What will Kentucky Book Festival visitors find on your table?
Visitors will find Mama Said, my debut collection of linked short stories published by West Virginia University Press, displayed proudly on my table–along with a few treats.
Mama Said is set in Louisville, Kentucky amid the tail end of the crack epidemic and the rise of the opioid crisis and follows three daughters–Jaylynn and her cousins, Zaria and Angel–who come-of-age struggling against their mothers’ drug addictions. The daughters and their stories cross paths with a local drug dealer and family friend seeking a quick road to riches, a Derby visitor cruising through the city’s West End paying cash to watch women dance, and a grieving teacher imparting a lesson about perseverance. The book explores the inescapable bond of mothers and daughters and the ways drugs and their alluring draw and devastating effects intricately connect a community.
Whom do you invite to stop by? Who will benefit from reading your book?
Of course, I encourage everybody and their mama to stop by to say “Heeey!” and pick up a copy of Mama Said, but I send a special invitation to Black daughters, mamas (via nature or nurture), mama’s mamas, and aunties, Black men who love them some Black women and want to read more about them and see themselves represented as well, and Louisvillians (Go Cards!).
I send an invitation with sparkle stickers to Black girl writer dreamers. I love y’all. Y’all are my people.
I extend an extra special invitation with a big, fat hug to those who have grown up with a parent battling depression and/or addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. The stories in Mama Said are fictional, but rooted in the truth of drug addiction and depression within my family. They are the stories I wanted to read to help me through, feel seen, and understood.
Could you please tell us something curious about you and/or your book?
I have two and a half middle names. I think it’s because my mama didn’t think she could have kids and she was trying to make sure everybody was represented with my name. The name of the main character in the collection, JayLynn, comes from the initial in my first middle name, “J” from Jonesha, and my mother’s middle name, Lynn.
If you stop by my table, I’ll tell you the other names, but you gotta sign a nondisclosure.
Is this your first time participating in Kentucky Book Festival? If yes – what are you looking forward to the most? If you’ve participated before – what was your favorite experience at the Festival?
This is my first time participating in the Kentucky Book Festival, and I’m very excited! I’m looking forward to showcasing and sharing the years of hard work that is Mama Said, being in the space of other amazing writers as a book-totin’ peer, and geeking out with readers.
Kristen Gentry is an associate professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at SUNY Geneseo. Set amid the tail end of the crack epidemic and the rise of the opioid crisis, Mama Said evokes Black family life in all its complexity.