Plots

I’m Still Here -Austin Channing Brown

Per my mom’s suggestion, when I read certain books I keep a pad of sticky notes inside to mark special quotes and passages. Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here held dozens of sticky notes peeking out from both ends: a testament to gorgeous prose holding deep thoughts. The rest of the title is “Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” and the narrative explores Austin’s experiences as a Black woman in America. I laughed, cried, and got chills. A lot of Austin’s experiences are familiar to me: I felt seen in her accounts of the unsolicited invasions of privacy, uncomfortable off-handed comments, and the solace of the Black church. She reminds us that racism in America will never be completely resolved here on earth but that Jesus is our ultimate hope.

I challenge every single person to read this book. I’ll leave you with a few quotes to drive home how spectacular this book is.

“White supremacy is a tradition that must be named and a religion that must be renounced, when this work has not been done, those who live in whiteness become oppressive whether intentional or not”

“The white co-worker who was walking behind me stares in shock. She has never seen me with my hair in a pineapple fro. She reaches out to touch my hair while telling me how beautiful it is. When I pull back, startled by the sudden act of intimacy, she looks hurt and isn’t sure what to do next. The message: I am different, exotic. Anyone should have the right to my body in exchange for a compliment.”

“Whiteness wants enough Blackness to affirm the goodness of whiteness, the progressiveness of whiteness, the open-heartedness of whiteness. Whiteness likes a trickle of Blackness, but only that which can be controlled.”

“But the truth is, even the monster – the Klan members, the faces in the lynch mob, the murderers who bombed churches – they all had friends and family members. Each one of them was connected to people who would testify that they had good hearts…The monster has always been well-dressed and well loved.”

“I love being a Black woman because we are demanding. We demand the right to live as fully human We demand access – the right to vote, to education, to employment, to housing, to equal treatment under the law. And we do it creatively: sit-ins and die-ins, signs and songs, writing and filmmaking. We demand because our ancestors did. We demand because we believe in our own dignity.”

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Advertisements
Plots

28 Days of Black Authors ~Day 28

Walter Dean Myers

I was around 12 years old when my dad told me to read Walter Dean Myers’ Monster. I picked it up, kind of stunned to see a cover with a black guy on it. It’s funny because looking back I expect to have felt slight electric shocks as I opened the first page. But honestly, that page was just like any other book…except it wasn’t.

Unable to put the book down, I devoured those pages in about a day. Having the main character: Steve Harmon, write his own story as a screenplay was an excellent choice on the part of Mr. Myers, it adds a personal flavor to the narrative. We get to peer into Steve’s mind as he’s in jail and on trial for murder.

This narrative questions the American legal system and explores the innocent until proven guilty mantra. Looking at who Steve truly is versus how the public perceives him allows this book to connect with all types of people. Part of being human is being misunderstood and the pain and frustration of that misunderstanding comes across clearly.

I like to think of my reading life as pre-Monster and post-Monster because it changed so much for me. It was one of the first books I’d read since picture book age that featured a black main character. However, there’s another Walter Dean Myers book that impacted me even more than Monster.

To tell the story of his childhood and adolescence Walter Dean Myers wrote Bad Boy: A Memoir. Not only is it an entertaining story, but it grapples with deep, sometimes messy questions about life. Young Walter questions who God is, what it means to be black, and what it means to be a man. When he looks around him he only sees one way to be a black man and wrestles with the fact that he doesn’t fit that image.

But on top of wrestling with conventional blackness and masculinity, Walter deals with constantly being labeled as a bad boy by his teachers. Again, he doesn’t fit the mold that’s already in place and therefore from grade to grade a distorted reputation of his character follows him.

Even grazing mental illness, this book caused me to think so much about so many things. Thoughts of the detrimental nature of inaccurate cultural stereotypes, the power and danger of words, and the importance of understanding Christianity and clearly answering the questions surrounding it were all catalyzed by this narrative. That’s what Walter Dean Myers books always do. It’s no wonder that he inspired a whole generation of black authors: many of the other authors I’ve featured in this series were inspired to write by this one man.

The whole reason I’ve read enough black authors to fill the month of February is Mr. Myers. He is an icon and his works will forever live on.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

 

 

Plots

28 Days of Black Authors ~Day 27

Jacqueline Woodson

I still remember the day I turned the final page of Miracle’s Boys. I still remember the tear stains on the page. I still remember the presence of the characters as if they were in my room. I still remember the hunger that gripped me to read more. More books that impacted me, more books about people like me, more books by Jacqueline Woodson.

Miracle’s Boys tells the story of three brothers: Lafayette, Charlie, and Ty’ree, struggling with the aftermath of their mother’s death and the pain that comes with growing up. The pain that oozes from these pages is balanced only by the joy that lines them. Jacqueline Woodson creates a beautiful narrative that speaks about the truths of life and death and family.

For some reason I’m always drawn to melancholy stories, especially those about death and pain. I think partially because seeing character’s deal with pain helps us as readers adequately handle our own. Each brother grieves differently and this shows how people grapple with tragedy realistically, Ms. Woodson writes in a way that we can find ourselves in Lafayette, Charlie, or Ty’ree. And what I’ve found in Ms. Woodson’s narratives is a space to take in and release pain along with my favorite characters. I don’t think I’ve ever cried over so many books by one author as I have with Jacqueline Woodson, the depth and beauty with which she writes is awe-inspiring.

Miracle’s Boys not only examines death and pain though, it looks at the duality of the human personality through Charlie’s character. Lafayette constantly refers to him as “New Charlie” because he seems to be a different person. Tough experiences have changed him for better or worse and this book seeks to show both sides of that better/worse coin.

I was truly changed by this narrative and each of Ms. Woodson’s books that I’ve read have become a small part of me. I hope that you’ll read Miracle’s Boys and that you’ll find something in it to love the way I do.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

 

Plots

28 Days of Black Authors ~Day 26

Sharon G Flake

“It takes a long time to accept yourself for who you are. To see the poetry in your walk. To look in the mirror and like what you see even when it doesn’t look like anybody else’s idea of beauty.” ~The Skin I’m In

I just finished reading The Skin I’m In and let’s just say I’m shook. Sharon G. Flake wrote a phenomenal narrative that needs to be read. It tells the story of Maleeka Madison, a girl who is bullied for her dark skin and homemade clothes, and her encounter with a teacher who is bullied for her skin condition. Neither one expects that the other would change them so much.

Heart-wrenching descriptions of Maleeka’s experience show just how detrimental bullying can be and the deep psychological scars it can leave. I could never imagine being bullied in the ways depicted in this story but not always seeing myself as beautiful is something I can relate too, and something I’m sure most of us can. Focusing on a realistic view of self-love and confidence, I like how not everything is completely perfect at the end of the narrative. Learning to love who we are and how we look is an on-going process and can’t be totally grasped in the snapshot of one’s life that a book could capture.

This story also exposes the danger of toxic friendships and how people who appear to love us can be antagonistic or passive when it counts. It’s beautiful to see Maleeka’s growth in courage and resolve over the course of the book and to witness how writing in her diary helped her handle all the pain. Truly beautiful and unapologetic, this novel is one that I will probably come back to again.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Plots

28 Days of Black Authors ~Day 25

Kwame Alexander

I’m not a sports person.

So why is a book about a basketball prodigy one of my favorites? Because of Kwame Alexander’s writing genius. In his book The Crossover he tells the story of a kid obsessed with basketball through gorgeous bits of poetry and hip-hop verse.

But this story doesn’t stop at basketball, it touches on death, love, and brotherhood. It focuses on the importance of family using basketball as a metaphor for life. One of my favorite quotes: “I am unprepared for death. This is a game I cannot play. It has no rules, no referees, you cannot win.” I can’t get this part out of my mind, it puts our mortality as humans into perspective and it mirrors everything I’ve been pondering lately.

This is what I mean about Mr. Alexander’s writing. It hits you. It grabs you. It holds you. Thinking deeply but writing clearly Kwame Alexander draws all kinds of people into his narrative.

Building on the sports theme comes another of his works Booked. A soccer narrative about Nick, a strong character with a clear voice, Booked is another story I’d recommend. I played soccer when I was younger, and though I have no connection to the game whatsoever, I do appreciate the storyline and character development of this story. Nick truly grows over the course of the book and we witness how the events in his life shape him.

Kwame Alexander is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors and I’m looking forward to reading his other books Solo and Rebound. Definitely look for reviews of those in the future.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Plots

28 Days of Black Authors ~Day 24

Booker T. Washington

It’s crucial for each individual to tell his or her story, especially in a world where everyone voices opinions on who a person is and who they should be.

Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up From Slavery chronicles his life from childhood in slavery to his success with Tuskegee Institute. Seeing an in-depth look at his journey allowed me to realize how his circumstances influenced his philosophy.

Some fault Booker T. Washington for being too sympathetic to white people after slavery or not thinking that black people were capable of more than labor. But reading this narrative, I see how big of a transition it must have been to go from slavery to freedom in one lifetime. I admire his reconciliatory spirit and his emphasis on education. And I see the difficult spot he was placed in, trying to raise money for his school.

Booker T. Washington was a resilient and dedicated person: walking for miles just to get to Hampton to get an education (shout-out to my Uncle: a Hamptonite), never giving up on Tuskegee Institute, and working hard to help lift up his people.

I recommend that everyone read this autobiography and hear the story of this great man from the man himself.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Plots

28 Days of Black Authors ~Day 23

Andrea Davis Pinkney

Novels in verse always hold a special place in my heart. Something about the beauty of poetry flowing through a storyline will always draw me. The magic of novels in verse is illustrated in Andrea Davis Pinkney’s novel Red Pencil.

It tells the story of Amira, a Sudanese girl, who longs to go to school but must instead escape her country’s war-torn scene to journey to a refugee camp. Amira’s voice comes through beautifully and the short poems never seem detached or lifeless. It’s so eye-opening to follow Amira on her quest and experience her hopes and dreams.

For those of us who live in America it can be hard to realize how vital education is because we can access it so easily. This novel expertly demonstrates the hunger we must all have for education, it shows the value of knowledge and the right of all people to learn. I’d definitely recommend this quick but impactful novel.

Stay fly,

~Akilah