Category Archives: Author Links

The Taste of Salt, by Martha Southgate, Kindle Ed.

This novel revolves around immediate family members, Ray and Sarah, who are parents to Tick and Josie.  Josie is the protagonist and narrator and the other voices are seemingly narrated through her.  There are two geographical locations, Cleveland, Ohio and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Cleveland is the family home and Woods Hole is the place where Josie and her husband, Daniel reside and work in the field of Marine Biology, and where Josie has walled off herself from her family and history.

Josie, as a character, is unique in that she is African American woman scientist and the story makes use of this.  Josie discovered as a child how much at home she feels when in the water…it is her emotional safe space that offers new discoveries.  She holds on to this to make a career of it and meets her husband, Daniel.  The story is unique in that it addresses alcoholism and addiction in an African American family.

Josie is a very straightforward narrator and the story is laid out plain with very little mystery.  For that, I almost stopped reading, but Southgate does write tight in that she doesn’t waste words or space in the story which is why I didn’t stop reading.  Given the topic and the circumstances the characters go through, Southgate did not overly emotionalize (in fact, very little emotionalism) the story and just laid it out as a storyteller.  I appreciated her control over that which I think adds to the strength of the novel.

The drama unfolds when Josie’s wall begins to fall down.  At first by the appearance of a new colleague in her department followed by Tick’s appearance in Woods Hole.  At the end of the novel I was reminded of the song Stand by Donnie McClurkin.  Sometimes that is the only thing left to do.

Author’s website

Interview

 

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Filed under African American, Alcoholism, Author Links, Kindle, The Taste of Salt

A History of the African-American People [Proposed] by Strom Thurmond AS TOLD TO PERCIVAL EVERETT & JAMES KINCAID

This has been the most baffling (yet funny) novel I have read in a very long time.  I had to come and check in about it now that I’m just over a third-way through.  I’m recalling the novels of Ishmael Reed and poems by Sterling Brown but can’t yet say exactly why.  It has been decades since I’ve read Reed but do recall the wild unpredictable twists and turns in his novels and the humor as well.  And it is Brown’s Slim Greer in Hell that shares the tone of this novel.

It is going down through a series of letters and memos between a publishing house, academia, and political arena.  Amongst this correspondence, are personal quirky revelations along with “business matters” that so far include 6 characters, presumably.  The strangest, maybe, since they are all quite unsettled, is Wilkes, the personal assistant representing Thurmond, (so far Thurmond remains addressed in 3rd party).  Not only is he, unbeknownst to himself, an oddity and peculiar man, but he is the most condescending toward all others that make up this novel; Jim and Percival (yes the author has placed himself as novelist of the novel, both inside and outside of the actual book who represent academia; Juniper and Martin, underling and upperling at the publishing house; Wilkes and Thurmond representing the political arm of this story.

Of course I had to go digging around the net about Percival Everett, because I started to wonder if my memory had failed me and there was actually no such writer and suspecting the name was a pseudonym.  This interview shed a little light, not much, but a little for my imagination to take off.

At this point I’m feeling Everett is making a statement on what he sees as an incestuous nature between academia, politics, and publishing.  And somehow as a writer and professor, might just be saying and all yall can kiss my ass.  I’ll report back when I’m 2/3rds of the way through.  Peace.

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Filed under A History of the African-American People [proposed] by Strom Thurmond, Author Links, Kindle

How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (Kindle edition)

If you’ve ever wondered what a well-adjusted, political astute, educated, happy, comedic Black man would have to say if he wrote a book…this is it!  I’ve been seeking out humor in lit for some weeks now and this satisfied!  Thurston is described as “a technology-loving comedian from the future who cares enough about the world to engage with it politically”.  So it isn’t funny for the sake of just being funny…far from it…it is funny with a purpose.

At the first chapter I was somewhat leary that it was going to be a book with an intended white audience as it’s primary focus and he would address his reader with that assumption which I associate with a slight aspect of minstrel behavior…but I stuck with it and withheld judgement and it paid off.  Thurston is addressing everyone in the room with some funny, intelligent, thoughts….part, memoir, part political/cultural essays, part humor.  Well written, straight-forward, and poignant and timely.  He covers his formative years shaped by his mother and education in the 80’s right up through Post-President Obama’s election, giving advice on how to be the black friend, how to be the black employee, to how to be the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th Black President.

He included a panel of friends to add commentary and thus the book embraces “community”.  He writes from a pov that “blackness” is not a limiting life and makes fun (in a serious way) of all the imposed upon limitations no matter who asserts them.  Underscoring in the end of the book that it is more important to do you and in doing you, any and all things become Black.

When I enjoy an author, I first check to see if they have a Facebook page and website…Thurston has a fancy position at The Onion (one of my fave magazine), Director of Digital, so he was easy to find on the web.  Here and here  and here and here.   Click on the book image below to be taken to Amazon.com.

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Filed under African American, Author Links, How To Be Black, Kindle, Multi-racial

The Untelling and Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Last night I completed Jones’ 2nd novel, the Untelling.  Both books, Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling, have very strong first person narrations.  For me, it was the strength of the characters voices that I found most compelling.  In Leaving Atlanta, there are 3 sections distinguished by the voices of 3 different fifth-graders in the same class, Tasha, Rodney, and Octavia…all impacted by The Atlanta Child Murders.  To my knowledge, it is the only work of fiction that draws from the travesty.  The story presents the vulnerabilities of childhood by using the language of children (very convincingly…first time I ever saw “flicktedy” in print) in creating a believable perspective on the behaviors and words of adults.   According to Jones’ Amazon page, she selected this subject to draw from for her first novel because, “This novel is my way of documenting a particular moment in history. It is a love letter to my generation and also an effort to remember my own childhood. To remind myself and my readers what it was like to been eleven and at the mercy of the world. And despite the obvious darkness of the time period, I also wanted to remember all that is sweet about girlhood, to recall all the moments that make a person smile and feel optimistic.”

The Untelling’s main character is Ariadne, who was impacted by the death of her father and youngest sister in a car accident when she was ten, and the scars and secrets that resulted in her, her mother, and older sister, survivors of the tragedy.  Ariadne seeks to offset the alienation she feels from her mother and sister by being of service in a field of social work and living vicariously through the lives of others.  After suspecting she is pregnant she becomes engaged to marry her boyfriend and deliver her baby, being consumed with this being the answer that will complete her in someway.  Through events that make her even more unsettled, she learns the power and damage of secrets and things left unsaid.  Jones’ statement on The Untelling, “The Untelling is a novel about personal history and individual and familial myth-making. These personal stories are what come together to determine the story of a community, the unoffical history of a neighborhood, of a city, of a nation.”

Because of the strength of narrative, I thought about the short stories of J. California Cooper and wondered if Jones’ novels would have been better rendered in short story format.  Even though I can’t quite describe why, I thought the unfolding of the plots was less well done to sustain in novel format.  In the Untelling, I was not drawn into the story as much as I like to be when reading a novel…as a reader, I remained outside the story, more than I did with Leaving Atlanta.  Maybe Jones’ made Ariadne’s voice to reflect her weaknesses and shortcomings, possibly her concern she showed for one of her GED students was intended to offset that aspect of her…not sure, but I remained outside of the story.  But in reflecting on Jones’ statement above, possibly my own myths keep me from engaging in a larger way with the lives of others in my community and not just someway of maintaining healthy boundaries????

With her first novel, it was definitely the language of the children and their parents that allowed me to “enter” inside the story as if I was among them versus standing outside of it.  I started Jones’ third and current novel last night, Silver Sparrow.

 

 

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Filed under African American, Author Links, Fiction, Kindle, Leaving Atlanta, Library book, The Untelling

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Here are video interviews with Randall Robinson  with Amy Goodman and Morning Joe.  Click here.  He describes the overall book as a “love story of Black people for themselves, as we rediscover ourselves”.

Did I mention I love the cover art of this book!  Must investigate to find who the artist is!

Randall Robinson’s website.

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My current read is Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones.  It is narrated by fifth-grader Tasha just as the Atlanta child murders are gaining attention.  Even though I knew that going into the book, it did snatch me back in time at the point when Tasha, her younger sister, Shaun, and her mother were watching tv at the dinner table when the news of a recent child victim was announced.  It started me wondering what the sociological imprint has been on those who were children then.

This is Jones’ first novel. She has since published 2 others and my plan is to read them consecutively.  I checked all 3 from the public library via Kindle…sweet!

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Filed under African American, Author Links, Kindle, Leaving Atlanta, Library book, Makeda

Stand The Storm: A Novel by Breena Clarke, Little, Brown and Co., Hachette BookGroup USA, e-book edition 2008.

This is the author’s second novel.  I read her first, River, Cross My Heart, some years ago and only vaguely recall it.  As I started with Stand The Storm, the writing style is what I recalled.  Like the first novel, it is a grounded narrative with an even paced tempo.  As a reader I’m kept on the outside of the narrative…never drawn in.  The story remains grounded in an African American perspective in that the survival and growth of the characters lays in what goes on amongst them and between them and the White gaze is only anecdotal and supportive for moving the story along.  I think for me, not certain, that it was the historian John Blassingame who spoke to this being key to our survival in detail.

The characters are a family of needlefolk…Sewing Annie, her daughter and son, Ellen and Gabriel…extended members of the family Daniel Joshua and Mary.  The setting is urban life in the 1800s with bordering plantations in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland…a setting when compared to life further south affords a slight, slight more measure of physical movement for enslaved and free Africans of the time period which Clarke utilizes as a support for the development of the story.

The location of the novel centers around the back rooms of a tailoring shop where Gabriel has become the chief tailor.  Gabriel and his family are owned by Jonathon Ridley and Ridley owns the shop that he purchased from a Jewish tailor who Gabriel apprencticed under.  Aaron Ridley, the owner’s nephew oversees the shops but is less concerned with its daily runnings and the people who do the work than he is about hobnobbing at the local eateries…in turn, affording Sewing Annie, Gabriel, and others a great deal of personal freedom…but freedom that do not squander as is the focus of improving their lot and the lot of others when opportunities are present, stay at the forefront of their minds and doings. Sewing Annie and Gabriel have purchased their own freedom by burning the midnight oil sewing military uniforms.

I’m just under half-way through this book and the extended family is growing to include a new woman freshly escaped from slavery along with 8 children.

Breena Clarke’s website

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The Warmth of Other Suns, (continued)

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed my sadness when I come to the last chapter of a book that deeply touches my heart.  I don’t want to say goodbye.  I did this with this book.  Wilkerson’s is a superb narrator.  Ida Mae, Robert, and George are the 3 people from over 1200 that she selected to tell their story alternating from their lives to a larger historical perspective and I found myself so immersed in their lives and the history and reflecting on my own family that I just didn’t want to stop.  Back in the 80’s I set out to do genealogy and oral interviews with family members which would become the basis for poems.  This book sent me back to that mindset and my mind spiraling about future projects in quilts.

I was so immersed in the 3 lives Wilkerson focused on that I didn’t want their stories to end.  I wanted to know even more…I wanted more historical revelations…not because the narrations or histories where inadequate, but because the lives of African Americans is so full and rich and yet so little known beyond generalizations by the larger public regardless of race.

Wilkerson also treats history as a fluid, living, breathing body of knowledge.  I take the view that there are artifacts, letters, data that have yet to be dusted off, studied, and revealed and we need to be gingerly about clamping down on fixed notions, ideas as if they will never change.

This book along with The Grace of Silence will be on my lips for years to come and will become re-reads in the future.

Henry Louis Gates video interview with Isabel Wilkerson

Charlie Rose interviewing Isabel Wilkerson

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Filed under African American, Author Links, Immigrant Experience, The Warmth of Other Suns