By Annelise Mampuya | June 2, 2016 | 12:00 PM
TORONTO—Firing up her 11th edition of Writing While Black Whitney French sits patiently in a quiet upstairs lounge at Harlem Restaurant, situated in the heart of downtown Toronto, waiting for her meal to be brought up.
“I can’t believe I am actually this organized tonight, I actually have time to eat!” she says, chowing down her meal as it arrives. “This needs more salt…and hot sauce”.
Writing While Black is a workshop tailored to black writers in any genre and at any level of experience. The objective: facilitating a safe space for writers where they can share and support one another through their artistic journey.
The event begins at 6:00 pm, but with many participants coming directly from work or from further into the city, people begin to trickle in by two’s and three’s. Clink! Clink! Goes the money jar and the night finally begins.
The lights are dim, the music is lightly playing the sweet sounds of Erykah Badu and the tables are set up with Whitney’s travelling black literature library.
Patiently waiting for the event to begin but hungry for a conversation, the early birds quickly get into an intense discussion on the representation of Precious in Sapphire’s Push and motion picture Precious. “It’s the kind of book that filled with intense suffering… as if all of the problems black women face falls on the shoulders of Precious.” says a participant.
Finally at 6:50 pm Whitney grabs our attention and we all follow her to sit in a semi-circle, notebooks out and pencils ready (or pen, etc.). We’re hungry. Tonight’s topic: Character Development Part 2.
Building up from part 1, the focus of the night is to learn about your characters purpose/objective in your story. Seems easy right? Well that’s where everyone got #mindf*cked.
To loosen up our brain engines, a writing prompt is given by random: “…but I guess you don’t want to have no baby right away, and I don’t have no protection. (James Baldwin, 1974)”. This seems too good to pass up, so instead of observing I join in. The responses are creative, deep and unique to each writer’s style and niche.
Whitney clears her throat, we are about to begin: Choose a character and write down their objective. Next, choose a character that has a strong influence on your first character and write down their objective. Finally, write down what sidetracks each character that may inhibit them achieving their objectives.
The room is filled with intense silence. The writers look nervously around at one another and ask for clarification. They begin again. For ten minutes some write, stop, cross out and erase their work.
“I don’t even know …who my characters are anymore, they just seem one dimensional now!” says a participant as she lifts her head up in frustration. This seemed to be the consensus around the room. The purpose of this exercise is to get the writers to explore more deeply into their characters objectives. The writers must be able to pick out any character and place them in another environment as a functioning character.
“I think we need to do this as homework and come back into the next event with our answers. I need more time!” says Irene Wachira. The room erupts with laughter, we all take a deep breath, exhale and the pressure is released.
The night ends with a role-playing segment meant to put a writer directly into the shoes of their characters. And what better way to put these writers on the hot seat? The Oprah Winfrey role playing show.
Next stop for me on this WWB Tour will be June 15th 2016 in Detroit, Michigan.