In Black America; Terry McMillan
in I would have been on a television show and anchor woman. That one, I was an undergraduate at a girlfriend who speaks to me. We were both generals because it was a matter of fact. I wrote a story or tried to get published. I got a job offer part time as a run of credits. I offered a job to do that with Ben. I guess this is the term is my foot in the door. That was my little entree in old.
I had this boyfriend at the time and I lived like a long way from Oakland and it was four hours, four hours a day. It was like no money. I was thinking and I was sitting and taking a dictation because I was a secretary at the time. I had already graduated. Do I really want to get into the news? Terry McMillan noted best selling offer. This past year and a half has been a dream come true for this novelist. Her third book entitled Waiting to Exhale was on the New York Times best settle list for seven months. The runaway best seller is about four African American women who are friends struggling through the ups and downs of modern life at the search for the right kind of fellow. As a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Terry McMillan is also the author of Mama, published in 1978 and disappearing acts, the movie rights of which were recently purchased by MGM. This past summer Terry McMillan was the keynote speaker at the W.E.B. Du Bois Luncheon at the 18th Annual Conference of the National Association of Black Journalers.
I'm John L. Hanson Jr. and welcome to another edition of In Black America. This week, how life has changed for Terry McMillan noted author at the 18th Annual Conference of Black Journalers. I would also like to say thank you for everybody in here who has spent your hard-earned money on my books. I am very, very pleased that you like them. Also, read Jill Nelson's book, Rollin' to her Slavery, Tina Carroll Roy, Anne's book that's coming out. It's called Ugly Way, she's a novelist, sister's here. And I'm sure there are other people here that I'm not mentioning, but I'm not, there are a lot of folks here. Anyway, when I came in here today through the mall, you know, I saw all these people gathering in this room and it still really amazes me. Maybe you guys didn't come in here. Maybe you just came for the food, I don't know, but, you know, I follow a crowd and I walk in and I sit down and I sit down and it's sort of like I'm almost having like this out-of-body experience because it really doesn't feel like...
I mean, how can I put it? This is why I was trying to take notes, so that I wouldn't be at a loss for words. But anyway, it still is amazing to me that people would go out of their way to come in here if there's anything that I have to say. And this has, I'm not saying this because of the low self-esteem or any of that kind of stuff, it just amazes me. I'm serious, I'm serious because I still think of myself as a young sister. And for those of you who know me, just be quiet. Really, who happened to start writing? At the age of 17 and with $300 she had saved while working as a key punch operator, Terry Mcmillan left Port Huron, Michigan and headed for Los Angeles Community College. A class in African American literature changed her. By the time she left Los Angeles for New York City to attend graduate school at Columbia University, she had a degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley
and had developed a love affair with writing. While in New York, she joined the Harlem Riders Guild, where while working as a worry processor, she began writing her first published novel entitled Mama. Her second novel entitled Disappearance Acts made black relationships commercially viable in publishing in a way never seen before. Her third novel, Waiting to Exhale, is Breaking All Records. In the first three months, it went into a tenth printing. It sold over 335,000 copies in six months, spent six months on the New York Times best-seller list, and she received the second largest paperback deal in the history of publishing. Terry Mcmillan spoke at the 18th National Conference of NAVJ, following as a candid view of dealing with success and some of the subterfuge it brings. To think that, you know, six years later, seven years later, whatever, that all these folks would be sitting around waiting on my autograph, it just still is unbelievable. It's really hard to believe. It really is.
I know people think that you accept this, you know, that gracefully. But it's not an easy thing for me to still accept. I mean, I have a big mouth. I'm pretty upfront and all that. But still, I'll tell you something. I don't care what anybody says. Fame has its price. And I particularly, if there was a way, I mean, my book has sold, I was telling B.B. Moore Campbell, sister who wrote your blues ain't like mine. She's going through. She's starting to get a little bit bombarded. And last year, what was this? July? Yeah. What was that? See, this is what happens, too. You don't know what month it is. She called me and she was saying, oh, girl, you know, what I want is to, I want the same thing that happened to you to happen to me. She got a full page reviewing the New York Times for what that's worth, which is a lot. You know, and her book was very well received. And she can write her butt off. But I said, baby, you don't, I don't think you really want this. Because my entire life changed. And I'm not standing here to wine. Believe me, I'm not whining.
But this stuff does take its toll on you. I mean, I ended up basically getting kind of depressed. Because first of all, is one thing when you, I think, we are all, most of us at least have been raised by our parents to be successful. I mean, that's why we go to college. You don't go to college to fail. I mean, it's to grow up and be a responsible adult and pay your bills and make your family proud and continue this whole legacy. And that's what we try to do. And that's basically what I thought I was doing. But when you think about the big success word, I mean, there's all different degrees of success. And my big fantasy was, when I finally started taking myself seriously as a writer, I guess what? I don't know, eight years ago. And the reason I had to do that is because I had this baby, who needed some papers. And I smell, and I was three months behind in my rent. And my landlord was waiting for me on the front steps when I came over and worked. So it was like, I had written this book, and I had to mail it in.
You know? I'm not exaggerating. I'm telling the truth. And that's what I did. And as a result, I got a book contract and all that, but I'm going off here. To make a roster, it's short. I was trying to tell a baby that it's a lot different than the way it started out being. All I wanted people to do was hopefully just read my books, like them, at least be able to identify with them, and gain a little strength about us, and what we go through, and what our lives are like. And I try to paint pictures of our lives. I mean, in a lot of ways, people get pissed off at me, some of the brothers supposedly, because of the manner in which I portrayed a few of them. But still, I try to tell what I would like to think of as a certain kind of truth. Not the whole truth. Don't know the whole truth. Just part of the truth. And what happened is, you know, a lot of people seem to identify with that. But I never imagined nor dreamed that there'd be two million people reading it. And then one day, I'd be riding through,
walking through airports, and people would say, Terry, you know, I'll turn, I have to stop and think, what city am I in? You know, and it's like, you go, girl. And I mean, I have not heard. I'm serious. I mean, or people, or they just say, you know, I mean, it doesn't even matter where I am. I mean, I was at Walt Disney World in April, and with my son at the light parade, or whatever it is, you go, girl. And I'm looking around, and I'm like, gee, whiz. You know, and just got back from Maui last week, and white women sitting by the pool reading my book, and I was just going to... You know? I'm serious. But I don't say anything. I don't, I just keep my mouth shut, you know? I don't say anything. But anyway, so I said to BB because... I'll put this way. When I was...
Like I said, I really just hoped... If there was a way that a hundred thousand people could have read my book, which is still a whole lot of people to read a heart and buy a hardcover book, that's a lot of books, isn't it Tina? I mean, you can make your publisher... Yeah, you can pay your bills. You know, you can have a little money for a vacation. You know, you can put one of your children maybe through college, start at least. I would have been happy. I would have been very, very happy had that happen. And what happened instead was... I saw a ton of books in a very short period of time. And what people don't understand is when you sit around the house, and you're telling your story, and you're really into these people. I mean, I'm like obsessed when I'm telling a story. I don't really... It's hard for me to do a whole lot of other things. I'm not sitting there thinking about, gee, how many books am I going to sell? Or gee, am I going to piss the brothers off this time?
Or gee, how many sisters out there can really relate to this story, you know? And how much am I going to get from my paper bag? You know? I'm not thinking about any of that stuff at all. I'm more interested and preoccupied with the people in my story. It's like I have this new family, and I am very much concerned about them. Very much concerned about them. They become your family, right? And you don't think about too much anything else. And so what my concern is, is how can I try to understand them more? And in so doing, understand myself. My own weaknesses and flaws and all kinds of stuff. And at the same time, once you finish the story, you do hope that people will like it once you put it out there in the world, because this is the real world, you know? You hope that people identify with it and appreciate your story and all that. I just didn't know so many people were going to identify and appreciate it. And so what happened to me last June? May, really. My publishers thought that they had like an inside scoop, and they had told me that almost, I guess you could say, for warned me
that this book was going to be a bestseller. And I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, right. How, you know, you guys don't, you know, you're not clairvoyant. You don't know this. And so, like any writer, I think, I mean, some of you may be praying one day to win a Pulitzer. And I think, as a novelist, and even as a nonfiction writer, a fantasy of most of us is one day to see your name on the New York Times bestseller's list. I mean, I would be lying if I said I never wanted to see my name on there. I just never knew it was going to be for 46 weeks. I didn't ask for the fantasy to be that long. I was like, can I just see my little name up there and I could frame it and put it on the wall and be done with it. See, I'm not trying to be mad. I am serious, you know. Because what happened was also, I ended up having to go on a 20-city book tour. Doesn't sound like a lot. Doesn't sound like a lot. Except when you have to do it in a month. And when you have a child at home, who, when you are at home, every few days or whatever,
there was USA Today and the New York Times. And, you know, I hear Oprah Winfrey wants me, you know, my mother's sitting there saying, girl, Oprah's gonna call. Because my mother, out of everybody, she's the one who got off on this more. I mean, she loved every minute of it. You know, and she was taking care of my son for me and my phone bill. I never, which I really don't look at, I just pay it, you know. And she knew that. But July, I looked at my phone bill. She'd call everybody in my hometown, an all day long. Guess who's here? USA Today. In the taking her picture. And, what was it? Today, people magazine came, or she knew they were coming. All this, every other day, my mother gets up, you know, hair hardly calm. You know, hardly have any clothes when people magazine was coming, she walked, she strutted out into the kitchen.
She was clean. Had her hair all done, and I said, mom, where are you going? It's nowhere. You know, and she was like, they said they was gonna ask you something about your mama. You know, I had to beg that man. I think Barbara Rodgers, she's from San Francisco. She did too. No, my mother wasn't there when you came. Oh. Anyway, so I had to pull the, the people magazine people aside, and say, please, could you put my, take my mama's picture, even if you don't use it. Because she was pissed off, they spent 45 minutes in the backyard with me on the ground, with my son's rabbit. And she said, if it gets in that magazine, I'll tell you, I can't believe it. She still don't forget. Burball was in the table's contents. And my mother, she didn't make it in there,
but anyway, you know, there were things, I mean, where I'd get home, I didn't know sometimes what day it was, and my son, I was trying to shield him from all of this because, you know, it was a lot of stuff going on at once. And before I know it, here comes, you know, I start hearing all these rumors about this, this paperback stuff. And the next thing I know, I've sold the paperback rights for this astronomical amount of money, which I still cannot believe. And basically, my life changed. All of a sudden, now the world knew who I was, they knew what I looked like, and they knew for the most part where I lived, and also how much money I was making, which up until that point had not been anybody's business. And every organization that seemed to have to do with African-American women, and I live in the Bay Area, every black organization that had to do anything, it has to do with kids, drugs, all kinds of things.
Somehow they got my facts and number. And I basically set out to try, in my own little way, in addition to family members. I guess I was on a mission. I was writing checks so fast I couldn't even count, because I was, I was, oh, teenage girls, they baby, you know, they get, they little, they don't crack and they got these little babies. Yeah, he has $3,000. I got money, you know, and it was like, and I mean, I still do it, and I will always do it. But the bottom line is, is that I looked up and realized, I don't have no furniture in my house. I'm not exaggerating. I do it. I got it's raggedy, little rugs. I collect art, but still, you know, you got to have a place to sit. Every organization, they find you. I've had family members who stop speaking to me. Because sister, or sister, because I gave, some sisters a little bit more money than I gave the other, because the other one didn't need it. She wasn't in the same position. Well, she hangs up the phone in my face, you know, because you gave this one 10,000. You only gave me five.
What do you only love me half as much? You know, it gets deep, since it's the problems that have arisen that I never would have dreamed, that I never had to think about before. Being recognized, having people ask you to do everything, my mother called, Terry, somebody from my church wanted to know, can you come, when you come, when you come into Tucson, you know, I mean, everything, I got to ask to do something for being a black bride. You know, all right, that's what I do. I tell stories, I lie, is what I do. And hopefully, get people to believe it. That's what I do. You know, people have tried to turn me in to the black female, the black doctor, the black doctor, Ruth, which I am not. I am no expert on relationships. I am definitely, I'm not an expert on relationships. You know? They just, they want you to do everything. And when I was in Ebony magazine, now I've gotten, in the past two months,
I've gotten at least a thousand letters. And I started in the beginning reading them. We're different people. I think I said something in there to the woman who interviewed me that, you know, I'm getting checks. You know, I can't believe all this money I'm getting. And I was, you know, I was like, sort of like, as an aside. I didn't know she was going to quote me. You know? And I guess there were people that read and said, hey. Because I've got people asking me, sending, uh, return receipt requests, overnight mail. I have people to work for federal express, getting my name and address, writing me letters, people to work for the post office, the gas company. You know, because I paint my gas. I mean, all kinds of stuff you wouldn't believe. Look. And last night, listen, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday night, a sister at my health club calls me at home, and tells, got my name,
my number from the, um, whatever you call, the roster. And my number's unlisted. To tell me, she just lost her five kids. I mean, I get every, and I mean, and I'm sitting there, I'm getting my hair cut, and I'm saying, you know, and she says, she's homeless, you know, and, what, she works at the health club, her kids, it's a lost story, but anyway. You know, she said, she was just gone, she was just gone, and she just, to call me. And I said, you know, I have to call you back, because I was like, because I get too quick to, and I'll put this way. What has happened is I found out that I cannot save the world. That much, I do know. You know? And part of what has happened is that this incredible amount of responsibility is placed on you. I mean, it's deep. It is very, very deep. All I wanted to do, to do was write a book, tell a story, and have people read it,
and know who didn't like it, they can write me a customy out, they can do whatever they want to do. But all this other stuff, it's really something, and it's like, as a result, it's been almost a year, so I just started writing again. I couldn't write, you know? You are being, you are asked to be everywhere all the time. People want to pay you astronomical amounts of money, ridiculous amounts of money. And my mama, of course. You better take that money, girl. You know? I mean, she now has a little baby, I mean, she was born, I told her by a car. You know, she couldn't go out and get herself for a holiday. No. I want that little baby, Lexus. So, she's got Lexus bought her a house, she's taking care of her, health is good, and all that, and you know, and people don't understand. You, you have to, I take care of my family is what I do. I try to enable them, not take care of them, but just enable them, and keep the IRS and bill collectors
and all that stuff out there back. And it's like, as soon as you do that, and people asking you, can you do this? I mean, I felt like I'm marrying that. That's what I felt like for the past year. I mean, I've been very, very flattered. I'm not used to being recognized by them now, but I think part of the problem with this too is that people think they know you, when in fact they don't. They read your books, and they sit there, and they try to second guess on which character are you, and they think they know all your business. And I'm going to tell you, I'm here to tell you, I don't put my business in my books. Okay? I lie. Is what I do. Anyway, the bottom line is, is this is that, I don't like being so celebrated, even though I like the appreciation that my readers have shown me in my work. I find that grown-ups treat you a lot differently than, quote, unquote, fans. You know, they know that you're a human being, they know that you have the same kind of problems that they have. Yeah, I just recently had, um, an old boyfriend who is now in San Quentin.
Write me a letter, and told me, that, um, this is a second trip. I'm not exaggerating, and I'm not trying to be, but he wrote me a letter. This is the kind of stuff that, wrote me a letter, and proud he was, and me, his mom had just sent him to Ebony Magazine, or, and he said, you know what, I remember, I don't know if you remember, when we used to live together, 20 years ago. Um, we made each other a promise. I am not lying. He said, we promise it, whoever makes a million dollars first, would lend the other 100,000 at one percent interest. Well, here, I'm here to put in my bed, and he said, I want to do, start my own business when I get out legally, and he put that in parentheses. And that's what I really want to do. And I think he said, because when I get out, I'm going to be homeless,
I'm going to be jobless, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. If you want to, but I just want you to know, this is, this is what my request is. And it just so happens, his mom called, and day I was leaving yesterday to come here, and say, you heard from Wilbur. I said, yeah, I heard from him, because he even wondered when you go right, and when you go right, I'm voting, I'm voting. And told him, if you had the audacity to ask me, 20 years later, for $100,000. You know, I said, I have family members, who need health insurance. There's a whole lot of other organizations out here, young people who are struggling, who can't pay their rent, who are on drugs for whatever reason, or just things are bad. But they're trying. I prefer to help them. You know, when you get out, if you need some help, getting an apartment, or something like that, I'll be able to help you. This was the kind of stuff, and I mean, and I was thinking at first, oh, I got to spare his feelings, because he isn't incarcerated. You know, I mean, I was going all through this, and I said, wait a minute.
If he had the audacity to ask me, then he should be willing to accept the truth. And I'll tell him about all the things that he remembered that I promised him 20 years ago. Why is this one that comes first and foremost of his mind? You know? But anyway, these are the kinds of things, that I am always up in. And this is just one example. One example. But all I can say is this, my son, is nine years old. He is just getting to the point where he realizes that his mom is celebrated. I've tried to shield this from him for the most part as much as possible, because I don't think it's healthy for him. I know what affected had on me. It wore me out. You know? I've never had to answer so many questions about myself and my entire life. And I hope not to again. It's like I said, it's flattering in some ways,
but it's a lot of things that you have to learn to juggle that you never had to think about before. And that requires an an an an ordinary amount of energy, a whole lot of energy, such that when, you know, people ask me, you know, soon as I go to a reading and they're like 1,500 people show up. And the first question is, where's the next book? Well, shoot, I have to stop and ask what city am I in? I don't know where I am, little on what book I'm writing next. You know? And it took time for me to be able to come down to learn how to relax all over again, to be able to have time to pick up and read other people's books, to spend time with my son and be a mother. And not to mention having no social life. That's the most important in life. That's dead. You know? I mean, I used to be able to go to a restaurant and sit by myself and eat dinner. Now, if I do that, I'm either a lesbian. I can't get no man. Or I'm bombarded by people, especially like in places like Oakland. You know, where's a lot of black people and they know who you are.
And it's really, it's nice to know that folks are reading. You know, that's what's nice. But it's like, you can't just go places like I used to in that. I'm not used to. You know? And my son is like, mom, there's somebody else reading your book. Here they come with their pen. You know? He signs books now, too. He does. But anyway, all of this is to say, I write because I have to. I write because I care about my family, which to me is an African-American one. I will continue to write and what's his name is Russian writer Chekov has said that I'm used to say when he was alive. Man will become better only once you make him see what he is like. I write basically as an act of discovery. I write about things. I don't understand things. I'm not quite sure of things I don't know about. And things I want to find out more about, which happens to be us and what makes us tick and how we treat each other.
Because when I go when I see films like minutes to society, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, when I hear a lot of these rappers, when I, some of this stuff disturbs me, that our lives, for the most part, I mean, I'm 41 years old, that our lives have really changed. And I was in the car last night with the brother from North Carolina, the big basketball coach. Yeah. Charles Gaines. Yeah. Clarence Gaines. Yeah. The guy I thought he was Clarence Thomas. He said, you know, that he lived all of his life for the most part, 45 years or something, Winston Salem. And I ask him, had things really changed. And he said, hey, they're killing each other. Now, and I said, I'm North Carolina. And he said, yeah. And this is the kind of stuff. I mean, I heard Lonnie Gweneer was saying that, you know, that a lot of journalists need to pay hope. She hopes that they pay
all issue a notion of racism in America, because it's sort of like we're in denial about it. And I've been accused of not dealing with that and the political aspects of our lives in my books. But I think that I do. I mean, all of us have our own little realms. And I have chosen mine. And I will stick to it. Noted bestselling author, Terry McMillan. If you have a question or comment or suggestions asked if future in Black America programs, write us. Views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of this station or the University of Texas at Austin. Until we have the opportunity again for in Black America's technical producer, Dana White here. I'm John L. Hanson, Jr. Please join us again next week. Cassette copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing in Black America cassettes. Longhorn Radio Network. Communication Building B. UT Austin. Austin, Texas, 78712. From the Center for Telecommunication Services,
the University of Texas at Austin, this is the Longhorn Radio Network. Austin, Texas, 7-8-7-1-2. From the Center for Telecommunication Services, the University of Texas at Austin, this is the Longhorn Radio Network. I'm John L. Hanson, Jr. Join me this week on in Black America. I think that we have a right and we have an obligation to paint pictures of ourselves, so that we can really see how we do treat each other. Some of us do a pretty bad job of it. Noted best-selling author, Terry McMillan, this week on in Black America. I'm John L. Hanson, Jr.
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Guest: Terry McMillan
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- APA: In Black America; Terry McMillan. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-f76639md96