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Volunteer Andrea blogs about Terry McMillan reading from her work-in-progress.

Laughter filled the National Book Festival’s fiction tent throughout Terry McMillan’s reading of her work-in-progress, Who Asked You? Attendees were advised not to tell Ms. McMillan’s publicist that she wasn’t reading from Getting to Happy, her Waiting to Exhale sequel published last year. Instead, Ms. McMillan wanted to hear the words of Who Asked You? read aloud and to get the audience’s reaction because, as she said, “Everybody doesn’t think your baby’s cute.”

With that, she dove into an opening page that grabbed my attention and made me and the rest of the audience packed into the fiction tent laugh over and over again. Ms. McMillan’s characters were engaging. Their stories were told with skill. Her prose was witty and insightful. Two rows back from the podium, I saw that the author’s handwritten notes were visible on her typed pages. I watched the pages shuffle as if I might glimpse an edit that was the key to great novel-writing.

Every National Book Festival author brings something different to the oral and visual experiences of the audience. Reading the story in character, Ms. McMillan paused at the ends of sentences to offer the audience an array of facial expressions. And what a relief it was to see a great author like Ms. McMillan pause in mid-sentence to do some on-the-fly editing of her manuscript as if she really meant it that she wanted to hear the words in front of an audience so that she could judge them.

My summarizing this first chapter of Who Asked You? would not do justice to the richness of prose that describes the range of motivations behind something like frying up chicken wings. In twenty minutes of listening to Ms. McMillan read, I became caught up in the plights of her characters. I didn’t want her to stop reading even though her fiction tent time was nearly up. I definitely liked her baby and would certainly offer to babysit if given the opportunity.

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