Veronica Chambers has written and edited for national magazines for 12 years. Her memoir Mama’s Girl was deemed “extraordinary” by People magazine and named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her latest book, Kickboxing Geishas, examines boundary-busting modern Japanese women who freely mix East and West, burying stereotypes to define an electrifying new culture in their country. One of many critically acclaimed authors who will be appearing at the Parkway Central Library during the second annual Philadelphia Book Festival on Saturday and Sunday, May 17 and 18, 2008, Ms. Chambers recently took a moment to chat with us about some of our favorite topics.
What role have libraries played in your life?
I got my first library card when I was something like six years old. But the biggest memory I have is of outgrowing my small local branch in Brooklyn and following the librarian's suggestion to visit the Donnell Library for children and young adults in Manhattan. I must've been 13 and taking the subway by myself to Rockefeller Center in pursuit of a library all about teens was such a thrill. Even now when I pass the Donnell, I get goose bumps. I spent an afternoon there recently, researching a teen novel that I'm writing. So it's a library that has popped up in my life in many ways now--first in my early teens, then in my 20s when I worked in magazines and passed it often on my way to meetings and now in my 30s, as I begin to write teen novels myself.
What was your favorite childhood book?
I'd have to say A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Even when I was really small, six or seven, it always meant a lot to me to be from Brooklyn. I was really proud of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Dodgers and the fact that Barbra Streisand had gone to the same high school as my dad. So when I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it blew my mind that Francie Nolan (the main character) and I grew up in the same Brooklyn.
Who is your favorite fictional character?
My favorite fictional character, hands down, is Alice in Wonderland. I feel like her journey explains my whole peripatetic life. "Curiouser and curiouser" is how I begin my writing life and my personal life, each and every single day.
Who are the three authors you think everyone should be required to read--which books would you start with?
Oooo. This is tough. I'd say first, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. To me, it is modern American storytelling at its finest. It is pretty much a perfect first paragraph: Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others, they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
I mean really. Perfection. The next book I'd recommend to any and everyone is Octavia Butler's Kindred because I think it's one of the most powerful stories about love, race, history and the cost we pay in the present for the wounds of the past.
For the third, I'll say Nick Hornby's About A Boy because I think that the ability it takes for an author to make you laugh out loud, and laugh so hard that your sides are hurting and then in the very same book, make you burst out in tears, is far too greatly underestimated. This is a book that goes down as easy as ice-cream. But I don't know about you, but I think people who can make truly, truly great ice-cream are genius.
If you couldn’t write, what other job would you like to have?
If I couldn't write books, I'd like to write about food. If I couldn't write about food, I'd like to write about fashion. If I couldn't write about food or fashion, then I'd like to be a chef or a clothing designer. Because besides books, there are few things I like better than food, fashion (and travel).