An American Marriage, review

At sixteen I thought I knew what romantic love was. Head over heels for a boy who turned my world completely upside down there was never a doubt in my mind that what we had was real. And what was real was meant to be held onto, no matter how painful the grip. The idea of “meant to be,” began to feel more like duty than destiny and that is the conflict that ties An American Marriage by Tayari Jones together. Celestine and Roy are two individuals who think they have this love and marriage thing figured out, but life has a way of showing the both of them that they don’t know the first thing about anything. Both their love and notions of duty are tested by an unforeseen circumstance that, while unfair to both parties, reveal truths that were bound to come to light regardless.

I will admit I struggled with the story at first, but the more I kept reading, the more I saw myself in both Celestine and Roy. I understood the duty that Roy and the other men in the novel tried to impose on Celestine, knew it because I felt a sense of duty to stick by the man I had committed myself to at sixteen even when I wasn’t sure he was worth it anymore. And I understood the need for liberation and autonomy Celestine was trying to explain to everyone in the novel who seemed to ignore her voice—it’s what ultimately led me to realize what I was holding onto wasn’t worth the sacrificing of my own life. What I love most about Jones’ novel is how it gripped me in a way I was not prepared for. She has a way of crafting a mirror that so clearly reflects truths people often hide from.

At twenty-five I learned how to let go. Just as Roy realized that what he was fighting for was a phantom of a dream, something that was worthless if it had to be forced. I looked into the eyes of a man I swore I loved and realized I didn’t know him at all. I realized that what I was fighting tooth and nail for was something that did not exist between us anymore, and maybe it never did, but I knew that regardless it was not worth holding onto. I do not imagine that he and I will ever get to the point of where Celestine and Roy find themselves at the end of An American Marriage,  but I can say, confidently, that I have learned something about love: it boils down to acceptance.

The beginning of the first Corinthians scripture about love are probably the most popular, but the line that sticks with me the most is, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” I have come to understand that love is not possible without accepting the truth of who someone is just as it is not possible without revealing the truth of who you are. When Celestine and Roy are able to finally see each other for who they are—not who they want the other to be—they are able to accept one another and unlock a freedom that wasn’t possible before then. I have experienced this in my own life and I don’t believe it would have been possible without my foolish first attempt at love, just as Celestine and Roy would not have been able to arrive at their final destination without going through the journey we watch them navigate throughout the novel. The brilliance of Jones’ book is so unassuming it sneaks up on you toward the end, instantly making you want to start from the beginning again. It’s a feat so astounding I see why Oprah chose it for her book club.

If you want a light read that packs a meaningful punch, I highly recommend An American Marriage. It will stir some dormant questions in you and make you look at love, destiny, and duty in a different light. 

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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”

 

The Book of Harlan Review

I was fortunate to receive a review copy of Bernice L. McFadden’s upcoming novel, The Book of Harlan, about a young black musician who is kidnapped by Nazi soldiers and spends 5 years in a Concentration Camp. You can read my thoughts on McFadden’s latest offering over at Blavity!

Make sure to pick up The Book of Harlan when it hits shelves in May.

Flight

Keep24(Stephanie Fields, Flight)

“You want to fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down” – Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon) 

So it’s finally here! I started this project in September 2015; I had absolutely no idea where I was going with it and since its inception it has taken many twists and turns. Throughout it all–the crying, the hair pulling, the teeth decaying–I am proud to have finally completed my collection of short stories & present it to the world!

“Flight” is a multimedia collection of short stories that use photo, film, and written text to explore themes of escapism for black women. The collection features 4 short stories, films, and photosets.

I am very thankful to all of those who encouraged me through this process, it has truly been a transformative experience. I hope that you all enjoy and share; I would really like to know what you think.

Ok, enough sentiment, you can find–and follow–the collection by clicking this link HERE.

xoxo – Steph

P.S. there is MUCH more coming from me in the New Year!

Book Haul

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I’m acquiring books at a much higher rate that I’m actually reading them, but that’s a good thing–you can never, EVER, have too many books! One thing for sure, my interest in Jamaica Kincaid’s work has developed into a full-blown obsession. And I finally found a Toni Cade Bambara book! All of my findings are below:

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Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun / The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. (Lorraine Hansberry)

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Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. (Edited by Gerda Lerner)

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Gorilla, My Love. (Toni Cade Bambara)

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At the Bottom of the River. (Jamaica Kincaid)

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A Small Place. (Jamaica Kincaid)

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The Book of Night Women. (Marlon James)

2 Kincaid novels + 1 Toni Cade Bambara Novel + 1 Marlon James Novel = $20; the EXTREME HAPPINESS of finding them all in 1 place = priceless!

“Writing a Novel is Terrible…”

In September I decided to write a collection of short stories. I had a very distinct theme that was appearing in my creative narratives and I thought, “I should really hone in it and try to create a small comprehensive body of work.” In the spirit of Shonda Rhime’s Year of Yes, I said, “Yes! Let’s do it.”

It is now December and I am ready to bury my head in the sand. Probably because I’ve expanded my project to include multimedia elements, but not really. It’s the writing. The writing is so hard, especially when you’ve spent a good couple hours typing away at the keyboard thinking you’re “in your zone,” and you stop to re-read only to find a bunch of mess that you wouldn’t show anyone.

Toni Morrison admitted to taking three years to write a novel, that is not my plan. I began this journey thinking I could do four short stories with some multimedia complements and be done. As January approaches I am coming to terms with the fact that one does not simply agree to write and it be done.

Instead, it is much like how Flannery O’Connor described:

“a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”

My teeth are still healthily situated in my gums, however, I am not too sure about the state of my hair or sanity.

How do people make a career out of this?!

“Mother” is featured in Black Girls Talking “The Annex.”

 

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Black Girls Talking is a collective of four black women discussing and critiquing relevant topics from pop-culture to politics. Recently they created “The Annex,” described as a “home for cultural writing and criticism.” The Annex is seasonal and theme-based. For their premiere issue the theme is Resistance and I was humbled to have the opportunity to have a short story featured.

“Mother” is a short-story that looks at the intertwining lives of three women on an island during the eve of its revolution. The story has gone through extensive changes since being submitted to “The Annex,” but I am proud and thankful nonetheless.

You can read the full story by clicking the link.

No Disrespect–A Review

Quiet, that’s what Ebro from Hot 97 calls Sister Souljah–“I don’t see you speaking the same way you used to,” is the direct quote. Quiet seems an ill-fitted adjective for the once forceful Bronx-accented voice that rattled radio waves, television screens, and college auditoriums urging the African and Latino youth to wake up, fight against white supremacy, and to, most importantly, love and respect themselves. Her voice was voracious but clear, ferocious but honest. When Souljah spoke, you listened. Quiet she certainly was not. But that was twenty some years ago, before The Coldest Winter Ever and the Midnight Sagas that launched Souljah into the literary world capturing a loyal readership and the attention of Jada Pinkett-Smith, who is still trying to get The Coldest Winter Ever to the big screen.

“If you see me speaking, you’ll see me speaking the same way, plus the additional wisdom–hopefully,” she responds to Ebro. Today her voice packs less potency in volume but retains its clarity when speaking with the Hot 97 radio team. She’s been making her media rounds promoting her latest novel, A Moment of Silence: Midnight III, while still, always, managing to speak on the matter most dear to her heart–black people.

Though I didn’t grow up listening to Sister Souljah, my own affection for the black diasporic community introduced me to the force that was her presence. I ingested every YouTube clip/interview/song of hers I could find allowing her energy, dominance, and belief in black unity to fill me with enough optimism to navigate my PWI (predominately white institution). There was comfort in listening to a confident, loud, black woman profess her love and commitment to the people.

A sense of nostalgia came over me as I watched Souljah’s Hot 97 interview. I began to remember not only her confident character that was willing to challenge white supremacy, and Bill Clinton, but her autobiography I picked up yet never got around to reading. I went searching for the book with excitement, wanting to uncover more on the woman who rallied up the black youth, worked with Public Enemy and P.Diddy, and debated with Cornel West. What I discovered was…revealing.

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Described as:

“a fiercely candid autobiography and a survival manual for any African American woman who wants to keep her heart open and her integrity intact in 1990s America,”

No Disrespect delivers seven chapters dedicated to people—specifically men–who “educated (and mis-educated) her [Sister Souljah] about love,” and introduces readers to the ways the black family structure–or lack thereof—has been deeply damaged by white-supremacy and has, as a result, failed the black youth.

Sister Souljah likens herself to Harriet Tubman, who she believes had “African spiritual eyes,” a gift Souljah claims to be blessed with as well. This spiritual eye allows for both women to penetrate the dangers of oppression and be guided the philosophy that:

“If one is not safe, all are not safe…If life is not fair and balanced, tragedy will fall on all our houses”

Her belief in African spirituality—something that often seemed like an over-romanticized myth—and profound love for, faith in, and devotion to black people drives her to challenge institutionalized structures that set black people, and black families, up for failure. This love propels her to create a survival camp in North Carolina for black youth in the “welfare hotels” of New York. This love encourages her to open her home and heart to her students. This love ignites her to rally up influential entertainers and businesspeople to invest in a benefit concert for her camp. This love also blinds her particularly when it comes to men.

“I am no angel,” Sister Souljah professes in the first line of the note to her readers, “I am a young black sister with an unselfish heart who overdosed on love long ago.” It is with this love that Souljah bares her soul in an intimately candid memoir.

“By exposing my experiences and the experiences of many of the people around me, I hope and pray that many African men and women will gain an understanding of love and life, that they will have a chance to save themselves the pain of ignorance.”

I found myself flinching through most of the autobiography, not due to any lack of depth or one-dimensional characters, but from its brutal honesty. Souljah holds nothing back as she takes us into the heart and soul of a young woman battling severe loneliness. Being an intelligent, confident, self-aware black woman did not have men lining up to treat Sister Souljah with the respect, love, and kindness she longed for. But despite that fact, one thing remained sure, her devout love for black people. 

“No matter how backward and negative the mainstream view and image of black people, I feel compelled to reshape that image and to explore our many positive angels—because I love my own people”

That exploration of black people’s positive angles—which are prodigious—has Souljah looking quite desperate in some of her romantic choices.For a woman who is so book-smart she is rendered incapable of separating intellectual theory from romantic relationships. There comes a point when she forgoes her own principals and beliefs in the black family structure for “love.” It is then where one can see how loneliness, naiveté, and idealism can bring even the strongest woman to her knees.

“I have a problem: I love hard. Maybe too hard,” she confesses. Most of us have probably not used our theoretical notions on the broken black family structure as an excuse to remain in dysfunctional relationships, but we were all young and dumb once. We’ve often ignored the signs, the warnings from our friends, the inner-voice urging us to turn away. Love, or the many flawed and fragmented ideas of it, is equally dangerous and redemptive. Without it for ourselves we are lost, without it for our fellow human we are doomed. However, we have to find a balance between loving someone and making excuses for their inadequacies. This, I believe, is the ultimate lesson Souljah risked her vulnerability to share.

“I finally figured out what takes many people a lifetime to discover. I figured out: to love myself, to understand my value and power…”

The road to self-love is a bumpy one full of detours to places most wouldn’t shine a light on, but Souljah bravely illuminated many of her own pit-falls in an attempt to be a beacon for the lost ones she devoted a career to saving. Despite a few questionable sentiments (like homosexuality being a “lifestyle” of choice), which we can only hope have evolved in the twenty years since the publication of the book, Sister Souljah is a brilliant mind and brave soul who readily gave of herself for the progression of those she loved—black people.

Black Herstory short film

In honor of Women’s History month I wanted to create a short film that payed homage to the love, sacrifice, and overall contribution that black women have made since their 4 centuries of being in the Americas.

 

Victorie: A Review

Writing about the history of one’s own family can be tough—especially when you are met with reluctant relatives, scarce material facts, and time’s inevitable erosion of people and memories. But with a few sources and some imagination, Maryse Conde was able to conjure up the story of Victoire, her mestiza grandmother; the matriarch and the genesis of Conde’s lineage. Victorie Quidal was a mixed-race woman born in the French-Caribbean island of Marie-Galante. Her “Australian whiteness” of skin was a visual burden that brought on suspicion and mistrust from her community and lust and deceit from men. Victoire is a woman who, without the ability to read and write, gains the power of communication through her famous and delicious cooking, her devotion to music, and her friend, Anne-Marie, who took her and her daughter, Jeanne, in when Victoire had little options. Knowing where she came from, Victoire was determined to give her daughter the life and the access to education that she never had. Sacrifices were made so that the next woman wouldn’t have to suffer such. These actions were the result of a strenuous relationship between mother and daughter, both locked in their own river of emotions, unable to let flow the love both felt for the other. Through the evolution of Jeanne we witness the evolution of Guadeloupe’s new generation post the generation of emancipation. Jeanne is unable and downright unwilling to understand her mother’s servile attitude and her relationship with Anne-Marie’s husband, Boniface. Jeanne relies on education and conservative emotions. These two women, unable to find a common ground, are forever torn and lost in translation—class, language, beliefs, and generation forever keep them at a severe distance. Through this mixed-race woman’s experience in a colored-obsessed society, Conde attempts to reconstruct the foggy facts of not only Victoire’s life but the lives of those who shaped her and Conde’s family. While I believe this book had all the recipes for an intriguing read:

  • Racism
  • Colorism
  • Sexism
  • Caribbean goth

Conde’s mother even had a familiar relationship with Papa Doc! Jeanne, herself, was the daughter of a fierce activist. Despite the fascinating subjects, I found this novel to fall incredibly short of what it could have been. Victorie is part biography, part history lesson, and part social critique. I found myself to be often jarred from beautiful prose into the opinions and critiques of the author, and where I wish there were more imagination and showing stood over-telling and explanation. In the midst of all that depth is still a vagueness that leaves you desperate for more; more detail, more image, more emotion Conde poses more questions to the reader than she does provide answers or at least an imagined, fictional reconstruction of events. It’s as if she is choosy when applying her imagination; bursting certain situations with it and completely avoiding others. There are wonderful metaphors that could stand without the over-explanation of them that follows. When a book is translated from its original language I’m always hesitant to say I don’t enjoy the text. I believe that there are certain things that just aren’t able to make the translation and so more stiff language is used to replace what I am sure was much more languid and beautiful. As I continue to work on my French, I hope that I can revisit Victoire and Conde’s journey through her family history in the novel’s original language.