Stop bigotry and hate crimes against Asian Pacific Americans. Full stop. And against anyone in general.
Moving to the West Coast years ago broke me out of the Black-and-white population paradigm that I’d grown up with. Reading was a gateway to eagerly learn more about my new APA neighbors in community. Here are some of my favorite books, in no particular order, by Asian Pacific American authors from over the years.
There is no list without this dynamic duo to start it. The Joy Luck Club was published the same year that I moved the the Bay Area; its San Francisco setting felt like a personal primer for me. Groundbreaking at the time, JLC is now a modern literary classic. Tan’s follow up, Kitchen God’s Wife, was also an entertaining Part II of sorts.
The SHAPE OF BLACKNESS virtual art exhibition (first mentioned here) continues to gain traction. Yesterday we held two sessions of artist talks, which were wonderfully rich discussions on a variety of themes including personal history melded with art practice, representation, diasporic connections, and the value of the arts in societies. Artists Lebo Thoka, Tshepiso Moropa, Helena Uambembe, Lebohang Motuang, Brette Sims, Abba Yahudah, and Aaron Beitia all participated, in dialogue with co-curators Trevor Parham and Odysseus Shirindza. I look forward to sharing a video compilation of highlights from the talks–I’m still on Cloud 9!
The good news keeps coming during Black History Month! Earlier this week the North Carolina Writer’s Network announced the third recipient of the annual Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize: Isaac Hughes Green.
Green, an MFA student at North Carolina State University, will receive the $1,000 prize for his short story “Fifteens,” which may be published in The Carolina Quarterlylater this year.
I remain super proud that the Prize continues to draw interest and entries since we kicked it off four years ago. I’m also thankful to the good folks at the NC Writers Network and the UNC Creative Writing Program for making it happen. Congrats all around!
SHAPE is a virtual group show of South African and US artists whose work aims to comment on contemporary Blackness in our respective nations.
This project builds on my longtime dream of curating a visual art show. I’ve had a terrific experience learning from my co-producers and curators, Odysseus Shirindza, the super-creative director of Gallery MOMO Johannesburg and a designer in his own right, and my long-time collaborator Trevor Parham, the visionary founder of Oakstop, which hosts the exhibition website.
Now that the Inauguration is over, I can breathe a lil’ easier:
Thought I’d squeeze in a last-minute January post. Good stuff is happening in the weeks to come, but I’ll start with my excitement over the first annual Randall Kenan Prize for Black LGBTQ Fiction, to be awarded by Lambda Literary, the community’s top cultural institution for creative writing.
As I shared last fall, I was deepy saddened by the passing of Randall Kenan. I wanted to make sure that something was done in his memory to encourage the kind of storytelling and representation that Randall embodied and championed. (Randall himself received the 1992 Lambda Literary Award in Gay Fiction for his first short story collection, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead).
I reached out to Lambda’s Deputy Director, William Johnson, with the idea for a prize, which was brought to life through his enthusiastic leadership!
In addition to the 16 books that I’ve posted about over the course of this year, these are also well worth mentioning:
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? (N.K. Jemisin): I generally don’t read much speculative fiction (or “sci-fi” for the old heads), but was intrigued by what this master author conjured up in this collection of stories firmly positioning Black people in speculative scenarios. Some tales were hopeful, some were ominous; all required a stretch of the imagination. Just like these times.
The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney (Okechukwu Nzelu): I special-ordered this book after reading about it in The Guardian (and ended up having a giddy Twitter exchange with the author!). Multiple intertwined plot lines about the continuous search to find one’s self, mostly focused on the young title character but extending to others in her life. Part of my BGM authors reading list.
Useful Phrases for Immigrants (May-Lee Chai): Consider them useful insights for natives into the challenges of these lively characters. Tightly-woven stories packed with energy.
A Promised Land (Barack Obama): First of all, I can’t help but comment on that FLAWLESS portait-as-cover. Just handsomeness. I didn’t read these 700+ pages straight through; instead I read chapters and anecdotes until I’d covered pretty much the entire book. As MY president intended, this memoir gave detailed and intriguing glimpses into the day-to-day happenings in the most visible role in the land–with some delicious shade mixed in on occasion–hee hee!
And as you see from most of the links, Bookshop.org allows you to support favorite local booksellers from the comfort and safety of your own home! Please support them often and enthusiastically in the new year!
on that saturday morning still early by weekend standards the whoops of joy & insistent, incessant toots of celebration underscored maybe by a shared sense of relief & a rebounding from disbelief & an end to the nervous tension of dayslong counting Grew louder as the sun continued its arc across the smiling sky into the evening until we rested newly hopeful for tomorrow
Hi good people. I haven’t felt much like posting for a number of reasons, namely what I will call “election paralysis.” This debilitating state usually happens after too much doomscrolling, especially if one fails to heed their better instincts to avoid Twitter.
If there ever were a tipping point for U.S. democracy as we’ve known it, THIS. IS. IT. Vote, encourage others to vote, and prepare to uphold the integrity of voting and our elections. Nothing left for me to say, except good luck. To all of us.
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 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.
Donkor sprinkled in Twi, a Ghanaian mother tongue, 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.
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!)
7:32 am on June 15, 2020 Tags: BlackLivesMatter, DefundThePolice
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
one of the good things about Balsana is that you can essentially lie despondent on the floor in near-fetal position while also increasing flexibility & restoring your mind after the seemingly never-ending barrage of racial injustices witnessed during this past week…
Malaika Wa Azania’s Memoirs of a Born Free is a letter to the ANC about their post-apartheid failures to fulfill the promises of a new South Africa. Maybe too many day-to-day details of her life and not enough analysis?
I Can’t Date Jesus (Michael Arcenaux) is a bit too pop culture (sorry Beyh1ve) and bitchy for me, but I needed to read something smart, Black, and queer.
There are only two people I’d probably burst into tears upon meeting: Sade and Michelle Obama. Yesterday while watching Becoming, the wonderful Netflix documentary set against the backdrop of MO’s 2018-19 book tour, it was hard to keep the tears back (and I have chronically dry eyes, y’all). I so admire her poise, integrity, courage, intelligence, and outright flava. Watching her grace in action also made me deeply sad for how low this nation has fallen from the high mark of the 2008 election and POTUS 44.
As dessert, I followed up with a few of my other favorite FLOTUS videos, here, here, and here. And this one of her hubby always gets me too.
I loved reading this book, not so much because of the analysis of James Baldwin but because it felt personal, like witnessing a student talking with a mentor. It’s one of those academic books disguised as a warm, digestible memoir.
I admit that I don’t love everything that James Baldwin did or wrote, but I deeply admire his unbounded courage and outspokenness, especially as a Black gay man in the 20th Century. Because there was nothing easy about being Black and gay in the 20th Century. Not. A. D*mn. Thing.
Many thanks to the NC Writers Network, Bridgette Lacy (final judge), UNC Creative Writing Program, and our donors (C. Alan, S. Brown, B. Bryson, J. & T. Davy-Mendez, R. Eppley, E.P. Johnson, J. Sadusky, E. Safrit, R. Shuford)!
At first I thought “oh lorrrrd another book about straight Black New York braggarts and bravado”, but I re-learned to never judge a book…
Jamel Brinkley presents nine stories about surprisingly unassuming Black men and boys, each trying to navigate his way through life’s ambiguities. Maybe the author was riffing on questions from various elements and eras of his own life. Super well written, an absorbing read.
u would not believe these cherry blossoms branches popping with bright floral hope sprinkling over grass like pink pastel snow confetti celebrating the advent of spring like yayyyyy we did it welcome back
This novel, crisply-written and beautifully constructed, evoked questions from my own life as a twentysomething gaining his adult footing: “does he like me?” “am i smart enough for this?” “was that a racist comment or am i just crazy?” Like Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, a maddening but satisfying read.