Category Archives: Readings

#RavynnReads: Pandemic Edition

I realized that I had offered a list of books that I’ve loved recently. Despite being a Spring Break regular, the pandemic, teaching and dissertating, one of my favorite BGDGS traditions has fallen to the wayside.

So, even though we don’t have a Spring Break proper this year, I am going to forge ahead with a list of books that have really gotten me through the pandemic.

What I’ve loved…

  1. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Honestly, at this point I am pretty sure my students are tired of me quoting Toni Morrison, but she’s literally always relevant and there’s a 110% she has already articulated something I was trying to find the words for in this book.

Read it slowly.

Then read it again.

2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is a book I think about a lot. Stella and Desiree and Jude and Kennedy stayed with me longer than I expected them too. They lingered. And I don’t know whether it’s because I started my graduate school journey on a class that dealt a lot with passing literature from the 19th and 20th centuries or because so much happened all at once, but there was so much of my personal and scholarly interests that got folded up into this book. I love the process of untangling in literature; this was a masterclass.

3. Nubia: Real One // Words by L. L. McKinney & Art by Robyn Smith

Fun fact: Wonder Woman has a Black twin sister.

We don’t talk about her often. But L. L. McKinney said, “We talking about Nubia today.”

A fun, sweet, thought-provoking, and tender take on one of DC’s gems, McKinney and Smith offer a Nubia story fit for the contemporary moment.

I’m currently loving the YA and MG DC graphic novels. I might argue they’re a little more beginner comic reader friendly because it’s a self-contained story that you don’t have to do a lot of digging to find the backstory on. So if you’ve been looking for a place to dive into the world of comics, maybe this is your book!

4. Twins // Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

Another fun fact, but this time about me: When I was in the 7th grade, I ran for class president against my best friend.

And while it’s no where near the same as running against your twin sister, Twins took me right back to that moment in time where I was learning to be a friend, a honorable competitor and good person all in one fell swoop.

It’s a middle grade graphic novel, so if you’ve got tweens in the house itching for something to occupy them for a while, this might be the book!

5. Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

I love a good Greek myth. I also love a good Greek myth retelling. But I adore Greek myth retellings that center Black and brown kids.

Rivera rewrites the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in a captivating Young Adult book that positions the main characters as Afro-Latinx kids living in the Bronx in the summer. Filled with music and love and grief, Rivera makes you feel so much on every page, yet you come away with a genuine feeling of strength.

6. 7. 8. The Brown Sisters books by Talia Hibbert

I think we all know I love a good romance. Talia Hibbert’s books have been my first foray into adult romances and they’re perfection. Beautiful plus sized Black woman being loved out loud? Sign me up.

9. Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA ed. Nova Ren Suma and Emily X. R. Pan

I didn’t realize how badly I needed/wanted a craft book until I found Foreshadow. The stories are truly incredible, from a variety of new voices in Young Adult fiction, which practical craft notes throughout and prompts to get you started. It’s a truly multifunctional gift to all YA writers who are trying their very best.

What I’m reading now

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis

The BreakBeat Poets vol. 4: LatiNext ed. Felicia Chavez, José Olivarez, Willie Perdomo

Black Futures ed. Jenna Wortham & Kimberly Rose Drew

What’s on deck…

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Something I’m looking forward to…

This Poison Heart

Kalynn Bayron

Coming June 29, 2021


Well, here’s a glimpse of some of what I’ve been reading and thinking about recently! This list does not include things I’ve been rereading and thinking about for class or book club books, so there’s plenty more.

Happy reading!

The Teachability of Legendborn

I’d already rearranged the syllabus for my spring 2021 Magical Black Girls class once– back in June when Bethany C. Morrow released A Song Below Water. It was too good not to teach, especially when it specifically spoke to themes of the violence and silencing Black girls too often endure, the matrilineal nature of our power, and the strength of sisterfriends.

I told myself that I would not be readjusting again, no matter what new thing I discovered.

And then I was able to get my hands on an ARC of Legendborn.

Tracy Deonn pens a modern take on Arthurian legend reimagined as a secret society at a Southern Predominately White Institution (PWI). The protagonist, Bree Matthews, falls head first into this world, and it’s made abundantly clear to her by the others in the reimagined “Order” that Bree does not fit.

Any Black person at a PWI, particularly a Southern one, knows the experiences Bree endures intimately. We know the malevolent administrator who sneers at our presence. We have met the parents who are quick to label us as “Affirmative Action” and believe that us occupying a space on those campuses has somehow stolen something from their children. We have befriended the seemingly innocuous white person, who says something racist and when you call them on it they’re quick to dismiss your retort, saying, “You know what I mean.”

All of that would be enough to make anyone’s blood boil just below the surface, but add to it the depths of Bree’s grief and being thrown into an unknown magical world, where the same essence may have a different name to different people. Where the intersections of experience and history collide in unexpected ways. Deonn seamlessly weaves a tale based in uncomfortable truths about the relationship between Black and white people in the South that span centuries. Though born from those uncomfortable truths, it takes up the strength and power generated by Black individuals and families and shows how we have risen and continue to rise.

For all of that, Legendborn is the rare kind of book that satisfies the appetite of all the various portions of my personality and interests. Most times, it’s a pick and choose type of situation: perhaps you get high fantasy but lack depictions of Black girlhood, or you get Black girlhood but not as the heroine of the story.

With Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, I didn’t have to choose. I got to bring all the sides of my magic-loving, history-seeking, smart-mouthed Black girl self to the table when I settled down to read a chapter or two. As a Black girl who has spent a significant amount of time at two Southern Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) with big reputations for both my bachelors and masters/Ph.D. programs, the difficult, conflictual feelings Bree has about Carolina didn’t need to be explained. I understood the instinctual pull Bree felt to a campus that was not built with her in mind, and yet needing to know it intimately because it would bring her closer to a parent.

Reading Legendborn pulled to the surface all the things I didn’t know about my undergraduate institution, but that I learned in great detail at my graduate institution. I spent two years as a graduate assistant for The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, my campus’ attempt at making the history of Black people readily available, to bring forth that which the institution would rather hide. In that time, I learned not only about the enslaved people who built my university, but met the Black folks who would much later integrate our Southern PWI, and build with the Black students who still work to make it a better place.

I know the high fantasy is the draw of Legendborn, but it is the richness with which Deonn weaves so much of what is important to me as the backdrop of this narrative. It’s the vibrancy with which Deonn allows Bree to be a Black girl and revel in all the complexity of what that means. Yes, I love the way she has reimagined Arthuriana, I love the strong characters, the elements of the magic that underlies this whole world, but it is the way Bree is simply in this world, whether she fits or not, that makes it near and dear to my heart and what makes it perfectly teachable.

Bree is the result of centuries of racial conflict and the deep love Black women have for each other. She is both softness and hard edges; strength and fragility. She is deliciously human and wondrously exceptional.

That she is all of these things and stunningly magical is a revolution.

It’s legendary.

Four Years, Four Lessons

Today, August 8, 2020, marks the four year anniversary of Black Girl Does Grad School!

 

On this day in 2016, I published my first post, hopefully entitled, “Ravynn Stringfield, (Someday) Ph.D.” I wrote it the morning before I was due to start my first day of training to become an Omohundro editorial apprentice, my first graduate assistantship. From there, I would go on to become the assistant for the Lemon Project, a position I held, and loved, for two years. I left Lemon to serve as a teaching assistant for a film and modernization class and this coming year I will finally get to teach my own 290 course on Black girls and fantasy.

Two weeks after I wrote that initial post and a couple about Omohundro training, I would attend my first grad class. Over the course of two and a half years, I would take fourteen classes: six courses which counted towards my master’s degree (which I graduated with in 2018) and eight that went towards my Ph.D. There were some really fun ones: I loved my Digital Humanities class and Critical Race Theory; I lived for Interracialism and the comics class that I, and a couple of my classmates, begged my advisor to teach. And some were…let’s say, challenging– and not because of the academic rigor.

I’ve come a long way since the first time I used the term “digital humanities” to describe my work in a blog post: from denying what I did counted as DH to taking my first DH class to being wrapped up in a cocoon of love by Black digital humanists at “Intentionally Digital, Intentionally Black.” Then from my first DHSI to consistently proclaiming my identity as a digital human(ist) by showcasing it in my bio and wearing a hashtag on a chain around my neck (Left).

I’ve also come a long way since coursework. Since I finished my last semester in December 2018, I spent a semester reading for comps, I took the exams, defended my prospectus and began writing my dissertation in earnest.

I’m now in my last stretch of grad school, a stretch that could admittedly take a while to get through, but I have faith that everything will work out okay. Four years ago, writing a dissertation was the last thing on my mind as I struggled to figure out how to read at the graduate level, manage my time, and find ways to infuse my work with my own signature flair. But, as I said so long ago:

“But never mind how I got here; the point is, now I’m here.”

So in honor of my four years in graduate school and my four years of this blog, I decided I wanted to share with you four lessons I’ve learned since August 2016:

 

  1. You can chase clout if you want to, but I’d much rather work with someone who cares about me and has my best interests at heart. Picking an advisor is one of the most difficult parts about graduate school. In my early days, I switched about three times, only to land with exactly who they suggested for me to start with. As it turns out, I wasn’t ready to work with her in the early days; but as I matured and figured out who I wanted to be as a scholar, writer and person, I realized I wanted someone who would respect my work as both scholarship and art. Someone who would help me protect my work and find the right homes for it. I found an advocate, and I’m extraordinarily lucky, because some people don’t.
  2. Find your people. And accept that sometimes your people may not be in your program or even at your institution. I have a few folks that I can turn to from my university, but for the most part, when I have graduate school related concerns or need support, I trot to my digital network of peers I have developed over time on Twitter. (Shout out to the Digital Dreamgirls, Allante, Joy and Autumn + so many more.)
  3. Know your audience. Ultimately this advice has saved me so much heartache and grief. The moment I disavowed myself from the notion that my writing had to be all things to all people, I became free. Knowing who you’re writing for, the folks you’d like to serve, can help you focus your work and questions, and also helps you tune out voices who don’t understand what you’re trying to do.
  4. Grad school may be a big part of your life, but it’s not your whole life. You have a whole identity, full of parts who aren’t served or fulfilled by what you do in the classroom or in your research. Make sure you’re tending to those parts of yourself by doing whatever you need to do to feel full. For me, it was yoga, making art, spending time with my family and dog and continuing to write across genres.

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To all those who have been on this journey with me thus far, thank you.

To all those about to begin their journey, good luck.

And to all: be well.