Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell 2010

As always, we end up spending the last days of the year in reflection and planning. Or at least we should.

I haven't been doing any focused work on what I want to accomplish in 2011, it's been more daydreaming for me. This weekend I will carve out time to actual name the goals and begin building plans.

Tayari Jones has prompted me to remember what I did right in 2010 - and hold on to that. So that will be another layer of my reflection.

I looked back at my blog posts from 2010 and these were the top 3:

No Makeup Week
What's that ripping sound?
Thoughts on publishing for Black audiences

Thank you for reading along with me this year.

I'm excited about my reading life in 2011 and especially #blacklitchat. We'll kick off the year Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. ET by discussing Jabari Asim's short stories in A Taste of Honey. Jabari has agreed to join us for the discussion.

Have a wonderful, safe New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Favorite books from 2010

Last week Tina McElroy Ansa co-hosted the monthly #blacklitchat discussion that I moderate with Dee Stewart of Dee Gospel PR.

Our topic for December was favorite and best books from 2010. Tina shared some of her favorites with us and the readers on Twitter who participated shared their favorite books. We also talked about what makes a book a classic.

You can check out the chat transcript here.

And here are some of the books that were named during the chat - a very good reading list or gift list to start from if you want to build a library of contemporary Black literature. (Also a great way to use any bookseller gift certificates you received).

(Please note, this list isn't in a particular order.)

32 Candles, by Ernessa T. Carter
Substitute Me, by Lori Tharps
Glorious, by Bernice McFadden
Taste of Honey, by Jabari Asim
Kiss the Sky, by Farai Chideya
Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
The Long Fall, by Walter Mosley
That Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Perfect Peace, by Daniel Black
Butterfly Rising, by Tanya Wright
Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke
Big Machine, by Victor Lavalle
Color Blind, by Precious Williams
Looking for Tina Turner, by Jacqueline Luckett
Wading Home: A Novel of New Orleans, by Rosalyn M. Story
Bitch is the New Black, by Helena Andrews
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
the Drama High series (YA), by L. Devine
Before I Forget, by Leonard Pitts
Till You Hear from Me, by Pearl Cleage
Powder Necklace, by Nan Ekua Brew-Hammond
Dork Diaries (kid lit), by Rachel Renee Russell

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Letting go of the expert goal

I've been curious about wine for a long time. But I rarely ordered or bought wine because I didn't know what I was doing.

And I am very (overly) worried about doing or saying something that shows I'm out of place in any way.  So rather than ask questions of a server that might show I don't know all the right wine terms, I just order something else.

This year I'm working on getting over that as I start to visit local wineries and just try things and buy what I like.

As I do that, I continue to remind myself that it's not necessary for me to become an expert or to be able to talk about wine like a sommelier.  This is something I'm doing for me, because it's fun and it gives me another way to look at Florida and anywhere else I'm traveling.

Letting go of the goal of becoming an expert (or the fear of show how little knowledge I have) is freeing.    I have avoided many things just because I didn't want to show my ignorance.  So I'm going to be asking dumb questions and tasting wine in the "wrong" way (I've probably already done that).

And I'm sure someone is going to smirk when I decide I like a particular wine but can't describe it other than to say it tastes great.  I'm still going to have fun with it - already am - and do me.

Here and there I'm going to do some reading, maybe even take a class to learn more, but I won't wait to have the knowledge.  This Wine 101 article in the WSJ about how to taste a wine is a first step.

Later this week I'll post something about my visit in November to Arrington Vineyards in Tennessee - which was a lot of fun.


Monday, December 13, 2010

More is merrier

Earlier this year I began playing around with an idea. The idea was to start a regular chat about books on Twitter. Specifically a chat focused on books by Black authors.

I loved the idea and sketched out a plan, including a list of books to feature in the first six months.

Then I sat on the idea and didn’t get started. I let myself become caught up in worrying about what if nobody showed up for the party.

A few months after I last touched the idea, Dee Stewart (@deegospel on Twitter) posted and asked if anyone would be interested in an African American book chat and what day would work for that.

I thought about that tweet and had two thoughts:

1. Dang – somebody is going to get “my” idea out before me.
2. Cool – maybe we could do the chat together. Nobody owns the idea. Sure would be easier to have a partner.

I’m so glad I went with the 2nd thought. Trust me when I say that seeing partnership first is something I’m working on.

Our partnership led to the first #blacklitchat conversation in
October (announced at Blogalicious 2010) featuring Ernessa T. Carter, author of 32 Candles.  In November we read and discussed
Substitute Me, by Lori Tharps.

What I think is wonderful is that we are not the only Twitter or social media book club game around.

I’m so pleased that we’re in conversation with Tee C. Royal of the longstanding Rawsistaz book site and #blackbookchats discussions. The three of us have been talking about how our book chats are different, how we can cross promote and put more authors and books in front of more readers.

And recently Rae Lewis Thornton, blogger, AIDS activist and Emmy award winner, announced the #RLTReads book club. She is picking books – her favorites and club members favorites – to read. It took me a long time to join the group because I am already so committed to other things. Then she announced the first book – one of my all time favorite novels, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day, by Pearl Cleage.

I’d been foolish not to sign up earlier. She’s reading books that are classics for me.

None of our clubs are in competition. We’re all running along the same path, sharing good books with readers, giving authors a platform and doing what we love – reading and thinking about stories.

Writer, yoga teacher and social media coach Ananda Leeke writers and talks about “digital sisterhood” – the concept of women working together in social media and being cooperative rather than competitive. Learn more and celebrate Digital Sisterhood month at her blog.

That’s what is happening with our book conversations. They are part of a sisterhood of book lovers (and yes, there is a brotherhood too – come on to the convo) and there’s no reason we shouldn’t celebrate having multiple discussions and curators. The more the merrier – for readers and authors.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Favorites from 2010

Next week in #blacklitchat (Sunday, 12/19, 9 p.m. ET), we'll discuss the best Black books of the year. Bestselling novelist and independent publisher Tina McElroy Ansa will be our special guest co-host for the chat.

To prepare for the discussion, I'm checking out the traditional Best of 2010 lists on newspaper and media sites. I'm also looking at blogs for picks.

If you are doing a best of 2010 list and have Black authors on the list, let me know. I'd love to shout out your blog during the chat or link it hear.

And whether you have a blog or not, please do drop in the titles you think should be in the running for the best Black books of 2010 in comments.

The books I'd like to feature are the ones that standout is new classics. The authors take history and bring a new perspective; they create characters who surprise us and defy stereotype; they take us to places we couldn't have imagined, but which are vibrant and real on the page.

These are the books that you share with friends and say, you must read this. The ones professors will build classes around. The books that you absolutely have to re-read and that bring you something new every time you experience the story.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Monday morning links

This week is full of running around to rehearsals (with one of my children), prepping for the holidays (for our family, Christmas and Kwanzaa) and hopefully a few minutes here and there to read.

I also hope to make my gift list for friends and family and begin shopping. My goal is to give books to some folks in order to share some of my favorites from this year. And I want to do some local/independent shopping for other gifts. I'll be giving some wine as well, as that's one of my other passions.

Sometime this week I'll post about our Dec. 19 #blacklitchat on Twitter. We'll discuss our favorite books from 2010. Post your favorites in comments. And if you're a blogger and will have a top 10 list of books, let me know and I'll post it here. Especially if your list includes Black authors.

Now for some links.

The Blogging While Brown conference sessions are up - and this year you can vote on sessions you'd like to see. Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, is on the list as well as book blogger Notorious Spinks. Several of the women I met at Blogalicious are on here as well.

There's a new movie, Night Catches Us, that is getting buzz by the people I follow or friend online. It's about former Black Panther party members and how they deal with the aftermath of that legacy in the mid-1970s. Kerry Washington is one of the stars. It's not playing widely, but it is available via iTunes or onDemand cable. I think that is so cool and I hope that many people download it and watch it. I'd like to see this indie movie, helmed by a black woman director, get a lot of buzz and make money. Read the NYTimes review.

After reading Jevon Bolden's post on reaching African American audiences, I went back to Bernice McFadden's essay on how books by Black authors are marketed. Bernice gives an important analysis about why books by Black authors are often ghettoized, while books by other authors featuring Black characters can be pushed to become crossover bestsellers.

The schedule is up for the annual Zora Neale Hurston festival in Eatonville, FL (Orlando -area). I go every year and am very excited that Tara Betts will be one of the featured artists. Come to her event Wednesday, Jan. 26. If you'll be at her event, or any Zora events, post something in the comments to let me know. I'd love to do a Tweetup at the festival if there's interest.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Just saw that there's a 31 day Reset Your Life challenge happening this month and headed by HappyBlackWoman.

It sounds fantastic.  And I'm thinking about doing some of the exercises - but I may not do any.  December is so jam packed and I am also committed to doing a better job with holiday decorating and am nursing a sprained ankle.

Full plate.

Would love to do this as a face-to-face exercise.  That is one of my current goals - doing more face-to-face time with my friends and just being out in the world more, doing what I love, rather than caving in to things that feel like obligations.

This blog is one of my 4th quarter 2010 ideas, but I haven't done much with it.  I have 4 winery visits to write up and just haven't put anything down.  So that feels like a failure.  But is it?  This is a hobby blog added to another hobby I have in addition to being a mother, wife, full-time working professional and a human being.

So I am going to stop calling my failure to blog the wine visits failures. I will write them.  And I know that actually having visited 4 wineries and having fun trips every time is more important to the journey.

But yes, I will get pictures and stories up soon.

Thoughts on publishing for Black audiences

Jevon Boldman wrote last week about publishing for African Americans - and what publishers are and are not doing to reach audiences. She is looking for feedback on the issues and what readers, authors and booksellers are thinking.

I posted a too long comment on it and thought I'd post it here as well. No answers, but she did get me thinking about what my experience is as a reader and lover of books with a particular fondness for books about Black people.

Here are my comments. Please go visit and post your thoughts to the original blog post.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is how often, in the big box bookstores, the thing I see is a table full of "urban" lit. I'm not a big fan of urban lit and I feel like it's taken over what we we're being offered by publishers. And several times I've seen a title that is definitely not urban lit included in those displays - even a Zora Neale Hurston title.

So it feels/looks like stores and publishers are not sure how to reach all the people in the African American audience.

And I don't feel that publishers are trying to market books by African American, Black, Caribbean authors and featuring African American, Black and Caribbean characters to audiences that are non-Black. We shouldn't be the only audience, but our authors' work is not believed to be relevant or of interest outside of the obvious audience. That's disappointing and, since our society is more integrated, publishers are probably missing both Black and non-Black readers.

Yet books with African American characters written by non-Black authors are sometimes pushed really hard - as with The Help.

I'd like to see publishers go to readers more often to ask what they are reading and want to read.
I'd like to hear more promotion of our authors in different channels (I know $ is a factor), but radio and television.
I'd like to see something different like a crowd sourced collection of stories (Maybe readers vote on which author's stories or what kind of story collection they'd like to read).
I'd like to see a serialization effort that leverages mobile or ties to some kind of scavenger hunt or contest (maybe using Foursquare or Facebook).

And I'd like for literary authors to be on the road more so we can see and hear them. Maybe some tie in events with other products - something outside of book festivals where hundreds or thousands of fans and potential fans are present.

Here are a few links I've been checking out.

One of the reasons I am such a big fan of Tayari Jones (you know other than the fact that she is one of our best, young novelists)is that she is so open about her process and the ups and downs of being a working artist. She keeps pressing on and she writes about the fears and challenges of having to turn around and begin again. This is a lesson I need in all areas of my life - my paying work, my writing dreams, my life as a parent and wife. I'm thankful that she writes all of this down for us. If you are not reading her blog, please do, it is a writer's and grown up woman's life blog.

She wrote recently about having to change the title of her novel and how hard that was. This is a novel that was rejected before she finished it. Still she finished it and she has a publisher and we will all be able to buy it in May (actually you can preorder now).


Other links:

I missed this earlier: The Root on 5 young Black writers we should be reading now.

Buying books for holiday gifts? Heidi Durrow, Denene Millner and Tara Betts are recommending books - including children's books for your shopping. Reader their posts on Carleen Brice's blog. She also has a December contest going featuring books by Black authors.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This is the first post in the new portion of this blog.  Obviously it's been a long time since I've posted as WriteWoman.  Most of my blogging has been through my Black Books Blog since 2005.

I'm posting again here because I wanted to write about some non-book topics, specifically travel and wine. But, as usual, I have been wringing my hands in worry and procrastination about launching a wine and travel blog perfectly.  On my own domain, with the right look, etc.

And I've let weeks and months pass me by.

It would be better to do this that way.  And if I wait, I might never do it at all.

Fortunately, I've been doing what I envisioned and visiting vineyards.  But not posting.

Here's where all of this comes from - the seed of this new blog.  I've been a little blue about my suburban life.  I go to work, I parent, I get excited when I can go to a mainstream movie and have dinner at a chain restaurant with my husband.  Boring and typical.  Fine most of the time.  Except when I'm sad about not making a second trip to France or never having been to West Africa.  Or on the nights when I wonder if I'll ever have the time, money and opportunity to visit a country long enough to learn something and make friends.

Focusing on what I couldn't do was draining and pointless.  So I decided to do what I can for now.  Even if it meant only a little day trip.

So in August, when my husband and son were on a weekend trip to Chicago (hey, that's somewhere I could have gone!), my daughter and I had our first No Boys Allowed (NBA) weekend.  We invited two friends and went on a trip to a winery.  It was one of our best ever days.  (And I'll post pics from that trip very soon).

I decided that what would be fun and uplifting and enough would be to make day trips and side trips that would be my right now adventures.  Yes, I still want to plan big trips and travel out of the country again. But I had fallen into a habit of waiting for the perfect time to do everything.  And everything was passing me by - and I am tired of regrets.

So this blog is my little project to record the adventures.  I'm starting with trips in Florida to our region's wineries.  And I'm reading about wine and learning something new.

Of course, this has great benefits, as I have lovely glasses of wine at home.  My little suburban life is already improved.

If you are a wine lover and have a favorite wine blogger or winery site to recommend, please leave it in the comments.  Maybe you'll give me an idea for another adventure.

Blacklitchat: Substitute Me, Lori Tharps

For this month's #blacklitchat on Twitter, we'll discuss Substitute Me, by Lori Tharps. The novel is the story of two women in New York, one an African American woman from an upper middle class background, the other of a white professional woman who is a new mother.

The black woman becomes the white woman's nanny. It's a contemporary story.

So you can imagine, with all the history and cultural issues attached to black women as servants and domestic help in America, that this book gives us a lot to think about and discuss.

Join us at 9 p.m., Nov. 21 for the discussion. This is our pajama party chat - from the comfort of your home. And if you haven't read the novel or are just starting, still jump in. We will also likely discuss the overall cultural issues and Lori Tharps has agreed to join us. She is also the author of Kinky Gazpacho, a memoir of travel and race and co-author of Hair Story.

Read what other people have said about Substitute Me:

Carleen Brice on White Readers Meet Black Authors
Mother Issues blog
Notorious Spinks' take on it.
Raging Bibliomania

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Getting ready for For Colored Girls

There has been so much hype and angst around Tyler Perry's adaptation of Ntozake Shange's play, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.

Shange's play is an amazing collection of choreopoems that was a feminist triumph and had a powerful impact on a generation of women, particularly Black women.

Tyler Perry makes films that are polarizing.

I have seen several of TPs films and remain conflicted. I do love seeing images of Black people on screen and he is the director/writer who is giving us that over and over. With all of the issues.

I've been reading a lot about For Colored Girls and will probably read more before seeing it tomorrow. Here are some links to share.

10 Things to know about Ntozake Shange and For Colored Girls - Ms Magazine blog
For Colored Girls who need motivation when the Oprah endorsement ain't enough - Bassey Ikpi, huffpost
New York Times review
Entertainment Weekly review

I'll post some thoughts here after I see the movie on Sunday. Quirky Black Girls is having a blog carnival around the movie - gathering links from bloggers who write about it - check it out if you are posting about it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Are you a future life saver?

About 15 years ago a columnist at the newspaper where I worked wrote about a woman in need of a bone marrow transplant.

I didn't know the woman, but I did know the columnist and I attended an event where people were signing up for the National Marrow Donor Registry.

They were particularly looking for people of African descent to sign up. We were, you guessed it, under-represented in the registry. And the matching of donors to clients/patients is more complex because of the multiple tissue types people of African descent have. (I imagine that's tied to all of the intermixing over hundreds of years in North America - but I'm not an expert, so I can't confirm that).

I signed up. It was easy and felt like the right thing to do. I didn't get the call to help the women my friend wrote about. I met the poet Glenis Redmond at the event and went on my merry way. I rarely thought about it except for every few years when I'd receive a request from the registry to update my contact information and provide the name and address of someone who would always be able to find me (which is always my mother).

This summer my mother got a call and a letter (and so did I).

The team from the registry was trying to contact me; I was a potential match for someone who needed a transplant.

As I said above, I didn't really think about the registry that much. Now I had to think about it and it was a clear decision. Of course I would do more tests. That was the whole point of signing up in the first place.

So I had blood drawn for testing. I learned shortly after that while I was a partial match, I wasn't as close as the doctors wanted for this client/patient.

I won't ever know if they found a match for the person. I hope that they did. I hope that more people are signing up every day so the chances of finding a match improve for all of us.

Today I was reminded again about the registry when I read this story. Shannon Tavarez died this week. She was 11. She had already had a role on Broadway in The Lion King as Nala.

And they did not find a bone marrow donor in time to save her. 11 years old. Beautiful, as we humans are. One more reason to #DoSomethingBig.

From the New York Times story:

Minorities are vastly underrepresented in the bone marrow donor registry, which makes suitable donors for minority patients difficult to locate.

So I am thinking about the program again. And how over the last 15 years I haven't been spreading the word.

Please read about the marrow donor registry and register as a donor. It is simple and one of the easiest ways to be a hero we have.

You may not ever get the call. But if you're the "one" you can't save a life if you haven't joined the registry.

@BetheMatch on Twitter; #DoSomethingBig

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A few links to share

Only enough time/energy to post a few links.

Are you for Fannie Lou? Read Dr. Goddess' post about Fannie Lou Hamer and the effort to build a memorial.

It's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and Tayari Jones reminds us that speed isn't/shouldn't be our main goal. Becoming writers is the goal.
[I think about dong NaNoWriMo every month; then I let fear and the illusion that I can't do it keep me from the exercise. I need to change my life to become a writer - and take my time doing it. Yet, I know that making the effort just to write every day, even under NaNoWriMo goals, would be the very best thing. And I sit doing neither.]

Lori Tharps, author of Substitute Me, will be at the Miami Book Fair Nov. 21. See her news on her site.

I missed the ESPN 30 x 30 film by John Singleton on Marion Jones. But I do see this WSJ blog item on whether she should be forgiven and the role race and gender played in her case. I'm not a sports fan at all, but some of the most interesting stories come out of sports. That makes me pay attention.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The voting habit

I'm kicking myself for not voting early in this midterm election. It's so much easier than trying to vote before my morning commute.

I'm still going to vote tomorrow morning, though. It's a habit.

There is a lot of worry, particularly among the Democrats, about turnout for this election. In 2008 a lot of occasional and first-time voters turned out for then candidate Barack Obama. I hope some of them will make it a habit and that anyone who has only recently started voting will take it seriously and start participating in every election. Yes, I mean conservatives and Republicans as well. Everyone who is eligible and able to should vote. And if people choose not to vote, I really hope it's an intentional decision - something they spent time thinking about, rather than just a matter of convenience.

The 2008 election was historic and I spent a lot of time thinking about the multiple firsts in that election as well as my own history with our process.

As I told my roller skating coach during a discussion after the election (yes, I had a roller skating coach), I've been a low-level political junkie since grade school. I watched the party conventions every four years with my parents, walked into the voting booth at my elementary school with my mother, and had a father who worked the polls many years. He also taught civics, so we talked a lot about politics. Sometimes I was just listening, but I was paying attention.

By the 1980 presidential election (Carter, Reagan) I was as engaged as I could be as a kid - I remember being really angry that kids couldn't vote. Was this our country or not?

It's always strange for me when I read about people well into adulthood who are voting (or registering to vote) for the very first time. I'm working on being less judgmental and they are adults, so I can let that go. I just can't quite comprehend it.

I've voted in most of the elections for which I've been eligible (I won't say all, because no one is perfect and I'm sure someone could pull a record and find a voting opportunity I missed). But I really feel it's important; the weight of history is a powerful reminder.

It helps that early in my adult life paying attention to elections was part of my job as a newspaper reporter. Really there's no excuse if you're covering an election. You have the information and constant reminders of where to vote and what it means.

And during that period, when I voted at the same precinct - located in a senior apartment complex - the women working the poll would always greet voters with a big smile and, I later learned, really remembered the people who came through each election. On one election day I voted in the afternoon, much later than usual. They made a big to-do about it, saying they'd wondered where I was, "because you always vote."

I hope that more people will register and vote for the first time. And make it a habit.

Some links for Election Day:
10 Tips from the ACLU for voting
Federal Election Commission

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Natural beauty blessing

Yesterday I went to the Orlando Natural Hair and Beauty Expo, a new one-day event celebrating natural hair. I heard about it on Facebook, I think and, once I saw that Felicia Leatherwood of Loving Your Hair with Natural Care was giving a workshop, I put it on my calendar.

I heard about Felicia Leatherwood earlier this year from a post by Afrobella about Felicia's natural hair workshops. The workshop sounded so great and like just what I needed. Of course the workshops were in Chicago and New York, not here in Florida. *cue internal whining* I am always a little homesick for Atlanta, too, a city where I know I could get a little natural hair instruction.

Until now. Thanks to Chase Ford Productions, Orlando has its own natural hair expo to look forward to each year.

I decided to take my daughter to the event with me. Even though I worried she would become bored and fidget too much, I really wanted her to see all the women I knew would be there. I knew we'd see women with TWAs, twists, twist outs, starter dreds, long locks, afros, and Bantu knots.

I was right.

But I didn't make a big deal about it. I just said it was a hair and beauty expo and let it flow from there. She was very interested in the fashion show and, even though she's too old and a little big for it, I picked her up and had her on my hip so she could see.

By the way, my daughter had asked for Afro puffs the morning of the expo - so she was representing in her own way as well.

And she liked sampling the different body butters and sniffing them. She told me, "Mommy, it smells good in here." Of course - the expo center was filled with tropical fruit and herbal scents for hair and body.

When Felicia Leatherwood's workshop began, I realized I'd made a big mistake. The room was standing room only. I definitely should have sat down inside as soon as we arrived. Fortunately two other little girls were standing near us and eventually the girls all sat down, shared books and paper and had their own thing going, quietly, while we listened to Felicia.

And, if you can't tell from my comments above, I will say it straight - if you have a chance to hear Felicia give a workshop and you love your hair - go. Register in advance, get there early, and go. I learned things from her in an hour that I haven't heard in my 20+ years of adult natural hair.

Other things I loved about the expo:
Seeing some old friends and acquaintances.
Lovely hair styles.
Great vendors with hair products, accessories, body products.
A DJ who knew just what our vibe was and is.
Sakile / Peace and Beauty project kids activities

We didn't stay for the entire expo, but my daughter asked me at one point if she could have her hand painted. I hadn't even noticed the henna artist as we walked around. So we stopped for her henna art. And it was a wonderful way to wrap up a mother daughter beauty adventure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Follow up to first #blacklitchat

Last week we had our first #blacklitchat on Twitter. It was so much fun and we had Ernessa T. Carter, author of 32 Candles, join us and answer questions about the book. If you haven't read it, you must - it is fun, smart, and full of surprises.

I co-hosted #blacklitchat with Dee Stuart (@deegospel) and we will make it a monthly Twitter event. We'll set the date for the next one soon and need your help to select the next book we'll read.

To see what the chat was like, check out the transcript.

We've already had some great book suggestions - to add yours post a suggestion on Twitter or vote in our quick poll. We're looking for the kind of books that lend themselves to discussion - smart, fun, interesting reads by Black authors. For now we're focused on fiction and looking to read books that have been published in the last six months or so.

And the third way to get your suggestion in is to post it in comments.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Join us for #blacklitchat

Sunday, Oct. 17, I'm kicking off something new along with Dee Stewart (@deegospel, We're launching #blacklitchat, a Twitter chat about books by Black authors. This first one-hour chat will begin at 9 p.m. ET and we're featuring 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter (@ErnessaTCarter,

A little about #blacklitchat: I wanted to bring folks together via Twitter to talk about our books on a regular basis. We certainly have conversations about books and authors all the time. And I thought it would be powerful, fun, interesting to focus one one hour on one book in a Twitter-based book club.

Selfishly it also gives people like me, who are not currently in a book club, an opportunity to talk to other book lovers.

I hope that in addition to the people who participate, other readers will see the discussion and go and pick up these great books.

So, please join us on Sunday, Oct. 17 for the discussion of 32 Candles. Ernessa T. Carter is going to join us.

If you aren't on Twitter, you can still watch the conversation by going to and entering #blacklitchat in the search box.

Here's one more piece of good news - I have a copy of 32 Candles to giveaway. I'll give it away using a random number generator. To enter to win, please submit a comment. You comment can be your intention to attend #blacklitchat, a question you'd like for the group to discuss; or a question for the author.

Enter away - I'd like to select a winner Thursday and get their copy in the mail!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dear Blogalicious10 community

Dear #Blogalicious10 community,

I am so pumped up after my very first Blogalicious event! I feel fierce and ideas are flowing so fast I have trouble sleeping. That is a blessing, not a complaint!

Because I could not hug everybody, I wanted to thank you here in our blog space (yes- it’s ours!).

I thank you for –

Sharing in sessions, in the hall, in the ladies room …
For unknowingly re-uniting me with two friends from college ...
Making connections (@nycbritpr tells me about @winewithToni and she joins me for a wine adventure) …
Asking, “Girl, did you get your [watch, robe, doll …]?” and grabbing one for me …
Salsa, hip hop, samba in the club …
Telling about authors you know …
Yoga on the beach with @coreconnection (and for tree pose) …
Shouting out your project, your dreams, your hashtags – every one is an inspiration, a spark …
Tweeting out what’s going on and where and being a sisterhood …
Being fabulous in every way and showing me I need to buy some dresses to be more blogalicious …
Being entrepreneurs, operating with integrity …
For all the amazing, fierce, powerful goals we will achieve by and share at Blogalicious11.

I’ll see you on your blogs, in our Twitter chats and around the world.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's that ripping sound?!

Saturday morning, I arrived at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association Trade Show in time to catch the last half of a breakfast event featuring Christy Jordan (author of Southern Plate), Robert Barclay (author of If Wishes Were Horses) and James Swanson (author of Bloody Crimes).

Robert was the last speaker and he shared his journey to finishing If Wishes Were Horses and the different experiences that gave him source material for the book. As he was talking, I heard an odd sound to my right. I didn’t turn at first – my focus was on Robert and his story.

Then I heard the sound again and again. I recognized it as the sound of paper being ripped. Really, in a room full of booksellers, authors and book lovers, the sound of paper being ripped.

A woman sitting in the back was ripping sections out of a book. I wondered if it was her book or a journal. And why in the world she’d decided that in the middle of someone else’s even she’d do the ripping – the loud ripping – and disturb the event. She did it over and over again.

When Robert was done, he took questions. The Ripping Lady stood up and said that she supposedly knew a girl who was interested in equine therapy and would have loved to give her the book, but that the author had taken the Lord’s name in vain and had bad language in it, so she couldn’t give it to her. And why did he (the author) ruin the book that way?

Yes – really – that was what Ms. Rip-em-out said.

Here’s what Robert said in response (he said more than this, this is what I captured by hand): “I’m not going to defend my writing. Writing is a matter of taste. … I’m sure there isn’t a book in the world including the Bible, that could not be improved.”

Of course Ms. Rip-em-out protested that – but Robert had closed out the event and she was drowned out by the vigorous applause after his cool handling of the ripping incident.

I realized later in the weekend that this week is Banned Books Week. So maybe Ms. Rip-em-out was doing a little performance art to remind us of the importance of books, freedom of expression and our freedom to choose what we want to read and share based on individual values.

Even if she really meant it, she still reminds us that there are people who want to control the content of our books.

If you are wondering about Banned Books Week, go check out the following links.

Banned Books week site: What you can do
American Library Association page
Top Ten List of Challenged Books - 2009 (I've only read 4)
Twitter and Banned Books Week (NYTimes blog post)
Ban my books, please (Carleen Brice's post, tongue in cheek, about increasing attention for books by banning them)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

SIBA 2010 Trade Show

The Southern Independent Booksellers Association holds a trade show every fall. And this year, I was able to spend a few hours there! It’s been a book nerd dream of mine to go for years.

Here’s a little more about SIBA from the web site: SIBA is a trade association which represents over 300 bookstores and thousands of booksellers in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and Mississippi.

I first looked up SIBA more than 12 years ago when I was trying to figure out how I could do something connected with my passion for books. One of the ideas I explored was becoming a bookseller (bookstore owner). I found SIBA while doing research about what it takes to operate a bookstore – and while I let go of the idea, I never forgot that every year in the south there’s a trade show for booksellers. With publishers giving out information and copies of the season’s upcoming titles.

Because I never became a bookseller, I never pursued going to SIBA. A few weeks ago I decided to see where this year’s trade show would be – and it was scheduled for Daytona Beach, just over an hour’s drive for me. This would be my year – and Wanda Jewell, director of SIBA, graciously reached out and let me know that I could have a press pass.

(Thanks, Wanda!)

So I went up for just a few hours on Saturday. Most of the education events were on Thursday and Friday, but I had commitments that I couldn’t move. (And I missed so many good panels and author talks – not happy about that).

But I made it there in time to hear 2 – the three breakfast speakers on Saturday and to spend a long while walking the exhibitors’ floor.

One of my concerns about going, especially after seeing the agenda, was that there might not be a lot for me to sink my e-teeth into because there were not a lot of African American authors that I recognized on the schedule.

However, on the exhibit floor some of the publishers had titles that will be great to talk about here. And I loved the academic press displays – the latest in history, memoir and cultural texts.

What I also underestimated was how much food culture is represented at the trade show. But of course the South is very food-centric. And I think about food probably more than I should – but at least now I’m thinking more and more about fresh, vegan food – lots of interesting titles, including Raw Foods (W.W. Norton).

And there were so many children’s titles – I love seeing what the new titles are for kids and thinking about how the young people in my world will receive them.

I’ll be writing about SIBA most of this week – too much to unpack tonight. But I am so glad that I went – I connected with book people, found titles that I can’t wait to read, and was able to fully engage in the book world. I always love doing that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

No Makeup Week (not a books post, per se)

Did you know that Sept. 23 -27, 2010 is (was) No Makeup Week?

I didn't until I saw it on Afrobella's blog. I then followed her link to see RabbitWrite's original post about it.

At first glance, I thought - oh well, at least I don't have to think about that. Because I wear makeup about 4x a year - and that's if I have a high frequency makeup year. Then I read RabbitWrite's post - and the part about women wanting their female colleagues to wear makeup reminded me of something I heard when I was 19 or 20. I worked that summer in a hospital and I remembered hearing two women snickering about a job candidate who had just interviewed. They were laughing because "she didn't even have on any makeup."

Oh how I remember that. And I wondered about that - was it really necessary, mandatory to wear makeup. I didn't wear makeup regularly - but I wore it more than I do now. Never to work, but for nights out with friends (and I was a nerdy girl, so there weren't many of those - but a few).

After that conversation I knew that not wearing makeup could be held against me, but I didn't know what I was doing. And I didn't really care yet.

It's 20 years later and I still don't wear makeup, but I really am beginning to care about it. It's more accurate to say that I'm beginning to worry about it.

Even though I have been a feminist since childhood and reading The Beauty Myth gave my dislike of and lack of confidence about makeup the support of feminist ideology, I am beginning to waver.

Age is a big part of that slow shift. Aspiration is another. I still wonder how differently I would be perceived if I were a savvy user of beauty products. And I remember the difference in reaction when I am wearing even the littlest bit of makeup - I now wear lipgloss several times a week!

Is it time for me to figure the makeup thing out and stop making every week a makeup free week? It feels like the grown up thing to do. And the most successful women around me are often makeup people.

So no makeup week is making me explore all the reasons I don't wear makeup and whether I'm ready to let them go or address them.

My reasons are these:

It feels terrible - hot, itchy.
I shine like patent leather.
I sometimes see women in makeup that makes them look older - yikes!
It feels like a big time drain - I love being able to get up and get out quickly.
I don't think it's healthy.
I think the societal expectation of wearing it is one of the light oppressions.
I have no idea what to do or where to begin.
I'm not a fan of fake things on my body - nails, hair, makeup. But I've considered fake hair lately as well.

And my reasons for thinking about wearing it are:

Age - I want to be as beautiful as possible, even now.
Image - I still want to be one of the cool, successful girls (now women) who are stars.
Skills - I think I should know what to do and not be standing in a discount store buying makeup the night of an event.

So that's where this makeup free woman ended up after thinking about No Makeup Week.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing and mothers

A woman can't really achieve her greatest artistic goals/potential if she has children. I've heard some version of this (or wondered about it) many times. Most recently during a writers workshop (in conversation outside the actual workshop).

Now that I'm a mother of two hearing something like that is a blow. It feels like a death sentence for my dreams. Could it really be true? Am I, as a mother, forever doomed to achieve less, be lesser?

Of course it's not true that we mothers are lesser or that our work is somehow inadequate. But it is very hard to argue the point with the perception that so few women writers (and of course I focus on writers) reach the highest levels after motherhood.

Unless you count Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Edwidge Danticat. (Note that I got in world-renowned, award winning writers and that was just thinking of Black writers).

Still, it is hard as a mother, to hear that raising children is the thing that keeps you from fully raising your art. I think there's so much more to it - like figuring out support and societal pressure and assumptions about what a mother must do (sacrifice is considered a must - what?).

I am wishing there were more residencies and workshops that are mom (and parent) friendly. (If those programs are out there - please do drop names in the comments.)

Tonight I read Lisa Belkin's post about her residency experience in Florida and it made me think of this subject. Maybe I will have some more coherent thoughts later - but just needed to raise it tonight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Art in our lives and hands

Earlier this month, Varnette P. Honeywood passed away. Even if you don't know her name, you likely would recognize her work and style. One of her pieces was featured prominently in the Huxtable home on The Cosby Show. And she created the cover art for all five of Tina McElroy Ansa's novels. (Go look at those covers again - completely unique on your shelf, right?) [Full disclosure - Tina is my friend and mentor].

Read Tina's tribute to Varnette P. Honeywood here - it is a beautiful piece.

Ms. Honeywood's work comes immediately to mind when I think about Tina McElroy Ansa's novels. I can't think about Ugly Ways or The Hand I Fan With without seeing those covers. That is powerful - an image that stays with you just as long as the story.

I do not think most book covers achieve this now. And maybe, with the increasing popularity of ebooks, this will continue - the cover becomes irrelevant.

I'm definitely a pro-technology person. But I will miss (already do) the use of artwork for book covers. Thoughtful, powerful pieces that make a cover a frame-worthy piece. I don't have enough art in my life. And I may never be a collector of original work, but I love beautiful design and art in "real" life - covers of books, posters, beautiful fabric.

The book cover still moves me. I have a hard time buying books that just have a photo cover (this may also be because some of those books are positioned as "urban" fiction). I still look for a piece of art, something a little less revealing than a photo. (I don't mean revealing as in showing too much skin - but revealing as in too easy to read - leaving nothing for the mind to explore).

I am sad to hear that Ms. Honeywood has passed. Her work is wonderful and I especially loved her depiction of children (Little Bill is her creation as well - that who beautiful community).

I know there are other artists doing beautiful, culturally specific work. I wish that publishers would find them and give novelists an opportunity to have visual art connected with their words. And I hope that our independent and self publishers will reach out and find an artist - think of the collaborations that we could cherish.

Here is some of the coverage about Ms. Honeywood.

Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
New York Times

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Uncovering history

I have been very intrigued by the stories about Isabel Wilkerson's new book, The Warmth of Other Suns, about the great migration of African Americans from the south to the north and west. She explores all the individual reasons they left in the middle of last century and focuses on three individuals to weave the tale. And she writes about the conditions they left, apparently without repeating what we've all heard about already.

She's gotten a lot of coverage - and I'm so happy to see it. I hope the book has a big impact -it sure sounds like it will be a popular read as well as an addition to college courses. Here are links to some of the stories. (I heard her on NPR - I certainly hope to hear her live during her tour).

Detroit Free Press (Recalling an African American that remade America

NPR - Fresh Air (Great Migration: The African American Exodus North)

New York Times (A Writer's Long Journey to Trace the Great Migration)

Boston Globe (A Moving Legacy)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Short story collections

A couple of weekends ago on Twitter I saw an exchange between Crystal Wilkinson (@CrystalWilki), Jamey Hatley (@jameyhatley), and Dolen Perkins-Valdez (@dolen) about short story collections by African American writers. They were posting a lot of titles that I haven't read (actually, I've read so few of them that it is embarrassing.)

I'm trying to learn how to write short stories; reading more of them is part of what I need to do. So I pulled some of the titles for a reading list.

And I thought other people would find the list useful as well. Some are recent titles, others have been around for years.

Are there other collections you've read that should be on this list? Put the titles in the comments.

How to Escape From a Leper Colony, Tiphanie Yanique (@tiphanieyanique)

The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales, Charles Chesnut

Dr. King’s Refrigerator, Charles Johnson
Interesting Women by Andrea Lee
Water Street; Blackberries, Blackberries, by Crystal Wilkinson, who is also editor of Mythium Literary Journal
Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, by Randall Kenan
Slapboxing with Jesus, by Victor LaValle
Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children, by Edward P. Jones
A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim
Break Any Woman Down, by Dana Johnson
You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down and In Love and Trouble, Alice Walker
Gorilla My Love, Toni Cade Bambara
Sap Rising, by Christine Lincoln
White Rat, by Gayl Jones
Wideman collections
Before You Suffocate Your own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pre-dawn links

Before I head off into the world of kid drop offs and day work ... a few links.

There's a small town in New York with two independent bookstores downtown. People are upset about the new, upstart store. I'm a little envious that they have both stores.

Tayari Jones contemplates the use of "good hair" in a description of her upcoming novel. What do you think when you read that?

Check out the Crab Orchard Review special issue focused on shaping the new South - found on Practicing Writing.

Did you know that people still burn books? Well a church in Florida plans to burn the Quran on 9/11. That is just hateful and ignorant.

Two libraries have banned a "gay-themed" book. The book, Revolutionary Voices, is an anthology of work by queer youth. I haven't read the book, so I can't comment on the actual content. It does make me sad that a book that might be helpful to teens who are looking for themselves or their friends in the pages of books, is now unavailable to them. I assume all the similar hetero books are safely on the shelves.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yes, Black people go on vacation

Black people and vacations

There’s been a lot of chatter about First Lady Michelle Obama’s summer trip to Spain.

She’s the first lady of the United States, but apparently some people think her vacation in Spain was inappropriate. If you haven’t heard about this, catch up with the news coverage.
For Michelle Obama, extravagance dents popularity

Michelle Obama's Spain trip: the real reason she went

This evening I read Lori Tharps’ post about Spain, the State Department’s advisory to Black people about travel there, and the first lady. Lori brings an interesting perspective; she’s an African American woman married to a native of Spain. So she travels there to see family. Read her post.

Thinking about the first lady’s trip made me remember something a girl said to me over 20 years ago. This girl, who was under age 10, was in our house (I was a teenager) because her father had come over to talk to my dad about something. Naturally her dad assumed I would watch her, without asking first. That was the first annoying thing. They were our neighbors, but not our friends.

So while I was watching this girl, who I had never actually met before, she tells me about their vacation to Hawaii. And she is just chattering away while I wait for the men to finish.

Then she says, “Black people don’t go on vacation. My dad says it’s because they don’t have enough money.”

I was a little stunned by that. But not so stunned that I didn’t try to explain that Black people have money and do go on vacation.

When they left I talked to my father about what she said. I was pretty angry about it and definitely wanted him to know. I believed that she was young enough to still just report what she’d heard, not make up something to be provocative.

It was ridiculous that a man living in our same neighborhood would say such a thing. And it was just a little thing on one level. I mean, who really cares what a guy down the street thinks about all Black people.

On another level it continues to remind me that, even when people of multiple races are in the same neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and things would seem to be close to equal if not truly equal, some people will still assume there is a deficit somewhere. It’s illogical, but telling. It’s the “yeah, but” of integration. The little difference that is falsely inserted to keep some distance, at least in the mind, between “us” and “them” and allow people to hold on to some sliver of superiority.

Tonight I’m thinking through whether that sliver of superiority is what really underlies the backlash against First Lady Michelle Obama’s Spanish vacation. So much of what the Obama family does challenges the image of what some people (thankfully not all) have of Black people, Black families, Black success, Black intelligence, Black love, Black beauty, etc.

If you believe or have been told that Black people are still different than you, in whatever small, insignificant way, maybe it really is inconceivable that even as the Commander in Chief’s wife, Mrs. Obama can and does take vacations.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

About 32 Candles, by Ernessa T. Carter

I’ve already told folks on my FB and Twitter networks that I loved 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter.

In those short formats, I haven’t gone into a lot of detail about why I enjoyed the story of Davie Jones, the heroine, so much.

Here’s the long format answer.

I was on p. 46 when I told my S.O. that 32 Candles is in the family with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Bluest Eye.

Carter’s work belongs in such company because she is, like Angelou and Morrison, telling the story of a little Black girl’s coming of age and finding her beauty. (Well, in the case of The Bluest Eye, we can debate Pecola’s finding her beauty, but that’s an entire discussion).

32 Candles brings us the more recent experience of a Black girl growing up in the 80s and Carter renders her and the small Mississippi town she grows up in wonderfully. And it is not at all a wonderful experience for Davie. The kids in town call her Monkey Night because of her dark skin. She has a painful and dangerous childhood and one of the ways she escapes is through watching Molly Ringwald movies, including 16 Candles.

I won’t reveal much more about what happens next – I think the surprises in the book are best left for you to discover. Because I hope you go and read this book.

As I followed Davie’s story, I considered how the novel would fit in to a class I’d love to teach one day. The class would be focused on depictions of Black girls in coming of age novels. (And yes, I’m the kind of person whose fantasy life includes imagined course development).

I’d teach 32 Candles with:
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Leaving Atlanta, by Tayari Jones
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor (or maybe one of her other books)

I’m sure there are other titles, but the ones above, combined with the critical and socio-historical reading, would make an interesting course covering the contemporary Black girl in the novel. Maybe I’d include memoirs as well. I'll have to think about that some more.

But back to the topic at hand. Read 32 Candles. It’s worth it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

50 years of stories

While I was in San Francisco for VONA, I wandered off a couple of times just to see parts of the city. One of the places I wanted to see was Marcus Books, which has a store in San Francisco and one in Oakland.

Marcus Books celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. That's an incredible milestone for a bookstore. An independent bookstore. A Black bookstore.

I had never been to Marcus Books before, but of course now I know the way to any place with an address. As long as my phone battery doesn't die. When I looked it up, I saw that it really was walking distance from the USF campus, where VONA participants live for a week. So I got in a good long, solitary walk, seeing a little more of the city and I was headed to a bookstore. Joy all around and through me.

While I haven't been to Marcus Books before, I had met Blanche Richardson, whose parents founded the store, multiple times. She is a regular instructor/presenter/speaker at Tina McElroy Ansa's Sea Island Writers Retreats and a wonderful writer and incredible editor.

I got a glimpse of Blanche while I was there, but didn't get to talk to her. I did meet her sister Karen, who told me a little of the history of the neighborhood - which was hosting a jazz festival the next weekend.

But let me back up. The store is in a building that was once a jazz club - where greats like Miles Davis and Billie Holiday would play after hours. After having played in clubs that catered to white audiences. So it is in a historic building and clearly the Richardsons have a great respect for our history.

I was so happy just to be in the store. I love books - obviously! - and Black books and independent stores. Within the first few minutes I had to remind myself that my budget was limited and that I had to get whatever I purchased into my carryon bag.

It's hard to hold myself back when browsing so many books and seeing not one shelf marked "urban fiction."

Then I saw the kids section. I was done. It was difficult to choose just 2 books each for our kids. Wonderful to have so many books with images of them on the shelf. Astronauts and boy reporters and boxing legends and strong-willed bakers and more.

The Black bookstore in my city closed years ago. This year one of the independent stores closed. So it's exciting for me to be in a store with so much to offer, all right there at my fingertips.

I have ordered lots of books online and via a chain store. I still love browsing and buying, though. And the browsing experience is better for me in independent stores.

I'm thankful that I was able to visit Marcus Books this year, during their 50th anniversary. I hope the store has many more years and that I will make it all the way out there again one day.

Do you have a favorite independent bookstore? How is the book buying experience different there? Post away in the comments.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Playing catch up

Maybe I shouldn't think of this post as playing catch up. I'm simply jumping in where I can. And sharing what I like to read with you.

Anika from WriteBlack reviewed Nnedi Okarofor's Who Fears Death for White Readers Meet Black Authors, Carleen Brice's blog. My favorite part of the review is how Anika gives us touch points from other science fiction to help flesh out the protagonist, Onyesonwu. (My favorite, the reference to Sauron. I assume it's the dark lord from Lord of the Rings, which I've been seeing in pieces again over the last two weeks. Doesn't get any darker than that - Sauron is compared to Onyesonwu's father).

Erika Dreifus, whose collection Quiet Americans will be out next year, writes about pre-publication anxiety. Published authors - head over to her blog and tell her how you manage the pre-pub anxiety. Every Thursday she is writing about her pre-publication journey.

If you know me or have ever read more than one entry here, you know that I think Tayari Jones is all of that - I enjoy her novels, her online writing voice and, had the great pleasure of hearing her read once. So, just as a reminder, bookmark her blog. Today I'm linking to her post about winning the Hurston/Wright Award in 2000 and what a breakthrough that was for her. She taught at the Hurston/Wright Writers Week this summer (just last week). Two of my VONA peeps were there last week as well. I know it was amazing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer reads, a few more weeks

I define summer in different ways depending on where I am in life. As a kid and parent, summer is really those seemingly few days between the end of school and the first day back.

When I was an adult without kids, it stretched until I had to start wearing closed toe shoes and, in Florida, summer seemed endless.

This summer is my VONA summer (the workshop for writers of color held every year in San Francisco). That means it's a summer of reading and writing and challenging myself.

So I am going to read more as I write more.

Here are a couple of titles that have caught my eye:

32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. Because of the cover - there's pink! - I wasn't really tuned into it. I didn't feel like reading anything that seemed to revolve around romance. But I keep seeing people post good things about it and I'm going to get it this summer.
Check out Ernessa's blog.

Substitute Me by Lori Tharps is in the current issue of Essence magazine. I have really liked Lori's articles and blog, so I want to read this one. Interesting storyline about her protagonist becoming a nanny, though. I'm sure there's a lot she can do with that!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Resources for writers – post-VONA

I just got back on 7/4 from the annual VONA workshop in San Francisco. I have dreamed about going to VONA for years and only had the courage and commitment to apply last year. I didn’t get in. This year I got in and nothing could keep me from it. If you don’t know, VONA is an annual multi-genre workshop for writers of color. I’ll write more about it in the next few days and weeks as my heart and mind are so full from the experience. I wanted to share some writing resources with my workshop group and though it would be worthwhile to post these links here as well.

Practicing Writing blog by Erika Dreifus
Calls for submissions, writers guidelines, jobs, residencies, awards – basically tools, resources and opportunities for writers (poets, nonfiction, fiction)

Creative Writing Opportunities List
Email listserv with calls for papers, stories, poems, essays from journals, anthologies, magazines. Getting the daily emails might be a bit much, but you could also join the group and just bookmark the page – without getting all the emails.

Kalamu ya Salaam’s blog
Kalamu has maintained a listserv and now a blog for many years that features information for Black writers and supporters of cultural production from and by the African diaspora. He posts writing and publishing opportunities as well as articles and videos on culture, history and politics.

If you have other links for writers on the rise, please post them in the comments.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The food thing

I'm still thinking about summer reads, but wanted to go in another direction for a bit.

Food is on my mind a lot lately.

I know that I don't eat the right things or the right amounts and probably not even at the right times. So I've admitted that.

Now I'm trying to eat better and take care of my body. To that end one step I've taken is to make more smoothies.

That sounds ridiculous if smoothie makes you think of what I call candy smoothies - the super sweet drinks that may or may not have fresh fruit in them that we pay $3+ for from chains.

But that's not where I am on the smoothie continuum. A few weeks ago an herbalist I know recommended that I eat more dark, leafy greens to address a health issue. She suggested kale, spinach and collard greens. And she mentioned that I could cook them.

And while I am a Black woman from the south, I cannot cook greens. Well, I don't cook greens. I could, but I don't.

Because I wanted to start changing my life right away - and cooking a pot of greens wasn't going to be the quickest route, I looked up recipes for kale and found green smoothie recipes.

Greens in a smoothie? Sounds like something I would try. (I'm a veggie dabbler - love the idea of being vegan - but am so easily tempted by bacon, *sigh*)

So I tried a green smoothie - with a big leaf of kale, banana, and some other fruit - can't remember - with soy milk and honey. I added the honey because I was afraid I'd need to cover the taste of the greens.

It was great. It is not a candy smoothie - and my kids tried it, but after timid sips decided they would pass.

But I kept making them for myself, every day. Sometimes with kale and spinach. I have used apples, frozen mango, frozen blueberries, strawberries, peaches and grapes in the smoothies.

And I think it is helping me. But continuing to overeat and eat meat and dairy is not. So I need to try harder.

All this to say that Sistah Vegan, edited by A. Breeze Harper (@sistahvegan on Twitter), is on my reading list. As a Black woman who wants to eat better (healthier, slower, more ethically) I'd like to read what the racial/social perspectives are on vegan living.

And Soul Vegan Kitchen, by Bryant Terry (@bryantterry) has been on my list for a year. I need to just stop playing, buy it and make time to cook. He has another project in the works and mentioned that the African diaspora will be in full effect in the new cookbook. Can't wait to see that one as well. I love to look through and try things from cookbooks - it always feels like so many possibilities for joy.

Tonight - by grabbing the links above from Amazon - I saw By Any Greens Necessary, by Tracye Lynn McQuirter. Yes, I want to buy it from the title alone. Here's the product description:
* The first vegan guide geared to African American women
* More than forty delicious and nutritious recipes highlighted with color photographs
* Menus and advice on transitioning from omnivore to vegan
* Resource information and a comprehensive shopping list for restocking the fridge and pantry

Selfishly, I'd love to see these three books bundled with a membership to an organic food co-op. And a Vita Mix blender. That would be dreamy - and yes, drinking green smoothies has made me have joyous thoughts about green leaves and beautiful fruit.

There's so much more in all of this - how far we've moved from not even ancestral diets, but just the basic vegetable staples we had growing up - or some of us had. How much difference it makes what kind of stores, restaurants and advertising are in your community (I'll have to come back and post about my recent grocery story experience and memory) and how we've become a foodie culture but we're ruining it by slathering on cheese.

Not that I don't like cheese - I do. But I know I need to walk a different way.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a few smoothie ideas:

Basic -
1 big leaf fresh kale
1 banana - frozen if you can
1 - apple
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup soy milk

Take the basic and tweak it - add a cup of fresh spinach leaves or leave out the apple and add a cup or two of berries and another cup of mango or peaches.

Through in grapes or blueberries for a purple/green smoothie.

Tonight I threw in one small carrot stick. Add more or less or make a carrot focused smoothie.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer reading

At the beginning of summer (which technically doesn't begin until next week) many publications do a story about great summer books that are coming out.

These are the books that will fill beach bags and lazy summer afternoons. Even for the many people - the majority - who won't have lazy anything this summer, those lists help push books and give readers a way to sort through the mass of books online and in stores.

I like to read summer reading lists and recommendations to get titles in my head for my own reading. Obviously I love books, but I hate being in the library or in a store and not have some highly desired title in my head. I can always find something to read, but I love the anticipation and celebration of grabbing a title that I've been looking for.

Recently Professor Blair Kelley (@profblmkelly on Twitter) asked for summer reading recommendations of smart fiction by and about Black women. And that's exactly the kind of list I'd like to see somewhere.

So, here are some titles that are on my reading list:

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
International award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magic realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and of the woman who reshapes her world.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke tribe for good. An Okeke woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her child Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient tongue.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky reveals an unfathomable past and explores issues of identity at a time when many people are asking "Must race confine us and define us?"

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl—and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty.

It is a winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

Whoops! I'm out of time. More summer reads later. If you have one ... put it in comments.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Eleanor Taylor Bland, mystery author

I love mysteries.

Whodunits and detective stories have been among my favorite reading pleasures since elementary school.

I remember a third grade teacher trying to dissuade me from reading Encyclopedia Brown books because they were below my reading level. I didn’t care one bit about the reading level – I loved those little mysteries. He was my first fictional sleuth.

And I read a few Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries along the way.

Because I majored in literature and eventually got a graduate degree in literature, many of my adult reading years were focused on more “serious” titles. So I didn’t read many mysteries.

A few years ago, I “rediscovered” my love of mysteries. I think the credit for that goes to Walter Mosley and Valerie Wilson Wesley. Black private investigators and rich storytelling, FTW.

There was only one problem. Once I’d read all of Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle novels, I was jonesing for another Black woman detective to follow. So I went searching and eventually found a site that listed Black mysteries. And I began to read books by the women I found there.

One of those writers was Eleanor Taylor Bland. She wrote the series featuring Detective Marti McAlister. Marti is a widow with two children who is on the police force in a small town outside of Chicago.

She became one of my favorite characters. There are many books that feature lone investigators and detectives with no family ties or obligations. They endanger themselves and take incredible risks. But the inclusion of family life in Bland’s novels kept me interested. I wondered how the character’s life would develop and knew that she had motivations beyond solving the case. And I’m interested in how family life affects the character’s decisions, information gathering and thinking. How would a mother approach a case differently than an unencumbered man?

Bland wrote Marti in a way that kept her out of the cozy side of the genre (which is where sleuths tend to face those issues, more, I think).

Several of my favorite female sleuths face those family questions, including Marti McAlister, Tamara Hayle, Charlotte Justice (novels by Paula Woods).

Bland died at age 65. I’ve only seen one long obituary on her. It makes me think that there are many readers who have missed out on her work. And that makes me sad. I had to look for her work, but when I found it, I loved it.

If you love mysteries, female sleuths, stories about justice-loving working women - go read one of her books. Here's a list.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Things I need to make time for

Time seems really short to me these days. I hear about something that interests me, but can't get to it and then three days later it's too far from my mind for me to go back, remember and read it. So, before I forget, here are some bookish things I hope to get to soon. Maybe this will spark your memory?

I'm interested in William Jelani Cobb's new book on President Obama: The Substance of Hope
Did you know that Dr. Cobb has been in Russia for a few months? Very interesting updates from his Twitter timeline (@jelani9). He's on his way to the U.S. right now and launching the book at the Carter Center in Atlanta in a few days.

When I'm feeling a low and needing to pump myself up, I go to Mary J. Blige. She so rocks that Black woman swagger vibe. (And yes, I believe women have swagger and I am getting better at remembering mine). So I really want to read Mark Anthony Neal's essay on Mary J. Blige as the "New American Voice." (He's @newblackman on Twitter) MJB has been cast as Nina Simone for a biopic about the singer. I have real mixed feelings about that. I have doubts MJB's acting ability for what I think is such an amazing role. But I do love MJB ...

And I hope to get The Little Black Book of Success this weekend. It's by three corporate professionals who wrote down leadership advice targeted at Black women. One of my little dreams is to read this with a group of corporate women I know and do a discussion or discussions about it.

What's on your TBR (To be read) list?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Red Velvet Cake Day

This post is not at all about books. Consider yourself warned.

My birthday is tomorrow. It’s a big one. And for awhile I’ve been thinking I should do something big. Go back to Paris. Create a bucket list. Do a zip line experience. Throw a big party.

And I didn’t do any of it. I have lots of excuses, but they’re just excuses. With enough planning, faith and creativity I could have made those things happen. I just didn’t.

I decided a week ago that I would do something, though.

I would make a red velvet cake from scratch.

[I used Tayari Jones' amazing recipe. Wonderful.]

No, this is not a life-shattering moment. It’s not even my first time making a red velvet cake (RVC) from scratch. (And yes, my health-conscious friends, I know it is full of sugar and red dye. It’s not a staple food – I will be back to kale smoothies tomorrow).

But it’s been a long time. And I love RVC.

I’d decided that my birthday would be my own National RVC day. I would have at least one piece of RVC for my birthday.

Usually I’m a little disappointed in the RVC I buy in stores and restaurants. There are a few exceptions.

I didn’t want to be disappointed this year. Though I was really tired today and we started late (I made the cake with my kids), I persevered!

Using Tayari Jones’ recipe, I ended up with a beautiful cake. In spite of …
Not having three cake pans (used a Bundt pan instead)
Putting in the wrong amount of butter (added the last of the butter about 5 steps late)
Thinking I didn’t have vinegar – and finding it at the last minute.

What I remembered as I iced the cake after 9 p.m., I felt silly. I baked a cake for myself even though I wasn’t having a party or even dinner with friends.

I wished so to be close enough geographically to my mother an aunts so I could ask one of them to bake a cake for me. It sounds very selfish. It is.

And that’s what I remember that my great aunts and aunts do and did for each other. So many times I remember hearing one aunt say she’d gone to pick up her cake from my Aunt “L” [not using their full names]. Or being in the house when my mother was baking someone a cake or pie – or two – one for their family and one just for that person.

Baking a cake for someone is such an obvious labor of love. It takes time, a little of your own money, and skill. And the fortitude to create something wonderful that you’ll send out of your house.
As I put the icing on the cake – and I am terrible at icing a cake – I wished I had someone who loved me enough to bake me cake.

The truth is, there are many people who love me that much. I know that.

And the ones who would (and do!) bake me cakes are just too far away.

But I could do it for myself. I love myself that much.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A few quick links

Just enough time to share a few links.

Tayari Jones is boycotting Arizona to protest the immigration law and racial profiling. She cancelled an appearance. During a recession. In the state where she finished her MFA. Amazing.

I really want to read Hellhound on his Trail, a book about the King assassination that traces the movements of James Earl Ray before he killed Dr. King. (Link is to the interview with author Hampton Sides on Fresh Air).

Attica Locke's novel, Black Water Rising, is on the shortlist for the Orange Prize.

What are your book habits?

Last night I remembered the time in my life when I had to read the "Ferber book". For those who haven't been exposed to it, it's a pediatrician's book about children's sleep and sleep disorders. When I read it, specifically the information about sleep habits, I realized that adults have sleep habits too. And I recognized my own immediately. Without my (blessedly) simple and short sleep steps, it's slightly more difficult for me to go to sleep.

Every night I do the same thing. Get in. Turn to my right. Rest awhile. Turn to my left. Go to sleep.

It would make more sense to just be on my left side to begin with. But I can't do it that way. And if I have to, it's slightly irritating.

Other habits we've developed over years are the same. We shop for grocery at the same store in the same order every time. Or we always read the newspaper with a cup of coffee in hand. Habits.

I think we have reading and book buying habits as well. A particular place to buy or try a new book, whether it's the nearest bookstore, a discount retailer or at the public library. Or a favorite time and place for reading - that easy chair or at night before we go to sleep. (I am a little obsessed with sleep right now!)

When our habits are disrupted, we move away from reading or lose our key trigger, source or opportunity. For example, here are some of the disruptions:
A favorite bookstore closes
The bookstore's hours change (i.e. from 9 a.m. opening on Sunday, to 10 a.m.)
Location changes (I once worked one block from the public library. Even with two young children, I read so much.)
Leisure time changes (we have new friends and go out more; we have children and do less reading)
Income changes
Even displays have an impact - what if your favorite section was moved?

For me the disruptions include losing days that I could reasonably go to the library, to lack of time, to lack of non-chain retail options. (Handselling at our local African American bookstore was key. I can't remember going there without buying at least one book).

It's really odd though that I'm reading less. Because by other measures, I'm reading much more. It's just that my reading is online. But I don't buy books that can be read online.

And while I get a lot of e-mails (I'm trying to cut back) from companies, none are short stories that I can read right now. So I read essays, blogs, tweets. What if one of those emails was the next chapter in a book I've been meaning to read? What if it were just the first chapter? Would that be enough to get me to go back out tonight and buy the whole book? Or pay to download it?

I know excerpts and sample chapter are out there. They just aren't where my habits are taking me. I'm sure I'm missing something. But there's a good chance I won't turnover to see it.

What are your book, reading habits? How have they been disrupted? Are the disruptions positive or negative?

Monday, April 26, 2010

In the loop - info on our authors

One of the things I struggle with is finding out about new books by African American authors. Back when I was in college (okay, way back) it was easy. I was focused on literature and regularly going to book events on my campus and throughout the city (Atlanta).

I'd see new titles in our campus bookstore, the Shrine of the Black Madonna bookstore, Charis Books and in one of the libraries. I had the time and the focus to stay on top of it. Plus, it was Atlanta, so covering Black authors was part of the daily newspaper's content.

Now, though I follow the book world as closely as I can, it seems I miss a lot of stuff. I hear about books on NPR, via Twitter, occasionally on Facebook and from publishers.

That's why I was a little put off when I got what was labeled the "last" issue of the African American interest newsletter from Random House. I mean really, how could they stop promoting our books. Or were they just not publishing enough of them to promote?

I posed the question on Twitter - why did you stop the newsletter - and @randomhouse responded. They are deferring to the newsletter from their One World imprint and there is an RSS feed you can sign up for. Okay. Got it. Here are the links for you all as well:
One World
RSS feed on African American authors

I know there are books out there that I'm missing - so I look for ways to stay in the loop. How do you follow the African American book scene?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Searching for juvenile chapter books

Juvenile chapter books are big in our house right now. My son is an avid reader (Yay!) and he devours every chapter book. When we go the library I make sure to find books featuring African American characters and present them to him- sometimes it takes more looking than a young child might thing to do.

And I love finding books featuring African American boys. He’s very young still, so I have to be careful when I’m in more of the YA section rather than juvenile. Those 12+ themes are still too much for him, I think.

So on my last trip home I saw my 1970s copy of Sounder, by William H. Anderson. I remember a little about the story and that I was very affected by it. I think I may have read it in 3rd or 4th grade.

I’m going to re-read it, though, to see if he’s ready for it.

We may even be able to see the movie with Paul Winfield (I think there is a remake also with Carl Lumbly).

I’m starting a list of books to check out for him and pre-read. Today, via Twitter, I saw mention of Eighth Grade Superzero, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

Here are some other possible titles on my list.

Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor – which is rated for grades 5 – 7 (Yay!)

Locomotion (and other titles) by Jacqueline Woodson

The Ziggy series from Sharon Draper

Mildred Taylor’s (author of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry) books – we have a few already.

Donovan’s Word Jar, by Monalisa DeGross (we enjoyed Donovan’s Double Trouble)

What chapter books featuring Black characters do you remember reading? What books have the kids in your life enjoyed? Post suggestions in comments.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Getting my reading mojo back

I haven’t been reading for awhile. I realized at the end of February that it had been a long while, maybe even months since I’d really read something in the way I loved. Falling in love with a book, staying up too late to read and sneaking in a few pages whenever I could – at lunch during work, while the kids put on their pajamas – just bits and pieces.

Last semester I took my first class in an MFA program and we had a heavy reading load (heavy for me, a fulltime working mother of two). So I had lots of pages that I was obligated to read. Some of the work we read was very enjoyable too. But some of it was just trudging through to learn more about the craft – it was fiction I wouldn’t have chosen on my own.

I think that was part of my reading drought of a couple of months. I was just taking a break from the grad school reading list and dealing with some surprises at home.

But I really missed it.

And I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to read. I wished for a new Octavia Butler novel and came close to re-reading the Patternmaster books again (for perhaps the fourth time).

Then I remembered how many authors I’m following on FB and Twitter and that Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant’s new novel, Uptown, was going to be out at the beginning of March. I was excited – I just wanted something that would be engaging, modern and smart.

So I bought it the week it was out – even though the B&N closest to our house didn’t have it. We drove to another location that had it … and luckily I had a gift certificate designated for my kids to get their own stacks of books.

Anyway, back to Uptown. I didn’t really have dedicated time to get into it until I took a trip by myself two weeks later. (Travelling alone by air is one of my favorite things – there’s always a coffee shop in the airport, snacks and books and magazines. And no one to talk to or answer to!).

Once I had the time and got into the novel, I was hooked. It was everything I said above – engaging, modern (really timely plot) and smart.

Deberry and Grant gave us real characters with real problems – there were challenges, but they didn’t seem contrived. Big enough to propel the story, but not so far fetched that I didn’t connect with the characters.

By the time I learned what Avery’s secret was, I was aching to know.

And somehow, I felt sad for Dwight. I feel I should have hated him outright, but it didn’t happen that way. In fact, I think he got a raw deal and no one could show him how else to handle it.

When you read the book, make sure to read the author’s letter at the end. And do save it until the end. It’s a nice essay about the role place can play in a novel. The setting isn’t just a backdrop – it should be a dynamic part of the work.

Now that I’m reading again, I’m looking forward to getting some of the books I’ve missed and am hearing good things about. I think Attica Locke’s Blackwater Uprising has next. I’ll have to see if anyone has it in stock today. Others on my list are Wench, by Dolen Perkins - Valdez, Tiphanie Yanique's collection, and Leonard Pitts' debut novel.

What else should I check for?