Joe, Yolanda 19(?)(?)–
Yolanda Joe 19(?)(?)–
Making her mark on the literary world with her popular novels, Yolanda Joe has probed the ups and downs of young black women and men in the 1990s who are searching for love in different ways. Her trademark in her books has been the use of multiple narrators who offered their own perspectives on the difficulties of trying to find oneself and the perfect mate at the same time.
Life took a turn on a rough road for Joe early in her life. After her parents separated when she was two, she was raised by her maternal grandparents on Chicago’s tough South Side. Despite the shake-up, Joe has tremendous gratitude for her grandparents and claims that they had a major effect on her future as a writer. “They both pushed me to write when I was a kid,” Joe said of them in the “A Celebration of Black History” section of Philadelphia Online on the Web.
Joe excelled as a student while growing up, earning top grades that landed her at prestigious Yale University. After graduating from Yale with a B.A. in English, she honed her writing skills at Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York City. She moved on from there to a professional career as a newswriter and producer for WBBM-TV and WBBM-AM Newsradio in Chicago. Meanwhile, on her own time Joe continued to develop her craft as a fiction writer. She was rewarded for her efforts in 1992 with the publication of her first novel entitled Falling Leaves of Ivy, which came out on the Longmead-ow imprint. “That was my gumbo book,” Joe told Philadelphia Online. “I figured I might never get published again so I put a little bit of everything in it.” Falling Leaves of Ivy deals with the interracial friendship among four students at Yale University who become involved with a crime. Their cover-up of the crime haunts them years later and threatens their prestigious careers. The book also addresses various issues of racism in the workplace.
Joe’s next novel, He Say, She Say, was published by Warner Books in 1997 and became a best-seller. “He Say, She Say was my romantic comedy,” she told Philadelphia Online about the book, which tells the story of a young fast-track executive named Sandy, who is seeking a solid relationship, and her friend Bebe, a bank supervisor who is on a “sex sabbatical” following some disastrous romantic involvements. Other main characters in the novel include T. J., a jazz pianist who wants to keep his budding relationship with Sandy casual, and T.J.’s father Speed. Joe alternated chapters between the voices of these four characters, giving readers penetrating looks at the different perspectives of males, females, and the older generation on various issues. “Lessons are learned all around about trust, vanity, loyalty, and romance—with a large dash of humor,” noted Library Journal about the book, while Kirkus Reviews referred to it as “A sassy, lively exploration of dating and relationships in the 90s.” “The characters interact with humor, compassion, honesty, and gender
Career: Began writing as a child growing up in Chicago; worked as newswriter and producer for WBBM-TV and WBBM-AM Newsradio, Chicago, IL, 1987-97; published first novel, Falling Leaves of Ivy, with Longmead-ow, 1992; He Say, She Say, Warner, 1997; Bebe’s by Golly Wow!, Doubleday, 1998; works on freelance basis for WCN-TV, Chicago, IL.
bias, and each learns important lessons about life and relationships,” added Lillian Lewis in her review of the novel in Booklist. While Publishers Weekly’s assessment of the book was mixed, it did note that “Joe has a terrific ear for current hip-hop lingo….”
During the same year that He Say, She Say was published, Joe decided to quit her job as a newswriter so she could concentrate more on writing novels. Within a year she had a new book in print, this time on the Doubieday label. Sporting the exuberant and whimsical title of Bebe’s by Golly Wow!, this novel was “a follow-up but not a sequel” to He Say, She Say, claimed Joe on the Philadelphia Online Web site. Sandy and Bebe are once again key characters in the story, but this time Bebe—who in this novel ends her “sex sabbatical”—is the star. As in He Say, She Say, this book features the voices of four different narrators—Sandy, Bebe, Bebe’s love interest Isaac, and Isaac’s teenaged daughter Dash. Once again, Joe offered readers a multiple of viewpoints spanning different genders and generations. While neither He Say, She Say nor Bebe’s by Golly Wow! are very autobiographical, according to Joe on Philadelphia Online, she claimed that “Sandy has my ideals, while Bebe has my sense of humor.”
Joe’s writing of Bebe’s by Golly Wow! was greatly influenced by a double tragedy in her own life. While she was working on the novel, her father and maternal grandmother died within weeks of each other. According to what Joe told Philadelphia Online, these losses “gave me a clear focus. It helped me add a little more emotion between Dash and Isaac…” Reviewers once again commended Joe for the authenticity of her characters’ voices. Kirkus Reviews made reference to Bebe’s by Golly Wowl’s “lively dialogue and smart-as-a-whip female protagonists,” and Publishers Weekly added that it had “a sweet core of sentimentality that will no doubt strike a chord with many readers who have hoped for a second chance at love.” While reviews in general were not as favorable for this book as for He Say, She Say, the novel still proved popular with buyers. It was also selected for the Literary Guild book club.
Joe told Philadelphia Online that she typically worked about three hours a day on her writing, usually beginning in the morning. “If it’s not flowing, I won’t try to force it, though,” she commented. “Sometimes, when I’m on a burn, I can write ten pages in three hours. But if it’s not flowing, I may go back and edit something I’ve already written or else read something by someone else.” Among Joe’s favorite authors are Nikki Giovanni, E. Lynn Harris, Alice Walker, Charles Johnson, and John Grisham.
Currently Joe is writing a new novel, while also doing freelance work for WGN-TV in Chicago. He Say, She Say has been published in a German edition, and German rights have been sold for both Falling Leaves of Ivy and Bebe’s By Golly Wow!. Some film producers are considering making movie versions of her novels.
Falling Leaves of Ivy, Longmeadow, 1992.
He Say, She Say, Warner, 1997.
Bebe’s By Golly Wow!, Doubleday, 1998.
Booklist, September 1, 1996, p. 31.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 20, 1998.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1996; September 1, 1997; September 1, 1998.
Library Journal, July 1997, p. 152.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1996, p. 52; May 18, 1998, pp. 71-72.