Tag Archives: books

Maaaan..if I hadn’t read Zora Neale Hurston in HS, I woulda been even more of an asshole.

I was editing a fantastic blog entry for CREADnyc last week about the importance of Black female authors in Highs School. Please get your life, go there now and read it but remember to come back! LOL!

Among the 3 Black women authors Khalya wrote about, she mentioned reading Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” for the first time in college.

The crazy thins is I had been thinking about that book a lot lately, not necessarily because it was among my favorite works of fiction, but because it was assigned reading in my high school humanities class and because it was the first ever book I had ever read in dialect. And I can remember like it was yesterday how quick I was to look down my uppity nose at that writing until it was made clear to be my my teachers that this book was not only worthy of cannon like status, but that it was, and is, a brilliantly written piece of literature, meant to be studied, deconstructed, theorized and revered.

As Khalya mentions in her piece, we all know what it’s like to struggle with Shakespeare, but love iambic pentameter or hate it, we see Shakespeare held in the highest esteem absolutely everywhere. And as Khalya also points out, no one has ever spoken like that. Where as dialetic is a phonetically written expression of the way real ass people talk. We hear it all the time. But we rarely ever read it. The only other example of a book written in dialect I can think of is, Trainspotting by Irvine Walsh which the film by the same name is based on. I love that movie and I totally respect that it was written in Welsh dialect but ain’t nobody got time for that! LOL! I had to watch the film with subtitles!

But back to Zora. See, when I was a teenager, I was already walking around thinking I was better than other Black students because I thought I acted and spoke the way I was taught was acceptable and appropriate. And although I hated reading dead White people classics, I never said a word in protest about it. By 9th grade I had already started reading Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis’ collections of Short stories and Terry McMillan and I was very proud and feeling myself about that. But that just meant I was a snobby Black chick. I couldn’t stand Donald Goines and a lot of the work that came from what was at the time,  just developing “Black lit” genre from publications such as Triple Crown. I never read Zane or Push by Sapphire because I didn’t think these writers were worthy of being considered “literature.” Even in an alternative, progressive public charter school that was very subversive in it’s approach to education, I had still developed an idea about what I considered to be good writing that was of course informed by oppressive White supremacist media. I knew what kind of writing flooded the mainstream and occupied the majority of my YA bookshelf and none of them were written by in dialect by Black women.

In America, a young Black person’s learns very early that the only rewards worth anything are the ones we get for aspiring to Whiteness and hating ourselves and one another. Racism never sleeps. Slavery was never really abolished.

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The introduction of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in high school impacted me in ways I wasn’t even aware of until now because it was placed on the same level by my teachers with Shakespeare, Salinger and Harper Lee. In addition to Romeo and Juliet, we also read and did a class production of scenes from “A Raisin in the Sun.” We read “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas who grew up in the same neighborhood in Spanish Harlem where I attended high school. This was a rough book for me to get through as well, more because of the content than anything else but when I look back on it, I remember appreciating some it’s rawest moments the most.

As a huge fan of reading, if I hadn’t been exposed to these books as a teenager I might have tied myself to the notion that great fiction and literature could only look and sound one way or only be produced by a certain class of Black people. The fact that most of us are not exposed to these writers until college is no coincidence. Self hatred in Black people is a seed planted by institutional and systemic racism that historically has always been bent in one way or another on creating slaves.

Thanks to resources like CREADnyc.com, which I am continually proud to be a part of and the brilliant educators and writers there as well as Decolonizing Education Publishing which was created to empower Black children with sociopolitical consciousness and yes, thanks to the Cheeto in Chief, those who have dedicated themselves to Black revolution are providing integral entry points to the dismantling, diminishing and dencentering  of White supremacy.

Much like Janie, in “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Black people are the world and the heavens boiled into one drop. We don’t need to conform, convert or assimilate in order to be worthy of love, equity and humanity. We never have.

 

 

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Pink Moon/Sacred Intimacy

“I saw it written and I saw it say,
a pink moon is on it’s way.
And none of you stand so tall.
A pink moon gonna get ye all…”
-Nick Drake
Rose Quartz
Rose Quartz from Chakra Zulu Crystals
I’ve never actually seen a Pink Moon in my life but I did receive a rose quartz palm stone yesterday evening on the first day of the Full Pink Moon in Libra which is said to represent focus on the blossoming of new and exciting things to come in the season. It represents a call to action in the spirit to make manifest, those wishes and dreams that have been germinating during the Winter. I felt the energy of the rose quartz very deeply as I held it in my hands and on my heart. It’s a smooth, good sized stone, with a good weight and it’s arrival in my life right now is very timely.
Things have been very intense for my husband and I in the last few weeks. We’re planning a short getaway this weekend for a change of scenery, some peace, quiet, to be closer to nature, to do some spiritual healing work.
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Speaking of Spirit, I strongly, deeply, adamantly recommend that everyone, Black people in particular, read “Intimacy of the Spirit” by Sobonfu Some. My partner in the Divine Feminine Movement shared it with me a while ago and it has really been a revelation for me on many levels. It has helped me to reflect on and indicate the ways in which intimacy has worked in my relationships, how much or how little respect I have for it and in which relationships. It has shed so much light on the huge role secrecy, shame and pain have in most all models of relationship here in America and in all Western societies. It’s not easy or fun to dig into the ways in which, perhaps I have taken advantage of, overlooked, dismissed, manipulated or mistreated intimacy in my life but this book is also really confirming for me, so much of the strong underlying feelings I’ve had about the nature of and the power of intimacy to effect, not only those in the a committed relationship with one another but also their family, friends, loved ones, community, society and the world at large.
The spirit of intimacy is the essence  of life. Ritualized reverence and honor of that spirit is sadly devoid in most of our lives, which is evident in high rates of divorce, violence, depression, unhappiness, fragmentation, isolation and a general sense of loss. And yet ritualistic behavior is inherent to us as human beings. We just participate in too many of the wrong rituals. Rituals that erode and diminish our health, spirit, self esteem and emotional well being are the ones we know too well. Speaking ill of ourselves, playing it small, not listening to our intuitions, self medication, overeating, mindless media consumption and more. We prioritize all of these things by way of distraction from core issues that would be easier to resolve if we were surrounded by a community, a trusted circle of peers, family, friends with specific roles to play in the maintenance and support of our chosen relationships with them.
My issues with trust, shame, pain and emotional stress are not isolated or unique. I learn that more and more as I become more honest with myself and others over time. There is a collective longing for connection in all of humanity that writhes constantly under the pressure of oppressive dictates and authorities which seeks to pervert and suppress vulnerability and authenticity and truth in exchange for mere power.
The longing for connection always wins out, even if the way in which it is manifested is often disturbing and destructive. In learning about the sacredness of intimacy, the ways in which it requires constant nurturing, I am learning the ways in which this kind of long term suffering may be nipped in the bud, weeded out, eliminated from the process of living out our purpose. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about the far reaching generational trauma of it all, but I know at the very least I need to start with me.
That’s not a small thing.

Urban Eve “To Read” List

CitizenLast week at my job we had a wonderful Black History Presentation in which one of the participators read from Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen.” Her reading reminded me that it’s been on my to-read list the moment I learned about it and I have to purchase the book as soon as possible. Word of this “meditation on race” started circulating online like wildfire during the time two juries failed to indict cops responsible for the deaths of both  Eric Garner and Michael Brown, around the time that #blacklives matter and Black twitter in general became a force to be reckoned with.

SkinInc

For my own contribution to the Black History presentation, I read the poem, “All Their Stanzas Look Alike, a compelling work by Thomas Sayers Ellis from his book “The Maverick Room,” which successfully indicts a system of standards by which our work, our creative expression, our bodies are measured and assimilated into soulless White washed acceptance. I discovered Ellis as a result of googling contemporary Black poets and I’m not sure why I’ve never read of him before but I was so impressed by “All Their Stanzas” that I immediately ordered his book “Skin Inc: Identity Repair Poems” published in 2013. I haven’t been this excited about discovering a poet in years. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

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“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay by has also been strongly recommended to me by several of my female friends and although it will not be the first book I’ve read about Feminism, it shall be the first book I ever read with the word Feminist in it’s title. I’m sure that Feminists all over the country are sighing collectively. LOL!

And of course anything that Chimimanda Adiche feels like putting out this year moves swiftly to the top of that list.

Journey into Americanah: My First iBook Read

Americanah

As a life long book nerd, I have also been a book purist for most of my life. I like books. And by that I mean physical books. I like to hold them in my hand. I like to smell the pages, bookmark, highlight, underline, make notes in the margin, stare at the cover design. I believe in holding books. That is until I read 1Q84. Then I realized that e-readers might be on to something. Still I have never read a single book on a digital device, until now.

At any given moment in my life, there are a myriad of jumbled ideas I want to examine, stories, articles I want to read, pictures I want to take, apps to download, recipes to try and games I want to play. iBook has been one of them for some time now. I really admire the fluidity with which my best book nerd friend at Life as I Know It purchases books on her Kindle and speed reads through them in a matter of days, sometimes hours. But like I said I’ve been anti e-reader since they were released. I think she has been the one person to show me how e-readers are actually not evil. And now I think they might actual be one the best uses of technology ever. She has told me that I have to read “Americanah” by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and usually when she recommends a book it means I need to read it.

I uploaded a sample of “Americanah” on my  iBooks app last week. Perhaps one of the truest testaments of a great writer lies in their ability to transcend the format through which they are communicating. And I have to say that reading Chimimanda’s words on my iphone, I had not one care for the fact that I was not turning pages or holding her actual book in my hands. I was transported to a very familiar world through the eyes of an African woman. And I am enraptured at her brilliant and insightful observations of American, Band immigrant life among many other things. Her attention to detail, her honesty, humor, lyricism and down to earth tone are engaging and eye opening. I’m only in the first chapter still but I can already tell I’m in it until the last page.

This will be the first book by Adichie I’ve ever read but like many of us I became aware of her by way of Beyonce’s “Flawless” track. Since then I have watched and listened to her in talks and Ted X lectures and seen the film based on her book “Half of a Yellow Sun” about the lives of two upper middle class Nigerian sisters during the Biafran war at it’s debut in Lincoln Center this past Spring. I don’t say this about people in the public eye often but whenever I see Adichie, I feel as if she is someone I would love to sit down and talk with or better yet, someone I would willingly approach to engage in conversation. And I rarely feel that way about people which is why its easy for me to recognize when someone makes an impression.

I continued reading “Americanah” at lunch in an Indian place called Baluchis where I’ve only seen Black people working and Drake’s last album played over the stereo. Reading her main character’s observations about the cultural spaces she navigated in America made me more sensitive to my own and what they really mean, how they shape what I think and how I feel, what I believe about who I am and what it means to belong anywhere.

I’m only on the second chapter. LOL!

Black Girl YA Circa 1980s

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As a little Brooklyn born home-schooled vegan I was enrolled up the wazoo in extracurricular activities, from Gardening at BBG to art classes at the Brooklyn Museum to the Reading is Fundamental Book Club at the Brooklyn Public Library. I was a born bookworm. I don’t know how old I was when I learned to read but I suspect it was quick and early. I started writing poetry when I was eight.

For me, getting a card at the Brooklyn Public Library was like gaining entry to the first club ever that I ever felt I completely belonged to. I remember them typing up all the info on it, my name address, phone number and then laminating it and telling me all the rules about due dates, borrowing limits and such. Oh, it was like getting the keys to the kingdom. And I read voraciously, particularly YA, and at an age when I was neither preteen nor young adult. LOL! But if you were like me, a young brown girl with a huge reading appetite, you noticed that there was a glaring absence of Black faces in the worlds of Francine Pascal, Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, Maud Hart Lovelace and the entire Sweet Dreams series. “Rainbow Jordan” by Alice Childress stands out a lot in my mind but I was deeply irked that it was like the only book I ever saw on the shelves with a Black face on it. It appeared and reappeared but nothing else with a Brown face on it ever did. And to be honest I did try to read and just wasn’t feeling it. But there was nothing else to compare it to!

So I kept reading more authors like the ones listed above and I was an avid fan of them all. I mean like many girls White and Black alike, I came of age with these characters and they will forever remain embedded in my literary DNA with a lot of warm deluded memories. But one day while I was in line at the RIF club looking through books to take out I saw the first ever Black face I had ever seen on a Sweet Dreams paperback and I flipped out! “The Truth about me and Bobby V.” by Janetta Johns.

Oh I was soooo excited!!!! I was elated! It was about a dysfunctionally shy gangly Black girl who lived in some inner city USA. She had just adjusted to being in a new, tougher High School with the help of her tougher more outspoken BFF Bobby V. when her parents announce they will be moving the whole family to a predominantly white suburb where she dreads having to start all over again.

I read that book more times than I can remember. I’ve read it as an adult. I own a copy that I ordered on Amazon for posterity. One single Sweet Dreams book about a Black girl, Copyright 1983. Sure, she was a light skinned girl of the variety that corporations targeted for sanitary napkin commercials in the 70s and if I had to break down the whole story, I realize it doesn’t take on race relations in any radical way. But still. She was one brown face in a sea of white girls. And that was extremely important for me as a reading junkie and as a Black female and it still is now.

10/7/2014