On September 20, North Central College and 30 North were honored to receive author Kimberly Garrett Brown as a speaker, as she shed some light on the process of writing, editing, and publishing her new book, Cora’s Kitchen. The staff of 30 North interviewed Brown for a half hour, before she was set to read a passage from the just-released novel in Kiekhofer Hall’s Koten Chapel.
We kicked off the interview by asking about her experience with her publisher, Inanna Publications; in particular, we wanted to know if Brown had to make any significant alterations to her manuscript before it could be sent out into the world.
“There were a lot of edits,” Brown said, “I’m not gonna call them ‘changes,’ because I feel like they were more ‘enhancements.’ Think of a draft or a manuscript like a painting; if you think about a painting, it starts out as a sketch. In the sketching process, you’re erasing […] and when you pull your paints out, you’re starting to do different things. The last edit is best described as an enhancement.”
She described a feeling of being overwhelmed after looking at the suggested edits sent back to her draft. “Each time you do a revision, it’s about expanding or growing that scene, or that character, or planting things. […] As you do that, it will ruin you for reading other books, because you’ll start to see it,” she added with a laugh.
We asked Brown what she felt was the most difficult part of the writing and publishing process.
“Rejections,” she answered succinctly. “Stephen King, Annie Lamott, they can tell you they’ve been rejected and you’re like ‘Mmhm. Okay, sure.’ It hurts every time, it really does.”
She spoke candidly about individual accounts of rejection. Some were quick. Some were tedious. Some even dangled some false hope before being unceremoniously crushed. She described the emergence of an inner critic alongside the rejections, a doubt that made her question the strength of her work. Still, Brown stressed more than anything, “You have to keep doing it.”
The bitter taste of rejection, however, did little to sully Brown’s love for the craft. She told us about the piles of journals in her house, piles that touched the ceiling. The process of writing sometimes seemed tedious from the outset, but once she found momentum in her desk, the words flowed.
As the interview went on, Brown covered much ground with the staff of 30 North in matters personal and professional. Discussing the content of her novel, which takes place in the 1920s, she professed her love for the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the work of the poet Langston Hughes, who has a major presence in Cora’s Kitchen. The drafting stage would see her unearth much more of the history behind the period, but from the outset, she knew what she wanted to write. “I knew when I started the novel that I wanted it to be during that time, but I hadn’t done the research to understand it more,” Brown said. “I just loved that time.”
Kimberly Garrett Brown is a published author whose fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in publications such as Anthology Askew, The Rumpus, and Compass Magazine. Her most recent novel, Cora’s Kitchen, is available from Barnes & Noble and Anderson’s Bookshop.
-30 N staff