I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
December 1, 2022: Kimberly Garrett Brown
On her website’s homepage, Kimberly Garrett Brown has a large photo of a letter board with this message, “Remember why you started.” Here’s why she did.
The story of how I became a writer doesn’t start with my love of reading or the fact that I’ve had a thing for glue-top legal pads since elementary school. It starts with my desire to wear a bra in middle school like all my friends. I was a late bloomer and my mother didn’t see the point in purchasing a bra when there was nothing to support. I felt pretty insecure, but then I read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume. I experienced the comfort and validation of seeing yourself in a character and wanted to do for others what Judy Blume had done for me. I started keeping a journal and writing short stories.
Kim’s debut novel, Cora’s Kitchen, was published in September, and it’s exactly the kind of novel I love to read—the story of a woman who wants more from life. With the first sentence, I see Cora.
The last thing I wanted to do after working all day was traipse around Harlem looking for that boy, but Mr. Peterson called the house again this evening.
It’s 1928, the time and place of the Harlem Renaissance. Cora spends her days working at the famous 135th Street library where she meets Langston Hughes before he heads off to college. On the second page, Cora is reminded of his poem “Troubled Woman.” She dreams of being a writer but has no idea how to start. And then she reaches to save herself—Cora writes Langston a letter.
She tells him, “Part of the pain of hell for me is I don’t think I’m being who I need to be.”
To help a cousin keep her job, Cora takes time off from the library and goes to cook for Eleanor Fitzgerald who tells her that she’s tired of being Mrs. Arthur Fitzgerald. “I want to be Eleanor again. Just Eleanor. Do you ever feel like that?”
Cora observes life at the Fitzgerald’s. Eleanor tells her, “Whenever Mr. Fitzgerald goes away, I breathe easier and feel freer.” Cora writes, “She and I are both compromising some part of who we are for the sake of our marriages…”
Cora’s Kitchen is about writing and race and relationships and gender inequality and women supporting women. It’s part journal, part epistolary novel. And with each page that goes by, we know Cora better—not only her hopes and dreams but her day-to-day life.
Here, Cora contrasts the trees in Harlem with those where she grew up in Georgia.
The trees that line the streets of Harlem are almost like little orphans standing all alone. It makes me sad sometimes to look at them. It seems even the birds don’t trust them enough to build their nests on the tiny branches. They are nothing like the tall trees back home with the squirrels running up and down the trunks and the hawks screeching from high branches. The woodsy area behind our house had so many trees that only patches of sunlight could break through the curtain of leaves on top.
For the story behind the story, check out this interview with Deborah Kalb. Cora’s Kitchen was a finalist in the 2016 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, as well as the 2018 William Faulkner–William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.
In 2012, Kim founded Minerva Rising, an independent women’s literary press, to create a space for ordinary women to tell their extraordinary stories. Check it out—when you purchase a chapbook or novella, you’re supporting a creative community of women writers and artists. Kim is also a former English professor at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois (near Chicago). Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Black Lives Have Always Mattered Anthology, The Feminine Collective, and the Chicago Tribune. When she’s not writing, you can find her taking pictures, painting, and drawing. She lives in Florida with her husband and pampered Shih Tzu.
Come back on DECEMBER 1st to read how KIMBERLY GARRETT BROWN spends her days.