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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BookMates episode 5

There’s only one way to read a “book”….right? Watch below!

Tank you all for riding with me and the cast of ‘BookMates’ on this journey! We’ve got more to come. Please feel free to like, share, and subscribe to my YouTube channel as so much more content is in store. Your support and feedback is most welcome.

Zadie Smith’s ‘Swing Time’ & the deferred dream

swing-time

I work in marketing. I enjoy it, but it’s not exactly what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. In fact, there are often times when I’m stricken, at my desk, with a paralyzing fear that I’ve somehow become one of those people. You know, those people who talk about the grand dreams they once had for themselves but are now living out something disappointingly opposite? It’s been a fear since I was a young girl, to be given all this life and somehow waste it on something I never intended to do. I fear that the dreams I have for myself and my life will somehow become a shell of a memory and I, too, will be speaking about what I once hoped for. I’m afraid that I’ll become like the narrator of Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time, the no-name brown girl who deffered her dreams and life for the sake of managing someone else’s. 

Swing Time is described as “a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them.” It’s a novel wide in scope touching so many bases, but underneath the plethora of themes, tangents, and subplots, what I found most compelling is Smith’s exploration of dreams, success, and the affect time has on both. 

We meet the unnamed protagonist and her friend, Tracey, when they are ten years old. Both girls are joining Miss. Isabel’s dance class, both are brown, and both have a deep love for dance. These three things become the building blocks upon which a shaky friendship is built. Though they both are mixed-race, live in estates, and have a passion for dancing, they come from two different worlds. The unnamed friend’s parents are “reversed” in their pairing; the father is white and the mother is a Jamaican feminist with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and mobility. Tracey’s world is the inverse; her Jamaican father is frequently absent and her white mother has an insatiable love for musicals and Michael Jackson.

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Zadie Smith

It’s these two worlds that are always threatening the girls’ friendship. Where the unnamed protagonist’s mother wants her to steer clear of Tracey, the unnamed girl only grows more infatuated with Tracey’s “freedom,” charm, and talent. But despite their opposing worlds (read: mothers), the two girls hold onto their love and dream of dancing until that singular dream is split into two roads: one which the talented Tracey travels confidently toward and the other which the flat-footed—thus, ill-fitted for dance—unnamed protagonist painfully avoids. This divergence of paths is not singularly the physical mechanics making one girl best suited for dance over the other; while Tracey’s mother supports her daughter auditioning and attending the full-time dance school, the unnamed protagonist’s mother forbids her daughter, instead, demanding that she focus on the only important thing in life, which are the things that can be written down. This mother’s dreams of intelligence, dreams of choices, dreams of opportunity for her daughter—the opportunity to disrupt the cycle of poverty, teenage pregnancy, and illiteracy—overshadows whatever dream the daughter has of dancing. We continue to watch this, however inadvertent, deferment of a dream dry up in the girl’s heart festering a rebellion, a bitterness, a jealousy instead.

Swing Time is Smith’s usual epic of ideas and observations about race, gender, class, family, identity, and London. We follow the unnamed protagonist from London to New York to West Africa and learn of globalization, white privilege, matriarchal societies, and–of course–dance. And while readers are required to do their usual sifting through long-winded prose, and some anti-climatic dramas, continuing forth leads to the heart of the story: time, dreams, success, and how the former informs everything.

Ten plus years since meeting Tracey, and developing that dream of dancing, the unnamed protagonist has chosen a shadow of a life where she is a single blade on the propeller of someone else’s dream. She lives in the enclaves of someone else’s life, reducing her own purpose to making someone else’s dreams possible. Her entire reason for being in West Africa is lay down the blueprint and monitor the success of someone else’s vision. It’s an act, a relationship that is no different from the one the unnamed protagonist engaged with Tracey and her own mother. She is consistently surrounded by headstrong women with desires that cannot be extinguished by any outside influences. They railroad the world, and people like the unnamed protagonist, with their tenacious pursuit of their vision. The success of the unnamed protagonist’s relationship with these women is the deferment of her own dreams. And she does so, willingly, exchanging her own happiness for the envy of others living theirs and relishing at the joy of any one’s failure, specifically Tracey’s. 

Through traveling their respective roads, Tracey and the unnamed protagonist again become paralleled as adults when each looks upon the other at Tracey’s dining room table only to find that neither are who they imagined themselves to be. Amidst that air of unspoken tension and pain is the question of success: which woman was successful, which one beat the odds…the b-list dancer who never left the estates or the no-name assistant forced to return? Were they both doomed to end up here despite whatever path they jumped on in hopes of escaping? Tracey doesn’t necessarily become the biggest star in the dance world, but is it better than spending half one’s life as the stagehand to someone else’s? Such is the same with the protagonist’s mother; she may not have been able to save the world, and her people, in the way that she thought she could, but nonetheless she tried. We are not in control of where our dreams lead us, but the bravery and the triumph is not in the destination but the journey.

But we’ve heard their stories before. We’ve read of the people who fight against the odds to make their dreams come true. We’ve seen the Traceys in Marilyn, Dorothy, and even Nella Larsen’s Clare Kendry. Very rarely do we hear from the other side–the Ethels, the Irenes, the Cindy Lou’s–the people running the well oiled machine of dreams, and the people who get hurt at the expense of the dream chasers. The unnamed protagonist gives us a thorough glimpse in Swing Time, a novel that I can only think of as an extension of Langston Hughes’ question of what happens to a deferred dream:

“Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?”

A Small Place — A Review

a small place

Published: 1988

Publisher: (Farrar, Straus, and Grioux)

Pages: 81

Synopsis: A Small Place is a part fictional and part autobiographical novel published in 1988 by Jamaica Kincaid. The work is an indictment of the Antiguan government, the tourist industry and Antigua’s British colonial legacy.

Review: “Antigua is beautiful. Antigua is too beautiful. Sometimes the beauty of it seems unreal,” says Kincaid in her 81-paged analysis of her homeland. A Small Place is the controversial book that resulted in Kincaid’s 5 year ban from Antigua, and serves as the basis for the documentary, Life and Debt. Kincaid does what she always does, brilliantly links the past to the present, something she laments as a difficult task for Antiguans who aren’t often privy to the bigger picture.

“Antigua is a small place. Antigua is a very small place. In Antigua, not only is the event turned into everyday but the everyday is turned into an event” – Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid takes readers through some of the events in Antiguan history that have perpetuated corruption, poverty, and neo-colonialism. Of course, these are not topics that trouble the minds of (mainly white) tourists who flock to this Caribbean destination for a respite from their “amniotic sac of the modern experience.” Beautiful though Antigua may be, Kincaid makes no attempt to continue the idea of Island Paradise. Instead she takes tourism to task, confronting their voluntary ignorance and exoticism of a land where “there is no proper sewage-disposal system,” an indefinitely closed library, a hospital so run-down Westerners “would not feel confident leaving a domestic animal there,” and a corrupt system of importation of goods such as the food being served in the lavish hotels. Kincaid takes away the bliss of ignorance in her direct address to tourists. She informs that they too are natives of somewhere but, unlike them, the natives they exoticize on their vacations do not have the luxury to escape their own “banality and boredom”. The “source of pleasure” tourists are privileged to experience while visiting Antigua comes at the expense of those who cannot escape.

I am becoming an admirer of Kincaid. Her voice is often criticized for being angry and vengeful, but I find her words to always be breaths of fresh, honest, air. She does not shy away from the truth or make it palatable for readers; if you are going to pick up one of her books then you must be prepared for the mirror she holds up reflecting the atrocities colonialism has inflicted on the world, specifically the West Indies.

“Do you ever try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget?” – Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place is not a flowery tour-guide of Antigua, it is a beautifully written, starkly honest look into not only the events that shaped the ten-by-twelve-mile island, but into humanity and its willfully ignorant transgressions against those rendered “other.” It is worth the read and Kincaid’s voice is worth listening to.

Rating: 5/5

*This novel completes the following reading challenge: Read One Book in a Day

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge

(via http://modernmrsdarcy.com/2016-reading-challenge/)

Happy New Year! I’m about a week late, but I’m here nonetheless. 2015 was a phenomenal year, not without its series of challenges, but one thing I wish I would have done was read more–says the girl maintaining a book blog! Luckily there is this thing called “New Years’ Resolutions,” where I can magically rectify all of my mishaps from last year. That is why I’ve decided to take on this 2016 reading challenge!

I’ve already checked off the first box with Shonda Rhimes’, Year of YesI know, technically, it wasn’t published in 2016, but we’re only 2 weeks in.

I’m not quite sure how I am going to go about completing the list–I am almost certain I won’t be going in order. What I have decided to do is complete one challenge per month. January is already complete. I’ll be back to update in February.

Of course I’ll be reading, and posting, in the meantime.

What are some of your literary resolutions/challenges?

13 year old Jada Williams Kicked Out of School for Essay

“If you teach that nigger…how to read, there will be no keeping him,” Mr. Auld, a slave master, said of Frederick Douglass when he caught his wife teaching a young Douglass how to read. That was in 1845. 170 years later we see the words of Mr. Auld replaying in the actions against 13 year old Jada Williams.

Jada Williams was an 8th grade student attending School #3 in Rochester, New York when she wrote a comparative analysis on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York. In her essay she boldly connects Douglass’ deliberately being refused an education to present day schooling. She observed that her white teachers are in a

“position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.” – Jada Williams

The school’s reaction was one that would make Douglass’ slave owner proud. The teacher’s began a campaign of harassment and kicked Williams out of class–with hopes of a suspension–ultimately resulting in her parents withdrawing her from the school.

Though Williams was given an award by the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York on the merit that her essay proved she thoroughly understood the autobiography–they also sought to question the school about their actions–Williams’ essay reveals the continued oppression and suppression children of color face in the classroom.

Watch Jada Williams read her essay here:

Read Liz Dwyer thorough examination of this case here: “A 13-Year-Old’s Slavery Analogy Raises Some Uncomfortable Truths in School”

 

Book Haul

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My local library was having an incredible book-sale–fill a bag of books for only $3!–so I had to check it out. Here are some books I picked up:

  • My Education, Susan Choi
  • My Jim, Nancy Rawles
  • In The Woods, Tana French
  • Rosa Parks: My Story, Rosa Parks
  • See Now Then, Jamaica Kincaid
  • The First Bad Man, Miranda July
  • The House Girl, Tara Conklin

“Every child needs a champion”

Literacy and Black Americans have shared an enduring relationship. I travelled to Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana recently and on The Wall of Horror—a wall detailing the horrific experience as a black slave in America—there are quotes shedding light on the violent punishment slaves would face if caught reading—25 lashes if ever caught with a pen or paper in hand. Frederick Douglass’ own story illustrates the visceral desire to read and the terrible pain that came with learning how to do so.

“I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow‐slaves for their stupidity.” – Frederick Douglass

Phillis Wheatley’s literacy and mastering of language through poetry forced her, too, a sense of agony of not being able to have her books of poems initially published. White American colonizers—Thomas Jefferson included—believed that:

“Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.” – Thomas Jefferson

The ability to read and write was a right purposefully kept away from Africans forced to work as slaves in America (Caribbean and South America as well) because, as William Lynch said:

“If you take a slave, if you teach him all about your language, he will know all your secrets, and he is then no more a slave, for you can’t fool him any longer, and being a fool is one of the basic ingredients of any incidents to the maintenance of the slavery system” – William Lynch

If an enslaved person had the ability to think independently, logically and to articulate the illogic and inhumane institution of chattel slavery back to the master who manipulated Bible Scriptures to paint lies that told Africans they were born to be slaves—heirs of Cain’s mark—then slavery as White American and European Colonizers created it would be over and so would be the profits of their exploitation of labor and lives. Needless to say Literacy and Liberation were directly intertwined and Black American slaves quest for either could result in violent consequences—death not excluded.

But if one were to guess that these individuals carried on a life of illiteracy one would be mistaken. Slaves who were lettered risked their lives to share such knowledge with their peers. Every negro spiritual sung on the field told a story; many told the route toward the underground railroad famously travelled by a conductor of the name of Harriet Tubman who carried thousands of slaves to freedom. Such in intricate and elaborate trip from the depths of the south to the opening of the north could not have been done by those who were illiterate. The idea that literacy is only expressed through the ability to read flat text is a myopic one, to put it nicely. Everything from the music, to the folktales, to the quilts and markings of safe-houses along the underground railroad proved that Black American slaves had found a way to express Literacy and to go in search of their liberation in spite of the violent consequences, but when the confederate south Surrendered to the north Reconstruction will prove to be a period of great hope and a period of great despair.

In Margaret Walker’s, Jubilee, one thing Vyry, the protagonist, wanted most for her children after the Surrender was to go to school:

“I wants my chilluns to go to school, too, and learn how to read and write and cipher”                                                                                                                                     – Jubilee

The economic disparity within the south, along with the continuing racial tension, after the war made it difficult for schools to exist

“The question of sending white and black to school together was always answered by a storm of protest, and violence erupted every time there was an attempt to put such schools into operation. The negroes themselves were crying for education, and by 1870 the Freedmen’s Bureau had established a few schools in every southern state. These schools, of course, were not free”

                                                                                                                          –Jubilee

What’s more was that white individuals were willing to refuse schools if it meant black children being able to learn beside them. Black people were now “free” by definition, but a lack of flat-text literacy left them vulnerable to further labor exploitation through share-cropping and countless other exploits. My grandmother told me the story of her mother being unable to read or write and in the place of her name she would mark an X. My great-grandmother was by no means an unintelligent woman, but that lack of flat-text literacy made her depended on the literacy of her children so much so that my grandmother expressed how she worried about her mother and who was assisting her with her documents when my grandmother moved away.

  Even black americans who were flat-text literate faced violent attacks from the newly developing Klu Klux Klan that was determined to restore white-supremacy in the south. Black Americans now had more options than before to become flat-text literate, but limited means and the familiar threat of violence continued to make an already task even more daunting. So here I am, a century after the failing of Reconstruction, working for a literacy-based program in Americorps. How did I get here? Why did I chose to be here?

The answer is in that century—and counting—long struggle for the literacy and liberation of Black Americans (and across the Diaspora). During the time of Reconstruction when so many young children of former slaves were left without formal education, many people stepped up to educate them as best they could; it was not easy by any means and the battle between school and economic support was, and still is, a battle that incapacitated a lot of black Americans from receiving education. Had it not been for these nameless people lost in history I would not, could not, have been the woman I am today with my nose forever hidden behind the creased spine of a book I’ve annotated to death.

There is a sense of gratitude I feel for people like Mary McLoud Bathune, Marva Collins, and Rita Pierson—educators who focused on the needs of the black community, who gave of themselves the knowledge that was eclipsed from us over one-hundred years ago. I am also grateful for people like my seventh-grade librarian who let me work with her to cancel out books from her database then take home whatever cancelled books I wanted; she was my resource for finding books about girls whose hair, face, culture, and family was like my own. She helped me to articulate my thoughts, and most of all, she encouraged my budding love for reading. Where would I have been if it weren’t for the individuals in my life who rooted for me, who pushed me, who gave of themselves so that I could be the best version of myself?

I joined this literacy-based program because I wanted to be what Dr. Rita Pierson calls a “champion.” I wanted to be what those nameless individuals were who risked their lives during slavery to teach others how to read, those who combined their resources to conduct schools in church-houses for black children during Reconstruction, those who continued on through several liberation movements, through several threats of violence to gift their people with literacy.

“Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be” – Rita Pierson

I’ve never planned on becoming a formal teacher–I often have to ignore the pestering of others trying to understand why I’m doing this (as if volunteering a year to educating the next generation is so terrible), but when I think of the life of one of the most influential revolutionaries in the world, a revolutionary who co-founded a black self-defense movement that extended to include and inspire the self-defense and liberation of the proletariat people of, across, and beyond America, I think of the fact that he, Huey P. Newton, could not read until after high school. Like Malcolm X, Huey’s evolving literacy level directly elevated his mind and his passion for liberation. I know I cannot magically enhance the reading-level of every young student I come into contact with, but my hope is I will be the best champion I can be so that no other Huey P. Newtown makes it to seventeen without being able to read, without the access to the means to articulate the innate intelligence within.