Terry McMillan: there’s a future in your future

It would be difficult for a male to understand how deeply Terry McMillan speaks for and to an entire generation of black women except to actually watch her communicate with a theatre full of her committed fans.
Through just blind chance, I had that opportunity, from the vantage point of sitting behind the author on the stage–because every fixed seat in the Black Repertory Theater of Berkeley was full. As more women surged in, the theater manager choose to put a circle of chairs on the stage.
She was there to embrace the African tradition of honoring where one started with her eighth novel, Getting to Happy.
McMillan’s Saturday night appearance was part of the 50th anniversary observance of Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest black bookstore.
She made clear that point was lost on no one. Calling Blanche Richardson, manager of the Oakland Marcus, on stage with her, McMillan recalled insisting to the publisher of her first novel, Disappearing Act, that she do signings at black bookstores, calling Blanche on a pay phone and having Richardson come pick her up just a few blocks from the site of the theatre.
“We are losing our black bookstores and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said McMillan. It was music to my ears as co-founder of National Black Business Month.
Notables such as McMillan and comedian Steve Harvey, who initiated the Hoodie Awards, have such an impact on mass behavior. When they underscore the importance of supporting black-owned businesses, it can be as valuable as thousands of dollars in advertising.
Additionally, they were in the 46-year-old Black Repertory Theater, another industry sector hard hit in the economic downturn. But we saw dozens of volunteers who had rallied to keep that cultural icon vigorous.
So there was no better place to see the connection between McMillan and more than 300 women. It was just as electric as the ginger-tamarind juice I picked up in the nearby Ashby flea market, another hotbed of black entrepreneurial activity.
I had been through about 12 author readings already Saturday while crawling through San Francisco Litquake. She was in a whole different dimension.
As McMillan read the first chapter of Getting to Happy, she gave us a window into the lives of her characters from Waiting to Exhale–15 years later.
Samantha is now married, but still producing for a Phoenix television station. As only McMillan could read drolly, the bloom was falling off the romance even before the shocking discovery that ends the chapter.
It was a unique experience to watch an audience hang on every word and then react with a spontaneous sense of shared pain.
When time for questions came along, McMillan drew from her own personal divorce battle and put herself in the shoes of 40 and 50 year old women who were facing challenges their mothers never had.
“I want women who read this book to know that there’s a future in their future,” she said.
The same could be said for Marcus Books and The Black Repertory Theatre, because McMillan continues to stay true to herself and her community.

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