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.