Bio-Connie Briscoe

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Connie Briscoe

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Connie Briscoe

Born December 31, 1952, in Washington, DC; was married briefly.
Education: Graduated from American University; attended graduate school.

Worked as editorial assistant for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Washington, DC.; worked as editorial assistant and managing editor of American Annals of the Deaf, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC. Author, Sisters and Lovers, HarperCollins, 1994 and Big Girls Don't Cry, HarperCollins, 1996.

Life's Work
Connie Briscoe ranks among an emerging group of black, female authors who are writing novels about contemporary, middle-class black characters. These writers are seen as following in the footsteps of genre-pioneering author Terry McMillan, whose book Waiting to Exhale was made into a major motion picture. Briscoe's first novel, Sisters and Lovers, has sold well--it garnered her a six-figure paperback deal--and was made into a miniseries for CBS television. This success has allowed her to make the transition to full-time novelist, having previously worked as a magazine editor for Gallaudet University.Briscoe was born in Washington, DC, where she grew up with her younger sister, Pat. In a

HarperCollins press release, she described herself as having been quiet and shy, but asserted that she "had a happy, normal childhood in every way," despite being born with a hereditary hearing loss. Though it was not severe when she was a child, lip- reading and a hearing aid helped her to function fully in school, and, later, at work. Briscoe pursued a degree in urban affairs, graduating from American University. She also attended graduate school.

After college, Briscoe worked as an editorial assistant for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. During this time, she found her progress was inhibited by a growing inability to use the telephone. By age 30, Briscoe's hearing loss had become profound. She then took a job at Gallaudet University, as an editorial assistant. By 1990, she had become the managing editor of American Annals of the Deaf, a magazine about the education of the deaf. She is proud of this achievement, which made her the first black and deaf person to hold such a position at the school. At Gallaudet, Briscoe learned sign language and was immersed in deaf culture for the first time. The author told USA Today that "I think as a hearing person and culturally, I'm hearing, although physically I'm deaf."

Her hearing loss is one aspect of Briscoe's life that is not yet a subject for her Fiction. However, the period when Briscoe was learning to deal with a total hearing loss spawned her first attempt to write Fiction--a mystery novel that she never finished. While her sister Pat asserts that the family was quite surprised by Connie's interest in writing Fiction, the author confesses that it was something she had always thought about; "but I did not have enough life experience until I got older. Maybe I'm a late bloomer," she told USA Today. By December of 1991, Briscoe had written several chapters of Sisters and Lovers. She proceeded to contact a number of literary agents that specialized in women's Fiction. As a result, Briscoe signed with agent Victoria Sanders, who subsequently negotiated a publishing deal with HarperCollins.

Sisters and Lovers was released in 1994. Having been told of its similarities to McMillan's Waiting to Exhale--which was published during the period when Briscoe was writing Sisters--Briscoe was careful not to read the novel until she had completed her own. The two books share the theme of young black women looking for eligible black mates. Briscoe's story revolves around the lives of three sisters and the ups and downs of their relationships with spouses and boyfriends. The central character is Beverly Jordan, a single 30-year-old editor, who is having little luck finding an appealing, stable, and monogamous companion. Much of what unfolds in her dating experiences is comic, although the underlying issue and overlapping racial elements are quite serious.

Readers, critics, and television producers all took notice of Sisters and Lovers. By 1996, the book had sold more than 100,000 hardback copies and 325,000 paperback copies. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Stephanie B. Goldberg deemed the work to be "entertaining" and "the quintessential postmodern romance." Karen Ray's New York Times review was harsher and labeled it "commercial--a little preachy, a lot contrived." Nonetheless, the success of Sisters and Lovers in print. was followed by its purchase for a CBS television miniseries.

After reaping the financial benefits that accompanied the publication of Sisters and Lovers, Briscoe was able to turn to writing full time. Her second work of Fiction to be published was Big Girls Don't Cry (1996). This book also focuses on a young, middle-class black woman, Naomi Jefferson, but it tells the story of her growing up and entering the business world during the 1960s and 1970s. Segregation, the Civil Rights movement, and the frustrations of trying to succeed in business as a black woman are detailed. Reviews of the book were mixed; while People's Clare McHugh felt that Briscoe "does herself, and her book, a disservice" by focusing more strongly on these social elements than on entertaining the reader, Corinne Nelson told readers of the Library Journal that "this believable and wonderfully written novel is highly recommended for all Fiction collections."

Briscoe has responded to two areas of criticism that have been generated by her books, male-bashing and commercialism. In Sisters and Lovers, the main character is troubled by her dates with men who are sex-obsessed, and she complains that most black men are unemployed, on drugs, or in jail. The few appealing, upstanding black men are already married. Briscoe commented on her mix of positive and negative black male characters in The Washington Post, by saying, "I think I'm realistic. The fact that this issue comes up over and over again should indicate there's a problem out there... I don't think all black men have problems, but some of them do." She is also unapologetic about the commercial nature of her books. She dismisses unflattering comparisons to critically-acclaimed authors such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.Briscoe told The Washington Post, "I shouldn't be compared to them any more than you would compare, say, Judith Krantz to Edith Wharton."

Writing for Newsweek, Malcolm Jones, Jr., identified Briscoe as one of several authors who are providing a new kind of book for black female readers. He cited Briscoe's book sales as proof that "the overwhelmingly white American publishing industry is going to ever- greater lengths to tap the black audience." The distinguishing characteristics of her books and those in this "new literary genre," are that they are upbeat stories about contemporary black women. They may be critical of black men, but they affirm the needs and importance of black women. Commercial or conventional in form, Briscoe's work is nonetheless notable for its part in a movement to mainstream black authors. The popular and financial success of authors such as Briscoe has preceded a publishing first, the publication of the first Harlequin romance novel to feature an African American hero and heroine
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