Book chat | The Sankofa Book Club

Are you a member of a book club? If you haven’t found the right book club or you haven’t had time to seek one out where ever you are in the world, I introduce to you a super rich and engaging DIGITAL book club, in the form of a podcast – The Sankofa Book Club.

[collage created by African Book Addict! ; images via The Sankofa Book Club]

I stumbled upon The Sankofa Book Club when I was participating in a book chat (on Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi) on Twitter, last year. I resonated with some of the responses the co-founder – Akua, was tweeting and decided to check out the podcast via iTunes. The Sankofa Book Club is a digital book club with a focus on African literature. The co-hosts are of Ghanaian descent who engage in intelligent and honest conversations around books I adore. The podcast is currently 10 episodes deep and my favorite episodes so far have been their discussions on Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Everyday is for the Thief by Teju Cole.

Enjoy the conversation I had with The Sankofa Book Club team where we discuss their origin story, their favorite writers of African descent, favorite snacks to indulge in while reading and more!


  1. What’s the story behind the book club’s name – The ‘Sankofa’ Book Club?

Sankofa is an Adinkra symbol – Adinkra is a collection of symbols from the Akan tradition in Ghana. You can see the symbol incorporated in our logo. The term “sankofa” translates from Twi as “return and get it” and it symbolizes the importance of learning from your past. As we were thinking about what to call the book club, this just seemed so apt. The co-founders are both Ghanaian and we want this book club to be a platform for people to learn about Africa – especially those of us Africans born and raised outside of Africa.


  1. Who’s behind the scenes of The Sankofa Book Club? Briefly tell us about the team members and co-hosts. 

We’re a small team of three. Akua and Mel are co-hosts of the podcast and co-founders of the book club. We focus on producing the podcast and growing our community. Sam is our curator – she researches the books and allocates them every month. However, we are looking to grow, so get in touch if you’re interested!


  1. What was the inspiration for starting a digital book club in podcast form? Will there be book club meet-ups in the future where the team is based?

The inspiration was several different thoughts popping up in my head in no particular order:

  • I (Akua) worked on podcasts through work in digital marketing.
  • It was an exciting new media but like most things in this world, it was whitewashed.
  • Mel and I have thought-provoking conversation anyway.
  • I really like African lit and wished I could join a book club like that.
  • I don’t live in London, don’t have the time or energy to do that in London.
  • Why are we limiting ourselves to London?
  • Let’s do a podcast on African lit.
  • It may as well be a book club.

We love that we’re digital and interacting with people all over the world and we don’t want to lose that. However, a live recording in London will definitely be happening in the near future.


  1. How do you decide on which books to read? Why focus on African Literature?

Sam does research into the themes, what people are currently reading and uses that choose a book each month. It helps us stay relevant and prevents us from being repetitive.

Africa is more than the world’s charity case, and who better to tell the true story of Africa than Africans. That’s why we focus on African literature. We want to hear a different narrative. We want to be a different narrative.


  1. Who is your target audience? How has the reception been, after the 10 episodes (and counting) that are available?

Anyone interested in Africa, literature and/or both! What we’d really love is for people who don’t feel connected to the continent to use this as a relaxed and fun way to learn, or just read something different. There’s loads of brilliant African literature out there getting very little attention. We want to change that.

The reception of SBC has been really positive. It’s interesting to see that a lot of our audience is actually in Africa, who just appreciate the discussion.



6. Random Bookish Facts:

  • a) How do you like your books – Hardcovers, paperbacks, audiobooks or e-books?

Akua – Paperback.

Mel – Paperback mostly, hardback if it’s affordable; not a fan of audiobooks.

Sam – Paperback until quite recently. E-books are more handy and make my commute less boring and bulky.

••

  • b) Do you usually read – New books, used books, borrowed/stolen books (from friends) or library books?

Akua – A brand new book from Waterstones.

Mel – Usually brand new books but I’m also a lover of borrowed/stolen books.

Sam – Definitely new books (I do steal a lot of book lists though).

••

  • c) What is/are your favorite book genre(s)? (Poetry, thrillers, romance, short stories, literary fiction, non-fiction etc.)

Akua – Poetry. It’s simple but deep.

Mel – Thrillers. I enjoy the suspense and drama.

Sam – Historical Fiction! I love a good mystery too.

••

  • d) Favorite snacks/beverages to indulge in while reading?

Akua – Biscuits or cake.

Mel – Peppermint tea all day everyday.

Sam – Potato Chips and chocolate. There’s something about the crunch that keeps me going.


  1. Who are your top three favorite African writers, and why?

Akua – Her Majesty Queen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe and Afua Hirsch. The first two are authors of my favourite books so by default my favourite writers. Afua Hirsch is a journalist, half English, half Ghanaian. When I see a cutting edge, non-conformist article on current affairs, I just know she wrote it. Such an intelligible Black British voice! I so appreciate her. She has a book coming out in January 2018.


Mel – Chimamanda Ngozi and Chigozie Obioma. I’m still on the hunt for my third favourite African author. Chimamanda is amazing for her attention to detail and empowering me as a women and an individual of African descent. Chigozie is special for his gift of reflecting his literary influences in his novels. He also has a knack for eloquently describing a mere moment, allowing the reader to see it from an in-depth perspective.


Sam – I’m pretty old school so I’m going to say Ama Ata Aidoo because of her style and her pioneering work in African Literature with regards to female independence and empowerment. Wole Soyinka next because I love his sense of humour and the wisdom in his writing. I will have to concede that more recently I too have developed a soft spot for Chimamanda Ngozi. She just embodies everything. She is intelligent, eloquent and still relatable. She has a way of dissecting literally all things that matter to young black women so plainly yet extremely intuitive.


  1. Finally, what can listeners and readers look forward to in the future for The Sankofa Book Club?

Akua – Amazing guests on the podcast and more interaction with our book club members! We know we have a consistent audience out there, we see you and we love you!

Mel – I’d like to echo what Akua has said and add that listeners can also expect that we will continue to encourage their inner book worm.

Sam – More exciting and representative books!!


Catch up with The Sankofa Book Club: Website | Soundcloud  | Twitter | Instagram

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Caribbean Literature chat with writer, Joanne C. Hillhouse

How do you feel about literature from the Caribbean? Who are some of your favorite writers of Caribbean descent? 2 months ago, I sent out a Tweet asking for recommendations of book bloggers & blogs that focus on Caribbean literature/culture. I received a good number of responses, with most of them having a focus on Caribbean Kid Lit & Mommy blogs.

(click image to see responses via Twitter)

As I was receiving recommendations, I realized that I had been following writer Joanne C. Hillhouse’s website and blog for almost 2 years now. For those who don’t know, Joanne C. Hillhouse is a writer of Antiguan descent, based in Antigua. She’s the founder of Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (founded in 2004), which is ‘an annual writing challenge, guiding young Creatives toward culturally relevant literary expression, and nurturing and showcasing their best efforts.’ Hillhouse’s website and blog have been staples of mine when it comes to getting my Caribbean literature fix, as she often gives lots of recommendations and shares her experiences reading various books from the Islands.

Joanne C. Hillhouse was gracious enough to chat with me via email on Caribbean literature, the reading culture in Antigua, her favorite writers/Caribbean (book) blogs and the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. Get your TBRs ready, because they will definitely grow after you indulge in this wholesome book chat, with writer Joanne C. Hillhouse. (note – ‘JH’ represents Joanne C. Hillhouse’s responses).

Enjoy!


  1. At what age did you read your first novel by a Caribbean writer? How was that experience?

JH: I can’t remember. My introduction to Caribbean literature, the way I remember it, was primarily through the oral tradition (jumbie stories, folk stories, Anansi stories, even calypso the more narrative of which I still sometimes use in workshops) and through short stories used in school. I remember short stories like the one about Millicent with her prideful nature and her organdy dress, by Merle Hodge, though I’m not sure I registered who the author was at the time as this was primary school or at highest first form of secondary school, and Millicent and her classroom tyranny was what resonated.

I remember excerpts of Michael Anthony’s The Year in San Fernando standing out as well. Actually, this is unlocking a memory of what might, emphasis on might, have been the first Caribbean book I read, Miguel Street by V. S. Naipual. My brother was in secondary school and I believe it was one of his, but I read it, recognized it, loved it.

I also remember reading Sam Selvon’s A Brighter Sun, I think it was A Brighter Sun, in secondary school over the summer in third form maybe, and then by the time term started it had been dropped from the reading list; I remember that because I remember being disappointed. It didn’t help that I didn’t fall in love with the Caribbean book I ultimately did have to study – no further comment on that.

A book that stands out though, though this would have been later teens, is Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, which hit close to home in many ways, not least of which because I, too, was a girl from Antigua and I recognized the physical, socio-cultural, and emotional landscape of the book. I mark this as one of the books that opened up a portal of possibility for me in terms of me becoming a writer.

 


  1. What’s the reading culture like in Antigua and Barbuda? Is Caribbean literature required reading in the school system?

JH: Most of the reading of Caribbean literature that happens, I would say, happens in school and even there it’s limited, though I can’t speak specifically to what’s required reading or what isn’t and how much it’s changed since my school days. I’ve been fortunate to have some of my books read in the schools, including The Boy from Willow Bend which has been on the schools reading list here in Antigua and in Anguilla for years. I have been fortunate, as well, to meet some of the young people who did have to read my books in school and they didn’t seem to hate it the way we tend to things we’re obligated to do, which is always the danger. They seem to like them actually.

But the reality is that outside of school, Caribbean books are not widely read, though it’s perhaps better than it was. I grew up reading more books from England and the U.S. –they were just more readily available (and weren’t school books) and I don’t think that has changed as much as I’d like to wish. I would distinguish though between reading and storytelling, and though one of our leaders, reportedly, once said that we’re not a reading public, I would venture to say that we have always been a storytelling public – stories handed down have sustained our culture from the time when we didn’t have agency over our own lives (slavery) to present (post-Independence), and I think people appreciate seeing some of our stories written down.


  1. How prevalent is African literature in Antigua? Are books by African writers sold in bookshops and/or read & raved about among book lovers on the Island?

JH: Not very. Some are sold, yes, but honestly perhaps more so those who’ve been embraced in Western culture – like a Chimamanda Adichie.


  1. You’ve successfully published six books and I plan on getting my hands on your recent novel – Oh Gad!, especially after Trinidadian-American writer Elizabeth Nunez recommended it on NPR’s Weekend Reads. How long have you been a writer? Do labels like ‘Antiguan writer’ or ‘Caribbean writer’ limit how you identify as a writer?

JH: How long have I been a writer… I remember going to see Chariots of Fire on a class trip in primary school and not really getting it but liking the theme music and making up lyrics, that I still sort of remember, to that theme music. There are probably other moments like that, but that’s one I remember. Then I remember journaling and attempting my first story in a black and white note book my Tanty used to own and write in, when she died. Her death was very traumatic, and that notebook and the silver bracelets I still wear were things of hers that I held on to. Then, in my teens, probably earlier, entering school essay competitions – around tourism and Independence themes; won a trip to another Caribbean island once and my mom sent my big sister with me, I imagine because I was too young to travel alone though she is only a year and change older than me.

Lots of writing activity in my teens, poetry, short fiction, song lyrics, including one that I worked out with my guitar teacher and submitted it with the youth choir I was then a part of to a sub-regional radio Christmas carol competition; I still have that prize plaque. I remember taking my stories to show to one of my English teachers when I started the Antigua State College, one of the first times I sought critical feedback. Then at the College, between age 16 and 18, I would write plays, soapy melodramas in retrospect, that were performed by the College drama group; on to the University of the West Indies where I was both taught (fiction) and mentored by Mervyn Morris, who then recommended me for my first fiction writing workshop, the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute facilitated by Olive Senior at the University of Miami. It was there that I started work on what would become my first book.

I’m not a fan of labels and I try not to think in terms of limitations, though I’m certainly aware of and have encountered the obstacles in the path of a writer from a small place – first within the wider Caribbean and then internationally. The world of publishing is paradoxically both crowded and vast. But as far as the writing goes… every writer comes from somewhere, right? New Orleans pulses in the writings of Anne Rice and Ireland was richly rendered by Maeve Binchy, Mario Puzo embedded his readers in a particular part of the Italian-American experience, Junot Diaz provides a window to the Dominican-American experience and Edwidge Danticat to the Haitian experience; their locales/cultures enriched the work rather than limiting them. Antigua and the Caribbean are in my skin, on my tongue, and in my writing. I embrace that. One of my favourite reviews – plural because it’s been said more than once, about more than one piece of writing – has come from readers, Antiguan or otherwise, who have described my writing as unapologetically Antiguan/Caribbean. My stories are particular, and, I like to hope, potentially universal not in spite of but because of that.


  1. You’re the founder and coordinator of the amazing Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, which promotes the literary arts among young people in Antigua and Barbuda. What inspired you to start this writing program and how has the reception been since its launch in 2004?

JH: I was at a luncheon in Canada, the Caribbean-Canadian literary expo, maybe the first off-island literary event I was invited to as a published author, in 2003; and the featured speaker at the luncheon was a Guyanese writer of my generation (Ruel Johnson) who spoke of the lack of nurseries for potential or emerging writers in the region. As I had felt that lack keenly coming of age in Antigua, I foolishly resolved to do something about it, and when I got home I fired off a proposal to my first two partners without fully understanding the commitment I was making or the work involved.

It has experienced peaks and valleys in terms of the response; this was our best year numerically and also our most challenging because of those high numbers. It’s hard for me to assess its reception; I’m too deep in it. I only know that it has come to mean as much to me as anything I’ve written, I’ve seen people who’ve come through it go on to do things creatively, I believe that it is now part of the cultural landscape and at the same time something that still has a lot of growing to do…and that it’s been something like a labour of love that has got to become more institutionalized if it is to survive me (or my ability to do it), and I want that.

The breakdown on Wadadli Pen and its works and impacts can be found here: https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com/about


  1. I enjoy visiting Wadadli Pen, as well as your personal website Jhohadli as there’s always fresh content on the literary happenings in the Caribbean! Do you frequent other websites or book blogs that focus on Caribbean literature? If so, please recommend your top 3 favorite websites/blogs.

JH: I follow many book, arts, and cultural blogs Caribbean and not Caribbean. Top three Caribbean? I’m much too indecisive to ever have a definitive top 3 but the Caribbean(ish) blogs I have most recently interacted with are Island Editions by a Canadian author who divides her time between Canada and Bequia and blogs on publishing and writing mostly; Repeating Islands which curates Caribbean themed content from different sources; and Random Michelle, an Antiguan blogger who regularly posts photo prompts to which I like to challenge myself to respond. So, I’ll mention those with a shout out to the Paper-Based book blog, the blog of a Trinidad based bookshop, written by poet and reviewer Shivanee Ramlochan, who also reviews books for the Caribbean Beat magazine and at her personal blog Novel Niche: A Place for Books and who recently published her debut collection – the blog reviews Caribbean books, including my own Musical Youth and a blog, Jamaican Woman Tongue, run by one of my favourite former professors from the University of the West Indies, Carolyn Cooper.


  1. I’ve enjoyed works by Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat and Austin Clarke and I hope to indulge in more novels from the Islands, including yours. For those who are new to literature from the Caribbean, which books and/or authors do you highly recommend?

JH: Some of my favourite Caribbean books of fiction would be:

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Sevlon

Fear of Stones by Kei Miller

Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay

The Book of Night Woman by Marlon James

Waiting in Vain by Colin Channer

White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo

A good introductory read to contemporary Caribbean fiction, meanwhile, would be Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean.

Other links on my blogs:


  1. Finally, do you have any new books or projects in the works for readers and writers to look forward to in the near future?

JH: Works in progress, at least three, one of which is a sequel to Musical Youth, the first book was a finalist for the Burt Award; one of which is a novel with two main women characters from very different worlds; and one of which I can best describe as character vignettes in a moving space. I have been trying to get funding or a residency or something that would allow me to just sit and work on digging in to these for a long uninterrupted while, but short of that I continue incrementally and have been for some time. Bills have to be paid, you know, and I freelance as a writer, editor, workshop facilitator, and writing coach, I love it but the hustle can be draining. But those three that I mentioned, which is more than I’ve said publicly before, more than I like to say at all about works in progress, but maybe saying it will push things along, lol, those three are the works in progress that may be books someday. But there are various works, non-fiction to short fiction to poetry, in various stages of progress. I try to write a bit every day, so I’m always working on something.

Coming soon, a re-issue with new art of my first picture book Fish Outta Water, so look out for that, totally new aesthetic, and I have to note that still new, so I’m still in promotion mode on that, is With Grace, my second picture book, a Caribbean fairytale which debuted in December; and I’m still hoping more people will discover the previous books all of which are listed on my website.

Works by Joanne C. Hillhouse


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me on literature from the Caribbean. I hope we get to do this again soon!

JH: Thanks for the interest and the opportunity.

2015 at the University of the (US) Virgin Islands Literary Festival & Book Fair where Hillhouse (on the right) was a panelist and Jamaica Kincaid (on the left) was the featured speaker.

Photo via Joanne C. Hillhouse – Wadadli Pen

Book Chat :: with Zinzi Clemmons, author of forthcoming novel – ‘What We Lose’

Happy summer, everyone!

What books are on your radar this summer? I highly recommend you keep an eye out for debut novel – What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, which will be in stores July 11th!

Check out the synopsis below:

From an author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country.

Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.

In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.

Images via vogue.comzinziclemmons.com

Back in March of this year, Zinzi Clemmons and publishing team at Viking Books sent me an Advance Reading Copy of What We Lose and I devoured it over the weekend, on the week it was sent. The novel was a pleasantly intimate read and I just had to discuss various aspects of the book with Clemmons herself.

Zinzi Clemmons was gracious enough to have a book chat with me on her debut. We discussed various social and cultural issues that inundate this deeply moving work. (note – ‘ZC’ represents Zinzi Clemmons’s responses).


  1. Before we discuss your forthcoming novel, I want to commend you on your thorough and pretty fierce essay on literary criticism- featured in The James Franco Review. How long have you been writing and what are your views on book blogs in the literary criticism space?  

 

ZC: Thank you, I’m glad to hear you read that piece. The goal of that essay was to merge argument with practice—the essay itself is a continuation of discourse, which is what I was arguing for in the essay. To me, it’s very important to not shy away from tough discussions, to follow them all the way through to the end. That’s what I was attempting to do there.

I started writing in college, around the same time that I started becoming involved in publications. The first one was my college’s black literary journal, called the African Sun. It had been dormant for some time, and some friends and I helped revive it. In grad school, I founded a literary journal called Apogee, and I had a big hand in founding their blog. I love the experience of being in a room with a lot of smart, dedicated people, and arguing over every small editorial decision, every piece of paper, every illustration that goes into it. That atmosphere of collaboration and debate has always really inspired me.

So, first, I think that online publications allow people to do this who otherwise couldn’t afford it. They offer a great opportunity to people who like you who want to get their point of view out into the world. And, they are accessible to readers who otherwise couldn’t afford print journals, or who don’t have access to bookstores that carry them (increasingly a problem), or who otherwise just wouldn’t know where to look. I think they’re an increasingly important part of our media landscape, and they should be supported.


 

  1. In your forthcoming novel ‘What We Lose,’ Thandi – the heroine, is raised in Pennsylvania by her African-American father and South African mother – much like yourself. To what extent is this novel autobiographical and how long did it take you to write it?

 

ZC: The novel is based on my life, but it’s not my life. The biographical facts of Thandi’s life are very similar—not unusual for a novelist—but our personalities diverge. She is much more impulsive, whereas I take a long, long time to think over any decision I make. Some of that is indecision, some of it is that I’m just a very careful person. I’m in awe of people who can think in real-time on Twitter—it takes me a minimum of 30 minutes to think over any tweet, and I always end up regretting it. I like to say that whereas I would think about doing something, Thandi would just do it. It took me about 4 years from start to finish.


 

  1. The novel alternates between the United States and South Africa. I enjoyed the vignettes in South Africa where Thandi spends time with her carefree cousin, Lyndall. What’s your personal relationship to South Africa?

 

ZC: My mother, like Thandi’s, was South African, and her extended family (which is very large) lives over there. There are also family friends and others—altogether, I have a very extensive network over there. My mom was a schoolteacher with summers off, so from the time I was an infant until I graduated high school, whenever we could afford it, she would take my brother and I over there for the entire summer. I was born in 1985, so this means I saw a lot of pre-Independence and post-. I’m still very close with my family over there. My husband also lived in Cape Town briefly in 2013, and the first conversation we ever had was about South African politics and the EFF. It turned out we were there at the same time—in 2013, around the time Nelson Mandela died. We both love the country and hope to return as soon as we can, but of course, it’s a long way there from California, where we live.


 

  1. This powerful quote stood out to me –

Her disease only reinforced how the world saw us: not black or white, not American or African, not poor or rich. We were confined to the middle, and would always be. As hard as she tried to separate herself from the binds of apartheid, we were still within its grip. It had become the indelible truth of our lives, and nothing – not sickness, not suffering, not death – could change that. (pg. 82)

 

The commentary on post-apartheid race relations in South Africa are truly compelling in ‘What We Lose,’ especially being juxtaposed against American race relations. In your view, how are American and South African racial issues similar and/or different?

 

ZC: I wrote an op-ed on this that will hopefully come out soon, where I basically say that each country offers insight on how the other deals with race. There are many parallels between America’s and South Africa’s racial legacies, but to kind of nutshell what that difference is: to me, American racism is most often disguised, whereas in South Africa, it’s more obvious and out in the open. Trevor Noah made this point recently: the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was a defining moment in that it acknowledged the pain and suffering of black people. America never did that; reparations here are still an incredibly hot-button issue. America’s racial legacy is one of denial and cognitive dissonance. We’ve perfected the art of brutalizing minorities while denying we’ve done anything wrong to them. In South Africa, things are not quite so. Of course, that goes on, but not to the degree we do it in America. Philando Castile’s murderer was just acquitted, when everyone could see that he was murdered, and that officer was reckless. But nothing happens, over and over. A lot of that has to do with the fact that America is a white-majority country, whereas SA is black-majority. But we see a lot of parallels around issues of affirmative action, social welfare, and LGBT issues.


 

  1. This novel is a unique hybrid with African and African-American socio-cultural elements embodied into Thandi’s persona. Some writers dislike being ‘pigeon-holed’ and labeled as ‘African writer’ or ‘African-American writer’ or ‘Black writer.’ How do you prefer to be identified as a writer?

 

ZC: For the most part, I don’t mind what people call me. I try not to focus on what I can’t control, and instead focus on what I can: improving myself as a writer and a thinker. The truth is, I am all of those things you name: I’m an African-American writer, a Black writer, a woman writer, a young writer. As far as what I call myself, I have a tough time describing myself as African, because I have not lived there for a long time, but rather been a long-term visitor. I don’t think there’s a word for my relationship to South Africa, but to call myself African as an identifier doesn’t feel quite right. I call myself an artist and a literary writer, and I try to interact with all those identities and the communities that come along with.


 

  1. Who are some of your favorite Black writers and influencers of your work? (where ‘Black’ is – African/ African-American/ Caribbean/ Black-British/ Afro-Latinx or simply writers of African descent).

 

ZC: It’s tough to pick from so many, as most of my favorite writers are Black, but I’ll try. Toni Morrison is a guiding light; Claudia Rankine, Paule Marshall, Audre Lorde, Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon. Jesmyn Ward is a Southern American writer whose work is incredibly important—I’m not sure how popular her work is overseas, but it should be. She speaks from a very particular experience that you don’t encounter very often—she’s from a poor rural community on the Gulf Coast—and her writing is elegant and honest. I teach her work in my classes, and I think it will stand the test of time.


 

  1. Grief and illness play huge roles in this intimate novel. While Thandi and her mother had a complicated relationship, she’s nonetheless deeply affected by her mother’s passing. In these tumultuous times, ‘self-care’ has become more important for many of us Black millenials. What are some of the ways you preserve your mental health, especially in these times?

 

ZC: It’s a really tough thing to do, and I think the first thing to acknowledge is that everyone has a different role to play in these times—if we want to call it a struggle, so be it. I gave an interview the other day where someone asked what I think the role of the activist is nowadays, and I couldn’t give a concrete answer. I think that everyone should decide what they can handle—for some that means protesting, for others that’s writing articles or poetry or fundraising. There’s no one way to participate—your role can look different. But it’s important to remember that we all need rest. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so always think about what you need to do to keep yourself going. Whether that means shutting off the TV for a weekend, or changing your media diet. Do what you need to do to support the work you’re doing. That’s my motto in general, but it’s particularly applicable today.


 

  1. While reading, I often pictured this novel on the big screen: stellar cinematography sans excessive dialogue but with vivid imagery (as in the book) that reflect the meditative nature of the novel. Have you ever wondered who would play Thandi, if ‘What We Lose’ ever made it to the big screen?

 

ZC: I’ve always flirted with the idea of making a film, even before I published this novel. I’ve made some pretty amateur art videos myself, and from what you described they may be along the lines of what you envisioned. The film rights are actually being shopped now, so I hope this does come true! Lisa Bonet is sort of my celebrity doppelgänger, so from a pure verisimilitude angle, Zoe Kravitz would fit the bill. But, I’d also love to find a new up and coming actress and give her the spotlight.


 

  1. I was elated to see that ‘What We Lose’ will also be published by Jonathan Ball Publishers, in South Africa. When will the book be released in South Africa? Why have the book published and available in South Africa as well?

 

ZC: The book will be released shortly after the July 11 US pub date. It was very important to me for the book to be published over there, and I insisted on it when 4th Estate (my UK publisher who distributes in Commonwealth countries) offered to buy it. Two reasons: First, because the book is set there and I think South Africans will want to read it, and I’m interested in what they think of it. Second, and more personally, I have a big family over there and it meant a lot to me for them to be able to buy it in bookstores.


 

  1. Finally, why would you like for people to read your forthcoming novel, ‘What We Lose’?

 

ZC: I wrote this book to challenge ideas about literature, race, and motherhood. I hope that anyone who is interested in these ideas finds this book. I also wrote this book for black women, for young women like you and me, to offer a different representation than the ones we are used to. I wanted to create a narrator like me, who could to tell this story. This has always been a main goal of mine: to broaden peoples’ ideas of what blackness is, and who black women are. Solange has been a very influential cultural voice for me, so to borrow the title of her last album, I hope this book offers another seat at the table.


 

Zinzi Clemmons is a Philadelphia-raised writer and editor with South African and Trinidadian roots. She’s co-founder and former publisher of Apogee Journal, as well as a contributing editor to the Literary Hub. She has a great number of critical essays and short stories online and currently teaches literature & creative writing at The Colburn Conservatory and Occidental College.

(Image via zinziclemmons.com)

 

Pre-order What We Lose on Amazon 

Book Chat :: Do you practice book polygamy?

Hey everyone!

From time to time, I’d like to pick your brains on different topics I think interest and affect all book lovers. The last book chat – Do you lend your books? was pretty enlightening and I appreciated the various perspectives and book lending strategies you all gave!

Today, I’m really curious to know from you all: Do you practice book polygamy?

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Image via EpicReads

Let’s chat, shall we?

For those who don’t know, book polygamy is the art of reading many books at a time. ‘Many’ is relative, but I believe reading more than 1 book at a time could be considered as practicing book polygamy. During the beginning of the year (January), I found myself reading 3 books at a time in order to generate some content for this book blog before I resumed school for the second semester. The 3 books I was reading were of different genres: the first book was a short stories collection (Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman), the second book was a memoir (Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes) and the third book was an anthology (African Love Stories: an anthology ed. by Ama Ata Aidoo). I was only able to juggle these 3 books because they were of completely different genres, so it was almost impossible for me to mix up the plots.

Other than that, reading more than 1 book at a time is a bit bothersome for me – unless they are completely different types of books. For example, I’m currently reading Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection – Milk & Honey and Véronique Tadjo’s novella – As The Crow Flies. I’m able to read these books with ease because they are two different types of books + I’m reading Kaur’s poetry collection as an ebook, which gives me a different reading experience as well. If the books I’m reading aren’t of different genres, I find that my brain gets hyperactive and I become preoccupied with trying to recollect all the different plots. And for me, reading is usually relaxing and enjoyable – not a frantic relay race.

How do some of you manage to read more than 1 book (of similar genres) at the same time? How do you know when to start a new book while you’re already in the process of reading one – or two books?

I recently visited book blogger veteran, Nina Chachu’s blog – Accra Books and Things, and on her July 1st blog post, she analyzed her reading habits over the last three years. In the post, she states:

So I thought I would look at my reading so far – or rather the books which I have finished reading, because I do have to admit that I usually have several books on the go at any one time. For instance at the moment, I have one which I read in the bathroom, another in bed (alternating with some library magazines/journals), one for the bus going to and from work, plus a novel to read while eating, and another via Kindle apps. And as I wrote the last sentence I realized that actually I had forgotten to mention two others which I dip into occasionally. So I think that adds up to about seven – at least as of the time of writing!

(read more from Nina Chachu’s blog post – here)

As I read that portion of her post, I was dumbfounded with admiration. I tip my hat off to all of you who can juggle 4 to 7 books at a time. That takes skills I have not yet learned!

How about you all: 

Do you practice book polygamy? If you do, how do you avoid mixing up the various plots you enjoy? If you do not practice book polygamy – why not?

I’d love to hear your opinions, experiences and some book polygamy strategies!

Book Chat :: Do you lend your books?

Hey everyone!

From time to time, I’d like to pick your brains on different topics that I think interest and affect all book lovers. Today, I’m really curious to know from you all: Do you lend your books to others?

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Image via EpicReads

Let’s chat, shall we?

There have been times when friends have NOT returned the books I lent them. To this day, one of my best friends still has one of my favorite books in her possession (I gave it to her back in 2009 and I eventually had to stop asking for the book back, since she didn’t seem to know where she put it -_-). Other friends who eventually returned books I lent, brought them back with either oil smudges on the pages, discombobulated book spines or limp-looking, torn paperback covers – basically, damaged books.

I feel very connected to the (physical) books I own – am I alone here? I’ve connected with various characters, places and incidents from the books I read. Some of my books have notes I jotted down on the pages, some passages are underlined and some pages are marked for future referencing and whatnot. So right now, I do not like to lend my books to anyone anymore (well, I do share my books with my Mom. She’s an original book lover, so she respects books! And I usually read her books, so its only fair to share mine too haha).

I’m learning to say ‘no’ to lending my books. But it’s not easy to say no – I don’t want a friend or family member to feel offended or think I’m being selfish for not wanting to lend them. Books shouldn’t be the cause of sour relations between individuals… but honestly, after all the bad experiences I’ve had with lending, I’d rather purchase the book of interest for a friend, instead of loaning my copy.

How about you all:

Do you let people borrow your books? Are you attached to the physical books you own? Have you had similar instances where loved ones misplace or ‘abuse’ your cherished books? How would you tell others that you don’t usually lend out your books?

I’d love to hear your opinions, experiences and tips on your book lending policy!


By the way, I’m currently (slowly) reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel: In Other Words. It’s very passionate thus far!

I also attended a book reading for Elnathan John last weekend (he was shortlisted twice for the Caine Prize) and I purchased his debut novel – Born On A Tuesday, as well as Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore which I spotted at the bookstore where the reading was being held (Vidya Bookstore; Accra). I hope to enjoy them during summer break!

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Image via my Instagram: @AwoDeee