Building Personal Libraries with Jamillah Gabriel of ‘Call Number’

So if you’ve been following me long enough you know I like to switch it up (my site name, content, layout, etc.) and as we approach this new year I want to try something different…a quasi-podcast. I say quasi because it’s not necessarily a weekly thing; these will be bibliophilic conversations I have with friends, scholars, etc. to allow yet another space for book lovers to gush over literature. Below is my pre-pilot episode. Jamillah Gabriel, founder of ‘Call Number’–a book subscription service–was kind enough to be my first interviewee. Check it out below and pardon some of the technical issues…I’m still improving ya’ll!

Be sure to follow ‘Call Number’ at call number box on twitter, instagram, and Facebook. And subscribe to ‘Call Number’ today at callnumber.com

‘Atlanta’ & Absurdism

Who loves the show ‘Atlanta’?

Who’s sad that the first season finale is tonight?

Who picked up on the show’s absurdism?

If you’re any of the above, check out my latest analysis of the show and the characters’ relation to Sisyphus. Go head and click: HERE

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Book Review

In the introduction to her 1983 collection of interviews with black women writers, Claudia Tate explained the difference between the black hero’s and the black heroine’s quest for self-affirmation and identity. While both the black hero and the black heroine are in search of “increasingly higher levels of emotional and intellectual awareness of the self and the outside world,” the process by which they journey to such a destination differs. The black hero’s journey is often an external exploration requiring his physical departure from his home/community of origin. The black heroine’s journey is internal requiring physical isolation or restriction. She is not detached from responsibilities as often times these heroines are mothers, wives, etc. Therefore the black heroine’s destination is not a place, but rather, a state of mind. Writer and Filmmaker Kathleen Collins employs this dynamic exploration of the internal journey throughout her posthumous collection of short stories,  Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? But Collins’ doesn’t make that internal journey exclusive to her black heroines; she extends it to her black hero’s as she delves into the murky mist of self-reckoning. But by expanding Tate’s theory of isolation to her black hero’s, Collins, inadvertently, examines the ways in which such physical isolation affect both her male and female characters. Where the isolation is a therapeutic experience for her heroines it is a crushing life-threatening experience for her heroes.  This curious examination reveals Collins deep interest not with the physical outcome of her characters, but rather, their interior resolution of their lives and place in the world. Whatever results from such resolution is purely circumstantial.

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The first couplet of stories appropriately titled “Exteriors” and “Interiors” set the tone for which the following fourteen stories will take. We begin with the external voyeuristic view of a couple whose marriage is unhinging in “Exteriors”. The husband goes off on a whimsical excursion while the wife is left in isolation. Or rather, the wife chooses isolation. In “Interiors” the wife is not lamenting the reasons why her husband left, instead she voluntarily enters a “benevolent solitude” where she steps into herself and explores her horizon. She plays the violin, she starts a home garden, she takes on lovers–however inept–she creates art. All of these are attempts to understand herself while also resolving an independent identity in the face of her broken marriage.

Collins presents isolation as a choice, a reprieve from the external world, an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole falling experience where one discovers the depths of one’s own soul, when it comes to her female characters. But a reprieve it is not for her male characters. Where the wife in “Interiors” emerges with her life and some sort of hope for the future, the Uncle in “The Uncle” isn’t as fortunate. His external circumstances have forced him no other option but isolation and in those confines he is never able to emerge with his life or any such hope for his future. Such is the same for the young man in “Only Once.” Isolation, for these men, is instead a cocoon, a Plato’s cave of manipulated images from their external reality are reflected in their internal resolutions preventing them from ever rising to the light. This dichotomy continues to play throughout Collins’ stories and characters: a disenchanted young woman who finds solace in a dark closet, an ill-fated lover and his gun, a playwright in suburbia, another abandoned wife who retreats into a new home. Many of these characters are faced with the external challenges of race, gender, class, and unfulfilled relationships, but Collin does not focus on the external. Instead she takes us into each character’s interior challenge of reconciling a self-image despite, or perhaps in spite of their outside circumstances.

There is a rebellious undertone in Collins’ work threading itself through each story. From the daughter who commits the “unforgivable sin of (“Negro”) girlhood” by cutting her hair and therefore turning herself into “any other Negro,” to the man who takes his own life, to the black middle-class girl from New Jersey agrees to marry her white lover in 1963 as they both naively confront the south and racial segregation, Collins presents unconventional resolutions that are not tidy, but instead a form of rebellion from what each of these characters are expected to be from the outside looking in. Each character is trying to find themselves and it’s a journey that requires the painful task of rejecting the external labels which have been arbitrarily placed on them from white-supremacy ideas of blackness to their own black bourgeois community’s.  In these rebellious internal resolutions Collins is  calling for a deep introspection of us all. Her work reminds us that we are humans first and our journeys toward seeking higher levels of emotional and intellectual awareness begin with our individual selves first.

That confrontation of self is often brutal and not all of her characters make it out alive, but the point is not to make it out alive, the point is to go through the process of delving deep into one’s self. That alone is one of the bravest things any human can do. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Collins’s critical but sympathetic gaze on the black bourgeois is a perspective reminiscent of Nella Larsen, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dorothy West. Her insistence on the human spirit and internal self first allows her voice to be dynamic, idiosyncratic, and refreshing.  I only wish that there was more.

Be sure to pick up Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? when it arrives this December.

Taking Her Time: A Reflection on Solange & A History of Black Women Creatives who Couldn’t Afford to

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I recently wrote a piece reflecting on the anomaly of Solange taking 4 years to create her latest album, A Seat at the Table. Historically, black women creatives have not had the luxury to take their time, so not only is Solange’s act subversive but it’s a cause for celebration.

Read the piece in its entirety at The Establishment

‘The Healer’ in RookieMag

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I’m very excited to share that my short story, ‘The Healer’ has been featured in RookieMag’s Infinity issue! Storytelling is my passion and to have that validation of connection with readers is an amazing feeling. I am so appreciative of all of the support sent my way. Click HERE to read the story!

Women Who Write: Naki Akrobettoe

Back at it again with yet another Woman Writer!

Naki Akrobettoe is an acclaimed poet and spoken-word artist. She’s released two albums, given TEDtalks in Ghana, and is currently working on her first collections of poems.

I got the privilege to sit down with Naki and learn about her love for poetry and home in her piece, “Crown Morning Gold”.

Watch below:

Learn more about Naki at Nakispeaks.com 

Women Who Write: Raven Starr

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’tve left you without a dope beat to step to, step to…

I’ve been gone for a minute, but I’m back with another profile on yet another brilliant writer. Raven Starr is a poet whose vulnerability is so authentic it will inspire you to be just as open. She’s raw, she’s honest, and she’s talented. Check out the amazing piece she shared with me, “It was 12 a.m. and I Thought I was a Rapper”

 

Ain’t I A Mother: Motherhood as Freedom in ‘Underground’

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WGN’s ‘Underground’

It’s been a while (a long, looong while) but I’m back with some thoughts to share, specifically regarding Underground. I love the show since the premiere and that love has required a lot of defending against haters. But now that the season has ended I’ve had time to mull over a lot of the things that struck me and one of those things is motherhood. Season one presents us with three black women who are slaves on a Georgia plantation. What’s unique about these women is their declaration of motherhood, a right not afforded to them due to their being, legally, property. That declaration of motherhood is a form of freedom as violently toiled for as physically escaping the plantation.

Toni Morrison first presented the argument for motherhood as freedom in her novel, Beloved. Morrison looks at real-life Margaret Garner and how her decision to kill her child was Garner’s defense against slavery and assertion of motherhood. I believe, in their own way, the mothers of Underground are odes to Garner and mothers alike in the age of slavery who did not allow an institution of hate and violence bar them from claiming, loving, and protecting their children.

You can read my piece on Catapult!

 

Baltimore Uprising Photographer, Devin Allen: Where Art Meets Activism

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I wrote a piece on famed Baltimore photographer, Devin Allen, and the relationship between Art and Activism.

Read about it at QuirkyBrownLove!

“The Healer Woman” a short story

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“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.” – Luke 7:47

I recently wrote a short story about 3 generations of women, sins, and atonement. It’s up on Catapult, check out an except below. As always, I love to hear your feedback:

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There was banging at the door. It rattled the hinges and shook the frame. It scared the birds nestled in the oaks, and for one imperceptible moment it made the cicadas pause their screeching. The banging persisted for a while before rousing Mama Harris, but Jayda jolted up on the couch immediately. It had been two months since Jayda’s mother sent her to spend the summer with her great-grandmother and she still wasn’t accustomed to the sound of Mama Harris’ door rattling all hours of the night. Jayda heard the floorboards creak and saw the shadow of Mama Harris holding her lantern as she waded through the darkness. She could see the tall broad woman in her night gown and head rag. She looked tired, worn, like old age was a ten ton burden weighing on her shoulders. Her eyes were rheumy and sagged in the wrinkled pouches of her skin. But no matter how old or how tired, she always answered her door.

Mama Harris could see the silhouette of a woman from the sheer curtain over the door’s window. She knew it was a woman because they were the only ones to knock on her door. She pulled back the curtain, and held up her lantern. The woman’s head was shielded in a floral veil, but Mama Harris could see the left eye that was swollen shut and the reddening bruise across her cheek. Those scars were no stranger to her, neither was the face behind them. The sight of the woman made Mama Harris’ spine stiffen. She hadn’t seen her since she’d run off with the man Mama Harris warned would only bring her trouble. And while she had grieved heavily for the girl, she extracted some peace in her absence. With her gone Mama Harris could forget her previous sins and bring an end to her private penance. But now the woman was back banging at Mama Harris’ door. Surely this was God calling for her atonement, but God had come at an inopportune time. She resolved that if she couldn’t bargain for an extension she’d use everything in her natural power to snatch it.

“Boil some water and fill the basin,” Mama said over her shoulder to Jayda. The woman starred into the eyes of Mama and halted her banging.

“Mama,” the woman whispered in a choked voice.

Mama Harris opened the door and the woman stumbled in.

Finish reading on Catapult.