Which books have been important in your life? And how did you, the son of a peasant, get to write one in the Kenya of the ’60s?

While growing up, we had no books in Gĩkũyũ, my mother tongue. The Bible’s Old Testament became my book of stories. In high school, when I saw a library for the first time, I had the ambition to be able to read all the books in the world. But guess what? I couldn’t even finish reading all the books in that library! Later, in 1959, I went to Makrere University College in Kampala (Uganda) that was part of the University of London. In 1962, at the first conference of African writers coming together on the African continent, called the Makrere Conference of Writers of English Expression, Chinua Achebe looked at my manuscript of Weep Not… and made a few comments. Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart had been published a few years ago. He told his publishers about my book. It was an important moment in my life. George Lammings’s [an important figure in Caribbean literature] work has also been important for me.

Source: ‘My god is more of a god than your god is ungodly – the same applies to languages,’ says writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o | art and culture | Hindustan Times

When Kit de Waal was growing up in 1970s Birmingham, no one like her – poor, black and Irish – wrote books. Forty years on, the author asks, what has changed?

Source: Kit de Waal: ‘Make room for working class writers’ | Books | The Guardian

This has got to be one of the strangest novels about slavery that I have ever read. This, despite the nature of the Underground Railroad created by the author. It is strange because the overall tone of the book is dispassionate and as such makes it hard to connect to the characters. Still, I read on until I finished it and I have to say it left me hollow; which is not an emotion I normally end a book with.

I sat on this review for awhile because I was not sure of my response but whenever I thought of the book, I couldn’t come up with any other take on it. Regretfully.

Faces and Masks Cento

December 3, 2015

I don’t normally incorporate poetic forms in my work but having come across the form of the cento, I thought that sounds interesting. I flipped through several books to pick the words that would form the basis of the piece. The lyricism of Eduardo Galeono’s trilogy Memory of Fire fired my imagination the most for this exercise and so I went with Faces and Masks, the 2nd volume in the series. Here is my attempt at a cento:


Ever since dawn
the ground has been steaming
pleading for a drink
while the living seek shade
and fan themselves.

Hidalgo spent the night with his eyes
fixed on the ceiling of the cell
saying goodbye:

my father didn’t put me among the rich
or the generals or those who have money
or claim to have it.

my father put me with the poor
because i am poor.

At the edge of the village of Morón
a common grave
swallows the bones of a poet
who until yesterday
had a guitar
and a name.

His unshrouded body
ends up in the earth;
his couplets, also naked,
also plebeian,
abide in the winds.

On the street
someone plucks
from a guitar.

Something, Not Nothing

December 1, 2015

Earlier today I was hit with the desire to post a blog but I had no idea what to write about. I inquired of my resident expert “What do you think I should blog about?” but then we got busy getting him to the barbershop and then school. Errands were needed to be run. A book to be bought. And now it is post 5pm. My child, who had the whole of last week off from school [we are no longer homeschooling although he does attend a self-directed learning school] in observance of a national holiday we don’t celebrate used the time to wreck his schedule by turning into a Minecraft night owl, is asleep. Mother Nature and Daylight Savings has turned the 5 o’clock hour into nighttime and I am having a glass of wine as I type this.

But let me backtrack for a minute. It is imperative (yes, imperative!) that I state that the errands mentioned above included finally getting the glasses I desperately need in order to read my dearly loved books without having to resort to large print! But … it turns out I don’t know how to wear glasses. Let me be more precise. I don’t know how to see through bifocal glasses. I wanted glasses that enabled me to continue reading but turns out I needed “distance” glasses as well. So the science of the matter dictated that I got bifocal glasses that I don’t know how to see of. The optometrist told me to “raise my head and lower my eyes” in order to read. You should see me trying to do it. I look like someone who hears, and feels, the beat of music but can’t quite get the rhythm right enough to head nod without looking spastic. If every video (or picture) I took of myself didn’t come out absolutely awful, I would show you but they do so you’re just going to have to trust me.

I mentioned above that the errands I had to run included buying a book. This is the book:


Triggers are usually seen as a negative but in the case of A Year of Yes, the triggers “yes” set off are positive. I’m not going to go into all of them but I will say one of them: John Lennon’s first encounter with Yoko Ono. John’s Yoko-sponsored trip into the world of yes started with that meeting. I flirt with yes; have philosophical conversations with yes and now with this book, Shonda has become my metaphorical Yoko. What might I accomplish if I spend 2016 positively, consciously, saying yes? I’ve said no plenty. Maybe it’s time to flip the yang, so to speak.

So….this is how you write about “nothing”. When I was in high school, I used to have conversations with teachers outside of the classroom. One teacher told me when I have nothing to write about, write about nothing. This is me writing about nothing. But what is really nothing? How can you quantify nothing? You can’t.

But yes? Yes is something. Saying yes is something. And I am saying something, not nothing.

First of all, I want to reiterate the statement inherent in the title of this blog post: that Book of Negroes, which aired recently on BET, is not your average slave movie. It is a movie about a free young girl in Bayo, Guinea who became an enslaved woman in colonial America; who worked for the British side during the American Revolution; who, when the British evacuated New York, managed, ultimately, to get on the flotilla of ships leaving for Nova Scotia; who, after Nova Scotia was discovered to be a new sort of hell, lobbied British parliamentarians to tailor their plans for a colony in Sierra Leone to fit the “Nova Scotians” (one of the terms used to describe the formerly enslaved people). In other words, Aminata, the lead character and narrator of this historical fiction (portrayed extremely well by Aunjanue Ellis), was Harriet Tubman before Harriet herself was Harriet or even Araminta Ross. She didn’t require Harriet telling her Black Loyalist community her version of “freedom or death” in order to get them to continue on the journey they themselves started.

Second of all, if the history of black repatriation to Africa interests you, read historian Cassandra Pybus’ book, Epic Journeys of Freedom,. This book, which is continental in scope, details some of the foundational stories underpinning Lawrence Hill’s historical fiction novel, known in the US, as Someone Knows My Name (because of potential backlash against the word ‘negro‘). Before Paul Cuffe, before Marcus Garvey, 3,000 formerly enslaved Africans picked Britain over America, chose Africa over Nova Scotia and ardently advocated for the freedom to run their new home, the Province of Freetown themselves. So dedicated to being completely, some of those “Nova Scotian settlers” were tried for mutiny and/or sedition by the British. Some ended up exiled from the Province. Others were sold back into slavery in the Caribbean. The list of people who undertook this historic struggle includes Harry/Henry Washington who had freed himself from enslavement to George Washington; Daddy Moses (Moses Wilkinson), blind, crippled yet still bound for freedom; Thomas Peters, born in what we now call Nigeria, who tried, three times, to escape before finally achieving success as a result of his service to the British during the American Revolution.

The politics of the matter covered, I now want to get to the heart of the matter. The real beauty of Book of Negroes is that it is a love story. It is extremely rare when we get to see black men and black women on the big or small screen loving each other in a way that practically defines the word love. Under the most extreme of circumstances, Aminata and Chekura, despite the dysfunction of their first meeting, are able to bond in such a way that their love survives their initial meeting, decades of enslavement, runaway status in New York, the cold, rocky land of Nova Scotia and ends up in Freetown where Chekura meets his heroic end. There have been love affairs between the enslaved depicted before. The one that immediately comes to mind is between Six-o and the Thirty-Mile Woman, so-called because Six-o walked thirty miles to be with her. Of course Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a fictional exploration of the reality of Margaret Garner but it has been historically demonstrated that the enslaved sort to build and maintain love and familial connections throughout of enslavement, despite the anti-family nature of the institution.

The narrative of most slave movies are usually dominated by men, whether black or white, enslaved or free. From Roots to Glory, from Amistad to Django, the male perspective  dominates. In Book of Negroes, it is a woman, Aminatta herself, who tells her story. Because of that, we, the audience, gets to witness aspects of enslaved women’s lives usually ignored or marginalized. For example, there is the very brief scene where Georgia who, in the hierarchy of the enslaved plantation community, functions as a doctor/mother figure, gives Aminata a tea to drink which would protect her against unwanted pregnancies. There is also the character of Berthilda Mathias, a freeborn woman married to a runaway who Aminata meets in New York.. When Berthilda’s husband gets taken off the ship headed to Nova Scotia by British soldiers (obeying the dictates of the Treaty of Paris which demanded the return of the “property” of America’s founding fathers as well as newly American plantation owners), she decides to relocate her and her daughter to the Georgia her husband escaped from in order to free from slavery. All throughout this movie (and book) the connection the enslaved had to each other was fought for and honored.


**** I don’t know if BET, the channel Book of Negroes aired on, will show it again. However, Book of Negroes can be viewed on the Canadian Broadcasting site.****


Homeschooling Journey 1

February 5, 2015

My son loves mythology. I have invested quite a few dollars and I don’t know how much energy in meeting his mythological needs. From D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths to D’Aulaires’s Book of Norse Myths, it seemed as if we had gone around the world of myths but one day, during a geography lesson, he realized we had been missing a continent or two and that the world wasn’t actually represented by the two books mentioned above. So we went looking for myths that reflect the fact that the world actually consists of seven continents (or six for this purpose). We also went looking for the types of mythological figures who have power like Zeus yet who also shared my son’s pigmentation. A Google search yielded results that can be seen here.

In the process of researching African myths, specifically, we found the following statement on mythencyclopedia.com to be  true:

The line between legend and history is often blurred.

The path toward a deeper understanding of what that statement means led to a detour into the difference between epic and myth.

Odysseus is an epic that tells us about the mythology of a portion of the ancient Greek world as retold by Homer. It tells us (or maybe just me) that Odysseus was a jerk of the variety that upholds the opinion of the minority over that of the majority. (Didn’t his crew implore him to head home but he overruled them? The opinions of the working class seemed not to hold much sway in ancient Greece.)

Sundiata, an Epic of old Mali, “yes, he was born from a Buffalo Woman, yes, he was crippled during when he was little but he still didn’t have any powers like Poseidon. Poseidon could part the waters like Jesus!”

The Epic of Askia Mohammed: I didn’t even bring this one into our fluid classroom. Something about the following passage made it something I did not want to pass onto my son as “epic”:

As he approaches the prayer skin of his uncle,
He reins his horse.

He unslung his lance, and pierced his uncle with it until the
lance touched the prayer skin.

Until the spear went all the way to the prayer skin.

[Mamar Kassaye decides to atone for the killing of his uncle by making a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1497. On his way, he forces many people to accept Islam.]

In each village where he stopped during the day, for example, this place,

If he arrives in mid-afternoon, he stops there and spends the night.

Early in the morning, they pillage and they go on to the next village, for example, Libore.

The cavalier who goes there traces on the ground for the people the plan for the mosque.

Once the plan for the foundation is traced,
The people build the mosque.

It is at that time,
Mamar Kassaye comes to dismount from his horse.

He makes the people—

They teach them verses from the Koran relating to prayer.
They teach them prayers from the Koran.
Any villages that refuse, he destroys the village, burns it, and
moves on.


Let me just take a moment and repeat that last line:

Any villages that refuse, he destroys the village, burns it, and

moves on.

Any African-centered student of African history knows what that means. For those of you who are not an African-centered student of African history what that means is the imposition of Islam over traditional African cultures and religions. As evidenced from “any villages that refuse, he destroys the village, burns it…”, the imposition was undoubtedly as violent as Christopher Columbus’ voyages and my family doesn’t celebrate Columbus Day.

The same goes for Mansa Musa and his economy-devastating trip to Mecca. This, despite, a caravan which included

60,000 men, 12,000 slaves who each carried four-pounds of gold bars, heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags… 80 camels, which varying reports claim carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust each


(This did yield mini-units on camels, the masons of mali and the Festival in the Desert).

Disclaimer: All text in this post attributed to author’s son is strictly the author’s interpretation of facial expressions, body language, etc., of said son and, as such, constitutes a work of fiction unless otherwise indicated. Disclaimer dictated by the author’s interpretation of said son’s response to post.



Banned Book Week

September 19, 2013

A North Carolina school board has banned Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man from its reading list on Monday, citing a lack of “literary value.”

“I didn’t find any literary value,” board member Gary Mason said at the meeting. “I’m for not allowing it to be available.”


Ohio Schools Leader Calls For Ban Of ‘The Bluest Eye,’ Labels Toni Morrison Book ‘Pornographic’

At an Ohio Board of Education meeting yesterday, Terhar called the novel “pornographic.”

“I don’t want my grandchildren reading it and I don’t want anybody else’s grandchildren reading it,” she said.


Beloved children’s book “Captain Underpants” topped the American Library Association’s annual study of “most-often challenged books” in 2012, beating out “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Kite Runner,” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and more.


Virtual Read-Out

Are you looking for a way to celebrate your freedom to read during Banned Books Week? Consider participating in the Banned Books Virtual Read-out!

Since the inception of Banned Books Week in 1982, libraries and bookstores throughout the country have staged local read-outs—a continuous reading of banned/challenged books—as part of their activities. For the third year in a row, readers from around the world can participate in the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out by creating videos proclaiming the virtues of the freedom to read that will be featured on a dedicated YouTube channel.

The criteria has been updated since 2012. Submit your video by filling out this form.

If you are a bookseller, please contact Chris Finan at chris@abffe.org for special instructions. If you are a librarian, check out the page, “How your library can participate in the Virtual Read-Out,” created by ALA.

In addition to being a mad reader, I am an urban gardener-in-progress even if I am currently limited to balcony gardening.

word pond

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National Poetry Month, Day 5. It fits into the poetry/nature motif that is the theme of my postings for this month.

word pond

God in Her Infinite Wisdom Sends Crows
by Christina Pacosz

For weeks now God has been trying
to send messages with what is available.
Leaves, a thousand eyelids opening,
the iridescent scrawl of slugs,
mundane waterfalls dripping off eaves,
the rare sunlight
and daily gift of mud.

And God has been especially
persistent about sending crows.
Suddenly black feathers
appear at my feet.
Cr aa a k  audible above the thunk of my axe,
the ringing phones at the office.
The visibility of crows

Sunday strutting on the fence,
their middle of the week, middle class
plump edge, dark before the salt
and foam of waves.
The self satisfaction of crows
in the wind and on mowed lawns.
God guarantees crow call on waking,

the only sure thing all day.
I see wings, dark, indecipherable
statements in a gray sky.
When I am certain no one is about
I strike…

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