Terry McMillan, best known for her blockbuster novels Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, made a quick stop in South Providence the other day to raise money for the Community Preparatory School and talk shop — with 10-year-olds.



Question 1 from a curly-haired girl in back: “Do you have free time?”

“I have a lot of free time,” joked McMillan, flashing a wide grin. “I don’t have a job.”

McMillan was seated in a little chair in Michael Coppola’s fourth-grade classroom, entertaining Ilya and Ashley and Isaac and the other pupils with stories about her humble beginnings, emergence as a writer, and love for a craft that happily consumes her.

Her Q&A with the kids was the first stop in a whirlwind visit that also included a meet-and-greet, keynote address, and book signing at the Mill’s Tavern Tuesday night. Offi-cials of the private, urban school say they invited McMillan to headline the fundraiser because they thought she would be a good role model for students.

She was, and for teachers as well.

Exhale, the 1994 book about four black women yearning for the right man, catapulted McMillan to national fame and was turned into a movie that generated a cult following. More success followed with Groove, also made into a hit movie, this one starring a steamy Angela Bassett as a middle-aged woman who falls for a 20-year-old hunk while vacation-ing in Jamaica.

Another book is on the way. Getting to Happy, a sequel to Exhale, is scheduled to hit the shelves in September. The latest novel, for which the movie rights have already been sold, brings readers up to speed on what Savannah, Robin, Gloria, and Bernadine have been doing for the last 15 years.

“They’re all grown up,” said McMillan. “They have different problems, different issues they’re dealing with. It basically deals with loss, and how they rebuild their lives.”

National Public Radio has called McMillan the reigning queen of African-American fiction. Her books have sold millions of copies, and observers say she has ushered in a new wave of popular fiction that presents educated and upscale black characters coping with the day-to-day challenges in marriages, friendships, and relationships.

McMillan dislikes labels, but clearly enjoys her success.

For nearly two hours, her candid remarks and wit kept the kids — and teachers — laughing. The juicy details of her life poured forth: her favorite colors are purple and orange; the bracelet she was wearing is from Barcelona; her 26-year-old son is a Stanford University graduate and guitarist; she might write a children’s book; she lives outside San Fran-cisco in a house with a swimming pool and ducks; she loves poetry. “Sometimes you can read one line in a poem and it makes your day,” she said.

Kids flocked to her for an autograph and inscription: “Yes To Fun!,” “Nice to Meet You,” “OK.”

McMillan is 58 years old, but looks a decade younger. She is tall, though her stature was enhanced somewhat by the bun atop her head and platform sandals. She wore big gold hoop earrings and a flowing white linen dress. Her toenails were painted red.

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