Sunday Reading: CoRregidora

It’s nothing short of a blessing when you can devote an entire day to reading a book, or when a book is so compelling it requires your undivided attention until completed. That was my experience with Gayl Jones’ CoRregidora. Not since I was in high school had I experienced the giddy feeling of curling up and fervently turning the next page, needing to know what happened next. CoRregidora isn’t as suspenseful as it is spellbinding. Jones’ quick pacing, perfect dialogue, and gothic themes transfixes you until you’ve realized you reached the end. And what an impactful ending it is.

There is no one that explores the sexual, emotional, social, and physical trauma of slavery on their descendants like Jones. She perfectly melds the past and present showing how we are a single thread on the spool of time, merely continuing what has already transpired before our existence. It’s dark and uncomfortable, but it’s the truth of Jones’ work that will resonate with you and shake you to your core.

I’ve been a huge admirer of Jones’ work, and CoRregidora, edited by the great Toni Morrison, is a necessary staple that should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

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Beloved, a reflection

Reading Toni Morrison is always a transformative experience, rereading her is even more so.

I had the pleasure of re-reading Beloved; a work I once found so impenetrable I was now, as an adult, able to enter with a steadier grasp that turned into profound appreciation. From the language to the characters, Morrison takes the horrifically triumphant tale of Margaret Garner and creates a world magnificent with complexity, sorrow, and healing. It was the latter that I newly discovered, which absolutely spellbound me by the time I reached the end.

This reading of Beloved gave me a deeper appreciation for Morrison’s emphasis on safe spaces. Beloved is full of them from Sethe’s keeping room where she does her introspection, to Denver’s secret garden, to Baby Sugg’s clearing space in the woods. Each of these women have a place that offer brief respites from the horror surrounding them. It reminded me that in the midst of turmoil, survival of the self is essential. These safe spaces allowed room for these women to be, to breathe, so that they could continue forth in a world rife with oppression, violence, and emotional trauma.

As equally important, Morrison also makes the case for the necessity of self-love. Baby Suggs is perhaps the best vehicle through which Morrison delivers this sermon. In that clearing space in the woods Baby Suggs urges for the black townspeople to love their heart, for “more than the lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your live-giving private parts…love your heart. For this is the prize.” Such declaration to former slaves and descendants of slaves is revolutionary as not only are they “legally” property and thought of to not be fully human, but they lived in an environment that did not breed neither love, nor joy, nor peace. And despite all of that, Baby Suggs tell all of these individuals to resists the temptation to be consumed by such trauma and, instead, rise in love.

Sethe and Denver both have to understand this in the face of their Beloved for whom they sacrifice themselves for. Denver’s discovery of her own self and the fight to preserve that self is what allows her to experience the most dynamic evolution of all the characters. It is also what helps keep her mother and sister alive. It’s a truth we’re reminded of by every flight attendant whosever demonstrated to you how to ensure the survival of yourself and loved one should the flight go awry—place the oxygen on yourself first, for without the preservation of yourself there is no hope for the survival of those who come after you.

In a novel filled with trauma, calls for self-love are laden throughout. It is what I believe to be Morrison’s call to action. Her definition of resistance is self-preservation. I’m reminded of such especially toward the end of the novel when, after Sethe has given almost life, limb, and sanity for her child who she defines as her “best thing,” Paul D reminds Sethe that it is her own self that is her “best thing.”

The testament of a truly remarkable piece of writing is when you can return to it at various moments in your life and extract different lessons along the way. It is also true that the right book will always find you at the right moment. Beloved did that for me and Morrison reminded me how important the self is and how, as Audre Lorde also says, self-preservation is the very act of political warfare.

Reading Challenge update: This is the second book I’ve completed in my challenge. I began with Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.

What We Lose book review

I have to admit I haven’t read in a while. Can you imagine how draining that is to a Bibliophile’s spirit? How could I have produced an entire web series about book lovers when I haven’t picked up a book in months, MONTHS?! Well, the short answer is, life happens and sometimes even the things you love have to be put on pause to deal with it. But I am proud to say the drought is over and I couldn’t have chosen a better book to get me back in the reading game.

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What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons looks at the complicated mother-daughter relationship and how the self-image of the latter is defined through the reflection of the former. Thandi is an undergraduate student when she suffers the loss of her mother. It is an experience that, understandably, erupts the world she once knew and catapults her into grief’s stratosphere. There we find her grappling with identity, love, loss, and life.

What we Lose is a story told in a fascinating intertextual way that rebukes traditional form and convention. Clemmons uses Biggie Smalls lyrics, pop cultural references, historical artifacts, and cultural footnotes to shape the international, intercultural, interracial reality of a young black girl straddling culture, society, and countries. Thandi’s evolution is paired alongside the evolution of her mother’s land of South Africa. Her relationship, affection, and memory of the country directly relate to her relationship with her mother through life and death. What we find is an intimate, diary-esque stream-of-conscious journey of a woman  trying to remember her mother, trying to make sense of the disease that killed her, and trying to make sense of her own self in the face of life’s traumas.

I found myself gripped immediately at the depth of Clemson’s succinct writing. Like a true millennial, she perfected the ability to convey such breadth in so few words. The impact is direct; her words hit you in all the vulnerable places one often shies from visiting. The novel’s structure is a sign of careful storytelling that is idiosyncratic yet so universal. While we may not all be able to relate to losing a mother, we surely can understand how omnipotent our mother’s presence is. We are often shaping ourselves from our hair to our morals in direct accordance with or rebellion of our mother’s. As daughters we are always seeking her approval yet turning askance at her judgement trying to hard to discover our individual selves while still aiming to be someone she can be proud of. These truths are never made more clear until the day we no longer have her voice to reassure as or her arms to comfort us, or her chastisement to guide us. I would argue that What We Lose is a meditation on that. It is a reflection of how we never stop needing our mothers, even when life takes her from us.

Clemmons takes us to that bridge we will all have to cross someday, with What We Lose she shows us what it is like to step into the land of lasting grief and how it will rock one to the core. What we learn is that life and death, gain and loss, happiness and sadness are all natural occurrences in this journey we’re traveling and while we lean on our parents to guide us through many of the dark times, there will come a day when we will have to learn to stand on our own.

Like the work of Lorraine Hansberry’s autobiography and Jean Toomer’s Cane, Clemmons blends genre, text, and discourse to bring us something greater than a story, she has delivered an irrevocable, life-altering experience.

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

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!

 

Woman Writer Wednesday: Lenora Inez Brown

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#WomenWritersWednesday is a docu-series that explores the inner lives of women writers. Writers discuss everything from inspiration to writing processes to inherited gifts.

Dramaturge and writer, Lenora Inez Brown shares why writing is horrible, the challenges for creators of color on the theatre, and what dramaturge do. Brown has published two books: The Art of Active Dramaturgy: Transforming Critical Thought into Dramatic Action, and,  New Play Development: Facilitating Creativity for Dramaturgs, Playwrights, and Everyone Else. She has also written several articles and chapters. She has been a guest dra­maturg for the Sundance Theatre Lab 2000 and 2001, the Southern Writer’s Project at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Kennedy Center’s Youth and Family Program’s New Visons/New Voices and the Cleveland Play House.

 

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and the Necessity of the Black Woman Critic

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bell hooks wrote in her book, remembered rapture: the writer at work:

“Whenever I meet black females who have compelling visions, who have knowledge of our collective buried to share or moving personal stories, I urge them to write. I plead with them to put it down somewhere in journal and diaries, just put it somewhere […] We write to leave legacies for the future.”

My piece on Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah ( @the-rachelkaadzighansah) and the Necessity of the Black Woman Critic is an urgent echoing of hooks’ words to many of the black women writer/critics from across the diaspora. While I couldn’t name you all, I hope you accept this as a token of my appreciation for the work you do in capturing our varied histories and legacies. May you, please, continue on writing it down.

You can read my latest for Blavity, Here

#WomenWriterWednesdays: Cynthia Amoah

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#WomenWritersWednesday is a docu-series that explores the inner lives of women writers. Writers discuss everything from inspiration to writing processes to inherited gifts.

Cynthia Amoah is a spoken word artist originally from Ghana. Her powerfully articulated poems have taken her around the world. She tackles subjects like race and gender as she fuses her experiences as an African and American Woman into a voice that is uniquely her own. I spoke with her about her performance style, the oratorical power of her ancestors, and the responsibility to tell her story.