July 6, 2009

Culture and Writing: Author Angela Henry

The Writer

Angela Henry is the author of the Kendra Clayton mystery series. Her books and short stories have been awarded honorable mentions in the Gertrude Johnson Williams Writing Contest, and New York Book Festival Awards, as well as a nomination for an Open Book Award in the mystery category by the African-American Literary Awards Show. She lives in Ohio. For more about her and her work, visit http://www.angelahenry.com.

The Book

Part-time GED instructor Kendra Clayton's spring break is proving to be anything but relaxing. First her best friend, Lynette, suffers a major panic attack days before her wedding and vanishes. Then her sister, Allegra, who craves attention the way Kendra craves chocolate brownies, arrives in town determined to land an interview with screen legend Vivianne DeArmond for the TV show Hollywood Vibe.

But Allegra's interview plans hit a glitch when she discovers the diva's lifeless body in her dressing room, stabbed in the back with a letter opener. The police peg Allegra as the prime suspect, but Kendra knows her sister is no murderer, even if she is guilty of acting a little too friendly around Kendra's man lately.

As Kendra starts to investigate and whittle down the list of Vivianne's enemies, she uncovers some surprising Hollywood secrets. But she'll need to act fast.

Because every step toward the truth puts her in danger of becoming a victim of a ruthless killer's encore performance...

Click the cover above to order your copy of Diva's Last Curtain Call today!

On Culture & Writing

How important is it for you to integrate your cultural experiences into your writing?
It’s very important for me to integrate my cultural experiences into my writing. I feel it gives my writing honesty and realism.

In viewing media - TV, movies, books, radio, etc., how do you see your culture being conveyed?
I usually see African-Americans being portrayed in extremes. For example, you either see poor black people or wealthy black people. The black middle class is very underrepresented.

What do you look to convey about your culture through your writing?
I hope my writing shows African-American life beyond the stereotypes.

Do you think writers are (or can be) spokespersons for their culture?
I think writers, whether we want to or not, are often seen as spokespersons for our culture, especially if our writing reflects out cultural experiences. There seems to be this idea that when a person of another culture expresses their opinion, or acts a certain way, they aren’t just expressing their opinions and actions, but the thoughts and actions of their entire race.

If you are a writer who writes outside your culture, talk to us about that experience. What have your learned about yourself during the process?
My books thus far have all been about other African-Americans.


From Angela Henry's latest novel, Diva's Last Curtain Call

The film retrospective ended and the lights came back on. People were on their feet applauding and chanting "Vivi! Vivi! Vivi!" I looked toward the front of the auditorium expecting to see Vivianne smiling and waving like a beauty queen. But she was nowhere to be seen. Then a loud piercing fire alarm sounded and cut through the cheering and clapping like a knife. I didn't see or smell any smoke. Was this a joke? Everyone was looking confused and I heard a chorus of groans and cursing as we were instructed to leave the auditorium quickly by an annoyed-looking member of the film festival committee. As I was guiding Mama through the jostling crowd, I happened to turn and look down the long hallway that led to the basement dressing rooms used by performers. I saw Allegra run up the basement steps looking dazed and terrified. I called out to her, but in the loud commotion she didn't hear me, and I watched as she turned and rushed out a nearby exit. Once outside, I looked around for her and spotted her rental car tearing out of the parking lot.

I did not have a good feeling about this. Since Allegra had come from the direction of the dressing rooms, then she must have been trying to see Vivianne again. And Harriet Randall must have called the police again. At least that was the only excuse I could come up with for my sister looking so scared. I was relieved that Mama hadn't seen her, but I noticed she was still scanning the crowd looking for her.

"I wonder how much longer we're going to have to wait to get back in?" asked Mama, after we'd been waiting in the parking lot for fifteen minutes.

Most of the other attendees were also still waiting but many people had left in huff. I really wanted to leave myself to find out what was up with Allegra but Mama, being a movie buff and proud of Vivianne DeArmond's connection to Willow, wouldn't hear of it. The fire department had arrived five minutes earlier and we were waiting for the all clear, when a nervous-looking male film festival committee member addressed the restless crowd.

"Um, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen," began the man in a gruff voice, looking as though he might throw up. What in the world was going on?

"Due to an unfortunate circumstance, the award ceremony has been cancelled. We're going to have to ask that you all leave the premises at once," the man said, wiping sweat from his bald head with a handkerchief.

After a minute of stunned silence, everyone started talking at once. The committee member had a crowd of angry people surrounding him that he was unsuccessfully trying to placate.

"I came all the way from Pittsburgh for this," exclaimed one angry woman, pointing a chubby finger at the man's chest.

"I took off from work to be here today," said a handsome older black man wearing a T-shirt that read: Viva Vivi! But the committee member remained mum as to why the ceremony had been cancelled.

Some people, not needing to be told twice, jumped in their cars and took off. I noticed one of them was the nerdy-looking man who'd tried to hug Vivianne during the autograph signing. He looked around nervously before hopping in a beat-up white VW van and taking off. I'd heard about many instances of Vivianne's diva behavior, including holding up production on a movie set for hours after getting a paper cut while going over her script, and wondered if she was up to her old tricks again. I prayed that's all it was.

"Oh, come on, Kendra. Take me home. I don't have time for this mess. I've got stuff I could be doing." I silently followed Mama to my car, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that something was terribly wrong and wondering what my sister had to do with it.

This feeling intensified as Mama and I were pulling out of the auditorium's parking lot and a couple of police cars and an ambulance arrived.

"I wonder what happened?" asked Mama, looking back. I didn't reply. My mouth was suddenly very dry.

When I pulled up into Mama's driveway, Allegra's rented black Toyota was parked with the front bumper scraping the closed garage door. Mama hopped out and inspected the damage to her garage door. Besides the scrape in the paint, the aluminum door was dented, and looked to have been knocked off track. I could tell she was highly pissed.

"I bet that silly girl wasn't even paying attention! Always looking at herself in the mirror. And she will be paying to get my garage door fixed! You can bank on that." I followed Mama through the side gate into the backyard where we could hear someone crying hysterically. It was Allegra. She was sitting on the porch step sobbing. When she spotted Mama, she flew off the porch straight into her arms.

"Allie? Baby what's wrong?" Mama said, patting Allegra's back and giving me a bewildered look. We both knew this couldn't be about a broken garage door.

Allegra usually tries to sweet-talk her way out of any wrongdoing she's guilty of. She tried to talk, but we couldn't understand a word she was saying through her hiccupping sobs.

Mama tossed me her house keys. "Go get her some water." I went to do as I was told and took a big gulp of cold water myself before going back outside. I was almost too afraid to know what was wrong.

After taking a few sips of the water, Allegra finally calmed down enough to talk.

"It was so horrible, Mama," she said shaking her head at the memory. "Vivianne DeArmond. She's. . .she's--" She started to sob again. Mama had had enough and grabbed her by the shoulders giving her a good shake.

Allegra twisted free of her grasp and blurted out, "She's dead, okay! Somebody killed her!"

Mama gasped and stared at me.

"Come on. We need to go inside," I said, ushering my still-crying sister and my shocked grandmother into the house.

© Angela Henry

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