River, Cross My Heart Celebrates 20 years

River, Cross My Heart, the Oprah Book Club selection and debut novel by Breena Clarke celebrates twenty years since its publication. It’s now available in River, Cross My Heart Kindle edition.

River, Cross My Heart

“A genuine masterpiece … full of grace and beauty and profound insights … RIVER, CROSS MY HEART bears traces of Eudora Welty’s charm and Toni Morrison’s passion.” — The Baltimore Sun

Five-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. River, Cross My Heart weighs the effect of Clara’s absence on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city, to which they have moved in search of a better life for themselves and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara’s sister, ten-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions stirred by her sister’s death as she struggles to decide what kind of woman she will become.

Legends abound that the Potomac River is a widowmaker, a childtaker, and a woman-swallower. According to the most famous tale, the river has already swallowed three sisters–three Catholic nuns. Yet it did not swallow them, only drowned them and belched them back up in the form of three small rock islands. They lie halfway between one shore and the other, each with a wimple made of seabirds’ wings.

The Three Sisters is a landmark. When you say the Three Sisters, people know you’re going to tell about something that happened on the river to cause grief. And it isn’t really clear whether it’s the boulders or the river at that spot that causes the grief. Nobody in his right mind goes swimming near the Three Sisters. The river has hands for sure at this spot. Maybe even the three nuns themselves, beneath the water’s surface, are grabbing ankles to pull down some company.

–From River, Cross My Heart

Oprah and Breena in 1999

Being chosen for the Oprah Book Club and appearing on the Oprah show in November 1999 was a delight. The book club continues to bring “River, Cross My Heart.” to new readers. For the complete list of all of the Oprah Book Club selections, go to  BookRiot 

I’ll be reflecting on my work and celebrating River, Cross My Heart’s 20th anniversary at

Crossing Thresholds: 42nd Annual ODU Literary Festival, October 6-10

For more information, go to

Old Dominion University Lit Fest.

 

Our Trespasses

 

StewartMaria_132Prior to the great personal watershed of 1849 when he rescued my mother, then a child, Duncan Smoot was known on the underground circuit as The Moses of Octoraro Creek. Because of his exploits, he was well respected amongst those who knew and emulated the brave ones who worked to free people from slavery. However, in the course of rescuing Mother, he did something that curtailed his effectiveness as a conductor and troubled him for some time after.

from The Moses of Octoraro Creek by Breena Clarke, published in issue #5 STONECOAST REVIEW,  http://www.stonecoastreview.org a literary arts journal published biannually by students and alumni from the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing (University of Southern Maine). Breena Clarke is a member of the fiction faculty at Stonecoast. for more about the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing: http://www.stonecoastreview.org/our-staff/

read the story: http://bit.ly/28KVhj9

 

IMG_3709  Breena Clarke’s books are available in all formats.

Support your local bookstore, find it on Indiebound and order these titles today  www.indiebound.orgwww.indiebound.org

River, Cross My Heart

Stand The Storm

Angels Make Their Hope Here

for more information about Breena Clarke’s books: www.BreenaClarke.com

 

 

 

Our Father’s Days

 

She called him John Cleary. She was a sweet gal and she risked her life for me and the boy was mine. He was a cute little bastard.

Enter the mind of the bounty hunter, James Cleary. Read Breena Clarke’s riveting account,   “The People Catcher: Mr. Woolfolk’s Bounty” online at KWELI Journal, Truth From The Diaspora’s Boldest Voices        http://bit.ly/1ZcWlvG

Fugitives i color

for more information about Breena Clarke’s work: www.BreenaClarke.com

13th National Black Writers Conference

Books, Banter, Badinage, Brooklyn: talking about the Literature of the African Diaspora
Breena Professional Photo

I’m pleased and honored to be participating in the 

13th NATIONAL BLACK WRITERS CONFERENCE

WRITING RACE, EMBRACING DIFFERENCE

Thursday, March 31 – Sunday, April 3, 2016

on the campus of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. NY

presented by The Center for Black Literature

The mission of the Center for Black Literature is to expand, broaden, and enrich the public’s knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the value of Black literature. This upcoming national conference will do just that. There are four full days of events featuring writers discussing their work, their lives and the issues that are relevant to contemporary life and the African peoples’ presence. 

Former Poet Laureate, Rita Dove is Honorary Chair of the conference and Edwidge Danticat, Woodie King Jr., Michael Eric Dyson & Charles Johnson are 2016 NBWC HONOREES

I’ll be part of a panel with Coe Booth, D. Watkins and Michael Datcher discussing: Shaping Memories: The Odyssey to Adulthood, Sunday, April 3rd 3:00p – 4:15pm. 

We’ll be discussing our work and the themes and moral values that inform the often fraught journey from youth to adulthood for young people of African descent in the Americas. 

 To register and to see the complete schedule, link here:

http://bit.ly/1ofhWGQ

http://bit.ly/1LS1jwb  – link here for a complete list of writers participating in the 13th National Black Writers Conference.

Sisterhood on the Road

JournalingOne image of the novelist or poet is as a solitary figure trussed up in angst and identity and typing feverishly through the night. Most of a novel is written in a writer’s own inspirational cave though, a place with comforts and demons and solitude. But solitude can turn into isolation and isolation is antithetical to the ultimate outcome of writing a novel: readers, audiences, followers. The antidote to isolation is community.

Catskills landscape

In the fall of 2012, My sister, Cheryl and I began to plan a Festival for Women Writers in a one-of-a-kind village in the western Catskills, Hobart, NY, The Reading Capital of New York State and an authentic Book Village. The Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers debuted in Fall 2013. One of the nicest aspects of our Festival’s creation is that we didn’t bring community to Hobart. It already had camaraderie and enthusiasm about books and the arts and six independent book stores. We’ve brought women from the tri-state (NY, NJ & CT) area and across the country  with published work in poetry, fiction and non-fiction in all genres to read, offer workshops and sell their books on the weekend following Labor Day.  Along the way through three successful annual Festivals and in planning our fourth, we’ve made connections with a dazzling group of women who write.

LOGO 2016

Link here for a complete list of the outstanding women who will be Participating Writers for Festival of Women Writers 2016

http://bit.ly/1RJK3bn

Breena and Cheryl Clarke

Breena and Cheryl Clarke, co-organizers of HBV Festival of Women Writers

 I happy to say that I’ll be attending the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers 2016 for the first time this March. The Berkshire Festival is in its sixth year and like, Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers, offers a beautiful highland locale and enthusiastic engagement with the written word.

BFWW-2016-01-09

At the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, we’re always looking to expand our mission of nourishing the voices and visions of women of all ages and from many walks of life. Why is this important? Because the world needs the creative energy and vision of women now more than ever, and creative women need community to be fully activated and confident in their own work.

Berkshire Festival of Women Writers 2016

On March 12, 2016, 1:30p – 3:30p – I will join Cheryl Clarke, Mary Johnson and Esther Cohen for a panel discussion, An Unquenchable Thirst For Writing.

Cheryl Clarke, http://www.cherylclarkepoet.com/about/the author of four books of poetry, the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (2005), and her collected works The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (2006). After a distinguished career at Rutgers University, she co-founded The Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers and is author of the upcoming collection, By My Precise Haircut. 

Mary Johnson www.maryjohnson.co will read from her memoir, An Unquenchable Thirst, named one of 2011’s best by Kirkus Review and winner of the New Hampshire Literary Award for nonfiction. One of the founders of A Room Of Her Own Foundation, Mary served for more than a decade as Creative Director of Retreats for AROHO.

Esther Cohen, http://esthercohen.com/ the author of Don’t Mind Me: And Other Jewish Lies with illustrations by Roz Chast; the novels No Charge for Looking and Book Doctor; and two volumes of poetry,God Is a Tree and prayerbook, began Unseen America, an ongoing project in which homecare workers, migrants, nannies, and others among the working class tell their life stories through the photographs they take in their daily lives. She will read from her new collection of poems, I’m Getting Older.

And . . . Breena Clarke  www.BreenaClarke.com will read from her novel, Angels Make Their Hope Here, the story of a young girl’s harrowing journey to free herself and the complex, charismatic man who conducts her to Russell’s Knob, a haven for runaways in 19th century New Jersey.

We’re going to be discussing the Sisterhood of Writing and how we built and continue to build our writing communities through organizing Festivals and Retreats and creative opportunities for women writers.  We four have had varied careers and write in a variety of genres and styles. There are a lot of gates into the city of writing and we’ve each come through differently.

Why do we need Festivals for Women Writers? Writers are writers, right? And the best of them, whatever gender, will be well-read and successful, right? Sadly, no. Women are underrepresented in Literary magazines, book publishing and prizes. Check out:  VIDA COUNT Monthly update

Each year The VIDA Count compiles over 1000 data points from the top tier, or “Tier 1” journals, publications, and press outlets by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers, the “feeders” for grants, teaching positions, residencies, fellowships, further publication, and ultimately, propagation of artists’ work within the literary community. about VIDA COUNT

Also at The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers on Saturday, March 12 @10am – 12pm will be the electrifying Esther Cohen and Good Stories: The Deep Red Heart Of Life  a workshop for story lovers and story makers who want to make their own stories better.

Writing festivals and retreats offer enrichment opportunities that may have been, in the past, inaccessible for a lot of women who write and who aspire to be published writers. The workshop experience can be especially valuable if you didn’t come through an MFA program or you’ve spent twenty years behind a desk. These annual and bi-annual Festivals are organized geographically, but they’re supported and nurtured by social media and that gives them global possibilities.

 

 

 

Halloween in Georgetown

IMG_0598   “Maybe in some other cities or towns Halloween was a holiday for children only, but Georgetowners of every age costumed themselves and walked up and down the M street thoroughfare. A great many folks, big and little, smeared charcoal or talcum on their faces and stuck their heads through holes in old sheets. Lester Gorson stood on his regular shoe-shine corner with the battered silk top hat he wore every year. Across his mouth, he wore a red bandana.

“The rich people’s Halloween was a night of fancy parties and carriages down by horses with plumed headdresses. The Chesters up on R street were throwing their usual big Colonial costume ball and had hired Snow Simpson to wear a white powdered wig, a silk jacket, and knickers of robin’s-egg blue. He stood on the portico bowing the guests through the house’s grand columns and into the vestibule. Knots of costumed colored children paused on the south side of the street and peeped through the doors and windows to glimpse guests and the massive gold and crystal chandelier in the foyer. Jonnie Mae and the others in her group laughed at Snow from across the street on their way to the cemetery. Duck Dudley lobbed crab apples at Snow’s wig. The first crab apple hit the center of the oak door, but the second caught Snow upside his head and knocked the powdered wig sideways. The group ran off laughing at Snow trying to settle the thing back on his coal black head. 

“It had been the tradition from as far back as any of the families could remember that on Halloween the costumed children trooped up to the Mount Zion cemetery to tempt fate by running and hollering like banshees among the oldest headstones. 

“Press Parker stood ith his back against a tree that had been propping people up since before the Flood. He watched as he did every Halloween to see that none of the headstones got toppled in all the chasing and hoorawing. He kept an eye on the torches and the littles ones so that no one crawled into a crypt playing hide-and-seek and got suffocated like the little Henderson baby had back in ’09.

“Press was sure the bones didn’t mind some company one day a year, They hadn’t heard the sound of children’s feet slapping on top of their heads since last Halloween.”

from “River, Cross My Heart” by Breena Clarke

to read another excerpt of this Oprah book club selection and know about the other novels by Breena Clarke link here: http://www.breenaclarke.com/content/books.asp

This book is available in all formats

IMG_0599

Breena Clarke's books

Breena Clarke’s books