NEW YORK – In honor of its 40th anniversary, Essence magazine is bringing back an old friend: Terry McMillan.
A few pages of excerpts from McMillan’s “Getting to Happy,” a sequel to her million-selling “Waiting to Exhale,” will appear in the next four issues of Essence, starting with the June edition, which came out this week. It’s a familiar place for McMillan, whose ties to the magazine date back to the 1970s, when she was in college and won an Essence writing contest.
“They’re like family,” McMillan, whose book comes out this fall, says of Essence, “and Essence readers have been a large part of my audience.”
Essence senior editor Patrik Henry Bass noted the magazine’s long support for black women writers, including Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor. When Essence started, Morrison’s debut novel, “The Bluest Eye,” had just been released. Walker was years away from writing “The Color Purple” and Toni Cade Bambara had yet to publish her first book.
“Nobody in the mainstream media was paying attention to these women,” Bass says.
“We wanted to do something special for the anniversary and when I heard that Terry was writing `Getting to Happy,’ I said, `Terry, what do you have so far? Could you do something original for us?’ And she said, `Well, I just finished the sequel and we thought, “Why not do excerpts?”‘ She couldn’t believe it, because so few people do excerpts anymore.”
McMillan’s “Waiting to Exhale,” published in 1992, tells of the personal and professional conflicts of four women living in Phoenix. The novel sold more than 1 million copies and is still cited as a landmark for convincing publishers of the large audience size for black fiction.
McMillan, whose other books include “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and “The Interruption of Everything,” said she had no intention of writing a sequel to “Exhale” until she spoke at a church in Oakland, Calif., around a year ago. A resident of the Bay area, the author was still getting over her vicious, public feud with ex-husband Jonathan Plummer and read a poem about her experience.
“So these women responded big time to this poem, and there was this aura, women crying and all kinds of stuff. When it was time to sign books, there were women I had gone to college with, women who had been ex-professors, financial aid counselors. I spoke to them and realized how many of them had never been married, how many were divorced, how many never had children,” she says.
“I wanted to be able to dramatize that in some way. I didn’t want to tell just one woman’s story. And that’s when it dawned on me that I had four women I might be able to turn to. I got the paperback off the shelf and looked over it and said, `You know, they were the perfect candidates.'”
McMillan, 58, is a native of Port Huron, Mich., who, in 1987, self-published her first novel, “Mama.” She became a major best seller with “Disappearing Acts” and a superstar after “Waiting to Exhale.” Her appeal has long been her rough take on relationships, a knack that Essence seems to have appreciated long ago. The topic for the magazine’s writing contest: Are black men and women closer than they used to be, or further apart?
|Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.A Page From Our American Story
In the first half of the twentieth century, Americans became fascinated with photo journalism. Pictures were literally “worth a thousand words” as full-color magazines and tabloid newspapers became the rage.
Publications targeted to African American audiences that featured illustrations and photographs began appearing in the early 1900s. One of the earliest to effectively use illustrations and photography was The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP. Seeking to educate and inform its readers with scholarly articles, the covers of the journal and its entertainment section were designed to appeal to the masses of African Americans.
In the 1930s, we see pictorial magazines such as Abbott’s Monthly, published by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper, and Flash, which billed itself as a “weekly newspicture magazine.” Published in Washington, D.C., Flash contained a mixture of news, gossip and advertisements and articles on racial issues, providing an overview of the highs and the lows of Black life in the 1930’s.
In 1942, African American businessman John H. Johnson founded the Johnson Publishing Company, a corporation that would go on to publish the well-known magazines Ebony, Jet, Tan, and Ebony Jr. The magazines promoted African American achievements and affirmative black imagery in popular culture, which appealed to readers … and to advertisers. Mr. Johnson was a savvy businessman and used the statistics of a rising black middle class to persuade companies and businesses that it was in their economic “self-interest” to advertise in his magazines to reach African American consumers.
With the success of the Johnson Publishing Company’s magazines, other magazines targeted to African Americans quickly came on the scene. For example, in 1947 Horace J. Blackwell published Negro Achievements, a magazine highlighting African American success articles and featuring reader-submitted true confessions stories. After Blackwell died in 1949, a white businessman named George Levitan bought the company and renamed the publication Sepia. This publication featured columns by writer John Howard Griffin, a white man who darkened his skin and wrote about his treatment in the segregated South, that eventually became the best-selling book Black Like Me.
Whether featuring positive images of African Americans, inspiration stories, news features or commentaries on racism, the rise of African American magazines defied long-held racial stereotypes through rich storytelling, in-depth reporting, and stunning photography.
Due to a variety of economic, editorial, and other factors, most of these magazines have ceased being published. Yet today some African American magazines are still a thriving part of popular culture. Johnson Publishing Company’s Ebony and its digital sites reach nearly 72% of African Americans and have a following of over 20.4 million people.
To read past Our American Stories, visit our archives.
Julian Bond came of age during that critical time in this nation’s history when winning equal rights for all took a great deal: a clear head, a big heart, a razor-sharp intellect, and a way with words.
Julian Bond had it all. And he could wrap all of it up to create whatever was needed at the time – either a tool or a weapon, a poem or a sermon. He was driven by a commitment to make America better.
While a Morehouse-based member of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helping to organize the Freedom Summer of 1964 and its massive voter registration drive in Mississippi, Julian Bond took to task the American public and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“We have learned through bitter experience in the past three years that the judicial, legislative and executive bodies of Mississippi form a wall of absolute resistance to granting civil rights to Negroes. It is our conviction that only a massive effort by the country backed by the full power of the President can offer some hope for even minimal change in Mississippi.”
Those words came from a letter Julian Bond wrote on April 28, 1964 to one of America’s most inspiring writers, James Baldwin. He was writing to encourage Baldwin to join a “jury” to hear “testimony” about Civil Rights violations from African Americans facing discrimination in employment, housing, and voting rights in Mississippi. Under a plan designed by SNCC and other members of the Council of Federated Organizations, the testimony would be presented to the President so he would be moved to create a government-sanctioned way to protect the Freedom Summer workers.
“The President must be made to understand that this responsibility rests with him, and him alone, and that neither he nor the American people can afford to jeopardize the lives of the people who will be working in Mississippi this summer by failing to take the necessary precautions before the summer begins.”
Bond’s letter to Baldwin has entered the collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It will be used alongside similar documents to show how people like Julian Bond helped design and fuel the Civil Rights Movement.
Bond was so committed to helping us tell that story well, that he became a member of the museum’s Civil Rights History Project advisory committee. In that role he helped us land interviews with some of the most important workers in the movement; he also conducted two of the more than 150 interviews for this oral history project. One was with Lawrence Guyot, the director of the 1964 Freedom Summer project in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Julian Bond wrote his letter to James Baldwin in 1964 at the age of 23. Less than three years later he would be awarded his seat in the Georgia House of Representatives by a unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Four years after that, in 1971, he would become the founding president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Nearly 30 years later, in 1998, he would take the helm of the NAACP serving as its national chairman for an astonishing 12 years.
Julian Bond has spent his life as a champion in the campaign for equality. Much of what we as a nation know about compassion and commitment, we have learned from Julian Bond, the people he emulated and the people he inspired. We are sad because he has left us. And we are deeply honored that we had him for as long as we did … to help us help America live up to her promises. We are better people because he walked among us for a while.
Thank you, Horace Julian Bond.
Freedom’s Sisters is an exhibition created by Cincinnati Museum Center, organized for travel by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services, and made possible by a grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund.
Presented locally by Macy’s.
Freedom’s Sisters is the first and most comprehensive traveling exhibit on women in the Civil Rights movement, focusing on the lives and contributions of 20 African American women – from key 19th century historical figures to contemporary leaders – who have fought for equality for people of color. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will be moved and inspired by the stories of the women celebrated in this interactive exhibit. Created by Cincinnati Museum Center, in collaboration with The Ford Motor Company Fund, and Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), Freedom’s Sisters made its world premiere at Museum Center, and has now embarked on a three-year, nationwide tour. To see the full itinerary, click here.
Programming and Events
As Museum Center worked with Ford and SITES to develop the exhibit, a primary goal was to help encourage the next generation of leaders through dialogue on the civil rights struggle, past, present and future. Reaching young people was a crucial component of the exhibit’s mission. With Macy’s as the local presenting sponsor, 1,000 under served school children from the community joined the thousands of others who were able to see and benefit from this groundbreaking experience.
When Freedom’s Sisters opened on March 15, 2008, Museum Center was delighted to host all five of the “living legends” highlighted in the exhibit including: Myrlie-Evers Williams, Sonia Sanchez, Charlayne-Hunter Gault, Dr. Dorothy Height and Kathleen Cleaver. Several of these remarkable women returned to Cincinnati in July for the national N.A.A.C.P. convention. Myrlie-Evers Williams, in her address to conventioneers said that Freedom’s Sisters at Museum Center “was not to be missed!”
In association with Freedom’s Sisters, Museum Center hosted a poetry slam during National Poetry Month in April. An incredibly enthusiastic and diverse crowd turned out for the event—many of whom were brave even enough to get on the mic! In May, Museum Center presented a lecture by Darlene Clark Hine, Ph.D. Hine, who is considered a pioneer of African American women’s studies scholarship, was named Museum Center’s Distinguished Historian for 2008.
To provide a local tie, the Cincinnati History Museum developed a Cincinnati’s Freedom Sisters floor program, designed to educate children about the Civil Rights movement in Cincinnati. Through interactive smartboard activities students were able to access primary source material, and oral history interviews.