MIAMI – “Did you know it was always Leonard’s dream to publish a novel?” asked Janell Walden Agyeman, a literary agent who represents Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.
After working with him on the paperback edition of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, Agyeman, of Marie Brown Associates, is representing Pitts again for his latest novel, Before I Forget.
Pitts, 51, is one of the showcased authors of the 2009 Miami Book Fair International, which takes place at the Miami Dade College Wolfson campus in Miami from Nov. 8 through 15.
Veteran journalist Gwen Ifill and poet Elizabeth Alexander also will be among the featured authors.
Pitts will make appearances on Nov. 13 and 14.
Before I Forget is the story of a 1970s Motown singer diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 49. The book is mainly about connecting four generations of black men in different stages of life and learning life’s lessons.
As a native Southern Californian with a strong mother and tough father, Pitts began his life knowing that he wanted to write. At the age of 12, he began sending poems and articles to various magazines in the hopes that he would be published. Thinking that this was a great way to break into the writing industry and hone his craft, Pitts diligently wrote and submitted.
At 14, he was finally published, which propelled him forward in his writing. By the time he was 18 years old and a University of Southern California freshman, Pitts was published in Soul Magazine, a national publication geared toward gossip-worthy entertainment news concerning African Americans. This began his freelance writing career. Two years later, Pitts became the editor of Soul.
“To me, the number one thing has always been doing the work to the best of your ability,” said the 1977 University of Southern California graduate, who majored in English Literature.
In 2004, Pitts won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. By this time, his column was syndicated across the United States. To date, his column appears in approximately 150 publications, including The Miami Herald (his base newspaper), The Baltimore Sun, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Freeman (in Kingston, NY), the Detroit Free Press, The Houston Chronicle, and The Richmond Times Dispatch.
Pitts, an avid fan of Motown, Philly International, Stacks, The Temptations, the O’Jays, Spinners, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Bruce Springsteen, had been writing music reviews for 18 years before he decided to journey a different path. In 1994, Pitts made the transition from pop music critic to pop culture commentator. His topics range from social issues, family life, headliners, and politics.
Of his transition from music writing to commentary, he said, “I got bored with pop music critiques. I didn’t feel like going to anymore New Kids interviews or Milli Vanilli concerts.”
When asked what is pressing on his mind the most in these times, Pitts simply stated: “The state of political discourse and the way we talk to each other in this country; which is loud and with ignorance.”
Pitts, a Bowie, Maryland, resident, said he likes living close to the nation’s capital and being able to catch the metro train to historical libraries and research for his articles and novels in the Library of Congress.
He prides himself on his research, which enhances his columns. He said he feels that all writers should take this approach, especially when writing commentary or writing reviews.
As an avid lover of history, Pitts counts the HBO series Rome and Deadwood among some of his favorite shows. In fact, his next novel, Freeman’s Walk, is based on the Civil War. In that novel, Pitts’ main character, Sam, decides to run away from the plantation where he is enslaved, leaving behind his wife. After 15 years and the Civil War, Sam treks across the country, back to the plantation to find his wife.
Now that his next novel is underway, Pitts has already achieved his dream of becoming a novelist. He said he still loves the joy of getting feedback on his columns, though not necessarily the stress of the five hours it takes him to write them.
Before I Forget has become a favorite among people across the country of different races, said Agyeman, who traveled with Pitts on a brief tour during the debut of the book in the spring of 2009.
At this moment, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Pitts may make his transition from informed commentator to socially responsible novelist.
“I think Leonard Pitts is one of the most distinctive, elegant, compassionate novelists of our time, whose understanding of the human condition resonates throughout all of his work,” said Agyeman, a former Miami Book Fair International board member who lives in the Atlanta, Georgia area. “I am confident that fifty years from now, if people are still reading, they will pick up a Leonard Pitts book and enjoy it.”
Photo: Leonard Pitts Jr.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 2009 Miami Book Fair International
WHEN: Nov. 8 to 15, 2009 (Street Fair is Nov. 13-15, 2009). Pitts will make appearances on Friday, Nov. 13 at 9:30 a.m. and Saturday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m. in the Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus Auditorium Pavilion.
WHERE: Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, Auditorium Pavilions, 300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami
COST: Various fees, check websites for specific dates; free parking at Miami Dade, College Parking Garage, Building 7
CONTACT: 305-237-3258 www.miamibookfair.com