Joe Taylor and Mickey Clayton are both avid readers in their spare time. However, in Michele Andrea Bowen’s newest novel, “Up at the College,” Taylor and Clayton find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Taylor is FAMU’s head football coach. Clayton, the Executive Director of the Rattler Boosters, is a former men’s and women’s basketball coach at FAMU. Bowen gathered information from both men to help create the characters Curtis Parker and Maurice Fountain, who are coaches in the novel.
“What they [Taylor and Clayton] did mostly was give me information that would make Coach Parker and Coach Fountain real, particularly to people who are in the field,” Bowen said.
“There’s a lot of information and insight that you can’t see from the outside. We always see the glamorous parts…we know they have practice, we know they [the players] get recruited, but we never put all of these things in the middle that actually determine whether the team is going to be a viable team.”
Taylor said he met Bowen through his wife Beverly Taylor, whom Bowen refers to as “one of her best friends”. It was after the development of this friendship that Bowen asked for Taylor’s contribution.
“She saw that I was a faith-based person and attributed my success to the fact that I was spiritual,” Taylor said. “I’m honored that I’m acknowledged in her book.
Taylor said he and his wife have read all four of Bowen’s books.
“Beverly and I always get a good laugh when I mail them a book as a family gift,” Bowen said. “He [Taylor] gets the books and runs off to read them first.”
While Bowen and Taylor’s relationship has lasted for decades, it was her relationship with Clayton that had a questionable start.
“Coach Clayton thought I was crazy at first,” Bowen said jokingly, reminiscing on her first meeting with Clayton. “We actually ended up being good friends…I call him my play-cousin.”
Clayton agreed, affectionately referring to Bowen as his “little sister”.
“She’s just good people,” Clayton said.
“[The book is] about what [coaches] go through that the average person wouldn’t know. There’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes politically in coaching. She got really creative in that, with some of the things that were going on [in the plot].”
Bowen said “Up at the College” was a departure from her previous novel.
“Every time I write stories they’ve been more church based,” Bowen said. “‘Church Folk’ deals with bigger church politics, with bishops, elections and such. ‘Second Sunday’ deals with internal church politics [and] ‘Holy Ghost Corner’ is based on what your church’s role is in the community. I thought it would be really nice to write a story that was rooted in the direction of an HBCU, and to tie those two institutions together.”
She insisted that it was the characters assistance that helped bring an element of realism to the novel.
The book shows the concerns, responsibilities and unknown factors that accompany being a collegiate athletic coach, particularly at a black school.
While Bowen admitted that she hoped to make her readers laugh and entertain them, she also emphasized the importance of the message behind the story.
“My books are not preachy, but the message is that there is no life without Christ,” Bowen said. “But, I try to write a story that shows how rich, vibrant, and beautiful life is with the Lord. I want them to understand that when you’re in the storm… let God walk you through that storm, because he’s walking you to a higher level to bless you.”