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Rhodes, Jewell Parker

Rhodes, Jewell Parker

PERSONAL: Female. Education: Carnegie Mellon University, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Home—Scottsdale, AZ. Office—Department of English, Arizona State University, Box 870302, Tempe, AZ, 85287-0302. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and writer. Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg, MO, former assistant professor of English; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, professor of creative writing and American literature, former director of MFA program in creative writing.

AWARDS, HONORS: Yaddo Creative Writing Fellowship; National Endowment for the Arts Award in Fiction, National Endowment for the Arts; Distinguished Teaching Award, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University, 1995; additional Distinguished Teaching Award.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Voodoo Dreams, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Magic City, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

Douglass' Women, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Voodoo Season: A Marie Laveau Mystery, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2005.

NONFICTION

Free within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Authors, Main Street Books/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.

The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Contributor to anthologies, including Ancestral House: The Black Short Story in the Americas and Europe, edited by Charles Rowell, Westview Press/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995; and Children of the Night: Best Short Stories by Black Writers, edited by Gloria Naylor, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including Callaloo, Calyx, Seattle Review, Feminist Studies, Peregrine, Hayden's Ferry Review, Ms. Magazine, and Shooting Star Review.

SIDELIGHTS: Jewell Parker Rhodes is a professor of English and creative writing as well as an author. Her debut work of fiction, Voodoo Dreams, is the story of Marie Laveau, a nineteenth-century Louisiana practitioner of voodoo. Marie is a mystical girl who grows into a woman before the reader's eyes. Voodoo Dreams tracks Marie's movements as she learns about life, love, and possession of the Damballah, a serpent god that Laveau learns to channel. Laveau is the most renowned priestess in New Orleans, and her ceremonies attract people of all stripes. Through Marie, Rhodes introduces readers "to a world of ritual and theatricality as captivating in her novel as Laveau's ceremonies must have been for Voodoo believers in old New Orleans," stated Houston A. Baker, Jr., in the African American Review.

Rhodes initially believed that she was simply writing about the character Marie Laveau. "Then it hit me like a ton of bricks," she explained to Allen Ramsey in the African American Review, "that I was writing about a daughter trying to find her mother." Rhodes gained other insights as she wrote Voodoo Dreams. "I was in tears because I hadn't known that being a woman was just fine. I didn't know that being a woman was glorious, you know," she told Ramsey. "I didn't know that you could move from painful experiences to a sense of triumph and wonder and an acceptance that everything that got you there becomes a part of the stew of life."

With the novel Douglass' Women, Rhodes examines the life of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass through his relationship with two women. One was his wife of forty-four years, and the mother of his five children, Anna, a free African-American woman who assisted him when he escaped slavery. The other was a white German woman, Ottilie Asslig, who was the heiress to a fortune, an advocate of his antislavery cause, and his mistress for nearly thirty years. Rhodes tells Douglass' story from the perspectives of Anna and Ottilie. Vanessa Bush of Booklist noted: "Rhodes expertly portrays the tensions and passions in the lives of these women."

Rhodes returns to the subject of her first novel, Voodoo Dreams, with Voodoo Season: A Marie Laveau Mystery. In Voodoo Season, another Marie, a descendant of the primary character in Voodoo Dreams, becomes drawn into the world of voodoo. Marie grows up an orphan in Chicago, becomes a doctor, and moves to New Orleans. Working as an emergency room physician, she becomes plagued with visions that lead her to investigate the power of voodoo in her new home city. While Donna Seaman of Booklist found that "Rhodes verges on voodoo-lite in scenes of campy Hollywood," the reviewer called the book "alluring" and an "easily consumed tale."

In addition to novels, Rhodes has also published several works of nonfiction. These books are guides to writing and publishing targeted at an African-American audience. In The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction, Rhodes offers advice for both aspiring and established writers on how to develop their skills in several writing genres, as well as how to work with editors and publishers. Reviewing the book in Black Issues Book Review, Robert Fleming called it "an excellent guide." Fleming also commented: "Maybe the best feature of the book is its easy, conversational tone that never lectures or scolds but instructs much as a writing coach would."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

African American Review, winter, 1995, Allen Ramsey, interview with Jewell Parker Rhodes, p. 593; spring, 1995, Houston A. Baker, Jr., review of Voodoo Dreams, p. 157.

Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2002, Robert Fleming, review of The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction, p. 58.

Booklist, September 15, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of Douglass' Women, p. 208; August, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Voodoo Season, p. 2002.

ONLINE

Page Turner, http://www.pageturner.net/ (December 30, 2005), biography of Jewell Parker Rhodes.

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