April Sinclair doesn't appear to know the meaning of the word "self conscious." Here is another writer who could double as a stand-up comedian. Last week, she kept the audience at UC Davis laughing at her stories of life on the road during her several book tours to promote her first novel "Coffee Will Make You Black" (Avon, $10, 1994) and her most recent "Ain't Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice" (Hyperion, $19.95, 1996).
Sinclair was raised on Chicago's South Side where one of her early messages must have been: If you want something, go for it. She earned her bachelor's degree at Western Illinois before moving to California where she worked as a community activist in Oakland for 15 years. She also took graduate courses at San Francisco State.
When she had written just 20 pages of her first novel, "Coffee Will Make You Black," she decided to give a public reading.
She called a bookstore and volunteered herself as a reader. The owner agreed. Sinclair then distributed hundreds of fliers and prepared for her first public reading. Talk about guts.
Now, anyone who has ever hosted a book-signing or reading will tell you that a dozen people is a good turnout. Thirty people is a great turnout. Anything over 50 is a smash hit and means you probably provided a lot of free food and a live band.
But more than 125 people came to this unknown, unpublished writer's first reading.
"It was very strange because I didn't have a book," admitted Sinclair, laughing at the joke of it all. "Something just told me to keep on going."
Sinclair said she called a women's book store for her reading and found support through the sisterhood. Additionally, she was then working as the director of an emergency food coalition in Oakland so people who knew her as a community activist turned out.
"I had a lot of contacts," she admitted. If there's one thing any community activist worth his or her salt can do, it's turn out a crowd.
"They didn't know I only had 20 pages written," said Sinclair, laughing again.
But the point is, it worked. Sinclair began getting calls from agents who heard about her successful reading and soon she had a contract to finish "Coffee Will Make You Black," the coming of age novel about a young black woman set in 1965-1970.
"I was popular during that period when I was reading my work," said Sinclair. "Now that I'm succeeding I'm unpopular again. I can't get a date."
Sinclair takes life's ups and downs in stride. Popularity comes and goes. Books come and go. For her second novel, she extended her success by writing about the continuing adventures of Stevie Stevenson, 10 years older but not seemingly much wiser.
"Ain't Gonna Be" is set in San Francisco in 1975. According to Elizabeth Davis of the UCD English department, Sinclair successfully captures The City during that era while creating gutsy characters and filling the narrative with effective real-life language.
Sinclair read a passage in which Stevie decides to tell her mother that she's a lesbian. Her mother simply won't believe it.
"That doesn't run in our family," says her mother. She plays her trump card: "I knew you before you knew yourself. I carried you for nine months."
Sinclair said she told her own real-life mother not to read her second book, which may cause some unhappiness due to certain sex scenes.
"She doesn't want to be disturbed," Sinclair confided to the audience. "She wants to remember Stevie just the way I left her in 'Coffee.' "
Sinclair said it took her about five years to write "Coffee." Since then she's invested in a computer and it took her half as much time to write her second novel.
"I like to eat so, yes, I'm working on my third book," she said in answer to a question. "I'm thinking of setting it in Chicago...it's such a rich city...it will be a completely new and different novel, not about Stevie."
The final author speaking in Davis at this summer's program on Northern California women writers will be Catherine Coulter. The title of her talk this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. is "Publishing: Ego, Intimacy and the Swamp Thing." Coulter is a successful writer of a particular literary genre known as the romance novel. Don't turn up your nose, Coulter has been extremely successful. She'll be speaking at the Alumni and Visitors' Center on campus. See you there.