February 15, 2005
Pam Thomas and Paula Woods aren’t well-known black artists, such as Spike Lee and Toni Morrison.
Scottsdale residents will get a chance to meet Thomas and Woods as part of the Civic Center Library’s sixth annual Celebration of African American Authors. Woods will lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and Thomas will speak from 2 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 26. Both will talk about their careers and the effect their work has had on the community.
Judy Register, Scottsdale general manager for Citizen and Neighborhood Resources, said the program began as a cooperative with the Glendale Public Library to introduce black authors and their work to the community.
"This year, we are lucky to have a filmmaker," she said.
Thomas, a Scottsdale resident, is best known for her work on the documentary "Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies," a history of black independent filmmakers from 1910 to 1950. Woods, a Californian, is known for authoring the Charlotte Justice novels, a series of murder mysteries in Los Angeles.
"I think every culture has its storytellers," Woods said. "And African American authors serve not only the black community but the world at large."
Woods said she performs the same function griots — storytellers in Africa — did in ancient times by transmitting the history of their culture through stories. Her work is specific to Los Angeles.
"I call the Charlotte mysteries contemporary L.A. history," Woods said. "They begin in 1992 with the Rodney King riots or uprising and deal with the rebuilding of L.A. after that period."
Thomas’ documentary on black filmmakers was adapted for the PBS series "The American Experience."
Thomas has been making films for about 20 years. She is working on another series about the first 100 years of black cinema to update the work she has already done.
"Black people have been making movies since the industry began," Thomas said. "In the early days, there weren’t any schools issuing degrees, for anyone, in filmmaking. People just got the equipment and did it."
"Midnight Ramble" is based on the work of Oscar Micheaux, who was a homesteader in South Dakota and a writer of what today would be called pulp fiction.
Micheaux wrote novels specifically for the black community, sold the books to his neighbors and took trips to Chicago every year to market them.
He eventually made enough money to make his own movies and is considered the dean of early independent black filmmaking.
Woods’ heroine, Charlotte Justice, is a black detective in the L.A. Police Department’s robbery-homicide division. Research for the book came from interviews with law enforcement personnel. Woods said her story lines are fictitious.
"I wanted to get an idea of what it was like to work in homicide, the atmosphere and what demands it put on their lives," Woods said.
Hard work is the key for other blacks to achieve success, Woods and Thomas said.
"If you have a conviction or passion about something, you just get out there and do it," Thomas said. "But you have to have the strength to stick with it."