“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” – Malorie Blackman
What have you been reading this February?!
This year, I have been focusing less on giving books a star rating and more on how books connect across the Africana Diaspora literary canon.
While So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ is by a Senegalese novel, the issues Bâ covers in this novella mirror topics that so many African-American women have written about.
Bâ speaks of female friendships and how they sustain us, like Toni Morrison in Sula and Alice Walker in The Color Purple.
She speaks of messy affairs in marriages and how love can look different for each person, like bell hooks in All About Love and Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo.
And when I think of scholarly theorist Bâ is communing with, Wicked Flesh by Jessica Marie Johnson and Thick: And Other Essay by Tressie McMillan Cotton, come to mind in the way Bâ stands up for female agency and independence in a society which demands that Black Womanhood appear under the thumb of the patriarchy as a thing of lesser value. Bâ writes about Ramatoulaye, her protagonist, struggle to assert herself as an educated single mother who attempts to assert herself in a society that does not see her as a valuable asset once her husband throws her to the side for his second wife.
Bâ’s writing is intriguing, and to the point, and for anyone who loves a drama-filled read that’s also character-driven, please give this a read.
Thank you to Harper Teen, Simon Teen, and Mahogany L. Browne for allowing me to receive finishing copies of the following books. Originally, these novels were meant for my Instagram Kwanzaa Giveaway. But, I wanted to give back to my subscribers for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Synopsis: This coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots. Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year. Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.
As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?
Synopsis: A novel-in-verse about a young girl coming-of-age and stepping out of the shadow of her former best friend. Perfect for readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Nikki Grimes.
She looks me hard in my eyes & my knees lock into tree trunks My eyes don’t dance like my heartbeat racing They stare straight back hot daggers. I remember things will never be the same. I remember things.
With gritty and heartbreaking honesty, Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.
Synopsis: Justin A. Reynolds, author of Opposite of Always, delivers another smart, funny, and powerful stand-alone YA contemporary novel, with a speculative twist in which Jamal’s best friend is brought back to life after a freak accident . . . but they only have a short time together before he will die again.
Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know he’s about to die . . . again.
He also doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save his life, rescuing him from drowning only to watch Q die later in the hospital. Even more complicated, Jamal and Q haven’t been best friends in two years—not since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident, leaving him and his sister to carry on without them. Grief swallowed Jamal whole, and he blamed Q for causing the accident.
But what if Jamal could have a second chance? An impossible chance that would grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his best friend? A new health-care technology allows Q to be reanimated—brought back to life like the old Q again. But there’s a catch: Q will only reanimate for a short time before he dies . . . forever.
Jamal is determined to make things right with Q, but grief is hard to shake. And he can’t tell Q why he’s suddenly trying to be friends with him again. Because Q has no idea that he died, and Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin the miracle by telling him. How can Jamal fix his friendship with Q if he can’t tell him the truth?
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Shange’s choreopoem was very interesting to read. In the beginning I was confused by Shange’s abbreviations and had to use guess work to figure out what she was saying, but as the choreopoem went on, I got better at discerning what she was saying since she frequently repeated certain words like cd (could) or waz (was). Thank goodness for this because the action in this choreopoem speeds by and if you’re not on point, you’ll easily miss something. Since this was a choreopoem, the actual character building isn’t really meant to be full blown. In addition, Shange’s motives for creating the characters is meant more so for them to represent ideas than for them to actually have personalities.
While I did like this choreopoem, I would have to say without actually seeing a visual interpretation of it (be it a theatrical production, the tv movie, or the film adaptation), one could get lost fairly easily. Since I read this choreopoem for an assignment and watched Tyler Perry’s film adaptation in tangent with reading Shange’s work, I have to say, I actually got a better feeling for what Shange was doing with her work from watching Perry’s movie. Without seeing Shange’s work in action, I would have just chalked this read up as an overblown classic, but the visual representation made this piece one of my favorite…movies that is. I know this is harsh, but I still felt as if Shange’s work would be better off packaged as simple poems in written form opposed to as a single unit that is meant to be read as a full chorepoem/play. And yes, I am aware that Shange admits that she did write these poems singuraly and later preformed then as a collective unit however, I must go off of how it was presented to me in it’s published form.
Perry’s film on the other hand was OUT-STANDING! At the time this film came out, I was under the impression that it would be similar to his other works and that the film itself was scary since it deals with subject matter like, abortions and rape. However, I was pleasently surprised to find that Perry handled everything tastefully. The actresses he chose to represent each character was phenomenal and fitting. I especially enjoyed Loretta Devine as the lady in green and Anika Noni Rose as the lady in yellow. These two poured their hearts into their characters and it shows.
Out of all the poems though, my favorites from both, the choreopoem and the film would have to be “somebody almost walked off with all my stuff” and “no assistance” performed by Loretta Devine in Perry’s film and “my love is too…,” which was performed by all the colored ladies in the film and choreopoem. from the film version and “dark phrases,” which was also performed by all the colored ladies in the film and choreopoem in the written form.
This choreopoem is something I would recommend that everybody read and watch at least once. It’s definitely gives one food for thought. But, beware, viewer discretion is advised.Shange’s work isn’t for a younger audience, it’s better suited for individuals who can truly grasp what is being talked about in the poems.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the Tyler Perry film. Have a look and tell me below if you have ever seen the movie or the choreopoem performed.
I also love the way Ntozake Shange critics Tyler Perry’s movie in this discussion too. It offers a lot of insight on the the final production of the movie that adds another layer to what transpired in the movie.
The thing about classics of any kind is that you never know what you’re going to get when you read or watch them. You can look up all the reviews you want, but until you’ve cracked open the book or movie for yourself you can’t be sure if any classic is right for you.
I have often heard people gush over Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin In The Sun and told myself there was no rush to read it on my own because I would eventually have to read it for some class. Sadly, this book never actually made it onto the required reading list for any of my classes so it was left up to me to read it at my leisure. This summer, I finally had a chance to pick the play up from my mother’s collection while I waited for my own boxes to be shipped from Pittsburgh. My ultimate reaction was that this play was nothing like I expected to be. Instead, it was infinitely better.
A Raisin In The Sun follows the Youngers, an African-American family living in South Side Chicago sometime between the end of WWII and the present. The Younger family includes Mama/Lena, a retired domestic worker;Walter/Brother, her son who has big dreams of making it; Ruth, Walter’s wife; Ruth and Walter’s son, Travis; and Beneatha, Walter’s younger sister who wants to become a doctor. As the play begins, the Youngers are all anticipating getting the insurance check that covered Walter Sr., Mama’s husband who has recently died.
For once, I can actually agree with the general consensus and say that this particular play is worthy of the title of classic. Everything in Hansberry’s play felt extremely relevant and real to me, from the characters who were trying to figure out how to spend their new found fortune to the themes that Hansberry brought up about African-American’s place in American society. Even on paper, the characters’ emotions and actions are mapped out and shown so well that watching a film or live performance for Hansberry’s work was actually unnecessary. I personally enjoyed each aspect of the play and could see how certain issues such as, the idea of the black man’s ambitions being unrecognized or the questioning of whether blacks are better off assimilating into the American culture vs. African culture are still relevant. Yet, when I watched the 1961 film adaptation, I wasn’t necessarily as impressed by it like I was with the play.
Each person in the family has big dreams of what they want to do with the money when they get it, however, Walter is the most vocal about his plans. When the check finally comes, Mama takes the money and buys a house in an all-white neighborhood with half of it and gives the rest to Walter with strict instructions to put half in the bank for Beneatha’s medical education and use the other half for whatever he sees fit. Unfortunately, Walter does the opposite and things start to unravel from there.
For starters, the movie added and deleted key scenes that were important to the overall message of the play. In one deleted scene, Beneatha cuts her permed hair off and everyone is shocked by her actions. This depiction of going natural was empowering in the play. In the film, this scene is cut so that instead of physically shedding what is implied to be her “assimilated American habits,” Beneatha just goes into a monologue about how she will not take on anymore American habits and will instead identify more with her African roots. In my opinion, this scene would have been amazing if it was acted out properly by Diana Sands who played Beneatha.
Likewise, the scene where the Youngers’ neighbor comes in to borrow cleaning products before the family moves and warns/reminds Mama that going into an all-white neighborhood to live is dangerous for the times. This particular scene while not as profound as Beneatha’s hair cutting scene would have been good to show that not only whites were weary of the trouble that could come from blacks and whites living together. Yet, directors of the film chose to show only the white viewpoint instead in the visit that Mr. Linder who acts as the “welcome committee” to the Youngers’ new neighborhood makes to the family’s South Side apartment.
Even though the film did delete these two scenes and add scenes where Walter is sitting in a bar or shown chauffeuring his white boss around, I did somewhat enjoy it because of Sidney Poitier’s acting in the role of Walter. Out of all the actors in the film, he gave the best performance to me. His emotions were raw and he embodied the idea of being a man who the world had beaten down on to a T. Seeing him play Walter alongside Ruby Dee who played the role of Ruth was interesting since these two seemed to have good on-screen chemistry. While I did enjoy Diana Sands in her role as Beneatha, I was a little annoyed with her character in general in both the play and the book. However, I did chalk this up to being just part of the acceptable emotions that Hansberry’s play was meant to draw out of me.
I would definitely recommend the play and the 1961 movie adaptation. I eventually hope to get a chance to watch the 2008 film adaptation to see how Sean “P. Diddy” Combs acted in his role as Walter. Not to mention Phylicia Rashad is one of my favorite actresses so I would love to see her in the role of Mama as well.
I gave the play 5 stars and the movie 3 stars.
(Originally posted on my Blogger on June 17, 2013.)