The Golem and The Jinni & The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker #BookReview

There are few times where I can genuinely say I’ve been anticipating a book as much as I have the sequel to The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker.

Cover for "The Golem & The Jinni" by Helene Wecker
Cover for “The Golem & The Jinni” by Helene Wecker

If you remember my 30th birthday post from Instagram, The Golem and The Jinni was a book I mentioned in “The Lost Years” slide.

When my dad was ill, I listened to The Golem and the Ginni as an audiobook. This was the first time I’d ever used an audiobook to read. And it offered me a lot of comfort since it reminded me of being a child and having my parents read me books to fall asleep. Likewise, being able to hear George Guidall narrate Chava and Ahmad’s story added another layer to Wecker’s novel for me.

Wecker’s writing covers the story of these two magical beings’ lives through the lens of immigration and technological advances. Paying particular attention to the importance of community, the author asks the reader to imagine what it must have been like for people to leave all they’d ever known to strike out into the unknown in a foreign land.

While Chava and Ahmad are two magical beings, you can see the difference in how men and women assimilated to their surroundings in each character’s story. This is something that Wecker and I talk more about in the interview I posted with her last week.

"I define community in its broadest sense as a group of people whose interactions are framed around a shared element. You can have communities based on physical proximity, on one’s geographic or cultural origins, on shared life experiences, on something as inconsequential-seeming as a hobby. I think that we all belong to any number of these communities, all of which intersect and layer on top of each other. Our ties to them may wax and wane as our lives change. The problems come in when a person belongs to two or more communities that are antithetical to each other in some way." - Helene Wecker, Author of "The Golem & the Jinni" and "The Hidden Palace
Excerpt from my Helene Wecker Interview

For Chava, a golem created as the bride to a rich Jewish man striking out for a new country, coming to America forces her to venture out of her comfort zone to be independent and tackle her natural ability to provide for others. The jinni, Ahmad, is the total opposite. Having lived for several hundred years in the Syrian desert, he’s awoken in a strange land with no recollection of how he came to be in America and wants nothing to do with humans.

When these two have a chance meeting in the middle of the night in 1900, a series of events are set in motion that the reader could never imagine.

If you’re a lover of books that have a full cast of characters and that is multi-layered, this is a story you’ll love. I highly suggest the audiobook for those who enjoy hearing the voices of characters.

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Cover for "The Hidden Palace" by Helene Wecker
Cover for “The Hidden Palace” by Helene Wecker

Wecker has just come out with the next book in the series, The Hidden Palace, and I highly recommend Wecker has just come out with the next book in the series, The Hidden Palace, and I highly recommend it. George Guidall is back as the audiobook narrator, and there are more characters and more adventures in this story. I’m excited that Sophie, Ahmad’s human lover, was given a much bigger part to play in the newest book, and Wecker has included two new magical characters.

In this epic sequel, we get to see characters bounce between New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I. If you’re a student of history, you will love getting to see how Chava and Ahmad react to historical events, like the sinking of the Titanic.

Grab your copy of The Hidden Palace today!

Interview With Helene Wecker, Author of “The Hidden Palace”

The Book

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker
Cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, able to hear the thoughts and longings of the people around her and compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a perpetually restless and free-spirited creature of fire, imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and pretend to be human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Having encountered each other under calamitous circumstances, Chava and Ahmad’s lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other. 

Each has unwittingly affected the humans around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

Author Interview

Author, Helene Wecker
Author, Helene Wecker

Adira: Mrs. Wecker, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you! The Golem & the Jinni means so much to me as a reader since it was one of the books that kept me company while I sat with my father when he would go to treatment for dialysis. Because of this and the magical landscape you created, Chava and Ahmad are two of my favorite characters of all time.

Helen Wecker: Thank you so much! I’m truly honored, and I’m glad that The Golem and the Jinni could keep you company during a difficult time.

A: Can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind The Golem & The Jinni and The Hidden Palace and how you went about researching for your books?

HW: I started writing The Golem & the Jinni while I was at grad school for creative writing. I’d decided that for my master’s thesis I would write a series of short stories that combined tales from my own family history and from my husband’s family history. I’m Jewish and he’s Arab American, and I’ve always been struck by the similarities in our backgrounds, specifically around issues of immigration to America, language, and culture. But the stories I was writing were very realist and sort of uninspired. When I complained to a friend about it, she pointed out that I adore stories that combine realism and fantasy, and she challenged me to do that with my own work. So I decided that instead of a Jewish girl and an Arab-American boy for my main characters, I’d turn them into the most emblematic folkloric figures I could think of from each culture: a (female) golem and a (male) jinni. That opened up the whole story, and the characters developed their own personalities and struggles, instead of merely being stand-ins for myself and my husband.

Cover of The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker
Cover of The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker


The research process was gargantuan, especially for the first book. I’d picked 1899 because I wanted this to feel like an “old world” immigration story, a folktale set in our real history — but I’d originally thought I was writing a short story, not a novel. Once it became clear that this was going to be an actual book, I had to stop and take stock of what I really knew about 1899 New York, which wasn’t much. So I went to the Columbia University library and just started reading everything I could find about the neighborhoods and the tenements, to establish a baseline of knowledge. From there I branched off into specifics like the history of Syrian and Jewish immigration to the U.S., and the stories and folklore they brought with them, and the different religious sects and backgrounds they came from. For The Hidden Palace, I spent a lot of time researching Sophia’s travels in the Middle East. I read up on Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence, and the history of Palmyra (which is a few novels in itself), and how World War I eventually drove Lebanon into starvation. New subjects kept popping up for me to research, like the Western Union telegraph system and its messenger boys, and turn-of-the-century Jewish orphanages (I based mine on a real New York orphanage, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum). I tried to use primary sources whenever I could — which was easier than it would’ve been a decade ago, considering how much has been digitized and made available on the Internet — and I tried to fact-check everything that wasn’t a primary source. I took the research process pretty seriously even though I’m writing fiction, because I know how much the details contribute to the overall lived-in feeling of the books, and it’s important to me to get them right.

A: Why did you decide on a “golem” and “jinni” to embody your main characters? Likewise, why did you choose Chava, the golem, to be the female protagonist and Ahmad, the jinni, as your male protagonist?

HW: Hope it’s ok that I rolled this part of the question into the answer above…

The pushcart market in the East Side Ghetto of New York's Jewish Quarter was a hive of activity in the early 1900s.

Source: Ewing Galloway/Getty Images & NPR
The pushcart market in the East Side Ghetto of New York’s Jewish Quarter was a hive of activity in the early 1900s

A: Of course!

I only ask this because it reminds me of a conversation I had in my Globalism and Transnationalism Literature class in graduate school, where we discussed how women and men assimilate differently into their new communities as immigrants.

For example, while it is harder for Chava to assimilate because she is at the mercy of her empathic connection to others, as a woman, she can blend into her Jewish community easier through her inquisitiveness about the human world and her work as a baker, which forces her to interact with her neighbors. For Ahmad, though, like many other men who start anew as immigrants, he’s so stuck on the image he holds in his memory of his home country, he couldn’t adapt to his new surroundings. This leads Ahmad, unlike Chava, to shut himself away from the community of Little Syria for much of the series.

As an author, did you intentionally follow this pattern for female and male immigrants for Chava and Ahmed or any of the other characters in your books?

HW: That really is a fascinating question. I remember that during the research process, I read a few academic studies about this exact thing: that immigrant men who’d come to the U.S. for economic gain would consider themselves less tied to America, and held onto the idea of “going home” someday, much more than the women whose role it was to create a new home for their husbands and children. The expectations were so different, and so deeply gendered!

For my characters in particular, these tendencies came about as a result of their individual histories. Ahmad has a past, a life before New York, and Chava doesn’t; she can’t long for an earlier life because this is all she knows. She’s drawn to help others both by her nature and as a result of her empathic abilities, so she has more of an inner incentive to assimilate, while Ahmad — who arrives in New York against his will — is much more conflicted about humanity in general.

Now, was I more likely to make Chava an empath because I’d created her as female, and more likely to make Ahmad a loner because I’d created him male? Almost certainly! Gendered expectations strike again!

Manhattan’s Little Syria neighborhood

A: Be it a religious, ethnic, or a community built around a character’s magical species, so much of what you write about in The Golem & The Jinni and The Hidden Palace centers around the theme of community. How would you define community, and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote the characters and changing settings in your novels?

HW: I define community in its broadest sense as a group of people whose interactions are framed around a shared element. You can have communities based on physical proximity, on one’s geographic or cultural origins, on shared life experiences, on something as inconsequential-seeming as a hobby. I think that we all belong to any number of these communities, all of which intersect and layer on top of each other. Our ties to them may wax and wane as our lives change. The problems come in when a person belongs to two or more communities that are antithetical to each other in some way. In my books, Chava and Ahmad become a community of two; their experiences are so distinctive that they literally have no one else who can understand them. Yet they each also belong to human communities (Chava more willingly than Ahmad) that would never accept them if they knew the truth. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to bring another golem and another jinni(yeh) into The Hidden Palace: so we could see a different intersection of these communities, these shared experiences. Chava is drawn to Yossele despite her better judgment, because the lure of that common experience is simply too strong to deny. And Dima is forcibly cast out from her original community and seeks out Ahmad in hopes of creating a new one, though it doesn’t go as planned.

A: In The Hidden Palace, you speak of the “changeability” of stories as they are retold in your Prologue. When your series takes place, humans are starting to discover electricity and make massive leaps in technology, which has changed the way humans can tell and preserve our cultural myths and ways of worship. How does this change in technology influence your method of storytelling and the action in your stories from the time the series begins in The Golem & The Jinni and then later in The Hidden Palace?

HW: The change that had the greatest impact was probably the increase in speed of communication. The telegraph had been around for decades, but by the turn of the century the service was much quicker and more streamlined, as well as completely commonplace. And then the telephones, of course, which by the 1910s were practically a household necessity, in the same way that personal e-mail exploded in the mid- to late ’90s. It made it easier for my characters to communicate with each other, even over distances. Though I did sometimes have to come up with reasons why my characters still met and talked in person, instead of just picking up the phone!

Central Park is another favorite site for the characters in Wecker’s series


A: One thing I loved about your novel is the way you center language. Your usage of language spans from having characters in the Jewish community be engrossed in learning Hebrew and harnessing its power for good and sinister purposes to having Ahmad be frustrated by the distance that grows between him and the imaginary language of the jinn. Was there a greater role you wanted language to play in your novel?

HW: In The Hidden Palace I tried to use language as a signifier for community and belonging, or the lack of it. The fact that Ahmad can’t speak his own language anymore, for instance: it’s one thing to say “I have no one to talk to,” but in his case it’s literally the truth! It’s just another way in which he feels he’s assimilating to humanity against his own will. And in the case of Kreindel, the young girl who’s at the Jewish orphanage uptown, language is a tie to her father’s memory and the religious values that he taught her. So she wants to learn Hebrew as a holy language, but the orphanage insists on teaching it as a spoken language, which to her is a form of blasphemy. So in refusing to speak their language, she rejects the community that’s offered to her. And Ahmad and Chava have their own “language,” too, a private blend of human languages which they pepper with idioms and metaphors that they overhear in their walks around Manhattan. It’s just another way that they’re a private community of two.

The Washington Arch in New York City was one of the series favorite sites to visit.
The Washington Arch in New York City was one of the series favorite sites to visit.


A: While your first book is a bit easier going, The Hidden Palace tackles more hard-hitting topics, like pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rights of women and factory and railroad workers, and even what it looked like for those who had their countries turned into war zones in World War I. How did you prepare yourself as a writer to shift your perspective from being a tale of “good and evil” and a matter of two characters attempting to find their place in society in The Golem & The Jinni to touching on the more challenging subject matter in The Hidden Palace?

HW: To be honest, I sort of backed into it without a lot of planning beforehand. At first I’d envisioned The Hidden Palace as more good vs. evil, like The Golem and the Jinni, but the plot grew way too big and I had to cut it down to size. Eventually I realized that the book didn’t need a clear-cut villain for them to fight against, that the characters themselves could create the necessary conflict. But the thing about good vs. evil is that it provides a handy trajectory to plot a book around, so instead I had to weave that trajectory together out of the various threads I’d created. In the end it was a matter of trial and error, as always, as each of the main characters got their turn at playing the “villain” as they reacted (often poorly) to the changes in the world around them.

Sunlight streams through the windows in the concourse at Grand Central Terminal in New York City in 1954.
Sunlight streams through the windows in the concourse at Grand Central Terminal in New York City in 1954.


A: Speaking of “hard-hitting” topics, since the publication of The Golem & The Jinni, immigration has become a hot-button issue in America. Did this change the way you attempted to tackle this issue in The Hidden Palace or the trajectory any of your characters’ stories took?

HW: In the end, it didn’t change the book so much as it made the subject matter feel more immediate and urgent. I also felt the echoes of the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis that it caused; in fact, I was researching the Palmyra sections of the book just as ISIL took control of Palmyra in 2015 and went about destroying parts of the ruins. Around that time I wrote a version of Dima in which she was a refugee who’d barely escaped Syria with her life. But it made the character too instantly sympathetic and messed with her motivations, so I changed her back before too long.

A: Are there any authors that influenced your writing or that you’d recommend readers put on their Summer TBR List?

HW: Oh, too many to list! I discovered Ursula K. LeGuin far too late in life, and I’ve been slowly working my way through her collected works. What a staggering mind that woman had. Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series is lighter than LeGuin, and a hell of a lot of fun. It features a humanoid construct that’s built for servitude and defense but escapes its masters, so of course it reminds me of Chava, though it curses a hell of a lot more than Chava does!

A: I love this series so much and can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Are you working on any writing projects you can share with readers?

HW: At the moment, I’m still recovering from the process of getting The Hidden Palace out the door! But I hope to start researching for the next book before too long, and I really hope that it doesn’t take another seven years before Book Three is finished!

A: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me, Mrs. Wecker!

HW: Thank you! I loved the questions!

Readers, comment below and tell me what do you think life was like in New York during the early 1900s?

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury #BookReview

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury is the type of book I’ve been waiting for for over 25 years.

This futuristic fantasy about a family of Black witches made my inner tween squeal with joy when I first heard about its publication. From the practice of calling on the ancestors to guide you as you come into your magic to being reliant on the connection with family, Sambury weaves together a tale that’s Blackity Black Black Black.

Book Cover for "Blood Like Magic" by Liselle Sambury
Book Cover for Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Blood Like Magic follows Voya Thomas, a newly “called” teenage witch, who is given the task to “destroy her first love” to secure her family’s magic for generations to come. This task comes from her ancestor, Mama Jova, a New Orleans witch who suffered the trauma of being enslaved and wants Voya to learn from the past.

Unfortunately, Voya has two problems: she is plagued with anxiety making it hard to make decisions, and she’s never been in love before. This immediately lets her know that her task will not be an easy one to complete. 

Interpreting “destroy” to mean “kill,” Voya decides to scout out a love match using a “genetic matchmaking” program from the futuristic tech company, NuGene. And this is where she finds a match in Luc, a NuGene intern that’s being sponsored to work by the CEO, Justin Tremblay.

And this is where Sambury’s story got good…

As a lover of magic-themed books, Blood Like Magic is one of the few Black fantasy novels that I’ve encountered that not only centers on the Black experience but also provides a complex magic system. This system exists in a world much like ours where real-world issues, such as violence against the Black community, the plight of Black girls who go missing, and gentrification take place. 

The way Voya’s family is written reminded me of growing up in a multi-generational household with my grandparents, parents, and siblings. Like Voya, this made me hyper-aware of being a part of a family unit and being in tune with everyone around me. To see this aspect of my family reflected in Blood Like Magic made my heart sing.

Author, Liselle Sambury
Author, Liselle Sambury

The author was also obviously careful in easing the reader into her dark fantasy by giving content warnings early on in the print description. This showed me that Sambury cared about her reader’s experience. This extended to the author being mindful of being fully inclusive in the future she dreams up. At various points in Blood Like Magic, readers are shown a positive representation of different types of bodies, sexualities, and ethnic groups all living together harmoniously. 

The only thing that really gave me pause in this novel was the idea that even in the future that Sambury has imagined, being Black is still seen as a threat. 

The violence that came with reading about Voya’s friend, Lauren, who we learn early on has gone missing, is something that frustrated me. Same with the feelings of mistrust that happen between the Black witch families who are marked as “pure” and don’t use violence to yield magic versus the “impure” families who do. In these moments of the narrative, I became frustrated. Even though Sambury does try to clear this up by the end of the novel, it gave me pause when juxtaposed against the solidarity shown for other racial groups in the novel who shun Black witches for their aforementioned violent natures and discord that happens in their community.

When these scenes came up, It made me think that if Black people can’t get along even in the future, what does this say about us?

Overall, though, listening to Blood Like Magic on audiobook was a great way to pass my weekend. Joniece Abbott-Pratt delivers Sambury’s words in a way that had me glued to my headphones.

This book is one I’d recommend for everyone. 

If you enjoyed this novel, I’d recommend reading Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher trilogy and watching the online show, Juju.

Book Cover for "Shadowshaper" by Daniel José Older
Book Cover for Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Older’s series, like Sambury, pairs ancestral knowledge with urban life and Caribbean magic to create a masterpiece. Shadowshaper follows Sierra Santiago, a teenager from Bed-Stuy whose family safeguards magic that connects them to spirits via paintings, music, and stories. When disappearances start to happen in her neighborhood and her Abuelo falls ill, Sierra powers are unearthed. This power is tied to a supernatural order her Abuelo is a part of. The only thing is that the anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, is now after Sierra and her newfound power.

For anyone who’s a fan of audiobooks, grab Older’s series on this medium. Anika Noni Rose performs the series.

If you have access to YouTube or Amazon Prime, check out Juju, a “mystical, dark fantasy” that Jhé “Moon” Ferguson wrote. Following three best friends, Ferguson’s script is a mix between Charmed and Insecure.

Juju is about Ally, Gigi, and Yaya, three Black millennials tackling “Adulting” and being Black women in America. On Ally’s 28th birthday, the women learn that they are the descendant of Yoruba witches who must break a generational curse placed on them by a Salem witch. 

Author,  Daniel José Older
Author, Daniel José Older

Ally is played by Cydni Jenkins and is a descendant of women who practices Santería from Cuba. Her character speaks to anxiety-ridden Millennials who compare themselves to each other. 

Nedge Victome portrays Gigi. This character is a powerful voodoo priestess from Haiti and Louisiana bayou. She’s a seductress who’s not afraid to speak her peace while tearing down the patriarchy. 

Yaya is played by Cassandra Borgella and is the backbone of her friend group. Her character is a descendant of an Obeah woman in the Jamaican mountains. By nature, she is a giver and empathetic healer.

Juju web series trailer

This series showcases the many facets of being a Black woman across the Diaspora with each of the main characters. Featuring themes, like Black mysticism, Black ancestral magic, Black sisterhood, and Black culture, Feguson’S show is a masterpiece.

Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi #BookReview

Cover of Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi
Cover of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

I really wanted to love Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi, but the themes and tropes all felt very cliched and overdone while reading it. I honestly felt as if I was rewatching every YA and Fantasy film I’ve ever loved blended and pureed into oblivion and then served to me tied up in a neat “diverse” bow.

To make matters worse, Adeyemi’s book was served up on a gilded platter in 2018 readers as the “diverse reading pick of the year” when it was merely a decent read that just happened to fill the void in a sea of whiteness that year.

Adeyemi’s book runs off the idea that magic is forbidden, and those who are maji, or magic-users, are hated and hunted. These characters are called things, like “maggots,” and live under oppressive systems or are just outright killed. Zélie, the main character in Children of Blood and Bone, is a part of the maji group. Along with her brother are on the run as they’re being pursued by Inan, who is the prince of their land. Inan is our usual male protagonist for fantasy with a “heavy burden” in life to uphold his tyrannical father’s genocidal beliefs. And of course, with this description, it is apparent that Zélie and Inan must fall in love at some point…insert eye roll here…

To put it plainly, Children of Blood and Bone was too long and too drawn out to match the hype it been given. However, I can’t lie and say that the book wasn’t on trend for what’s hot in pop culture and the YA genre right now.

Author, Toni Adeyemi

For instance, I know that the religion that deals with Orïshas has just hit mainstream culture thanks to Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album. Due to this, everyone and their mother was scrambling to find a connection to these sacred figures in some way or other as a means to get “inspired” in their art. Still, Tomi Adeyemi’s usage of religion as a means of being the precursor to magic in the book just fell flat for me. With the overuse of the Orishas and the many poorly written and angsty passages that kept getting repeated, I felt as if I was being beaten over the head by this plot device.

Likewise, the character development in the book was too drawn out for me. The teenage angst in this book was drawn out thanks to the repetitive scenes and the book’s length. In a way, I almost wish I could get to know the characters more because it feels as if they’ve all become too close, too quick in the way they are put together, causing a lot of their relationships between the four main characters to feel forced to me.

I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I have to be honest and say, for me, this book was decent at best and overwritten at worst. That being said, after reading this first installment in the series, I hope that the filler passages get cut from the second book. If not, It would be nice if Adeyemi could find a way to balance out the “action” and “traveling” scenes and allows the characters to find a way to interact outside of combat. I think this would help round out the characters’ relationships and clear parts of the novel up where the world-building was murky. Having the characters tell the reader about the world they live in through daily interaction and good dialogue would allow us as readers to breathe in between fight scenes. Obviously, Adeyemi is a good writer, but she seemed to have thrown a lot into this first novel.

In terms of recommending this book, I think it’s a decent start to a fantasy series and will possibly pick up the second book. Regarding the Orisha element of the novel, though, I’d personally say American Street by Ibi Zoboi deals with representing these religious figureheads so much better.

Cover of American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Cover of American Street by Ibi Zoboi

In American Street, Zoboi mixes Haitian Voudon beliefs about their Loas with a Detroit setting to tell a gritty story about Fabiola, a young Haitian girl, as she tries to bring her mother home from the detention center she’s being held at since she is an immigrants. Zoboi’s writing style is impeccable and seamless as she fits together with the urban setting of Detroit with the mystical elements of her narrative. 

Unlike Adeyemi’s book, the pacing for American Street is streamlined and clean. This will keep readers from getting bored and from becoming frustrated with the teenage characters. Not to mention, the book is just amazing, and I would highly recommend it. Children of Bone and Blood not so much.

Interview With Olivia Keenan, Author of Face Me: a declaration

Poetry Collection

Face Me: a declaration by Olivia Keenan

Face Me: a declaration reveals the complexities of a mixed race identity through religion, sex, American history, and colorism. The poems in Face Me reject any white supremacy that dictates Biblical interpretations, historical truths, and beauty standards. This collection of poems follows a journey that begins in uncertainty, but concludes in celebration. Within its pages, declarations are unwaveringly signed and spoken. Black bodies are praised and exalted. Faith is reexamined and reclaimed. And Face Me exists not as a question, but as a command. 

Interview

Thank you so much for your time and for offering me the opportunity to read your poetry collection, Face Me: a declaration, Ms. Keenan! So far, I’ve read it twice, and each time something new jumps out at me.

Adira: What was your inspiration for Face Me: a declaration? Did you always know you wanted to write this work in the form of poetry, or did you have another medium in mind?

Olivia KeenanI have been writing poetry since I was in middle school, and I have always been especially inspired by slam poetry. A lot of the poems in the book came from slam poems I wrote and performed during open mics at my university. Therefore, it was always a book of poems, but many of the poems were inspired by pieces I wrote to be performed as spoken word. 

Author, Olivia Keenan
Author, Olivia Keenan

A: I ask this because you have some stunning pictures included in your collection that offer readers a glimpse of the very body you are seeking to reclaim in your poetry. Is there a story behind these photos?

OK: Yes, there is a story behind the photos. I took a photography class in high school, and I think that is where I learned about the power of photos, especially when accompanied with words. Therefore, I wanted to incorporate photography alongside the journey of the poems. While the poems were inspired by slam poetry, the photos were inspired by the poems. 

I have four sets of photos: one of my face, one of my feet, one of my hands, and a final one of my stomach. The same picture or a similar picture of each of these body parts shows up in each section of my book. So, I wanted the photos of the first part to not only embody the themes of the first section (shame, hurt, pain), but to also show a sense of growth within the other photos from the second and third section. 

A: There are three sections in Face Me: a declaration: “exposition,” “development,” and “recapitulation.” 

In each section, you take care in showing the speaker, who is a Black woman of mixed-race heritage, as she’s gradually coming undone and then carefully stitching herself back together again to reestablish her identity on her own terms. In the final section, readers see the speaker reveling in her agency and taking ownership of her body. 

As a writer, did you find that your experiences as a Black woman of mixed race impacted the topics you explored in your collection? If so, were there any real-life moments or emotions that found their way into your writing?

OK: I love this question! And I love the way the question encapsulates the purpose of the three sections in the book. The poems are full of my experiences; sometimes the book feels like an autobiography of my journey through high school and college. For example, most of the poems in the first section are inspired by my experiences in high school and the beginning of college, which was a time where I was most ashamed of my body and myself. I discuss being Black in suburbia and suburban high schools, and being mixed in a very segregated city. I go to the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and when I first entered, I had an idealized view of Jefferson from my previous education. My experiences in high school and the beginning of college were heavily influenced by my desire, or need at times, to please white people (especially white men). So I think the first section is most influenced by those themes. 

In the second section, my experiences as a freshman in college are dominated by an enlightenment of sorts. I start to question the religious groups I am a part of, and to question my desire to please white Americans (such as Jefferson). The section also includes experiences I’ve had with men in college, and exposes how I feel about my body when I, too, look at it through a white gaze. Therefore, I think this section reveals moments when I recognize where my shame is coming from, or when my hurt and pain come from white superiority. 

In the final section, my most recent emotions come to light. But these experiences are somewhat more abstract. The section more so signifies a period of reclamation and celebration of the body and mind. It isn’t a one-time experience, but rather months of reflection. 

A: You start your collection off with “click.” Here, your speaker appears to be parsing through her feelings about the murder of a Black man while also showing moments where she is unsure about her own Blackness. She does this while also succumbing to moments where her implicit bias toward other Black people peeks through in times of panic. Why was it important for you to start your poetry collection simultaneously tackling all three of these issues?

OK: I think it was important for me to start the poetry collection with this because it was one of the poems that kicked off the whole project. Most of the poems are heavily edited and revised. This poem was written hastily at like 3 AM during the summer of 2020. It is not heavily edited, and it tackles things through a stream of consciousness style of writing. I wrote it minutes after watching a video of the murder of George Floyd on Instagram. I wanted to show right away the desperation of my poetry, and how one instance of violence towards Black people impacted me in so many ways. It made me scared, and confused, and ashamed, and angry. I thought a poem that dealt with so many issues, in such a desperate way, would start off the book appropriately– in order to show readers why I needed to write to parse through so many layers of emotions. 

A: One of the things that drew me to Face Me: a declaration originally was your reading of “princess mobutu” on Instagram.

The line where you state, “I am not a slave story/ I am not enslaved to a story,” feels apropos in a time where African-Americans and Americans alike are beginning to come to terms with the fact that our race has been pigeonholed into having our stories start (and sometimes end) with American Chattel Slavery as the nation’s only reference point to who we are expected to be. 

With this in mind, is there a specific audience or moment in American history that you are speaking to with your work?

OK: I’m glad you pointed out that line, because I think it embodies most of what I was trying to get across in the poem. The specific, intended audience of the poem is girls like me: especially little Black girls who need a Disney princess who looks like them. Unfortunately, most of the representation I saw of Black people in movies as a young girl had to do with slavery or struggling through racism. Rarely did I just see a Black woman enjoying life, or being rescued by the prince, or being a superhero! Therefore, that line is Princess Mobutu claiming she is not “enslaved” to any stories of struggle and pain. Princess Mobutu claims her own story, and that is a character I know I would have benefitted from seeing as an impressionable young girl. 

A: The theme of fetishization of Black and female bodies appears to play a major role in poems, like “white boys still don’t let me sign the damn declaration of independence” and “Me and Jefferson.” 

In these two poems, I’m reminded of the tug-of-war between how historians see Sally Hemings and her historical battle to establish agency over her body as a Black woman who was enslaved and engaged in a “relationship” with her enslaver, Thomas Jefferson, to your speaker. Even though these Hemings and your speaker exist in two separate eras of American history, the fact that they’re both wrestling to have ownership over their bodies and sexualities under the White male gaze doesn’t feel too far off.

Was this connection between your speaker and Sally Hemings intentional in your work? 

OK: There is definitely a connection between my speaker and Sally Hemings in my work, but I also intentionally keep it ambiguous. As I mentioned previously, I am a student at the University of Virginia, which is a place where Thomas Jefferson is heavily discussed, both to be idolized and criticized. So it wasn’t until I was in college that I made the connection between Sally and I, but all of the emotions in the book towards my body and the white male gaze have been there my whole life — before I ever knew who Sally Hemings was. I wanted to demonstrate how history repeats itself, even as a university student in 2021. But I also wanted to keep any connections nameless, because I know many Black women of all ages and time periods can relate to wrestling with their own bodies and sexualities in a much similar way. 

I also mention Jefferson a lot, and I make sure to mention him by name. And I think when people see Jefferson juxtaposed with a Black woman, they immediately think of Sally Hemings. I wanted this effect, once again, to accentuate the cyclical history of fetishization of Black female bodies.

A: The same way historians grapple with the question of Sally Hemings ability to have a “consensual” relationship with Thomas Jefferson because of her status as an enslaved woman feels similar to how Christianity has modified the original meaning of the Song of Songs in the Bible’s Old Testament to fit their message. 

While there’s little evidence of it in the text, many Christians and Jews have taken to using the Song of Songs as an allegory for “Christ’s love for His bride, the church” instead of a poem about mutual desire and a woman being in command of her sexuality. In the “recapitulation” section of Face Me: a declaration, though, we continuously see your speaker reclaiming passages of this Biblical text and remaking it to fit her sexual desire.

As a person of faith who lives in a time when sexuality, especially for women and female-bodied persons, is heavily guarded by the messaging in traditional Christianity, why did you feel it was important to insert this message of female agency and ownership into your poems?

Photo of Sally Hemings
Photo of Sally Hemings

I think it was important for me to insert this message into my poems because the book begins in a place of shame and rejection. And I wanted to include all the ways I’ve felt ashamed, because being a Black female in America is so multi-faceted and intersectional. I’ve felt rejected by America and American history, or white individuals in my life, or educational institutions, and I’ve especially felt rejected from Christianity. Therefore I think most of my shame was rooted in Christianity, particularly from what I’ve been told by white Christians. 

Throughout the beginning of the book I seem to think that my “liberation” can be found if I please the white gaze, or even if I succumb to being sexualized by the white gaze. At the same time, I felt ashamed for merely being sexual, or having sexual desires. The book concludes where I reclaim the beauty of my body, and understand that I can find liberation when I reject the white gaze. Rejecting the white gaze also means rejecting shame I’ve accumulated from Christianity. So I am also liberated from sexual shame, and can reclaim the beauty of my sexual being and desires. 

A: What writers or pieces of art have influenced your writing?

OK: My poetry is heavily influenced by slam poetry, both of my own and of others’. It is therefore influenced by contemporary Black poets who also partake in slam poetry and spoken word. Some of these poets include Danez Smith, Jericho Brown, and Raych Jackson. I think some of my descriptions and understandings of God are influenced by The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Mary Oliver. My interactions with the history of Thomas Jefferson are inspired by Mistress by Chet’La Sebree. The photos are influenced by black and white photography in general. But I particularly love the book Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and how that book uses photography with poetry and the written word. 

A: Do you have any advice you would give to people who want to write?

OK: My biggest advice is to take advantage of the time you have to write. I don’t think I would have been able to write a book if not for COVID. Because of COVID, all of my plans for the summer of 2020 were cancelled, and then when the school year started, most of my extracurricular activities were postponed too. This meant I had a LOT of time to write, and I took advantage of that time. Even when I wasn’t writing specifically for my book, I was taking time to journal or write random poems. I think my consistency with writing when I had time also improved my mental health and self-confidence during a difficult year. Finding time to write about literally anything is one of the best moves I made in the past year! 

A: I want to commend you on how raw and evocative your writing is in Face Me: a declaration. There’s so much depth to your work that I keep thinking about the poems well after I’ve closed the collection’s pages. Are you working on anything new readers can look forward to?

OK: I am not working on anything right now — I think I am pretty tired! But I am an English Major with a concentration in Poetry writing, so I will have to write a manuscript in my final semester of college (in two years). I think that by that point I will feel refreshed again, and hopefully another collection will come then! I also do open mics at my university, so maybe I will have a few new performance poems in the upcoming year!  

A: Thank you so much for your time and the opportunity to review your poetry collection, Ms. Keenan. I can’t wait to see what you publish next!

Thank you so much for your wonderful and thoughtful questions! I loved answering these, and I appreciate you taking the time to do all of this 🙂 

A Juneteenth Reader

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

Today marks the first time America will celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday after 156 years of it being a staple in the African-American community. 

Known by several names, such as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day, or Jubilee Day, this African-American holiday celebrates the day when after two and a half years, enslaved people in Texas were told of their freedom on June 19, 1865, by Maj. General Gordon Granger and Union troops. 

Juneteenth Flag
Juneteenth Flag

When Granger arrived, he read out General Order No. 3, which informed the enslaved people that American Chattel Slavery “would no longer be tolerated and that all [enslaved people] were now free and would henceforth be treated as hired workers if they chose to remain on the plantations.” At that moment, over 250,000 African people were freed from bondage.

Yet, their White slave owners did not let them go so easily. Some owners even made a point of not telling the people until after harvest time was over. And if an African person tried to leave before that time, they’d be attacked and killed.

To combat this, Union soldiers and other government representatives had to intercede on the African people’s behalf since Confederate states, like Texas, refused to let go of the system that upheld American Chattel Slavery…kind of like how it is today…I digress, though.

Illustrated print by Thomas Nast depicting life before and after emancipation.

Source: Keith Lance/Getty Images


Illustrated print by Thomas Nast depicting life before and after emancipation.

It should be clear that the African people did not always have the freedom to be free, let alone celebrate Juneteenth in public as they saw fit, and had to be creative in how they rejoiced.

In 2016, Opal Lee, an 89-years-old Texas Civil Rights leader, decided to create a petition in tandem with walking the 1,600 miles from her home in Texas to Washington, D.C. to see if she could get then president, Barack Obama, to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. She ultimately logged 300 miles on foot for her cause but is now known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”

Opal Lee, the Grandmother of Juneteenth
Opal Lee, the Grandmother of Juneteenth

For some African-Americans, Juneteenth is celebrated by prayer, dancing, parades, musical performances, rodeos, communal feasts, and a bunch of other ways. At Juneteenth’s core, though, is a celebration to “commemorate the hardships endured by [our] ancestors.”

If you want to learn more about the holiday or just read some excellent African-American fiction, read the following books.

To Teach Kids

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales By Virginia Hamilton
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales By Virginia Hamilton

If you have small children, broaching the topic of American Chattel Slavery can be challenging. Using Folktales and simple chapter books can help ease the children into the topic and break down these horrific times into manageable bites for their little minds.

My favorite childhood collection of folktales is The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton. This collection covers 24 African-American Folktales that were handed down from our ancestors. 

These tales include stories of Bruh Rabbit, Bruh Alligator, Little 8 John, and the reimagines our people having secret magic that kept them strong as they labored while being enslaved. Hamilton draws on Black spirituals and Diasporic folklore as well in this book.

Short Reads

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Pulitzer Prize winner and historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, does an excellent job breaking down the history of Juneteenth in On Juneteenth, a short nonfiction work. Piecing together American history, her family’s history, and episodic moments from her life, Gordon-Reed tackles the question we all have of “why now?”

If you are unclear where to start in learning about this holiday as an adult, get this book by Gordon-Reed as your starting point.

My audiobook copy of “On Juneteenth” was provided by Libro.fm.

A Novel

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

Written over the span of 40 years, Ralph Ellison’s second novel, Juneteenth, or as it’s known in its longer and completed form, Three Days Before the Shooting, is the story of a racially ambiguous man, Bliss, who was raised by an African-American Baptist preacher named Alonzo Hickman. In his adult years, Bliss has chosen to pass as a White man and ends up becoming a race-baiting U.S. Senator known as Adam Sunraider (think Candace Owens, but worse). All is going smoothly until Hickman and his congregation shows up, and Bliss has to face the music of his life.

Three Days Before the Shooting by Ralph Ellison
Three Days Before the Shooting by Ralph Ellison

In this novel, Ellison evokes the African-American experience and crafts a tell that calls the pain of enslavement and the Jim Crow Era, the joy of the Harlem Renaissance, and everything in between. 

You can read either the whole manuscript with Three Days Before the Shooting (over 1100 pages) or only read the Juneteenth edited version (400 pages) that was pieced together by Ellison’s longtime friend and biographer, John F. Callahan.

Narratives of Enslaved People

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, and interviewed Cudjo Lewis,the last known African to be transported on the Middle Passage. This work became Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.

Lewis’ story cover captures what the voyage of the Middle Passage felt like and how Lewis survived being enslaved. Reading Lewis’ story gives a modern person the perspective of what emancipated would have meant to an African person who survived being enslaved. It is another short read, but it packs a punch.

Prairie View A & M University also has first-hand accounts of emancipated Africans who speak to their feelings of hearing the jubilant news on June 19, 1865, that you can read through in their archives.

If you wanna get technical…

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

For hardcore readers who are craving to know what now, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson is another tome you should pick up.

Written by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Caste, tackles the world that the emancipated Africans were sent into and how that world got crafted into the America we now inhabit.

Wilkerson gets to the core of the White owners’ frustration and anger at having to let their “property” go in the aftermath of the American Civil War as she dissects the American caste system. While the players have changed, the fact still rings true that America is about the “haves” and “haves nots.” With this in mind, Wilkerson notes in her book that, “The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it, and which do not.”

Let me know down below if you’ve ever read any of these books or if they’re on your TBR!

Interview With Dawnie Walton, Author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

The Book

An electrifying novel about the meteoric rise of an iconic interracial rock duo in the 1970s, their sensational breakup, and the dark secrets unearthed when they try to reunite decades later for one last tour.

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

Book Cover of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.

Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.

The Interview

Adira: Ms. Walton, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you about The Final Revival of Opal & Nev! Congratulations on your debut novel! The Final Revival of Opal & Nev was a rollercoaster of a read, and I loved every second of it. Can you tell me how you went about coming up with this idea and researching to create such an intricate novel?

Dawnie Walton: I’ve always been interested in interrogating my teenage obsession with alternative and indie rock. Seeing the 2003 documentary Afro-Punk and understanding that there was an audience of other Black fans who might be interested in those explorations too was a crucial first step to even dreaming about a book like this. But it would take another 10 years, and another documentary, for the spark of Opal & Nev to really ignite. Watching Twenty Feet From Stardom, I was mesmerized by concert footage of Talking Heads and their two Black women background singers, Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt. I didn’t know their names at the time, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I had this image of one of them at center stage with David Byrne — not at as his backup, but as his equal partner. That image wouldn’t let me go, and was the start of the characters I developed. 

In this video you can see Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt singing and dancing as background vocalist for the Talking Heads.

A: For me, Opal & Nev were so well-written, I honestly felt like they were real music artists that I was just discovering while reading your novel. This made me curious about your influence for each character and the acts that they come in contact with as they were becoming stars. 

I noticed that your Instagram page is curated with Black musicians. But were there any musical artists in particular who you drew on when creating Opal and Nev’s characters or the other musical acts in your novel?

Author photo of Dawnie Walton
Author, Dawnie Walton

DW: Yes! Each character is an amalgamation of real artists whose music and public images I’ve found interesting in different ways. There were three core inspirations I looked to while developing Opal’s style and substance — Grace Jones, Nona Hendryx, and Betty Davis — but there are bits of other bold, envelope-pushing Black women in there too (Eartha Kitt and Nina Simone, for instance). For Nev, I was thinking more about career trajectories and the concept of the chameleonic rock star, especially those men who’ve had success across a long span of time and changing musical directions. There’s the Brits like David Bowie, Elton John, and Rod Stewart, but also hints of Bob Dylan. 

A: In my mind, I initially went to Grace Jones as a stand-in for Opal when you described her character as being “dark-skinned” and having a flamboyant style. My choice also has to do with the fact that Opal was initially meant to be a sort of “muse” for Nev like Grace Jones was for various artists throughout her time in the spotlight. 

Yet, Opal immediately turns into a main attraction, and when her talent starts to rival Nev’s, she switches from an accessory to an adversary in the end. This is also something that we see happen to Sunny, the story’s editor, in her workplace. This made me think of a line in the article, “When Black Women Go From Office Pet to Office Threat” by Erika Stallings, where Stallings says, “when Black women resist their status as pets, they find themselves transforming into a threat.” 

While I know Stallings is talking about corporate America, was the choice in making Opal a muse for Nev meant to reflect the way Black female artists are pigeonholed into walking a fine line between being pets or caricatures of themselves versus taking on full autonomy as artists?

DW: I wanted to broach the power dynamics between the two characters. Opal initially joins Nev as a “featured singer” — the album is still his, and the songs are all from his perspective. Opal is looking for any way into the business that she can get, but, as she tells Sunny in hindsight, she was uncomfortable with that status as muse. She felt an expectation from Nev that she would inspire and sharpen his work, and yet she had her own dreams and her own work to do. So once Opal breaks out following the pivotal concert that launches them to the spotlight, that power dynamic between them suddenly shifts, and Nev finds it difficult to cope with that. His resentment is a piece of the fallout that dooms a true partnership between them.

Some Inspiration for Opal Jewel

A: As clear as I could picture Opal in my mind, I found that I couldn’t pinpoint Nev so easily. This felt symbolic to me since Nev’s character waffles between being this loveable character into morphing into someone less loveable as he gains fame. 

While his character isn’t as detestable as one of the Bond Brothers, a Southern rock band in the novel, or even as verbally off-putting as Howie Kelly, the record owner Opal and Nev are signed to, Nev makes several very specific choices that call his allyship into question. Where the music industry pigeonholes Opal, Nev is giving free rein to experiment with his craft. Are we as readers meant to come away with a specific feeling or understanding from this dynamic and Nev as a character?

DW: This gets at the chameleonic quality in Nev that I mentioned earlier — the ways in which he is afforded unlimited chances and opportunities to be whatever kind of artist strikes his fancy, in a way that Opal is not. That aspect is not actively Nev’s fault; it’s simply his privilege, and the way that people like him benefit from systemic white supremacy while others like Opal are thwarted. Where things get more dicey is…well, we’re getting into spoiler territory now, LOL. So what I’ll say is that Nev’s relationship to his own privilege, especially in those moments when his ambition drives him, becomes quite eyebrow raising. 

A: You touch on the theme of community in The Final Revival of Opal & Nev multiple times where Opal is concerned. From the fans, who christen themselves as “The Mercurials,” to her sister, Pearl, and best friend turned stylist, Virgil, Opal is constantly surrounded by her tribe on her journey through stardom. Yet, it seems that Nev suffers a far different fate.

Some Inspiration for Nev

Was there a specific definition for “community” that you kept in mind as you wrote each characters’ storyline, and if so, how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote each main characters’ ascent to stardom? 

DW: I was very intentional in giving Opal family, both birth (Pearl) and chosen (Virgil, Miss Ernestine, Jimmy, even Sunny, to a certain degree). That community is key in supporting her, yes, but also holding her to account when she needs it. She carries that community with her wherever she goes, and as such she’s able to think more broadly, more communally, about who she is becoming, how she steps into the world, and how she uses her platform. That community mindset, in my experience, is part of that “Black abundance” Kiese Layman writes about in Heavy. So while both characters are unique, yes — different, quirky, whatever you want to call it — I would make the distinction that Nev is actually an individualist. Now, take the definition of that to an extreme, and you can imagine how their paths clash and diverge.   

A: Even though Opal & Nev are the main focus of your novel, Sunny, the editor, plays a big part in my love for your book. Her passion for her craft and desire to get to the truth behind the night her father, Jimmy, was murdered was so well-written, I got chills reading her parts. How did you manage to create such a clear voice for her character and the other characters in your novel?

DW: Sunny was easy for me to channel because she’s an extension of my own conflicts, curiosities, and cultural critiques. Writing her Editor’s Notes at times felt like putting on my old journalist’s hat — being open to (but also squinting hard at) the characters and their stories, analyzing them from every angle. At other times, especially toward the end when the professional distance Sunny tries to keep begins to falter, she became a vessel for my experiences as a music fan. Through her, I write about how it feels in your body to hear live music, or how your heart might break when someone you’ve idolized disappoints you. 

As for the other characters, I just tried to lock into the quirks of their voices. I thought about each one down to the curse words they would or would not say. Strangely enough, that was very helpful in differentiating them.  

A: There’s been a lot of talks lately in the book-o-sphere about this idea that publishers are pigeonholing Black, Indigenous, and other authors of color (BIPOC) into writing stories based around “trauma” since many publishing houses deem this as the key to having a bestseller. Even though there is a traumatic event that takes place in Opal and Nev’s story that’s a main element in your book, the story itself doesn’t necessarily revert to being about trauma. How do you approach striking such a well-rounded balance in your writing that allows readers to be informed without becoming overwhelming by horrific events you’re writing about?

DW: Black life is not 100 percent trauma or 100 percent joy, and I wanted all the Black lives in this novel to feel very real in terms of that balance. But here’s the other thing, and it’s quite simple: I loved Opal. Mess and all. And because I Ioved her I rooted for her, and I wanted my intended audience — other Black women who could perhaps see aspects of themselves in her — to root for her too, to have hope for her, to see her living out more than pain. So I gave her laughter, some luxury, and moments of leisure; I had her landing some punches of her own. There’s a chapter in the book where I send Opal on vacation to Paris for rest and perspective following a volatile tour, and I worried that I would be criticized for going on a tangent from the core plot — but for me, that chapter’s not a tangent at all. I had drawn a character who valued herself, and so self-love and care were part of her story. I worried about young Opal as if she were my responsibility, my charge.  

“Black life is not 100 percent trauma or 100 percent joy, and I wanted all the Black lives in this novel to feel very real in terms of that balance.”

A: Since The Final Revival of Opal & Nev revolves around music, do you have any songs or artists that you’ve been listening to or watching during Quarantine?

DW: My fascination with 1970s music continues, and the research around this particular book had me digging into the catalogs and deep cuts of Black women whose hits I already knew (like Grace Jones, Tina Turner, and Poly Styrene). And every now and then a hidden figure will pop up and I’ll get obsessed. Tina Bell, the frontwoman of the Seattle proto-grunge band Bam Bam, is relatively new to me, and so are many of the artists the scholar Maureen Mahon writes about in her book Black Diamond Queens

Cover of Black Diamond Queens by Maureen Mahon, a book Walton used to help her with background research

A: Can you give us a sneak peek into what’s next in your writing? Will there be a film or television adaption for The Final Revival of Opal & Nev or possibly even a sequel?! 🙏🏿❤️🤞🏿

DW: A screen adaptation would be an absolute dream. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for it! At the moment I’m not planning to write an Opal & Nev sequel, although I’m playing around with an idea loosely inspired by a section of the novel (about Sunny’s coming-of-age) that got cut. I still love that section, it just didn’t belong in O&N. I hope it might be something entirely new.

A: Can you offer any tools or advice for people who want to write multi-faceted stories, like yours, to help them hone their craft?

DW: The first thing I always say is that you have to be obsessed with the story you’re telling. That mix of passion and extreme curiosity will bring you back to the page again and again, even when it gets very hard, and will keep the process feeling like play. Second, if your story has multiple characters, approach each — even the ones who are questionable — with some degree of empathy. Understand the factors that led to their identities, and you’ll find a way to crack their stories wide open. 

A: Ms. Walton, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me! Your novel is definitely one of my top reads of the year. I can’t wait to read what you’re working on next!

DW: Thank you so much for these thoughtful questions!

Author Info

Dawnie Walton was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. She earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (2018) and holds a journalism degree from Florida A&M University (1997). Formerly an editor at Essence and Entertainment Weekly magazines, she has received fellowships in fiction writing from MacDowell and the Tin House Summer Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is her first novel. Visit her website at https://www.dawniewalton.com.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson #BookReview

“When you are mad, mad like this, you don’t know it. Reality is what you see. When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you.” –  Marya Hornbacher

What’s a book that’s made better by a book club?

A paperback copy of "Allegedly" by Tiffany D. Jackson sitting between an aloe vera plant and a cup of tea.

Photo Taken by @Introvert Interrupted
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

This past week, I had the chance to participate in @thebookalert’s book club on Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson.

I was blown away by the depiction of mental illness and violence against children in the criminal justice system Jackson writes about. Sadly, Jackson’s depiction isn’t too far off the truth.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, as of December 2019, “on any given day, over 48,000 youth in the United States are confined in facilities away from home as a result of juvenile justice or criminal justice involvement” of this population, Black and Indian youth, especially girls, are overrepresented by these numbers.

Furthermore, “while 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black.” Likewise, “American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite compromising less than 1% of all youth nationally.”

As a future social worker, these numbers are horrifying.

Author, Tiffany D. Jackson

Jackson’s main character, Mary, is a child who fell through the cracks and is continuously punished for the mistakes adults around her made. And, this is something that frustrates me.

In America, individuals are given different choices when they are BIPOC that are lesser in nature than their White counterparts. From these choices, we have to make the “best” from the heap we’re given. In this book, Mary never really has a fighting chance. 

Her mother fails her. The adults around her fail her. But, most importantly, the child welfare and other protective system fails her. While this book is a work of fiction, it felt too real.

I’m so grateful to Femi and everyone else in the book club for being there to talk through this tomfoolery with. 😑

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Photo Credit: @IntrovertInterrupted

If you’re a lover of thrillers and smart depictions of those who are labeled as “criminals,” Jackson’s novel is one you’re going to want to add to your TBR List.

Other books you may enjoy from this genre and that share similar topics are Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon.

Myers book is one I read in the 5th grade for my English class, and like Jackson’s book, it is a story that you have to be mentally prepared for before you attempt to read it even though it’s labeled as a “young adult” book. 

Monster follows Steve, a teenage amateur filmmaker, as he stands on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Told in the form of a screenplay, Myers’ story is a realistic and raw depiction of a Black boy’s struggle to retain his innocence as he’s thrust into manhood in a literal “trial by fire.” 

If you’re an avid Netflix watcher, the film adaption is now available to watch.

Monster (2021) Netflix Trailer

Upstate, on the other hand, is a realistic look at how one’s family and partners deal with their long-term incarceration. Buckhanon tells the story of Antonio, a seventeen-year-old that is incarcerated for a shocking crime, and his high school sweetheart, Natasha, who is a sixteen-year-old with a bright future. 

Faced with getting through a ten-year prison sentence, Antonio and Natasha believe their love can stand the test of time. While Upstate isn’t as jarring to read as Jackson’s book, readers will still be able to relate to these young lovers and their families as they spend a decade growing together and separate. If you’re an audiobook lover, Chadwick Boseman voices Antonio’s parts.

“Second-Class Citizen” by Buchi Emecheta #BookReview

“Sir, do you have ‘man of the house’ money?!” – Kimberly Nicole Foster, @for.harriet

A paperback copy of "Second-Class Citizen" by Buchi Emecheta sitting next to a cup of tea.

Photo Taken by @Introvert Interrupted
Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta


Nothing gets my blood boiling more than a story about an uneven partnership that teeters into the realm of abuse. Sadly, in Buchi Emecheta’s semi-autobiographical work, Second Class Citizen, her character, Adah Obi, is in just such a relationship.

Adah is a woman who knows her mind & isn’t afraid of hard work. Breaking with Nigerian traditions of her time, she pursues an education at an exclusive school & even ends up getting a government job as a librarian afterward in spite of her family’s misgiving about this independent path she’s on. Adah also ends up marrying Francis, who, on all accounts, is an inferior partner, but he is also her ticket to “freedom.”

Photo of Buchi Emecheta
Buchi Emecheta, Author


In a For Harriet YouTube video by the same name as the above quote, Kimberly points out that patriarchy fails to address how a man can fail to meet many of the mandates for “traditional masculinity (e.g., having a job, providing for your family, being a self-starter, etc.), & still enjoy the spoils of being the “man of the house” just because of his inherent Y-chromosome. Francis, is the perfect example of this.

He is utterly useless, but he STILL demands to be respected. Sadly, the community at large co-signs his trifflingness & mandate that Adah must be submissive to him & all his hairbrained schemes just because Francis is the man of the house. Yet, Adah is the bread winner!

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Photo Credit: @IntrovertInterrupted


Reading Emecheta’s book gave me flashbacks of reading Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, my blood pressure went up & down, & I grew utterly frustrated with the tomfoolery of it all. If you love books that are engrossing with a heavy emphasis on character development, Second-Class Citizen is a must-read. However, The Joys of Motherhood is still my favorite book from Emecheta’s bibliography for the quiet and measured way that Emecheta writes about the loss of culture and infiltration of imperialism into the colonized people’s lives.

Book Recommendations:

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

Photo Credit: @IntrovertInterrupted

#BookReview of “The Land” by Mildred D. Taylor

“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

A copy of "The Land" by Mildred D. Taylor next to a cup of tea on a wooden surface with an @IntrovertInterrupted watermark on the cup.
“The Land” by Mildred D. Taylor


In Mildred D. Taylor’s prequel of the Logan Family Saga, “The Land,” she follows the patriarch of the family, Paul Edward Logan, during the 1870’s to 1880’s in the American South. Paul Edward is a man of mixed Native, African-American, and White heritage. The recently emancipated son of a well-off White land owner, Paul Edward is learning the rules of what it means to be a multiracial man in this new Southern world where both, Whites and Blacks, are coming to terms with Slavery ending.

Taylor does an excellent job of showing depth in Paul Edward and the surrounding characters’ development as the story progresses. This was my second reading of this book since high school, and I got mad all over again for Paul Edward. Where a less assured writer may have skirted the origins of Paul Edward’s mixed heritage and feelings of discomfort at not being fully White, Black, or Native, Taylor leans into these emotions.

Taylor allows her readers to see Paul Edward’s parent’s relationship in the confines of the Reconstruction Era along with how it affects their White and Black children. The emotions in the book are raw. Issues of racial identity, family dynamics between a slave holder and his Black children, and ownership of land for Blacks and Whites of varying class sizes all get tackled in a way that parses through the messiness, but remains true to real life.

This is important since the Logan Family Saga stories are based on Taylor’s own family history, and is relatable for any one who has grandparents who grew up in the American South and experiences the harsh race relations of this region. Taylor story felt familiar to me because in Paul Edward’s struggle to acquire land, I heard my grandparents and parents’ belief echoes about why land ownership was so important.

Image of Mildred D. Taylor, author of The Logan Family Saga.
Author, Mildred D. Taylor

Because of the rawness in Taylor’s writing and how well she depicts the harsh realities of the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era for African-Americans, I’m always in awe that this book is actually categorized as children’s fiction. That being said, I HIGHLY recommend this book and that you read the series in order including the novellas!

The next novellas in the series to read are “The Well: David’s Story” and “Song of the Trees,” which shifts over to the main narrator for the rest of the series, Cassie Logan. The Land and The Well follow the two patriarchs, Cassie’s grandfather, Logan, and her father, David, and give essential information about the relationship between the Logans and their White neighbors.