On July 26th, the 2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist was officially announced. The 13-novel list features fiction written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Zadie Smith's Swing Time and Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad were both named. This is Smith's second time appearing on the list. Her novel, On Beauty, was shortlisted in 2006. Congratulations to both!
The winner of the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing—one of Africa's most prestigious literary awards—is Sudan's Bushra al-Fadil. He has won for his short story, "The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away," which was featured in the 2016 collection, The Book of Khartoum - A City in Short Fiction. Read more about Bushra al-Fadil and his winning story here.
In honor of the victims of the Grenfell Tower Fire on June 14, Nigerian poet Ben Okri has penned a eulogy for the fire's 79 fatalities.
"You saw it there in the sky, tall and black and burnt.
You counted the windows and counted the floors
And saw the sickly yellow of the half burnt cladding
And what you saw could only be seen in nightmare.
Like a war-zone come to the depths of a fashionable borough.
Like a war-zone planted here in the city.
To see with the eyes that which one only sees
In nightmares turns the day to night, turns the world upside down."
Read the rest of this sobering poem here.
Read more of Ben Okri's poetry here.
I'm just going to drop this gem here:
"Could it be that some Americans would rather black people die than their perceptions of America? Is black death more palatable than accepting the racist reality of slaveholding America, of segregating America, of mass-incarcerating America? Is black death the cost of maintaining the myth of a just and meritorious America?
This is not just the America people perceive. This is the America people seem to love. And they are going to defend their beloved America against all those nasty charges of racism. People seem determined to exonerate the police officer because they are determined to exonerate America."
I implore you to read the rest of this essay in full here. It is incredible.
In a powerful essay posted to Facebook, A Brief History of Seven Killings and The Book of Night Women author Marlon James gives an honest look at how fame and success can't shield him from the Minnesota's unique brand of anti-blackness. He writes of constantly feeling the need to shrink himself, referencing a 1971 quote from Dick Gregory:
“Down South white folks don’t care how close I get as long as I don’t get too big. Up North white folks don’t care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close.”
Read this unflinchingly honest essay in full here.
The Caine Prize for African Writing is an annual literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. The initial prize was given in 2000 and to this day it aims to create wider international audiences for emerging African writers. This year's five nominees were named on May 16th. The winner will be announced on July 3rd. Click the links below to learn more about this year's nominees:
"Pop built our house himself, narrow in the front and long, close to the road so he could leave the rest of the property wooded. He put his pigpen and his goat yard and the chicken coop in small clearings in the trees. We have to walk past the pigpen to get to the goats. The dirt is black and muddy with shit, and ever since Pop whipped me when I was six for running around the pen with no shoes on, I’ve never been barefoot out here again..."
Read the rest of this chilling excerpt over at Oxford American
The New York Times profiled the French-born Congolese author Alain Mabanckou, whose latest novel, Black Moses, was released by The New Press on June 6th. Read the stunning profile here.
"A lot of American writing is crap. And a lot of American writers are professionals. Writing is not a profession. It’s a calling."
Dr. Rafia Zafar, Professor of English at Washington University, penned an essay for the Times Literary Supplement on the beginnings of published Black American literature. This historical essay is a necessary reminder of the African-American writings that existed before the famed Harlem Renaissance. African-American literature did not begin with Langston Hughes and his early 20th century contemporaries. Long before this, there was a history of black people - both free and enslaved - writing and being published, like Phillis Wheatley (in 1773) Olaudah Equiano (in 1789), William Wells Brown (in 1853), Harriet Wilson (in 1859), Harriet Jacobs (in 1861) and Julia Collins (in 1865).
Zafar writes: "The Harlem Renaissance followed a naissance – and the story of that was far from complete. There were major figures in the pre-1900 era...But their works were often read as the primary sources of US history, their lives and thoughts the material for those who sought to limn the struggles and transcendence of African-descended Americans. These were the narratives, poetry and essays that laid the groundwork for the Toni Morrisons and James Baldwins, even if the youngest black writers of our day could not name a specific author before 1870. They were there, and our writers knew it." Read the full essay here.
On January 25th, 2017, Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta passed away at the age of 72. Born into poverty in Lagos, Nigeria in 1944, Emecheta went on to author 20 books and three plays. Her work subtly championed the rights of girls and women in Nigerian society. The Joys of Motherhood, her most well-known novel, captured the tight confines of womanhood in a tender and groundbreaking fashion. Aside from empowerment, Emecheta also promoted female independence - both from abusive men and from society's patriarchal structures. Buchi Emecheta's work was pivotal because it illuminated Nigerian women's hardships and unique strength for the world to see. Her extensive catalog is a testament to her tremendous talent as a writer and academic. Specifically, her semi-autobiographical novel, Second-Class Citizen, paints a harsh portrait of her own struggles as a single mother of five at only 22 years of age. Thank you, Buchi Emecheta, for your immeasurable contributions to the literary landscape in Nigeria, Africa and the world. May this phenomenally courageous woman rest in eternal peace.
Just read "My President Was Black," Ta-Nehisi Coates' spectacular article in The Atlantic about Obama's legacy as America's first Black president. It's a lengthy read, it took me about an hour to fully digest. However, it is incredibly detailed and profound. When I finished it, I literally clapped at my laptop screen. Coates analyses Obama's legacy within the context of American history and within the context of Trump's win. He offers a thoughtful critique of Obama's "brand" of blackness and interrogates Obama's interactions with Black America. I am grateful that Ta-Nehisi Coates labored to create this masterful work. Here are the most poignant quotes. They are long:
"There are no clean victories for black people, nor, perhaps, for any people. The presidency of Barack Obama is no different. One can now say that an African American individual can rise to the same level as a white individual, and yet also say that the number of black individuals who actually qualify for that status will be small. One thinks of Serena Williams, whose dominance and stunning achievements can’t, in and of themselves, ensure equal access to tennis facilities for young black girls. The gate is open and yet so very far away."
"The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history. I was shocked at my own shock. I had wanted Obama to be right."
"For 8 years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell."
Coates also said Obama became black with "minimal trauma." I struggled to accept that argument. There's an air of dismissal in this article - one that undermines Obama's "blackness" by virtue of his unique upbringing. There is no way that one grows up black with minimal trauma. However, while Coates is questioning Obama's blackness, I guess it is more accurate to say that he is more so interrogating it through a historical lens. Obama may be "black" but he is not Black American. Although we desperately want him to, he does not actually represent our legacy as the descendants of enslaved people. This is one of the best long-form articles of 2016.
Today, LitHub ran a chilling excerpt from Trevor Noah's recently released memoir, Born a Crime (Doubleday Books). Trevor Noah is a South African comedian and host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Born a Crime digs deep into his past; revealing the trials and tribulations of growing up both black and white in apartheid South Africa. Here's a particularly sobering quote:
"I couldn’t walk with my mother, either; a light-skinned child with a black woman would raise too many questions. When I was a newborn, she could wrap me up and take me anywhere, but very quickly that was no longer an option. I was a giant baby, an enormous child. When I was one you’d have thought I was two. When I was two, you’d have thought I was four."
Noah gives a firsthand account of not only what it was like to grow up during South African apartheid, but what it was like to be mixed-race during South African apartheid. In the simplest of terms, it was illegal. It was a literal crime to be mixed, since blacks and whites weren't allowed to have sex. Consequently, Noah spent much of his childhood in hiding. He could rarely acknowledge his Xhosa mother, nor his Swiss father, in public. In order to protect him from the extremely violent and militarized apartheid police, Noah's mother had him live as "Coloured."
Visit Lit Hub to read the rest of this intense excerpt. Also, check out the book. I'm so glad that Trevor Noah has the platform to speak honestly about apartheid. I'm also thrilled that he has the courage to tell his difficult story. he is truly a survivor.
"We should all get free therapy. We could call it reparations."
I just read an interesting article by young poet, Morgan Parker, in the New York Times called, "How to Stay Sane While Black." Parker talks about her struggles with mental illness within the context of anti-blackness. The article was a bit jumbled, but there were a few solid takeaways. This quote was my favorite, because duh. Check out the full article here.
On November 16th, the winners of the National Book Award were announced. Black literature showed up and showed out. Congratulations are in order to the winners:
"While 'negative' portrayals of Black people often reinforced racist ideas, 'positive' portrayals did not necessarily weaken racist ideas. The 'positive' portrayals were simply dismissed as extraordinary Negroes, and the 'negative' portrayals were generalized as typical. Even if these racial reformers managed to one day replace all “negative” portrayals with “positive” portrayals in the mainstream media, then, like addicts, racists would then turn to other suppliers."
"In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal."
John Lewis, Young People's Literature Award
March: Book Three
Click the above links to learn more about each winning title. This level of representation is incredible. I am beyond thrilled to see Black authors getting praised and honored in this way. Congratulations to these wonderful writers and to Cave Canem, an important incubator of Black poetry.
"Surely, shooting a fleeing man in the back hurts the presumption of white strength? The sad plight of grown white men, crouching beneath their (better) selves, to slaughter the innocent during traffic stops, to push black women’s faces into the dirt, to handcuff black children. Only the frightened would do that. Right?"
Toni Morrison posed these essential questions in "Mourning for Whiteness" a mini-essay she wrote for The New Yorker in response to Führer Trump's catastrophic (yet historically logical) election. Like always, she manages to lace the past and the present so intricately together.
When will they realize that we ain't like them? That we don't want to enslave, degrade, rape, loot or plunder them? That we don't want them nursing our babies and chauffeuring us around? It's such a pitiful, fallacious fear. It's the loss of identity, of self—a self that was constructed wholly in contrast of "the other." White people really need to learn to identify who they really are, instead of focusing so solitarily and obsessively on who they aren't.
Please do yourself a favor and click here read the rest of her essay, along with the others, on The New Yorker's website. They are all fabulously written.
Just read "Why I'm Done Talking About Diversity," a fabulous article by Marlon James over at LitHub. James bravely questions the literary world's vague, frequent and endless calls for "diversity." According to him, theorizing about diversity is not as effective as actually doing diversity. He calls on white folks in the industry to take action and actually make changes. Kudos to you, sir. If you don't already know, Marlon James is the award-winning author of the bestseller, A Brief History of Seven Killings.
Here is an especially poignant quote from the article:
"Maybe a diversity panel should be all white. Think about it: A panel on diversity with no diversity on it. The outrage would be immediate, even from people of color. And yet maybe that is what should happen. And maybe the first question should be why do we need a black person on a panel to talk about inclusion when it’s the white person who needs to figure out how to include?"
These are some awesome questions. Read the full article here.
Publishers Weekly's 2016 survey of the American publishing industry revealed that the industry is 88% white. This is a 1% improvement from last year's report.
Here is an interesting quote from the report: "Survey respondents reported more progress in diversifying the types of titles published by the industry. In 2015, 67% of whites believed publishers released more titles aimed at minorities (up from 51% in the prior survey), while 57% of nonwhite respondents said they felt the same."
Publishing more POC-featured and POC-written books is great progress, but it does not get to the root of the problem: White people are still the ones who decide what gets published, how books get edited, and how they are marketed. White people are still very much in charge of the way POC are represented in literature. This is dangerous. Very, very dangerous. We need more POC at the top of ladder; reading prospective manuscripts, editing, designing cover art, negotiating contracts, and marketing new titles.
How do we solve this problem? It starts young. Most black and brown kids literally do not know that they can enter the publishing industry. We need to start sharing more information about careers in publishing with young people of color—especially those that reside in historically looted communities.
See the full report here.