Tag Archives: Maya Angelou

I Can’t Read Another Slavery/ Jim Crow Narrative Right Now

2 Jun

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Nearly two years ago, my boyfriend was working at Best Buy, when an older black man came in asking where he could get a copy of Fruitvale Station. When Ryan asked him what Fruitvale Station was, the man judgingly responded “Damn black people never heard of Fruitvale Station,” and walked off shaking his head. 

That man would have had words for me too, since I also hadn’t seen the movie. 

Lately, I’ve also been dragging my feet on seeing Selma, and have avoided reading the recently released God Help the Child from my favorite author, Toni Morrison. And for the last several years, two of the black feminist fiction must-reads, The Color Purple and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, have sat on my reading list and book shelf untouched.

Though it’s a teensy bit embarrassing to have not read and seen some of these iconic books films, I have to admit, they haven’t exactly been of high priority for me.

On the news, social media, and in our everyday lives, we are inundated with accounts of police brutality, racism, white supremacy, injustice, oppression, and our nation’s embarrassing inability to embrace diversity.

This is not easy stuff to read or hear about, much less, experience.

I currently have “oppression narrative fatigue.” With all of the horrible stories of police brutality and the increasing number of victims added to the list on a frighteningly regular basis, sitting down to read a Jim Crow-era narrative like The Warmth of Other Suns (another I’ve been slacking on) seems to add more pain to the current mood.

Sometimes, I have to take a break from those stories. So I mix in a little fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and if I’m feeling super cheesy, romance. Black authors write oppression narratives well—but they also thrive in other genres.

I just finished reading Melissa Harris Perry’s Sister Citizen and am currently reading Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Sexual Politics. Both are Black feminist books that discuss injustice experienced by black women in our society. And when I’m done with these, I’m moving onto some fantasy, starting with the novel B. Sharise Moore’s Taste. Then I’ll read some Afrofuturism with some lesser-known black authors from this awesome list.

But I always return to the narratives about our history. Those Toni Morrison-esque— remind-you-of-where-you-come-from—narratives are important. Though heavy, they are also inspiring. They arm us with knowledge.They remind us how hard our ancestors fought for injustice, and give us guidelines for how to do so in current situations.  These narratives are also stories of triumph, where characters overcome difficult situations and remind us that we must do the same. And of course, they are not always read in schools—we have to read them on our own.

So maybe, after my break, I’ll dust off The Color Purple when I’m done with my sci-fi and fantasy books.

 I’m an avid reader, always on the hunt for a good book. Recommend your must-reads in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Browning via Flickr.

My Top 10 Novels for Black History Month

12 Feb

(Written by incredible women writers)

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1.      Beloved (Toni Morrison)

This Nobel Prize winning novel touches on issues of stereotypes in the media, a mothers’ limitless love, and the dehumanizing aspects of middle passage and slavery. A desperate mother slays her daughter in an attempt to escape her slave master; however, the daughter never dies. Her ghost rises and takes on human form to haunt the town. Trust me: “This is not a story to pass on.

2.      Parable of a Sower (Octavia Butler)

Parable of a Sower throws you into a futuristic dystopian U.S., where companies, in addition to people are slave masters. Protagonist Lauren, must find a safe haven after her family was murdered and her neighborhood was burned by “Paints,” the drug addicts who take pleasure in setting fires watching everyone and everything burn. Lauren is hyperempathic, meaning she can feel others pleasure and pain. In a time where there is mostly pain, Lauren must dodge the Paints, slave masters, and thieves on the road, while trying to overcome her hyperempathy.

3.      Kindred (Octavia Butler)

If you’re interested in time travel, this is your book. Dana involuntarily travels back to the antebellum South, to meet her slave master great great grandfather, and slave great great grandmother. She must ensure that her great great grandpa slave owner lives long enough to father the next generation of her family. Periodically throughout the week Dana is summoned from Los Angeles in 1976 to early 19th century Maryland. During these trips, she must endure the dangers of being a slave and a woman—and there are many.

4.      The Farming of Bones (Edwidge Danticat)

Danticat’s fictional account of The Parsley Massacre of 1937 will fill anyone’s craving for Haitian history. The story follows the main character’s attempt to travel from the Dominican Republic to Haiti to escape the troops of President Trujillo, who have been ordered to slaughter all Haitians in the DR. When she makes it to Haiti, she must come to terms with all emotional pain, the violence, and all the people she lost.

5.      A Small Place (Jamaica Kincaid)

This is actually a nonfiction essay turned into a book, where Kincaid discusses history and life in Antigua. She allows the reader to take the seat of a vacationer as she takes you on a tour while describing the effects of British imperialism on the island.

6.      Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison)

Milkman, given that name for reasons you’ll later discover, goes on a journey to find gold that his father once discovered in a cave next to a dead man. On his trip, Milkman discovers that he is a descendant of flying African slaves, one of whom supposedly flew back to Africa. “If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”

7.      The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison…Can you tell she’s my favorite?)

The Bluest Eye is the story of how a little Black girl goes insane by feeding into what Toni Morrison calls “The Mettanarrative,” which is the white man’s view of the world. It’s not a novel with a happy ending, but it’s one that causes us to question our society’s standards of beauty and it claims the lives of many young girls.

8.      All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (Maya Angelou)

This awesome autobiography of Maya Angelou tells her journey to Ghana, where she learns much about Ghanaian culture, dates Ghanaian royalty, and walks along the many places where people were stolen or sold into slavery, just before they boarded the slave ships.

9.      Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neal Hurston)

Through three marriages, Janie Crawford, discovers herself and her desire to live independently and find love. It is a tale of a southern Black woman’s journey through poverty and life trials to confidence, independence, and self-love.

10.   I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

I have to confess that I haven’t read this one yet (Yes, I am very ashamed to say so). The reason being is that I know it is an emotional read.

A few of these novels are actually very emotional reads. That’s why they’re on my Black History list. People of African descent have a heartrending yet enriching past. A few of these novels may bring you to tears. They do what good novels are supposed to do: inform, entertain, uplift, and make us better people. These are the writers that inspire us to tell our own stories, recollect our past histories. They add to the many stories that make Black History Month what it is, a time to remember our past, and be inspired by it.

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