Agenia Clark, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, co-founder of Avenue Bank, former member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, is consistently recognized as one of Nashville’s “100 Most Powerful People” by the Nashville Business Journal. Her friends recognize her as one of Nashville’s most encouraging. “Agenia is a person who champions others,” says superstar lawyer and friend Marlee Mitchell. “She listens well and has an analytical brain. She can hear me prattle on about what someone else wants me to do and later in the conversation ask “Why don’t you do this instead?” The “this” is always just the right thing for me. Agenia personifies the Girl Scout mission statement: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. Substitute “Agenia” for “Girl Scouting” and that about sums her up.”
Marlee introduced Agenia and me over lunch one day at The Firefly Grille, a neighborhood favorite. At The Firefly, it’s Christmas all year round – at least when it comes to the colorful and eclectic lighting. I love the warm and the cozy vibe. Marlee wanted us to meet because Agenia is such a passionate reader. We talked books – and Nashville! Agenia is a cheerful straight-talker, comfortable in her own skin. A woman who enjoys her place in the world – and the people around her. I’m so thrilled for her to stop in at Bacon today to answer a few questions and share her favorite read of 2018.
What is your idea of perfect happiness, Agenia?
Any day that starts with a good night’s rest and a thankful smile.
What do you like to do on a rainy Saturday?
Read. There’s nothing like a great novel. But there are some times when nonfiction reads like fiction. Either suits me.
A sunny Saturday?
Go for a jog and read. Did I mention that I really like to read?
True or false: Rainy days and Mondays always get me down…
False, but I do love hearing The Carpenters sing that song. (I think just aged myself.)
Favorite day of the week?
Mondays are the best because we get to try again!
What were your formative educational years?
High school was the most formative for me. I learned the importance of acceptance.
Would you rather get up early or stay up late?
I love to get up early. Mornings are the best time of the day.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Is there a chore you secretly enjoy or openly despise?
I love cooking and doing laundry! I don’t consider them chores.
So you like to cook?
Who doesn’t love to cook? There’s nothing more enjoyable than preparing meals for family and friends. I try to do simple and tasty dishes and my favorites have come from Ina Garten or Southern Living. There have been a few misses too. My disastrous eggplant dish will go down as one of the worst in history with my family.
What is your greatest fear?
Having the privilege of travel and exploration taken away.
What do you practice at?
Fitness. I’ve tried to improve my swimming. No luck yet.
How do you relax?
Jogging, a good book or a great trip are very relaxing.
Do you like to exercise?
No, but I keep doing it. So, maybe?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Which living person do you especially admire?
It’s hard to choose just one! There are so many and they know who they are.
What is a trait you don’t like in yourself?
I enjoy saying “yes.” It can get you in trouble sometimes.
What is a trait you don’t like in others?
Saying “no” without giving something a try.
What is your favorite journey?
I enjoy training for and running in races. I don’t compete but I do enjoy the people I meet and the stories they share along the way.
What is your greatest regret?
I don’t believe in regrets because every life experience (good or bad) is a part of the overall journey.
What is your most treasured possession?
Family… and my KitchenAid mixer.
What’s your favorite food?
I love pasta, a good burger and anything sweet!
Red wine – Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or anything Marlee recommends.
The Nancy Drew mysteries and our coveted Britannica Encyclopedia were some of my favorites. (Geez, I just aged myself again!)
Who are your favorite authors now?
Alex Haley, Kaye Gibbons, Alice Walker, Ann Patchett, John Kennedy O’Toole. This is the short version of a very long list.
Do you always finish a book once you’ve started it?
Always! Even if it is terrible.
Where would you like to live?
I’m already here! Nashville!
What is your most marked characteristic?
What makes you happy?
When my husband and our children are happy!
* * *
And now, from Agenia:
I’d just completed another semester in my doctoral program and was in desperate need of “mental relaxation.” I called my friend, Wendy, who is always reliable for a good book recommendation. She didn’t hesitate to suggest My Sister, The Serial Killer.
When I arrived at Parnassus Books to get my copy, my favorite book clerk, Katherine, said, “I just finished this book. I LOVED IT!”
That’s how my introduction to Oyinkan Braithwaite began. Three days later, I had finished her novel.
We’ve all heard the saying that “blood is thicker than water.” In this novel, the complicated relationship between sisters Ayoola and Korede are explored in depth and in a poetic style true to Braithwaite’s training as a creative writer.
Korede is practical and plain in her looks. She is held to a different standard than her sister, Ayoola, who is beautiful and floats through life with the greatest of ease. This 226-page-story explores what has triggered Ayoola’s bad habit of killing her boyfriends, the ebb and flow of the sisters’ interactions, their proud mother and the unresolved relationship with a deceased father.
With Nigerian culture as a backdrop, each short chapter allows the story to unfold as the spider web of relationships is addressed.
When I mentioned the title to my dear friend, Deborah, she was quick to say, “I don’t need anything gruesome right now. That just sounds horrible.” Let me assure you, this book is more humorous than gruesome. Braithwaite is capable of deadpan humor and concise sentences and makes every word count. These attributes mean that we will be reading more and more Braithwaite novels in the future.
The title tells the story. Ayoola is the sister who is the serial killer. Korede is the sister who is culpable in her actions. Their mom is ignorant of Ayoola’s actions and is blinded by her beauty, like most of her victims. And the deceased father is the craftsman behind Ayoola’s bad habit.
The reason to read My Sister, The Serial Killer isn’t for the simplicity of the storyline. It is for the experience of a cultural, familial journey and an introduction to a strong and competent young author.
A week after finishing the novel, I’m at dinner with my wonderful friends, Marlee and Sallie, and hand each of them a copy of the book. They glance at the cover (it’s an homage to those horrible serial romance novels of the eighties) and then they glance at each other with that “really?” look on their faces. I challenged them not to judge this book by its jacket or title. These ladies are fun-loving intellectuals and were probably asking themselves if they needed to remove the dust jacket before they could be seen in a public place possessing the book.
Since then, Sallie has admitted that there were several times when she was laughing out loud and would have to endorse the book for a book club selection. Marlee was not only entertained, but ascertained that the author must have had some legal training. Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University (Nigeria).
In reading My Sister, The Serial Killer, I accepted that a cover can be misleading, Wendy, once again, had a great recommendation, and you can learn a lot from the reactions of your book-loving friends.
Well, I’m off to Parnassus Books to grab extra copies to share with family and friends as my favorite read of 2018.