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  • I met Spike Lee at a book signing in Center City, Philadelphia, during my junior year of college. I was writing a paper on a handful of his films for a class called, ‘From Mammies to Matriarchs: The Image of the African American Woman in Film from Birth of a Nation to Monster’s Ball.’ I’d recently transferred to Sarah Lawrence College with the sole purpose of throwing myself into writing workshops, based on a gut feeling that I wasn't going to make it as a documentary filmmaker. Until then, my 9th Grade English teacher, Dr. Thomas, was the only person who’d ever encouraged my writing (‘you have a voice – and presence’). But a professor of mine at the University of the Arts had similar thoughts, and encouraged me to apply to a school with a stronger writing-based curriculum after I pulled her aside and told her I wanted to be a journalist. She said, 'you're already a writer.' So I found myself at Sarah Lawrence a few months later with a shaved head and a deep sense of inadequacy. I ate the course catalogue up during the first week of school and settled on 3 classes, each focused on the experiences of people of African descent across three academic disciplines. I eventually graduated without ever taking a writing course.

    I was among the first few people to get my copy of Spike Lee’s book, That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It, signed by him that afternoon. As a result, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to rehearse the questions I'd planned to ask in my head. He was wearing a pair of round, red plastic-framed glasses.

    ‘Hi, I’m Nomfundo.’
    ‘Are you Zulu?’
    ‘Yes, I am! I’m a student at Sarah Lawrence.’
    'Oh yeah? My wife went there.'
    ‘Actually, I’m taking a class. About black women in film. With Demetria Royals.’
    ‘I went to school with her.’
    ‘Yeah, she mentioned that. I’m writing about some of your films for class. I’ve seen them all. I think.’
    ‘That's great to hear. Thank you for coming.’

    I slithered out of Borders past a modest line of people waiting for their own two minutes. I lowered my head, clutched my new book and headed towards the number 13 trolley at City Hall. I shuddered as I replayed the exchange. Because what I should have said was, ‘your films mean so much to me. Nola Darling from She’s Gotta Have It and Troy from Crooklyn are two of my favourite characters in film. Are you currently working on anything at the moment?’
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