McMillan, Terry: Waiting to Exhale
(researched by Preethy George)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Waiting To Exhale Published by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A Copyright Terry McMillan, 1992

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

Published in cloth

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

212 leaves, pp.i-iiiv [italics], ix-x, xi-xii [italics], xiii-xiv, xv-xvi [italics], 1-409

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

Not edited or introduced

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

No illustrations

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The book was issued in smooth olive green cloth with a black spin e. On the spine are the author's name, the title of the book, and the publishing company, all in orange block letters. The overall appearance and condition of the book is very good. The margins are wide on either side and the spacing between the lines is enough to facilitate good readability. The font is large and clearly printed. The text font is in serif, while the chapter titles are in sans serif typography.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The paper is thick and durable. The pages are rough trimmed, s o that when the book is closed, there is a jagged edge to all of the pages (as opposed to a smooth cut).

11 Description of binding(s)

The binding is strong and held with an adhesive material.

12 Transcription of title page

Terry McMillan|[rule 13 mm.]|WAITING TO EXHALE|[rule 13 mm.]|VIKING

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Not available

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

A 6 mm line underlines the chapter names and all the page numbers. Also, the line is used within the text to indicate a break in the story. Within the text, the author's name appears at the top of the left side page and the title of the book appears at the top of the right side page. Through most of the book, the page numbers are located in the upper right hand corner of the paper. On pages that begin new chapters, the number is in the bottom right hand corner.

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

No, the original publisher, Viking Penguin, issued the book in only one edition.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

When Viking Penguin Publishers was called, they could not give me the information. I am wrote them anyway, and am awaiting a response.
2.5 million copies in print of the Pocket Books paper back edition. source: Publisher's Weekly, Dec. 11, 1995

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

G.K. Hall (large print version) Boston, 1992. 546 pages. paper and cloth
Pocket Books, May 1993 New York, 400 pages. paperback
Washington Square Press November 1994 New York. 400 pages paperback
Black Swan, 1993 London, England paper back, 428 pages.
Doubleday, 1992 paperback, 365 pages
Voyager Co., 1992. (1st electronic edition) Santa Monica, CA
Macmillan Library References (large print) 1993
African American Images, 1996 Chicago. paperback
Waiting to Exhale/Mama/Disappearing Acts Pocket Books, 1996

6 Last date in print?

Book is still in print.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

663,333 copies sold of the first edition as of May 1992 source: Bowker's Annual 700,000 hard copies sold and 2.5 million copies in print of the Pocket Books paper back source: The Detroit News, Dec. 11, 1995 85,000 copies were made of the first printing of the first edition alone.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

unavailable The publishers reported this information confidential. I wrote the publisher and am awaiting a reply. I do know that the paperback rights to the book were $700,000. Pocket Books paid $2.64 million for the reprint rights to the novel.

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

TERRY McMILLAN The book America has been waiting for! "A well-written, truthful, and funny story of four African American women...and the sometimes volatile world of Black female/Black male relationships." --Spike Lee
"A pith and vinegar read, sharp, dynamic, and funny as hell." --New York Daily News
"Terry McMillan gives us four women with raw, honest emotions that breathe off the page." --Amy Tan
"With salty humor and a real affinity for her characters, Terry McMillan captures the urban Black woman of the 1990s." --Jessica Hagedorn
"A tough love letter to Black males everywhere." --Charles Johnson
(Shows a picture of the author while she is holding the book.)
Source: New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1992. Advertisement appears in the same issue as the book review.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

On November 28, 1995, Terry McMillan was on the Oprah Winfrey Show, promoting the book as well as the movie. She also appeared on the Arsenio Hall show as well as Today.
The author completed a twenty city, six week book tour in 1992 to promote Waiting to Exhale. It began in Anaheim and ended in Central Park, July 1992.
The author appeared on "In the Prime" on CBS, Feb. 18, 1998

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Movie: Waiting to Exhale (1995) 20th Century Fox Pictures Produced by Forrest Whitaker
Laser Disk: Waiting to Exhale Fox Video 1996 Bevery Hills, CA
Video Cassette: Waiting to Exhale Fox Video, 1995 Beverly Hills, CA
Original Movie Soundtrack: Waiting to Exhale Arista Records, 1995
Musical Score: Waiting to Exhale Warner Bros. Publications, 1996 Author: Babyface Miami, Fl
Audio Recording: Penguin High Bridge Audio, 1995 read by the author
Special Library Version Books on Tape, 1992 Read by Dorothy Gray

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

Title: Kogae tunun yoja Publisher: p'odowon, 1992 Place: Soul T'ukpyolsi Language: Korean
Title: Czekajec na milosc Publisher: Prima, 1994 Place: Warszawa Language: Polish
Tameiki tsukaseteTitle: Publisher: Koansha, 1996 Place: Tokyo Language: Japanese
Title: V ozahidanii schast?ia Publisher: Vagrius, 1995 Place: Moskva Language: Russian
Title: Kemo avir le-neshimah Publisher: Or 'Am Place: Israel Language: Hebrew
Publisher: Editorial Atlantida, 1992 Place: Buenos Aires Language: Spanish

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A


15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A


Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Her vividly candid portrayals of African American life and her depictions of strong, resilient female characters have contributed to Terry McMillan's distinction as the new voice of African American women writers
. Though she has been compared to other acclaimed writers like Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, she asserts that her generation of black writers is "a new breed, free to write as we please." McMillan values the communication she has with her audienc
e, which is why her writing is direct and real. Terry McMillan was born on October 18, 1951 in Port Huron, Michigan. She was the oldest of five children born to Edward Lewis McMillan and Madeline Washington. McMillan's mother was an auto plant worker and her father worked a blue-collar job. Her fa
ther was an alcoholic who frequently beat his wife. Three years after their divorce in 1964, her father died. Growing up, McMillan worked at the local library, where she was first exposed to classic African American literature. When she enrolled at Los Angeles City College, she studied the works of Hughes, Ellison, Wright and Baldwin. At age twenty-two, McMill
an transferred to the University of California at Berkeley from which she received her B.A. in journalism. She then left California and enrolled in a master's degree program at Columbia University, where she studied screenwriting. Due to the racism tha
t she felt at school, McMillan dropped out of Columbia. Although she continued to write short stories and developed her writing skills, McMillan's personal life began to suffer. Her then boyfriend, Leonard Welch, lost his job and began dealing cocaine. McMillan herself turned to alcohol and drugs. In the e
arly 1980s, she "recognized in herself the seeds of alcoholism that had consumed her father." Therefore, she resolved to overcome her addiction. She and Welch had their son Solomon in 1984. In 1976, at the age of 25, McMillan published her first short story, "The End." She then expanded her short story "Mama" into a novel, which was published in 1987 by Houghton Mifflin. "Mama" earned critical praise and was followed by her second novel, "
Disappearing Acts", published in 1989. She then began teaching at the University of Arizona. While looking for anthologies with which to teach her students, McMillan learned that African American authors were rarely included. This prompted her to compi
le "Breaking the Ice: An Anthology of African American Fiction" in 1990. "Waiting to Exhale", published in 1992, is a novel about four professional women looking for love. It reached the New York Times best-sellers list that same year. "Waiting to Exhale" sold over 700,000 hard cover copies by the end of 1992. Her audience
included people of varied ethnicity. Many people seemed to identify with the book, asserting that the realism and vividness of her writing reached beyond race. The book was made into a motion picture starring Whitney Houston and Angela Basset. McMillan's most recent novel is "How Stella Got Her Groove Back", which was published in 1996. A movie version of the novel is scheduled to some out later in 1998. Terry McMillan now lives in a five-bedroom house in Danville, California with her son.
Her writings are kept there with her and her business affairs are supervised by her agent Molly Frierich. Her editor is Dawn Sefarian and her publicity director is Paul Slovak. McMillan says that she realizes that her celebrity "may not last" and that
fame is ever fleeting. However, McMillan has established herself as a writer that can realistically describe the real world in a language that speaks directly to her audience. Through her direct connection with her readers, Terry McMillan's writing bec
omes universal.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

In 1992, when the tour de force bestseller, Waiting to Exhale was published, it received extremely varied reviews, on both ends of the spectrum. Some writers hailed it as the quintessential novel recounting the
lives of professional Black women in the ?90s. Essence magazine said that "Terry McMillan superbly does what few Black writers choose to do: tell funny, wry and moving stories of contemporary Black Women." (Audrey, 1992). However, many reviews especial
ly in literary circles, criticized the book for its apparent lack of depth, simple characters and dialogue driven plots. "McMillan's new effort features a predictable plot, prose that often falls flat, and a narrative that lacks depth." (Chadwell, 1992)
. Often pitted against novels by other modern Black writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, Waiting to Exhale was considered devoid of true ideological convictions and instead seemed to dwell on the trivial. "[McMillan] writes to entertain, by prov
iding the type of sexy, popular novel that has been making Danielle Steele rich for years . . . Her characters' preoccupation with deodorants, douches, and dates soon grows wearisome." (Chadwell, 1992). Other critics said that any positive reviews which
the book received were because of reviewers' concern to avoid sounding racist which "prevented some critics from putting this book firmly where it belongs -- among glitzy, commercial women's novels." (Chadwell, 1992).
There was controversy over the book's apparent alienation of Black men as well as the amount of profanity in the novel. "The dialogue is raunchy and wild, half black street speech and half one liners. It's as if we are listening to four foul mouthed st
and up comediennes -- all of them blindly lashing out at MEN. While the dialogue sparkles throughout, the F-word appears so frequently that one has the feeling that McMillan is trying to one up Spike Lee. " (Larson, 1992).
Despite the harsh criticism that the book may have received about its literary merit, Waiting to Exhale is still regarded as a well written and captivating book by many. "Reading Waiting to Exhale is like greasing down on a Big Mac. It's large and thic
k and juicy, sinfully delicious, filling and oh, so satisfying. While those on a strict literary diet may find it to be of questionable political or social value, the rest of us--the vast majority of us--gobbled it up and wanted more. (Edwards, Oct. 19
Chadwell, Faye. Library Journal. 1 May, 1992: 118. Dodd, Susan. "Women, Sisters and Friends." Washington Post Book World. 24 May, 1992:11. Edwards, Audrey. "Waiting to Inhale." Essence. October 1992: 77. Hubbard, Kim. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" People Weekly. 20 July, 1992: 93-94. Isaacs, Susan. "Chilling out in Phoenix.: New York Times Book Review. 31 May, 1992:12. Larson, Charles. "The Comic Unlikelihood of Finding Mr. Right." Chicago Tribune. 31 May, 1992. Max, Daniel. "McMillan's Millions." New York Times Magazine. 9 August, 1992: 20. Pinckney, Darryl. "The Best of Everything." The New York Review of Books: 4 November, 1993. Publisher's Weekly. 11 May, 1992: 50. Sellers, Frances. Times Literary Supplement. 6 November, 1992: 20.

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

N/A. Because the book was written so recently, there have not been any reviews written about Waiting to Exhale in 1997.

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

The phenomenal success of Waiting to Exhale in 1992 seemed unbelievable. The author, Terry McMillan found herself in an astonishing whirlwind of fame and notoriety after her third novel was published. At each stop of her book tour, thousands of people waited in line to hear Terry McMillan "tell it like it is" from her quintessential novel about being black and female in the 90's. Waiting to Exhale appeared the New York Times best-seller list during its first week of publication in May 1992 and remained there for the next 38 weeks. By its sixth week, Pocket Books had bought the paperback rights for the enormous sum of 2.64 million dollars, one of the highest in recent history (Max, 1992). With more than 700,000 hard copies, more than two million paperback copies in print, a successful movie version, and an extremely large readership, Waiting to Exhale proved to be one of the most popular and well received books of 1992. Several factors contributed to its success including the target audience of the novel, the authors honest and realistic writing, current events, and an extensive publicity campaign.
The reviews of Waiting to Exhale were extremely varied, covering a whole range of positive and negative reactions. Since the novel is about love and relationships, it was often criticized for its shallow plot and its lack luster literary merit. One reviewer claimed that "it may in part be concern to avoid accusations of racism that has prevented putting this book firmly where it belongs -- among the glitzy, commercial, women's novels" (Sellers, 1992). However, many critics enjoyed the vibrant, irreverent and often wicked wit that McMillan brought to a genre often associated with unrealistic sentimentalism. "McMillan's sparkling dialogue is raunchy and wild, half black street talk and half one-liners" (Larson, 1992). Unlike other novels about women and friendship wrought with maudlin emotionality (reminiscent of typical Oprah Winfrey fare), McMillan manages to create a sisterhood story that is a "little more fun, a little more cathartic, and a little less pathetic" (Dodd, 1992).
Reviewers praised the book for describing female camaraderie with such vibrant and thought provoking reality. Also, critics lauded the novel for its accurate portrayal of Black thirty-something, professional women dealing with career, family, and love in the '90s. "Written for and about educated Black women, Waiting to Exhale reflects the growing numbers of successful African Americans who have fled the violence of the ghettos for fashionable neighborhoods, while trying to preserve a uniquely black cultural heritage" (Sellers, 1992). Rarely before Waiting to Exhale had any other book been the voice of middle class African American women in such a way. McMillan's fiercely realistic story about motherhood, divorce, relationships and friendship struck a chord with not only reviewers but with the reading audience craving such characteristics with which to identify.
One of the unspoken reasons why Waiting to Exhale became so popular is that there were not many novels like it before 1992. For decades, Black authors have contributed greatly to the body of American literature. However, the majority of their books exhibited a conscious literary effort to make ideology at least as important as character and plot. The readership of these books has not expanded beyond the realm of intellectualism to the popular culture. However, "[Terry McMillan] writes the kind of popular books white authors have long written, but which black authors were discouraged from undertaking because publishing wisdom decreed that black people didn't buy books" (Max, 1992). Because the Black middle class grew considerably since publishers last examined the market, there was potentially a large audience which had not been targeted before. When Waiting to Exhale was published in 1992, it filled a niche -- books about professional, contemporary, educated women of color. Thus, the public responded quite enthusiastically.
The author's public persona also contributed to the popularity of the book. "Terry McMillan, at age 40, might be just as far as you can get from the traditional image of a tweedy novelist" (Max, 1992). She wears stylish clothes, is known for her big designer earrings, Nefertiti hairstyle and her sharp tongue. She offers a contrast to the sagacious and intelligently rational personas of other "high literary" black authors, like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Terry McMillan has an image of being a "wild, down to earth, unpretentious homegirl who peppers her raw conversations with lots of F-words and S-words to make a point" (Edwards, 1992). Many readers expressed their appreciation for a writer who sees what they see and writes how they feel, especially as women of color. "She writes from a black, female perspective that we don't get to hear" (Hubbard, July 1992). Women readers don't see McMillan as an intangible literary icon who cannot comprehend their everyday circumstances. Instead, her audience views her as she is -- a single mother grappling with issues of love, marriage, career, and family. Because her audience deals with these issues everyday, they can identify with McMillan's endearing story.
Often, Terry McMillan is compared to other contemporary, black female authors. However, a huge difference exists in the type of literature they create. Alice Walker, known for her stunning depictions of Black women, released Possessing the Secret of Joy at the same time as Waiting to Exhale. The focus of the two novels differed radically. While Walker vividly describes and signifies on female genital mutilation as a symbol of male oppression, McMillan is more likely to emphasize what brand of handbag her characters carry. Despite the chasm of ideological importance, Waiting to Exhale was immensely more popular with readers than was Possessing the Secret of Joy. "It is McMillan's pot-boiler writing that's likely to continue making the bundles of money more 'literary' work seldom achieves" (Edwards, 1992). Popular audiences appreciate that hair weaves, press on nails, and a love of Janet Jackson have a place in literature. Waiting to Exhale evokes the same anxieties that women of all colors face in trying to keep a balance in everyday life. Although ideologically based literature plays an important part in society, that particular kind of novel is not accessible to everyone. In the 90's, women are forced to be superwomen. Between caring for the family, home, and career not much time is left to breathe, let alone contemplate the horror and societal implications of profoundly complex issues, like clitoral circumcision. Instead, a sociological melodrama like Waiting to Exhale provides the same outlet for escapism and fantasy that soap operas do. The language is the fun and straightforward brand common in best-sellers, that does not require much effort to comprehend. "The people who bought 'Waiting to Exhale' were women who really identified with the characters. They don't see her as an Alice Walker or a Toni Morrison. She's writing more about their experience" (Max, 1992).
Waiting to Exhale is essentially a novel about love, sex, and trying to find the perfect man. In 1992 when the novel was published, as well as the surrounding years, several other best-sellers seemed to share the same theme as Waiting to Exhale. Danielle Steele had two best selling novels in 1992 -- Jewels and Mixed Blessings. The year before that she released two other novels titled No Greater Love and Heartbeat. Terry McMillan should be compared to Danielle Steele before she is pitted against African American authors like Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. Although the characters in Exhale are black, the plot essentially revolves around who ends up sleeping with whom, as is true of many Danielle Steele novels. The proposition that women do not feel fulfilled in relationships and sex may explain why How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time by Naura Hayden was a best-seller in 1992. In Exhale, the four main characters bemoan the fact that they cannot find men who are simultaneously successful, considerate, and good in bed. One of the main characters, Savannah Jackson, prays to the Lord to bring her "a decent man. Could he be full of zest, and please, a slow tender passionate lover?" (McMillan, 1992). Perhaps the men in Exhale should read Hayden's how- to book or as an alternative, read the ever popular, always stimulating coffee table treasure, SEX by Madonna (also a best-seller in 1992). Perhaps, Exhale was so popular at the time because women could see that they were not alone in their search for meaningful relationships. Says the author, "I really didn't get it. I was about 36 or 37 years old, not in a relationship at the time, and I asked myself, 'What's wrong with this picture?' Most of my girlfriends, including some of my white girlfriends, were in the same boat. It became clear to me that there was a problem. And I knew there was a story here" (Edwards, 1992).
Many critics claim that Waiting to Exhale focuses excessively on male bashing and displaying men as ruthless, unreliable, and undeserving of female affection. In the novel, the four characters lament the lack of available and worthy men today. "'They're either ugly, gay, in prison, unemployed, crackheads, short, unreliable, irresponsible, dogs, shallow, or too goddam old and set in their ways'" to know how to treat a woman (McMillan, 1992). Perhaps certain events occurring outside the realm of popular fiction were important precursors to the popularity of the novel. In 1991, many women, especially black women, were outraged and disillusioned by the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings. Many people felt that Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court undermined the testimonies of harassed women and thus deprived them of power. Many feminist groups (as seen on the internet) expressed resentment towards the system that would endorse someone like Clarence Thomas. In the book, one of the male character is similar to Thomas. He is a rich, black, corporate figure, who denies his black heritage and leaves his wife for a white woman. McMillan may have had Thomas in mind when writing the character. The remnants of anger caused by the testimony may have spurned the male bashing found in literature (especially toward black men in Exhale). Likewise, the current movie blockbusters of the time may have prompted some of the negativity felt towards men. In 1991, Thelma and Louise became one of the most popular movies at the box office, mainly because women flocked to see it. The movie recounts the lives of two women who, after being suppressed by worthless men in their relationships, decide to liberate themselves. Critics of the movie were disappointed with the negative way that men were portrayed. However, many women enjoyed seeing the close sisterhood that the two main characters shared as they refused to be held down by unworthy males. Thus, movies like Thelma and Louise may have primed readers to appreciate a novel about strong women who are looking for men worthy of them. Instead of middle class white women, Waiting to Exhale depicts upper middle class black women searching for the same thing. So in 1992, when Waiting to Exhale was published, readers grabbed for a novel about female power and friendship.
Publicity was a main factor in the popularity of the novel. Before Waiting to Exhale was published, Terry McMillan involved herself in a huge advertising campaign to promote the book. The author went on a 20 city tour for six weeks doing book readings and autograph signings. Her tour was not limited to book stores however. In order to reach a more varied audience, she frequented jazz clubs, community centers and smaller ethnic bookstores. When the book was published, McMillan appeared on the Today Show, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the Arsenio Hall Show. In 1995, Waiting to Exhale was made into a full length motion picture. Crowd drawing actresses Angela Bassett ("What's Love Got to do With It) and Whitney Houston ("Bodyguard") were given the two leading roles. The much anticipated movie opened at number one at the box office in its opening weekend. The reviews of the movie were mixed. Many said that the director, Forrest Whitaker, created a sappy and cliched melodrama without the sparkling wit and humor of the book. The common lament that "the book was better than the movie" prompted readers to consider reading the novel. Despite criticism of the movie, the book benefitted from an upsurge of interest in the novel. On the day that the movie opened, Oprah Winfrey had the four leading actresses and Terry McMillan on her show. The movie then prompted more interviews with the author, which focused attention on the novel. Along with the movie came the musical soundtrack to the film. The theme song to the film "Shoop-Shoop (You Will Exhale)" sung by Whitney Houston, became popular on the radio as did the music video version on MTV. Many web pages promoting the movie also may have popularized the book. Although, after the movie was released, the book did not return to the best-seller list, two million paperback editions were in print (including a new edition with the movie's cast members on the front cover).
Waiting to Exhale was a phenomenal success when it was published. Not only did black women enjoy reading about characters that were like them, but women of all races appreciated reading a realistic and honest story about relationships, friendship and love. "The issue is gender, not race and above all the question is sisterhood. These aren't black women; they're most women" (Larson, 1992). The way that the author is able to relate to her characters and to her audience displays her understanding of women in the 1990's.
Dodd, Susan. "Women, Sisters and Friends." Washington Post Book World. 24 May, 1992. Edwards, Audrey. "Waiting to Inhale." Essence. October 1992. Hubbard, Kim. "A Good Man is Hard to Find." People Weekly. 20 July, 1992. Larson, Charles. "The Comic Unlikelihood of Finding Mr. Right." Chicago Tribune. 31 May, 1992. Max, Daniel. "McMillan's Millions." New York Times Magazine. 9 August, 1992. Sellers, Francis S. Times Literary Supplement, 6 November, 1992: 20.

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