2014 Archives

Quinton Jenkins decides to change his life


The following is from the May 6, 2014, edition of The Des Moines Register. David Haynes, author, and associate professor and director of creative writing at SMU, was interviewed for this story.

May 15, 2014

By Mike Kilen

Every once in a while, a book can change a life.

Quinton Jenkins was living with his mother and sister in Sumter, S.C. His dad wasn’t in the picture. His mom worked two jobs but became sick and had problems with drugs. The household situation deteriorated.

Jenkins was only 14 but realized he needed to get out. He begged to live with his grandmother in Carlisle, Ia. That woman, Robin Jenkins, bought him a book at Barnes & Noble in West Des Moines. He had never read a book that wasn’t for schoolwork.

He began Ben Carson’s autobiography “Gifted Hands” and couldn’t stop. He saw himself in the story. The black author grew up poor but was determined to became a world-class neurosurgeon. Jenkins has always wanted to be a doctor. . .

Such a life-changing influence is not why writers write, said David Haynes, an author who writes about the black experience and will appear tonight at the Central Library in Des Moines.

“That would be the ideal thing, to have your work make some impact on someone’s life. I don’t think I set out to do it, but the possibility that it might happen is amazing,” he said.

Haynes has received similar letters from readers inspired by his seven novels, the latest called “A Star in the Face of the Sky.” In fact, he encourages his own students in creative writing at Southern Methodist University to write to authors. But he also works to ensure that young African-American readers have novels they can connect with.

He started Kimbilio, a community of writers and scholars committed to developing African-American fiction writers. Some writers weren’t having positive experiences at university writing programs, and Kimbilio means “safe refuge” in Swahili.

“They weren’t welcoming of the voices and stories they wanted to tell,” said Haynes. “This was an opportunity to come together in a welcoming place.”

Haynes’ own stories venture outside the stereotypes of what an African-American author is expected to write. He often tells the story of middle or upper-class black people. “A Star in the Face of the Sky” is about a friendship that develops between two grandmothers, one African-American and one Jewish, and their two gay grandsons after tragedies.

Read the full story.

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