Super Soul Sunday
Sundays at 11 a.m. ET/PT
Posted: Sun 02/03/2013 02:00 PM
It's hard to believe, but The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is Ayana Mathis' first novel. Set in Philadelphia, this powerful book tells the story of Hattie, a strong complicated woman whose difficult life takes its toll on her and her children. "When I read it, the characters leapt from the pages, and I knew almost instantly that this would be our next book club selection," Oprah says.
Ayana grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of a single mother who instilled a fierce love of reading in her. By the time she was 9, she was writing stories of her own. Eventually, her talent led her to the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop. It was there that she conceived and wrote The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
In an exclusive "Super Soul Sunday" interview, Ayana sits down with Oprah to talk about the novel that literally kept Oprah up at night. Watch clips from their conversation below!
Before she was a writer, Ayana was a reader. What was the first book Ayana loved as a child? Find out what classic she still can't get enough of. Plus, the book that moved Ayana to cry for nearly four hours when she read it as an adult:
The novel that became the second Oprah's Book Club 2.0 selection would never have been written without, as Ayana puts it, an "ugly cry crisis moment." Watch as Ayana explains how a difficult time at the acclaimed University of Iowa Writers' Workshop helped birth The Twelve Tribes of Hattie:
Oprah says that while reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, she found herself waking up in the middle of the night wondering what the characters of the book were doing, as if they were real people! So how did author Ayana Mathis create souls for each of her characters? Watch as Ayana explains her process and reveals whether she decides her characters' fates—or whether the characters do it themselves:
Posted: Fri 02/01/2013 08:00 AM
This Sunday, Oprah and Oprah's Book Club 2.0 author Ayana Mathis are launching an all-new season of "Super Soul Sunday." (Watch on OWN or on Oprah.com.) Today, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie author explores a few of the decisions so many of us confront in life.
Photo: Michael Lionstar
1. The Choice to Be Strong and Weak
We tend to think that strength is [a] static, constant quality. We think that if somebody is strong, they are always strong. This comes up a lot with black women, especially. In books or on TV, we often see the portrait of the Strong Black Mother, an iron-willed figure who never suffers. This is a kind of stereotype, I think, and a limiting one.
Real strength is not the absence of weaknesses or fear. It’s not the absence of doubt or anger. Real strength includes all of these emotions. It’s when you’re afraid and risking something, not when you’re afraid or risking something. For example, the main character of my novel, Hattie, is deeply flawed. She’s afraid; she is wounded; she’s prone to fits of rage; she doesn’t necessarily understand how to raise her children, but no one would deny that she’s strong.
When you see someone as a person with no weakness, you deny her her full humanity. Nobody goes through life never being afraid, and never doubting, and never being angry.
2. The Choice About Algebra
When I was in high school, English came pretty naturally to me. Math, on the other hand, didn’t. My senior year, I was having trouble with elementary functions—which is some kind of advanced algebra—and basically I said, “I hate this; this is useless for my life; I really don’t need to be bothered.” I was in [a] very angry phase and instead of dealing with my difficulties, I told myself I was not interested.
So...I was failing the class. Luckily, I had an incredible AP English teacher, Ms. Johnson. One day she called me into her classroom and told me to close the door. “Look,” she said, “you need to get yourself together with your elementary functions or I will fail you in my class too.” “But you’re my English teacher,” I said. “You can’t fail me in math!” “I can and I will,” she said.
Ms. Johnson was an amazing woman but not somebody you wanted to mess around with. She scared the bejeebers out of me—so I started working on my math grade. It was a great lesson. Life isn’t only made up of the stuff we’re good at. At some point we have to decide to tackle the difficult and the trying or we’ll remain stuck. (By the end of the semester, I had pulled my grade up to a B.)
3. The Choice to Keep Going
In Catholicism, despair is considered a mortal sin (I’m not Catholic or necessarily Christian, but I read a lot of theology) because it implies that God is powerless to effect change. Religion aside, the concept is still a good metaphor. If you’re in a state where you think even the gods can’t help you, it’s very, very difficult to recover. True despair is an absolute and utter bleakness. This state is different than the various darknesses that most of us experience over time. It’s not just sadness or discouragement or even mild depression. Despair implies a kind of ultimate emptiness, something like a grave—its opposite is life. Triumph over despair is survival.
In my novel, Hattie enters into some very trying places. Her children die. There’s really not a darker place than that, but she chooses to keep going, to keep living, to be among that first generation of people who migrated North and raised their families.
How little indulgences and brutal truths can strengthen you >>
Posted: Thu 01/31/2013 05:16 PM
The best things come in threes. So this Sunday, we're kicking off a new season with three back-to-back hours of "Super Soul Sunday" shows you won't want to miss.
At 11 a.m. ET/PT, watch the Oprah's Book Club interview with The Twelve Tribes of Hattie author Ayana Mathis. (This hour will also be streamed worldwide on Oprah.com and Facebook.com/SuperSoulSunday.) Before Oprah finished the first chapter of this author's debut novel she knew it was "the one." "It was an advance copy—the book hadn't yet been published," she has said. "Before I'd even finished the first chapter, I knew I'd found my second Oprah's Book Club 2.0 pick."
At 12 p.m. ET/PT, watch the premiere of In Deep Shift with Jonas Elrod, an unflinching look at people who were changed forever by an extraordinary event. Jonas—the filmmaker many "Super Soul Sunday" viewers will remember from his documentary, Wake Up—travels to Phoenix, Arizona, to meet Brian Mancini, a war veteran who is battling post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a brain injury in combat. Along with Jonas, we'll see the different ways he has worked to heal his mind, body and soul.
At 1 p.m. ET/PT, Oprah and Rainn Wilson Present SoulPancake is a fun, thought-provoking hour dedicated to one of life's big questions: What is love, anyway? Whatever it is, this four-letter word is one of the most fundamental human experiences, and we'll find out how it affects us physically, how to sustain love and how to give it.
Posted: Thu 01/31/2013 08:00 AM
This week, "Super Soul Sunday" is kicking off a new season with the Oprah's Book Club 2.0 interview with Ayana Mathis! (Watch on OWN or Oprah.com.) Before then, the author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie explains how to keep going, no matter what the journey.
Photo: Michael Lionstar
1. Sometimes You Need a Manual
A really incredible book—even if its subject matter has nothing to do with your situation—can help you to understand your life and circumstance more clearly. For me, one of these books will always be Toni Morrison’s Beloved. While working on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, in fact, I used it as a kind of manual, to instruct me as a writer. For example, I was struggling with the use of time. Toni Morrison is a master at moving between the past and the present in brilliant leaps that never confuse the reader. Her novel became a teacher to me, demonstrating how what has happened to a character 10 years ago factors into what is happening right now. This is something characters do on the page, but people also do it in real life. We are all an aggregate of our past and present, of personality and upbringing, race and class, the list goes on. Understanding the ways in which these things impact our present situation is crucial to getting by and getting through.
2. When in Doubt, Cook Italian
When you’re working on a project for months and months—whether it’s a book or anything else that requires a sustained effort—it’s easy to get discouraged. The rewards are few, and you feel as if it's never, ever going to be done. At the end of particularly trying days, I head into the kitchen and cook something that’s fast, delicious and not particularly hard to make. Spaghetti alla bottarga is a slightly obscure but amazing dish I've made over and over. You sauté some garlic and cherry tomatoes in olive oil, toss in cooked pasta and grate the bottarga (fish roe) while everything is piping hot. In about 20 minutes, I can see (and eat!) the fruits of my labor, which makes facing the next day’s long slog so much more endurable.
3. Friends Make Everything Easier—and Smarter
A few years ago, I met a writer named Justin Torres in a creative-writing class. The evening of the second session, he read a story called “Niagara.”Listening to him, I thought, “My God, who the hell is this guy?” I was gob smacked. The story was shockingly good. (Several years later, he published the brilliant We the Animals.)
Over time, Justin and I became very close. We can talk about anything from, say,Friday Night Lights on NetFlix to the particular challenges faced by writers of color. Having friends who are just a little smarter than you or a little further along in their goals is crucial when you’re trying to do something difficult. These kind of intimates set the bar a little higher. It isn’t simply that they inspire you, it’s that their example makes you aspire to do better and be better.
4. Accept the Fits and Starts
One the most challenging things in life is learning a new language. I lived in Italy for five years in my late twenties and early thirties. I wasn’t writing during that period. I got a job with a tour operator in Florence—and I had to learn Italian. The interesting thing was, there were days when I could chatter on about anything under the sun, only to find that the next morning, I couldn’t even order a coffee. Acquiring any skill is like this: You make a little progress; then you lose ground; then you make a little more progress. Accepting the fits and starts is the only way to keep yourself from giving up.
What kept Ayana going when she was young and broke >>
Posted: Wed 01/30/2013 08:00 AM
They're 16 lines that had us breaking out our highlighters. Before Oprah's interview with author Ayana Mathis this Sunday, flip through a slideshow of the novel's most beautiful lines. Start now >>
Learn how you can participate in Oprah's Book Club 2.0! Then, tune in Sunday, February 3, at 11 a.m. ET/PT for Oprah's television interview with Ayana Mathis on "Super Soul Sunday." You can also watch live worldwide on Oprah.com or Facebook.com/SuperSoulSunday.
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