D'Norgia Price hands out journals to the four seniors in her writing class at the Multicultural Senior Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. She encourages them to write about their early lives, then listens intently as they share their memories: memories of running barefoot on Hawaiian sands; of a snowy Christmas on the Klamath reservation; of a time when a new dress was the best present in the world.
Director of Senior Programs at the Urban League of Portland for the last six years, Price treasures these stories the elders tell about the past. She also knows the value of keeping a journal. She kept one for many years, part of her lifelong journey to becoming a writer. Now with the publication of her first novel, "String Beans and Candy Canes," the director of the Urban League's senior program is achieving a success she never imagined.
"I thought I would sell a few copies and that would be that," said Price who published her book under her maiden name D'Norgia Taylor. "But all of the hundred people I thought might buy my book have bought it, and some bought ten copies. So it's doing much better than I expected."
Time travel, friendship and helping one another out of tricky situations are just a few of the themes of her book, which is set in the year 2370 but includes a search through time. It's science fiction for all ages and all kinds of people, Price says. "A lot of it is about escape – getting away from whatever the issues in hand that you want to escape from – or to."
Price got the idea for the book while battling a serious illness. Diagnosed with muscular sclerosis, a disease that attacks the nerves causing muscle weakness and exhaustion, Price reread her old journals and realized she had the makings of a good story.
A fan of African American science fiction writers, Tananarive Due and Octavia Butler, Price enjoys the extra dimension that science fiction offers. "I never was really a Trekkie, but I like sci-fi," she says. She's also read just about everything by Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, she said.
"I like the way they can reach people from wherever they are sitting with their words."
At first Price wrote alone, but a friend suggested she share her work with the writing group, The Maya Angelou Guild. The guild invited her to join them.
"That opened up a whole new world of writers," Price said. "We critiqued each other's work, but it was the encouragement that really helped. It kept me moving because I knew I could be called upon at any time to read my work. I made myself write something every night – even if it was only a sentence or two. And I still do that."
Price went to many classes and workshops as well as her writing group. The book took Price seven years to write. And even then she wasn't finished. Several publishing houses rejected it – not unusual for a first novel.
"My feelings were a little bit hurt," she said, "but I had so much encouragement from people in my writing group that I kept on going."
The president of the group, Lillian Whitlow, suggested sending a query to Publish America, a publisher that welcomes first-time writers. Price's book was accepted and is now in print. Now she's waiting to hear if a couple of local bookstores will put it on their shelves.
"String Beans and Candy Canes by D'Norgia Taylor: PublishAmerica, 2007. Available online at amazon.com.