Why Can't our Heroes be Heroines?

SHE WRITES and Teri Coyne host

Ordinary Women: Extraordinary Heroines
A New Paradigm for the Modern Heroine.

a reading with authors

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 7:30pm

5233 N. Clark St.
Andersonville, IL
(773) 769-9299
Red Line to Berwyn

Meet Virgina DeBerry and Donna Grant

About Virginia and Donna:
With seven novels to their credit, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, best friends for nearly 30 years, have turned a friendship into one of the most successful and enduring writing collaborations in contemporary women’s fiction.

Donna attended Barnard College and is a graduate of New York University. A Brooklyn native, she currently lives in the borough with her husband. Before becoming a novelist, she spent more than a decade as a plus size model, represented by the 12 + division of Ford Models.

Virginia is a former high school English teacher from Buffalo, New York attended Fisk University and is a graduate of SUNY at Buffalo. After almost 10 years in the classroom, she moved to New York and started a successful career as a plus size model. Virginia now lives in New Jersey.

Their first mainstream novel, Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, was a critical success, an Essence Bestseller and won the Merit Award for Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Far From the Tree became a New York Times Bestseller. Their subsequent books, Better Than I Know Myself, Gotta Keep on Tryin’, a sequel to Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made and What Doesn’t Kill You Awards, have all been national best sellers. Their latest novel, Uptown, hit shelves in March, 2010.

A few words about heroines:
A few years ago, we were asked to teach a week long class at the Writer’s Institute at Miami Dade College. At the time, we were working on our fifth novel, and over the course of our career, had often spoken about writing—both the craft and our process. But up to that point, we hadn’t had a reason to specifically dissect the genre we considered ourselves a part of--women’s fiction. Having to prepare a syllabus, even for a workshop that was only a few days, caused us to look at what we wrote in a new light, to explain in concrete terms both our motivation and intention.

We looked at heroines--Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, Jane Austen’s Emma and Zora Neal Hurston’s Janey among many others to see what made them singular, memorable and what made them different from heroes? Was the “ine” tacked on to the end of hero all that makes a story “women’s” fiction? And the answer we came up with was that women’s fiction is not only about readers identifying with the main character or characters, it is, to a great extent, having readers CARE about them. Bridget, Emma and Janey come off the page and move into your life like a new friend. They are either ordinary women having extraordinary experiences which reminds us that we’re all potentially extraordinary. Or, they are extraordinary women having ordinary experiences which reminds us that we share a common bond as women, no matter the circumstances we were born into.

The women we love and know in books are characters we perceive as flesh and blood, bone and skin. They are far from perfect, but they are unique—special, even as they exhibit the flaws that make us human. They have a point of view. They have history. They have baggage. They have secrets. They suffer defeat. They have strengths as well as bad habits. Yet somehow they get through the challenging circumstances their fictional lives present. Maybe not unscathed, and certainly not unchanged, but they go on, and that gives us all hope. These women are alive on the page, and we either love or are antagonized by them because they strike a little too close to home, but we definitely react. Reading about these fictional women is revealing and voyeuristic as well as intensely personal and reflective. We find out that peeling off the designer suit, the discount store mom jeans, stepping out of the pricey pumps revealing the bunions, cellulite, dreams and insecurities we all have underneath, can make us more mighty than the armor we usually don. And our extra/ordinary heroines also help us discover the strength, cunning, intelligence, humor and passion, which was there all along, even without the ruby slippers. We might even leave with an insight or two, or a vow to be braver or go easier on ourselves as we make it through our days.

Read an excerpt from Uptown

Learn more about Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

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