Blog: Self-Publishing (Indie Publishing): The New Middle Passage <p>
(Originally published in 2000; Taken from The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells (2002)
By Dr. Maxine Thompson)
“When you walk in purpose, you collide with destiny.”
Pastor Ralph Buchanan
In 1992, when I wrote my poem, “The Middle Passage,” I was a frustrated, overworked
social worker with a caseload of 80 children—too many of them being termed as “crack
babies.” These babies were the offspring of the majority of my African American,
formerly known as “South Central” Los Angeles substance-abusing clients/brothers/sisters.
Having lost many of my childhood friends to this same demon—drug addiction—who
knows how much genius has been lost—I think I’ve been on a mission to reclaim all
that lost talent ever since. There’s a saying, “Let your misery become your ministry,
and your mess become your message.”
Although I hadn’t seen Julie Dash’s film, Daughters of the Dust, at the time I penned my
poem, I believe the ancestors inspired “The Middle Passage.”
“We are the children of those who chose to survive,” the matriarchal grandmother,
Nana Peasant, says in Dash’s movie, Daughters of the Dust.
One day, after seeing one more drug baby fight for his life on an inhalator, I had had enough. In anger, I sat down and wrote this poem. I saw a connection between the two figurative “middle
passages.” The slaves had no choice over being in captivity, just as these innocent
“drug addicted babies” had no choice over their mother’s addiction. For these
newborns, the spiritual and physical “middle passage” from their mother’s womb to their first breath was as fraught with peril as “the middle passage” was for their historical counterpart–the
African ancestors who traveled “the middle passage” from Africa to the islands, and the
continents of South and North America. Perhaps I was giving vent to the ancestors’
sense of sorrow.
One thing for sure, though, when I wrote this poem, I had no idea that 9 years later, a
woman, Gloria Battle, an angel (as I called her,) on my path of enlightenment, would read
my poem in a college class and later invite me to Sodus, New York to speak to young people and to conduct a self-publishing workshop. I call this a case of synchronicity.
Gloria Battles was part of God’s answer to my desire to get out and do workshops.
Gloria Battles, a volunteer and community activist, was one of the founding members of the Imani Festival in Sodus, New York. Sodus is located in Northern New York near Rochester, and only had a small Black population. Mrs. Battle worked hard to keep cultural awareness going in this city.
Following a thirteen-hour trek from Los Angeles, to Rochester, due to plane delays and
computer failures on the rerouted plane, I finally arrived safely at 1:00 a.m. (This was
the first real problem encountered since becoming a frequent flier–a big switch from my cocoon as a former hate-to-fly person.) Anyhow, Gloria Battle, along with her husband, were there to meet me. They drove me out to a rural area nearly an hour away and by 3:00 a.m., I was happily deposited in my hotel.
The next day, after my workshop with a group of teenagers and teachers, when Mrs. Battle took me sightseeing, I found the Sodus/Rochester area reminded me of a pastoral
painting filled with roaming fields, land unblemished by buildings and open expanse. We visited The Village of Sodus Point where the wealthy sail their yachts and own
summer homes. The historical Sodus Bay Light House, now a museum, gave a
breathtaking view of Lake Erie, which had a glassy sheen that looked almost like
turquoise in the afternoon sun.
But what impressed me most about the setting was the sense of history and its personal
message it sent to me. My trip to Sodus, New York was not just a business trip as I’d
thought. It provided a spiritual solution to a dilemma I was facing.
How did this happen? I believe what I experienced came about because the place
brought back the ancestral memory of the past. I found out Rochester was one of the
final ports of the Underground Railroad. Rochester was also where Harriet Tubman
brought slaves en route to “Freedom.” This was also the home of abolitionists.
Moreover, Susan B. Anthony formed the woman’s suffragette movement here.
Frederick Douglas founded the North Star newspaper here. Obviously, Rochester has a
rich heritage of social activists for freedom, and the feeling seems to linger in the soil.
It was no accident that I stayed in a hotel by the Erie Canal, which was used for
runaway slaves to escape into Canada. When I strolled along the Erie Canal, it was as
though the ancestor’s spirit returned to me to remind me of the responsibility I have as
a writer/epublisher/literary service person—that I am to call writers to “Freedom.” I
realize, now, I am standing on the backs of my ancestors, who opened the way for this
day of literary freedom.
I’ve often read that the runaway slaves were told to follow the star pattern of the
drinking gourd, or the Big Dipper, which led north. Similarly, I learned that what
explorers called true north was about the journey. True North, in fact, is your authentic
journey through life. I started out thinking my authentic journey was just to be a writer,
and to get published. Now I’ve learned, along the way, that I have a greater calling. I
am trying to point writers True North.
Just as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas helped free enslaved Blacks both in
body and mind, I have a ministry to help free new writers (many of them African
Americans) from not publishing their works. This destiny for me is just as important of
a calling as when I worked with abused, neglected children for twenty-three years.
Later, when I returned to Los Angeles, I dreamed of my mentor, Dr. Rosie Milligan’s
bookstore, being flooded in a foot or so of water. Strangely, a disembodied hand floated
in the water. When I shared my dream, she interpreted it as “the helping hand”—a
symbol of what publishing books provide for a drowning people.
Of course, this dream started me thinking. Just as The Underground Railroad was the
freedom train, self-publishing, now called indie publishing, has become the new “freedom train.” It helps authors retain a sense of ownership of the material, and to retain control over the process. Of course, there’s the money, too, for those with marketing savvy. Now, books can be sold domestically and internationally and through many digital outlets such as Apple, Kobo, and others.
But the real reason we gain freedom is that literature and books are the repositories of our culture.
Think about it. The Dark Ages in history began because books were banned. In slavery, reading
was forbidden for Blacks. After manumission, and throughout the twentieth century, as
Blacks, we’ve had several waves of “Literary Dark Ages,” starting from the demise of
Harlem Renaissance in the 20s and 30s. There’s a lesson in the past. It would behoove
many of us never to be lulled into a false sense of security and forget. It’s no secret that
self-published Black writers are fueling the new wave of African American literature.
For the first time in history, on a growing level, (due to the Internet, desktop publishing,
ePublishing, and Print on Demand, social media), we, as Black writers, have a chance to explore our
journey as part of the African Diaspora here in the United States and other lands.
The insight I gained from this trip to Rochester, New York was two-fold. The message
to my personal dilemma was this: although I’m writing my latest novel, I can continue
to help other writers. At the same time, I realize that helping “birth” or “mid-wife” a
book is the same spiritual “middle passage” that giving birth to a new life is. This time
around, I am writing about “The Middle Passage,” not in a pejorative sense, but in a
positive one. Self-publishing or Indie Publishing can be seen as a “middle passage” for aspiring African American writers. At least this time, we have a choice about the journey.
Contact Dr. Maxine Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com If you would like assistance with writing, publishing, or marketing your book.
THE MIDDLE PASSAGE
Ever wondered how the ancestors survived
the boat ride from Africa to America?
Smells of everybody’s lives jumbled together
as they lay flanked side by side, in a cesspool
of blood, tears, and stool, dreaming the undreamable.
Deep in the bowels of a slave ship,
where many made their tomb,
a mother’s tears flowed from dried-eyed ducts,
for the suckling babe snatched from her breast,
while hating the enemy whose seed now grew in her womb.
Rattlings of shackles never quite able
to drown out the re-memory of sun-drenched savannahs
where they once roamed as kings and queens
pulverized the spirit. . .
Were they bludgeoned into mindless stupor?
Or did they tell themselves,
“We must be strong; we must survive
for our future sons and daughters”?
For survive they did…only to endure the unwriteable…
bondage…false freedom…lynchings…now drugs…
Ever wondered what the ancestors would believe
if they knew of the perilous journey their future seed
must fork through the middle passage
from their mother’s crack-filled womb?
Deep in the caverns of an incubator,
where many make their tomb,
a drug baby’s life shackled to tubes, ventilators,
not guaranteed to save, like mother’s milk, an umbilical cord,
but an alien world…Now, who’s the slave?
Maxine E. Thompson, 1992
About the blogger:
Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell, a contributor to bestselling anthologies Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club best seller, and Kindle Bestseller).
She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, Capri’s Second Chance, and Summer of Salvation, contributor to Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.
Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a small Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.