January 10, 2010

This mad reader is mad! Not mad as in Ebonics mad but the English definition. I am irate. Bad books do that to me. I was at Target the other day looking for something interesting to read. I know, I know. What Mad Reader in her/his right mind goes to Target for their reading material? In my struggle to institute one stop shopping, I ended up at Target. If I hadn’t been distracted by the need to get toilet tissue, pull-ups and the sled my child has wanted since before this season’s  most wintry weather arrived, I wouldn’t have bought the book that makes this Mad Reader mad!

What is the name of the book? The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent. The title is undoubtedly attention getting for someone referred to as revolutionary heathen and other names of that sort. But I can’t find any degree of love for the daughter or any of the characters.

I had written notes about the book upon my initial read. Then the voice of a friend who has a penchant for nicknames mentally intruded and said tachamo (which, alongside dolphin and bubba, is what this friend sporadically calls me), you’re not giving the book a chance. So I stopped note-taking and continued reading.

But. Oh. My. God. If reading were to be suddenly made into a torture tactic employed by the cia, all the cia agents would need in their arsenal is this particular book.

Maybe it’s the result of my reading habits being deeply rooted in awareness that “people of color” are the majority of the human inhabitants of planet Earth. I want to learn their history, read their stories, absorb their lingua franca and then reciprocate by sharing my own.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that there’s almost nothing of me in this book. I find that too alienating to continue, let alone reciprocate. What could I reciprocate? That in this book, any vestiges of me reside only in the misshapen head of an enslaved African child and the notches on the narrator’s Uncle’s saddle; notches which indicate the number of indigenous people said uncle has killed.

Whatever the reason, 125 pages into a 332 page novel, this Mad Reader is throwing in the towel. It may be premature. I may find, if I continue to read, that the teenage narrator grows to have normal (read non-Puritan) powers of discernment and regrets being enamored of murderers…simply because they talk to you and call you daughter and tell stories in a way different from normal Puritan culture. It may be. It just may be. I’m can’t drum up enough interest to find out.


The same friend mentioned above  laughed when I told her my feelings about the book. She said that means the book was effective because it made me feel what the Puritans were like. Of course, I don’t like them ( the Puritans and/.or the characters in this book) but they weren’t likable people. The book does an admirable job in showing that. Their society seems tense and forbidding. The land of Jonathan Edwards and his Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God. So I will keep reading and give a final analysis so the Mad Reader can close the book on this particular read.

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The Epic of Askia Mohammed
I came across this epic piece of orature while looking for the epic about Sundjata. Askia Mohammed is one of those giants of African history routinely referred as worthy of emulation and/or respect. However, upon concluding the read, I had the opinion that he was very hawk-like in his promotion of Islam. There is repeated mention of “Every village that follows his orders, that accepts his wishes, he conquers them, he moves on. Every village that refuses his demand, he conquers it, he burns it, he moves on. Until the day-Mamar [Askia] did that until, until, until, until the day he arrived at the Red Sea.” (298-302) I interpret the consecutive “untils” to signify that it was a repeated event that happened over time. Considering how long it took for caravans to traverse the distance from West Africa to Mecca, undoubtedly it happened not only over an extended period of time but also over an extended expanse of land. The devastation left in the wake of such excursions in arson leads me to question the respect paid to this historical figure.

The above statement notwithstanding, I did find the epic interesting in the view it provided of West Africa. It provided me with a basis for doing further research into the era and times and for that and the new perspective, it is appreciated.

For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria:

I’ve started reading this already but have been interrupted by other reading interludes: A Thousand Splendid Suns; Something Torn and New; I, Alex Cross; The Epic of Askia Mohammed; Our Sister Killjoy.  I’ll be discussing some of them in later posts as they do fit the meme.

After reading the above paragraph, I realized someone reading this might think that my detours on the reading path are the result of a disinterest in Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (FRK). Nothing further could be the truth.

The other day after a reading bout with Something Torn and New  by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, I had the thought that he just might transplant Malcolm X as my ideological father. However, I quickly realized it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. As a writer, Ngugi helps me to be centered and connected to what is ultimately most righteous about writing. As an African, Malcolm helped me to be proud. Both help me to be a better human being. But there’s no denying they are both men. As historian Edna Gay said in her introduction to Wives of the Leopard (another book on my list),

“Dahomey seemed a place where women prior to the colonial period had enjoyed extraordinary liberties and powers – an ideal subject for a young woman, like so many others at the time, looking for patterns of female autonomy different from the experience of the West”.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for “patterns of female automony different from…the West” until I started reading about FRK.  All the contradictions black women, in general and conscious black women, in particular, face were experienced by Funmilayo. She responded to these pressures and contradictions by drawing closer to Africa (and African culture) rather than divorcing herself.

I believe that part of her ability to do so was fostered by her parents’ belief in educating girl children. In fact they believed in it so much, they sent her to England to continue her education…even though she was deeply in love with her future husband. While in England, she chose to drop her Christian first name of Frances and be known only by the African Funmilayo. This, at age 19 in 1919. Also at some point in her activist life, she also chose to forgo wearing european clothing.  All this while still remaining a Christian. How was she able to manage what seems to be incompatible identities? What was it about her husband that made him supportive of her goals? Basically what lessons can we glean from her life and doings that would enable us to be healthier and whole instead of fractured and ill.

As I stated at the beginning I haven’t finished the book yet. Therefore I don’t feel qualified to post this like it’s an actual review. These are simply my first impressions. When I finish it, you know I’ll have more Mad Reader thoughts.

“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

Dirty Words

September 19, 2009

Don’t hyperventilate, Tichaona. That’s all I kept telling myself. Don’t hyperventilate. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I started muttering to myself. As the rage began to constrict my vision, I told myself “leave, Tichaona…leave this auditorium, this space where they are attempting to indoctrinate my child. So I did and I went straight to the school secretary to find out what I needed to do to stop my son from participating in the pledge of allegiance. “You don’t want your son pledging allegiance to the country of his birth?” Don’t hyperventilate, Tichaona. Is she really saying such a thing? I could only stare at her for a minute. Then I asked her (trying to rein in my shaky voice) is it your job to ask me that or is it your job to help me find a way to solve it? Then she got down to business and gave me the information I sought.

This happened on a Friday. All weekend I thought about what to do. I vacillated between pulling him out of the Friday assembly altogether and letting him continue without saying anything. Not saying anything further about the matter left me feeling like a collaborator. Then the mother in me acknowledged he’s only five and won’t understand being separated from the rest of the class…and the rest of the class won’t understand him being separated. All the mental furor brought to mind my conundrum when I became a citizen. So I decided to have my child participate…but say his own pledge…one that’s directed inward instead of externally.

I talked to him about pledges and how they are promises to someone or some thing. I told him his pledge should be “I promise myself I will learn how to read”. I say it with him everyday. Let him get indoctrinated by that!

Situation resolved but it did remind me of a poem by Shakur Towns

Dirty Words

Kids say the damnedest things…
Like the time
one of my babies said
at the dinner table
the time
my baby girl said
in front of my mother.
Where do they get this stuff from?
I try to watch
what they
and listen to
what they
listen to,
and we are all
of what WE say…
but still
they come up with some doozies…

My four year old
stopped me dead
in my tracks.
She said something that I will
And she smiled
and said it over
My heart stopped
my breathing got shallow.
She smiled
like she was PROUD
of herself.
I think
that’s what hurt
most of all.
She smiled like she was
I grabbed her
and all I could do
was just
hold her
against me.
A tear ran down my face
as she kept reciting
like some insane mantra,

“I pledge allegiance to the flag…”

authentic art visions: Liberated Muse Kicks Off “How I Freed My Soul”: An Interview with Khadijah Ali Coleman!

Love. Sickness. Travel. A one-night stand. Speaking up. Losing a job. Breaking up. Khadijah Ali-Coleman has edited an eclectic assortment of work that is sure to inspire, revive and enthrall readers on the very idea of how to free one’s soul. Containing personal essays, poetry, short stories and visual art, this compilation stretches boundaries as one contemplates the very idea of freedom while presenting, and often challenging, the concept of the soul.

This book anthology is the featured book of the 2009 Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest, an annual festival held in Washington DC.

Contributing writers include: Tichaona Chinyelu, Nabina Das, Venus Jones, Farah Lawal, Omar Akbar, Anthony Spires, Amy Blondell, DJ Gaskin, Summayah Talibah, Maureen Mulima, Randy Gross, Margaux Delotte-Bennett, Serena Wills, and other notables.

Visual art work by Turtel Onli, Marshetta Davis, Shan’ta Monroe and more.

Foreword by author Ananda Leeke.
Cover Art by Sharon Burton.