Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dear Colson Whitehead,

Of course we were aware of you, we told ourselves later, the striking young man at the next table sitting alone. We were packed tight into that little cafe, and I was choosing my words carefully. I tried out a narrative for you: local businessman, stepping into his favorite place over the lunch hour. I wondered what it would be like to work in a DC neighborhood like that. God it's beautiful there - even the new buildings are artistic and compatible with the old and jazzy feel, everything close to the street, restaurants and shops and lots of art and greenery. When you finished, you picked up your leather satchel and strode away.
So when I saw you sitting a few rows ahead of us in the ballroom back at the writing conference, I pointed you out. The man in the restaurant, I gestured. I hope we didn't say anything stupid. If I already hoped that, I sure extra hoped it now.
Your reading was incredible. Not just funny, although very funny, but sensitive and visual and perfectly delivered. We made our way to the back afterwards to buy your books. As the National Books Critics Circle Award host had said, it was about an acre between the first rows and the book table. We took our places at the back of the line.
I kept glancing at the authors' table. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had read last. Her signing line was about two acres long, the rest of the readers' lines sporadic or empty. The other readers began to trickle away. You were glancing at the Adichie line and texting on your phone. I wondered how I would feel, sitting there. And right before we got your books, you left.
I don't blame you, I promise. But I want you to know that we have those books, and we hope one day you'll sign them.

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