Author Natalie Baszile shares her novel Queen Sugar with the community

For this year’s One Book One Peninsula event, Palos Verdes native Natlie Baszile came home to talk about her debut novel Queen Sugar—its southern identity and how it was adapted for a popular TV series on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The Francis Young Hall at the South Coast Botanic Garden was full on Saturday afternoon, February 4. Readers and friends enjoyed sipping refreshing Queen Sugar Quenchers provided by the Palos Verdes School Gardens while listening to the author.

Natalie grew up in Palos Verdes and credited her high school English teacher, the late Rod Flagler, for introducing to her the magic of the short story. A number of years passed before she published her first novel, including 11 years spent working with her father in his aluminum business, but this early influence had a lasting effect. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from UC Berkeley, an MA in Afro-American Studies from UCLA, and an MFA from the Warren Wilson College Program for Writers. Another important literary influence for the author was writing instructor Barbara Abercrombie, from whom she took a course in fiction writing at the Palos Verdes Art Center.

Natalie said she marks the day she quit her job at Baszile Metals, June 15, 1999, as the day she became a writer. She then devoted all her energy to writing a contemporary African American novel that reflected the world she saw around her. It was a long and arduous process that lasted 10 years and required extensive research on sugarcane farming, something she knew nothing about. Although her father was raised in the small town of Elton, Louisiana, he left the South the day he graduated high school to escape the daily oppression of living under Jim Crow, and did not return. So Natalie and her sister had never visited Louisiana. But now she found herself visiting the sugarcane fields and making lasting friendships with the farmers who grew the crop and who schooled her on the demanding process. She even persuaded her father to take a few road trips to Louisiana with her. This gave her the chance to listen to him talking with relatives and friends and hear the stories of their past. In this way, she learned about the people and the land, in addition to sugarcane. Even though she has lived her whole life in California, Natalie says “I have Louisiana in my blood … I consider myself in part a southern writer.”

The author told the audience about meeting an editor from "O Magazine" at a writer’s conference and how this eventually led to her book being adapted and directed for the TV series by Ava DuVernay of “Selma” fame. This was an exciting experience for Natalie, but perhaps the most rewarding moment came when she was on the set one day, watching the filming of one of the episodes. She remembers a deep feeling of gratification after all the years of solitary writing and rewriting, to see “Hundreds of people working behind the set… My little book was now employing hundreds of people.” It was “mind-blowing” she said.

The One Book One Peninsula similarly gathered hundreds of people in the community for the shared experience of reading. This annual event was presented by PVLD and its partners: the Palos Verdes Peninsula Friends of the Library, Marymount California University, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, South Coast Botanic Garden, Mysterious Galaxy, Palos Verdes Art Center, Sustainable Palos Verdes Schools, Palos Verdes High School, and Palos Verdes Performing Arts.

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