Book Chat | On Being ‘Well Read’ (part 2)

Welcome back to Part 2 – the final installment of this book chat!

•••

When you hear the words – ‘well read’, what comes to mind? What does it mean to be ‘well read’?

From my observations over the years, I realized being ‘well read’ was synonymous with being knowledgable in the ‘Classics’ – which typically comprise the works of English writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Charlotte Brontë ; American writers like John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald ; Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood‎, Lucy Maud Montgomery and a myriad of other books by WHITE writers.

Image via Arao Ameny’s Instagram

The concept of being ‘well read’ is very subjective and personal. In my opinion, there’s more to being ‘well read’ than being well-versed in the work of white writers or books we were forced to read in English Literature class.

I wanted to know how other readers defined being ‘well read’, so I asked some of my favorite readers and writers I follow and interact with via Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram. In this book chat, three of my favorite readers and writers will enlighten us on what it means to be ‘well read’, with some recommendations on which authors and/or books we should indulge in to be considered ‘well read’, per their views on the concept.

Enjoy!

 

Efo Dela is a book lover I frequently see at book readings and other bookish events here in Accra. He’s an avid reader and writes poetry as well. I always look forward to reading Efo’s (funny) opinions on Twitter, so I just had to include him in this conversation. Check out what being ‘well read’ means to him:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you? 

Being well read means being able to enjoy a wide spectrum of writing genres. For me good writing is good writing it doesn’t matter the genre. I will read it. I’ve found myself reading academic work unrelated to what I do just because the writing is good. I don’t know if it’s because I have an interest in many topics that I read so wide or if I have an interest in many things because I read wide.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

Akata Witch – Nnedi Okarafor

Prey – Michael Crichton

The Last Day – Glenn Kleier

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire

A Song of Ice and Fire (6 books) – George RR Martin

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Ghana (the autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah) – Kwame Nkrumah

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

 


Zaynab has a way of making reading look so sexy, via her photographs on Instagram, where she goes by – @bookminimalist. Zaynab, who is based in Nigeria, is a passionate reader and a popular Bookstagrammer (which is the Bookish community of Instagram) who promotes African literature through her photos and fearless commentary on the books she showcases. Check out her views on the concept of being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?

What it means to be well-read? Well read? I have to be honest this question gave me sleepless nights.

The week you sent the question I wrote: “it meant reading all genres; science fiction, romance, speculative fiction, etc. Reading your favourite genre alone or classics alone doesn’t make you a Well-read person.”  I just realised how naive this answer was days later.

And then I swapped it to, Well-read means reading books from all corners of the world. North Africa, Indian Ocean African Islands, Middle East, reading books published in every region in the world. And this sounded too pompous, and very bombastic. Does this mean someone who lives in a village in Nigeria who doesn’t have access to some of these books is not well read?

And then minutes ago, it changed to reading at least 10 books on the ‘100 books you should read before you die’ list. Haha.

Now writing this, I suddenly had an epiphany, being well read should not only be about the number of books, or how many translated works you have read (even though I think this is important too), being well read is reading at a level in which you digest and absorb what you’re reading and are able to incorporate it into your life. Reading in such a way that allows you to think and converse about the human experience intelligently.

Being well read means becoming a better human being from something you have read from Toni Morrison, from an anecdote you saw in Wole Soyinka’s book. Speaking out against corruption, bad governance after reading Achebe, realising your silence in the face of evil is cooperating with evil itself after reading Baldwin.

Speaking out against sexual assault, racism, after drowning yourself in Angelou. Ranting against those who kill intellectuals and writers after reading a Sontag. Speaking up for women who are hated by their community and families after read a Flora Nwapa.  Speaking up for children who lost their innocence after reading a Danticat.

Being well read means reading thoughtfully, by engaging with the world, breaking away from horrendous tradition and questioning dreadful established ideas.

This is what being well read means to me.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

I have more than 50 Books I have enjoyed reading this year but I am going to mention the ones written by African women on this list (because they don’t get hyped enough):

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela, Longthroat Memoirs, by Yemisi Aribisala, The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie and Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi.

 


Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire is a powerhouse. I first encountered Bwesigye last year when I was in correspondence with him as the Editorial and Partnerships Director for the Writivism Festival (a Kampala-based initiative that promotes African Literature). Since then, I always look forward to his passionate threads on Twitter which mostly aim to decolonize the mind. He’s currently a graduate student of English Language and Literature at Cornell University. Enjoy his thoughts on the concept of being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?

This is a very hard question. It is hard because the response speaks volumes about the person answering it, than it does about anyone else, or about the idea of reading itself. Because I am a graduate student of English Language and Literature, this question is even more difficult to answer. Do I want to expose myself this way? While we were being told about preparing for our PhD Qualifying Exam, one of the three exams an English student does before they graduate, our instructor encouraged us to select books that make one sound ridiculous if they are English grads and have not read them.

We went through a confession moment where some members of our class mentioned the books they are embarrassed to say they haven’t read because it is expected that everyone has read those books. You get the picture. If you are an English Major, or grad, surely, you have read Shakespeare, right? That type of thing. The greatest books. To use a more academic term, the canonical texts from various periods.

These books permeate the English language itself. New words have been created from them. There is another word I learnt late in life, and I can’t pronounce with my Rukiga inflected accent. The word is ‘zeitgeist’. The books that capture the ‘defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history’ are what some versions of well read expect one to have read. I am not a fan of English Literature in that way. In the way it is used as the standard, given its history of not only exclusion, but active dehumanisation and destruction of other ways of being, other literatures, other cultures.

Because in secondary school, when I studied Literature in English, we were forced to read Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, RL Stevenson, DH Lawrence, Jane Austen, Robert Bolt, Arthur Miller, Ernest Hemingway, and all those types of people, my experience of their work has become one of resentment. I after all attended secondary school in Uganda, a country that celebrates having attained independence in 1962 but still holds onto these colonial notions of what it means to be ‘well read’.

Operating in what Mukoma wa Ngugi has called the ‘English metaphysical empire’, where the language and the world it makes possible in one’s imagination, means that one can’t run away from these writers, their books and their influence. The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde shows up in conversation as something whose meaning everyone listening, knows. And so, if one does not, they have to Google to understand it. To the colonised, in the metaphysical sense, familiarity with the English canon is one way to understand what it means to be ‘well read’. Because most spaces in which we operate, (speaking from my position as an aspiring academic whose dominant language of engagement is English), are yet to be decolonised, it means that however much one hates the ways in which one experiences the English canon as violence, one can’t wish away the fact that it is what dominates as the idea of being ‘well read’. So in one way, the idea of being ‘well read’ and what it instantly means is something I experience as violence.

Despite my positioning in the imperial and colonial structure that defines being ‘well read’ in a Eurocentric and limited way, I am interested in small acts of subversion. Your question about what being ‘well read’ means to me is an important subversive act because it centres me, as the one determining what being well read means. I am currently torn between an anti colonial approach and something else, for which I am still figuring out ways to define.

So, on one hand I will say, that for me being ‘well read’ means being well versed with an alternative, a subversive archive. This anti colonial approach unfortunately focuses unduly on responding and countering the Eurocentric colonial and imperial framework. And so, being well read here would mean being familiar with the works of resistance to colonialism. This somewhat implies being familiar with the colonial archive to begin with. The binarism. To know black, you must know white, because black is the negation of white, type of thing (thank you Fanon for the language).

I am still thinking about a radical decentering of Europe and colonialism and imperialism. This would mean going beyond the resistance. The resistance is important for showing us that we matter, that we can write, that we have, and can create a counter-archive. What does it mean to be well read without the anxiety of creating a counter archive? What does the counter archive become when it is no longer countering the Eurocentric colonial and imperial archive? How would I understand being ‘well read’ in that space where I am the centre and not necessarily the opposite of. What would being well read mean, in that space? I have no answer right now. Ultimately, being well read depends on how one is reading. What they are reading, may be not much as how they are reading. I mean, in 2017: some people read Conrad and miss all the colonial and imperialist bullshit in his work, so go figure.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu. Kintu is important because it is the book and Makumbi, is the author that has pushed me into imagining what it could mean to centre ourselves in our work without an anxiety to write back to empire. What about our own worlds? What is there in our own worlds? Kintu is one clear example of an imagination that ultimately pays due homage to those who resisted and built a counter archive but is continuing from where they stopped by centering an archive that sees ourselves without reducing us to countering Europe.

Panashe Chigumadzi’s work, the non fiction and post Sweet Medicine fiction – (look out for her forthcoming books, aren’t I privileged to have had a look at both), also take me to that world. Some of the essays in the non fiction book have been published online, and Small Deaths, a short story from the forthcoming fiction book was published in Transition. Panashe, perhaps, more than Makumbi acknowledges and deals head on with Imperialism and its continued violence, but from a centre where we are the subject, and without the anxieties of building a counter archive. In the new archive that was yesterday’s counter, and today’s centre, Panashe’s work reminds us of the need to continue resisting an imperialism that mutates.

Everything bell hooks. I do not have to give reasons why. Do I?

And Audre Lorde. I know I also do not have to give reasons, just as bell hooks above.

I follow most of the people whose thoughts give me life and some of these aren’t necessarily contained in books, but some are, people like Grace Musila, people like Dina Ligaga, people like Caroline Mose, people like Wandia Njoya, people like Mshai Mwangola, people like Keguro Macharia, and I just now realised all these are Kenyan, so I guess, follow the Kenyan public intellectuals of today, the ones who are on Twitter.


Special thanks to Leslie Reese, David DaCosta, Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Zaynab, Efo Dela & Bwesigye for taking the time to engage with us in this book chat series. It’s been enlightening! THANK YOU 🙂

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Book Chat | On being ‘well read’ (part 1)

Hey everyone!

When you hear the words – ‘well read’, what comes to mind? What does it mean to be ‘well read’?

From my observations over the years, I realized being ‘well read’ was synonymous with being knowledgable in the ‘Classics’ – which typically comprise of the works of English writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Charlotte Brontë ; American writers like John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald ; Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood‎, Lucy Maud Montgomery and a myriad of other books by WHITE writers.

Image via Arao Ameny’s Instagram

The concept of being ‘well read’ is very subjective and personal. In my opinion, there’s more to being ‘well read’ than being well-versed in the work of white writers or books we were forced to read in English Literature class.

I was curious to find out how other readers defined being ‘well read’, so I asked some of my favorite readers and writers I follow and interact with via Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram. In this book chat, three of my favorite readers and writers will enlighten us on what it means to be ‘well read’, with some recommendations on which authors and/or books we should indulge in to be considered ‘well read’, per their views on the concept.

Enjoy!

 

Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is an African book lover who’s the creator behind the blog – Bookshy, where she’s been blogging about African literature since 2011. Her wonderful African Book Covers (ABC) Tumblr page, which celebrates African book cover art inspired my book covers showcase here at African Book Addict! Check out her thoughts on being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?
The first word that popped into my head when I read the question was ‘informed’, then I thought ‘very informed’, but that word (like ‘well read’) can take on many different meanings.

By ‘informed’ I mean that the reader knows a lot about many things because they have been able to read a lot.

Similar to a well-travelled person, who has been to way too many places. In that sense, a well-read person has read way too many books and so is informed by so many things.

That was my initial thought.

As I kept on thinking, I felt that ‘well read’ is pretty subjective. How many books does it take to become well read? Also, you might be well-read in one particular genre, but not in every single genre ever.

You might be well-read in your field of research. For example, ask me about gender and urbanisation or about paid domestic work and I’ll probably be able to list the key authors and what their arguments are. Ask me about contemporary African literature (in English) and I would like to think I’d able to hold my own with other ‘well-read’ African lit readers. Ask me about Literature from Ethiopia in Amharic (don’t bother), about anything IT or tech-related (seriously, don’t bother).

So, I wouldn’t take well-read purely as the number of books you’ve read since you started reading. I would take it as being very informed as a result of the number of books you’ve read. I also wouldn’t necessarily see well read as being well read in one genre, but being well read across a range: say, fiction, history, non-fiction, art etc.

Although I try not to be prescriptive as to what that entails, a lot of the ‘well-read’ people I know have read the classics, read a lot of non-fiction, as well as newspapers and magazines, and a variety of fiction.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

Tough and I wouldn’t even know which 5 to select, but I would definitely include Buchi Emecheta on my list and bell hooks. Currently reading Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” so would include that. Sylvia Tamale’s “African Sexualities: A Reader”. My list could go on and on. So I’ll leave it at 4 and leave the 5th one blank – as there are many possibilities.

 


David DaCosta is a Goodreads friend and author who’s views I admire. Since 2002, he’s written an autobiography, two novellas set in Jamaica, a book of poetry, and is currently working on his debut novel. Whenever I’m looking for my next read by a Caribbean writer, I usually like to pick books that DaCosta has reviewed on Goodreads. I appreciate his critical book reviews and hope you all enjoy his thoughts on the concept of being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?

‘Well read’ encompasses the spectrum of various mediums of writing, whether literary, newspaper, magazine etc.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

As a person who has alternated between living in Jamaica and Toronto for decades now, I have a natural leaning toward Caribbean literature. Earl Lovelace is the greatest author the Caribbean has produced. “The Dragon Can’t Dance” and “The Wine of Astonishment” are masterpieces. Trinidad & Tobago holds Earl Lovelace in high esteem, as they should.

Haitians should hoist Edwidge Danticat high on their shoulders. Her output over the past decade has been stellar. “Create Dangerously” and “Claire of the Sea Light” are both first-rate contributions to the literary world, each representing the best in fiction and nonfiction. Danticat’s latest offering “The Art of Death” further exemplifies her significant talents.

Octavia E. Butler is the definition of genius. I’ve had the privilege of reading five selections of her work (Xenogenesis trilogy, “Parable of the Sower” and “Fledgling”). The common thread that connects them all is a frighteningly authentic sense of realism. As an author, she really takes you there with well researched narratives and immaculate character development. It always amazes me how a black woman became the greatest author in a white dominated genre like Science Fiction. May she rest in peace.

I’ve read my share of works by African authors, mostly Nigerian. “Kehinde” by Buchi Emecheta remains my favorite. The novel truly represents female empowerment in its purest form. Having been raised by a strong woman, I gravitated to this particular protagonist’s character arc. I literally just learned that Miss Emecheta passed away earlier this year. May you rest peacefully my sister.

I’d be remiss If I didn’t make mention of author Uwem Akpan. I stumbled across his powerful collection of stories from the continent one day in 2008 while perusing the ‘Recommended’ shelf at a local library in Toronto. “Say You’re One of Them” stared back at me, daring me to pick it up. Taking its challenge, I did so, studying the front and back covers and eventually checking the book out. Once I began reading, I was hooked. The fact that it explored various countries throughout Africa made it all the more engaging. I can’t say enough about the exceptional level of writing contained within. Oprah eventually introduced the book to the world by making it an official Book club selection the following year.

 


Leslie Reese is the curator of the blog – Folklore & Literacy, where she muses on reading, writing, people, and culture. I enjoy Leslie’s thoughtful pieces as well as her love of literature and occasional book reviews that go beyond the books and storylines, but delve into her past experiences, her skilled photography, her appreciation for first edition book covers and artwork. Leslie is also a loyal visitor and commenter here on African Book Addict! which I deeply appreciate! Check out her thoughts on being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you? 

I kind of love this question, and I would probably answer it differently for ever year of my reading life!  Today, I’m going to say that being well-read means having an insatiable appetite for reading books that:

(1) nourish my imagination and spirit and tickle my “funny bone;”

(2) challenge me, that teach me things, and make me feel compassion for myself and others;

(3) make me feel connected to my ancestors, as well as connected to people with whom I never expected to share an affinity;

(4) inspire me to be more of myself;

(5) make me feel awestruck/ “blow my mind!”

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

The only way I can not be overwhelmed trying to answer this question is to select a sampling of works that made me feel awestruck/“blew my mind!” on my first encounter, and continue to feel fresh and striking anytime I open their pages to read from them, again.   

Sula by Toni Morrison

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I Love Myself When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (A Zora Neale Hurston Reader) edited by Alice Walker

The Collected Poetry of Aimé Césaire translated and with notes by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith

A People’s History of the United States 1492 – present by Howard Zinn (1999 edition)

Art on My Mind by bell hooks

The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

What does being ‘well read’ mean to YOU?

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

Date Read: May 25th 2017

Published: 2012

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 217

 

The Blurb

From the award-winning author, a stunning collection that celebrates the haunting, impossible power of love.

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In a New Jersey laundry room, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, these stories lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

This Is How You Lose Her is a short story collection with brilliant writing and absorbing storytelling, but I was not a fan of the stories. In this collection, readers get a glimpse into the life of Yunior and his family who are originally from the Dominican Republic, residing in New Jersey.

I hated ALL the characters in this collection (Yunior’s brother – Rafa, really struck me though. I wanted to know more about his cancer and I wished readers got a closer look into how Yunior reacted to his brother’s fate). The characters in this collection can easily make you lose faith in humanity by their shitty actions and intentions (especially towards women). This collection tackles issues of immigration, infidelity, misogyny, love, grief, racism & colorism within the Dominican / Dominican-American community, family, brotherhood, illness, (hyper)masculinity and disappointment.

I usually love when a writer’s skill allows me to have strong feelings towards the characters, but the misogyny in this book was too strong for me. On Goodreads, other readers had issues with Díaz’s use of the word ‘nigga’ and the superfluous vulgarity of this collection. I had no issues with Díaz’s colorful choice of words – the vulgarity in the dialogue between the characters actually gave this collection so much life! But I wonder how the average Dominican feels reading this book – how much of the portrayal of men from the Dominican Republic is exaggerated?

Another thing that bugged me was the arrangement of the stories in this collection. I felt the stories were arranged haphazardly –  for example, the story entitled ‘Invierno’, which explains how Yunior and his family migrated to New Jersey and coped through winter as new immigrants from the Dominican Republic, should have been the first story and the rest of the stories should have followed chronologically – in my opinion.

Junot Díaz is no doubt a brilliant writer, but this collection was a stressful read for me. I will read his debut collection – Drown, just to experience more of Yunior; as well as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at some point.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase This Is How You Lose Her on Amazon

LIT LINKS MÉLANGE IV

Hey everyone!

I hope the month of October is treating everyone well. Over the weeks and months, I’ve been consuming some great literature finds and gems online. Below is a compilation of some of the LIT links I highly recommend you indulge in:

 

  • This Land is My Land  is a Kickstarter project by three students from Macalester College (Saint Paul, Minnesota) who are publishing a children’s book to build empathy. I really love the unique illustrations (I especially love that the characters are dark-skinned with kinky/ tightly coiled hair!) and strong premise around a necessary character trait everyone must strive to embody – empathy.

I think adults could learn a lot from this children’s book as well. The ways of the world have become quite disheartening and we could all learn to have more empathy with one another. Check out their website and donate to the kickstarter if you can, so they can meet their goal of $7,500 by November 2nd! #WeAreWithAmina

Image via This Land is Our Land website


  • Book bloggers are real readers via The Irish Times. Tunrayo of the blog Tunrayo’s Thoughts tweeted this AMAZING article to me some months ago. I’ve shared this article before in the last LIT Links Mélange, but I just have to share it again. The article articulates and defends the role of book bloggers and the influence we hold. Golden!

  • Pa Gya! Literary Festival in Accra this weekend!! I always feel like I’m missing out whenever there are book festivals in other parts of the continent and in the US when I’m not there. I’m thrilled that Writer’s Project Ghana will be hosting this 3-day literary festival, starting this Friday! Check out the packed schedule and start planning which events you’ll attend, if you’re in Accra :).

Image via Writers Project Ghana website


  • Writing Between Countries and Across Borders via The Lit Hub via Issue 20 of PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers is a brilliant conversation between authors – Kwame Anthony Appiah, Marlon James, Jamaica Kincaid, Valeria Luiselli, and Colum McCann. They speak about their creative processes, identity, the concept of home, immigration, their writing careers and more! I wish Jamaica Kincaid spoke more in this conversation, but here are two quotes I LOVED from this conversation, by Jamaica Kincaid –

We are on a powerful continent, and this powerful continent produces so much disturbance that the citizens of the continent would like, when they sit down to read a book, for that book to offer some solace about the human condition. I insist on offering none. 

When I’m writing, I am only true to the thing I’m writing. I find the contemporary obsession with the consideration of others in writing really disturbing, and I almost can’t respect a readership that would expect me to please them.

If you haven’t read any of Jamaica Kincaid’s work yet, I hope these quotes and my book reviews of her work pique your interest! Enjoy this conversations and gain wisdom from these geniuses!

Image via The Lit Hub


I love that she tries to encourage African writers to do away with appealing to foreign/white readers by setting their stories abroad and watering down their texts to accommodate the white gaze. But this article seems to give ‘African literature’ a specific criteria; it also suggests that being ‘African’ or an ‘African writer’ is monolithic and frowns heavily on Afropolitanism. It’s always problematic and divisive when people impose their rigid standards of identity onto others. I have so many thoughts on this article! If you don’t have time to read any of the links in this post, I strongly recommend you indulge in this excellent, yet polarizing article, so we can discuss in the comments!  

Image via Okay Africa


  • Edwidge Danticat on Memory and Migration via The New Yorker. I like to believe Haitian writer – Edwidge Danticat, is known for her beautiful, melancholic writing which really speak to the heart. Enjoy this interview where Danticat talks about Alzheimer’s, family, and hanging on to the past even through heartbreak. (Her short story collection – Krik? Krak!, has been reviewed on this platform. I’m yet to find the words to review her beautifully painful novel – Breath, Eyes, Memory soon)

  • The Elma Lewis Center (of Emerson College in Boston, MA) has blessed us with the The Hidden Figures Syllabus! The syllabus was launched on September 15th, on what would have been Elma Lewis’ 96th birthday.

In honor of Lewis, and in gratitude for the powerful legacy she has left, this syllabus was carefully curated with lists of texts and other resources by and about Black women and femmes from around the African diaspora. This is a resource I will be referring to often, especially when I want to find my next read and raise my awareness on Black literature & culture.

Click image to download the Hidden Figures Syllabus below:

Image via Hidden Figures Syllabus website


  • bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward has been re-released by Penguin Books! I read and reviewed the poetry collection last year, from the self-published edition. This Penguin edition is just as good as the self-published edition but better, as it has new breathtaking poems full of Daley-Ward’s raw, healing writing. If you love poetry by Black women poets, I highly recommend this collection!

Image via African Book Addict! Instagram/ Bookstagram


  • Diriye Osman has launched his new website! In case you’re wondering who Diriye Osman is, he’s the British-Somali author, visual artist, critic and essayist whose short story collection – Fairytales For Lost Children, was my favorite book last year! The collection follows characters who desire to live their lives free from hate, criticism, and scrutiny, while trying to understand the intersectionalities of their identities. Fairytales For Lost Children is probably the best LGBTQ-themed African fiction out there.

The new website looks wonderfully Afro-futuristic and is a compilation of all of Osman’s work – fiction, interviews, essays and reviews of other works. Enjoy!

Image via Diriye Osman’s website

Poetry | Neon Soul & Counting Descent

Hey everyone! At the end of my review for salt. by Nayyirah Waheed, I listed a bunch of contemporary poets and expressed my keen interest in reading their work in the future. Alexandra Elle’s name was on that list and Clint Smith is a poet I truly admire, especially from his TED talk – How To Raise A Black Son in America.

Below are mini reviews of their respective poetry collections.

Neon Soul by Alexandra Elle

Date Read: May 13th 2017

Published: March 2017

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Pages: 160

 

 

 

The Blurb

In short, powerful verses, Alexandra Elle shares a hard-won message of hope.

Alexandra Elle writes frankly about her experience as a young, single mother while she celebrates her triumph over adversity and promotes resilience and self-care in her readers. This book of all-new poems from the beloved author of Words From A Wanderer and Love In My Language is a quotable companion on the road to healing.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

It’s inspiring to see Alex Elle’s growth in Neon Soul. From this collection, it’s clear she’s content and comfortable in her skin. These poems center around the joys of being whole and comfortable with oneself. The poems are laden with gentle, uplifting affirmations and tools for living intentionally and forgiving oneself, as well as understanding and nurturing all aspects of yourself. There are also a few glimpses of her immense love for her daughter and husband in the collection, which was very cute! One of the poems speaks on the unfortunate miscarriage she had a while back – the simplicity of that poem speaks volumes on the polarizing feelings we women of color sometimes have about our bodies.

Favorite poems:

will you ever forgive yourself
for what you didn’t do?
who you didn’t love or
let love you?
will you ever be soft
enough on yourself
to be free?

(pg. 29)

________________

it feels good to feel whole. to not live in
pieces or in fear.
it feels nice to belong to myself. to be
enthralled with the
endless possibilities to find who i am. we are
often too confused
about what parts of us deserve to stay in our
loud and vibrant lives,
but why is that? when all of the mess can
make a magnificent
masterpiece.

(pg. 114)

Overall, I love this collection because Alex Elle seems to be writing from a place of fulfillment, which is refreshing from the myriad of poetry collections out there that seem to be from a place of grief and hurt. Deun Ivory’s illustrations on select pages of this collection were the icing on the cake!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Counting Descent by Clint Smith

Date Read: August 6th 2017

Published: February 2017

Publisher: Write Bloody Publishing

Pages: 84

 

 

 

The Blurb

Clint Smith’s debut poetry collection, Counting Descent, is a coming of age story that seeks to complicate our conception of lineage and tradition. Smith explores the cognitive dissonance that results from belonging to a community that unapologetically celebrates black humanity while living in a world that often renders blackness a caricature of fear. His poems move fluidly across personal and political histories, all the while reflecting on the social construction of our lived experiences. Smith brings the reader on a powerful journey forcing us to reflect on all that we learn growing up, and all that we seek to unlearn moving forward.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

In 56 poems, the realities of being a black boy in America are beautifully portrayed in this collection. Not only are the plights and queries of black boyhood portrayed, but black boy joy is an important component of these poems as well- so its pretty balanced, which I loved.

This collection is personal and honest. Smith shares his loving family with us and sheds light on how he was raised, with poems mostly set in New Orleans. The titular poem – ‘Counting Descent’ is my absolute favorite. I read it 3 times before I proceeded to finish the book. Smith’s metaphorical writing style will make you freeze momentarily as you clearly picture all the nuances and truths he paints with his words. I enjoyed how he personified New Orleans through its unique foods, as a tourist attraction, as a high-risk flood zone and ultimately as his home. Smith’s poems are tangible – while reading, you will feel the pain, you will feel the joy and you will feel less alone.

Today I Bought a Book for You

it wasn’t one I had ever heard of

but the first page had your favorite word

and that was enough for me

to unfold the dollar bills from my pockets.

I remember the first time

you told me what it meant.

I wrote it down in my notebook

with the hopes of using it later

to impress you.

I have a notebook full of these.

It should come as no surprise.

I have always used words

to try and convince the world

that I am worth something.

(pg. 63)

Other poems I loved include: ‘The Protest Novel Responds to James Baldwin’ (this poem gave me chills); ‘Passed Down’ (this poem surprised me… I never knew some light-skinned folk actually (and honestly) felt ashamed of their skin color. From all the books I’ve read/friends I know who are of a lighter hue, they consider it a ‘privilege’); ‘Each Morning is a Ritual Made Just For Us’ (I loooved this! I think the poem is dedicated to his wife); ‘When Mom Braids My Sister’s Hair’ and ‘For the Hardest Days’.

I’ll definitely revisit this collection again. I’ve been following Clint Smith on Twitter, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his work!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Counting Descent on Amazon