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Evelyn C. Fortson

African American Author of Women's Fiction


The desert at first glance is a dry lonely desolate place. It appears to lack the beauty you associate with the lush greenery of a forest or the calm serenity of sandy seaside beaches. But when you look long enough and close enough the desert isn’t the lonely desolate place that it appears to be. It has birds and plants that you won’t see in the city. The sky is so vast that your breath slows down, and the feeling that there are too many people in the world falls away. The tans, creams, rusts, and browns create delicate shading and textures that are the desert’s floor. The muted green foliage and bold yellow and orange flowers complement purple blooms.

Subtlety best describes the desert landscape. It changes right before your eyes, but the change occurs so slowly that you may not register it. The wind carries particles of sand that continually shift the scenery just as beautiful moments seep through our lives, while we desperately try to hold on to the feelings we had when we experienced them. But our lives like the desert are constantly changing, memories fade from vibrant images to muted vague occurrences that we no longer feel. Occasionally the wind blows, and a memory of a moment or season comes back with the same emotion that we experienced when it happened. We are transported back to that time until the landscape shifts yet again.

The different stages of our lives can be challenging and sometimes you may feel your life has been drained of everything that is wonderful. But like the desert, take a close look at your life, you will find something beautiful there. It may be as subtle as a tiny delicate bloom, or as majestic as a soaring eagle. Whatever it is, remember that life is always changing, and you get to decide how you want to live it.

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I took an expository writing course that covered research methods, analytical, critical thinking, and rhetorical strategies this summer. The course is usually sixteen weeks, but during the summer it is condensed into six weeks. For two and a half hours Monday-Thursday I went to class at the junior college with a room full of young people. Some of them knew what they wanted to do while others, like myself at their age, were doing what they needed to do to get their degree. What they wanted to do or be in life was still a mystery.

The next few weeks in class exposed how differently I viewed the reading material than my young peers. My life experiences played a large role in the conclusions I drew from the reading material, whereas their experiences were limited. I could see how insulated they were from the world and how the school system had failed them. They knew how to use technology but the “why” of something was not explored. I must admit that asking myself why I believed something and backing it up was not as easy as one would think. Getting information from the news on television, radio, or the internet can slant one’s point of view. That’s why getting information from more than one source is important, something that most of us don’t do. The class reminded me to question whether or not what I believed was me or what I have been fed. I needed to back up my beliefs or point of view with facts not feelings.

I enjoyed the class although it was a struggle to keep up with the reading and writing assignments. In the end, I dropped out of the class. I was overwhelmed and frustrated with the pace, so I dropped the class. Quitting the class was not an easy decision, I felt like I had failed until I realized that I had learned what I needed to learn from the class. Maybe I’ll take the sixteen-week course, maybe I won’t. Life for me is about staying active, learning, and enjoying every moment of every day. I’m proud of myself for trying something new and not allowing my age to stop me.

Quitting is not necessarily declaring defeat, sometimes it’s acknowledging that now is not the right time.

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I interviewed an African American woman named Emily, a few days ago, for a book I’m writing. I’m in the research stage. The location of the book is Louisiana and takes place in 1940 through 1965. I can’t say too much about it because often a book starts out one way and ends up being completely different.

Miss Emily is in her eighties and has lived an amazing life; she grew up in Florida with her parents. In the 1960s she left her home and traveled to Tennessee where she went to a Black Presbyterian College and received her degree. After college she traveled to Chicago for her first job as a teacher. She survived one frigid winter in Chicago before she left for a warmer position in Los Angeles.

It’s funny how big and small the world is, in Los Angeles Miss Emily taught at Russell Elementary, a school that the kids that lived next door to me went to. She never taught at the school I attended. I would meet Miss Emily decades later through her daughter who I met at work. I invited her daughter to my church’s Women’s Conference and Miss Emily attended the conference.

Miss Emily left home to pursue her education and while at college she boycotted and marched for civil rights. She did this far away from home and family. Can you imagine being a young woman away from home for the first time, travelling in the South during such a tumultuous time? When I asked her how she did what she did, her answer proved how much we have lost with integration.

Miss Emily answered, “Wherever you go find the church. Christian people will take you into their homes and take care of you.”

As a child I remember my parents opening up their home to family and friends to stay until they could find a job and a place of their own. That is what a lot of Black people did in that time. We were a community that looked out for each other, we were connected by a common struggle. Our communities are not bound together as they once were. We struggle to make it in this world individually instead of collectively as we once did.

Miss Emily gave me valuable insight into what life was like when she was growing up. She made me want to be stronger, more courageous and dream bigger.

Thank you, Miss Emily, for answering my call even though it was your nap time, you are an inspiration.

I hope to convey the sense of community that we once had in the book that I’m working on. If I can achieve that feeling, it will be something to be proud of. I’m excited and looking forward to talking to more people, gaining more insight into the way of life that Miss Emily, my parents, and your parents may have lived.

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