Keenan Norris appreciates Black literature

The Center for Black Student Success (CBSS) at California State University, Monterey Bay presented a virtual Toni Morrison Author Conversation Series event led by author Keenan Norris on Oct. 8. Norris discussed with viewers his writing process, the importance of writers and artists within social justice dialogues and the cultural crisis in America.

Humanities and communications Professor Umi Vaughan paneled the event with Norris. Crediting much of his literary inspiration to Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Norris signified the value of pursuing an education and attributes his educators as influential factors. 

From a young age, Norris’ parents introduced him to literature and hard work. In a collection of coming-of-age short stories, Norris published his first novel “Brother and the Dancer” in 2006, which went on to win the James D. Beard Award in 2012. 

Following the departure of “Brother and the Dancer,” Norris plans on publishing his new novel “Confession of Copeland V” in June 2021. The coming-of-age story focuses on the horrific reality of police brutality. The protagonist Copeland searches for a way to shed light on the subject causing media backlash and the illegal releasing of his juvenile criminal record. 

“Copeland combats the media’s narrative by telling his whole story,” Norris said. 

By addressing police brutality in his novel, Norris reveals the systematic inequalities being exposed in today’s culture and society. “There isn’t one American story,” Norris said. “You can’t tell the Black American stories without talking about slavery.” 

Norris is confident the country can’t remain in this divided state for too long, however he notes the fight to prioritize the marginalized has to continue long after inclusion.

“You can’t invisiblize the culprits,” Norris said. “We can’t pin our hopes on a political party or policy.”

When Vaughan asked Norris for advice on writing, Norris explained one must feel confident in their work to create authenticity. Creating precise references can be intimidating but shouldn’t deter the writer from exploring their imagination and telling their unique story. The idea of editing his work to make it palatable for a particular audience doesn’t suit Norris.

“If you’re writing for yourself, there’s no need for censorship,” Norris said.

Norris guided aspiring writers through the process of publishing. While self-publishing is an option, Norris recommends approaching a literary agent with a full, complete book in first draft form. Attending writer’s workshops and conferences such as Litquake and Callaloo can help establish business connections. “Don’t pay agents up front,” Norris said. “They work on commission.”

Being receptive to constructive criticism is crucial in progressing as an author. Pushing yourself to put your work out there can open the door to endless opportunities. “I think it’s important to try and see things through other people’s eyes,” Norris said. 

CBSS will be virtually hosting Why Black Money Matters with financial coaches Mecca and Kwesi Dreams on Oct. 22 as part of the Black Money Matters Financial Literacy Series. 

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