Bernice McFadden, left, and Courttia Newland at McNally Jackson

Bernice McFadden, left, and Courttia Newland at McNally Jackson

With the end of Black History Month fast approaching, tonight I attended an event at McNally Jackson that marked the month with readings from two black authors – one from the U.S., the other from the U.K.

Going to McNally Jackson – a gorgeous independent store on Prince and Mulberry streets – is a treat in itself. Their displays are twee but immaculate and their corner coffee shop is inviting. The store also holds a few readings a week (with complimentary drinks wooo) but even though it’s just four blocks north of my flat, I’ve never been to one.

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At tonight’s event, Bernice L. McFadden and Courttia Newland (a London lad) answered questions posed by Tracey Smith from Go On Girl! Book Club before reading from their latest novels.

They were quizzed about their writing processes (McFadden needs silence and melancholy; for Newland, who managed to complete his first novel despite the racket in his family’s tiny west London flat, there is no process at all) and why they wanted to write (Mcfadden – to conjure memories, Newland – to conjure the now so that the past could be seen in the future).

Neither has ever had any formal training, but they both said they just knew how to write. Newland even said he tried to fight writing because he found it a shameful profession – yet he just couldn’t keep away. And when they read aloud from their books, this sense of innate rhythm was unmistakable.

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In particular, Newland’s adolescent dabbling with rapping really came through in his prose as he read from The Gospel According to Cane. Each of his short, punctuated sentences seemed so perfectly created, without any words going spare.

They also both revealed they had been put off by the thought of writing when they were young because they simply didn’t think there were writers like them – black, working class. Yet as she became older, McFadden realised there were authors like Toni Morrison, and she could do it after all. For Newland it was more the desire to be the first person representing who he was and where he came from.

It was an interesting insight and great to do something to mark the month. The only thing I don’t get is why there were about 15 people in the audience. These are top notch authors! It was at McNally Jackson! There was free beer!

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