Thursday, September 24, 2020

Tired

 The pages of our book will simply say we are tired.

Tired of Black women's bodies and beings not mattering.

Tired of stories of Black women's essence stolen.

Tired of Black women's tears.

This is not a book review day.

We are mourning that Breonna Taylor's life meant less than the walls of her white neighbors.

Perhaps there will be a book written about the powerful Black women who have been lifting voice for Breonna for 120 days straight in Louisville.

Today, though, we are tired.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Families are dynamic.

Families are unique.

Families are fluid.

Families are us.

Jaqueline Woodson introduces us to a nuanced family story in her lyrical way of dropping nuggets of deep meaning in an offering that is redeeming.

This is one story. One family. Yet, so many of us who are African American can resonate with the tale of yearning and acceptance; loss and redemption; belonging and longing.

Told through the alternating voices of everyone in this small unit, she gives us a glimpse of the choices we all make when faced with circumstances that may or may not alter the rest of our lives.

This is a modern story, yet timeless. It stretches back to wisdom and wit to save a bit, to own one's dreams, and to leave something for the next generation. It is as modern as when I was in college in the mid80s and a young parent in the early 90s. Woodson expertly drops in cultural markers that familiarize this story while keeping its message eternal.

It is as much the story of a teenage girl's coming out party as much as it is her mother's story of self-discovery, her father's story of belonging, and her grandparent's story of settling into a place.

Set in the New York of Woodson's own family story, this invites us to ponder how we arrived at a place and what it took to stay there, who we count in as being a part of us, and how we decide when the us as family may be too stifling, for a time, and we have to find our own way.

Melody, Iris, and Sabe, three generations of women, are the central figures of this tale that is beyond mother-daughter, but has the subtle thread that pulls us into the complexities of expectation and custom.

Malcolm, Aubrey, and PoBoy are the men in these women's lives who have the other side of the story, remembering things similarly and differently, allowing us to have a full picture of a self. Their voices are different, each told through the looking glass of time.

This is a beautifully written book that leaves us with enough hope for all their futures.

I picked up this book on Friday afternoon. It is Memorial Day Weekend. It is a time in my own late father's family when we would have all arrived at one of his siblings' homes in the Benton Harbor area for a long weekend of BBQ, family gatherings, and a memorial walk to the cemetery. We would have told the stories so they would not have been forgotten. My father and all his siblings are gone now. I am far from his migratory childhood from Arkansas to Michigan, and yet, the memories flooded me as I read this story of yearning and wanting, of love and disappointment, of acceptance and resilience. Jacqueline Woodson has gifted us again. You still have time to read it this weekend and carry the treasure with you for a long time to come.

Friday, May 22, 2020

SLAY by Brittney Morris

I adored this book.

She found her way to my shelf almost by accident. I was thinking about what to bring to The Hurston and Hughes Literary Circle for the summer of 2020. It was at the beginning of the school year and I was out shopping, picked up this book somewhere, may have even been in my travels. I was drawn by the strong art on the cover and did a quick glimpse at the back cover to be sure it was a Black female author. Criteria met for the reading circle. Then, she sat on my TBR pile because the start of the school year was a busy one for me.

She found her way to me again. It was my daughter's 16th birthday and I was trying to find the perfect book for her. I always give books on birthdays, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. This time, It was purchased on a trip and it was signed by the author, perfect gift for my girl who is beyond brilliant.  Initially she commented, "Mom, you know we have a copy of this right?" I said, "Yes, but not signed."

I'm so glad I gifted myself the week to read this book that centers a Black high school girl in a nuanced and powerful story.  There is nothing typical about SLAY, if there were even such a thing as a typical Black teen story. If there is even such a thing as the "typical Black teen story." Brittany Morris has given us a gift in a protagonist who is as contemporary as Slack and TikTok and as timeless as adolescents forging an identity separate from what they think are their parents expectations.

The protagonist, Kiera, lives in Bellevue, Washington. Not a very populous state for African American teens.  She is a senior in high school and has a little sister. It almost mirrored my family dynamic. I settled in for a delight. She is in a life place that was not unlike my older daughter when she was 17 and trying to figure out colleges. Was the place she thought of all these years the place she really wanted to attend? What did she want? And what pressures did she feel being a superior minority in her high school? How exhausting was it to be the encyclopedia of Blackness? Kiera, like my daughter, wanted an escape from that pressure and like my daughter, was primarily considering a place where she could just be herself.

This book covers issues of identity, who is Black and Black enough, if there is one way to be Black or not in a country that often considered being African American a problem to be eradicated. It is a book of discovery of oneself and what one really ones out of life and yes, it is a book about a video game developer who finds more truth than she imagined.

Brittney Morris gives us a beautiful story of self-discovery and a glimpse of what the next generation of young Black adults can be if they embrace the possibility that all of us can be excellent, that there isn't one way to be Black, and that the talents are endless.

I highly recommend this book.

Follow the author on Twitter @BrittneyMMorris.

Follow me on Twitter @lattegriot

I am Taye´ Foster Bradshaw and my girls SLAY all day!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ayiti, Cheri - Haitian Heritage Month and a Novel that Celebrates Her


Oh to love your mother, your family, and your ancestral homeland.
To want to know her in a deeper way.
To yearn and long to discover her secrets, to see behind the polished or even the tarnished.
To want so much for something that one runs full speed and figures out any mistakes later.
Ah, to have life and love it.

Two Haitian American sisters, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, have given us a gift in their YA novel, Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.

It is compelling and inviting, a truly American story, for everyone other than First Nation peoples, has origins in another land. The parts of the land that live in folklore, songs, foods, dances, and memories are the gifts we can pause to celebrate. That is, if we want to reach beyond a homogenized image of what it means to be, and embrace all the complex diversity that is humanity. Even a truly Haitian story with all but a few characters being descendants from the first Independent Black Nation in the Western Hemisphere. That made it unique.

This story is told through the voice of a senior in high school.


Kiden-Aloyse, my daughter, Class of 2020, a writer
I have a daughter who just graduate high school in a parade because of Covid19 interrupting her celebrations. Her time in a place shapes her perspective, much like the sisters who wrote this story at home, waiting the coming Category 4 Hurricane that past Miami. What resulted from their shelter-in-place is a tremendous gift of literature that challenges what we consider a viable story.

The protagonist, Alaine Beauparlant, clearly has her own view of the world and her own voice that she is determined to use, even if it ends up with a consequence in her Miami school that gets her sent to Haiti. She is like Generation Z, knowledgeable, technologically astute, assured of their voice in a way that they refuse to squelch it, and are just impulsive enough to take an adventure that may or may not answer the questions their questions.

The treasure of this 422 tome is that there are so many little trinkets in the deep chest that is presented as a senior's final project set over the course of a school year that is meant to highlight an important person or time in history for a creative writing class.

Each of the five parts of this project follows the course of this story that will appeal to young readers as well as women like me, who are far enough away from their ancestral homeland to pine for any nugget of connection to it.  I am descended from the Island of Hispaniola,  through ancestry that has my ties to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, my origins going as far back as a time before the Haitian Revolution, to the time when destinies clashed - my ancestor from Lyon, France sent there to create wealth and my African ancestor who was captured from West Africa, had the will to live, and survived the Transatlantic to become part of the fabric of this island in the Caribbean Sea. What makes Caribbean/West Indian heritage a bit unique as compared to my paternal Black in America story,  is that they were able to hold onto centuries of belonging and being; they could point to a place, a people, a lore, a culture, and a family line stretching back beyond 1865. What makes this book compelling is that it reminds us that even in a place with a shared history, everyone has a different story, a different experience. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, invites us to consider power, position, desire, and hope, much like Haiti herself. 


 In America, my heritage is Louisiana Creole, beginning in the French Quarter,New Orleans.  Like Alaine, we have heard the stories, of my Ybre' and Guyol de Guiran  ancestors, and may have wondered about curses or blessings. There is a yearning that is not only first or second generations from immigrants, but a part of all of us that reaches back through time to understand our present.  One of the gifts of the Black immigrant story in Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, is that it invites us to cherish our origin, our story, for there isn't a single one. 

It is the weekend, Today is my late mother's birthday, a beautiful Creole woman who died when I was four and like Alaine, long to know. We are still in the midst of  a Covid19 Spring. It is Haitian Heritage Month and from Miami to New York to New Orleans to St. Louis to Boston, Haitian Americans are honoring, remembering, telling, re-telling, and dancing in the joy of belonging to this beautiful peoples. Whether we are recent immigrant, first, second, or even ten generations away, there is something magical about this place that calls us home.

This is a perfect tale to spend some time with a coffee and tray of cookies to settle in for an adventure that is truly a family moment in a moment when we need to remember that we are what matters.

I highly recommend this book. 

Follow the authors on Twitter - @maikamoulite - Maika Moulite and @MaritzaMoulite - Maritza Moulite.

You can follow me on Twitter - @lattegriot or on Instagram @Antona2020. Or if I were to say my spirit name, I'm Afua Tayé
 Ybré and I discovered a bit of myself in Alaine.

©2020 
Tayé Foster Bradshaw
for my late father, my late mother, and my late grandmother - my ancestors who gave the pen


Saturday, May 2, 2020

What Octavia Knew - Parable of the Sower

I almost didn't pick up this book to read it.

It has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I have several of her books. It was a matter of principal to me that they be a part of my collection, but hadn't read them yet.

My son was actually the one who prompted this. He is at home, like all of us, during Covid19. He asked me for something to read. Since he is also recovering, I thought about what I could send him that would pique his interest and not be too mushy.

I reached on my shelf for The Parable of the Sower and realized how much it is like now. It was written in 1993 and set in the future, still waiting to turn on my calendar to 2024, the year my oldest daughter is supposed to graduate from college.

We ordered copies to be sent to him of the two books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. I think it may have even been a post I saw that was pulled from the Parable of the Talents about if one appoints a fool or coward. I have that one sitting here, waiting for me to get over the emotional ride of this not-too-far-fetched-future story.

Covid19 has unveiled a lot of things in this country that were already seeping beneath the surface. Water insecurity, food insecurity, class inequality, unemployment, overcrowding, walls for protection, guns, gender inequality, trafficking, educational inequality, and the never-ending racism that permeates the soil of this country.

It is part dystopian, part apocalyptic, and full genius.

Octavia Butler was truly the mother of Afrofuturism, feminist speculative fiction, Black science fiction and fantasy writing that has given us a genre to birth the imaginations of Tananarive Due, Tomi Adeyemi, Nnedi Okorafor, and N.K. Jemison, to name a few.  I would even add some of the works of The McKissacks to that list.

So what is it about The Parable of the Sower that makes it a must-read for 2020?

It is as truly possible now as it was truly warning then.


The Parable of the Sower
is written through the voice of a Black teen girl, coming of age in an America that is unrecognizable to any of us reading today, yet, it is very recognizable. Set in a future California that is dealing with the tragic effects of failed policies, corporate greed, and man's continued inhumanity to man, she is trying to make sense of it all in the only way she knows how - through her spiritual wonderings, observations, and writing.

Lauren Oya Olamina is fifteen years old when this story begins. It is on her birthday, she is her father's daughter, they share the same birthday. She is also a preacher's daughter. That resonated with me, both as a preacher's daughter and as a preacher. I settled in for an engagement with this young writer that was part poet, part mystic, and part archivist.

I wasn't expecting the emotional roller coaster ride of this story and the journey it would take me on. Including themes of belonging, from her not feeling accepted by her Latina step-mother to first love (and teen sex), to survival skills passed on by her father. She took me through the power of education and I was shaking my head at how everything had a price, that her PhD holding step-mother brought school into her living room so that the children in their neighborhood would have a chance. Once Lauren left their neighborhood after those more desperate than they were set fire to their possibilities and decided that everyone should feel the ravaged pain of inequality, we learned that being able to read and write was a rare gift. It was what supported her younger brother Keith's ambition until that ambition got the best of him.

Octavia Butler issued a warning to us back in 1993, but I suspect we were not all ready to hear it. I know I was not reading science fiction and couldn't imagine that water would be commoditized (that was 1998 when I first saw bottled water sold en masse) and that entire communities would be years without clean water (Detroit). Octavia used the lens of the seer and the prophet to tell us what was coming and also to give us a warning about it. Written in the same time period as Margaret Atwood's, 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, it was sounding an alarm and offering glimpses of hope that if we heed it, we can live past the horror. Corporate greed, sexism, rape, murder, colonialism, racism, patriarchy, all the dystopian themes of speculative fiction are replete in this novel.

There is also hope.

My younger daughter read the book when she was a freshman and deeply enjoyed it, except for the sex scenes. She resonated with the protagonist and her courage, hyper empathy, and foresight.

My older daughter identifies as an intersectional feminist. That completely shows up in Lauren. To me, she possesses what Alice Walker described as a womanist. I loved her character and her ability to handle her pain, see what was needed, and do what was necessary for the survival of others.

Read this book and the one after it, The Parable of the Talents. And determine to make a different future. 2024 is not that far away. We are already dealing with many of the things Octavia Butler wrote about as an impossibility that is reality. What will we do about it. That is the question that apocalyptic writing, dystopian writing challenges us to consider. What kind of future do we want? We are 12-18 months away before there is even remotely a vaccine for Covid19. After physical distancing since the second week of March ,a lot of people are anxious to return to "normal" life, but without the protections necessary to do so. Many are already furloughed from their jobs, children are completing their spring quarter in virtual school, food insecurity is rising, and toilet paper is becoming a highly traded commodity. What can we take away from her writing and warning to be sure that everyone has what they need, that greed does not have the final say, and that there will be a possibility for us all.





Sunday, April 5, 2020

My Bookstore and Coffee Sunday

I love bookstores. And Coffee.

Literally.

Whenever I travel, I try to find two things - a local bookstore and a local coffee shop.

I often spend a great deal of time in these establishments, much to the chagrin of my teenage daughters who would rather be shopping elsewhere. But they are what makes my heart sing and after we have already spent time doing their "thing," I carve out time for mine.

During these Covid-19 days, which my governor finally made a Statewide Stay-at-Home Order, I am probably not alone in thinking about what I will do when I get "out".

Books are a comfort to me. They hold hopes and dreams, intention and impact, purpose and promise. I thought about the writers and authors, publishers and editors, the warehouse packers and delivery drivers, the marketers and the retailers, and finally, me, the buyer. All of the many parts that go into me being able to spend a Sunday browsing the shelves, hoping to find a hidden treasure or discover a beloved writer's new work.

The sense of community and place are what brings the two things I love together. If the bookstore also features independent, local coffee, that is even better.

The Covid-19 pandemic is disruptive and frightening, it is the unknown and unseen. It has upended plans and shifted perspectives, it has unmoored a lot of us.

So, it is natural to begin to think about better days. I even popped into my daughter's Spotify to play that song the other day because that is the hope that underlies this season. I sometimes think it is not by accident that this pandemic has shut the world down just as Holy Week begins for the three Abrahamic Faiths. It was in the middle of the shift from winter to spring on the calendar, did you miss that in the daily news briefings? It is spring! It is natural to pine for what we sometimes took for granted as always being there, being available, being a respite from the hustle and bustle of life.

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, I'm thinking about the hope that lies in looking forward to the day when people are saved from the fear of this virus, when it has run its course, and when we can emerge from our homes again, hopefully renewed, rested, and ready to consider each other in a different way.

For me, that will be a beeline straight to my favorite coffee shop and favorite bookstores.

My daughters look around my office and my coffee mug collection and consider that I will never need more of either one. But they hold precious memories and thoughts. Places I've been literally and in the joy of turning pages.

When I get out, I will be visiting again.

These are some of my favorite places:

Left Bank Books in the Central West End in Saint Louis. I love this fifty-year old bookstore for the vast selection of literary arts, poetry, and biographies. They host book clubs and the downstairs is a collector's dream of used volumes. I host a literary circle, so their teen selection keeps this a must-do every year. They don't have coffee, but there is an ice cream boutique just a couple doors down, a taco place around the corner, and at the other end of the CWE on Euclid, is Kaldi's, a local roaster that has been a favorite of mine every since I moved to St. Louis.

In the Delmar Loop, I would visit Subterranean Books for much the same reasons I love Left Bank Books. They are smaller, though, and tend to have more of the literary works the Washington University students would need for class. They have high ceilings and a tiny reading nook upstairs. If one is taking a walk down there, Blueprint Coffee is another coffee roaster but not for the faint-of-heart, don't expect to see sugar or cream readily offered. They love the purity of the bean and have some nice views of the street.

Also in University City on Olive is the region's only children's and teens bookstore, Eyeseeme Bookstore. It was born of the vision of a mother who was homeschooling her children and couldn't find literature reflective of her Guyanese and her husband's African American roots. They wanted their Black children to see themselves in picture books, hence the name. They grew from a few books she wrote to a small storefront to a large store serving the region with some of the best options for diversity in children's and teens literary works. They are also a community educational center and partner for diverse local authors. They are strong advocates for the power of diverse literature for all children to have nuanced stories in their lives.

One of the things I have loved about the Saint Louis region is the access to literature. If I decided to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon strolling the cobblestoned streets of history, I would head west to Old Saint Charles. All along First Avenue are eclectic shops, eateries, and a bookstore I have enjoyed. Main Street Books has a huge collection that belies the view from the street. It has an upstairs with a couple reading nooks and teen selections that would invite even the most reluctant reader. I spent hours there tried desperately to only walk out with two books. The coffee books alone were worth me sitting there for hours, daydreaming and reading. Just down the way from the bookstore is Picasso's Coffee Shop, a favorite for students, writers, and if there on Friday or Saturday night, musicians give their talents to those musing. I love to go there to write, the view of the street is magical. They also have a location on the newer side of Saint Charles on Beale Street (5th) that is a haven for the Lindenwood University students.

What are the favorite bookstores where you live? I am looking forward to going to Washington DC to visit Mahogany Books in Anacostia Arts Center. It is an African American bookstore owned by a sorority sister. I pray the pandemic is over in June and I get to go to my sorority convention an visit cites.

When I was in New York City this past Fall, I couldn't leave without at least a moment in Strand's, the real big one. I visited the pop-ip on Times Square during my previous visit and wanted to see the mega store, it was massive. I was in NYC with my teenage daughter and son who came down from Boston, we were on a walking mission through NYC, so my legs were too tired to take it all in. I want to go back. My daughters ended up with some purchases they enjoyed. When I was in Harlem, the place to find me was Sister's Uptown Bookstore, an independent Black-owned bookshop with a warm atmosphere perfect for browsing. if I had more time to be there the last time I was in Harlem, I would have camped out at The Monkey Cup on Adam Clayton Powell and Amsterdam It has a tree display on the wall filled with books and one of the best oat milk lattes I had while in NYC. It was filled with writers and students. The coffee in every borough I visited in New York City was amazing.  I went to one in Bed-Stuy, Daily Press, that would have been my home if I lived there and needed a spot to write on a Sunday afternoon.

In Boston, my son used to live in Newton. It had an opportunity to visit Newtownville Books and J Licks ice cream and coffee. We were walking in the evening, so the inviting windows are what drew me in, it wasn't a planned stop, but a delight all the same.

In Columbia MO, there are bookstores and coffee shops all downtown. The ones I love the best are Skylark Bookshop on 9th Street and Shortwave Coffee is my go to. It is in the alley and a little tuck away from all the main activity. It is a great place for a wonderful pour over and studying.

When I was in Denver, we were there about ten days, which gave my girls time to enjoy the 16th street mall and me time to spend hours in Tattered Cover Book Store. I loved that place! If I lived there, that is where you would find me. It also had a cafe, so bonus!

Fairhope, Alabama was a short distance from where were were vacationing on Orange Beach and Point Clear, Alabama. It was a ten day trip, so the girls were younger with the beach being the only thing on their mind. We were able to visit little shop, take walks, and then, found this little slice of heaven. There were lots of writers who called this part of the Gulf Shores their home. It would be my writer's haven if Covid-19 ever frees me from my home and I get to do a year tour of all the places I love to muse. There was a little bookstore on the cobblestone streets called Page & Palette.

Take A Sunday and consider where you would visit when you are able to open your doors again.

The big stores will be there and in some places, are where I find myself if it is close proximity to my hotel or time does not permit me to tour the entire area. Bookstores are familiarity to me, so I gravitate to one, they tell me something about the region, even the big ones are all different in each city.

Kansas City, Iowa City, Chicago, especially Oak Park, Rehoboth Beach Delaware, Los Angeles, Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Jackson, Edgewater NJ, oh the caffeinated literary journeys. What about you?

I have books, journals, and mugs from almost every place I've visited. It holds memories for me, I've always believed that memory is a place we hold dear and invites you back to discovery.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday Social Distancing In Bed With A Book and a Latte

Sundays in spring could be for walks in the park or brunch with friends, but in these Covid-19 days, we have to reimagine what it means to have respite and relax on the Sabbath.

Lots of my clergy friends have started Facebook Live and Zoom churches, so worship in PJs is expanding what the possible looks like for folks who didn't set foot in a building.

It got me to thinking about the other part of my weekend that I look forward to. I love books, bookstores, coffee shops, and a leisurely stroll down a cobblestone street with the trees in bloom with my camera in hand. I can't do that right now.

This time of social distancing and safe-at-home presents us an opportunity.

The world has necessarily had to slow down and reimagine what it is to exist in  a place without being physically present with each other.

How do we come together and enjoy spaces without being in the same space?

Or, how do we contemplate what we will do until the end of April when we have run out of Netflix, Hulu, or ate all the snacks in the house?

Consider picking up a book.

Life has slowed down so much for me that I have taken another look at my overflowing bookshelves, to reintroduce myself to the treasures I picked up in my travels and didn't have time to consider. I have been juggling finishing seminary, working for a social justice non-profit, and simply life, that reading the way I used to started to be a luxury I was going to have to wait until the summer to renew.

Then Covid-19 literally stopped the world. It was more than a Spring Forward, for a Spring Still. A  pause in the moment to contemplate what has been and what can change.

I still miss leisurely browsing independent bookstores like the last visit to one celebrating my husband's birthday just last month, or sitting at the coffee shop to read, but decided to celebrate what I have within my midst.

My balcony can become my coffee shop, the view of the trees the ambiance, and some exciting books my company.

How about this Sunday we take a moment to put pause on even the Zoom meet-ups and go back to an old fashioned pleasure, just books in hand (or if you have to, Kindle) and be immersed in another world that was before we were all afraid of running out of toilet paper or counting how many squats we do when we wash our hands.

Grab a latte or mimosa, a cozy blanket, put on your comfiest sweat pants and t-shirt, and settle in for a beautiful Sunday of reading.

What's on my Read-in List?

I'm currently reading Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by sister, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite.

It is a delightful story of a wildly independent thinking teenager who insists upon using her voice. It is written in an unexpected way.

Since April 22nd is the proposed end of our self-quarantine, I decided to make myself a list of books I'd like to read, books outside of work or ministry, but books for the sake of. This is on my TBR pile, what are you considering?  If you are like me, I was reaching information overload, sadness, and a bit of anger over all the Covid-19 coverage that I needed to let my soul breathe.

Come, quiet the noise with me.

Here is my Cover-19 reading list:

1. Dear Haiti, love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

2. The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson






3. The Itch by Benilde Little
4. Sap Rising by Christine Lincoln







5. The Way Forward Is With A Broken Heart by Alice Walker

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Too Heavy a Yoke - Interview

I rarely post the theological books I've read or am considering reading. I am a womanist, theologian, preacher, teacher, and writer. My practice has been to keep this space true to what I originally envisioned, a living love letter as a bibliophile to the works of black female literature. It was born of a hunger in me and as something I wanted to do for my daughters.

This interview by Dr. Walker-Barnes is a step away from and a run to a connection of my interests. The book is one that is empowering and if considered alongside some of the literary works, can see character types of the "strong black woman" repeated.

Consider adding this to your reading list, it is certainly one I wish I had while in my studies earning my M.Div.https://youtu.be/0A-gadEfYag

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Library Closes HIs Doors

There is an African proverb that when an elder passes away, a library closes its doors.

October and now, November, have closed the doors of yet another elder.

In October, it was my last aunt, the last elder in my maternal line. While she was not a published author, the stories of her life were written on the faces of generations. she lived to be a grandmother, great-grandmother and nurtured an entire community. Her mom was affectionately called The Funny Farm.

As I was thinking of her story set against the stories of her sisters, my mother was the eldest and passed away when I was four years old, I thought about my reasons for reading Black female literary works and celebrating the griots. We know who we are because of the stories told to us and as a people descended from the Triangle Trade (Africa to the Islands to Europe to the Americas - all the same folks), we can only go back so far. A lot of us is written, etched within our spirits, and is how we are able to keep parts of ourselves alive. Aunt Jo used to talk about "those old Creole ladies" of her youth and let her waist-length hair be the working salon for every girl who needed to learn to braid. She had a witty personality and was "bossy" to her final day, living on her own terms, loving purple, and still flirty, fun, and fabulous. Oh what it would be to have her story written down.

When I woke up this morning, on Aunt Jo's 92nd birthday, I found out about the passing of Ernest Gaines, the Louisiana writer who invited us to consider conversations and connections. Two of his many works, A Lesson Before Dying and A Gathering of Old Men, were some of the volumes I read as a young lady trying to figure out myself in a time before smart phones and social media connected millions. He took pen to paper and brought to life the experiences of rural Black southerners in a way that was wholistic, nuanced, and complete.

I was ten years old when his novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, was made into a television move in 1974. It was a time when I was asking questions about identity and place. I was born the year of the Civil Rights Bill being signed. The protagonist, the fictionalized rural woman, Miss Jane Pittman, was so believable that so many thought she was a real woman who experienced all the racial segregation, discrimination, despair, and hope that encompassed that time of history from the end of the Civil War to the dawn of The Civil Rights Movement. I was an adult when I learned she was not real, that is how complexly he drew us into her story and how brilliantly Miss Cicely Tyson played her during that television biopic.

His other novels that formed me when I was a young woman were A Lesson Before Dying and A Gathering of Old Men. These were also set in rural, black, segregated Louisiana. Zora Neale Hurston, for which my literary circle is named, is one of the only other authors he named as telling full stories about rural black people. As a reviewer of black female literary works, I think there still remains stories to be told about people who do not live in the cities and suburbs of urban Black America.

Gaines passing away brings my sense of literary loss to thoughts of what else needs to be written so the future generations do not lose themselves in the fierce moments of a tweet. He took seven years to write A Lesson Before Dying. Toni Morrison, who also passed away this year, didn't start writing until after age 40. Paule Marshall, who passed away just ten days after Toni Morrison, is also part of our cultural library that has closed doors forever.

We are left with their words, words that transcend time and are timeless in the humanity conveyed in understanding people beyond stereotypes and sound-bytes . Who are we really? Mr. Gaines taught his students to discover this at the end of their keys and to his final days, left us with many opportunities to seek those answers.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Remembering Toni Morrison

My heart shattered yesterday when I learned of the passing of Literary Mother, Toni Morrison.

In her eloquent prose, she invited me, a Black woman, to fully immerse myself in her words, even when I was a younger woman who was lost in the spiral of mystical storytelling in books like Beloved. The theology of Toni Morrison's canon followed me almost twenty years later when I entered seminary, as a womanist, I invoked the sermons of the Baby Suggs character.

Toni Morrison was one of those we, I thought would just be with us forever. In her, I found the possible, the determined. She wrote with little boys in tow, divorced, and sneaking precious lines in the wee hours of the morning. In finding her own voice, she gave us permission to find our own. I remember hesitating, even as I collected more of her works and invited my Hurston and Hughes Literary Circle teens to discover her brilliance.

Something felt like the universe would Never be the same when she made her quiet departure, and it will not.

I immediately went to my many bookshelves and found myself cherishing every copy. I have my original copy of Beloved as well as a recent one I purchased for time with my teens. In arms reach at my desk were more books, like the cherished one I purchased this past March in honor of my seminary graduation. I marveled that at 88, she was still writing, and hoped to be like her, honing my craft and giving myself permission to say what I wanted to say.

The beauty of Toni Morrison, to me, is that she was unapologetic about being black, woman, and older when she started her craft. She made room for herself and in so doing, made room for me.

Zora (my sorority sister), Maya, and Toni are, in my mind's eye, joining with Pauli and Nella and Ann, with Phyllis and Frances, to sit around their heavenly writing table, with coffee and teacakes to tell the rest of us that we are free to create and imagine, that they are their cheering us on, and there is more to say.

Rest well, Mama Toni, we will write the book we must read.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Stories Children Dream

I lead a literary circle for Black teens.

This is the seventh year.

Every year, we engage with children's literature, to remind ourselves of our imagination in the midst of the craziness that can somethings swirl through our news feed.

We read and discussed a few books that featured Black/African American main characters. One was a reminder that stories matter in reminding us where we come from, even if that means stepping out of ourselves to go and ask someone.
Islandborn by Junot Diaz is an immigrant story that celebrates the beautiful colors and diversity of racial-ethnic identities in America.  Set in New York, it stood out to us an even more important story to read with children as the crisis at the border continues to show the inhumanity that rises up when we forget the innocent lives that should just be playing with friends.

I have hair that can twirl or blow in the wind, that has a center that reminds me of my West African heritage and billowy whips that acknowledge the ethnic mixture that came from being created in a mixed up American story. We read two books by bell hooks

and celebrated her poetry of little black girl hair. This was a book my daughters loved till the covers fell off.


We also read a more modern telling of the same them with the father and daughter as main characters complete with updated cultural references like the smart phone and the tats on the dad's arms. The dad did her hair.

Imagination and taking action are all part of what it means to be nine years old ready to take on the world. We read a story of a little girl who galvanized her community to save the bee's.  It was a longer picture book that the teens agreed would be a good one for growing independent readers.

The teens finished up their time with a visit to the children's section of the bookstore. They had already been armed with the statistics of the status of children's picture books with a dismal presentation of ethnic-racial diversity as main characters. We agreed it was important to see ourselves in the story. It is why I started reviewing black female literary works, emphasis on literary and not the publishing worlds stereotyped offering that did not match the lives of the parents in the literary circle.

Children are filled with stories. They exist in a world of the possible, or at least, they should. So the teens sat down and wrote their own, put themselves back ten years and decided to dream.  They dreamed of diversity that didn't need to be pointed out, that just was. They dreamed of girls who did whatever they wanted and weren't limited by their gender. They dreamed of schools with books and teachers who cared. They dreamed of a reality they wanted to not just imagine.

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