] I admire the way that you include issues such as class, race and gender in the novel. Do you see these as essential to your
- characters?
>> Thumper6488 has left channel #XC.1141852
agymah> The narrator was Gladstone's boyhood friend Vic, collecting other peoples stories and adding his own
>> Thumper6488 has joined channel #XC.1141852

agymah> I see them as essential topics that interest me as a writer
[carolinagirl] What writers, other than Paule Marshall, have inspired you to continue to write?
>> tabonnefee has joined channel #XC.1141852
agymah> Caryl Phillips, Ben Aokri, Gabriel Marquez, Earle Lovelace that is just part of the list.
[aalbc] Are the all writers from the Caribbean
[carolinagirl] Is that Ben Okri, the Nigerian born writer?
agymah> Aokri - Nigeria
agymah> Marquez - SA
[carolinagirl] I am not familiar with the name. What is a novel by this person?


agymah> Marquez?
[carolinagirl] No, Aokri. Do you write or type drafts of your work?
agymah> Famished Road
[carolinagirl] Oh, that is Ben Okri. Winner of the Booker Prize for the Famished Road.
agymah> Right - The typing error was Troy's (smile)
[Thumper6488] I love the way you weaved the supernatural into the story with Gladstone's spirit still walking the earth.
[carolinagirl] Thanks
agymah> I use a computer to type my books
[carolinagirl] I agree the supernatural inclusion is superb.
[carolinagirl] How much of the original writing of the novel were you able to retain after editing?
agymah> Growing up listing to stories that contained the supernatural -- that is part of caribbean culture
[Thumper6488] What I don't understand is, after Gladstone become a prominent politician, why did his mother still live in the old house? Why
- didn't her standard of living improve? Was she trying to be a martyr or something?


>> tabonnefee has left channel #XC.1141852
>> tabonnefee has joined channel #XC.1141852
[carolinagirl] I thought that that was her home. Home is where the heart is,
agymah> There are a number of things I left for the reader to speculate on
agymah> because none of the characters know the full story
[aalbc] it is sort of like the blind people touching the elephant and they all have different ideas of what an elepant is

agymah> That is true. If he offered her a new house, she probably would have refused -- but then we don't know that for sure
[Thumper6488] I guess that's what stumped me. I guess I was wanting at least one person to know everything.
agymah> That is funny ha hah ha
agymah> Life is not like tat no one know everything!
agymah> Life is not like that no one knows everything (sorry)
[carolinagirl] I felt like Miss Esther was happy right where she was. She was very provincial and set in her ways.
[Thumper6488] You're correct! But this is make believe. Therefore the rules don't apply. *LOL*

agymah> Ha Ha
[carolinagirl] I did not think of this as make believe. The characters were very real to me.
agymah> Thanks for the compliment
agymah> But it is my job to make the characters real

[Thumper6488] Carolinagirl: I think that Miss Esther had a martyr, self-sacrificing thing going on.
[carolinagirl] Yes, I could see these people in their day to day activity. I could visualize each one very well.
agymah> That is really flattering. I'm flattered by those compliments


[aalbc] Why did it take 3 year for your first book to be published - is that typical?
[carolinagirl] Yes, I loved this book and the characters. The people were very real to me. I began to understand better what an immigrant suffers
- coming to this country]
agymah> That is a hard questions to answer. Some people get published right away, but i suppose mine is about average
[carolinagirl] In particular, an immigrant from the Caribbean. I am not saying that this is the story of all immigrant sbut this one was very
- well

[carolinagirl] worded.
[carolinagirl] Also, the politics of a tiny island nation were well articulated. I thought the author covered the gamut in this book
agymah> The third boo focuses on the immigrant experience in the US-- at least one aspect of it
[carolinagirl] race, class, gender, politics, humanity


>> imani1 has joined channel #XC.1141852
[carolinagirl] Will there be as many characters as this book
[carolinagirl] hi imani
[imani1] Hi room
agymah> Whenever I receive compliments like that I feel my efforts are worth while
agymah> No
[carolinagirl] Will there be as many characters in your next novel as in ...Dying Man?
agymah> This will focus on fewer characters

[carolinagirl] Oh, I think that your response is no, right?
[carolinagirl] ok
[carolinagirl] Have you considered a female protagonist/narrator
agymah> right
[tabonnefee] I apologize for my late arrival and my lack of participation ... even though I am very much enjoying the book I have yet to finish it
agymah> Yes, but not in this third book, but at some point. I see that as a challenge


[carolinagirl] Have you ever thought ot writing plays or any of your novels for the big screen or theater?
agymah> I've considered writing screen plays
agymah> because movies reach a larger audience
[Thumper6488] Did your first book cover Vic and his mother's relationship?
agymah> But frankly I don't think Hollywood would be interested in my books
[carolinagirl] Is your work widely available in Barbados?
[tabonnefee] why is that?
agymah> Vic and his mother's relationship?: No Vic was not in the first book at all.
agymah> Unfortunately, no.
[carolinagirl] Are you sure that ;you do not know Gilbert/Miss Betty?
[carolinagirl] You stated earlier that this book is entirely fictive, Ihave a hard time believing that you do not know some of these people.
agymah> Because the same colonial distribution system exists. It would be easier to get my books into Barbados through a British publisher


[carolinagirl] Coffee House Press seems to be somewhat progressive. Is this so?
agymah> Hearty laughing -- No, I don't know Gilbert/Miss Betty
[tabonnefee] agymah ... I really enjoy your style of writing ... it truly draws me in
agymah> Coffee House publishes a wide range of literature. Caribbean, AA, Native American, Japanese -- they have a wide range of titles


[tabonnefee] I even began recommending this book, based on style alone, after the first 15 pages
[carolinagirl] The book was a page turner for me. I must admit that I have yet to read your first book.
agymah> Thanks
[carolinagirl] Who published your first book?


agymah> Coffee House
[carolinagirl] What (living) Caribbean writers do you admire?
agymah> Kamau Brathwaite, Earl Lovelace
agymah> Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat
[carolinagirl] What has Lovelace written and where is he from exactly? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
[carolinagirl] I love Danticat.
agymah> Trinidad & Tobago
[Thumper6488] Agymah: Did you see Pictures Of A Dying Man as being like Citizen Kane?
[carolinagirl] I also enjoy Patricia Powell.
agymah> One is "The Dragon Can't Dance", "The Wine of Astonishment" and the latest book is "Salt"
agymah> Citizen Kane: Oh no, the first person who said that was my publisher. I had no thought of Citizen Kane
[carolinagirl] Are there any black American writers that ;you enjoy?
agymah> John Wideman, John A. Williams
[Thumper6488] Agymah: After reading your book, I had no thought of Citizen Kane either.


agymah> I like Morrison as well
[aalbc] We have about 4 minutes left -- any remaining burning questions
[carolinagirl] I never thought of Citizen Kane. Your writing and this story is definitely uniquely your own.
[carolinagirl] Thank you Agymau. I will look for your next novel when?!!
[carolinagirl] I will also read your first novel this summer. Continue to tell the stories that ;you do.
agymah> I'm working on it now. I hope it will be out next Fall (2001)


agymah> Thank you I will try
[carolinagirl] Do you wire poetry?
[Thumper6488] Agymah: I have to tell you. I get a lot of request to consider this book or that book for our reading group. I am glad that you
- contacted me. I loved the book.
agymah> No
[Thumper6488] Thanks for coming.
[carolinagirl] I loved htis book. I am new to the group I would have recommended it.
agymah> Thank You
agymah> Thanks for your support
[Thumper6488] With a book as good as this one, it's not a problem.
[carolinagirl] Agymau Kamua is definitely a writer who has honed his skill.
[Thumper6488] OK, The next book is Manchild In The Promise Land.
[Thumper6488] The next meeting is July 5, 2000
[Thumper6488] same time, same channel
[carolinagirl] OK I plan to be there
agymah> I thank everyone for their support, and that they enjoyed the book. I especially enjoy the fact that everyone felt the characters were
- real. This makes me think I'm doing a good job
[Thumper6488] Ok, I have to go, the Pacers are playing LA
agymah> Good bye everyone.
[carolinagirl] You are
[carolinagirl] Good bye

 


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