Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jacqueline E. Luckett

Jacqueline E. Luckett worked in sales for Xerox for twenty years. During that time she married, raised a family, and took creative writing classes where she reignited her love of writing.

In 2004, she formed the Finish Party (featured in O Magazine, October 2007) along with seven other women writers-of-color. She calls these outstanding women her mentors and advisors, her friends and the toughest (and most loving) readers around.

Her new novel is Passing Love.

A few weeks ago I asked Luckett what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’m not really one for reading non-fiction, but lately a few titles have caught my attention. I’m nearly two-thirds through this one: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson.

Though I’d bought the book when it was first released, I shied away from it because I expected a dry compilation of facts and statistics. I bought the book because I felt it was a necessary addition to my library. Recently, after a friend read Wilkerson’s book and raved about it so much, I immediately took it off my shelf and began to read.

My parents came to California from Mississippi. My mother arrived, along with her three sisters, during World War II. My father came after serving in the Army. My parents had been sweethearts in Mississippi. Though he always said he intended to move to Seattle, I know my father came to California for my mother. They were married shortly after his arrival.

Little did I know that my parents were a part of the Great Migration that Wilkerson describes. The book reads like a great novel with beautiful language, interesting characters, and compelling stories. Wilkerson follows three Black Americans who left the South in the 30s,40s and 50s for what they believed would be better lives in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Though the stories are personal, they represent millions.

The narrative weaves smoothly between the three migrants—Robert, a doctor, George, an orange picker/activist, and Ida Mae, a sharecropper’s wife—in such a way that I feel their fear, the tension of their decisions to leave, the difficulty of finding jobs, traveling on the road, and the sad realization that, though more subtle (and often not), Jim Crow existed in nearly as large a scale in the North and the West as it did in the states they were fleeing.

Yet, the history is there: the treatment of sharecroppers, the clash between the haves and the have-nots, the reluctance to leave the only home some had ever known. Wilkerson tells all in anecdotes drawing from newspapers, history books, and the hundreds of interviews she conducted. There’s an intimacy to the book that makes me want to keep reading to find out what happens to each of the characters. When Robert Pershing drives through Arizona and is refused a motel room and forced to drive three-hundred miles without stopping, I’m with him. When Ida Mae fears that the sharecropper will keep her family from leaving his farm, I’m with her. When George runs for the next bus out of town because the orchard owners consider him a rabble-rouser, I’m with him. This involvement is exactly what I want from a good read.

The stories are the same ones all my relatives and parents experienced and lived. But that’s not what makes me enjoy this book. It’s well written, exciting, sad, and informative. It makes me think and to cherish, all the more, the sacrifices my parents made for my sister and me, so that we could have a prejudice-free, different, and better life. Their vision was exactly the same as all of those millions of black southerners who packed up all they had to live their dreams.

This book makes me proud, and though I’m fairly certain how the stories will end, as I move toward the last pages, I’m as excited to read as I am when I find a good novel. I want to know what happened to the characters and what events bring them to the end of their journeys—and, that’s what I want from any good book.

Wilkerson leaves her reader with much to think and talk about. The book inspires us all to speak to our elders and to learn their stories.
Visit Jacqueline E. Luckett's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Passing Love.

My Book, The Movie: Passing Love.

--Marshal Zeringue