Category Archives: Readings

Week 7, or Ravynn’s mid-Semester Check In, ft. Pieces that Stuck With Me

“Definition of womanism: ‘…committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except occasionally, for health.’ 

Alice Walker from “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I’ve gotten into the habit of doing mid-semester check-ins here on BGDGS. My first semester I reflected on the goals I set for myself before I started this whole crazy journey, my second semester I listed the books and essays that had the greatest impact on me as a person, and now as I’m looking at my third mid-semester check point, I’ve decided to do a riff on my books and essays list.

I think it’s a good exercise for myself to keep track of the things I read that truly move me– and why. It’s also potentially important to think about when I encounter certain things along my journey, as it impacts how I move through the world. So, for my third mid-semester check-in, I’ve decided to do a list of texts that I mulled over this semester, even after the class I read them for was over.

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  1. Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins”

I will never forget when my friend asked a class of predominately white women whether they thought “intersectionality” as Crenshaw imagined it had been appropriated by white women. Until she said it, I had never thought about it. After she said it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

As I’ve moved through various spaces this semester, I’m feeling the liminal space that Crenshaw wrote about every day. She gave a words to the void I feel myself slipping into as I try to maneuver in this world without falling to the wayside, but it also gives me hope that if someone can give this feeling a name, then something can be done about it.

chela_sandoval_md2. Chela Sandoval’s “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I didn’t know how much I liked it until I got into class and had to give my presentation on it. I could vibe with the basic premise that Third World Feminism (a broad category that essentially doesn’t include hegemonic [white Western] feminism) as a methodology was a combination of a ton of different tactics. It was both invested in equal rights but also revolutionary, sometimes supremacist, sometimes separatist, but always “differential,” as Sandoval puts it. The difference is that this Feminism can be and is everything, sometimes all at once, sometimes one a time, and sometimes nothing. I liked the idea that you have a tool kit to pull from, and you use different tactics dependent on each unique situation.

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3. Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

I’m suddenly of the camp that believes with all my heart in new strategies. I think I found myself at the end of my rope these semester, tired of doing things the “right way” and still not quite moving forward. Now that I believe in it, I need to live it.

Still working on how to live my pedagogy.

41hghhlf5ol-_ac_ul320_sr214320_4. Stuart Hall’s “New Ethnicities”

Stuart Hall is always a good read, especially for someone who will probably be classified in some capacity as a cultural historian. He’s difficult, but worth reading, primarily because you’ll definitely have to read his work at least twice. I like the way he works through monolithic identities, deconstructing and reconstructing as he goes.

 

 

 

9780060838676_p0_v6_s192x3005. Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I honestly think that every time I read this book, I fall in love with it even more. I get something new from it. I never get tired of reading it. This time around I was particularly taken with Zora herself. I read an article about her for my Reflections of the African Diaspora class and I couldn’t help but notice her ample descriptions– fun, controversial, outrageous, aggressive, a loner, and impatient, for a short list– and I was astounded. I was astounded that she was described as though it were incredible that she dared be anything short of herself. She was remarkable– truly one of a kind. I love her for daring to be unapologetically herself because it helps me feel brave, and embrace myself for who I am. I want to be Zora Neale Hurston fearless some day.

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6. Antenor Firmin’s The Equality of the Human Races

This was an incredible work of anthropology and I was astounded by its rigor, the francophile in me proud of the Haitian revolutionary, intellectual spirit, and impressed that someone so angry about have to explain common sense could write so eloquently. However, it was also a prime example of how something can be both passionately anti-racist and also supremely sexist. I’m pretty sure this would be my favorite book if I were a Black man.

 

 

narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass7. The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass

Although my Dad loves to hold up pictures of Frederick Douglass to his face when he hasn’t shaved in a while and say that they’re twins, I never felt moved to read any Douglass. After I did, I found a way to mention Douglass I think once a class. His ingenuity was inspiring to me and I now love reciting stories from the book. Douglass was WILD, honest and fearless.

 

 


So there you have it, a short list of my favorite texts I’ve read this semester so far. Relatedly, I felt inspired to mention that my favorite assignment from the semester was my blog post on Black hair as a medium that I did for my New Media, Old Media class.

I’m going to spend the next few days trying to rest up, then I have a big week ahead of me. Instead of heading back to class on Wednesday, I will be on my way back to my alma mater for a conference on slavery as a representative for the Lemon Project. In between being a professional conference-r, I’ll be running around with my friends and I’ve even got tickets to see this year’s Black Monologues. Then, once I’m back on Saturday, I’ll be off to my very first ComicCon with my friend.  I will be cosplaying as Ororo Monroe, a.k.a Storm, X-Man and former Queen of Wakanda. With so many incredible things to write about, who knows what you’ll get next week.

Stay tuned to find out.

Week 8, or Black Books that Stuck With Me

As this week was Spring Break and thus I had nothing new to report, my friend (hey, Kelsey) suggested that I, as an avid reader, write a post on the books about Blackness that have impacted my life.

It’s a great idea, especially since I know this list will change, not only from  year to year, but from month to month, week to week, as I read more and explore the expansive terrain of Black Studies. I also want to give a special shout out to Lynn Weiss, Njelle Hamilton and Lisa Woolfork for introducing me to many of these texts and authors. Without these books, I wouldn’t be who I am, and without you all, it’s possible I wouldn’t have found these books.

So without further ado, I give you my top ten Black novels that shaped who I am intellectually, what I care about as a scholar and a writer, and to greater extent, who I am as a person:

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  1. AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The first book I ever read by Adichie, Americanah hooked my heart from the first page. The narrator, Ifemelu, speaks of her discomfort at a hair salon and I couldn’t help thinking, This is me. For the very first time, I saw someone in a novel that felt like me, that shared my struggles, and most importantly looked like me. I’ll be forever grateful to Adichie for giving me Ifemulu– after reading Americanah, I no longer felt alone.

(I’ve also written about Americanah on my personal blog, Quoth the Ravynn. Click here for more.)

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2. Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates

The best way to get through to me, is through my father. Coates’ narrative of a B-more boy learning the ways of Blackness and America by trial and error, reminds me of everything I love about my father and his stories. It’s raw truth. It hurts to read. It is necessary to read.

(I’ve written about Between the World and Me on my personal blog. Click here for more.)

 

 

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3. Another Country, James Baldwin

Baldwin has zero qualms about giving you the good, the bad, the ugly. Another Country scrapes through gore and heat of America in the 1950s to show the rotting underbelly of a system gone wrong. It offers an escape route, my dear France. The musicality of it has the ghost of Mahalia Jackson humming in my ear. Nothing is more impactful than Baldwin. He gives you sentences clean as a bone– and then stabs you in the heart with it.

 

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4. Passing and Quicksand, Nella Larsen

I really couldn’t tell you what it is that I love about Nella Larsen’s work. It’s sharp and feline, with emotionally volatile female heroines. It’s sensual, both in style and its attention to sensations, like the feel of texts and its hues. It’s mystifying, unsatisfying– and I can never stop thinking about her novels after I read them.They strike me with the desire to read again and again until I uncover the mystery.

 

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5. Half-Blood BluesEsi Edugyan

I read this for a class at UVA and I’ve carried it in my heart ever since. It has everything that I love in it– jazz, history, miscegenation, that Southern Black dialect, a back drop of France, an international perspective, one femme fatale, a certain mysticism about it, a ghostliness. It is a fiction surrounded by an ugly truth, expressed by the slow notes of Hiero’s trumpet.

 

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6. Their Eyes Were Watching GodZora Neale Hurston

This book was assigned in my ninth grade English class. I will never forget the complaints of the white boys who complained that they couldn’t read it; while in my mind it made perfect sense. I remember thinking, just sound it out. And then I realized they probably had never heard anyone speak this way. But it was the sound of my people. It was the language of my grandparents’ trailers, Christmas and Thanksgiving. It was the sound of love. Plus when you add in Janie’s “take-no-prisoners” attitude, I thought, Now this is a female depiction that I can get behind.

 

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7. The Souls of Black Folk W.E.B. DuBois

If you haven’t read it, please just go get yourself a copy right now.

 

 

 

 

 

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8. Native SonRichard Wright

Another classic. Bigger’s transformation reminds me that the story is so much more than one boy’s narrative. It is the potential story of every Black man that has ever existed and will ever exist in America. White society put a target on Black men’s back because there is no presence more feared that that of a Black man. And that is a national tragedy– a socially induced tragedy.

 

 

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9. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson

This is another transnational, multilingual, musical text that explores the fluidity of Black identity. For me, as a former French scholar, I’m always invested in how different languages and cultures influence and impact American Black identity. I’m particularly interested in the Black intellectual expatriate– what does Europe offer that America can’t? What is this line that the Ex-Colored Man is perpetually toeing between classical music and ragtime, proper English and the sonic Black vernacular, the opera and the club? I love that it doesn’t have to be one or the other here– it can be both. It’s fluid.

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10. The White Boy ShufflePaul Beatty

Very little gives more more joy than depictions of Black boys. They’re hilarious. They’re just trying to figure it out. The performativity of Black masculinity is so absurd and yet the seriousness with which boys go about figuring out how to perform it is critical to their development. Beatty hits it all– you gotta learn to ball, you gotta get the haircut, learn how to dab, the art of the insult, you gotta get the girls and you gotta be able to do something on the dance floor. But it’s still satire– Beatty doesn’t miss the danger of it all, the implications, and the traumatic consequences of the pressure to perform. It’s full of wit and vibrant sences, while also dropping every Black reference known to man and some only known to him.

 

Honorable mentions go to:

  1. Caucasia x Danzy Senna
  2. Beloved x Toni Morrison
  3. Things Fall Apart x Chinua Achebe.

And while I’m here, I thought I’d do a few more categories of texts…

Short stories, collections, essays

  1. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes
  2. Drown, Junot Diaz (He’s Afro-Latino, he definitely counts)
  3. “The Mulatto,” Langston Hughes
  4. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay (Read more here.)

Articles

  1. “What is this ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture” x Stuart Hall
  2. “My President Was Black” x Ta-Nehisi Coates

Academic Books

  1. Waiting Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, Peniel Joseph
  2. In Search of the Black Fantastic, Richard Iton
  3. Articulate While Black, Geneva Smitherman and H. Samy Alim

Comics/Graphic Novels

  1. Black Panther, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  2. The March trilogy, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
  3. Strange Fruit: Untold Narratives of Black History, Joel Christian Gill

and, finally, an honorable mention category to FILMS...

  1. 13th x Ava DuVernay (for the mass incarceration lesson)
  2. Brown Sugar x Rick Famuyiwa (for the hip-hop history lesson)
  3. Hidden Figures x Theodore Melfi (for the Hampton Roads Black women history lesson)

While some may be astonished that no poetry made my list, it’s mostly because I was never one to writes lines from poems on my wrist. I was always lost in my novels. The characters were my friends– and they still are.

Maybe some day, I’ll do another one of these with music or film or TV shows. It’s all valuable, and it has all shaped me.

God, am I grateful for books and for my parents gifting me with a never ending supply of them.

 

 

Week 6, or Harlem Blues

I’ve woken up essentially every day this week, praying that the bad mood has passed. The current soundtrack to my life would probably be some weary blues music. I find that deeply disturbing primarily because I’m (almost) 23 and life shouldn’t be that hard yet.

I’m trying to force myself to have positive thoughts, in spite of my car dying and still having to write a conference paper for Saturday. (!!!) Even though I’m not the most productive I’ve ever been, I’m focusing a little more energy on taking care of myself. I’m making time for pleasure reading (which sounds impossible considering the amount of academic reading I have to do each week), I’m meditating a little more, trying different teas and taking myself out to coffee shops I like. I spend more money than I’d like to admit on specialty coffee drinks, but it makes me happy. I recently discovered an Alice In Wonderland-esque cafe near the College, Culture Cafe. It serves some of the best lattes I’ve ever had in mismatched ceramic mugs and there’s plenty to look at while I sip: old, first edition, leather bound volumes with yellowing pages line the book shelves which cover the walls from floor to ceiling in the upstairs work area; paint spattered tarps double as curtains; a chandelier of mismatched Edison bulbs hangs just above my favorite spot, an old paisley couch with a coffeetable in need of a new paint job before it. I’m pretty sure the inside of my mind looks something like this cafe.

While I was there, waiting the arrival of a friend, my mind wandered, as it had done so many times this semester, to the authors of the Harlem Renaissance. The more I learned about them, the more they came alive, filling my mind as so many of my novel characters do. I wondered what they talked about over coffee, and what the rapport was between all of them. Reading David Levering Lewis’s When Harlem Was In Vogue makes me laugh at the way he describes the boys of the moment and I’m enthralled by the drama of it all. I texted my friend saying I would love to write an HBO series called Harlem which would follow all of these interconnected lives. 

Every time I’m introduced to a new character, I usually equate them to an artist I already know. I could barely contain myself when I realized Jean Toomer sounded a lot like my friend, Ed: brilliant to the point of genius with words but scatterbrained and so ill-focused he produced only one work. Whenever my professor narrates Jean Toomer’s life, I can’t help but imagine Ed, long and lanky, floating from project to project, attracted to whatever piqued his interest. I see my friend Araba in my mind’s eye when we speak of Zora– hard, unyielding, talented, with a tongue and mind that’s sharp as a whip. Then, of course, Langston Hughes always reminds me of Micah, the modest documentor of the harshest of Black realities. Her work is so sonic, infused with hip-hop, only a step away from Hughes’ jazz flavored everything.

Sometimes I wonder who I’m like of the group. I relate to both Countee Cullen and Jessie Fawcett, Countee for his love of the classic but mixed with Black flair that he admits he knows less of than he does French, Jessie for her valiant artistic effort but true talent as the teacher, the editor, the stage manager of the Renaissance. Then, sometimes, every now and then,  I come back to Nella Larsen, the mixed raced, foreigner to America in every way. A Danish mother and a West Indian father gave birth to an American Black Nella who didn’t fit, couldn’t fit by the American standard. Europe didn’t have her answer, Black America didn’t have her answer, and the homelessness haunts everything she writes. What I admire most about Nella, though, is the almost feline sharpness with which she writes. Her style is so distinct that I’d be hard pressed to pick up a piece of her work and not know its hers. She’s attentive to fashion and textiles and colors that correspond to moods, which shift almost from page to page. There’s this lack of self-restraint that I love about her novels, the unapologetically sensual female leads that run her stories.

There’s a detail that really makes me hesitate and linger over Nella: after her husband divorces her, she disappears from the Harlem scene for ten years with barely a trace. 

Things are not always what they seem…the leading message of both Nella’s work and her life, something that deeply resonates with me at the core of my being.

I like Sunday morning Harlem musings. The more I read about Black art and Black artists in the 20th century, the more I realize that’s where I want to reside when I teach. I love my comics, I love my literature, and this is just an extension–or a specialization, depending on how you think about it. I’m discovering my time periods and my contexts. No matter how much I love Ida B. Wells, she just doesn’t capture my entire imagination like the artists do. When I’m thinking of late 19th and early 20th century, my mind immediately goes to a paper. My interest in Ida B. Wells quickly turned into a paper topic: the self-representations of Ida B. Wells as a New Woman, in light of Booker T. Washington’s uplift and respectability politics. But when I’m thinking of Harlem, my mind spins with art projects. How would I do a web series version of my Harlem HBO series? Could I do a graphic biography of Nella Larsen’s life? How can I paint this? How can I imagine this? How can I create work that adequately places itself in conversation with the intellectual discourse of the time? In a lot of ways, it seems a shame to write an academic paper on the Harlem Renaissance, when I know these artists would have been more receptive to my art. They would have been curious to see how their discourse would have shaped my thought.

Making art is not the absence of critical thought. It is the most critical expression of thought that we have.

It’s why I’ll gladly keep my Sunday morning Harlem musings, with a cup of tea in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.