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Interview With Paula Meseroll, Co-Author of Little Hot Mama: The Flossie Turner Lewis Story
Paula Meserole is a public relations professional and award-winning freelance writer/editor/columnist whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Syracuse University Magazine, UB Today, Central New Yorker Magazine and All Kids Considered. A summa cum laude graduate of Marywood University with a degree in communication arts/public relations, Meserole is director of marketing and communications at Syracuse University. She’s here today to talk about Flossie Turner Lewis and their new book, Little Hot Mama.
Q: How did you first learn about Flossie Turner Lewis?
A: Met Flossie in 2002 at the Laubach Literacy/Literacy Volunteers of America National Conference in San Diego. Flossie won the National Award for Excellence as Outstanding Student of the Year and as editor of Laubach Literacy’s newsletter, Litescape, I. He had the opportunity to be interviewed. As a longtime reporter and freelance writer, I know a good story when I hear one and Flossie had it all—the family feud, the glamor of show business, the struggle of a woman unable to read or write to make a life for herself and her children. I saw him mesmerize a room full of people as he gave his award acceptance speech, talking about his life in show business and his struggles with illiteracy. He is simply amazing.
Q: For those not familiar with her name, please tell us who Flossie Turner Lewis is.
Answer: Flossie Turner Lewis began entertaining audiences with song and dance in 1935, when she was just two years old. Known by her stage name “Little Hot Mama”, she was the child of black show business star Hot Papa and Dolly Turner. Flossie, her sister Lulu b. and with brother Jr., toured with their parents and performed as the Turner Family Revue. Her own show business career spanned more than 40 years. He performed on the carnival and chitlin’ circuits, in speakeasies and minstrel shows, and in swank nightclubs in Overtown Miami where the Turner family shared space with other black entertainment greats of the day. From the Deep South to Miami, Puerto Rico, and Los Angeles, Flossie has lived her life as a performer, a mother, a witness to racial discrimination and unrest, and a woman who could neither read nor write—until she decided to learn. 65 years of age. He is now nearly 78 years old, has earned an honors high school diploma, is the most requested speaker for the United Way in Fayetteville, North Carolina, has lobbied Congress and state legislatures on behalf of literacy organizations, and is much in demand as a commencement speaker.
Q: How did Little Hot Mama, the book you co-authored with Flossie Turner Lewis, come about?
A: At the literacy conference, we exchanged business cards and I told Flossie if she wanted to work together on writing her memoir, I’d be happy to. After the conference, I returned home to Syracuse and got busy with other projects. Several months later, I found his card in a desk drawer and decided to call him. He told me that other writers have offered to work with him to tell his stories. He said he had to pray about me to see if I should be the one to work with and he would let me know. A few days later, he called me again and said the answer was yes.
Q: Who is your target audience?
Answer: Flossie’s story is interesting on so many levels that virtually anyone will find it a great read. Literacy students, tutors, people interested in African American, black entertainment, and women’s history will be especially impressed.
Q: What do readers want to get out of the book?
A: Above all, I want people to be entertained. Flossie was the foundation of everything she did in her show business career – for the Turner family, despite poverty, hunger and her father’s gambling addiction, the show really had to go on. I hope readers will be deeply moved by her story as I was.
Q: What makes this woman’s story so special?
Answer: Flossie’s story is an inspiring story of a woman’s struggle to build a successful life for herself and her children despite the obstacles of racism and illiteracy. His first-person account of life on the minstrel show and chitlin’ circuit is a part of American history that perhaps no other living person can tell.
Flossie is an amazingly strong woman who refuses to be defeated by circumstances. He met everything life threw at him and surpassed it all. The book contains moments of intense pain and suffering—such as Flossie’s experience of being a poor, black single mother with a brain-damaged child, as well as the night Flossie’s beloved mother died in her arms. But there are also parts where readers will literally laugh out loud—many of the hilarious plots for which the Turner family was famous are detailed. There are 35 pages of photos of Flossie, her family and the entertainers who work with them.
Q: Tell us about the actual writing process of this book. What was it like working with Flossie?
A: Since Flossie lives in North Carolina and I live in upstate New York, we did all of our interviews over the phone. Some nights we would talk for minutes, other times for hours. We laughed and cried together as she dredged up memories that had been buried for decades—for details, I asked about many things she didn’t want to think about because the memories were too painful. Flossie likes to say that I know more about her than she does. Her memories are intensely vivid – her family became so real to me that I dreamed about them at night. I have literally hundreds of hours of taped interviews that were conducted over a year. At that point, we became more than collaborators. We are very good friends. Then the difficult part-organized Flossie’s sometimes chaotic life was turned into a readable manuscript and her story was written.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
A: Flossie and I were inseparable—she’s African American, I’m white. I’ve been reading since before I started kindergarten, words were just random to him until the late 60’s. I graduated from college with highest honors; Flossie’s schooling was virtually non-existent for most of her life. I had to research what she told me—names, dates, places—because she didn’t know how to spell them. Her life was so different from mine that I had to literally submerge my own personality to write in Flossie’s voice. In this, I think I was successful—more than one person who read the book asked me if I was African American because my words and usage were so accurate.
Q: Where is the book available?
A: Little Hot Mama: The Flossie Turner Lewis Story is available as a Kindle e-book on Amazon.com. It is also available as an e-book in libraries for unlimited lending to patrons.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?
A: Flossie and I, our literary agent, Leticia Gomez, and our publisher, Stay Thirsty Media, have joined together to donate 50 cents from the sale of each digital copy of our book to The Flossie Turner Lewis Literacy Fund at Proliteracy. The most worthy cause of adult literacy.
To know more about this book, please visit: http://www.staythirstymedia.com
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