Youngblood returns home for conference, take in play at Liberty

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 22, 2013 

Shay Youngblood has come a long way since growing up in Columbus. She's now an acclaimed writer, playwright and painter.

The now writer-in-residence at the Dallas Museum of Art will be in Columbus for the Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference. She will make the keynote address at 9:15 a.m. Saturday. It's free.

Youngblood said she'll be talking about self-publishing and marketing in the digital age. She recently formatted and published all 10 of her books for sale on the Kindle. Later in the afternoon, she'll be conducting a workshop on "Generating New Work." This workshop is part of the conference and you must be enrolled in it to attend.

The Liberty Theatre is also presenting her play "Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery." Youngblood will be at the performance Saturday night after a full day at the conference. The play will begin its run Friday.

Out of "Big Mama Stories," which was published in 1987, came "Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery," which was published in 1994. It's somewhat autobiographical, about the coming-of-age of a young black girl growing up in the 1960s.

"Big Mama Stories" tells of the important women in her life.

"A Big Mama is an important older woman in your life, not necessarily one related to you by blood," she explains. "She is someone who has shown you love, encouraged and supported you and made a deep impression on your life. I am successful because of the faith these women had in my abilities. They made me reach further than I could see, encouraged me to be bold and to contribute to my community in whatever way I could."

She said she was reared by

several Big Mamas. And as she got older, that circle of women became bigger, including those from other cultures and religions.

"Then one day, I realized I was a Big Mama," Youngblood said. She calls herself the matriarch of her family because she's the oldest of seven cousins who live in Columbus and Atlanta. None have their birth mothers still living.

Growing up in Columbus, she said every Saturday morning, she and her uncle and aunts would walk from her Booker T. Washington apartment on Veterans Parkway to see a movie at the Liberty Theatre. They would get in with a handful of RC Cola bottle caps.

"Seeing my play, 'Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery,' performed on that stage will be a full circle moment," Youngblood said.

Actor Sidney Poitier optioned "Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery" for Columbia Pictures in the 1990s, Youngblood said.

"He wanted to direct the feature film," she said. "I wrote the screenplay, but the film never got made."

Two years ago, a young filmmaker, Kiandra Parks, contacted her about making a film based on her 2000 novel, "Black Girl in Paris."

"She optioned the novel, then went to Paris and made a short film based on an excerpt from the novel for her thesis," Youngblood said. Parks was working with Spike Lee in the graduate film program at New York University.

"It's a beautiful piece of work," Youngblood said. "She wrote and directed the film, which was a finalist in the HBO Short Film competition. Although it did not win first prize, the 20-minute film will be shown on HBO starting in February 2014.

"It's all very exciting. I hope it brings new readers to my novel and my other work. I also hope Kiandra is able to raise the funds to turn the short into a full-length feature film."

Right now, Youngblood is working on a commission, a performance piece in tribute to Chef Edna Lewis for the Southern Foodways Alliance Conference on Women, Work and Food in Oxford, Miss., in October. She said Lewis is instrumental in the farm-to-table trend and stresses the importance of seasonal cooking.

"I'm also working on a novel about architecture and memory, set in Japan and Hawaii, based on research I did during a four-month residency in Japan in 2012."

She comes back to Columbus at least once a year to see her family.

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