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.

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.

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