What fictional character do you most identify with and why?The first character that leaps to mind is Harriet M. Welsch, the protagonist of Harriet The Spy, which I read when I was 10 or 11 and never got over. Harriet is smart, kind of arrogant, intensely observant, funny and altogether unforgettable. She set a high standard which I'm not sure I've lived up to. But she remains a role model--especially in her unblinking acceptance of ambiguity and the realization that complete honesty may not always be the best policy.
How do you live "quirky brown"? (quirky brown is my year long reading challenge focused on fiction depicting atypical Black experiences, like your work!)
A big part of my work is to posit the idea that there are no "atypical" black experiences. We live a million different ways and do a million different things. To define blackness or brownness as a set of behaviors or beliefs is I think, very problematic, especially at this time in history. This is not to say that there isn't an African-American culture--just that it shouldn't and needn't be a straitjacket. So I don't think I can really answer that. I live brown, as myself. I don't know if it's all that quirky.
What books would readers be most surprised to find on your bookshelves?
I have a number of Stephen King books. I think some of his early work is really compelling, entertaining and scary in a good way. Carrie,The Shining, Misery--all have a lot going for them. I particularly like the "revenge of the nerd" theme that he so often returns to. There have been times when I have found myself re-reading "Carrie" for comfort at stressful times (a little weird I know but hey...writers are weird) . I'm also a big fan of The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe--the template for Sex and the City and its ilk written way back in the late '50's.
Who's your favorite quirky brown author and why?
Of course, whenever people ask me this, I go immediately blank. So I'll name a recent book by a young novelist who I think works with (and ignores) race in an interesting way: Open City by Teju Cole. The character in this book is a young Nigerian-American psychiatrist. He is of course aware of his race but it's not the main thing on his mind. I think that's true of a lot of us these days and it's something I find interesting in his work (besides how beautifully written it is).
What's your favorite quirky brown book and why?
I think I'd have to say ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. When I read the title story in the New Yorker a number of years ago I said out loud--"That's me!" Finally some fiction that dealt with the experience of being in that all white elite world when you weren't all white and/or elite. Most of the other stories in the collection also deal with characters who are alienated for one reason and another, sometimes race, sometimes not. This resonated very deeply with me. And I know you just asked for one book but I've gotta give a quick shout-out to Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I love that book's enormous ambition and reach and it's willingness to let its nerd flag fly high.
What 5 songs would you consider the soundtrack to encompass your literary work?
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) The Temptations
Theme from Shaft Isaac Hayes
Nothing Compares 2 U Prince
All By Myself Eric Carmen
How can you mend a broken heart?--the Al Green version, not the Bee Gees
What 5 songs would you consider part of your life soundtrack?
Born to Run Bruce Springsteen
I Want You Back, The Jackson 5
A Hard Day's Night The Beatles
When Did I Fall In Love? Audra McDonald
Which, if any, of your works would you like to see in a film adaptation?
I'd love to see any of them in film and two of them (The Fall of Rome and Third Girl From The Left) have been under option for some time. I think Third Girl would make a really visually interesting film with all the different eras and beingpartially set in the film industry itself. But like I said--either, both--it's all good to me. I'd love to see The Taste of Salt made too. I should add--I'd like to see them made into good movies. A dear friend of mine had his book made into a bad movie and even though he tried to detach, it was hard. I can't say I'd turn the check down--but should any of them ever get made, I really want them to be good.
What's next for Martha Southgate?
A nap. I am writing this as I recover from a cold that really knocked me out. Then I'm off on more book promoting gigs--two conventions and a reading in Cleveland on October 20, then an appearance at the Books By the Bank festival on the 22nd. After that? I'd really like to make my way into some new fiction. I've got some ideas--they need some time and attention from me. I look forward to giving them that.