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.