Monthly Archives: July 2010

Amazing Grace-A Life of Beauford Delaney, by David Leeming

Oxford University Press, New York, 1998, hardcover, 221 pages.

I started reading this last night.  I checked it out from the public library after stumbling over it while looking for another book.   To my knowing there are just so few biographies of African/American Artists.  The author has also written a biography of James Baldwin and at the time of publication was a Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Conneticut. 

The book opens with the author sitting with two elderly nieces in the Delaney home in Knoxville, Tennessee.  One of them, Imogene, is playing Amazing Grace on the piano as they sing along as if conjuring the spirit of Mr. Delaney.  Amazing Grace was his favorite song. 

Having befriended James Baldwin, the author was introduced to Beauford Delaney, whom Baldwin referred to as his “spiritual father”.  Leeming recognizes that his personal contact with Delaney was limited but having meet him, the time spent impacted him greatly, along with the personal stories that Baldwin and others relayed which kept him alive after he had passed on. 

I didn’t get very far before dozing off to sleep, but having discovered that Amazing Grace was his favorite song and that he faced serious mental health issues, and he life ended while in an aslyum in Paris, I’m wondering what his art meant to him and how he worked.

Read Chapter 1 online.

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Filed under African American, Beauford Delaney, Biography, Library book, Painters

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

(Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009)

I started reading this a few months ago and was enjoying the story but family matters with my parents and children overshadowed everything.  I started re-reading a few days ago and hope to return to posting as I go along rather than when I complete the book.

The opening sentence: A gray braid falling over each shoulder, Tia Josefa stuck her head out of the window of Las Agujas, the embroiderers’ cabin located just behind the main plantation house.

Visually, I loved the gray braids over each shoulder, and the fact that there is an embroiderers’ cabin appealed to my love of just about all things involving cloth and stitch.   I’m looking forward to seeing how the novel unfolds.

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Filed under african american women, African Diaspora reading challenge, Daughters of the Stone, Fiction, matriarchy, plantation life, Puerto Rico

Ways of Dying: A Novel by Zakes Mda

Picador Press, NY, 1995 (paperback, 212 pages)

There are indeed many ways of dying as the opening statement made by one officiating a funeral declares.  From the life of the central character, Toloki, a professional mourner in South Africa, Mda creates spokes like that on a wheel examining those many ways in the lives of the revolving characters through greed, politics, poverty, sexuality, blind loyalties, etc…just as Toloki himself is coming back to life from his social death by reuniting with a homegirl, Noria, and falling in love.  The act of falling in love, slowly and gently and purely, seems to be the redemption of not just their individual lives but Mda seems to offer a subtle suggestion as the redemption for a country mired in acts of violence which has become the typical method of deaths of young and old alike.  The violence and poverty form the backdrop for the story but Mda focuses on how love and humanity survive and thrive in spite of the circumstances.  In this novel, the violence and poverty and tragedies do not win.

The Toloki in this novel shows more discretion compared to the Toloki in Cion which employs more satirical humour.  At first this wasn’t working for me as the same character seemed to have too different of a personality…but then I was able to just let it go and see a younger Toloki surrounded by different realities in this book and I became comfortable with what I perceived as disparities in the character. 

Here Mda offers tip for writing.  Interviews with the author; one, two, and three.

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Filed under African Diaspora reading challenge, Author Links, Fiction, South Africa, Story Telling