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In her captivating debut story collection, Casper-raised author Nina McConigley examines with wit and empathy what it means to be “the wrong kind of Indians living in Wyoming.” Although prejudice and ignorance surface, there are few bad guys in this game of cowboys and Indians, only complicated human beings.
The characters in Cowboys and East Indians must explain themselves frequently — they are never quite what those who encounter them expect. In the story “Dot or Feather,” a foreign exchange student from India tells a Wyoming kid dressed up as a Native American, “There are two kinds of Indians. Some wear dots, others wear feathers. You’re a feather Indian. I wear a dot. – High Country News
Granted, a novel about a dude stuck in an airport isn’t for everybody, but I picked it up quite by accident in the Ucross library and I was sucked in by the voice. Miles is a writer who seems to be unafraid of being himself. This is a book that manages to be sarcastic, but still really vulnerable. I’m digging it.
This one isn’t out yet, but I managed to get my hot little hands on a review copy. The first story, Lizard Man, knocked. my. socks. off. Poisssant has a way of using premises that may make your roll your eyes, and then sneak up on you, knock you over the head and steal your heart. Example with Lizard Man: these two down on their luck dudes go on a roadie because one of the dude’s deadbeat dad has died. When they get there, they try and kidnap this alligator. (I can hear you rolling your eyes as you read this.) But then, as you’re reading it, you’re all of a sudden weeping into your latte, and somehow filled with hope at the same time. Well played, DJP, well played.
Turns out that my muse wasn’t really trying to hang out with me a La Muse. (More on that later.) Instead of writing, I took long walks, drank excellent wine, and read. A lot. I am hoping that all this reading rekindles my love for novel and inspires me to breathe life into my characters. So here’s what’s new on the reading list:
Foreign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe– It was like the love child of Chinua Achebe and Victor LaValle. A Nigerian ex pat, reduced to being a cabdriver in NYC decides go back home to Nigeria in order to steal the local diety and sell it to collectors. Half satire, half not. Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.
Raw by Mark Haskell Smith– This one reminds me of Erasure by Percival Everett, but without the complication of racial politics. Imagine if one of the dudes from your MFA workshop were to ghostwrite a novel for “The Situation” from Jersey Shore. Then imagine a young woman from that same class, she’s a blogger now, and is determined to unmask the ghost writer. That’s the plot here. Soapy, goofy, but smart fun. Reality TV hunk and People magazine’s “sexiest man alive”, Sepp Gregory goes on a book tour to promote his debut novel, a thinly veiled autobiography. Not that Sepp has actually read the book, he doesn’t have to, he lived it! The book becomes a sensation, a New York Timesbestseller, and, surprisingly, it even gets rave reviews from serious critics. Aside from Harriet Post, that is.
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile– Did you read Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season? (You should! It just won the Ernest Gaines Award, but I digress.) Well, Queen Sugar covers similar territory– a black woman ends up running a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. While Locke’s book centers around a murder, this is more of a family story. It’s a good read lots of plot twists, action, romance. Why exactly Charley Bordelon’s late father left her eight hundred sprawling acres of sugarcane land in rural Louisiana is as mysterious as it was generous. Recognizing this as a chance to start over, Charley and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, say good-bye to Los Angeles.
This pretty little corner is my reading look while I am at La Muse. I write during the day and in the evenings, I read to fill the well and relax. Here is what I have been reading lately.
Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois: This is a novel inspired by the Amanda Knox triall. An American exchange student is accused of murdering her roommate. Dubois seems to really “get” her characters. While it has some issues here and there, I stayed up all night reading it.
In The Blood by Lisa Ugner: Page turner falling into my favorite category of thriller– evil children. Great writing. Twists and turns to the last page. Excellent travel real.
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan: A bazillion pages. Lots of great characters and many thrilling adventures. Perfect for a cup of tea, or a glass of wine. Very very satisfying story.
Jesmyn Ward, a native of DeLisle, Miss., chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful and dangerous. Her National Book Award-winning novel, “Salvage the Bones,” claimed the Gulf Coast as her literary territory, but with “Men We Reaped,” it’s clear the region has claimed her in return. Ward’s memoir is an elegy for five young men dear to her who died in Mississippi between 2000 and 2004. Chapters are announced with each of their names, along with the dates of birth and death, giving the reader a feeling of winding through an overcrowded cemetery. The death of her younger brother, Joshua, is at the core of the book — “This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is.”
–Tayari Jones, NYTBR, September 15, 2013.
I reviewed Edwidge Danticat’s new novel, Claire of the Sea Light, for O Magazine. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Full review here.
“…the first thing a writer must do is love the reader and wish the reader well. The writer must trust the reader to be at least as intelligent as he is. Only in such well wishing and trust, only when the writer feels he is writing a letter to a good friend, only then will the magic happen.
I have done the other thing. I have written bitter and cruel things and even published some them and I regret every one.”
I have heard many black women writers confess that they were adults before they knew that black women could even be writers at all. Right now, I am thinking about how fortunate I am to have never doubted that it as possible for a black woman to be a writer. Like everyone, I had to go through a lot until I realized that I, myself, could be a writer, that I had something to say. But thanks to Alice Walker, I never thought that I was excluded because of who I am.
Watching Alive Walker, I knew that the life of the writer would not be easy. Yes, she was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and the only one– to this day– to have won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Still, she faced immense criticism for The Color Purple. I have never heard any writer spoken about with the venom with which some African American critics attacked Alice Walker. At the same time, I have never seen anyone stare down the hate with such love, generosity, and bravery.
Alice Walker is a trailblazer. She opened doors for writers who came after, but I want to give her credit for what she did for all of us as readers. The Color Purple is a gift. Those characters touched all of us deeply. They are bright purple patches in our American quilt.
I recently took a trip to Brazil. It was meant to be a work-cation– sightseeing, beaches, but also writing time. It also involved about twelves hours on a an airplane. I llike to think of myself as a with-it person, so I decided that I would read e-books while I was away. Afterall, I am a superfast reader and I wouldn’t want to be carrying two weeks worth of books. No, not hip super-techie me! iPad baby. Nook app.
I ordered the books from but forgot to actually send them to my device. No worries, I thought. I’ll just zip them from the cloud when I get on the place. Didn’t the promo material say the jet was WiFi enabled? Well, there was no WiFi on board, but that was okay. I entertained myself with the movies offered by my friends at American Airlines. (Young Adult wasn’t bad.) When I got to the villa in Brazil, there was no WiFi there, either. (Moral of this story– don’t believe anything you read in promo materials.) So there was was, stranded for two weeks with nothing to read. Keep in mind that this was a communal living situation– think The Real World. And everyone that was ever a nerdy child knows that a good book can give you privacy in your head, even when you have no privacy in real life. And I had NOTHING. Before you can suggest it— there was no sense looking for a bookstore since everything would be in Portugeuse.
Yes, I know that this falls under #firstworldproblems, but it was a little bit of a wake up call to me. The ebook requires a certain amount of infrastructure and privilege. Not everybody in America– let alone the rest of the world– is plugged in 24-7. And let’s say that I been able to download my ebooks, I wouldh’t have been able to share them with my new friends in Brazil.
The ride back was a nightmare. For one, No movies because I lost my upgrade. (That’s a long story which I will only tell over cocktails.) And second, I had nothing to read, having exhausted the SkyMiles catalog on the outbound trip. All around me people were flipping through paper books with what looked to me like joy. Glee, even. On my lap, my iPad mocked. I know this sounds dramatic, but I was in flight twelve hours! There is only so much solitaire and Texas Hold ‘Em a person can take.
Next time, it’s real books all the way.
Leaving Atlanta, my debut novel, published in 2002, will always be my baby. In many ways, it’s my most personal work, grounded heavily in my experiences growing up in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders. Many Americans don’t know that between 1979-81 almost thirty African American children were murdered in my hometown. Those of us who grew up in Atlanta will never forget. It’s no wonder that I chose this as the subject matter for my first book.
And while child murder is a dark topic, I had a lot of fun writing Leaving Atlanta. I got to go back and remember lots of wonderful details from childhood. I pulled up memories that were on the edge of being forgotten forever. There were little things like a weird orange colored, peanut butter flavored candy called a “Chick O Stick”. I also pulled up a photo of a boy I had known who was murdered. He was a couple of years older than I was, and a bully. In my memory he was this huge kid, but when I saw his photo, I realised that he had been just a baby, really. Understanding this was maybe the hardest thing about writing the book. My personal connection to this project as so deep that I added myself as a minor character.
Well, about three years ago, Leaving Atlanta and my second novel, The Untelling, were put on “print on demand.” This basically means that if someone wants a copy of the book, she has to wait for the publisher to print one up. The books were expensive and took FOREVER to get to the reader. In addition, they were never available when I gave readings. I was very unhappy about this, but there was little I could do.
But there was something that readers could do, and they did it. Thanks to the success of Silver Sparrow, more people have discovered my work and have been curious about my other titles. Enough people have shown interest in Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling that Grand Central Publishing has begun printing them again. I was so delighted when I gave a reading last week and saw a stack of Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling on sale beside Silver Sparrow.
Thank you, so much, everyone for making this possible. It means everything to me.
Like everybody, I have a long list of books that I have been meaning to read. I have another list of books I am in the middle of reading. Yes, I am one of those people that have one book that I am reading at home, another at work to read at lunch, and then there is always an audio book on my iPod. And then, there are the books that I have actually read. So, here’s a quick round up.
Passing Love by Jacqueline Luckett. It’s a lovely, romantic novel. If we ever get some snow this winter, I would recommend curling up with this in front of the fire with a nice hot chocolate.
Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston. I have been hearing Pam Houston read from this for years and now it’s finally out. It’s a hard book to summarize, but I’ll try. This is a collections of vignettes about her live and loves as she travels all around the world. See, that doesn’t do it justice. Trust me. It’s really good. And, I am in it, as myself. (My first cameo!)
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson. I gave this to my dad for Christmas.
After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God by Jacqueline Holness. I am trying to branch out and read more non fiction and spiritual works. I am also interested in just hearing the stories of women who have had so many different experiences with the church.
A Gathering of Waters by Bernice MacFadden. It’s a new look at the story of Emmit Till. Very creatively rendered. NPR is doing backflips.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s a memoir and basically everyone in the entire twitterverse is madly in love with it.
Creatures Here Below by O.H. Bennett. I think I need more books by brothers in my life.
Okay, that’s all for this list. I’ll update every month. And after I finish the books, I will post my thoughts on Goodreads. Tell me, what’s on your TBR list?