Saturday, April 2, 2011

My Remarks at April Marcel's Red Carpet Event

April Marcel and me at the Red Carpet Premier tonight.^
Following are the remarks I made tonight as one of three speakers at April Marcel's Red Carpet Event & Movie Premier at Hollins University. Three of April's short films played before a packed house at the Dana Center. Here's what I had to say:

You have to wonder what in the world an old, fat, white guy is doing up here talking about a talented, beautiful woman who is bound for a Pulitzer Prize. Fact is, despite outward appearances, we have a lot in common, much of it revolving around a love of the written word and, frankly, a deeper love of getting a lot of attention.

I’m a writer because I love attention, love expressing my opinions, love hearing people agree with me, love meeting interesting and exciting people every day of my life—among them April Drummond.

I ran into April a few years ago because of a writing contest I was judging. She jumped out of the competition like Michael Jordan at a junior high basketball camp. Her writing was raw, riveting and real. It didn’t have much polish, but neither did Elvis Pressley in 1956 or Otis Redding in 1963 or Spike Jones in 1979. They all did pretty well.

April’s work was so impressive that I thought maybe it would be good to find her an audience outside the church that had enjoyed her work for years, so we put together a coalition of people who tend to get things done, found her a scholarship to this wonderful university and some writing tools, pointed her in the right direction and got out of the way. April has done the rest because she knows, perhaps as well as anyone I’ve ever known, how to recognize and take advantage of an opportunity. We all get those, but we don’t always recognize them for what they are and what they can mean to us. April doesn’t hesitate. She has that keen sense of recognition and it has led her to the point of near-breakout. Tonight, she emerges again.

My friend and April's colleague Kenley Smith, who owns Studio Roanoke and has presented one of April's plays, recently said, " "It's tempting to call April a great local talent, but what she has accomplished transcends boundaries and labels. She's a wonderful writer, period, and we'll be hearing about her for years to come." I've heard the same sentiments from a number of others who've worked with her and even from the president of this university.

April’s life has been one of emergence. Seven kids, learning to write on her own, keeping things together against all odds, learning a difficult skill in the most difficult of circumstances. Never wavering. Always having faith in her god and in herself. I’m not a religious guy, but when I see April’s faith and what has meant to her, her children and our community, I’m tempted.

She is the example I use when I talk about grit before audiences of very successful people. A lot of these people don’t have a clue what I’m talking about when I mention the specific challenges of poverty—which have almost nothing to do with material things. It’s about how the poor are perceived and how the poor perceive themselves. I grew up very poor and have first-hand knowledge of it. April knows about it, too, and she considers other things more important. That’s how you emerge from the psychological grip and conquer it. Face it. Challenge it. Defeat it. Get on to what’s important.

I think writers have an advantage in this little war because we have to face ourselves every time we sit at a keyboard and write something. It always starts out being about us, our values, our perceptions before it can segue into whatever the topic is. In order to do that, we have to think we have something to offer and in order to get there, we have to beat the very devil who tells us over and over that we’re poor and, therefore, worthless.

Ain’t so. And April proves that.

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