Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race

It was approximately five months ago that my book club was speaking about race since we were discussing Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I found myself being the unique reference since I was the only black person in the room.  Scary. That brought home the idea that black people are not a monolith.Everybody else is white and the majority are from the UK.  Surprisingly enough, the subject of race and the UK came up as they all declared themselves disappointed with America’s outward racism since 45 being elected.  They then came to the conclusion that class was more of a divide in the UK than race.  I was surprised to hear this because the few black people I’ve known from the UK always said that race was largely the issue.  Not being able to speak knowledgeably about the UK’s race issues, I remained silent on that one, while silently suspecting that they were giving the UK a bit too much credit on the race issue.

Contrary to the title  Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race,  I find myself img_4073having to do it more frequently, since I’ve been living in France for over 20+ years.  Here nobody wants to bring up the subject of race.  The French are living in a race Disneyland in their heads.  They never question the lack of racial diversity on television, in politics, in schools, and in the hierarchy of big business.  Everything is hunky dory here.  France has quite a way to go before they begin to just scratch the surface of their race issues.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was an engrossing and informative read touching on race in the UK.  This book was developed from a blog post Reni Eddo-Lodge had written on 22 February 2014 about her difficulty to speak about race with white people.

“I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race.  Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms.  I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.  You can see their eyes shut down and harden.  It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals.  It’s like they can no longer hear us.” (Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, p. ix) White people not being interested in hearing about race problems was very similar to what Michael Eric Dyson described in Tears We Cannot Cry:  A Sermon to White America.

This book is her detailed extension of that blog post.  It reminds the reader that black American story has taken over and become the story that is learned in the UK, while the black British story being neglected.  So neglected that the average British person probably isn’t aware of how blacks really got to Britain nor how much race as also shaped the UK.  It opens with a powerful preface, introducing you to Eddo-Lodge’s voice –  insightful and punctilious.   The book is separated into seven chapters, Chapter 1 beginning with the history of Britain – colonialism and slavery.  The other chapters cover the system, white privilege, mixed race people, feminism, and finally race and class.  The very last chapter is uplifting and gives both white and black people ideas on how to deal with discussions about race.  Basically, we have to choose our battles carefully.

“Racism does not go both ways.  There are unique forms of discrimination that are backed up by entitlement, assertion and, most importantly, supported by structural power strong enough to scare you into complying with the demands of the status quo.  We have to recognize this.” (Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Racep. 98)

If you’re still not sure about reading Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, click the video below and listen to Reni Eddo-Lodge talking about it.  It’ll give you an even better overview of the topics she covers.

My copy:  Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race,  paperback, 224 pages

My rating:  * * * * *

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Hunger A Memoir of (My) Body

According to my electronic dictionary, hunger means a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat or a strong desire or craving.  I must say that Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger A Memoir of (My) Body was named appropriately.  She has a hunger but so did I as a reader and lover of her writing.  I have to admit I didn’t love Difficult Women.  I couldn’t understand the emphasis on these lost women who found themselvesimg_4070 in the most appalling situations.  I kept asking myself why.

I have read all of Gay’s works, except An Untamed State.  It is the novel I seem to be putting off.  I have been anticipating its true life brutally; even more now that I’ve read Hunger.  Nevertheless, I will be reading it and completing Gay’s list of writing.  I feel that now having finished Hunger, I understand her a bit more and can bring myself to accept the brutality and authenticity of her writing with my eyes wide open.  Difficult Women presented me a real challenge, as did Hunger.

Hunger is a confession of sorts.  It discusses sexual assault and recovering from that horrible experience alone.  It also discusses being a big woman and all the challenges that she faces from society and family.  Gay gave me a lot to think about in this memoir – everything from fat shaming, to eating disorders, to dating, family, and more.  She BREAKS it down!  There were things she speaks about in Hunger that I can relate to because I am also a big woman.  When she said “It is a powerful lie to equate thinness with self-worth.” (Hunger, p. 135), I just wanted to rent a billboard and have that phrase written on it.

The best thing about this novel for me was its natural perfect progression.  It begins and ends with the right tone.  We learn quite a lot about Gay’s feelings on many different subjects and I commend her for her raw openness.  She is brave, yet vulnerable.  I couldn’t begin to imagine how honest this memoir was going to be.  She is unbiased and unabashedly honest about some of the deepest problems in her life.  Hunger is a way for Gay to exorcise those demons from her past.  I’d like to think this memoir could help some people out there to accept and understand themselves better and to get help if they need it.

“I am realizing I am not worthless. Knowing that feels good.  My sad stories will always be there. I am going to keep telling them even though I hate having the stories to tell.  These sad stories will always weigh on me, though that burden lessens the more  I realize  who I am and what I am worth.” (Hunger, p. 251)

I read this book while listening to the audiobook with Roxane Gay’s voice – stong, unflinching and expressive.  She manages to make the reader smirk and smile despite the seriousness of the memoir.  She even uses pop culture and real examples, in order to make her thoughts crystal clear.  I recommend listening to the audiobook if you’re thinking about reading Hunger.  I’d even suggest reading Hunger first even if you haven’t read any of her other works.  Watch the video below where Roxane Gay is interviewed in Australia about Difficult Women.  It’s EXCELLENT!  Roxane Gay doesn’t sugar coat anything and that’s what makes her so awe-inspiring.

My copy:  Hunger  A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay (Harper Collins), p. 304

My rating:  * * * * *

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing.
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Born on a Tuesday

Born on a Tuesday opens following a gang of street boys, who are hanging in the streets and getting up to no good. They spend time smoking wee wee, pillaging, committing random acts of violence and even murder. We are introduced to the main character, Dantala, “born on a Tuesday”, alias Ahmad. His poignant first person voice recounts his coming of age story in northern Nigeria.

This poignant novel takes us through friendships, political strife, islamic extremism, and death. We as readers learn more about the real life difficulties of growing up a boy in northern Nigeria. Dantala is a boy who has seen a lot already from the beginning of the novel. In spite of this, he is still not enough street smart. He is away from his home and is supposed to be studying the Koran, Arabic, Hausa, and Math. He’s an excellent student but a horrific incident sends him running for his life from Bayan Layi. We have no idea how old he is but it’s quite clear he can’t be more than 15 years old. He finds himself weak and sick in a town called Sokoto. This is where the growth of Dantala and Born on a Tuesday continues.

I have to say I was excited to buddy read this novel with The African Book Addict. We both owned Born on a Tuesday and were anxious to get to it.  This book touches on many typical themes as most coming of age stories but this one goes much further. It explores political power, religion, and how religious extremism starts and can envelop a community and the innocent.  This novel depicts all the complexities that we can’t think of.  The writing style and the author’s capacity to make the reader feel so many different emotions in so few pages are the best things about Born on a Tuesday.  I was engrossed immediately and liked Dantala’s personality. At times I found myself mentally rooting for him and urging him not to make bad choices.

The structure of the novel was cleverly done.  It is separated into five parts ranging from 2003-2010. Part 3 begins with a chapter called Words. It’s from here where we read Dantala’s English word journal. These sections, written in italics, explore words that he had learned in English and through his journal we go deeper into his thoughts about what is going on in his life through them.  It is a diary of sorts disguised as a simple word journal. Some of the words he writes about are obsess, anthropology, terrify, discovery shrug, etc.  These passages are some of the more vulnerable moments of Dantala’s thoughts. It’s a clever device that Elnathan John uses for us to see what Dantala really thinks and feels about things.  Despite this being a first person narrative, we are immediately sucked in and believe everything he recounts. He’s a pretty reliable narrator too since he doesn’t try to lie about his feelings or actions when he is embarrassed (and there are quite a few embarrassing moments) or wrong.  I know usually readers feel first person narratives get a little too close for comfort but I can’t explain exactly why but this one could only work in that point of view.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Elnathan John and I can’t wait to get to another one. His writing is unfaltering and informative. Born on a Tuesday was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2016. After reading this one I’d like to know which title won.  Elnathan John is a writer and novelist and is one of Nigeria’s most well-known satirist.  If you’d like to read more of Elnathan John’s writing check out his blog Elnathan’s Dark Corner.

My copy:  Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John (Cassava Republic), paperback 261 pages

My rating:  * * * * *

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing.
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He Never Came Home – Interview with the author Regina R. Robertson

I must admit the first time I saw this cover and read this title I was immediately drawn in and was curious to see what this book was all about.  As soon as, I realized that it was a collection of essays written by women recounting life living without their fathers and their sometimesimg_3775 subsequent and turbulent reunions, I knew it was for me.  It’s the first time in a very long time that the back cover of a novel as truly spoken to me.  It was calling me.  Of course it was, since I too am a woman who grew up without my father.  I’m so glad I took the time to read it, ponder it, and even shed tears over it.  This is a must read for everybody.  Read below and discover Regina R. Robertson’s answers to my interview questions about her poignant debut novel He Never Came Home.

Me:  How did you get into writing?
Regina:  When I think back, I can admit that I was always a bit of a “closet writer.” As a kid, I spent a great deal of afterschool time at the library, read lots of books and was completely head-over-heels in love with magazines. I also loved my English classes. Oh, and I’m very proud to say that I was a master of sentence diagramming!

I studied marketing in college and after graduation, I landed my first “real job” at a record company. There, I did a lot of writing – marketing plans and such – and over time, I noticed that my writing stood out. That was probably the first time the “light bulb” switched on for me. Until then, I just assumed that everybody knew how to write.

After leaving the world of music and moving from New York to Los Angeles, I did some job-hopping in the film marketing and advertising industries. My paychecks covered the bills, to a point, but I wasn’t happy, at all. Then, on one fateful day in January 2001, I was fired from a job that I really hated. My immediate thought was, “What do you want to do with your life, like seriously? What will make you happy?” Because I’d always loved magazines, I figured I’d try my hand at writing for my favorite publications. My first writing assignments were press releases and artist bios…and I just kept building from there.

Me:  Could you tell my readers how He Never Came Home came to be?
Regina: He Never Came Home began its journey to publication as a 1,500-word article I wrote for Honey magazine entitled, “Where’s Daddy?” For that story, I interviewed three women who grew up without their fathers as well as an author who’d written a book on the subject and a psychologist. After the article ran (in October 2002), a colleague of mine, Tresa L. Sanders, asked why I hadn’t thought to interview her. Although I didn’t know her family history at the time, her question made me wonder how many other women saw their upbringing reflected in that story. That’s when I had the first thought about writing a book. Oh, and Tresa’s heartfelt story, “He Always Said, ‘I Love You,’” is featured in He Never Came Home, page 107.

More than a decade after that Honey article was published – and after enduring my fair share of rejection and many, many starts-and-stops – I scored a book deal, finally, and began my search for (and found) 21 brave women who trusted me to share their stories. So, it’s been quite a long road.

Me:  How did you go about writing the stories that were told to you? Was it difficult to do?
Regina:  Writing and editing the as-told-to stories was rather seamless. The biggest challenge was working around everybody’s schedule, but it was manageable. We got it done.

For these stories, I either hopped on the phone (with my out-of-town contributors) or scheduled a time for a sit-down (with my Los Angeles-based contributors). After each interview, I’d do my transcribing and think about where I wanted to start. Once I had the opening mapped out, I’d send along a few paragraphs to the contributor and ask, “Did I get it right? Is this your voice? Are those the facts?” Thankfully, the feedback was mostly along the lines of, “Yup, that’s what happened,” or “Wow, that really does sound like me!” From there, I’d continue crafting the story and we’d go back-and-forth with editing. In the case of Regina King (whose essay is entitled, “Redefining Family”), we were editing while she was juggling two, primetime shows and also, winning Emmy Awards! There were a few times when I’d missed a fact or didn’t understand a piece of a story, so I might have a quick follow-up call or a few frantic email exchanges.

Once I was all done, I sent the final version to the contributor and said, “Okay, this is what’s going in the manuscript…what do you think?” Each of my contributors were happy with the way their stories were told, even the tough parts. Ultimately, I wanted to make sure that everybody had the space to tell their story and “hear” their own voice when they read it.

Me:  The pacing of He Never Came Home was perfect. How did you decide the order of the stories?
Regina:  Writing and editing the book was therapeutic, but also quite taxing, emotionally. Once all of the stories were written and edited, I was actually quite excited about the sequencing process.

My plan had always been to section the book into three categories – distant, divorced, deceased. If I recall correctly, I whipped up the table of contents in a few hours, in a single day. I knew I wanted to open with a young woman’s voice, so I gave that slot to Niko Amber (“The Birthday Present”). Then I thought maybe my essay (“Death of a Stranger”) might be a good way to close the collection. From there, I looked over the list of contributors and thought about how their stories might flow together. Although everybody’s circumstances are different, I started to see that there was some “connective tissue,” if you will.

After I submitted the manuscript, my publisher thought the sequence was perfect! So, I’d say that writing the table of contents was the easiest part of my publishing journey!

Me:  He Never Came Home is your first book.  Will you be writing any fiction novels in the future or other non-fiction novels?
Regina:  Yes, He Never Came Home is my first book…and there are more to come! I’m definitely thinking about what I’d like to write about next, but I’m also trying to catch my breath. The publishing process is intense – worth it, of course, but intense! So, for now, I’m tossing around a few ideas and mapping out my next book proposal…in my head.

Me: Will you be exploring this theme of missing fathers in future novels?
Regina:  We shall see what comes to mind.

Me:  How has He Never Came Home been received by the public and in literary circles?
Regina:  So far, the response has been amazing. I’ve received such positive feedback from women, many of whom have shared with me their personal stories, whether on social media, at book signings or just out in the world. I’ve been quite surprised by the amount of feedback I’ve received from men, too. In fact, I had a man tell me that reading the book made him “want to be a better man.” That was really touching.

In literary circles, the response has been quite positive as well. Again, I’ve received such interesting feedback from men. Whether they are fathers or uncles or brothers, so many men were moved by the stories and seemed to have found some enlightenment about how important their presence is.

Me:  Would you consider making He Never Came Home in documentary form?
Regina:  Absolutely…and fingers crossed!

Me:  How and why did you get Joy-Ann Reid to write the foreword?
Regina:  During the entire time I was writing and editing the book, I was thinking about who I’d like to pen the foreword. As I got closer to my deadline, I started panicking. One of my contributors, Wendy L. Wilson – whose essay is entitled “That Day in April” and with whom I’d worked during her tenure as the News Editor at Essence – sent me a note suggesting Joy-Ann Reid.

In short, Joy-Ann had recently lost her mostly-absent dad and wrote a very personal Facebook status about how she felt about his passing as well as the ways his absence affected her family. When I read her words, my first thought was, “Wow, this piece could have been in the book.” Then I thought, “Wait…of course she should write the foreword!” After asking around, I found my way to her within about a week’s time and sent her an email outlining the project and asked if she might have time to talk. We scheduled a call, she heard my long-winded spiel – ha! – and she was onboard, which completely blew me away.

I sent her the manuscript and in response, she crafted the most wonderful opening for the book. Again, I was completely blown away and still am, honestly. She was supportive from the start and it means so much to me that she is a part of the project. And although it might sound a bit cliché, working with Joy-Ann was an absolute joy!”

Me:  Do you feel your book will bring more attention to this problem of girls growing up without their fathers?
Regina:  The book is shedding more light on the issue, for sure, and sadly, there are so many fatherless young girls and women out in the world whom are still unpacking their feelings.

The stories in the book are triumphant, which makes me quite proud. We all made it, or are making it, and I think that’s what speaks to readers. I want people to know that no matter where you come from or what you’ve been through, there can be love and light and hope on the other side of it all.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Regina R. Robertson for agreeing to do this interview, in spite of her extremely busy schedule.  I enjoyed our brief connections around He Never Came Home and I wish you tremendous success for He Never Came Home and for your future writing.

My copy:  He Never Came Home – Regina Robertson – paperback, 208 pages

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing.
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Reading Baldwin…

IMG_0956I used to run my hands along the books on the wooden bookshelves that were in the hall upstairs in my home.  It contained a myriad of first edition African-American novels from Frederick Douglas to Malcolm X.  Growing up I was particularly intrigued by the title Giovanni’s Room.  I wondered what the story could be about.  I remember reading the back cover but still not being so sure.  I always heard my mother and especially my uncle persuasively explaining to me the importance of James Baldwin’s works, emphasizing  Another Country (my favorite so far)Going to Meet the Man, and Go Tell it on the Mountain.  I grew up having these titles in mind but Giovanni’s Room, for some reason, was always in the forefront, probably because it was the first book of his that I held in my hands.

Sadly it has taken me forty years to read one of Baldwin’s novels.  I read lots of African-American authors at college for my major but Baldwin surprisingly never came up.  Four years ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed If Beale Street could Talk. The year after I read Giovanni’s Room. I’m so glad I finally got to the book that perked my interest at such a young age because of the title alone.  I followed up by reading Another Country and The Fire Next Time.  Both are incredible literary works that everybody should read before they die. I still have more to discover by Baldwin.

So I guess you’re wondering why I’m writing about my reading discovery of James Baldwin. Well I thought I’d let you all in on a reading project that one of my Booktube buddies, Denise D. Cooper ArtBooks Life (Awesome creative Booktuber go check her out!) will be doing next year.  It’s called The Blackout for Books 2018.  She’ll be reading books by African-American authors for twelve months.  The rules are the following:

  1.  Only read African-American writers
  2. Read 1 independent writer each month
  3. Read 2 African-American Women Writers each month

It’s as easy as that.  I commend her for this and I’ll be joining her for January, February, and March of 2018.  I can’t wait.  It would be great if you all could join in too for any amount of time you’d like.  So, now you know a bit more about why I started this post talking about James Baldwin.  I’ll punctually be writing posts about some of my favorite African-American writers and about those that I haven’t read yet but are looking forward to read in preparation for this reading challenge.  This will give you some ideas if you aren’t sure what you’d like to read.  If you decide to participate, don’t forget to link your comments with #the blackoutforbooks2018 everywhere.  Let me know below what you think about this reading challenge and if you’re interested in joining in. Happy reading y’all!

 

 

Confused Spice Live Show

 

Confused Spice – Mathis Bailey (paperback 262 pages)

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Literary Evening for Freeman’s Launch

I don’t often get the chance to attend literary events , but when one is happening it’s img_3906-1usually in Paris and I try my damnedest to get there.  Tuesday night, the 11th of July, I had the pleasure of listening to Edwidge Danticat and Marie Darrieusseecq in promotion of Freeman’s The Best New Writing on Home at Shakespeare & Company in Paris.  This is the third literary anthology of Freeman’s and I’m really excited to discover some new and interesting writers that maybe I’m not that familiar with.

The evening began with waiting in line for seats.  I was accompanied by Manika and Silje both Booktubers you should check out and while waiting we couldn’t help but exchange on bookish topics until we were finally shown to our seats. Lucky for us we weren’t too badly placed.  The weather was nice.  A cool breeze with a hint of rain settled us all into our seats awaiting the commencement of the event.  It started just after 7pm.  John Freeman officiated the event, of course, and drove the talk with precision, asking and making pertinent questions and statements.  I was amazed to see that these two authors as different as they are, race and background, that they share some common ground in the themes they choose to write about.

Marie Darrieusseecq is a French author originally from Bayonne in the Basque region of France.  I was happy to discover her up close and personal since I have heard so much about her but have never read any of her books.  Her novels contain many recurring Being Herethemes – belonging and identity which both authors talked a lot about that evening.  Her latest novel, Being Here:  The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker was released this month in English translation by The Text Publishing Company.  An excerpt of the novel can be found in Freeman’s if you’re interested in discovering her work before embarking on a full novel.  Darrieusseecq assured me that The Text Publishing Company translation is the best for Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker.  Just to get you a bit more interested in it, here’s the blurb on the front cover, “A burning intelligence and a fierce hold on what it meant and means to be a woman and a artist.” J.M. Coetzee. 😉

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer who lives in Brooklyn.  She also writes aDeath lot about identity and belonging, as well as mother-daughter relationships and the diaspora.   Some of her more well-known novels are Breath, Eyes, Memory (her first novel), Krik? Krak! (short stories), and The Dew Breaker, among so many more. Known and loved for her short stories you can find the story All the Home You’ve Got in Freeman’s.  The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story is her newly released novel (July 11, 2017)  which focuses on Danticat’s mother dying of cancer and how death is treated in other novels by authors.

After a series of questions from John Freeman and discussion back and forth between the two authors, the floor was opened for questions.  I couldn’t think of anything to ask because my mind was racing with all the great things they’d said previously.  However there were a few great questions from the audience.  What was great was the lovely natural discussion and humor from both of these ladies.  They played off of each other and that was humorous.

This is the second time I’ve been to a literary event with discussion between two authors and I really do think this should become more of a regular occurrence because it brings to light even more profound discussion of literature, writing, and existence. Wishing that I had taped this event so that I could go back and compare once I’ve read more of their works, I happened upon the podcast version of that evening which I’ll link here.  Shakespeare and Company has a podcast of all of their author events at the link I posted.

Of course the evening wouldn’t have been complete without purchasing a few books and getting autographs.  Thorough as I am, I brought 4 books by Danticat to be autographed from home, which she graciously did. Meanwhile we had a very interesting conversation about reading books out of our comfort zones yet finding that they parallel some of the same themes we usually like to read about.  She also agreed with me about author events with 2 different authors that write about similar themes in different ways.

We finished off the evening with cocktails and more bookish  conversation and anticipating our next literary event…. Shakespeare and Company will surely deliver.

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