Thank you, Grandmama, for daring to fight, for tenderly and rigorously loving us, for daring to be open about your failures, for not running north when you could, for making us know we are loved, for teaching us how to work and share and laugh. Thank you, Mama, for teaching me everyday that an unexamined life is not a rich life, for modeling a love of reading, writing, teaching, and building, for laughing when our hearts and heads were so heavy and so light, for being honest when it was easier to lie, for admitting you failed, for accepting you taught us how to dream and dodge, for revision. Thank you, Mississippi, for birthing the architects of soul, blues, gospel and all thangs trill, for making sure our hearts beat with utter tenderness and absolute ferocity, for making me know that hometraining is crucial to all kinds of love, for pushing me away and accepting me back, for being every bit as scary and sublime as the uninitiated think we are, for that dog, for that dog. Thank you, Holy Family, for showing me that black southern love necessitates black southern friendship and black southern (in)formal education, for letting me laugh so much, for making me laugh so much, for teaching me how to be happy watching and listening, for introducing me to three people who absolutely saved my life: Mr. Otis, Ms. Simmons and Derrick Carlisle, and for the lives and memories of David Rozier, Henry Wallace and Tim Brown.
Thank you, Oberlin College, for accepting me, for introducing me to hummus, tofu and new ways of using narrative voice, for really giving me the belief that I could make a life out of reading, writing, teaching and learning, for forgiving me when I failed, for loving me even when I did everything I could to hide from you. Thank you, Vassar College, for giving me a chance to grow and fail and get better as a teacher and writer. Thank you for Poughkeepsie for accepting me and letting me call you home. Thank you, University of Mississippi English Department and Creative Writing Program, for intellectual and creative genius, for kindness and professional integrity, for talking to each other, for loving our state and our students, for embracing our team.
Thank you, Kathy Belden, for believing in this project and me. Ever since reading Salvage the Bones, all I wanted to do was have a chance to collaborate. I honestly didn’t think we’d do the memoir first. I didn’t think we were ready. But you believed and you were patient. And you were persistent. And you cared about what the writing of the book was doing to my body, my heart. Thank you for welcoming me into your family and accepting a big place in mine. Thank you, PJ Mark, for being he greatest agent on earth. When I wanted to use this book to punish myself, you opened up about your own experiences and told me to slow down and love the body I have, even if it wasn’t the body I wanted. Your care for prose is only eclipsed by your care for the writers you work with. I did this alone for so long that I gave up on the idea of agents actually being advocates and warriors. Thank you, PJ, for being a bad bad bad ass white boy. Squad.
Thank you, teachers and readers and critics and academics, for taking time to engage with any sentence or paragraph I've written, for sharing those sentences with other readers and students, for taking time with the work even when I get it wrong, for giving me permission to create what I've never seen.