Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Closing Session: Octavia Spencer

At last, we reach the closing session of ALA 2013.  We were introduced to all the new presidents of all the various divisions of ALA (there are a lot of them) as well as the members of the board.  Then out-going president Maureen Sullivan introduced the new ALA president Barbara Stripling.  We school librarians have high hopes for Barbara Stripling, who was a school librarian herself.  We hope that advocating for school libraries will become more of a focus for ALA.

Barbara introduced the closing speaker, Octavia Spencer, who has written a middle grade book called Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit.   Octavia grew up reading Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown and loved Scooby-Doo and wanted to write a mystery book that was similar to those.  The book was talked about briefly, but it was mostly about her acting career.

Octavia was friendly and personable and a lot of fun to listen to.  Something she wanted to clear up was that her mother's primary job was not a maid.  Her mother worked a lot of different jobs, and she did clean houses at one point.  The book is dedicated to her mother.  Octavia's mother said she could do anything.  When Octavia said she maybe wanted to be an actor, her mother said, "maybe not that."  Her mother wanted her to go to college, but Octavia had started getting some acting jobs and didn't know if she wanted to leave to go to school.  When she was working on The Long Walk Home, Whoopie Goldberg took her under her wing.  She told Octavia to go to college.  Acting would be there when she was done.

Octavia started off working in the casting department. Often directors would say, "We need to find something for you to read for," and she would say, "no, no."  But then when they were casting for A Time to Kill, the director didn't ask her!  So she asked if she could read for a part.  She was a nurse in the movie, which began a long line of playing nurses.

Octavia moved to Hollywood and got some small roles.  It was after being completely cut out of a movie that she decided she needed to work on and learn her craft and started taking acting lessons.  Barbara asked about the difference between comedic and dramatic roles.  Octavia said comedy is harder.  Her favorite is being the funny person in a drama.

The Help, Octavia said, was definitely her big break.  Her involvement in The Help actually started before the book was even published.  She was friends with director Tate Taylor, and they were in New Orleans together where Tate was directing his first short film.  Octavia was on a diet and therefore very cranky.  She described it as being "hangry."  Tate and Kathryn Stockett (author of The Help) were childhood friends and Tate was taking her on a walking tour of New Orleans.  Octavia didn't realize it at the time, but she was doing research for her book.  Tate and Octavia fought with each other the whole time they were showing Kathryn around.

Four years later the book was finished and Kathryn sent it to Octavia because she'd promised to read it, which she didn't actually want to do.  She decided to read the first chapter and if it was terrible wouldn't go any further.  She had a bachelorette party that night she missed because she couldn't get out of bed she was so into the book.  She called Kathryn to tell her she thought it was wonderful, and was told that the character of Minny was based on Octavia fighting with Tate.  Tate picked up the rights to the book before it was even published and fought to have Octavia play Minny in the movie.  

Barbara asked Octavia what she'd like to represent.  Octavia said she doesn't want to lose sight of practicality.  There will be a time when she will need practicality.  There are always peaks and valleys.  This is why she always carries her own bags.  It's important to keep your feet on the ground.

It was lovely hearing her speak.  She just seems like a lot of fun.  If we went to lunch, I bet we'd have a grand old time. 

Thanks Chicago, you were swell.  Next year in Las Vegas!

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