With August 2020 in the rearview mirror, I can safely say that it was a rather trash month. Even the gloom and rain of my birthday (the 3rd) had to be lifted by the sunshine of family and friends.
In my last post, I raved about the new work, If I Had Two Wings, by one of my all-time favorite writers, Randall Kenan. After reading (and enjoying!) this latest collection of short stories, I set out to send a note of praise to Randall. But I procrastinated and thought “oh, he’s probably being bombarded right now by the literati and other elites.”
I regret not sending that email.
Randall passed away unexpectedly last Friday. The same day as Chadwick Boseman. This one-two punch to the gut floored me.
Randall’s passing feels personal. He embodied the best of human graciousness in his Black, gay, Southern, brainy-yet-folksy way. Randall was my standard-bearer for the kind of Black gay fiction that celebrates the deep roots of our cultural heritage as well as the aspirational wings of positive possibilities. Who is going to carry that mantle henceforth??
My deepest condolences to Randall’s family, friends, colleagues, and other fans. We will surely miss him.
Omg omg omg omg Randall Kenan, one of my all-time favorite authors, has a new book out, If I Had Two Wings! To me, this is the literary equivalent of Sade releasing a new album!
Randall Kenan is the second Black gay author I ever read (James Baldwin was the first), starting with his haunting Visitation of Spirits. Kenan’s down home and deft descriptions of a Black pastoral North Carolina were deeply moving to me, as was the vulnerability and rawness with which he laid out the story. The angst and mysticism spoke directly to the very young man that I was at the time of first reading. While I wish one of the incidents had a more positive outcome (no spoilers!), it still ranks as one of my favorite books ever ever ever.
Since then, I’ve always tried to read whatever Professor Kenan writes. I had the good fortune to meet him years ago, and he’s always been very gracious and kind. When I published Tar Heel Born, he generously wrote a blurb for the book, of which I’m enormously proud!
This post could go on and on, so suffice it to say that I just got my hot hands on a copy of If I Had Wings and will savor the read! Let Black gay literary summer continue!
Ya know, I probably could do more posts, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t pressure myself to create stuff if not sufficiently moved. So there you have it. Thanks for not judging me!
Reading continues! This summer’s reading list has been fairly Black and gay, which is no small task. Today’s post features two recent releases by Black gay authors, Michael Donkor and George M. Johnson.
I briefly mentioned Donkor’s novelHousegirl in a previous post. The story takes place between Kumasi (Ghana’s second largest city) and London, told through the eyes of a 17 year old housegirl who is sent to befriend and “straighten out” the daughter of her ma’am’s friend.
While I enjoyed the story, I found Donkor’s use of Twi, a Ghanaian mother tongue, sprinkled in with English, and sometimes with no explanation in the glossary. He leaves it to the reader to figure out the word based on the context. That’s kinda cool, kinda daring. Good overall read.
Drawn to the book by its glorious cover, I thought All Boys Aren’t Blue was going to have a different spirit and tone that it did, but it was still a compelling read. Not to mention that this “memoir-manifesto” highlighted experiences that resonated deeply for me–a cherished relationship with a grandmother, a love of track and field, and pledging Alpha Phi Alpha. Plus the whole Black queer thing! Good young adult fiction, especially for Generation Z.
I stumbled upon this gem last night and keep playing it. Latice Crawford–whom I’d previously never heard of–delivers a stunning performance while looking like a member of the Dore Milaje. The second half of this is nothing short of incredible.
In addition to the divine message that gospel music conveys, its history also speaks to Black Americans’ resilience, finding beauty and grace even while fighting hellish oppression. Amen and àṣẹ.
As a writer, I was curious about flash fiction, stories of 1000 words, more or less. The vignettes in You Are Everything are each exactly 500 words. The collection is a tribute to the everyday lives of Black folk–our peace, beauty, and humor. We need these reminders and reinforcements from time to time. Like, uh, now.
Because the text is so brief, I decided I’d test out an ebook format. I hired Fiverr gig talent to copyedit, design the cover (inspired by Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam), and format the ebook. Local talent (and friends) helped with comments and proofreading.
You Are Everything is available at Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Or PayPal me $5 and I’ll send it to you to download (.epub, .mobi, or .pdf formats). Check it out! And thanks for your support!
Today’s Juneteenth celebration carries more weight and meaning than it ever has for me. I haven’t paid much attention to it over the years, thinking of it as a holiday for Black Texans and their descendants. (Yay for them but I’m 100% North Cack comin and goin!) So I’m glad to see it receiving its just due this year as a true recognition of freedom in the U.S.
Trouble the Water (Melvin Dixon): A professor returns to his childhood home in rural North Carolina after the passing of his grandmother–with a twist! While the plot was fine, I loved loved loved how the Pee Dee River and the woods surrounding it were characters unto themselves.
A Taste of Honey (Kai Ashante Wilson): A queer love story set in a beautiful and wealthy past African kingdom. While I don’t read much speculative fiction, I did enjoy having my imagination stretched in this way. And following a femmy sometimes-imperious not-quite-royal was also a hoot.
The Grace of Silence (Michele Norris): I have had the pleasure of working on a project with the author; just listening to her speak (she’s a former host of NPR’s All Things Considered) is an auditory delight. I heard her voice all throughout this memoir, which uncovered the pain and shame of two family secrets. I wonder what Michele thinks of Aunt Jemima’s long overdue retirement, given that Michele’s grandmother played Aunt Jemima character in a marketing ploy for midwestern housewives.
Housegirl: A Novel (Michael Donkor): Haven’t read it yet, but the class clash and transnational mashup looks super interesting!
Check ’em out! And don’t forget to support Black authors! (More on that soon!)
After the devastating murders of Ahmaud, Breona, and George, along with the threatening of Chris in quick succession, I was utterly floored. Steamrolled.
But now I feel a budding hope, however cautious, that maybe something new is birthing: a new awareness, a new standard, a new paradigm
I never thought #BlackLivesMatter would go mainstream as it has, uttered from white corporate mouths with any level of sincerity
I never thought that #DefundThePolice would gain any ground, as cries and evidence of antiBlack police brutality have existed for years
I was long skeptical of white willingness to uproot symbols of the Confederacy in the public realm
I am pleased by these latest body blows against racism and white supremacy, a seven century old scourge that really makes no logical sense but is so deeply engrained it seems natural
White supremacy = the belief that whiteness is normal, standard, good, better than, safe, civilized, rational, etc.
Black folks are caught in it too, expressed through colorism, negative body image, low standards and expectations of other Black folks, “white man’s ice” syndrome, and yes, use of the N-word, however pronounced
[A tangent: Years ago I decided to never make or validate broad negative generalizations about Black folk, which is yet another vestige of white supremacy
Instead I seek to love and embrace us a broadly as possible, understanding that I don’t have to like every individual’s every action, but as a whole I LOVE US]
I am not so naive as to think that this window of opportunity will be open forever. We have learned that backlash always follows progress, so let’s maximize this moment
One of the things that I do to get centered is listen to Keep Me, a gorgeous tune from my gorgeous friend, Derek Lassiter. Every time, I breathe deeply and savor the mood and message of this beautiful song.
The sheltering slowdown & our thicket-facing back deck allow for splendid bird watching
We’re fortunate to live in their neighborhood, awakening to insistent chirpsong & witnessing their busy business the whole day through
Inhaling heavily-perfumed humidity, we blow good luck kisses to swooping bright cardinals, our reincarnated family reassuring us in these trying times
We note nesting robins & stacatto-necked sparrows tall athletic bluejays & black speckled woodpeckers groundhopping wren & sultry-throated mockingbirds
We crane in ominous wonder to see soaring high high a wide-winged bird of prey (I couldn’t tell what) riding the low sky currents
Wild beings they remain, not as our entertainment but a graceful reminder to our comparatively bumbling selves that we too are in an ecosystem bigger than the latest videconference & we say thank you avians, Amen