Sisters mine, beloveds
those bones are not my child.
I am a woman at point zero;
unburnable.
The wind done gone
into a dark alliance
forged from the devil’s pulpit.

Daughters of the Sun, Women of the Moon
a mercy, please.
Let’s make dust tracks
and leave the dilemma of this ghost
to those who live in a city so grand..
Those bones are not my child.

Word of mouth spread
among the not-so-little women
with no technical difficulties.
The blues people, midwives
to a people’s history,
who believed horses
make a landscape look more beautiful,
shed petals of blood
as they walked on fire
to grieve
in a land without thunder.

 

 

Book titles used in this piece:

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Beloved and A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Those Bones are not my Child by Toni Cade Bambara

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

Unburnable by Marie-Elena John

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall

Dark Alliance by Gary Webb

From the Devil’s Pulpit by John Agard

Daughters of the Sun, Women of the Moon, ed. Ann Wallace

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Dilemma of a Ghost by Ama Ata Aidoo  

A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo

Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Technical Difficulties by June Jordan

Blues People by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful by Alice Walker

Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance, ed. Beverly Bell

Land without Thunder by Grace Ogot

LIVE closes the Fall 2013 season with a conversation between 2013 Library Lion Junot Díaz and the writer who most influenced him, Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.

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.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/09/18/north-carolina-school-board-bans-ralph-ellisons-invisible-man/

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.

http://stateimpact.npr.org/ohio/2013/09/11/state-board-of-education-president-wants-toni-morrison-novel-scrubbed-from-suggested-curriculum/

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.

http://now.msn.com/captain-underpants-tops-banned-books-list-from-american-library-association

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.

I recently made one of my semi-sporadic trips to the library and got two books: 2011 Pushcart Prize XXXV and Published & Perished.

In the Pushcart Prize book, I read a short story, Mr. Tall by Tony Earley, that has me stumped. Now, I don’t easily get stumped by reading material but I finished the story with  an exclamation along the lines of “no, you didn’t end the story like that!” I mean, seriously! I was reading along, getting into the characters (which includes the natural environment) and boom! it takes such a sharp left turn, I feel like cold water was thrown on me. I want more! I want to know what happened with the characters, particularly the two involved in the ending of the story. (Even though it was published roughly three years ago, I still don’t want to spoil it for potential readers). Of course, being fond of good writing, I will be reading more of his work. I am officially a fan.

Mr. Tall is the first thing I read in Pushcart Prize XXXV but I will be reading more and reviewing what I find appealing.

Published & Perished contains a series of essay by writers on writers. There is, of course, canonical writers writing on other canonical writers; for instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson on Henry David Thoreau. As if that wasn’t enough of an introduction to canon writers, it also includes Julian Hawthorne on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Before I have to return the book to the library, I will make my way through the entire lot. For now, though, I started with writers a little closer to my heart: Toni Morrison on James Baldwin and James Baldwin on Richard Wright. The memorial (that’s a more apt word choice than essay) Toni Morrison wrote for James Baldwin is one of the most moving things I have ever read. I was unaware that their connection was so deep. Here is an excerpt:

No one possessed or inhabited language for me the way you did. You made American English honest – genuinely international. You exposed its secrets and reshaped it until it was truly modern, dialogic, representative, humane. You stripped it of ease and false comfort and fake innocence and evasion and hypocrisy. And in place of deviousness was clarity. In place of soft, plump lies was lean, targeted power. In place of intellectual disingenuousness and what you called “exasperating egocentricity,” you gave us undecorated truth. You replaced lumbering platitudes with an upright elegance. You went into that forbidden territory and decolonized it, “robbed it on the jewel of its naiveté,” and un-gated it for black people so that in  your wake we could enter it, occupy it, restructure it in order to accommodate our complicated passion – not our vanities but our intricate, difficult, demanding beauty, our tragic, insistent knowledge, our lived reality, our sleek classical imagination – all the while refusing “to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize [us].”  In your hands language was handsome again. In your hands we saw how it was meant to be: neither bloodless nor bloody, and yet alive.

I found the James Baldwin essay on Richard Wright problematic in that I don’t know enough of the dynamic between the two writers to put what Baldwin had to say in context. I shall have to research it more before I could legitimately comment on it. I found a link that gave me a little bit of the history. Here is an excerpt:

As is often the case, pioneers get displaced by their successors. This was certainly the case with Richard Wright and James Baldwin. In 1949, before any of his novels had been published, Baldwin turned on Wright and other writers of naturalistic fiction in an essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” appearing first in a now defunct magazine, Zero, and later that year in Partisan Review. “Literature and sociology are not one and the same,” Baldwin argued. He said the problem with protest novels dealing with Negroes, beginning with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is that they define the Negro by the conditions under which he lives, they fail to present him as a human being. And readers, said Baldwin, get “a definite thrill of virtue from the fact that they are reading a book at all. This report from the pit reassures us of its reality and its darkness and of our own salvation.” This was a frontal attack on Wright’s belief that literature should be an instrument for social progress, and it led to a rupture between the two. In his book, Nobody Knows My Name, Baldwin recounted the difficult conversations they had had: “All literature is protest,” said Wright. “You can’t name a single novel that isn’t protest.” To which Baldwin replied that “all literature might be protest but all protest was not literature,” which prompted this rejoinder from Wright: “Oh, here you come again with all that art-for-art’s sake crap.”

However, after Wright’s death, Baldwin had this to say:

I had identified myself with him long before we met: in a sense by no means metaphysical, his example had helped me to survive. He was black, he was young, he had come out of Mississippi and the Chicago slums, and he was a writer. He proved it could be done — proved it to me, and gave me an arm against all the others who assured me it could not be done. And I think I had expected Richard, on the day we met, somehow, miraculously, to understand this, and to rejoice in it. Perhaps that sounds foolish, but I cannot honestly say, not even now, that I really think it is foolish. Richard Wright had a tremendous effect on countless number of people whom he never met, multitudes whom he will now never meet. This means that his responsibilities and hazards were great. I don’t think that Richard ever thought of me as one of his responsibilities — bien au contraire! — but he certainly seemed, often enough, to wonder just what he had done to deserve me.

Related Links:

New Yorker interview with Tony Earley

Tony Earley reading Love by William Maxwell

James Baldwin : His Voice Remembered; Life in His Language

The Toni Morrison Society

The Writing Life

August 9, 2012

I am a mad reader, no doubt. Over the 30 days, I have added about 10 books to my to-be-read pile. I routinely adjust my Goodreads currently reading list. Recently, I attempted to put a bit more discipline to my reading list by deciding to finish one book before I start another.  I wish I could bring such orderliness to my writing process. I have become a haphazard writer – especially during this current summer. Of course, I have legitimate reasons for that state of affairs. I had surgery in June. I am the mother to an 8-year-old boy who likes to do things with me just when I sit down to type.  I no longer have hours upon hours to wrangle feeling inspired into the poems at the base of said inspiration. Despite my belief in, and acceptance of, Toni Morrison’s statement about writer’s block, I sometimes worry about not writing as regularly as I used to. Can I still call myself a writer if several weeks and/or months go by without putting down a single satisfactory word? Earlier today, a right-on-time blog entry by writer Kiini Iburi Salaam came across my Facebook wall and helped chill me out in that regard. Here’s her lead-in remarks:

‎”People who haven’t published always say “I’m not really a writer.” But a writer is a writer–to the bone. You can hear it when they speak, it spills out of their emails and their thoughts, it is in their be-ingness and whether they share it with the world or not, whether the world buys into their vision or not, that writer-ness is not going anywhere! Whether it was born in the bones or later took up residence in the writer’s flesh, once it is settled in your body, it is there to stay!

Similarly, once you have been a writer, that is always a part of your identity, even if you never write again. In the below link, I come to peace with being a writer, not writing, and what I was making writing mean.”

Links and Things

March 12, 2011

One of the blogs I follow is Kinna Reads. Today I received in my inbox the following: Link Gems. The gems included Chimamanda Adichie on Ama Ata Aidoo, an essay about the relationship between Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Homer’s Odyssey. As someone who finds herself interested in the interplay of European classics and Black literature, the last is particularly interesting to me. Both are excerpted below.

Chimamanda Adichie on Ama Ata Aidoo:

Aidoo is too good a writer to paint with overly broad brush strokes. She does not suggest that the past was perfect, and there is no romanticising of culture. Instead, she bears witness to the realities of the time, her vision clear-eyed and pitiless, her role simply that of a truth-teller. Aidoo has a fantastic sly wit and humour. She never hits you over the head with any ‘message’, but after you have greedily finished each story, you sit back and realise that you have been through an intellectual experience as well.

Her Story Next to His: Beloved and The Odyssey:

Beloved certainly does not wear its Odyssey on its sleeve as brazenly as do O Brother or Ulysses, and, perhaps unlike those works, it can be read insightfully without reference to Homer. On the other hand, the connections between the Odyssey and Beloved in no way diminish Morrison’s novel. Instead, the similarities and differences between the works accomplish something important. By making Beloved a reworking of the Odyssey, Toni Morrison puts her story next to Homer’s—placing the lives and struggles of African Americans past and present into an epic context. She places these experiences alongside a story that is central to Western civilization, thereby asserting their own worthiness and importance in that tradition.

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.

Read.

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.

Read.

Reading is Evolutionary.