Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kicking off 2010

I am working on entering 2010 with an attitude of hope and confidence. I hope you're also ending the year on a positive note and, if not, at least moving as quickly as possible to a new start in January.

Now for a few links.

Women on Writing plans an issue in March focused on YA writers. Find out how to submit a query here. (Saw this at Erika Dreifus' blog, Practicing Writer).
Brown Girl is kicking off an African Diaspora Reading Challenge in 2010 - details here. (Found on Tayari Jones' blog, www.tayarijones.com/blog.
Somehow I missed Bernice McFadden's 10th Anniversary, 10,000-books campaign for her debut novel, Sugar. Sounds like it was a success. Read her blog. I'm going to get Sugar and Glorious, her new novel out in May.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Around link land

This post by Sandra Beasley, a writer who quit her job during a recession to write full time, really hit home for me. She does have a book under contract, so it's a smart move. Still, I see the risks.
A new collection of essays by Chinua Achebe. Reviewed in the Christian Science Monitor.
I saw This Is It (the Michael Jackson rehearsal film) this weekend. Enjoyed it - I'll always enjoy his music. Now I see that there's a book about his final years. I'm interested in it, but afraid it will be so sad and chaotic. Here's a mediabistro post on it.
There's a new Coretta Scott King book out - by Ntozake Shange. Looks wonderful.
Carleen Brice weighs in on the Precious debate (which is also a debate, again, about Sapphire's novel, Push).
Do you know about The Black Book. It's a compendium of images from Black history in the U.S. A 35th anniversary edition is out now. The original editor was Toni Morrison. Thanks to Felicia Pride for writing about this on TheRoot.com.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Help and resentment

I am now considering reading Kathryn Stockett's novel "The Help."

If you've been following the fawning and the criticism of the book, you'll know why I am actually taking time to think about whether I want to read it.

If you haven't, here's my quick overview of the brouhaha:
Stockett is a southern-born white woman who has written a book with Black maids speaking in dialect. Her white female protagonist goes and captures their oral stories.

The book has gotten so much attention and great reviews and her publishing story is even being covered. (The book was rejected by scores of literary agents before she hit paydirt).

I am (was) so reluctant to even see this book, much less read it. Honestly I know that I harbor more than a little resentment when Black stories told by white authors/protagonists are seen as literary victories.

I wonder ...
if there is a Black author whose book, published in the same year, isn't getting even half the attention of this tale.
if there are Black authors who can't even get signed to an agent, much less a publishing house, because their story isn't seen as hot, or authentic, or something.
how many non-Black readers will pick up this book, buy it, read it and spread the word, but will not see books by Black authors because of the way bookstores or organized, or because those books don't receive coverage, or because they just don't look for them.
if this story comes to define the contemporary reading of Black women in the servant class in the South.
if reading it will be annoying ... will I constantly question the voice, the dialect, the motivations.

I am leaning toward reading it because ...
a friend I trust has read it and found it worthwhile.
it's really shallow to have this much resentment about a title I haven' t even read.
it will likely be made into a big Hollywood movie with a great African American cast and we don't get many of those, so I'll have to go see it.
I'm in an MFA program and I really have to make myself read outside of my pleasure reading bounds.
secretly, I want to know what's in her book that's causing all the attention.

I don't begrudge her attention, I think. I just wish I could hear so much attention lavished on my favorite African American authors writing about the Southern experience.

More on Stockett and The Help:
Amazon listing

Kathryn Stockett's site
Huffington Post

The Huffington Post piece links to others ... so it's a good start.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Link roundup - starting with Mrs. Obama

Lots of coverage about the new book by the editors of the Mrs. O blog. I've been a fan of the blog and am curious about the book. I haven't yet held a copy in my hands, that final test of whether I'll make the leap and buy a book. Here are a few links in case you haven't read it yet.

"Taking a Hard-bound look at first lady's fashionableness," Washington Post

Book explores Michelle [Obama's] icon status, Politico

And other links -
I read about Jericho Brown receiving the Whiting Award on Tayari Jones' blog. Now here he is featured on mediabistro's galleycat. Cool.
As always, there are jobs on the Practicing Writing blog :) Plus an extension of the Lilith contest in fiction - the fiction must portray Jewish women. And since I've known at least one Jewish woman of African descent, this fits in here. (Our world is wide).
Though I am from South Carolina, I had not heard the story of Edith Childs, the Greenwood, S.C. woman behind the Obama campaign's "Fired up and ready to go" phrase. Here's Candidate Obama telling the story. Thanks to Literary Obama for the link to the video.
Marie NDiaye won the Prix Goncourt. I read about her last week. I'm disappointed to see that the prize amount is so low ... abut $15 according to the LA Times book blog. Hopefully she'll get a lot of attention and that will be the real reward.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Links and things

From the Favorite Authors File
Algonquin Books will publish Tayari Jones' next novel, The Silver Girl. I saw this on Twitter, so I'm not sure what to link to - Algonquin doesn't have a press release up about it. But it's coming out next spring. I'm excited! I've been reading Tayari Jones' post about this work for a long time, so it feels a little like waving at her throughout the journey. Buying the hard copy will be the hug I'd give her at the end of this race, you know, if it were a race and if it wouldn't be weird and fan-girly.

I saw Good Hair finally this weekend. (The Chris Rock movie, that is. I actually see good hair, lower case, every morning in the mirror ;) I liked it mostly - it was funny and sad and gave me somethings to think about and chat out with girlfriends. I may write more about it later, but oddly one thing that I can't get out of my head is that some women are paying $1,000 for a weave! I feel so naive ... and cheap.

Anyway, I thought it was really strange not to see a preview of Precious, the movie based on Sapphire's novel, Push, included in the trailers before Good Hair. Why wasn't that a natural fit? Usually, if you see a movie that is targeted to a Black audience, every possible movie with at least one Black character is in the trailer lineup - even if it's completely the wrong demographic. Are Black women not considered a key demographic for Precious? Or do the Good Hair folks not want Precious bringing us down before we see Chris Rock?
Here's an article on the making of Precious from the NYTimes.

BTW, I'm glad I have the red-cover version of PUSH. I like it better than the movie tie-in cover with Precious and butterfly wings. The red cover is so strong and big, I think. It doesn't blend in.

French Writer to Watch
Marie NDiaye, author of "Trois Femmes Puissantes" (Three Powerful Women), has been named as one of the frontrunners for a top French literature prize, the Goncourt. The prize will be announced next week. Read about her work here.
I don't see Three Powerful Women in Amazon, but did find other titles here.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

More proof that librarians rock

I listened to this story on the way to work this morning. And I teared up. Read it or listen to it here. It's a Story Corps interview.

It reminded me of all the times librarians have been helpful to me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Back in the link groove

The Chicago Tribune has a new literary blog - Printers Row.
I want to read E. Lynn Harris' last novel, but it makes me sad to think about it. Mama Dearest is the title.
Read Tananarive Due's remembrance of E. Lynn Harris on her blog.

E. Lynn Harris is one of the author's I really would have loved to see in person. It's still amazing to me that I never did hear him read in person. Certainly, had he ever been somewhere that I could get to, I would have gone.

I hear such wonderful things about his events - Tananarive Due mentions them in her blog post as well.

When I was a teenager, James Baldwin was the author I really wanted to meet. And it seemed that one day, when I was out in the world, I surely would meet him. When he died I was still in high school and was saddened for the loss of one of our great American writers. And I had a selfish thought too about not ever having the chance to see him and hear him in person.

Octavia Butler, who I didn't read until years later, is another author I really wanted to hear. I read her books over and over and am still challenged and inspired by the patternists and the theology of her characters. I am thankful to have her work to read, though I always wonder how many stories are left untold.

And now, E. Lynn.

So my thought to share is this - when you have a favorite author, a writer you like, someone whose work is touching lives and adding something beautiful, challenging and important to the culture, go and hear them. Make the effort. Drive, listen, buy the book.

I have bought books I already own - or read years before just because I was so happy to hear a beloved writer speak.

And if you go to many book events you know that many are not well attended. Your presence matters. Your questions matter. And what you hear will matter to you.

So I am thankful to have heard so many people read or to have simply met these authors:
Tina McElroy Ansa
Blanche Richardson
Pearl Cleage
Valerie Wilson Wesley
Tayari Jones
Sonia Sanchez
Nikki Giovanni
Amiri Baraka
Joshilyn Jackson
Shay Youngblood
Edwidge Danticat
Maya Angelou

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quick is all I've got, so here goes:

Did you know that they're selling bestsellers at Blockbuster? I really don't get that. But then again, I couldn't find a movie I wanted to see in the whole store tonight.

Pearl Cleage's daughter set up a fan page for her (Pearl, that is). That made me really happy - especially when posts began to show up from "pearl says." She's working on a new book of nonfiction. She's just getting started, but that book is on my must have list. Her work helped keep my life on track - and gave me strength and solace when I really needed it. With Mad at Miles and I Dream a World (which is not by Pearl) I feel like l can do anything.

I am too tired to go around doing links now, so this is just a rambling missive.

Mysteries - I need a good thriller to read this week, but I'm picky. I want diverse primary characters, preferably a woman at the helm, some social issues, and not a cozy. (My cozy phase is a few years back). Any recommendations?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Twitter, an unbelievable cover and links

I'm on Twitter, occasionally posting about Black books and authors, at @berndawn. Come on over.

Cover Foolishness
If the protagonist of your novel is Black, who in their right mind would put a white person on the cover? Um, your publisher?

Justine Larbalestier's new book, Liar, is out in the U.S. The Australian cover is a white background with "Liar" all over it. The book is about a pathological liar. The girl, Micah, is Black. The U.S. cover features a white female with long, straight hair obscuring part of her face.

Larbalestier has written a long post about it, notably after other people pointed out the disconnect between the cover and the character. Her post is worth visiting - read it here.

Honestly, the cover would not have kept me from reading the book or, if I had older children, selecting it for them. But a cover with a Black teenager on it would have assured I'd give the book a chance. As a mother the cover is often the main draw for me to a new book. (My kids are in picture books and early chapter books at this stage). Children's and YA books aren't in the mainstream press as much as adult titles are (though even adult coverage has diminished). So the cover is my map to whether I'd pick the book up for my child. And in the library (where librarians in my town do a wonderful job of putting diverse books in prominent places) and book stores, I am drawn to books that:
Feature Black characters on the cover
Have beautiful artwork
And show children of multiple ethnicities and races
Have an international theme

So the cover certainly does matter to me and mine. Hopefully the paperback version of Liar will have a better cover.

A column mention about the success of a comic book about Michelle Obama.
Did you know you could throw a birthday party for a book launch? Me either. Folks are doing it on Twitter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

E. Lynn Harris

Today, even as I waited to hear confirmation and wished I’d read wrong, I kept thinking about how E. Lynn Harris was a game changer.

He wrote 11 novels. The first one, Invisible Life, was self-published and wildly popular. Even though or because he told a story that was diverse in a way we didn’t usually accept in “African American” fiction. There were gay and bisexual men in the story.

Stop and think about that.

He was the first writer to do that in contemporary popular fiction with mostly Black characters.

Harris wrote about the down low well before that other guy.

He sold books out of his car to Black women and we continued to buy them.

A Black woman lent me Invisible Life to read as I waited on the phone to ring at a temporary job. The job didn’t turn into something permanent and I left it and the book. Weeks or months later, I picked it up at the library and finished it.

It was a few years before I realized that the first copy I’d read was one of the copies Harris had self-published. He was one of the first big self-publishing successes.

His story of men on the down low changed the game and showed that maybe readers weren’t so narrow after all.

Harris was telling stories that were new to some people, but not everyone. He helped us recognize and talk about questions that were there all along. Recognizing the stories is part of what made his books so readable and popular.

Today I wondered how his books have affected us. How many people found courage and comfort reading his stories? Or in seeing that other people were reading E. Lynn Harris and that maybe others weren’t so narrow?

Last fall, after the election and the success of Proposition 8 in California, there was some sharp focus on homophobia and conservative leanings in the Black community.

Yet I know that some Black people, okay probably a lot of Black people, in California read E. Lynn Harris. He opened minds and reflected real lives.
He could not have been successful without many open hearts and minds. And his stories opened some of those hearts and minds.

I’m sad that there won’t be any more E. Lynn Harris novels. I’m overjoyed that he gave us so many characters and so much to think about.

AP obit on Wall Street Journal web site
CNN.com with quotes from Tananarive Due and Tina McElroy Ansa

Saturday, June 06, 2009

New reads - finding them

I'm missing a lot of books - and some books aren't actually getting out there or published in the first place.

I was thinking today about finding books that I'd like to read. And in a way I'm overloaded on information. I consume a lot of media and I am a lover of books so I hear about new titles on blogs, e-mail lists and the like.

Sometimes it's too much though. And right now, all of my book information comes from the anonymous/computer voice. A real person probably wrote the information, but I'm not in a place in my life where people press books into my hands and say, read this.

Nor am I having/taking time to browse stores.

I do still make it to the library, but event that has been reduced.

So how do I cut through the clutter?

It takes a couple of hits for me to cut through. I've heard about Stacyann Chin's memoir and Danzy Senna's new book. I think I heard about them in looking for reviews for the blog. And maybe Tayari Jones mentioned Stacyann Chin's book on her blog. Sitting at the hair salon today - something I don only every 2 or 3 months, I picked up Elle magazine. Which I never do. And there, on their readers' pick page were both of those books. Plus another by a woman of color that sounded great. But I should have written it down.

Now, if I can hold the cover image, title or author names from any of those three books in my head until I get to the bookstore or, more likely, library, I may get one of them.

That's a long way to go for the books. I think it used to be simpler than that for me.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Things that stay with you ...

I saw the news stories about the death of actor David Carradine. And it has stayed with me all day. If you haven't heard about his death, it will likely be all over the media for the next few hours or so - and yes the news cycle does seem that short.

It is being treated as a suicide, but that doesn't seem conclusive.

For what it's worth, I will just say that if you need it, please get help, ask for help. Even if you only think you need it - seek help. And if you're in a position to - offer help to someone who is struggling with life. Even if you just ask the question and offer your listening ear.

Everybody needs help sometimes. I have, do and will again, I'm sure.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What to read next?

I love the MotherTalk promotion idea/platform. I've been visiting their site for awhile and am just wildly curious about how successful it is.

And recently, MotherTalk took on promoting the NYTimes Young Readers' Edition of Obama: The History Journey. Check out Literary Obama's review here. I am definitely going to get a copy for my son. He loves to read, loves history and is an Obama supporter :).

I have seen two references to KickStarter.com today. It's a crowd funding site - you post your project, people can chip in funds, the funds grow and voila - you're funded.

100 people published a collection that way. I love that idea. What can you do with it?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Resources that rock

I'm always so excited when I find a page, blog or just an individual who is a great resource. You know, the person/blog who always has good news for somebody.

I've posted about this site before - and it doesn't really have anything to do specifically with black books - but with writers in general. Every Monday Erika posts job listings at Practicing Writing. And in this economy, she always finds something to list. The jobs she listed today rock. One made me want to apply - and I am in no position to move - plus, 30 seconds later remembered I have a very swell job already.

So there's a blessing for somebody in it - is it you?
Practicing Writing - worth the bookmark.

What sites do you know of that routinely provide something that rocks?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Books for Summer

There are a lot of interesting books that have either just come out or are coming up. I'm going to be getting some of these, but I know I won't get to review them for awhile. So I'm just going to pick some, throw up some links and hopefully help introduce them to some readers who haven't heard about them otherwise.

If you know of a hot book coming out this summer, post it in the comments. It's really important to get the sales going in the first few weeks and months of publication. And if money is tight - request a copy from your local library. Library orders matter.

So today, I found Felicia Pride's interview with Farai Chideya, whose debut novel, Kiss the Sky is out.
Read the Pride interview.
Buy it: Amazon Charis Powells

And I'm really curious about Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Mostly because of what Martha Southgate posted about Sapphire's PUSH and the movie based on it, Precious.

I think of PUSH as one of the most wrenching books I've ever read. It didn't offend me - I thought it was beautiful and crushing, similar to the way The Bluest Eye affected me years ago. Sapphire gives us just one (horrendous and tough) story of the human experience.

Anyway, Martha says that Everett's Erasure is the counterpoint - a funny, intelligent one - to PUSH. So, I'll start with that novel of his. Here are the details on I Am Not Sidney Poitier.
Reviews: Time Out New York

Buy it: Amazon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quick links - better than none!

Life has been doubly busy for me in my "real-world" incarnation. So I'm trying to get back in the groove and figured I could post a few links.

Here's an excerpt I can't wait to read - from Otto Penzler's Black Noir: Mystery, Crime and Suspense Fiction by African American Writers.

I love mysteries and am intrigued by how race is presented in the genre.

The NY Daily News has a story on African American romances and how the success of some authors is gaining notice and lucrative contracts. It's really interesting to me that the romance authors are so prolific, even though many of them still work day jobs.

Black Voices has reviewed Children of the Waters, by Carleen Brice. I am already committed to buying it and the review confirms that decision ;).

Publishers Weekly
has an item on the African American programming at BEA this week.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Notes late at night

It's been a long time ... I shouldn't have left you (or something like that, I have terrible recall for hip hop line and movie plots).

Anyway, I've been reading about Colson Whitehead's new novel, Sag Harbor. But it wasn't until I read this review in Time that I felt (feel)compelled to read it. Even though I have never owned a beach home, I really did say dag and listen to Tears for Fears.

Alice Walker at Emory
The exhibit from Alice Walker's papers is now open at Emory University in Atlanta. I'm a proud Emory grad and a lover of Alice Walker's work. I hope to make it to ATL by the end of September to see the exhibit.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An anthology on hip hop motherhood

Here's a call for papers, lifted from the excellent listserv run my Kalamu ya Salaam.

More posts on other things later ...
>>PUB: call for papers on hip hop and motherhood
============ ========= ========= ========
Call for Papers: Please pass on
Call for Papers on Hip Hop and Motherhood


Demeter Press is seeking submissions for an edited collection by Maki Motapanyane and Shana Calixte to be published in 2011.

Motherhood is an experience that has been ever-present yet invisible in the global music genre of Hip-Hop. Yet this aspect of women?s experiences within the movement has garnered little or no interest from journalists, writers and scholars of Hip-Hop culture.

Nor do we have any understanding of how mothers who remain Hip-Hop enthusiasts negotiate their relationship to the culture of Hip-Hop and its music with their children. What are the spaces that motherhood occupies in Hip-Hop? Are there ways of understanding mothering in Hip-Hop along a historical continuum? What are some of the ways that motherhood complicates the very masculinist discourses around hip hop?

How can we create an empowered and feminist Hip-Hop mothering, what would it look like and how would it challenge the status quo? How are mothers engaging with Hip-Hop, both locally and globally?

The aim of this collection is to give motherhood within Hip-Hop culture an intellectual point of entry into an existing field of

academic debates. Themes that submitted proposals engage may include:

* Hip-Hop histories
* Masculinity
* Misogyny and violence
* Consumerism and capitalism
* The globalization and/or transnationality of Hip-Hop
* Cultural appropriation
* Political subversion
* Cultural diversity
* Feminist mothering
* Heterosexualities
* Queer identities and sexuality
* Aesthetic continuity and change
* Representation and the marketing of identities
* Other themes not mentioned here

We seek both creative and academic submissions that tackle the complex ways in which motherhood and Hip-Hop frame these and other discussions. Abstracts are welcome from a variety of academic disciplines and perspectives.

Abstracts: 250 words in length.
Deadline for Abstracts: August 1, 2009
Papers: 15-18 pages
Deadline for Papers: January 7, 2010

Please submit proposals to: Maki Motapanyane at maki@yorku.ca and Shana Calixte at scalixte@laurentian .ca

Monday, April 06, 2009

Late night links

Just getting in under the wire - for my bed time that is!

RingShout wants to hear from Black students in MFA programs about their experiences. I can't wait to see what pops up there.

GalleyCatmentions that Michael Crichton's remaining novels will be published posthumously. Makes me wonder whether Octavia Butler had work that someone will eventually publish. I really hope so - I still am sad about not hearing more of her stories.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I've been out of town and offline (well off the laptop, on the mobile device).

So that's why the posts have been even fewer.

Nothing big to note tonight.

Tananarive Due said she had some news on Facebook - but she will reveal later. Even the tease made me excited because I love her work. So stay tuned.

Felicia Pride will have a books column at The Root. Very cool.

Selfish note - for the first time in a long time, I spent almost a week away from home and didn't finish a book. Usually I read like a madwoman when I travel. But there was too much stress, activity and just busy-ness to focus on one book.

I didn't even finish the Sunday NYTimes. Still in pieces in my bag.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Demise of papers and day jobs

I'm really saddened by the state (and demise in some cases) of our nation's daily newspapers. There are many issues with the press, but when the print press is on it, they rock.
So today, I'm thinking about the Atlanta Journal - Constitution, which is making big newsroom staff cuts.

The Atlanta cuts in particular remind me of the fact that newspapers are a traditional day job for many writers - and there are a number of authors who've come out of (through?) the AJC, including:
Tina McElroy Ansa, Baby of the Family, Ugly Ways, The Hand I Fan With, You Know Better, Taking After Mudear
Nathan McCall, Makes Me Wanna Holler, What's Going On, Them
Phyllis Alecia Perry (Stigmata)
Valerie Boyd, Wrapped in Rainbows

And others, I'm sure.

So will the demise of newspapers have an impact on the development of our storytellers? Certainly writers develop in other ways and other places. In fact newspapers may actually stymie some writers. Still it's been a home to some of the best.

The more I think about it, many of our authors have a newspaper background - not all, but many. Hopefully the authors of the future will keep writing, newspaper career or not.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quickly - I'm up too late

Here's a story about the upcoming Callaloo conference at Washington University.

Connie Briscoe has a new book coming out in June. It's Sisters and Husbands. Drama!

There is a book titled "Around the Way Girls." It's a collection of three short stories. (I'm not completely random, this relates to an earlier post - disregard if you don't get it).

I'm working on not complaining. So I can't post a little blog item that made me stomp my little (well, not so little) feet. Trying to let it be ...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Monday - reviews and news

I haven't read graphic novels in the past. Sometimes, I'll read about one that sounds interesting, but I never seemed to make the leap to getting one in my hands. Now I am hearing or reading about them more and wonder if I'm missing something.

A couple of things have caught my eye. I received a review copy of Still I Rise, a graphic novelization of the history of African Americans. An easy entry for me into graphic novels.

I was curious about the concept and read parts of the graphic novel, which has a picture of Pres. Obama and other historical figures on the cover.

The foreward to the novel is wonderful, since my knowledge of African Americans and the graphic/comic form is nearly inexistent, it was very educational. I'm glad to have had the book in my hands just for that piece of history. Charles Johnson penned the foreward.

The rest of the novel is interesting, but I couldn't place it. Meaning, it seemed like something that would be engaging for young readers (say 13 and up - there's tough stuff depicted), but I didn't know that I'd pick it up over a traditional history. It would be interesting to hear what a middle or high school teacher would think of this as a tool to get teens interested in history.

I read through parts of it a few weeks ago and am thinking about it again because Beacon Press has announced that it will publish a graphic novel version of Octavia Butler's Kindred. And I really love her work, so I'm interested to see the graphic novel. Though I really can't understand why no one has filmed that amazing book or any of her titles.

Quick links:
I have a review of E. Lynn Harris' latest novel at Bookreporter.com

The San Francisco Chronicle reviews Walter Mosley's new book, The Long Fall.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday links and such

Over the last year, I've had to play around with two browsers. That was after leaving my PC behind for a Mac. So after the PC-Mac switch, I lost my bookmarks - and yes, I know, those can be moved, but I didn't do it.

And I haven't built my list back up. So I've gone many months without visiting some of the sites I like to read. I was happy to see Carleen Brice post that ringShout, a site begun my some authors who want to focus on African American literary work, is still (back?) up and running.

I am still catching up on posts there, but I found the suggested reading list for a course posting interesting. Go to the site to understand what I'm referencing. I don't hear enough about literary fiction by "us" and that means I just stumble on titles that happen to be in the right place at the right time when I go to the bookstore.

And ringShout is on Facebook - go, writers, go!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Black History Month - what's on the table

One night in February, while wandering at my local Barnes and Noble, I saw a table marked "Black History Month."

The vast majority of the titles on the table were urban fiction.

I will admit right now that I am a literary snob. I read all kinds of books, some that could even be called trashy, but when I think about highlighting authors for a heritage celebration, the 'Round the Way Girl kind of titles just do not make the list.

[I really hope that is not the title of someone's actual book - I really just did throw that out for the sake of making the point. And there's nothing wrong with being and around-the-way girl.]

Anyway. The two titles on the table that were not "urban" or "ghetto" lit were a title by Nathan McCall (which could be urban in that it deals with the city, but that would be a whole lot of books, wouldn't it) and a novel by Zora Neale Hurston. [Yes, I should have taken notes, but did not.]

I should have lodged a little protest, but did not. Shame on me.

I am still flabbergasted that there's a manager or buyer or someone at the company who thinks that the hustler/gangsta/golddigga titles can make a Black History Month display.

How does that happen? I would have thought that the company would send a list of stores of recommended titles. But perhaps it's done store by store.

Still, it was disappointing. And no, it wasn't like the hoax in Coral Gables with a monkey title next to Obama books. This was an entire table - more than a faux stocker could handle without being noticed.

One upside, though - my kids weren't with me to peruse the titles. :|

Friday, March 13, 2009

A new book from an old favorite, other links

Paule Marshall has a new book out - it's a memoir. Here's the review in the NYTimes.

The book, Triangular Road, is a memoir about writing and finding her voice in the triangle formed by Barbados, Africa and Brooklyn. I read Brown Girl, Brownstones in college, where I was just beginning to learn about the connections from the U.S. to the Caribbean and Africa.

That triangle has been very important in my own thinking about my places in the world, so I'm excited about hearing what Paule Marshall has to say. She's on tour, she's 79 and still writing.


I'm falling in serious like with ...

Literary Obama, a blog about all things literary related to the Obama family. A wonderful idea, the blog is edited by a literature professor in South Carolina - making me even more interested, since I'm an OCG - Original Carolina Girl.

The Practicing Writing blog. I need all the tips and updates on practicing as I can get. So I try to check it daily. Nope, it's not African American - just writing. Still applies.

A recent invite I received to a baby shower - with a request for books by and about African American, Caribbean and African girls and women. I can't go to the shower, but I can't wait to buy the books for this baby's library. I have lots of ideas, but if you've heard of something really new and cool featuring "us" please send a note ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quick links

Just a few quick links today. I have a deadline tomorrow and must sleep in between.

Condi Rice has a three-book deal with Crown.

The Dallas Morning News has a story about the integration of the NFL. The reporter mentions a book, Outside the Lines, by Dr. Charles Ross (his name is incorrect in the article), director of African American studies at the University of Mississippi.

Evelyn White, author of Alice Walker: A Life, will speak at the University of Texas at Austin on March 11. She is also going to lead a creative writing workshop. I'd love to be able to hear her. The biography was amazing.

Here's a story about the Coretta Scott King awards for children's literature. It mentions some new middle-grade titles featuring African American or biracial characters.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Resources on kids lit

A couple of years ago, a friend mentioned to me that 80 percent of her son's books featured African American characters. My own children's bookshelves were not nearly that diverse. This gave me pause because I had not done nearly as good a job as seeking out books for my children. They have (and had) hundreds of books, but I had not made the extra effort to diversify.

So I began to do it. And now, at the library and in book stores, I pick up books featuring African Americans, even when they don't. So our collection looks better and they see themselves in more books. But I'm always looking for more. Now, particularly, chapter books for my oldest child that feature boys of African descent.

He has read quite a few nonfiction titles about us, including titles that talk about slavery. So he knows about slavery and segregation.

Now I've found a list of some of the slavery titles in kids literature. Here's a link to that list from Carol Hurst's web site.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Review - land

As usual, Black/African American History Month is a hot one for books by and about "us." Every year this makes me a little sad, a little angry. I still want to know about the books, I want them to be published and read, but does it all have to happen in this month. What would be the harm in spreading the publishing love a bit?

end vent, begin links ...

Here is a 2 - in - 1 review of two new books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One that is an analysis of the "I Have a Dream Speech," by Eric J. Sundquist, the other, Through It All, by Christine King Farris, Dr. King's sister.

Two professors at Emory University have a new book, "Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus," that explores the tragic exhibition in life and death of a an African woman in the 1800s. Here's a review from the Los Angeles Times.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A handful of kid lit links

A few links to round out the week.

A CSMonitor review of Chains, by Laure Halse Anderson.

Here is the description of the book from Simon and Schuster's web site:
If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifher sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.

Check out Brothers & Sisters, a collection of poems about family, by Eloise Greenfield.

The bloggers at The Brown Bookself are again doing 28 days featuring authors/illustrators of African-American kids lit. I have already seen authors I haven't heard of before. I think my kids will be getting some new titles soon.

Also, at the top of the blog (may be lower by the time some readers click through) there's an interesting note about whether an author is actually African American.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday is for Kids

I should probably come up with a better title for my Friday dip into kids lit. But I haven't yet. Suggestions are welcome in the comments.

One of the most interesting things I read this week was this story in the NYTimes about how a watchdog group has called out Scholastic over their inclusion of electronics, toys, jewelry and other non-book stuff in their catalogs and book fairs at schools.

This is right on the mark. I have one child in elementary school at the moment and have been a volunteer at a school book fair. And seeing all the toys and electronics really has bothered me. The kids can't help but get excited about them, even though they are more expensive than the discount priced books.

It is especially sad to me when I see kids who may not have been sent to school with any money or very little to shop at the book fair and they are picking up toys or electronics that are nearly $20 - when there are $4 books available.

Hopefully they'll pull back on marketing the toys and stick to books, workbooks and activity books. Kids have plenty of ways to see marketing - school is not the place for that.

I'll post some links later today to new books or book lists.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hearing Tayari Jones

I want to use Thursday as an opportunity to highlight an author or a book blog. But I'm cheating a bit today by writing about a recent reading I attended.

The author reading was Tayari Jones, who is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I write about her - and link to her site, www.tayarijones.com/blog, a lot, so it feels like cheating to highlight her today.

But it is my little blog after all.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to check her appearances calendar in case she was coming to Florida. It seems rare that any of the authors I love come near my home, so it was really just a little hopeful check. Turns out she was going to be in a town about an hour away the very next week.

So of course I went.

She read at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. It's a small, private college. I've never been to the campus, but I think I've been through the town once before.

The event was full - students there get a "cultural credit" for certain events, which is cool. I sat in the back because I got lost and was a few minutes late. [College campuses can really be tricky if you're not a part of the student/faculty/staff there - signs, people!]

She read from The Untelling first. I haven't read it in years, but was really pulled in as she read a scene that involves sibling rivalry, a red velvet cake, a terrible accident and women who can stop traffic. I'm always surprised when, aurally, I lose the author and really hear her as the characters at a reading. That was the case with Tayari Jones - she was the character and I really wanted to go back and read The Untelling again.

Tayari next read a story she wrote for a contest that required the work to be three minutes long. It was wonderful and fun and really was a story. I am amazed by short stories that are that short.

Tayari was wonderful - the creative, sassy and intellectual spirit really shines in her.

And I was fortunate enough to introduce myself to her, chat a bit and have a picture taken with her. I've "friended" her on Facebook, but I'm really just a fan, not someone who actually knows her. She was very gracious and kind - and stylish. I was taking notes in case one day I am out there reading from my own work.

Now, here are a few things I found that were odd about the event.

When Tayari finished reading, the organizer stood up and said she'd sign books and that there was food in a side room. There was no attempt to see if there were questions.

It may have been because of the travel arrangements, which I understand. It just seems very unusual for a reading not to have any questions. Of course, I just wanted to hear more from Tayari - next time, I guess.

Also, in the days before the event, on the local NPR station, I heard an add that began with a mention of the university name. I was actually excited in those few seconds, because I thought they were actually advertising Tayari's visit. Cool!

Except they weren't. It was an ad for a Nobel prize winner in the sciences who would be speaking later in the month. I get that a Nobel laureate is a big, big deal. It was just interesting to me that they wouldn't not put the money toward advertising an author's visit. Especially since it seemed the crowd at Tayari's reading was only students and faculty - important and their number one audience, for sure. But it didn't seem like there was a big community contingent- I'm 90% certain of this, but since I didn't poll the group I can't say for sure.

So it was wonderful to meet her. I hope she'll come back to my area of Florida - or anywhere in Florida, soon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Kids Lit for Friday

My hope for Fridays is that I'll feature a children's author or book site on Friday.

Why Friday? Well for my family, that has been a big library day for us. Our branch has story time on Fridays and I like for my older reader to have some additional books to get through the weekend. And since he sometimes finishes books while I'm still in the parking lot (I am really not exaggerating), it's always good to stock up.

Today, I found the micro-site for Scholastic's Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life contest. It's based on the life of Jackie Robinson and is geared for students in 4th - 8th grades. Here's the link.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Reviews not found

I really should be posting some reviews today, but I didn't find any and the hour is late.

I will mention that I'm excitehttp://bookcritics.org/news/archive/2008_nbcc_finalists_announced/d that the NBCC has a biography of Ida B. Wells and the book about the Hemings family on their final award list.

Both will go on my to-read list. 2009, here we come.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Author/Blog spotlight

Like many folks, I've been off in inauguration land and am just now winding back to real life. Believe it or not, I still have inauguration-related things taped for later viewing. Just can't get enough.

But, just like the president, I have to get to work!

Thursday is Author/Blog spotlight day. Eventually, I hope to include some interviews or even guest blogs on Thursday for the spotlight. Until then, I will just pick and choose and write what I want ;).

Today's pick: Ravi Howard, author of Like Trees Walking.
Why him?: Because he was recently named the 2008 winner of the Ernest Gaines award for his novel.

I haven't yet read it, but have heard much about it and this award is the one that tips it. I'll get a copy soon.

Howard is a native of Alabama - and Southerners hold a dear place in my heart - a graduate of Howard University, and is surprisingly, one of the few male authors that I have heard about repeatedly over the last few years.

I'm not saying Black men aren't publishing or writing great work - they're just not being talked up, I think.

About the book:

When the phone rang at the home of Paul and Roy Deacon in the early morning hours, it often meant that someone had died. The brothers’ family owned the Deacon Memorial Funeral Home and had buried the loved ones of Mobile’s black families for over 100 years. On the morning of March 21, 1981, the call was different. The body of nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was found hanging from a tree on Herndon Avenue. The murder shook the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, especially the Deacon brothers. They had called Michael Donald a friend.

As the brothers navigate their teen years, they face familiar rites of passage; prom night, graduation, college life, but the family business forces them to confront the rites death brings, passages from this world to the next. As Roy and Paul Deacon search for solace, their journeys take them from church sanctuaries to cemeteries, protest marches to courtrooms, from the tree-lined streets of Mobile to the dark beach roads on the Eastern Shore.

Added to the grief of a murdered friend, the brothers and their hometown face the first lynching in over sixty years. Mobile had been as peaceful as its tree-lined streets were beautiful, but the murder gave the city its own sad chapter in the Alabama racial history. Like Birmingham’s four little girls, Selma’s Bloody Sunday, and Tuskegee’s experiment, Mobile had the murder of Michael Donald.

In this riveting debut, Like Trees, Walking explores a fictional aftermath of a true story that will both haunt and illuminate. The novel examines death, faith, truth, and justice, elements that often intersect and at times collide. An old tale set in modern times, Like Trees, Walking explores the complexities and the promises of America’s New South.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday for Kids

As I try out a new schedule for organizing posts, I've decided Friday should be for kids literature/books. If memory serves, many children's books featuring children, adults of African descent come out during January and February for the six weeks that is the King holiday and Black History Month. I'll feature some of the new titles here.

The Los Angeles Times has a round up story about the new books out about President-elect Barack Obama, including editions updated to show he won the election and is the 44th president. I'm particularly interested in the biographies for older kids.

Michelle Kerns of Examiner.com shares her three top books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And finally, here's a site I found just this week, Brown Sugar and Spice Books. They feature books for us and focus on titles that are reality-based, rather than fantasy. I saw lots of books that I'd seen elsewhere (Obama books and others) as well as interesting titles that were new to me.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Author/Blog spotlight

In an effort to bring some order and consistency to my posting here, I'm going to try having a different theme for each day of the work week. Hopefully that will give me an easy way to get into topics and share content about some of the writers, books, publishing companies and other bookish things here.

So Thursday is author or blog spotlight day. I picked Black Threads in Kids Lit because I was searching for something else kids-book related. (The other search is not a secret, it's just that my middle-aged mind can't remember how I go there!).

Of the few posts I read, I enjoyed the blog. As a mother of two African American children, I'm always interested in books that interest them and feature people who look like us. Especially chapter books, as we're in that zone now.

There's a good post up top on the blog that is taking a guess at which books will be picked as Coretta Scott King award winners or finalists. There were a few books that I hand't seen or heard of, like March On! and Brand New Day, Brand New Ruby.

So this one goes in my bookmarks.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

African American memoir

The New York Times reviewed The Black Girl Next Door, by Jennifer Baszile. It's about her growing up in an exclusive, all-white community in the 70s and 80s. She's a frequent first-er (first black student body president, first black female professor of history at Yale).

It sounds interesting to me. I did not grow up with that kind of privilege. And though they don't have that level of wealth, my children are already in several "only" situations.

So I'm likely to check it out.

My only hesitation is that it seems this story has really been done over and over again. What does she add that's new? [And the NYTimes review isn't particularly favorable, btw.]

On another note, I really like Carleen Brice's new blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors. I'm definitely not white, but am getting good recommendations from her site. I just finished her book, Orange Mint and Honey, this month and LOVED it. I'll try to pull together a review soon, I think it's a book that deserves attention.