writin' and whatnot

About the book cover

Recently, I received an incredible comment from "Hillary" who read WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST, enjoyed it, but felt that the book cover was a bit dissonant in relationship to the actual story. She states: "So I’m wondering, as the author, what are your thoughts about the book’s cover? To me it seemed incongruous with the story. Striking in its imagery of the hard, cold gun encased in the beautiful and colorful, soft knitting. And probably attention-getting on a shelf full of books screaming “buy me” and perhaps marketed to a certain segment of the reading population. But I didn’t think the gun was central to your story, and in that way I thought it was misleading in its representation of the characters, and Ali, and the tale you so lovingly told."

First let me say, thank you for your comment and for even asking about why we chose what we chose for the cover. I really appreciate you reading the book and engaging in some critique of some of the choices made.

To answer your question, the book cover is a bit incongruous. You're right. And that's what my editor and I both wanted. I can't stand book covers that tell the whole story. I prefer symbolism, some distance from the plot, some inference. It's sort of like the old Velvet Underground album cover with the banana. The banana has nothing to do with the album. It's just a dope piece of art by Andy Warhol. Now, I'm not going that abstract here. What we were trying to communicate in an eye-catching way, is the relationship between hard and soft, between aggressive and compassionate, between violence and peace. That's a motif throughout the story, that Ali battles with, his father battles with, Noodles, Malloy who lost his legs, the neighborhood in general. So the handgun, a symbol we naturally equate to violence, has been knitted over, which is something we naturally equate to tranquility. Not to mention the knitting is a direct reference to Needles, of course, and the gun, more of a reference to John and his struggles and what his son thinks...(I don't want to spoil the book for those haven't checked it out yet!)

And lastly, Hillary, you're right. It is a "Buy Me" cover. But more than that, it's the kind of cover that (hopefully) will spark questions like these. When a young person sits on the train and reads it, another teenager might ask, "what is that?" and to me, that alone is HUGE. Why not be provocative if it promotes reading?

I hope this answers your question, or at least gives you some of the thought process behind the gun. It wasn't just an arbitrary image, or even just a hook. It's just symbolic, which is my preferred style.

Thank you so much, Hillary, for commenting and engaging. Seriously. It means the world to me that you've read the book, thought about it, and realized that the cover didn't work for you. I'm all about discourse, disagreement, analysis, and all that, so please know that in the future, if there's something else of mine you read in the future or another one of my covers you see that you don't think works, air it out. Let me know. And I mean that! :)


Day 18 of 30

JENE'S GIRLS Jene got three little girls who look like their daddy but God already took daddy back to the lighthouse

so these three little girls already know what it's like to capsize in the blue out of the blue

found out mommy could inflate could become a raft to get her girls back to shore to safety

where she teaches them that the water is fickle spastic uncertain and mommy as a raft may not always have air

and even though daddy is in that lighthouse shining on the three of them Jene teaches the three of them to lock arms


and forever be each other's life guards

Day 17 of 30

THE TYPE OF WOMAN the type of woman that even with her body imploding in slow motion tubes running through her like subway tunnels beeping machines beeping beats of a fluttering heart beaten arrested muscles fossilizing under paper skin yeast-filmed tongue swollen obstructive as she coughs and hacks up the words

baby reach in my purse and grab my lipstick

Day 16 of 30

CREATION Seems like God made man marionettes molded from wet sand and ether born in a furnace world our weird toy hands tight on the thermostat turning up

Seems like glass has always been our destiny both transparency and reflection always our purpose

Day 14 of 30

UNTITLED I was born behind a crimson veil That was passed to me through DNA And in order for me not to fail I must somehow tear that veil away

Must somehow tug a loosened thread Until the hatred hem is torn To finally lift the heavy red That's blocked my view since I was born

I'll snip and clip at every scar Let fabric feather to the floor To see us all for who we are And see the world for so much more

Day 12 of 30

WE Like water we are an inviting people waves like rolling diamonds we will bathe you cleanse you restore your faith in your own ability to float

But don't ever think this water is yours Don't try to build a reef or recreate the way of the waves

or we will roll you over roll you out to where the diamonds are more like coal and show you what lies beneath

Day 11 of 30

SO-CALLED Love be possessing people

making people believe they've been made

better by being possessed and pushed deep into the pockets of

some so-called lover

good for when they need the touch of a tchotchke or a reminder to pretend that the snow in snow globes be real

like you some kinda rabbit's foot some kinda cheap finger trap some kinda thing to be had by someone other than you

like you ain't got pockets of your own

Day 10 of 30

BRICKS Had dinner with my heroes last night

They told me there was a house outside for me an old unfinished house they had been building and bricking in for me a house that I had already proudly lived in for years

We had wine bread and fish miracle food And they insisted that I eat up

because after dinner we'd switch places finally they'd rest and I'd have to lift it a whole house of crosses and heroes and tradition

a house whose comfort I had relished in without ever thinking about all the laid bricks or the backs it had been built on

Day 9 of 30

TURBULENCE At thirty thousand feet in the middle of blue nothing turbulence makes me feel like maybe I'm flying into the upset stomach of God

And all I can hope

as thirty thousand feet trample my courage is that somehow God will fly into the upset stomach of me

Day 8 of 30

MY MOTHER'S HANDS (clearly, I'm a bit obsessed with hands) My mother's hands look like covers on an unmade bed

each skin canal carrying years of cotton and catastrophe and white crap from the ass of Jim Crow

three little girls in the back of a Buick leaving South Carolina is there Washington, DC is there Dr. King's grave is there Black people are born into the mail room is there thirteen years for a college degree is there mothering children that weren't hers is there divorce is there cancer is there

hard times hard folks trapped between hard folds

of hands

that when gripping my cheeks and yanking me in close for mother-kiss should scrape and break skin and leave me her son bloody and raw and sad

but those hands somehow always feel soft and warm

like covers on an unmade bed

Day 6 of 30

NOT TO CRY Instead of teaching my son not to cry

I will teach him not to taunt pain not to swallow the acid of masculinity for its toxins will eat at the lining of life

will un-net a crop of cold arrogance

its growing vines will wrap around hearts and up throats and out of mouths

and if not careful turn boys crying boys into dick-swinging briar patches

who stick and fight everything

including themselves

National Poetry Month, Day 1

So, today begins National Poetry Month, which for me and all my geeky poetry friends, means party time. Every year there is this challenge to write thirty poems in thirty days (which is hard and downright ridiculous, honestly) but this year, I've decided to give it a go! CHA-LAWNGGGGEEEE


is just so hard to explain.

Imagine waking up and someone, a stranger,

has you strapped down, has pliers shoved into your mouth, gripping a tooth

somewhere in the back, one of the big important ones,

and rips it out.

Imagine the knocking in your head, the pressure pushing through your ears, the blood pooling.

But the worst part, the absolute worst part,

is the constant slipping of your tongue into the new empty space, where you know

a tooth is supposed to be

but ain’t no more.