Book Reccs!

Hi gang 🙂 My friend Eri asked me to write up a list of books that I recommend for the bookstore at the museum where she works.

This is all stuff I’ve read this year. Without further ado, enjoy!

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

A debut collection of short stories that embraces Black women in all their complexity. Explores the interiority of Black women in various avenues of life: the growing pains of high school, “down low” relationships and the renewal of long-term partnerships that need a little something new. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will see yourself in these stories.

Harriet’s Daughter by Marlene NourbeSe Philip

M. NourbeSe Philip is more well-known for her epic poem Zong!, which resurrects the story of the Zong massacre, in which more than 130 enslaved Africans were killed by a British crew in order to collect on the insurance money.

This story is far less harrowing and written for teenagers. It follows the story of Margaret, who is dead-set on following the example of Harriet Tubman and returning her dear friend Zulma from Canada back to the Caribbean, and out of the clutches of her abusive step-father. A beautiful coming-of-age tale that reflects on the diasporic Caribbean community in Canada and what it means to honor the ancestor Harriet Tubman.

Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance by Ntozake Shange

The first posthumous book by Ntozake Shange is part-memoir, part-oral history of Black dance. In it, Shange reflects on how she became a dancer, and interviews her mentors and future generations of dancers who are carrying the torch. A great book for anyone who admires the poet-dancer Shange, or the history of African-American dance.

Africans and Native Americans by Jack D. Forbes

The late and great Native American scholar Jack Forbes said “[i]f we have African blood we should be proud of it; it is good, honest, tribal ancestry.” This work, considered by some to be his greatest, is an extensive anthropological survey of contacts between Africans and Native before and after the genocidal catastrophe we call the Columbian Encounter. There is some anthropological evidence to suggest contacts between the two indigenous cultures before 1492. What is also interesting is the intermingling of enslaved Africans and Native Americans in Europe, a story that is rarely told. Forbes also demonstrates the roots of colorism in the Spanish Empire, and how the language of color and race changed over the centuries, obscuring the histories of indigenous Americans and Africans alike. A must-read for those interested in the long history of solidarity, kinship and sometimes betrayal between Africans and Native Americans in the age of colonization.

Nothing but the Music: Documentaries from Nightclubs, Lofts, Dance Halls & a Tailor’s Shop in Dakar by Thulani Davis

Thulani Davis is a poet, playwright, librettist and novelist. She was one-third of the Satin Sisters, alongside Ntozake Shange and Filipina poet Jessica Hagedorn. Together they performed Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in 1977. She was also a critic at the Village Voice for several years.

This is a collection of her poetry written from 1974 to 1992, full of music and incantations. Davis is a lyrical and powerful poet. Her words stick with you. I let them speak for themselves:

C.T.'s Variation
some springs the Mississippi rose up so high
it drowned the sound of singing and escape
that sound of jazz from back
boarded shanties by railroad tracks
visionary women letting pigeons loose
on unsettled skies
was drowned by the quite ballad of natural disaster
some springs song was sweeter even so
sudden cracks split the sky/for only a second
lighting us in a kind of laughter
as we rolled around quilted histories 
extended our arms and cries to the rain
that kept us soft together 

some springs the Mississippi rose up so high
it drowned the sound of singing and escape
church sisters prayed and rinsed
the brown dinge of tinting linens 
thanked the trees for breeze
and the greenness sticking to the windows
the sound of jazz from back
boarded shanties by railroad tracks
visionary women letting pigeons loose
on unsettled skies
some springs song was sweeter even so

The Invention of Women and What Gender is Motherhood? by Oyeronke Oyewumi

In The Invention of Women, Oyeronke Oyewumi demonstrates that the category of gender in Yoruba culture is a relatively ‘new tradition’ that did not exist before European colonialism. In What Gender is Motherhood?, she extends her analysis with an in-depth analysis of the Ifa faith and divination system, showing how patriarchy and male-dominant ideology have been incorporated into a belief system that did not have the binary of male-female before European intrusion (the Yoruba naming system does not have gendered pronouns, because it is based on age and seniority rather than anatomy/gender). Together these books disrupt powerful cultural myths about the universality of gender in an African context.

A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown

Born in Philadelphia and coming of age in the 1950s, Elaine Brown became the chairwoman of the Black Panther Party in 1974, leading that organization for three years. Although she came to lead the Party from Oakland, she initially joined the Southern California chapter of the BPP. This book is thus a great resource for those interested in the Black radical history of Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. A historical figure in her own right, Brown crossed paths with many characters, movers and shakers of the era. Hers is a difficult yet triumphant story of oppression, liberation, and what it means to fight for your freedom as a Black woman.

Haruko/Love Poems by June Jordan

A collection of love poems by June Jordan. In this volume, Jordan at once playful, lyrical, lonely and full of wisdom about the meanings of love, and how they play into revolution. My favorite poem from this collection is “I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies,” a poem about losing one’s nerve in the face of repression and struggling to get it back. I believe every poet should know and study June Jordan.

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