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

Africa Reading Challenge

January 19, 2012

Kinna Reads is hosting a year-long Africa Reading Challenge. The goal of the Challenge is to read

5 books.  That’s it.  There will be no other levels.  Of course, participants are encouraged to read more than 5 books.  Eligible books include those which are written by African writers, or take place in Africa, or are concerned with Africans and with historical and contemporary African issues. Note that at least 3 books must be written by African writers.

I will be participating in this Challenge. My initial list of 5 books (subject to change) is as follows:

Wives of the Leopard by Edna G. Gay

Why Are We So Blest? by Ayi Kwei Armah

Idu by Flora Nwapa

For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria by Cheryl Johnson-Odom and Nina Emma Mba

Aké by Wole Soyinka

For more information about the challenge (including reading suggestions) visit Kinna Reads

The below quote is taken from the chapter, Framing the Panther – Assata Shakur and Black Female Agency by Joy James


[Assata Shakur’s] eulogy for Safiya Bukhari, given in Havana on August 29, 2003, is haunting. Bukhari collapsed hours after she buried her own mother-the grandmother who raised Safiya Bukhari’s young daughter the day her own daughter became a BLA fighter and fugitive, going underground only to surface for an eight-year prison term. Bukhari survived the maiming medical practices of prison doctors (although her uterus did not) only to succumb to the “typical” black women diseases of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and heart failure in 2002. The eulogy could be read as Assata Shakur’s – and that of all revolutionary black women who refused to circumscribe their rebellion, and paid the costs for that decision:

It is with much sadness that I say last goodbye to Safiya Bukhari. She was my sister, my comrade and my friend. We met nearly thirty-five years ago, when we were bothe members of the Black Panther Party in Harlem. Even then, I was impressed by her sincerity, her commitment, and her burning energy. She was a descendant of slaves and she inherited the legacy of neo-slavery. She believed that struggle was the only way that African people in America could rid themselves of oppression. As a black woman struggling to live in America she experienced the most vicious forms of racism, sexism, cruelty and indifference. As a political activist she was targeted, persecuted, hounded and harassed. Because of her political activities she became a political prisoner and spent many years in prison. But she continued to struggle. She gave the best that she had to give to our people. She devoted her life, her love and her best energies to fighting for the liberation of oppressed people. She struggled selflessly, she could be trusted, she was consistent, and she could always be counted on to do what needed to be done. She was a soldier, a warrior-woman who did everything she could to free her people and to free political prisoners.”

For Assata Shakur, the weight of isolation, alienation, and vilification are scars that are borne. Redemption does not occur on this plane or in this life. Betrayal by nonblacks and black, by men and wome, to part of the liberation narrative. There will be no gratitude, no appreciation, no recognition equal to the insults and assaults. So, Assata Shakur, in true revolutionary fashion, must conclude her testimonial embracing a community that radiates beyond our immediate boundaries and limitations:

“I have faith that the Ancestors will welcome her, cherish her, and treat her with more love and more kindness than she ever received here on this earth.”

Framing the Panther

Want to Start a Revolution? Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle

Related Links:

What Happens When a Book is Judged by its Cover

Assata Shakur: In her Own Words

Assata Shakur’s Autobiography (amazon)

At the beginning of last winter, I made a reading list of books I wanted to read for 2011. Looking over  the list, I see that finished two of them (Wild Seed and Half of a Yellow Sun , read partial amounts of others (Omeros and The Odyssey) and put all the others away for future reading. Now, don’t think I only read two books this year!  Below is a list of books read this year:



(poetry) Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol – Okot p’Bitek


(poetry) Nappy Edges – Ntozake Shange

(science fiction) Wild Seed – Octavia Butler


(children) Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali – Khephra Burns

(fiction) House of Sand and FogAndre Dubus III


(historical fiction) Someone Knows my Name – Lawrence Hill

(nonfiction)Mississippi in Africa – Alan Huffman


(poetry) Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York and When Winter Comes: the Ascension of York – Frank X. Walker

(fiction) Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison


(poetry) Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate this Ride – Frank X. Walker

(nonfiction) Lewis & Clark Through Indian Eyes – ed. Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. (in progress)


I recommitted myself this year to read more poetry and I definitely have. There are poetry books I didn’t include in this list as I’m as still reading them. These books include Prophets by Kwame Dawes, African Sleeping Sickness by Wanda Coleman, Harlem Gallery by Melvin B. Tolson,  Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa, Alphabet of Desire by Barbara Hamby, When Light Breaks by Melanie YeYo Carter, Dear Darkness by Kevin Young, the Collected Works of ee cummings, etc.





today, while roaming through netflix, disgrace with john malkovich caught my eye. i’ve seen the movie and later learned it was a book by j.m. coetzee. Even though the book descriptions describe the interlude the main character, a white south african (boer?) professor had with a female student as “seduction”; in the film, she is unambiguously raped. I saw unambiguously because she clearly does not participate and/or enjoy the encounters. such a dynamic would make disgrace a very interesting book to read and review.

whenever i think of books to movies topping the list is always the godfather it’s long been a tendency of mine to read the books of movies i’ve seen. so of course, i’ve read the godfather by mario puzo. i think that was one of the first book-movie combos where the movie was better then the book. one of the most profound differences is that, in the book, Kay didn’t leave Michael. For his soul’s sake or some such reasoning, she decided to stay.

i thought the switch between the book having her stay and the movie having her divorce michael was due to awareness of the feminist movement on the filmmakers part.

an interesting note re: the godfather. initially, coppola didn’t want to direct the movie. once he decided to take the job, the studio fought him on casting (they didn’t want al pacino), directing decisions, etc.

I would discuss beloved – the movie but well, that was just a disaster.

And a Happy New Year!

December 31, 2010

Well. Another year’s over and another one’s about to begin (or so they say). I’ve laid out my goals and objectives for 2011. This is not the place for the discussion of them but it is a place for discussion of my literary goals – or more precisely what will be on my reading list for 2011; considering my developing interest in reviewing books. So here it is – my haphazard, in no particular order reading list for 2011:

Omeros by Derek Walcott
The Odyssey by Homer
Ulysses in Black by Patrice Rankine

The three books listed above are a kind of trifecta of research into epics and the way in which epics can be utilized by writers in a more modern configuration.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler – I read it years ago. Reread it again very recently. And will be reading it again since I’m going to be reviewing it.

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent – Almost a year ago, I wrote an initial review of this book where I basically panned it. However, I said I would go back and actually finish it. That’s why it’s on this list.

The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James – I’ve had this book in my possession for almost two decades now but have yet to finish it – even though history is one of my major loves. I vow to finish it this year!

The Autobiography of Leroi Jones by Amiri Baraka – I got this book a few years ago and it’s been transported from the bedroom to the bathroom to the front room until finally taking up residence on an upper book shelf. It’s time to take it down, dust it off and finish it.

So much of what I read seems to be by well-established writers so I’m happy about the following three books:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I’ve been seeing her name everywhere and then someone on facebook posted the video of her talking about the dangers of a single story. Couple that with knowing next to nothing about Biafra and the book becomes a logical choice for someone who, sometimes, approaches history through literature first.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith – I had won this after answering a difficult quiz question over at Color Online. I started it and the humor of it reminded me of John Irving whose books I’ve found hysterical in the past.

Graceland by Chris Abani – This book has been sitting quietly on my shelf for quite a few years now. So it’s long overdue.

Aké by Wole Soyinka – I had started reading this shortly after I bought it earlier this year but notions of the Wild Christian sent me off into the deep end of laughter and I haven’t returned yet.

2011 looks to be quite a reading year.

I was all set to give Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez a half nod when I remembered a survey type of conversation I participated in a few years back. The questions we [a bunch of writers loosely connected through an online writing board] were asked was this: if we lived as slaves in America, what type of slave would we be: the house negro or the Harriet Tubman/Nat Turner type. Most of the responses centered on being Black Moses and Turner.  The pollster said that she herself wasn’t sure. Her response made me think especially because I was one of those cleaving to the Tubman dynamic. All enslaved Africans didn’t adhere to flight/fight mode. What of those who bore the genocidal nature of chattel slavery silently? What of those whose names we don’t know because the only worthy thing they did was to survive? With this book, Wench, we find the story of four such characters – Lizzie, Rennie, Sweet and Mawu – some of whom possess the inclination to flee. The four women are brought together over a series of summers in the decade or so before the Civil War when their “owners” vacation at Tawawa House in Tawawa Springs, Ohio – a free state. [A brief history note – due to the continual presence of slaveholders and their slaves, the hotel started losing money. The hotel, the land and surrounding acreage was sold and very shortly thereafter became Wilberforce University, now the oldest African-American private university in the US]

The series of events that the four slave mistresses (and their male companions – both enslaved and free) experience during the course of a series of summers testifies to the will to survive – a will with a contrary existence in a society which thrived off negation of that selfsame will. My change of heart (from that initial half nod to one more affirming) came as I delved deeper into the book. Of particular interest was the main character, Lizzie [named Eliza but renamed Lizzie by her owner’s wife after he moved her into the big house].  She commits actions that a surface reading of would have one labeling her as a collaborator in her own oppression – not to say anything of the harm her actions inflict on other characters. However, as I read further, I realized that life under slavery wasn’t so black and white (no pun intended). It is quite effective the way in which Perkins-Valdez leads the reader into a deeper understanding of the nature of slavery to the point of saying maybe – maybe I would have been like Eliza – concerned most of all about my children – wondering what the “Master” would do to them if I broke and run. Maybe, falling into human puppy love with the person convinced he owns you and having sex with him was considered a workable exchange for learning to read – and subsequently reading stolen newspapers to those who share your bondage. Maybe. Just maybe. That maybe moves slightly in direction of potentiality when I read in the author’s note following the end of the novel that “it is believed that the children of the unions between the slave women and the slaveholders were among the early students at [Wilberforce]”.

Reading is Evolutionary

March 18, 2010

Two years ago a blogger for Circle of Seven Productions posted a blog/rant on my space in favor of reading and literacy. As part of it, she issued a challenge: “I challenge anyone reading this blog to write one blog…just one…encouraging people to read. Encourage them to encourage others to read. READ ANYTHING!”

As I find myself getting almost orgasmically excited by my latest read (The Book of Night Women by Marlon James), my mind traveled to my response to the challenge.


Reading is Evolutionary

It was the diary of a young girl living in an era I could never go back because time moves forward.

Just like time, my eyes moved forward through each page growing more and more enamored of the first book that touched me in my black girlness. It was beyond affirming.

That book, The Color Purple by Alice Walker set me on the path to being a writer because it enabled me to see how our life stories can contribute to literature.

It also helped me to redefine the definition of fiction. I have heard a lot of people (black men in particular) say that they don’t read fiction because they’re tired of “lies” or some statement to that effect. I believe however that those statements miss the point of black “fiction”.

It is (or should be) indisputable that prior to the mid to late 20th century our voices were censored. What better way for a people to get in where they fit in that to position their works under the banner of fiction. Is Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man total fiction? Or does it resonate with the experience of black men, regardless of their generation? Toni Morrison’s Beloved was based on the life of Margaret Garner. Margaret Garner’s story isn’t fiction. Is Sethe’s? My favorite James Baldwin novel is If Beale Street Could Talk. I recognized the main character, Tish, in the faces, lives and pride of my sisters. Black fiction is not automatically fictional.


Even though I am an advocate and a believer in well-written, reality-based “fiction”, that is not the only thing I read. As someone who intimately understands the saying “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”, I also read history. In high school, a teacher slipped me the Autobiography of Malcolm X on the sly. It was a thick paperback that I had to rubber band together in order not to lose any of the pages. Reading that book led me on the path to researching the Black Revolution of the Sixties. My research deepened my awareness of black resistance. At no point were we passive.

Regardless of the danger, we struggled to learn to read when it was dangerous to the point of death. Frederick Douglass described in his autobiography of the poor white boy who showed him how to read. The Free African School movement is an indication of our desire to reclaim what was stolen from us and learn.


Reading is Evolutionary.

Contraband Marriage

March 17, 2010

We make it work by inches.

Our hands extended above our heads

pushing at the concrete

understanding that

even if it’s turned into a wall

that wall will one day crack and then break

under the pressure of our hands

and we will breathe free

Contraband Marriage book cover

In prison, a place where emotions based on affection are just about non-existent, love becomes the rarest of commodities; and as such is both highly prized and legislated.

By falling in love with a man who was incarcerated, I was participating in an activity considered contrary to the status quo on a variety of levels. Black people aren’t supposed to love one another. Black women aren’t supposed to love Black men. And no one is supposed to love the prisoners. But it happens and such love becomes contraband; something to be smuggled in and experienced on the sly.

Contraband Marriage covers those oppressive times and travels along the hemline of loving after incarceration, digging deep into its affects on that love, my walk into motherhood and how simple the decision to disentangle became when a child was involved. In multi-color, it paints the pains of the personal being political, the bumpy terrain of healing and the beautiful difficulty that can be forgiveness. It is a love story written in lyric and free form, set in reality with a different ever after.

ISBN:  978-0-9789355-5-9

For previews and ordering info, please visit my storefront.

“Africans, in the diaspora and on the continent, were soon to be recipients of this linguistic logic of conquest, with two results: linguicide in the case of the diaspora and linguistic famine, or linguifam, on the continent. Linguicide is the linguistic equivalent of genocide. Genocide involves conscious acts of physical massacre; linguicide, conscious acts of language liquidation. Linguicide, writes Skutnabb-Kanga, ‘implies that there are agents involved in causing the death of languages.’ ”

Dismembering Practices: Planting European Memory in Africa

Something Torn and New

Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong’o