Author profile: Angela Flournoy

While many writers initially pursued other careers, Iowa Workshop graduate and National Book Award finalist Angela Flournoy always had her eye on storytelling.

“I really never wanted to be anything else,” she said in a recent phone interview. “There was a period of time where I thought I would be a journalist, but it was the storytelling I was interested in, not the fact collecting. Part of that is I come from a very big family, and storytelling was a way to grab center stage for a moment.”

All eyes will be on Flournoy when she speaks at Barnes & Noble Bookseller, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids at 4 p.m. April 3. Flournoy will read from her debut novel, “The Turner House,” a New York Times notable book of the year, and take questions.

Family is the focus of Flournoy’s novel — an intergenerational work set primarily in present day Detroit. In it Flournoy “focused on the individual challenges adult siblings face. It’s also the story of a neighborhood on the east side of Detroit.”

Flournoy, who grew up in California but has deep roots in Detroit, found inspiration in this Midwestern city.

“As a writer I’m interested in the relationship between setting and memory.”

“Every city has a unique relationship to how the past is apparent in the present moment, but in Detroit ... a lot of these past relics are visible in states of repair or disrepair. It’s a city that really encourages one to image what stories have taken place there.”

The event is co-sponsored by the African American Museum of Iowa, which is preparing for a summer exhibit about the history and evolution of African American literature and writing.

In addition, the exhibit will explore the role of literature in shaping public opinion.

“When it comes to social issues ... I do think literature can move public opinion,” Flournoy said. “But the challenge is one has to read the book in the first place. If you are not interested in having the experiences of, say, queer people in this country validated, you’re just never going to pick up a Dorothy Allison book.”

Flournoy was a reader from a young age, something she credits for her expanded world view and confidence. “I really think reading helped me have a strong sense of self. It broadened my perspective of the world. If you are an early reader and read a lot, you could become self-conscious and nerdy in some ways, but it really helped me communicate with people and advocate for myself.”

There is a real power in stories, Flournoy said. And it is important, especially for young people, to engage with literature.

“At a young age your present moment can feel like the only moment. Reading a coming-of-age novel might help a person see how over the course of a life what happens at one point will not be the only thing that will happen.”

“Stories,” Flournoy said, can present “wide possibilities for existence.”