Terry McMillan, the bestselling author of “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Disappearing Acts,” and “Waiting to Exhale,” visited California State University, Dominguez Hills on Feb. 15. McMillan, who has taught English at the University of Arizona, Tucson, the University of Wyoming, and Stanford University, addressed an audience of students, faculty, staff, and community members in the Loker Student Union and read from her newest book, “Getting to Happy.”
President Mildred García welcomed McMillan to CSU Dominguez Hills and described the impact of watching the premiere of the movie version of “Waiting to Exhale.”
“The next day I was reading the front page of the New York Times, where they wrote about all those women talking back to the [screen], and about how that book spoke to our experiences, spoke about support, love, and sisterhood,” said García recalling seeing the movie with friends. “The universal understanding, honesty, and empowerment found in [McMillan’s] work resonates with so many of us and creates a powerful dialogue that transcends all races.”
McMillan discussed “Getting to Happy,” which is a sequel to her 1992 bestseller, “Waiting to Exhale.” She said that revisiting the story of four women who stood together in friendship through single life, marriages, divorce, and motherhood reflected her need to heal from her own painful and public divorce in 2005.
“I was very angry and a lot of my personal life was thrown out to the public and all that,” said McMillan. “I met a lot of women who had similar experiences, women who had been betrayed, deceived, women who were lonely, women who were 50, 60 years old, had never been married, and always thought they would be. Some had kids, some didn’t. Some women were just suffering from different kinds of losses and heartache, it was very sad.
“So I thought about writing because I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry as I was… and it was eating me alive. It took about three years for me to realize that I can be as pissed off I want to be, but guess what? It’s not having any effect on him.”
McMillan said that the film version of “Getting to Happy” is already in the works and that she is co-writing the screenplay. When asked about her path to getting published, McMillan emphatically urged young writers to start off by getting a literary agent.
“I would not under any circumstances just blindly send your work to a publisher,” she said. “It’s dangerous, plus it may never get read. Years ago, people worried that [their book] would get stolen. Now they don’t even do that.”
She also said that self-publishing is “kind of a rip-off” and that the market allows for inferior work from beginning writers.
“You want to be able to tell a story that is well written and edited properly,” McMillan said. “A lot of young writers who self-publish have books that are unedited, poorly written, and grammatically incorrect. They don’t know the rules of storytelling and they break all the rules. Because they can pay someone to publish it, they think it’s wonderful… everyone in their family loves it.”
McMillan appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” last fall with ex-husband Jonathan Plummer to discuss how she got over the anger and betrayal she felt from finding out after six years of marriage that Plummer was gay. She said that everyone is different in how much time they need to get over heartache.
“You have to go through what you have to go through,” McMillan said. “But it could be a week, it could be years. You can’t press down on the accelerator; it doesn’t work that way. But when I realized that my pain and anger was eating me up, I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve always loved me more than him.’ And that’s what you’ve got to get back to… that’s the only thing that frees you, is when you get there.”
McMillan said that despite being lied to by Plummer, she forgives him because of the fact that homosexuality was not widely accepted at the time of their marriage. However, she said that people need to be honest about their sexuality when it can affect another individual.
“[Homosexuals] don’t have to lie and change somebody else’s life,” she said. “But if it happens, sometimes they are just scared. And sometimes, they do still love you.”
McMillan said that women often accept betrayal by men as an indication of their own shortcomings.
“You just have to be able to let it go,” she says. “A lot of women don’t do that, but I know how much woman I am.”
Lee Broussard, a longtime fan of McMillan’s books, said that the stories often reminded her of herself and her three closest friends who, like McMillan’s characters, have seen each other through the joys and sorrows of being women. An administrative assistant in the College of Business Administration and Public Policy, Broussard said she enjoyed learning “the story behind the story… knowing the research that went into the story, and the ability to see pieces of yourself or someone close to you in a character. In each of her novels I am familiar with at least one of her characters, either they are a family member, a friend, co-worker, or class mate of mine.”
Senior Ronnell Hampton of Toro Productions was one of the students who helped present McMillan’s talk. The negotiation, conflict resolution and peace building major said that having an author of McMillan’s caliber at CSU Dominguez Hills represented the cultural diversity of the university.
“[Her] characters portray many people that we have either known or see in ourselves, and her writing is representative of where modern literature is today: bold, real, and uncut,” he said. “She represents the essence of what is being done and what is still to come from black authors.”
Terry McMillan’s appearance at CSU Dominguez Hills was presented in honor of Black History Month by Toro Productions and sponsored by Associated Students, Inc., the Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Multicultural Center, the 50th Anniversary Committee, the Office of Alumni Programs, the University Bookstore, and the Loker Student Union.