Robert Peace & Chosen Exile: 2 Hobbs

I decided to catch up on a few NPR Books podcasts and author Allyson Hobbs made me want to read something again. Tales of passing have always held my interest, so it wasn’t hard. I’ve seen Pinkie and both versions of Imitation of Life dozens of times (as if those are the qualifiers). So when Hobbs discussed her new release on NPR, I promised myself that I’d do more research.

A search for Hobbs & NPR, led me to another author with the same last name. Both might be worthy reads:

robertpeaceA heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home. When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” in Yale, and at home.

chosenexileBetween the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.

Happy reading, y’all.

Maya Angelou: The Final Rise

MayaAngelouRIPThere have been people in my life who meant me well, taught me valuable lessons, and others who have meant me ill and, have given me ample notification that my world is not meant to be all peaches and cream.

I have made many mistakes and no doubt will make more before I die. When I have seen pain, when I have found that my ineptness has caused displeasure, I have learned to accept my responsibility and to forgive myself first, then to apologize to anyone injured by my misreckoning. Since I cannot un-live history, and repentance is all I can offer God, I have hopes that my sincere apologies were accepted.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.

Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.

Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity. – Excerpt from Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

May the legend rest. Happy reading, y’all!

2014 NAACP Image Awards: Books

Although Troy over at AALBC.com claims that “The 2014 NAACP Image Award Winners and Nominees for Literature were perhaps the best crop of books ever nominated,” I continue to wonder who’s on their nominations committee. My first eye-roll occurred when I saw A Deeper Love Inside: The Porscha Santiaga Story by Sister Souljah on the list. Definitely not on my favorite reads list (see review). The winners (vs the nominees), however, did tempt my curiosity:

Anybody's Daughter by Pamela Samuels YoungFiction Winner – Anybody’s Daughter by Pamela Samuels Young

Based on the real-life horrors faced by thousands of girls, award-winning author Pamela Samuels Young takes readers deep inside the disturbing world of child sex trafficking in a fast-paced thriller that educates as much as it entertains. Thirteen-year-old Brianna Walker is ecstatic. She’s about to sneak off to meet her first real boyfriend—a boyfriend she met on Facebook. But Brianna is in for a horrifying surprise because her boyfriend doesn’t exist. Instead, Brianna unwittingly becomes the captive of a ring of drug dealers- turned-human traffickers who prey on lonely girls from dysfunctional homes. But they’ve made a big mistake in targeting Brianna because she doesn’t meet either of those criteria. Brianna’s Uncle Dre, a man with his own criminal past, is determined to find the niece who is more like a daughter to him.

envisioningemancipationNon-Fiction Winner – Envisioning Emancipation:Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs – some never before published – from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration. Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation will be a keepsake for many years to come.

nineyearsunderDebut Author – Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home by Sheri Booker

Sheri Booker was only fifteen years old when she started working at Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore. She had no idea that her summer job would become nine years of immersion in a hidden world. Reeling from the death of her beloved great aunt, she found comfort in the funeral home, and soon has the run of the place, from its sacred chapels to the terrifying embalming room. With AIDS and gang violence threatening to wipe out a generation of black men, Wylie was never short on business. As families came together to bury one of their own, Booker was privy to their most intimate moments of grief and despair. But along with the sadness, Booker encountered moments of dark humor: brawls between mistresses and widows, and car crashes at McDonald’s with dead bodies in tow. While she never got over her terror of the embalming room, Booker learned to expect the unexpected and to never, ever cry.

rebelliouslifeofrosaBiography / Autobiography – The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement. Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s politics and years of activism. She shows readers how this civil rights movement radical sought—for more than a half a century—to expose and eradicate the American racial-caste system in jobs, schools, public services, and criminal justice.

vegucationofrobinInstructional – The Vegucation of Robin: How Real Food Saved My Life by Robin Quivers

Known for her levelheaded, deadpan comebacks to Howard Stern’s often outrageous banter, Robin Quivers is a force of nature. Yet few people know about her struggles with food—especially the high-fat, high-sugar, high-cholesterol, highly addictive foods that doomed many of her relatives to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Sick and tired of being sick and tired, she knew it was time to stop her slow slide into bad health. Quivers took a stand in her personal nutrition battle and emerged victorious thanks to a plant-based diet. On her sometimes rocky, though endearingly hysterical, path to newfound health, Quivers discovered the power of the produce aisle in changing her body and her mindset. By filling up on soul-quenching, cell-loving vegetables instead of damaging animal products and processed foods, Quivers left behind the injuries, aches, and pains that had plagued her for twenty years. Charting her inspiring road to wellness, The Vegucation of Robin describes her transformation inside and out, and, including ninety of her favorite vegan recipes, she encourages readers to join her in putting their health first.
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turnmeloosemedgarPoetry - Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers by Frank X Walker

Around the void left by the murder of Medgar Evers in 1963, the poems in this collection speak, unleashing the strong emotions both before and after the moment of assassination. Poems take on the voices of Evers’s widow, Myrlie; his brother, Charles; his assassin, Byron De La Beckwith; and each of De La Beckwith’s two wives. Except for the book’s title,”Turn me loose,” which were his final words, Evers remains in this collection silent. Yet the poems accumulate facets of the love and hate with which others saw this man, unghosting him in a way that only imagination makes possible.

Truthfully, I don’t have a better list of books or nominees, so I can’t speak ill or spread my negativity. So, maybe I’ll add one or two of these titles to my reading list. Maybe one of them will even get a separate blog post of their own. Maybe. In the meantime, happy reading, y’all.

What I’m Watching: Black & Sexy TV

Someone recently sent me a Facebook message about videos at Majeofficial.com. While I was told to begin with “PuNanny Diaries,” I ended up relating to and fangirling the webseries “Finding My Obama.” This led to my search for more online black series and eventual viewing of every episode of “Black and Single,” “Yellow,” and “That Guy.” These shows are what television is missing. They’re not only often hilarious (and I’m not exaggerating), but they also have those ‘oh no he/she didn’t’ moments that don’t require ghetto antics to keep you watching. I used to save these online black series viewings for my bubble bath time, but now I’m just plain addicted to Black & Sexy TV. I especially love the fact that the shows all feature ample amounts of eye candy. I realize that I’m late to the cause, but take a look at what you might have missed:

It’s nice to know there are so many options out there for black web series now. You don’t know how sad it is for me to constantly watch re-runs of Different World, Cosby Show, and Good Times (well, mixed in with a little ratchet tv–Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta, etc.). Black & Sexy TV has brought me into present-day television. Glad to hear that some (or one) show was even recently picked up by a major network. But even more important, it’s nice to see black faces on television that aren’t fighting and tossing their weave around. These reality shows are getting a little boring. Take a moment to return to a better more scripted reality. The writers for these online webseries are really doing their thing.

Happy reading, y’all.

Inspired by Art: Misan Sagay’s Belle

My fiction writing is often inspired by old photographs. I search the internet–eBay even–and gather a few images that inspire a story in my mind and I go from there. With the current release of the film Belle, I found interest in the fact that the film was inspired by a painting of, as BlackFlix.com notes, “A remarkable 18th-century painting of two young, aristocratic women, one black, one white, seemingly at leisure together.” Even more interesting is that Misan Sagay, the screenwriter for Belle, also wrote the screenplay for 2005′s There Eyes Were Watching God.

To be honest, when I saw 12 Years a Slave (alone, in a theater filled with elderly whites who sniffled and cried at the movie’s conclusion) I remember releasing an uncontrollable sigh during the trailer for Belle, what I assume as just another slave movie. How many do we need per year, really? But Belle is written and directed by black women. Does that make it different? In my eyes, this made the film more deserving of a viewing. Read more on how a painting inspired Misan Sagay to write:

Dido Belle with cousin ElizabethQ: Is it true that your inspiration to make the movie “Belle” came from a painting?

A: Yes, that’s correct. While touring Scone Palace in Scotland, I walked into one of the bedrooms and I came across a painting with a Black woman in it. And I was absolutely stunned to see this Black person in a painting that was created in 1779. I looked at the caption on the painting and it said, “The painting of the Lady Elizabeth Murray. She wasn’t named and yet this woman was such a presence in the painting. I always remembered that. Although the painting is unsigned, historians believe that it is by Britain portraitist Zoffany. Fast forward a few years and I visited Scone again. This time the woman had been named in the picture as Dido The Housekeeper’s Daughter. I looked at the painting and I just couldn’t believe it. I said she doesn’t look like a housekeeper’s daughter. It struck me that there was a relationship between these girls. Plus, why would they place the housekeeper’s daughter in a painting? I began to dig into the story and I was doing some work and I found out about Lord Mansfield. That was when I really began to think that there really is a story here. Just completely by luck, I found out that my son’s Godmother knew Lady Mansfield the Countess of Mansfield, very, very well. So we began to negotiate for me to talk and find out more. We finally agreed for me to come in and look at the archives. I thought there would be boxes in a cold, old attic. (She laughs). Luckily in a very cold attic there were Lord Mansfield’s actual notebooks. You could hold them. He wasn’t a forthcoming man. But he wrote all of his verdicts in them and he would scribble in the margins personal notes. It was in those personal notes that I found my story. With all of these things you read between the lines. I came to this project determined to tell Dido’s story.

Although I often try to feign disinterest when it comes to stories and movies with a slave narrative type basis, I’m often drawn into what I try so hard to repel. After all, we know these stories. Is there anything new that can be shown or told? As I consider reading James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, I wonder even more so whether these stories can ever be avoided or overtold (least we forget, right?).

Happy reading, y’all.

Colson Whitehead: ZZ Packer & Kevin Young

With the release of his new book, The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, Colson Whitehead did a comical Q&A for The New York Times. Read a quick snippet and add a new book to your reading list:

WWhitehead, Young, & Packerhat books are currently on your night stand?

I’ve been dipping into “Book of Hours,” by Kevin Young. I’m honored to have him as a friend, and grateful he’s such a gifted poet. His new book is a wrenching investigation of what it is to be a father — to lose one’s own, to raise a child in turn — and it’s superb, as usual.

What’s your favorite book to teach? 

One favorite is “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” by ZZ Packer, toggling between the stories “Brownies” and “The Ant of the Self,” depending on my mood. She’s nearing completion of her first novel, which is very exciting. And “Autobiography of Red,” by Anne Carson, even if it has no relation whatsoever to what the class is about. Especially if. I’d love to hip Red to some Joy Division records; I think he’d get a lot out of them. (Read more . . .)

Happy reading, y’all.

Anika Noni Rose: “And I read a lot!”

After watching Anika Noni Rose play in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, there was never any doubt in my mind that she could take on an African dialect. But who knew that she attended Florida A&M University? I’m a Florida State grad, so I consider FAMU a sort of cousin school. In this snippet from an interview at BlackNews.com, Rose discusses her character and the film adaptation of Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun:

Anika Noni RoseKam Williams (KW): What interested you in making this movie?

ANR: I read the book when it came out, and I loved it! That book really excited me and moved me. And I read a lot! I remember thinking back then that it would make an amazing film. So, I was beyond thrilled when the call came asking whether I might be interested.

KW: I have a lot of questions for you from my readers. Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Is your character Kainene very close to the character in the novel or were a lot of liberties were taken in the script?

ANR: She’s very close to the character in the novel. I tried to keep her as tight to what Chimamanda [author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie] described as possible. The only differences, I think, are the physical differences between our bodies, and there’s nothing I could do about that. [Laughs] (Read more . . . )

Shadow and Act did an excellent job of breaking down the book’s character descriptions in relation to the film’s casting. I own a copy of the book, however, it’s still sitting on my shelf untouched. Unfortunately, I may have to checkout the film before I decide to actually read the book this time around. Who knows. Happy reading, y’all.