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Rebecca Walker’s second memoir, Baby Love, is out. I found her first memoir Black, White, and Jewish to be really disturbing, but oddly enough, my dad did enjoy it. Her new book is about her decision to have a child with her partner,
Mechell Ndegeocello. (**update: wrong partner.) And, according to the Publisher’s Weekly review, the novel also details her big fight with her mom, Alice Walker, about the way that Rebecca portrays her in the first memoir. (Major drama. Apparently, wills have been changed.)
And look, Rebecca Walker has a blog.
And speaking of memoirs, A.M. Homes new memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter is on the shelves. I tell you, when I had my idea for my third novel, I thought it was such a novel concept. I was wrong and keep getting wronger.
Richard McCann visited George Washington University last week and read from his excellent prose debut, Mother Of Sorrows. My students were in attendance, as we have used his work in our Advanced Fiction Class. The reading was wonderful– with material like that, how could Richard go wrong?
(Journalistic note: on the photo to the right, I begged him to strike that Mark Twain pose.)
One of the many interesting things that Richard said was, “I don’t worry about fiction or Non-fiction. I just think of it all as prose.” He said this in response to a question about the autobiographical aspects of Mother Of Sorrows.
The chapter of he read dealt with the brothers– both gay, one closeted– on a visit with thier disapproving mother. There is a passage in which Richard describes the characters physical features and it is as though he is staring into a mirror describing what he sees.
This is not to say that Mother of Sorrows is memoir. Richard mentioned the most significant diversion from the “truth” is thatthere is a third McCann brother, but in the novel, there are only two. He said what he feared most was that this brother wouldn’t approve of the book– not just because the third brother is very religious and might not like the gay themes, but also because the third brother was sort of erased from the history created by the novel.
I tend get really irritated when readers spend way too much time trying to decode the autobiography in my work. It makes me feel like they are looking under my clothes. When the first student asked the question, I cringed for Richard, but he seemed to be energized by the discussion.
If you haven’t read Mother of Sorrows, you should. It will break your heart, in a very good way.
Friends and neighbors, I need something to read. I’ve got novels on my shelf, but I can’t quite remember why I bought them. Chances are, I heard some buzz out there in the industry. Right now, I need something to read that is recommended by just a regular person. I don’t want to read something because it’s been published as the lead title from XYZ press, or its author won a major humungous prize. I don’t want to read something just because I met the author in an elevator and she was really cool. Right now, I need a strong personal endorsement of something. What have you read lately that knocked your socks off?
I don’t know if it’s the books I have been reading lately, or maybe it’s just a problem with my socks. Whatever the case, I am not getting the zing I used to get from reading. This is so not cool.
I’ve been feeling a little bit on the blue side. A friend said, “Is it because you’re not writing enough?” And the real answer it that is isn’t because I’m not READING enough.
I often bring poetry into my fiction classes. I often use this one by Lucille Clifton. (How an she tell a full story in so few–very beautiful–words?)
my sister Josephine
born in ’29
and dead these 15 years
who carried a book on every stroll.
when daddy was dying
she left the streets
and moved him back home
to tend him.
her pimp came too
her Diamond Dick
and they would take turns
a bible aloud through the house.
when you poem this
and you will, she would say
remember the Book of Job.
happy birthday and hope
to you Jospehine
one of the easts
may heaven be filled
with literate men
may they bed you
Last month, while hanging out with Remica Bingham, I noticed that she shared the same last name as the artist who designed the cover of her book.
“Are you related?” I asked.
She smiled and said, “It’s my father.”
“Really,” I said. “How did that happen?”
She answered me in writing.
by Remica Bingham
It’s a strange thing to find your father where you never thought he would be. So when I found my father pouring through the rows of poetry on my bookshelves I was a bit taken aback. He wasn’t reading any poems, just looking at spines and covers, examining each book, its texture, style. This was July 2006, after I found out I’d won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award and that my book, Conversion, would be published, in a matter of months, by Lotus Press.
When Lotus Press asked me if I had any input as to what I’d like to see on the cover of the book, I knew this was the right press at the right time. I told them my father was an artist and that I’d like him to do the cover art. Not only were they agreeable, but they seemed fond of the idea as well, without even knowing our story. I suppose they had read the book, though, since they’d chosen it for their book prize, and did get to glimpse into our past. My father takes a bit of a thrashing (as do many others—myself included) in the book. I tell so much about the dark times in his life, in our lives. My father and mother divorced when I was twelve and remarried when I was twenty. After many years of turmoil and distance, they found their way back to each other, older, wiser and more open to the possibility of happiness, of trust.
Nikki Giovanni has a new book out, Acolytes. When she was in town this week, she was quite excited about an upcoming reading at Eso Wan bookstore in L.A. Why? Well, for one, Eso Wan is a terrific bookstore– totally commited to African American Literature. But the real reason is that she is going to be reading with her old friend, Frankie Lennon. And when I say old friend, I mean they go way back. Their mothers were in the hospital giving birth to the two of them at the same time– you can’t go back much further than that! So go to Eso Wan tommorrow afternoon at 5pm for a Geminii double-header.
I am always sort of uneasy with the task of reviewing. On the one hand, I feel like doing a review causes me to me lay down my opinion as somehow more valuable than other folks views on a book. I know how important reviews can be– not only for the “success” of a book, but for the author’s emotional health. (I can quote my crappy reviews chapter and verse.) There is a part of me that would prefer not to be part of the whole messy ordeal of putting my opinions in print.
On the other hand, I really think it is important that more folks of color be allowed to weigh in about literature and we should be make ourselves heard in high profile venues. If these reviews are important, then we should be among the tastemakers.
I don’t want to get in the habit of thinking of myself as any sort of gatekeeper, so I don’t take on too many review assignments. But when I do, I try to give an honest and fair critique of the work that respects the readers as consumers of literature while giving the author the respect that she deserves as the creator of the same.
I reviewed Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon for The Washington Post. You can read it here.
Young South African writer/filmaker, Nokuthula Mazibuko, is the World Literature Fellow here at George Washington University. Last night, she screened her documentary film “Spirit of No Surrender.”
The film is an examination into the lives of the students and teachers who were at the center of the 1976 Soweto uprising. (There is more information about this historical event here, but in short the black South African school children marched in protest of the inferior education they received and were mowed down by the police. This ignited resistance movements all over the country.)
The subject matter is very personal to Nokuthula (pronounced Nok-TU-la) because one of the brave teachers is her own father. There is much to be admired about “Spirit of No Surrender”, and I am most intrigued by her use of subtitles. The subjects of the documentary speak both English and IsiZulu, slipping easily from one to the other. The film maker provides subcaptions in English when the people are speaking IsiZulu and vice versa. The result is arresting. I had to become a more active viewer–sometimes listening, sometimes reading. I really felt myself to be at the lingual-crossroads that was at the center of the conflict.
If you missed last night’s showing, never fear. Nokuthula has several other presentations scheduled for her time here in DC. She’ll be giving a reading a of her fiction here at GW on March 1. On this coming Monday at 1pm, she’ll be at the Library of Congress .
The rest of her schedule is below:
I’m really getting into graphic novels. Right now, I am reading Fun Home by Allison Bechdel, and loving it. Last year, I taught Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, which is supposed to be a classic of the genre. (It was very interesting and there were moments when I was really engaged. But between you and me, I wanted to slap him every time he drew the black woman from behind.)
Large Hearted Boy posted a piece on the new graphic novel, Stagger Lee. I first because acquainted with the legend of Stagger Lee when reading Erasure by Percival Everett. (A really really good book.) In that novel, “Stagger Lee” is the pen-name of the literary writer who decides to write street-fiction to make a buck. I mentioned this an older friend who screamed with laughter. “What?” I said. “I don’t get it.” That friend, began to sing.
Stagger Lee is the archetype of the “gangsta”. “The Ballad of Stagger Lee” (the ditty performed by my friend) was written about a real life shooting. (For more info, you can click here.) Anyway, I was sort of interested in the graphic novel, and then sort of not interested. I am at the gangsta saturation point.
One of my New Year’s plans is to read books that I am sort of suspicious of. I guess I can start here.
The short version is that I love this novel. It was so good, I wanted to eat it.
The Last of Her Kind, the fifth novel by Sigrid Nunez, is a breath-taking and utterly engaging story of Georgie and Ann who meet as roommates at Barnard in the 1960s. Ann is an rich white woman who says things like, “I wish I were black” and Georgie (who is also white) knows enough about being poor that she doesn’t wish for any additional burdens.
Despite this roommate set up, this novel is much more than an extended pajama party. This is the 1960s and Barnard is changing, the world is changing, and the friends are changing. Ann, who is singularly focused on her brand of social justice, ends up in prison and Georgie narrates the story from the safety of her more conventional life.
Did I mention the writing? Searing, gorgeous and just brilliant. Whenever I feel stuck on the novel I am working on, I go buy another copy of The Last of Her Kind. (You may wonder why I can’t keep re-reading the copy I already have. Well, every time I am reading, someone picks it up, reads a few pages and begs to borrow it. Sadly, this is the kind of book that people “borrow” forever.)
Read it. It’s really really good. I was surprised that it didn’t get more attention last year. It got off to a great start with a starred review from PW, a love letter in the New Yorker, ooh la la from The Village Voice, fever from Salon, but for some reason, it didn’t catch fire the way that it should have.
The good news is that books have long lives– no matter what the idiots in publishing believe. There’s plenty of time to read this remarkable novel, which has just been released in paperback!