Books That Got Me Through My 20s (Pt. 2)

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Happy Tuesday!

This week’s Top Ten list is a freebie, and I’m focusing on my top books from my 20s.

In April, I turned 30 and published the first part of the list about what books “got me through” my 20s. That list was mainly about the “fun times.” 

Checkout the first part of the list here and my playlist over on Spotify for my favorite songs from my 20s. 

This second part covers the years I was a caretaker for my grandmother and father when they fell ill in the latter part of my 20s. 

The Lost Years

"The Lost Years" - Books That I Read While Care Taking (Pt. 1)

-The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 
-5 to 1 by Holly Bodger 
-A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
-Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will always remind me of the road trip I took to get home after grad school with my mom and two strangers in the middle of a tornado when Southwest dumped us in Branson, Missouri. This road trip was unplanned and was so bananas, every time I look at my worn copy of Americanah, I think about that wild ride and the grace of God that kept us from being blown away like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz during that storm. 

You can check out my old post about it and my review of Adichie’s book here to read the whole story.

After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker.

Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.

When the Bookternet was young and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Movement was starting out in 2014, I was one of the leaders of a book club on Goodreads called The Writers of Color Book. The primary purpose of the WCBC was to get people on BookTube and elsewhere focused on reading diverse authors that weren’t cookie-cutter selections.

One of my favorite books from the WCBC’s reading list was A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Ozeki’s book follows three different timelines: Nao, a sixteen-year-old Japanese teen who her peers are mercilessly bullying, Nao’s grandmother, a hundred-year-old Buddhist nun, and Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island in the Pacific that’s just retrieved a Hello Kitty lunchbox after the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake that killed over 20,000 people. Ozeki’s work shines in the way that it tells such a visceral and heartbreaking story

Almost a decade later, I’m still thinking about A Tale For the Time Being because of the way it reminded me during my caretaking years that death is inevitable. But, the way you live your life determines how you’ll be remembered. 

After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker. 

Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.

My favorite author during my 20s were Jhumpa LahiriThe Namesake is one of my favorite books of all time and the first book I ever did a live show for on YouTube. My favorite short story collection was The Interpreter of Maladies, which was also another WCBC pick. 

When I was on night watch with my grandmother and father or going to appointments, I would read short stories to pass the time in the waiting room or until the sun came up. 

Outside of Alice Walker, Jhumpa Lahiri has to be one of my favorite short stories writers for her to do with just a few pages. Walker and Lahiri get to the crux of the matter in mere lines when other authors use up hundreds of pages to tell a story. I highly recommend these authors’ short story collections.

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger was the first book I ever photographed on Bookstagram.

For the most part, Bodger’s book was a leftover read from the YA Dystopian era takeover. However, at the time, I remember thinking about how interesting the plot was from other books in the genre.

In 5 to 1, women choose their husbands from five men who vie for their attention in a trial of the woman’s choosing. Bodger tells The Handmaid’s Tale writing about a matriarchal society with the men being hunted if they dare run away from their wives.

"The Lost Years" - Books That I Read While Care Taking (Pt. 2)

-The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
-The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker
-The Bees by Laline Paull

My first audiobooks were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, and The Bees by Laline Paull. And as intricate as each of these three books was with their cast of characters, I loved them for keeping me company during this time in my life.

The Night Circus was probably the best possible choice to start my love of audiobooks alongside The Golem and the Jinni because of how imaginative both books were. The Night Circus covers a fierce battle between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. These magicians are given the task by their teachers of dueling each other by creating wondrous feats at Le Cirque des Rêves, a continuous night circus that runs throughout the book.

The Bees was equal parts whimsical and sad as Paull told the anthropomorphic tale of Flora 717, a sanitation bee in a hive where the Queen bee is ill. Flora 717 is a bee with unique talents that none of her kin share. Due to this, she’s seen as a threat to her beloved Queen, to who she only wants to dedicate her life.

Like The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, who I’ve interviewed and reviewed on my blog, Paull and Morgenstern’s books helped get me through long waits at doctor’s offices, and hospital stays when caretaking. These books taught me that even in those dark moments when everything looks bleak, the sun eventually comes out, and you live to fight another day.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

When Life Gives You Lemons…: Books I Read While Coping With Death

-The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
-Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Sometimes the sun does not shine how you want it to. There are no television miracles or solemn moments where your loved one pops back up for a last “hoorah.” 

Sometimes the doctor comes in and tells you the person is in a coma, and you have to say your goodbyes while praying all along that maybe God will do you this solid just this one time even though you know it’d be better for your loved ones not to suffer anymore. 

When that moment came for me in my late 20s, I wasn’t ready. But, The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat eased the blows. Both memoirs talk about death and the changes that come with growing up in such a beautiful way. I cried while reading each, and whenever I look at my copies, I remember the time I had to say goodbye to my grandmother and father.

Favorite Books of the Decades

My Favorite Books of the Decades

These last few books are stories that connect to events and memories in my 20s that I hold dear.

The first advanced reader copy I ever received was All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Logan Family Saga is a series I’ve been reading since I was a little girl, and I reread all ten books, including the novellas, in order every few years from start to finish to recapture some of that magic. It’s the best book, in my opinion, for you to read if you want an authentic glimpse of the African-American experience in America.

I’m on a personal mission to see all of August Wilson’s Century Cycle performed in person. Fences, the sixth book in the Cycle, was the first play I saw performed live in the West End while studying abroad. Like the Logan Family Saga, Wilson’s Century Cycle is required reading for anyone who wants to peek behind the veil of the African-American heritage.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz and The Namesake were WCBC picks that introduced me to amazing authors who used language in unique and breathtaking ways. Díaz, in particular, had me thinking about how closely language mirrors traditions and is used by Black, Indigenous, and other writers of color to tell our stories and preserve our histories.

Based on where I read them, two books that stand out are The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I read Moore’s book while looking after my father when he first got his diagnosis on our front porch. Moore’s whimsical story gave me laughter when I needed it the most. And Acevedo’s story kept me company when my mother and I took our first solo trip without my father to Atlanta the Winter after he died. Acevedo’s novel of confronting pain through poetry brought me comfort when I felt anything but.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith was the first classic that I truly loved. After years of reading, I never felt any connection to the classical novels in the white American canon. But, Smith’s book so clearly lays down how it feels to fall in love with reading, I instantly fell in love. 

Timebound by Rysa Walker was one of the first books that taught me to love e-books. Walker’s Chronos Files is a YA time-traveling series is one I devoured in almost a week after saying I would never read with an e-reader. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s current phase about the multiverse, this indie Kindle original may interest you.

What are the books that got you through your last decade?

Comment below and tell me some books that got you through your last decade!

As always, please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings

Un-American by Hafizah Geter #BookReview #TheSealeyChallenge

#TheSealeyChallenge: Un-American by Hafizah Geter 

Created by @IntrovertInterrupted

What is #TheSealeyChallenge?

August marks the start of the #SealeyChallenge, a month-long reading challenge where participants set a goal to read 31 poetry books or chapbooks. And for once, I remembered that the challenge started on August 1st!

Named after Nicole Sealey, a renowned poet and educator, the challenge started in 2017. Sealey began the challenge after becoming the executive director at Cave Canem and realizing she wasn’t reading as much as she liked. She ended up sparking a movement when she put out a call on social media to her fellow poetry lovers to join her in her personal challenge to read more poetry.

Poet and Educator, Nicole Sealey
Poet and Educator, Nicole Sealey

After four years, the Sealey Challenge has been transformed into “a movement of poetry lovers reading a book a day and sharing their reads with the cyber world.” This has led to readers forming lasting bonds through their love of poetry.

My Goals for The Sealey Challenge

To keep things simple for myself, I set out a goal to read a minimum of four poetry books (or a book a week) in August to complete the Sealey Challenge just to factor in time constraints and it being my first experience with the challenge.

My first read for the challenge is Un-American by Hafizah Geter.

Published in 2020, Un-American is an attempt by Geter to make sense of the personal tragedy she and her family suffered when her mother died of a stroke when the poet was nineteen. The collection was nominated for a 2021 NAACP Image Award, long-listed for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly.

In an article on Poets & Writers’ websites, Geter states that she used Un-American as a means to “make [her] and [her] family’s wounds metaphorical because up until then, they had been so physical, so palpably devastating” for them. The collection also served as a way for Geter to connect to her Nigerian homeland after losing her mother and to better understand her father, a Black man who grew up in Alabama and Ohio “in a country that doesn’t much care for Black boys and men.”

Un-American by Hafizah Geter book cover
The cover image is a painting by Geter’s father, Tyrone Geter, who did a painting of Geter’s mother when she was pregnant with her older sister

Introduction to Hafizah Geter and Section One of Un-American 

For me, reading Un-American felt cathartic. 

Geter writes about her personal experiences from the vantage point of a casual observer. Using pithy lines to create charged scenes, she invites readers into her memory while shrugging off any notions of being overly sentimental about what she’s referencing even when it is painful to recall. 

Take the closing lines of the poem, “The Break In,” for example:

Tonight the distance between me, my mother, and Nigeria
is like a jaw splashed against a wall.
I close my eyes and see my father
sulking like a pile of ashes,
his hair jet black and kinky,
his silence entering a thousand rooms.
Then outside, trimming hedges as if home
were a land just beyond the meadow,
the leaves suddenly back.
When I close my eyes
I see my mother, mean for the rest of the day,
rawing my back in the tub
like she’s still doing dishes.

Here, Geter relays the story of having her house broken into. Flitting between the perspectives of her mother, father, and self, Geter sifts through their collective memory to present a cohesive picture of the traumatic event. 

Listing each person’s emotions in the poem’s lines, Geter masterfully uses snapshots to show her readers how her interpretation of events is filtered through her parents. But, what’s more, Geter tells her story through an antiseptic lens, as if she is one step removed from the story she is relaying.

While personal, Un-American also draws on the complex history of America and interrogates what it means to be “American” while simultaneously being labeled as “other.”  

With the collection’s first poem, “The Pledge,” Geter speaks of the division between her mother and father and shows the difference in her understanding of being American in contrast to her parents’ knowledge of this identity. Geter builds on this theme in the second section of Un-American

In this section, she weaves together her parents’ story and sets the foundation of their life story up against tributes to Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner in her four “Testimony” poems. 

The poet, Hafizah Geter.
(Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020.  Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan
The poet, Hafizah Geter (Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Second Section of Un-American

With the second section, Geter takes an interrogative stance drawing on the political and cultural perspectives of being Black in America and gives voice to the layered experience of being Black and American. 

In this section, if a reader is too focused on only seeing Bland, Rice, Brown, and Garner as martyrs or civil rights figures, they’ll miss the way Geter uses each of the “Testimony” poems as transitions and layers her parents’ story over each poem to make sense of her own life story.

Geter shows intimacy mixed with tragedy to develop her family’s story in the reader’s mind’s eye and connect it into the tapestry of American heritage. This approach is fitting since the poet consistently shifts her focus from using a macro lens to tell a story of being an “American” to a microlens when she tells pieces of each member of her family’s story. 

For instance, she mentions Sandra Bland’s death in Wallace County, Texas in the first “Testimony” poem focusing her pen on showing a wider angle of brutality against Blacks in America:

As if the humiliation can never be done,
there were typos in your autopsy report.
The words:no signs of struggle.I thought, my body is your body,

is a temple on fire, is a blinded mask,
is a jail cell, is light as a paper bag,
is the sound my father makes
when, after so many years, he says my mother’s name.

And then Geter swiftly switches focus to tell her father’s story in “Alabama Parable,” giving readers a close up look at her own heritage:

My father looks down the barrel

of a shotgun house,

sees in my grandmother

hurt like prayer

is a kneeling position,

sees that fearing

the wrath of God can make you

name any angry man, King.

Finally, the poet fills in the narrative again and connects her father’s story to the larger story of Eric Garner in “Testimony (for Eric Garner)” using contemporary persona poetry and using the symbolism of kings and a blue-collar upbringing:

This love is blue-

collar work, this exile,

heritage. I don’t regret

the kings and queens I’ve made,

though police keep fucking

up. Keep kicking

down the door

inside me. Master’s tools steady

trying to burn our cribs down.

my children search mirrors

For suspicious activity. Marker 4:40.

the hourglass imitates

me. Judge, the wolves,

they multiply.

This second section also holds my favorite poem, from Un-American, which is “The Leaving,” 

Of all Geter’s collection, if I could get you all to read any poem, it would be “The Leaving.” 

As a lover of Warsan Shire’s poetry, I immediately gravitated toward this poem’s imagery of immigrants transitioning between space and place.

A Nigerian proverb

that when you lose your bridge,

climb down the mountain.

Instead, my mother grabbed

the Atlantic. Enough for a path

to carry daughters. 

“The Leaving” is where Geter’s work shines as it draws together the intricate familial mythology she writes about throughout Un-American. In this poem, Geter folds all her themes into a neat bow showing how difficult it is to be Black and immigrant and woman in America. 

This poem also touches upon the prevalent theme of mother-daughter relationships and being a family of mixed citizenship status. Drawing on her own experiences, Geter tackles the inherent harm that Black people face to their personhood through state-sanctioned violence alongside the everyday occurrence of being alive in America.

Section Three of Un-American

The third and final section of Un-American is about going through the motions of healing after tragedy strikes and returning home to your country of origin once you’ve set up roots elsewhere.

Where section one sets up the themes of Un-American and introduces readers to Geter’s family, and section two positions the family’s story into the wider frame of the American narrative, Geter turns her focuses inward for section three while connecting her family’s story to Nigeria. 

In this third section, she moves on from talking about state-sanctioned violence against all Black bodies in America to switch gears to the violence these bodies experience in Nigeria. Here, Geter writes about trying to build up her identity as a Nigerian American finding herself in-between the respective cultures of her parents. 

Poems like “Out of Africa” and “Three-Hundred Girls” track Geter and her sister’s journey back across the Atlantic to connect to their Nigerian heritage. Lines from “Out of Africa,” such as:

Something in my sister knows

it is easier in China than America to give her children 

uncolonized language, easier to raise black boys to be men

Who never forget duty or home.

Or, lines like the following from “Three-Hundred Girls” draw the reader’s attention to how Geter and her sister must go outside the U.S. to gain access to that security and proximity to power that alludes to them in their father’s country of origin. 

We eat fufu, efo, and egusi soup.

My sister, bowl after of jollof rice.

Like a woman no longer living

outside the language of her happiness

Yet, even in this moment of security that Geter and her sister enjoy for this brief sojourn in Nigeria, the poet intersperses violence into the sisters stay in “Three-Hundred Girls” juxtaposes the safety the sisters feel against the kidnapping and subsequent violence the Nigerian girls from the Zamfara school face:

Fourteen Hauwas, like me,

she says, as though I’ve forgotten

mothers in Chibok are still

weeping on the floors of classrooms

burned into burial grounds.

My Nigerian passport

expires.

Using “harm” as a constant theme in Un-American is understandable since being Black across the Diaspora carries with it a specific brand of harm that the average Black person knows intimately. However, it is often harder to understand when the danger comes from within our own bodies instead of from an external source.

In section three, along with the images of her and her sister reconnecting with their Nigerian roots, Geter conjures up images of the diseases that ravaged her parents. To me, this depiction of illness, besides self-discover, illustrates the cyclical nature of existence Blacks around the world are forced to live within when facing state-sanctioned violence and balancing just trying to exist peacefully.

For example, poems in section three oscillate between global depictions of violence, Geter remembering her mother, and the poet attempting to care for her ailing father while grieving and crafting her own multi-hyphenated identity.

This raw depiction of emotions in these snapshots of her poetry is what made in Un-American a cathartic read for me. While her writing is terse and to the point, the images she crafts with her poetry are full of life and well-honed to hit readers right in the feels.

At its core, Un-American is an introspective look at Geter’s family. However, the collection also asks readers to consider who gets to be a part of the American story while calling us to bear witness to the trauma and pain that comes with being labeled as the “other.” 

All that being said, Un-American is a poetry collection I would highly recommend.

Are you all participating in #TheSealeyChallenge?

Thank you to Wesleyan University Press for the gifted copy! All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Issue With Race in the Brown Sisters Series by Talia Hibbert #BookReview

What type of books do you read when you need to de-stress?

When I need a break from “heavy books,” romance is one of my go-to genres.

In between my Spring finals, I finished The Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert, and it left me with some thoughts…

Hibbert has penned one of the hottest interracial romance series of the last three years, with each of her titles following one of the Brown sisters.

Chloe, Dani, and Eve Brown are all representative of individuals who are neurodiverse or who have mental health issues they are living with. The sisters’ love interest also share these diagnosis, allowing readers who are seeking diverse representation for differently-abled characters to find themselves in between Hibbert’s pages. 

However, where Hibbert’s books fell short for me is that they felt devoid of any cultural indicators for all of the characters.

Now, yes, each book does have a sentence dedicated in each book to let us know that Brown’s matriarch has some Jamaican ancestry a few generations back.

Author, Talia Hibbert
Author, Talia Hibbert

And, yes, the middle sister, Danika (Dani for short), does get a love interest of ambiguous Middle Eastern descent. 

But, just like I mentioned in my review of Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, I can’t help but feel as if Hibbert uses the same method of turning her Black and Brown characters into caricatures as Callendar does in their book as a means of ticking off the diversity box.

I say this because not one of the Brown sisters feels as if they were written with depth to their characters.

Instead, it felt as if all of the sisters were written by Hibbert for her readers to have a “fill in the blank” experience where that person could scribe themselves onto the sisters when it was time for the “steamy” scenes to jump off. While this approach could be a plus short-term, it irritated me and made me disconnect from the books halfway through each story, with the exception of Take a Hint, Dani Brown.

The one saving grace with Dani’s story is that Dani and her love interest, Zafir, were given exciting and fully fleshed-out backstories that were revealed early on, and this kept me interested. Eve and Chloe’s story felt fragmented, and the constant anticipation of an “angsty” reveal for these sisters and their love interests left me drained. And by the time the big “payoff” was finally revealed, I was just ready to throw the whole audiobook away.

Speaking of which, even though I love the narrator of Dani and Eve’s books, Ione Butler, the audio narrator for Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Adjoa Andoh, was not my favorite.

Andoh’s narration made Chloe read as if she was someone’s nan out on a bucket list adventure trying to get laid. This could’ve worked if Chloe’s character was meant to be a woman well into her sixties. However, Hibbert wrote Chloe to be in her mid-thirties, which made listening to Andoh’s interpretation of Chloe’s voice taxing on my nerves.

At one point, this audio narration made me put Chloe’s book down for almost six months and didn’t pick it up again until the final books in the series were out. This was actually helpful for me as a reader because I got to read all the books in rapid succession.

These close readings led me to the conclusion that while Hibbert’s books are great for their showing of differently-abled and neurodiverse characters (Eve and Chloe’s characters are especially excellent in this regard), they don’t have fleshed out backstories for characters. Nor do they show a complete showing of the Brown sisters’ racial background.

This leaves the Brown sisters in limbo as characters and makes this series little more than a trumped-up sex fantasy for readers. This would be fine if Hibbert was simply writing fan fiction. However, Hibbert’s series is a bestseller in the romance genre and constantly pushed forward as the contemporary Black authored series, which carries weight in terms of representation.

Not to mention, the Brown sisters are Black women living in the UK dating outside their race. Yet, the question of race is never even broached. Adding insult to injury, the sisters never even come into contact with any other Black people besides their families throughout the series, which is extremely peculiar to me.

Heck, the Brown sisters don’t ever even really discuss anything minor, like their hair texture in a frivolous scene where they wake up with bed head or have their partners ask about touching when they’re getting intimate. They instead focus only on agonizing over their disabilities and sexualities.

As much as these two identities are important, it just strikes me as odd that at no point in this series does Hibbert show Chloe, Dani, or Eve’s race intersecting with how their mental health or neurodiverse diagnosis and sexuality. The author instead glosses over race by writing the Brown sisters as being super wealthy and trust fund babies that want for nothing and live in an effective bubble of family and money. I again found this to be super unrealistic and weird, but okay.

I want to be clear, though, the insertion of a conversation about race doesn’t have to be in depth on Hibbert’s part for the Brown Sisters series or any of her other books. But, it would definitely be nice and normal to see how these characters exist as Black women in their everyday lives. After all, I don’t think every Black, Indigenous, or person of color (BIPOC) in literature has to be a martyr. However, some acknowledgment of their identity is preferable to them never addressing the racial elephant in the room and being used as blank slates for readers to scribe themselves onto when reading a romance novel.

I digress, though…

Banner: “What to Read Next”

Created by @IntrovertInterrupted


If you’re interested in reading books that are just as steamy as Hibbert’s books and just as careful with neurodiverse representation, I’d recommend reading The Kiss Quotient series by Helen Hoang.

Author, Helen Hoang
Author, Helen Hoang

Only two books in the series are out, which are The Kiss Quotient and my personal favorite, The Bride Test

Like Hibbert, Hoang is an #OwnVoices author who writes characters who are neurodiverse. Hoang’s handling of characters on the spectrum is perfect because she, like Hibbert, is a part of this community. Hoang shows these characters as humans and does not allow her characters to be pitied.

Book Cover of "The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang
The Heart Principle

Each of Hoang’s stories is infused with information about the Vietnamese culture, which the Diep brothers and their cousin, Michael Phan, who are all the love interest in this series, are each from. Learning about this culture and having characters openly talk about their cultures for more than one sentence was a welcomed change when reading this series from what I experienced reading The Brown sister series since it made the characters and their struggles more real.

Book three, The Heart Principle, is out on August 31!

Have you all read Hibbert or Hoang’s series?

Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe!

Interview With Liselle Sambury, Author of Blood Like Magic

The Book

A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love—she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.

Cover of Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
Cover of Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.

The Interview

Adira: Ms. Sambury, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you! Congratulations on your debut novel, Blood Like Magic! 

As a lover of the fantasy genre, the idea of a family of modern Black witches is something I haven’t gotten the chance to experience in my 25+ years of reading until this year. This led your book to be one of my most anticipated reads of 2021.  Can you tell me what influenced you to write Blood Like Magic and what publishing your first novel was like for you?

Liselle Sambury: At the time I decided to write Blood Like Magic, I was feeling homesick for Toronto and wanted to write something set there. And I had the idea of writing about a family of Black witches floating around in my head. I’ve always loved the paranormal, and witches definitely held a particular draw for me. Like you, I hadn’t really encountered Black witches in my reading, and when I saw them in movies and TV shows, they were often sidelined or slighted characters. I loved the idea of being able to focus solely on the story of a Black witch. 

Checkout Liselle Sambury’s AuthorTube channel!

A: The magical lore and technology in your novel set your book apart from anything I’ve read or watched on television in recent years. How did you go about crafting this world for Voya, your main character, and her family to inhabit?

LS: Once I decided that I wanted to set the book in the near future, I made a concentrated effort to blend the technology and the magic together as best as I could. I was worried about being told “why not just make this a fantasy and take the sci-fi parts out?” But that wasn’t the world I wanted to craft. I was excited about being able to blend the two genres.

As for creating them, I started out with simple rules for both the magic system and how the genetics technology would work. From there it was a lot of layering on and building up in each revision. I would get feedback and would make adjustments to make sure that everything that needed to be explained or fleshed out was getting that treatment.When it came to Voya and her family, that was a lot more organic. I had a good idea of a lot of the characters in my head, and so I just wrote their stories as I imagined them. Later on, I definitely had to do more tweaking to make sure all their goals in the story and motivation behind how they behave was clear and made sense for their characters.

A: Voya and Luc’s characters tugged on my heartstrings. Along with the rest of the characters, you emphasize that each character you’ve written has many intersecting identities (e.g., Being a dark-skinned and voluptuous Black woman who dealt with anxiety for Voya and being a Mexican and transgendered for Luc) that color how they view the world and make decisions. Did you set out to showcase specific things with each character’s personality, or was this something that just happened organically?

LS: A lot of the characters were nearly fully formed in my head, but some things just came out as I wrote them. But one thing I made sure of, is that once I formed a character’s identity, I did my best to do my research and due diligence to make sure they would be represented well. So, it was all well and good to know that Luc is trans and Mexican-Canadian, but I had to think about how that would affect his worldview, and how he moves through the world and interacts with other characters. And I thought about, okay, if this is a dark-skinned Black character, how am I portraying them? Am I falling into any traps of colorism? I love my cast of diverse characters and I wanted to make sure that real world people reading the book could experience representation that was as accurate and respectful as possible. 

A: My favorite part of Blood Like Magic is how you showcase “community” and get the nuanced nature of what it means to grow up across the African Diaspora, drawing on a collectivist nature where the group’s needs and desires are sometimes placed before the individual. This idea of community is a big thing for Voya as she tries to complete the task her ancestor, Mama Jova, set for her. As an author, were you working from a specific definition of community? And if so, did it influence how you developed your characters or any of the action in the book?

LS: I wasn’t working from any definition of community. I was really just writing what organically felt right and important to the characters. I also grew up in a house with a blended family and so that colored a lot of my experience, and in the book, I expanded it further to the community in which Voya grows up. 

A: Keeping with the theme of community, your magic system is based around the “intimacy” of your characters “knowing” their ancestors and safeguarding their family’s history. You acknowledge in your work that across the African Diaspora, this isn’t an easy thing for a lot of Black people to do because of the act of Slavery. When you were world-building, how did you compensate for your witch characters who may not have had a connection to their ancestors? Would this keep the character from becoming a witch?

LS: When I was worldbuilding, I was thinking of the question around if you could have a connection to your ancestors. And that’s something that every witch has, but that non-magical people do not. I liked bringing in that dichotomy of a world full of magic and connection to your heritage that Voya has while also acknowledging that those of us in the real world may not have that because of colonization and enslavement. It felt important to me to say so, because I think some people don’t understand that disconnection and the pain of feeling that your heritage is lost to you.

Hear Liselle Sambury and Tracy Deonn talk about approaching feedback & world building

A: You did a magnificent job in creating a diverse and inclusive future by showcasing the natural use of gender pronouns in everyday settings and having characters from various body types and heritages on display. Yet, the one place that felt as if it teetered on the edge of being regressive was the Black community. 

In Blood Like Magic, violence permeates the Black community at the hand of its members and outsiders. This can be seen in the separation into “pure” and “impure” families to the reliance on specific acts of violence that are visited on members of the community and used in magic rituals. 

When constructing Voya’s world, why was it important to show that Black bodies are still targeted with violence inside and outside their communities even in the future?

LS: Within my own worldview, I am familiar with the fact that there can be a lot of social progress in one area and not as much in another. And I’m also aware that even within already marginalized communities, Black people can be further marginalized. So, while there is progress in things like the consequences of racial-based violence, being in the future hasn’t made it stop.

I think this is grim in some ways, but it also felt real to my experience with the amount of years that have passed, and the racial injustices Black people continue to deal with. I think of Voya’s community as being complicated and there are extra challenges because those past traditions they are handing down can be overseen by the very ancestors who created them.

I feel like it is difficult to grapple with the effects of white supremacy and white power structures as a Black person, and it affects both external violence, and also how things are done within communities. The violence that exists within Voya’s community is a direct result of people trying to protect themselves based on what they suffered in the past. That is the insidious nature of it, and it can create a very complicated community in which sometimes things that seem obviously terrible, are traditions that are carried on because trauma persists. I definitely wanted to showcase the nuance there.

A: There’s been a lot of talks lately in the book-o-sphere about the 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. With topics, such as referencing American Chattel Slavery, substance abuse, and missing Black girls, Blood Like Magic walks very close to the edge of dealing with Black trauma without it being the primary catalyst for the novel’s plot. How did you approach balancing these topics without having this aspect of your book take the narrative over completely?

LS: When I first wrote Blood Like Magic, I didn’t set out to tackle a lot of those topics. Those were things that became salient to me while I was writing, and so they were incorporated into the novel. That being said, I was definitely aware of that idea of pigeonholing, and went into my novel wanting to show a fun (though dark because it’s my style) story of a family of Black witches and what this one girl is struggling with. That has always been the core of what I’m trying to do. So, as I added in more serious topics, I never worried about it overtaking the book, because they’re all parts of a world in which the focus is a girl grappling with how to carve out her future under the pressures of her family. 

I do think those stories that deal with trauma are important and necessary, but they’re not the only stories that we have, which I think is important. And I do think that publishing is improving in that I see more of those stories coming out now. 

An Author panel with Liselle Sambury, Chrystal D. Giles, Sarah Days, Louisa Onomé, & Shakirah Bourne

A: Luc’s status as a “sponsored” son of the NuGene CEO, Justin Tremblay, is one that bought up a larger conversation in the novel about colonialism and even, to a degree, the exploitation of children and the lack of resources (even in the future) in the Global South.

While I know your book is set primarily in Canada and references parts of the American South, will readers ever get to see where Luc grew up in Mexico to observe the toll of how magic and NuGene’s technological advancements have changed the trajectory of this area’s culture?

LS: This isn’t something that I plan for readers to see directly in that setting, but they will definitely see Luc reckoning with that system and how it affects Mexico and other countries with that program.

A: I know that you are an avid creator on #AuthorTube and have offered a lot of advice and reflections on your writing process in your vlogs. But, can you tell readers who may not be familiar with your content what the most valuable writing advice you’ve learned from writing your debut is?

LS: I have two! One is for before the book deal, and at that stage in my career the advice of being persistent was the most helpful. Sometimes it takes several books to where you want, and sometimes you need to take breaks, and that’s all part of the process, and the persistence of keeping at it is what will help you the most.

The second one is for after the book deal, and that was to focus on the one thing you can control: the writing. To write the best book you can, and to focus less on things like marketing and sales because you can’t control that. At the end of the day, you can come away knowing that you did your absolute best.

A: I saw on your YouTube page that you’re working on edits for the Blood Like Magic sequel. Is there anything you are able to share about the sequel?!

LS: The sequel will be out next year, and readers can look forward to Voya reckoning with the decisions made in the first one. We’ve also only really seen three of the five major Black witch families, and in the sequel, you’ll get to see them all. I’m really proud of what I’ve done with it and think it will be a satisfying series conclusion.

About Author

Photo of Author, Liselle Sambury
Liselle Sambury

Liselle Sambury is a Trinidadian Canadian author who grew up in Toronto, Ontario, and her brand of writing can be described as “messy Black girls in fantasy situations.” In her free time, she shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to helping demystify the sometimes complicated business of being an author.

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!

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. 😑

What to read next banner

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!

"What to read next" banner

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 banner:

"Silver Sparrow" by Tayari Jones

"The Joys of Motherhood" by Buchi Emecheta

Photo Credit: @IntrovertInterrupted

The Scam of Anti-Racism: A #BookReview of Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

Book Cover, Stamped From the Beginning by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

“People can cry much easier than they can change.” ― James Baldwin

What was the last over-hyped book that left you feeling unsatisfied?

I finished Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi last week for my African-American Literature course and felt as if Auntie ‘Retha had taken up residence in my body.

While it is clear that Kendi put a lot of work into this book, it was very much a “beautiful gowns” type of text for me…or rather “beautiful sources.”

From the offset, it is jarringly clear that this book was written pre-2016 Election when many folks believed they were living in a “post-racial” world and were congratulating themselves for having elected a Black man for president. This sentiment of us being “post-racism” props up Kendi’s book’s thesis that “everyone’s a little bit racist, so no one should really be allowed to call another person out. We’re all equal in ALL ways.” #Paraphrase 

And, this is where Kendi lost me.

To be fair, Kendi direct quote about Anti-racism is:

“Anyone can believe both racist and antiracist ideas…[and] to think as an antiracist: [is] to think there is nothing wrong with Black people, to think that racial groups are equal.”

Author, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

The latter part of this is a beautiful sentiment, but that first part brings us into a sticky territory that teeters very close to absolving racist from the harm they’ve inflicted.

Racism requires power to go along with a person’s prejudicial attitude. Thus, while non-Black people and even Black people hold prejudices/bias and anti-Black sentiments, they do not hold the power that has been built into all American systems to bar other BIPOC people from being active participants. Ditto for this idea that “reverse” racism exists.

White people’s racism gives you 400+ years of oppression.

It gives you Tulsa and Rosewood.

It gives you the Klan/a corrupt police force, the “school-to-prison” pipeline…

a “not guilty” verdict in the Breonna Taylor case…etc.

A non-Black POC or indigenous person showing anti-Black sentiments hurts my feelings and leaves me baffled. But, it is rare that any of these groups have the power to inflict the level of harm and injustices that I experience at the hands of White people. This isn’t to say that these groups don’t need to dismantle and unlearn their behaviors.

However, the presentation of facts in Kendi’s books makes it seem as if the collective onus is on ALL of us when this work is a top-down process where the colonizer and those in power have to dismantle whole systems to truly bring us “equal.” This contrast to the BIPOC community, who could unlearn every bit of their biases and anti-Black sentiments and still be left without access to participating fully in American systems. This fact contributes to us trying to create hierarchies that would give us some semblance of “power” over each other.

Yet, Kendi’s book repeatedly ignores this fact when analyzing Black historical figures. The narrative he creates does not do enough to dismantle the notion behind “why” these individuals held these racist beliefs. And, even though I, as a #wellreadblackgirl could recognize the “why” behind these Black historical figures’ self-hating beliefs, I worried about the average reader identifying these same reasons when trying to dismantle their racism. 

Add to this Kendi’s erasure of Black female scholars and their contributions to each era he spoke of the outside of him using them to prop up the idea that we’ve contributed to the “hatred” and “degradation” of Black men, and you can see why I wasn’t impressed by this book.

I feel as if Kendi’s is too ambitious in the timeline he tries to cover. Yet, I understand why it is beloved by all the #AntiracistBookClubs and why Kendi has become the darling of White America as they strive to become “Anti-Racist™️”. I would just say that there are other books that express the ideas presented in this book more precisely and in a more balanced way.

Author Interview With Louisa Onomé, Author of “Like Home”

Synopsis

Fans of Netflix’s On My Block and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Angie Thomas will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws both her relationships and neighborhood into turmoil.

Book Cover of Like Home by Louisa Onomé

Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and the memories she has growing up there with her friends. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, most of her friends’ families moved away. Kate, whose family owns the local corner store, is still there and as long as that stays constant, Nelo’s good.

When Kate’s parent’s store is vandalized and the vandal still at large, Nelo is shaken to her core. And then the police and the media get involved and more of the outside world descends upon Ginger East with promises to “fix the neighborhood.” Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.

Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Now Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything–and everyone–she loves.

Interview

A: Congratulations on your debut novel, Like Home, Ms. Onomé! What was the process like writing your first book?

LO: Thank you! The process was honestly pretty fun. I love every stage of writing a book because I tend to treat them as separate opportunities to fine-tune a story. When I was drafting, I had the most fun making things up and throwing things together to see what stuck. My process is a little chaotic. When I was revising (which I learned to do effectively while writing this book), I enjoyed asking myself tougher questions about how each character or each plot point was showing up. Overall, it was such a great learning experience.

A: The neighborhood of Ginger East felt so authentic to the story you’re telling about gentrification and coming of age in a place that others have written off as being “rundown” or “unfavorable.” Did you have any specific places that inspired the creation of Ginger East?

LO: Ginger East was loosely inspired by the neighbourhood I grew up in just west of Toronto. While the place I lived was more residential and had a mix of household incomes, it also had a growing immigrant population and was enriched by the experiences people brought to the neighbourhood. I was honestly very fortunate to have had that experience.

A: There is a strong sense of community that Chinelo constantly references within Like Home. How would you define community and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote Chinelo and the characters of Ginger East in your novel?

LO: I define community as a place where you are seen and heard for who you authentically are. As such, Nelo really feels at home in Ginger East, not only because she grew up there and doesn’t know anywhere else, but because the people there understand her as well as she understands the area. It was important for me to define it that way because sometimes, as shown in Like Home, we live in communities where not everyone has our backs, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a part of the fabric of that neighbourhood. 

Spike Lee Tirade Against Gentrification ‘Get the F.. Outta Here’ Pratt Institute lecture Brooklyn, NY

A: My favorite part of Like Home is the passion you gave Chinelo for her neighborhood at such a young age. It reminded me a lot of what Spike Lee said at a lecture he gave in 2014 at Pratt Institute in honor of African-American History Month. 

During the lecture, Lee touched on how gentrification was ruining the local neighborhoods in the boroughs of New York City in his rant asking, “Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?… What about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore!” 

Why was it so important for Chinelo, a sixteen-year-old teenager, to evoke the same disdain and possessiveness over the gentrification of her Ginger East community in your novel as Spike Lee, a then fifty-seven-year-old man, did for his neighborhood of Fort Greene?

LO: That’s such a great quote! In Like Home, Nelo’s possessiveness comes strictly from her inability to accept change. She’s sixteen and all she knows is the place she grew up. To see it change so brazenly without any regard for the people who live there, her family and friends, it begins to make sense how she would have such anger over new businesses moving in or rent prices increasing. Something she knows so well is being pulled out from underneath her by people she knows don’t care about people like her. That feeling of being neglected, of not really being seen, is a strong pain point for her and I think is something a lot of marginalized people can relate to.

A: In the same vein, Chinelo is facing an uphill battle trying to convince people in her age and friend group that fighting against Ginger East’s gentrification is important. This is in direct opposition to Maree, one of Chinelo’s ex-best friends, who becomes a social media influencer and capitalizes off her connection to what she deems her “old trashy neighborhood.” Why was it essential for you to include a character like Maree in Like Home and the discussion of gentrification in contrast to Chinelo?

LO: Great question! It was important to me because a lot of us have to deal with people like Maree in our daily lives. There is a recognition there, unfortunately. Maree represents the largest block that Chinelo has to face when it comes to attitudes about Ginger East and places like it: apathy. It’s one thing to try and change a place, but it’s harder to try and change someone’s mind. Chinelo believes if more people cared, then it would be possible to make a difference, but Maree exists in direct opposition to that in many ways. 

A: Black girlhood is a multi-faceted thing that can hold joy and beauty. However, it also can be a scary time in a Black girl’s life. Like Home strikes this wonderful chord where it is perfectly nostalgic of what being a teenager is like in the age of social media while also honoring the fact that Chinelo’s character is the child of immigrants and held to a different standard than others in her age group maybe. Were there any parts of your childhood as a Nigerian-Canadian author that you used as inspiration to writing Chinelo’s character?

LO: Yes I agree! It’s such a delicate time, but so multi-faceted. There were small instances I mined from my experience as a Nigerian-Canadian that I put into Nelo’s experiences, such as the chain messages from family, but not a lot of overt things. Instead, her Nigerian-Canadian identity is more in her way of being and existing in the world. I guess it’s like that for everybody, though.

A: In a blog post you did for the “Her Story: Ladies in Literature” series on Pop Goes the Reader’s last year, you made mention of the fact that when reading, you “[identify] with the quieter characters; ones whose motivations maybe are subtler, or ones who aren’t at the forefront of a conflict….[since] our motivations aren’t always lived out loud.” 

This quote really resonated with me because when reading about Chinelo, her character felt relatable. There’s a debate currently in the book community about how #OwnVoices authors are often asked to draw on traumatic or stereotypical experiences to get published, which does not always leave room for a “quiet character” in areas like Black Literature. Did you feel any pressure to make Chinelo or the story you wrote fit into either of these categories?

LO: Thank you, I’m so happy to hear that resonated with you. I’m thankful in that I didn’t feel that kind of pressure to make Chinelo anything other than who she is. I modelled her after the girls I had seen and the girl I had been growing up in the Greater Toronto Area. I know so many Chinelos. She’s not an uncommon figure around here: someone who has opinions, doesn’t always speak when spoken to, and prioritizes her friends and family above all else. I didn’t want to write a character who was meant to be some sort of martyr or one-size-fits-all representation for Black girls, because as we know, Black people aren’t a monolith. I hope readers can find comfort in knowing that even though Chinelo isn’t necessarily what you’d expect of a YA protagonist, she still has value.

Author, Louisa Onomé

A: Often, when I’m reading stories about activism in YA, it feels as if it’s taking place in a parallel universe based on how outlandish the methods and situations authors give their characters to carry out. Yet, the way you write about the grassroots movement Chinelo and her community put together to protest the gentrification of Ginger East feels very “do-able.” Is there a message about community involvement and activism that you want readers to take from Like Home?

LO: Yes, for sure. Oftentimes, labels can be somewhat daunting for those of us who just want to help in any way we can. I’d love for readers to take away the fact that all forms of help are different, and you don’t need to have the loudest voice to move the needle. I think it’s important to recognize that starting where you are, doing what you feel most comfortable with, is still good enough. 

A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-reads?”

LO: My biggest writing influences are usually music or video games, because I love to try and recapture emotions. But also, I’m such a fan of Nicola Yoon’s work. I think her writing is so sincere and so magical. I’m a big fan of the characterization in Mary H.K. Choi’s work too. 

A: What advice would you give to young writers looking to break into the publishing industry?

LO: Just like with reaching out and helping with causes you care about, it’s important with writing to start where you are. Write what makes you happy, write what makes you sad, write easy things, write hard things, find readers you can trust, take feedback, leave feedback, grow, continue to learn. Be as ready as possible for when your number is called, because it will be!

Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Ms. Onomé!

Like Home is out now!