Seen It All and Done the Rest

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For Josephine Evans, home was on the stages of the world where she spent thirty years establishing herself as one of the finest actresses of her generation. Josephine was the toast of Europe, and her fabulous apartment in Amsterdam’s theater district was a popular gathering place for an international community of artists, actors, and expatriates who considered themselves true citizens of the world. Josephine lived above and beyond the reach of conventional definitions of who and what an African American diva ...
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Overview

For Josephine Evans, home was on the stages of the world where she spent thirty years establishing herself as one of the finest actresses of her generation. Josephine was the toast of Europe, and her fabulous apartment in Amsterdam’s theater district was a popular gathering place for an international community of artists, actors, and expatriates who considered themselves true citizens of the world. Josephine lived above and beyond the reach of conventional definitions of who and what an African American diva could be, and her legions of loyal fans loved her for it. She had a perfect life and enough sense to live it to the hilt, but then a war she didn’t fully understand turned everything upside down, thrusting her into a role she never wanted and was not prepared to play. Suddenly the target of angry protests aimed at the country she had never really felt was her own, Josephine is forced to return to America to see if she can create a new definition of home.

Camping out with her granddaughter, Zora, who is housesitting in Atlanta’s West End; and trying to avoid the unwanted attentions of Dig It!, the city’s brand-new gossip magazine, Josephine struggles to reclaim her old life even as she scrambles to shape her new one. Hoping her friend Howard Denmond is as good as his word when he promises to engineer her triumphant return to the European stage, Josephine sets out to increase her nest egg by selling the house her mother willed her, only to find the long-neglected property has become home to squatters who have no intention of leaving.

But an unexpected reunion with an old friend offers Josephine a chance to set things right. Spurning an offer from unscrupulous land developer Greer Woodruff, Josephine gathers new friends around her, including Victor Causey, a lawyer whose addictions left him homeless but still determined to protect his mother; Louie Baptiste, a displaced New Orleans chef hoping to return to the city he loves; and Aretha Hargrove, recovering from her role in the same scandal that sent Zora running for cover. As Greer gets serious about her plan to tear the community apart, Josephine finds herself playing the most important role of her life, showing her neighbors what courage really is and learning the true meaning of coming home.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This jaunty but topical coming-of-middle-age story from Cleage (Baby Brother's Blues) opens with an indignant argument about American culpability in the Iraq war, as African-American actress Josephine Evans-a self-proclaimed "Las Vegas of grandmothers" living and working in Amsterdam-has just been fired from a theater production, ostensibly for being too American. She returns to Atlanta to spend time with her granddaughter Zora, recently undone by her peripheral role in a splashy murder case, and to check on her family house. Josephine is hoping to keep Zora's trust while steering her away from Zora's father's tragic bout with alcohol. After seeing the cracked-out wreckage of her stretch of Atlanta's West End, Josephine also embarks on a plan with four other women to fix up her vandalized manse, a plan that includes the squatter she discovers there, Victor Causey. The plot is predictable but satisfying, and Josephine's voice comes through movingly throughout. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Cleage's (Baby Brother's Blues ) new novel gives us yet another glimpse into Atlanta's West End community and introduces new characters and new scandals. Josephine Evans, an African American actress with a successful theater career in Amsterdam, finds her livelihood threatened when the Iraq War makes her the target of an anti-American protest. Josephine decides to travel back to Atlanta to nurture her granddaughter, Zora, who is drinking heavily since being hounded by the press for her involvement in a murder scandal. But Zora isn't Josephine's only rescue mission: the house Josephine inherited from her mother is in ruins. Cleage tackles several subjects-patriotism, legacy, crime, and urban renewal-with such style that this hodgepodge story line actually comes together smoothly. Recommended for all public libraries and African American fiction collections.-Carol Johnson, Cleveland P.L.

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Predictable tale of a woman going back home and helping her struggling community. Thirty years ago, African-American actress Josephine Evans landed on tour in Amsterdam and never came back. Now 58, she's enjoyed decent success as the leading lady of a respected local theater. If the charismatic Josephine had stuck to narrating her interesting life history, this novel from Cleage (Baby Brother's Blues, 2006, etc.) might have been an enjoyable character study. Regrettably, a conventional plot gets in the way. Suspended from her theater company (the director claims that Iraq-inspired anti-American sentiment makes it impossible for her to open the season), Josephine decides to take a trip to Atlanta to cosset her granddaughter Zora. Peripherally involved in a scandalous murder trial, trailed by paparazzi working for a local gossip magazine, the depressed Zora is pounding the booze and has dropped out of college in her senior year. She wants to escape the city, and Josephine figures she can help out by selling the house her mother left her in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the place is a mess. Rented out for years, it's been stripped of everything valuable, and its once-glorious garden now serves as the neighborhood's unofficial dump. Local developers want to scam Josephine into selling for a pittance, of course: They have big plans and she's in the way. (They'll stop at nothing to get her corner lot!) Instead, Josephine and Zora and a few other likeminded, good-hearted ladies decide to resurrect the neighborhood one house at a time. Zora films the entire reconstruction for the web, and now Josephine is a star in the United States, plus they're clamoring for her return in Amsterdam. Should she goback to Europe? Develop a grassroots neighborhood revival in Atlanta with Zora? Will the corrupt developers get their comeuppance?Good intentions, good politics and a spirited heroine can't salvage the paint-by-numbers plot. Agent: Howard Rosenstone/Rosenstone/Wender
From the Publisher
Praise for Pearl Cleage’s Baby Brother’s Blues

“An irresistible story filled with fun, sexy, interesting characters . . . [Cleage is] at the top of her form.”
–Essence

“Exciting, fast-moving . . . reads like an African American, Southern version of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City . . . The stories intersect, spawning misunderstandings, deceptions, betrayals, broken promises and double crosses. It’s all great fun.”
–The Washington Post

“All these lives and stories overlap and collide with seamless efficiency in Cleage’s fluid, poetic prose.”
–Chicago Sun-Times

“Thought-provoking and powerful . . . an intricate tale of politics, blackmail, and murder . . . Cleage proves that she has mastered the art of the written word.”
–Urban Reviews

“Cleage’s descriptions are lively, her dialogue snappy, and the problems she describes are urgent and timely.”
–Deseret Morning News

“The reader is engrossed to the end.”
–Booklist

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345481122
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/18/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Pearl Cleage
Pearl Cleage is the author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day . . . , an Oprah’s Book Club selection; Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, a Good Morning America Read This! book club pick; Babylon Sisters, for which she was named the 2006 Go On Girl! Book Club Author of the Year; and Baby Brother’s Blues, winner of the 2006 NAACP Image Award and the African American Literary Award for fiction. She is the author of two works of nonfiction: Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth and Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot; as well as the poem We Speak Your Names. She is also an accomplished dramatist whose plays include Flyin’ West and Blues for an Alabama Sky. Cleage lives in Atlanta with her husband, Zaron W. Burnett, Jr.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Seen It All and Done the Rest
A Novel
By Pearl Cleage
One World/Ballantine
Copyright © 2008 Pearl Cleage
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345481122


We were already on our second round of drinks, and Howard had shown no sign of calming down. In fact, I think his indignation was rising along with his voice. At least we were sitting outside. That way the noise floated up and away rather than bouncing off the walls and driving the other patrons crazy. The International Sky Café has a nice little patio where you can drink and smoke unmolested and that’s where we had been encamped for the last hour and a half, almost two. The outdoor seating promised that the pungent smell of world-class ganja would gently surround anyone passing by, and practically guaranteed a contact high if you lingered. Marijuana and hashish are legal in Amsterdam, and it is not uncommon to see people sitting in outdoor cafés, reading newspapers and having a little smoke with their morning coffee, but Howard and I weren’t smoking today. We were ordering champagne by the glass and trying to make sense of what had just happened. “I’ve been thrown out of places for being too black, too queer, too loud, too drunk, too hip, and too too, but I have never, ever been tossed out on my ass for being too American!” Howard was working himself up into a pretty goodrant, but we were entitled. We had been asked to leave the funeral of an Iraqi director who had been a close friend and collaborator of ours for years. The problem was that Halima’s relatives were there from Baghdad and the war wasn’t just a blurb on the six o’clock news to them. It was real. Even though she died in a boating accident, nowhere near a war zone, her family was still outraged at the presence of Americans, any Americans, soldiers or not. “It wasn’t a question of degrees, Howard,” I said. “It was a question of citizenship. They were pretty clear about that. No Americans. Period.”

Thirty years ago, our pain at the loss of our friend and our general sorrow about the fucked-up state of the world around us might have spun us into a long afternoon of passionate, awkward, just need to feel alive sex, ending in a good long cuddle, maybe a nap, and an evening out laughing too loud, drinking too much, and not giving a damn. The fact of Howard being unapologetically gay would not have been part of the equation. At those times, it wasn’t about gender. It wasn’t really about sex. It was about comfort, connection, and an unequivocal affirmation of life. This happened frequently when too many of my friends were dying of AIDS in the early days of the epidemic. Being a practical sort, even in the midst of panic and confusion, I learned to put my diaphragm in and pack condoms before funerals, just in case.

Howard was still fussing. “I’ll tell you one thing, missy, this is my first and last time being tossed out of somewhere for being an American. An American! Can you believe that?”

His voice rang with equal parts incredulity and indignation. The very idea that he, Howard William Denmond, Jr., born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, could be mistaken for a first-class American citizen was beyond the scope of Howard’s experience or comprehension. We were black Americans, after all, not the other kind, and we were not used to being held accountable for their sins.
“So I look like John Wayne to you?” Howard was on a roll. “Can’t they see that we’re niggas?”

We spend so much time defining ourselves as outsiders when we do get invited to the party, sometimes we can’t remember why we even wanted to go. I raised my eyebrows at him.

“Oh, excuse me, missy. We’re Negroes, okay? African Americans! Jigaboos! Take your pick! All I’m saying is, we’re not real Americans!”

It suddenly occurred to me that in all the confusion, I hadn’t had a chance to share my other bad news. It never rains but it pours.

“Try telling that to François,” I said.

“What are you talking about? François knows it. He’s been around black folks so long he’s practically an honorary spook himself. If it wasn’t for that damn accent, we could pass him off as a Louisiana Creole and nobody would be the wiser.”

“He fired me.”

Howard was waggling his long, slender fingers at the waiter to indicate we were ready for another round. My words didn’t register at first.

“He what?”

The waiter, gliding between the tables like a dreadlocked Fred Astaire, nodded to acknowledge Howard’s gesture and disappeared.

“Fired me,” I said, draining the last of my champagne in preparation for another. When I turned fifty, I decided that the only alcoholic beverage I would consume would be champagne. Now I can spend all that time I used to waste looking at the wine list looking for a new job.

Howard frowned at me across the tiny table. “He can’t fire you!”

“Well, he took me into his office, closed the door, took my hand, and told me the board didn’t want me to open the season. What would you call it?”

“The board?” Howard snorted derisively. “That’s absurd! Beyond absurd! Since when does the board make artistic decisions? They wouldn’t even have a theater if it wasn’t for you! And François would still be directing those wretched little pieces he used to do in that awful space by the train station.”

It was an awful space, and most of the work that was presented there was distinguished by its passionate intensity, not its artistic excellence.

“I did some good work there.”

Exactly! You did! Not François and the rest of that crowd. You!

Howard snapped his fingers for emphasis as the waiter appeared with our drinks, scooped up our empties, and then stopped to peer at me quizzically. I knew that look. He just realized that he’d seen me in a movie, or at a film festival, or on a stage somewhere. The idea that I could have stopped in to have a few too many glasses of champagne in the café where he happened to be working was not something he had ever considered. In New York or L.A., I could walk down the street stark naked and not get the time of day, but here in Amsterdam, or London, or Paris, even Rome on a good day, I’m a recognizable face if not a household name.

“You are a bona fide star, missy. What possible reason could he give for firing you?” Howard said, not even noticing the waiter.

“Would you believe for being an American?”

Howard choked on his drink and started coughing like a maniac.

“Excuse me,” the waiter said, seeing his break and jumping in before Howard could catch his breath.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry, but . . .” The waiter was ignoring the presence of other thirsty customers as if we were alone in the room. “But are you...are you Josephine Evans? The actress?”

As opposed to Josephine Evans the pig farmer. I nodded, smiled, reached out to shake his free hand. “Yes, I am.”

“Thank you,” he said, his eyes filling up with tears. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Well, you’re very welcome,” I said, wondering what I had done to deserve such unabashed adoration.

Howard, fully recovered, was grinning at me like the Cheshire cat. “So you know Ms. Evans’s work?”

The waiter nodded. “Oh,yes! I’ve seen every play you’ve done since 1992. You’re the reason I became an actor.”

An actor-slash-waiter, I thought. “How old were you in 1992?” He looked like he was barely old enough now to be legally serving us drinks.

“I was ten,” he said, sounding breathless and amazed. “We were in a play together.”

That could mean only one thing. The only play I’ve ever done with children was Medea and I got to kill them at the end. A lot of actors will tell you never to work with kids or animals because they’re too cute or too fidgety, and in either case, you can’t compete. I thought that was good advice the first time I heard it and I still do, but the kids are on stage for only a minute or two in Medea, and she’s so wonderfully crazed by then, there is no way any kid, even a seriously cute or terminally twitchy one, can compete with that.

Medea, right?”

He nodded.

“Were you my son?”

“Yes!”He almost gasped in his delight.“I was the older one.The one she stabs first. I can’t believe you remember me after all these years.”

“She never forgets a line or a face,” Howard said, reaching in his pocket for a pen and a piece of paper which he slid across the table to me. He knew the drill. Smile, acknowledge, autograph, say goodbye.

“Well, my son, you grew up nice,” I said, teasing him gently, pen poised above the scrap Howard had provided. “Would you like an autograph?”

“Oh, would you mind?” he said, still ignoring the increasingly impatient people nearby, hoping to catch his eye for a refill.

“What’s your name?” I said, unprepared for the crestfallen look my question elicited. Oh, my God, I thought. This sweet baby actually thinks I remember his name after fifteen years!

I twinkled at him in a way that once would have been flirtatious but, since I’m old enough to be his mother, was only sweetly conspiratorial. “You know how we theater people are,” I said apologetically. “I only remember your character’s name. Do you want me to sign it that way?”

His smile returned. “Yes, of course, that would be fine. Oh, no, that’s not good. Then no one will know it’s for me. You better go on and make it to Julian.”

“To Julian,” I wrote, “a great actor and a wonderful son, your loving mother, Medea-slash-Josephine.”

He read it, smiled as if we now had an official private joke, bowed slightly, and backed away as if he were leaving the presence of royalty.

“See? That’s just what I mean,” Howard said, taking a sip of his champagne.

“About what?” The exchange had been pleasant, even routine, but suddenly I felt exhausted. The events of the last two days had finally caught up with me. I considered going back on my resolution and ordering up a vodka on the rocks with a splash of lime, but I don’t want to be unemployed and drunk on the same day.

“About the idea of them firing you being beyond absurd.”

“They fired you.”

He snorted dismissively. “They fired me for destroying those hideous costumes, not for being an American.”

He was right about that. Six months ago, a guest director with more ego than experience had clashed mightily with Howard about his designs from the first day of rehearsal. Nothing pleased the guy, and although he had no talent or experience as a costumer, he demanded changes up until the day before the official opening. After a while, Howard gave up trying to reason with the man and just did whatever was requested. If the director said he wanted a bustle on a miniskirt, Howard whipped it up and handed it over. The actors were mortified.

“What are you going to do?” I said the night before the opening after I’d watched a dress rehearsal and realized the costumes were even worse than anyone could have imagined. “Your name is still listed on the credits.”

“Don’t I know it,” Howard said calmly, hand-stitching a piece of pink silk with great concentration. “Pick me up at seven thirty tomorrow, okay?”

The next night, Howard dawdled around so long getting ready that by the time we got there, they were halfway through act one. I figured he was just putting off looking at those terrible costumes as long as he could, but when we crept up to the balcony to sneak a peek at the show, I was amazed to see the actors going through their paces, beautifully dressed in Howard’s original designs. Seeing my surprise, he put his fingers to his lips and led me outside around to the back of the theater. There in a pile of ugly orange, yucky yellow, and inappropriate purple were the hideous costumes the director had requested, neatly cut to ribbons.

Of course, François had to fire him for unprofessional conduct, but his costumes were so fabulous, and the story was so good, he’d been working nonstop ever since.

“Tell me François’s exact words.”

“Your firing makes a much better story than mine,” I said, trying to move on.

Howard raised one eyebrow in a way that people who didn’t know him found intimidating. “His exact words, missy.”

I couldn’t resist trying to lighten the moment by doing the accent. François was a Frenchman, raised in Spain, who had been living in Greece for a decade before we arrived in Amsterdam on the same rainy afternoon almost thirty years ago. He walked up to me at the airport, looking very hip and European, told me he was a director, and asked if I was an actress. Of course I was. I fell in love with him immediately. We lived together off and on for five or six years. At that point, we decided to stop driving each other crazy and just be friends.

In an attempt to be all things to all people, not one of his finer qualities, François deliberately rolled all his accents into one so that nobody could quite figure out where he was from. “I’m a citizen of the world” was his habitual response to direct questions, and most people let it go at that. That’s one of the best things about theater people. It’s our job to make stuff up. Characters, accents, costumes. The specifics of real time, real place are less important to us than the integrity of heart and sweetness of soul. Nobody held François’s accent against him. We had all come from somewhere else. Many of us had come from someone else. But once we found each other, we became members of the same tribe.

The most passionate relationships we ever had occurred in the context of rehearsal and performance. Our lives outside the theater often seemed flamboyant and extravagant, but that was only because when you spend three hours a night doing Shakespeare, Ibsen, Sophocles, Wilson, Hansberry, you have to live your real life at that emotional level, too, or risk boring yourself to death until showtime. If anyone appreciated the necessity of reinvention, Howard and I did. Plus, we both loved François, even after he had sent us packing. You can’t forget all those years of friendship, love, struggle, collaboration, and sex just because the world was going stone crazy and there wasn’t a damn thing you or your friends could do about it.

“ ‘Josephine,’ ” I said, exaggerating the famous accent until I sounded like a combination of Pepé Le Pew, the cartoon skunk who thinks he’s Charles Boyer, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor who thinks he’s the governor of California. “ ‘You know I love you...’ ”

Howard groaned. “He didn’t go there, did he?”

I plowed ahead. “ ‘But we’ve gotten some calls at the theater. Some letters. The board just thinks this isn’t a good time to have an American actress open the season this year. They’re afraid it sends the wrong message.’ ”

“The wrong message to whom? Do they think you set American foreign policy in between performances?”

I was still doing François, but it wasn’t as funny as I had hoped it would be. “ ‘You know, Josephine, I would not be where I am today if it hadn’t been for you.’ ”

“At least he had the guts to say it.”

“But he didn’t have the guts not to do it,” I said in my own voice, amazed to feel my eyes filling up.

“Fuck ’em,” Howard said, pretending he didn’t see me blinking back the tears.

“Be sure you tell François that the next time you see him, will you?”

“This is all the work of that little Cuban floozie if you ask me.”

François’s new girlfriend was a Cuban actress who had joined the company two years ago and was both talented and beautiful.

“She’s not a floozie and she hasn’t got that kind of influence over the board anyway.”

“They don’t deserve you.”

I took another swallow of champagne to soothe my frazzled nerves. “He took great pains to tell me that they were prepared to let me keep the apartment and pay me half salary even though I wouldn’t be playing such a visible role.”

When I said that about the apartment, Howard looked as shocked as I had felt. I’d been living there so long, I had almost forgotten it technically belonged to the theater. Apparently, François’s memory was a lot better than mine.

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him I wanted all of it in writing so I could show it to my lawyer.”

“Good for you! I didn’t even know you had a lawyer.”

“I don’t. No job. No lawyer. I’m batting a thousand.” I could never remember whether a big number or a small number was better in baseball. “Is that the bad one?”

Howard smiled and patted my hand. “I’m not a big sports fan, sweetie. I couldn’t tell you.”

“Well, whatever is the worst, that’s what I’m batting.”

We just looked at each other. This was bad and we both knew it.

“Should I act like a real American and go over there and kick his ass for him?” Howard said.

“Would you?”

“With pleasure. All you have to do is say the word.”

“I’m not there yet,” I said, “but hold yourself in readiness.”

“Can’t you teach classes or something?”

I looked at him.

“What? You’d be a fabulous teacher.”

“I’m a fabulous actress, remember? I don’t have the patience to teach.”

“Maria Callas gave private lessons.”

Callas was Howard’s favorite opera singer of all time, but the legendary diva’s voice classes were famous for making mincemeat of those who came to worship her.

“She made people cry and slash their wrists,” I reminded him.

“Nobody slashed their wrists.”

“That’s because they had to leave all sharp objects at the door.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “I get it. Teaching is out. So what are you going to do?”

The truth was, the funeral had come up so quickly on the heels of my demotion that I hadn’t had time to really consider the question. It would take me a minute to process the possibilities and come up with a plan that would feed me creatively and put champagne on the table.

“I have no idea.”

“You still going to do your trip?”

I was leaving for Atlanta in two days. My granddaughter had been on the periphery of a high-profile murder case that consumed Atlanta gossips for months and exposed her to a level of scrutiny and speculation for which she was unprepared. Shell-shocked, she had withdrawn from college in the middle of her senior year. Her mother was worried and so was I. Howard loved Zora almost as much as I did. Almost. He’s the one who taught her to speak French and took her to her first Paris fashion show. She’d been flying to Europe to spend part of the summer with me for almost ten years, but this year she told me she just wasn’t up for the trip.

“Of course.”

“Good for you,” Howard said. “Strategically, it’s absolutely the right move. Leave your outrage hanging in the air and haul ass back to Atlanta until I can sort things out here.”

Is that what I was doing? Hauling ass? “I’ve never run from a fight in my life.”

“This isn’t running, sweetie. This is a strategic withdrawal.”

“What is there to sort out?”

“Everything,” he said. “Did you not participate actively in the conceptualization and actualization of the Human Theatre Company?”

“François had the theater when I met him. You know that. Technically, it’s his. He can do anything he wants to with it.”

“Fuck technically. I’m talking about truth. Did you or did you not?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Were you planning to stop performing before François’s surprising announcement?”

“Of course not. Not yet anyway.”

“Not yet? Not ever. Great actors are ageless, sweetie. You’re just hitting your stride.”

“I can’t see myself doing Medea when I’m sixty.”

“Then do Clytemnestra. Do Rose Maxson. Do Lena Younger or that three-hundred-fifty-year-old voodoo girl in August Wilson’s last opus.”

“Second to last. There’s one more after that.”

“You’re missing my point, sweetie. Our board used to be like us. Artists and a few rich eccentrics and, if we were lucky, somebody who owned a café close by. Now they’re a bunch of stone-faced bean counters who wouldn’t know a piece of art if it hit ’em in the face.” Howard’s voice was rising again.

“Calm down,” I said. “We don’t need to be thrown out of anyplace else today.”

Howard ignored my suggestion. “Just because it’s no longer me and you and François and Halima sitting up in my funky little apartment, dreaming and drinking and smoking bad dope, doesn’t mean this thing we created now belongs to them. Fuck that! Let’s fight for it!”

“How are we supposed to do that?”

“Who knows? For now, you go to Atlanta. Spend time with Miss Zora and help her get that lovely little head screwed on right again. Rest and play and have fun while I figure out our next move. How are your finances?”

“I’m okay,” I said, but the question set off alarm bells in my head. I’m okay only in the sense that as long as I had my regular stipend coming in from the theater and my beautiful little rent-free apartment, I could live at the level to which I’d become accustomed and continue to follow what Jack Nicholson called the universal rule of show business: the one who’s working pays. Since I’d been working regularly for the last thirty years, I’d paid for hundreds of meals, rivers of wine, oceans of beer. I’d loaned money for rent knowing I’d never get it back, paid for round-trip tickets home on the only working credit card in the group, and been glad to do it. That was the beauty of the rule. It gave those of us in a notoriously fickle profession a way to handle emergencies without having to humble ourselves to outsiders with straight jobs who always feel obligated to lecture you on the precariousness of your financial situation, like you don’t already know it.

The fact of the matter is, my finances are nothing to write home about. I haven’t got any savings to speak of. I own a duplex in Atlanta that my mother left me, but I have no idea what it’s worth, and I’ve got a couple of thousand bucks stashed here and there as a hedge against being a broke old lady, depending on the kindness of strangers. I always kind of figured that I’d add more to it later so I’d wind up with a bigger nest egg, but I just never got around to it. It occurred to me in a sickening flash that if I couldn’t work this out with François, I might have to start auditioning for parts again, which would be a nightmare. An audition at twenty-five is one thing. An audition at fifty-eight is something else altogether. That’s why those Hollywood girls cut their faces up and shoot them full of Botox like that. Trying to turn back time.

“Come to Atlanta with me,” I said, feeling suddenly more vulnerable than I wanted to. “We’ll only stay a couple of months, I promise. François will come to his senses and we’ll be back by spring.”

Howard shook his head. “I refuse to visit any country where you can’t smoke a joint with your morning cappuccino without getting hauled off to jail. It’s not civilized. Besides, I promised the ghost of Langston Hughes that if I ever got my black ass out of Chicago, they wouldn’t have to worry about Howard Denmond setting foot on American soil ever again. As long as I stay here, I’m living the life I dreamed about. Back there, I’m just one more black faggot with a little style.”

“You could never be just one more anything.”

“Could you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “How about one more glass of champagne.”

“Your wish is my command.” He waved at Julian, our waiter-slashactor, who was already hovering with a bottle of something French, which he said was on the house.

“Why are you so good to me?” I said when Julian had poured us two glasses, made another small bow, and disappeared.

It was a rhetorical question, but Howard answered it anyway. “Because you’re my best friend and I can’t bear to see them treat you this way. Plus, you’re a star, sweetie. You’ve opened and closed the season every year for the last decade. George Bush doesn’t cancel all that out by being the biggest fool on God’s green earth.”

“All right. I will leave myself in your capable hands.”

“Good! This shouldn’t take long, I promise.”

“Do you already have a battle plan?”

“Of course. First, I’m going to remind them of who you are. I may also let slip that you’ve had a very attractive offer from The Red Bird Workshop.”

The Red Bird was the new kid on the block, and François was already worried about them stealing his audience. “I have?”

Howard smiled. “Leave everything to me, sweetie.”

“I guess at this point, I don’t have much choice.”

He leaned over and patted my hand. “Have I ever let you down?”

“Never.”

“Well, I’m not about to start now.”

“Good.”

“I know one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m going to miss you like crazy,” he said, his voice cracking just a little. “Jesus! I didn’t even cry at the damn funeral!”

“You didn’t have time,” I said. “We got tossed out too fast.”

Howard grimaced. “What a day! That already seems like a hundred years ago!”

“A hundred years and counting.”

Over the next two hours, what had started off as an angry drowning of our sorrows evolved into a wonderfully teary bon voyage party and a picture-perfect ending to an absolutely terrible day. All I needed to do now was call Zora and tell her I was on my way.

“Well, let’s have one last toast before we drag our drunk asses home,” Howard said, dividing the last corner of the dark green bottle between us.

“Good idea,” I said. “What are we toasting?”

“Here’s to being real Americans.” He raised his glass and grinned across the table at me. “Who knew?”

Continues...

Excerpted from Seen It All and Done the Rest by Pearl Cleage Copyright © 2008 by Pearl Cleage. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why does Josephine decide not to stay and fight the theater and the backlash that she is receiving because she is an American? How does she just walk away from it all? How do you think the rest of the world views Americans since the Iraq War began? How do you think Americans view themselves?

2. How is the issue of responsibility, both public and private, central to the book? How do the characters carry out their responsibilities to each other—Josephine to Zora, Zora to Josephine, Howard to Josephine? How do the characters carry out their larger responsibilities to society? To Atlanta? To the United States?

3. The relationship between Josephine and Zora is complex. Many of the same personality traits can be seen in both granddaughter and grandmother. How do you think this both helps and hinders their relationship? Both wanted to run away from their lives at the beginning of the story; how did they change their ways of thinking by the end?

4. Why does Josephine decide to call the reporter back even after Howard warns her not to? How is Howard an enabler for Josephine?

5. There are many symbols in the book that seem to tie together the major themes of the story.What does the mermaid in the pool represent? Josephine’s abandoned house? The garden?

6. What is Victor’s role in the story? How does his story mirror those of others in the book?

7. Abbie found the “secret of life” in Amarillo, Texas.How do you think she helped Josephine find the secret of life? Do you believe that people find their bliss in a certain place on a map?

8. Why does Josephine stand up to Greer Woodruff, when she ran from her problems in Amsterdam? What keeps her in Atlanta besides Zora?

9. Some people have been inspired by this novel and have planted peace gardens.What does a peace garden mean to you and what would you plant in yours?

10. Family plays an important part in this book.What are the various types of families portrayed? How do neighborhoods create family?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    STANDING TOGETHER

    I LOVED READING THIS BOOK. CLEAGE WRITING STYLE IS SO SMOOTH. SHE HAD YOU WISHING YOU COULD ACTUALLY BE THERE. VERY POWERFUL. THIS STORY STARTS OFF WITH A GRANDMOTHER RETURNING TO ATLANTA TO RECONNECT WITH HER GRANDDAUGHTER AND DO SOME BONDING. BUT WHILE IN ATLANTA THE GRANDMOTHER RUNS INTO A FRIEND FROM YEARS AGO. SHE CONNECTS TO HER AND FORM A STRONGER BOND. THEN THE GRANDMOTHER SETS OUT TO REBUILD THE HOUSE THAT SHE GREW UP IN AND TO LEAVE IT FOR A HERITAGE TO HER GRANDDAUGHTER. BUT IN DOING SO SHE MEETS OTHER FAMILIES ON THE SAME BLOCK AND FORM NEW FRIENDSHIPS AND STRONG BONDS. EVERYONE ENDS UP COMING TOGETHER AND STANDING AS A COMMUNITY. A REALLY GREAT READ.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2008

    Take A Stand

    Pearl Cleage done it again. I have not read two books by her, those are I Wish I had a Red Dress, Babalyon Sisters, everything else has kept me glued to her writings, I love her style of writing and the knowledge she puts down in her books, her characters make you think that you are them. I want to know what happen between her Louie Baptise. Looking forward for the next book by Cleage. I want to be there with Josephine, Zora, Abby and Louie eating the gumbo,drinking the herbal teas, planting the MLK Peace Garden. All the characters are Great in this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    We can make a difference

    This is another great reading experience that Ms. Cleage has delivered. Josephine, Zora, and Abby were powerful women in their own unique ways. Start with an seasoned actress needing to spend time with her granddaughter, add an old friend and mix it with a purpose and a way to make it work and you have an incredible storyline.

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    Posted January 26, 2012

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    Posted October 24, 2008

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