Recently, my friend Nzingha Clarke and I were waiting in line to hear Bob Mankoff, cartoonist and cartoon editor for The New Yorker magazine, speak at the L.A. Public Library. As we stood around talking, it suddenly occurred to me that I should make her the subject of one of my columns. She is, after all, one of my favorite people in Los Angeles.
I met Nzingha in 1995 shortly after I moved to the smoggy city. It's fortunate that I met her when I did because shortly thereafter she moved to Amsterdam where she lived for the next 18 months. Because she is a nomad, she is constantly moving throughout the world. Fortunately, Los Angeles is one of many places that she calls home, and so she frequently returns (though it seems she's never here for very long).
When I first met Nzingha, she was a film editor. It is a title she has long since abandoned. Currently, she is a writer, and one of the finest writers I know.
As we stood in line, waiting to be seated for Mankoff, the woman next to us joined in our conversation. I mentioned Nzingha's writing talents and she asked Nzingha if she'd been published. Sadly, and through a massive miscalculation in the publishing world, she has not. (I'm referring to her fiction as she has been published in other capacities.)
The following day, however, I called Nzingha and demanded, "Why haven't you been published?" She responded with a long answer that I promptly ignored (after all the question was only posed so I could answer) and said, "Do you know why I think you haven't been published? Because you're not trying hard enough!"
I was being facetious.
I think one of the hallmarks of a great short story, or any story for that matter, is re-readability. I have read almost all of her stories over and over again, including my favorite, "Katie and Pell," which has to be one of the most dysfunctional love stories ever written. Sometimes that story simply calls to me in the middle of the night and if I don't have time to read the whole thing (her short stories are actually quite long for the form), then I can often take solace in reading excerpts. Any excerpt will do -- they're all good. Because Nzingha knows how to write -- and she does it well.
I think one of the reasons she is such a fine writer can be deemed from this anecdote:
While waiting in line, I noticed Nzingha had checked out a book before the lecture. The book fell into the generic category of chick lit (in other words, literature for women; slightly elevated fare from a Harlequin romance, but nevertheless, fluff).
I was befuddled. "Why are you reading this?" I asked.
"I have an omnivorous mind," she replied.
It's true. I don't know anyone with such a diverse field of knowledge rolling around her brain. This woman voraciously devours books at a breakneck pace. She reads through the night while most people sleep (she doesn't seem to require much sleep herself) and she reads everything: fiction, science fiction, horror, the classics, poetry, biographies, non-fiction, in essence, whatever she can get her hands on that interests her. And she finds everything interesting, from cloning to kung fu.
Lest you think she's some kind of bookish introvert who rarely leaves her room, she is also a rock climber, hiker, cook, editor (film and words), former actress, drag racer (she's addicted to speed; her mantra is "Faster!"), journalist, world traveler (she's lived in New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and along the beaches of Mexico), avid football player (soccer to the Americans reading this), tour guide (she knows the best place to get a Thai iced tea, when a new art gallery is opening, or when someone interesting such as Mankoff is speaking), and she throws the best dinner parties I've ever attended.
Perhaps you're wondering why I'm bragging so much about Nzingha Clarke, a writer you've never heard of? I assure you, it's strictly ego. Not hers, mine. Because once she becomes a famous and award-winning author I want to be able to point back to this column and shout, "I TOLD YOU SO!"
(Remember, folks, you heard it here first.)
Of course, my own ego has nothing to do with this one simple fact -- she's that good. When she is published, be sure to read her. Then be prepared to fall captive to her words. They come from a very omnivorous mind -- and it never stops feeding.
Stormcrow Hayes watches kung fu movies with Nzingha when she lands in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. For more information visit www.stormcrowhayes.com. Coming soon, you can read about Nzingha at www.omnivorousmind.blogspot.com.