Four further selections for the Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge

14. A book released last year. Spill: Fugitive Scenes by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is an African American poet, artist, and educator, who has previously edited a collection of essays focused on women of colour and other marginalised mothers, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines. Spill: Fugitive Scenes is an experimental and unusual piece. An interactive text, in dialogue with Hortense Spillers, another Black woman writer I’d not heard of and whose work I am now keen to read.

‘before black is bad and broken i am more. i am not coin or token. i am deepest spell spoken. and you are shook. i am the energy of birth that you took. i am every blackened letter pressing on the book. and before that.’

15. A Caribbean author. Pepper Seed by Malika Booker.

Malika Booker is a Guyanese-Grenadian poet. I came across this collection of poetry, Pepper Seed, when it was reviewed by Didi of Brown Girl Reading. These poems are infused with Caribbean history and culture, redolent with ancestral voices and the search for belonging.

I stand at this cliff’s edge waiting for the bones

to rise and reclaim their names.

16. A book by Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.

Since reading Beloved I’ve been gradually reading each of Morrison’s novels. The next on my list was Song of Solomon, one I’ve been very much looking forward to reading and like each of her other novels I was enthralled by the deftness with which Morrison writes; her work is stunningly brilliant.

‘She needed what most colored girls needed: a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbours, Sunday school teachers, best girl friends, and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her.’

17. Self help type text. Every Body Yoga: let go of fear, get on the mat, love your body by Jessamyn Stanley.

Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga teacher whom I’ve been following on instagram for some time and was excited to learn that she would be publishing this book. Every Body Yoga is part memoir part motivational text part yoga workbook. As my own yoga practice has been fallow for a long while I consider this book to be ‘self-help’ in the sense that i need all the help i can get to bring myself back to the mat and reestablish a home practice. Jessamyn’s writing is frank direct and unpretentious. Her accessible and inclusive teaching style is reflected in the accompanying photographs and illustrations. The sequences that i’m practicing include i want to feel strong, i need to feel balanced, i need to release fear. Gentle, refreshing, uplifting.

3 further selections for the Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge

11. A novel by Octavia Butler. Kindred.

I began reading Kindred with high expectations having not read any of her novels before and having heard such positive recommendations. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this book at all, partially this is explained by the descriptions of violence, these being difficult to stomach for good reason, but I also didn’t find myself emotionally engaging with the characters. Most particularly, the protagonist’s continual excusing of the slave holder’s brutality, her repeated attempts to persuade the object of his worst sadistic impulses into expressions of acceptance and love towards him, as well as her revulsion at his selling of enslaved people but not at his ownership of them all seemed incongruous to me. Why should Alice be exhorted to exhibit care towards the man abusing her? (and by a ‘modern’ woman?) What purpose does the pressure towards inculcating her in complicity serve in the narrative of the novel? This book has left me with questions to ponder, and I will read some more of Octavia’s work in future to see if it illuminates.

12. A play. for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange.

I knew immediately that for this selection I wanted to read Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls, and found this copy from my library, which contains three of her plays, Spell #7 and The Love Space Demands as well as for coloured girls. All three are life-giving, incisive and bold. Ntozake Shange’s works are landmarks in the inscription of Black women’s experiences; unmissably brilliant, her use of language is defiant yet grounded, quickening and brave. This collection spoke to my heart in ways no other play I’ve read ever has.

i want my own things/ how i lived them/ & give me my memories/ how i waz when i waz there/ you can’t have them or do nothin wit them/ stealin my shit from me/ dont make it yrs/ makes it stolen/

13. Short stories. What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi.

This pick is in addition to the poetry section, which although given as an either/or selection I decided to pick one of each. This is a collection of stories from an author, Helen Oyeyemi, I’ve been wanting to read for some time. I was drawn by the title, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, but underwhelmed by the stories themselves. Short stories are not a form that I tend to enjoy (one remarkable exception to this being The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which amazed me). Since reading this, I’ve gone on to read The Icarus Girl, which deals with some similar themes, mental illness, obsession, and I was sadly not taken by this either. Boy, Snow Bird is next on my reading list so I will continue to see if I can find a way into greater appreciation for Oyeyemi’s work.

 

You can find out more about the Free Black Woman’s Library and the reading challenge here: thefreeblackwomanslibrary.tumblr.com

Further notes on the Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge

A few words on some more selections for the Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge.

5. YA novel. Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman.

I’ve not read a young adult novel in many years and it was a joy to revisit a genre that i adored in my teens. On seeing this category i knew immediately that i would choose a book written by Marjorie Blackman, as although i’ve long been aware of her work i’ve not read any of her books before. Marjorie Blackman is a Black British woman who has written many young adult and children’s books. This proved to be a very timely read, a story of resistance and the courageous struggle against hegemonic power. Whilst many have been speaking of the prescience of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which i also read for the first time this year, i highly recommend Noble Conflict as a still more relevant (and enjoyable) novel. Blackman deftly unfolds the duplicities of an imperialistic and authoritarian regimes alongside an exploration of human connection and the healing possibilities of empathy. I intend to read more of her novels in future and to read some of her children’s stories with my son.

6. Poetry. Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.

Claudia Rankine is a poet from the Caribbean, I had previously read only some of her prose pieces (see, The Racial Imaginary) and eager to read her poems chose Citizen expecting a more standard poetry collection. Citizen is poetic but defies categorisation. Included alongside poems are longer prose sections, illustrations, lists, and blank pages as Rankine details the various impacts of racial biases on an intimate scale. I was captivated.

You are not sick, you are injured–

you ache for the rest of life.

How to care for the injured body,

the kind of body that can’t hold

the content it is living?

7. A book with one word in the title. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

The word homegoing is so poignantly evocative of the many-layered experiences within the African diaspora and in this novel Yaa Gyasi brings the nearness of our ancestry into undeniable view. Yaa Gyasi grew up in the United States having been born in Ghana and this, her first novel, is phenomenal in its scope and daring, weaving from West Africa across America and through multiple generations from the beginnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the present day.

8. Romance. Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins.

In one of her videos sensei aishitemasu recommends the series of which this is the first instalment. I was unfamiliar with Jenkins’ books, written in a genre I don’t usually read and I enjoyed reading something outside of the categories I’m usually drawn to. Although i had some preconceptions about romance this novel pleasantly surprised me in the quality of the writing, the compelling pacing, and historical details, which set it apart from becoming overly cliched. there’s a depth of emotion in the non-romantic relationships that lends breadth and interest. And most importantly the main characters are African American. Jenkins’ writing was so enjoyable that i had to check my library for more titles of which there was sadly only one, not from this series, . I would consider reading the rest of this series in future when i need a light-hearted yet never maudlin read.

9. Memoir. Assata by Assata Shakur.

This was another clear pick for me, as it’s been on my tbr for some time. I approached this memoir keenly and was not disappointed. Assata’s experiences are recounted with a breath-taking simplicity, her spirit and deep love for her people shine through her hardships. She does not shy away from emotion nor from nuanced political critique. This is a rare and astonishing book, from a woman of uncommon courage and compassion.

’I was in communion with all the forces on earth that truly love people, in communion with all the revolutionary forces on the earth.’

10. A spiritual text. Be Love by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is an ordained Buddhist teacher, who has written openly of the specific peculiarities African American women face in coming to Buddhist practice. Having previously read and loved Zenju’s The Way of Tenderness, i was keen to read another piece of her work. Be Love is a very brief yet clarifying text on the way Buddhist practice can encourage each of us to embody love.

’The interrelationship of love between us is the foundation to our living together.’

 

This challenge continues to lead me towards some wonderful and world-expanding writers. This week I’ll be checking out the Free Black Women’s Library podcast, which can be found here https://soundcloud.com/user-16600216

Bibliophile World: May Book Challenge

For the month of May I’m participating the the bibliophile world photo challenge. The first post, simply a TBR. I have stubbled upon a few books whilst browsing my local library shelves. I Love Dick by Chris Kraus; Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy; The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula le Guin; My Father’s Daughter by Hannah Pool; The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma; Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

The second is an anticipated read getting published this month. This is another concept that has been introduced to me through bookstagram: knowing months in advance when a book is going to be published and anticipating it’s release. I think this may be derived from young adult series fiction, when understandably readers await the next instalment in a trilogy, quartet, etc. It’s been a while since I was young enough to engage in this delicious type of anticipatory excitement; unfortunately I am awaiting no new releases, my TBR consists largely of books I ought to have read some time ago, having been published in most cases for many years.

The third photo, a bookish rainbow, was a light hearted joy to construct. I’m in the process of reorganising my books having recently moved house and it was fun to play amongst my bookshelves, although I was truck by how lacking in colour my book spines are, having faded from too long in the sun, or simply been bound in muted colours to begin with.

Fourth, a recommendation. Recently read, The Algebra of Infinite Justice by Arundhati Roy. Her work bringing to wider notice the realities of neo-liberalism is immensely important and more timely now than ever.

Finally for today’s post, a quick read, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, is a short yet fulsome novel told from an adolescent perspective, with wisdom and pathos.

I’m enjoying this little challenge and the way it has brought me to a more lively interaction with my reading, old and new, bought and borrowed. I’ll be updating my progress later in the month.

Free Black Women’s Library Reading Challenge Update

Continuing with this brilliant reading challenge from the creator of the Free Black Women’s Library, I’ve read several titles, many of which have been noteworthy. I’ve set myself a little additional challenge of writing reviews for each book, as I’ve gotten into the habit on Goodreads of giving a star rating without a written review, which doesn’t do justice to how incredible many of these books are nor to the nuances of the reading experience.

Here are the first four books I read for the challenge this year:

  1. A book you read as a child. As I couldn’t recall reading any books written by Black women writers, for this selection I chose a book that I’ve read with my child, Niama’s Adventures by Renina Johnson is a joy, one we both delight in re-reading. This beautifully illustrated story is an exploration in self-love and Black girl magic, as it follows Niama through her dreamscapes encountering Black women from Nefertiti to Ella Fitzgerald. Renina Johnson is the author of a collection of essays Black Girls are from the Future and runs an online shop offering merchandise featuring the phrase. That I wasn’t able to fulfil this aspect of the challenge speaks to the need for more focus on Black women writers and representation in books for Black girls.
  2. A book set in your home town. Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon, set between London (where I’m from) and Jamaica (where my grandparents are from). I love reading Andrea Levy’s work, it gives me a feeling of what life was like for my grandparents, immigrating to post-war and inhospitable England. This is the third book of hers that I’ve read (after Small Island and Six Stories and an Essay) and I intend to continue reading all that she’s published.
  3. A womanist text. Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory by Michele Wallace. This collection of essays written after her first, controversial book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, spans personal reflections on her childhood and adolescence in Harlem, responses to critiques of her earlier work and  reviews of critical cultural moments in the development of the womanist movement throughout the 1980s. Wallace writes with a considerable, refreshing forthrightness on some contentious topics, mental illness, the Black family and community as well as the strife that occurs in any political movement. In each instance she centres the experiences and epistemologies of Black womanhood, as she asserts, ‘a certain portion of the population — women of colour, mostly — cannot be heard, understood, or adequately recognised by dominant mainstream culture. The considerable wisdom and knowledge of this population remains unincorporated, even as it is indispensable to the survival of the smaller and often marginal communities where women of colour participate and provide leadership.’ (1990)

    ‘Perhaps a multicultural women’s movement is somewhere in the future.’ (1975)
  4. A book you read in school. I’ve substituted a book I wish I could have read in school (as I wasn’t required to read any books written by Black women during my schooling — another reiteration of how crucial it is for greater attentiveness to the work of Black women writers), Black Sexual Politics by Patricia Hill Collins. This book is written in a clear and accessible style and gives historical background to contemporary themes, making it an engaging text suitable for encouraging discussion and critical thinking (other aspects of my education that were lacking at that age). Patricia Hill Collins is the author of several other books, including Black Feminist Theory, another useful introductory text.

The readings so far have provided enriching and rewarding experience; I’m anticipating more wonderful, thought-provoking reads throughout the rest of the year.