Happy Sunday, bookish peeps! I hope you’ve been enjoying your weekend!
I’ve spent the last week rearranging my shelves and ended up unhauling over 153 books from my personal collection. While this was a small portion of my books, it got me thinking about how we as readers are constantly in this frame of mind where we feel like literary Pokémon trainers in our quest to buy and read all the books.
As an avid reader who shares a living space with others, my desire to read often outweighs my ability to acquire as many books as I would like. Not to mention, the constraints on my free time to read are limited when it comes to working and completing assignments for my grad school courses.
To see my reading life laid out in such bare terms, it finally clicked why so many people refuse to waste time on books that don’t excite them.
Taking all this into consideration, I finally decided to let go of books I always knew deep down in my heart that I was never going to read again. And from my collection of about 1500 books, I culled the teenage fiction, new adult, and non-fiction books that “didn’t spark joy” for me anymore.
What I found most interesting about the books I unhauled was that the majority of these books were from those early days of BookTube and high school.
In 2010, when BookTube became popular, I would often buy books that were trending in the bookosphere with the intention of reading the books and just never get to them. This meant that when it came time to unhaul books from this era, I had a bunch of books that made me think of specific content creators I hadn’t watched in a while because they’d left YouTube (shout out to Tiffany from @Fat Shopaholic who put me onto Kiese Laymon’s books before they became a cultural staple) or from creators I just outgrew as I got older. Specific books that I found myself unhauling in this category were John Green books, dystopian YA fiction, and a lot of women’s fiction.
On the other hand, my unhauled books from my high school years mainly consisted of books from authors I no longer vibed with or just had outgrown (do you sense a theme?). This was interesting to see because, as a teen, I read an author’s entire backlist before moving onto the next author. So, when I got to unhauling books from this phase of my life, I noticed how much my taste had changed. Where I used to love a bubblegum YA romance or mystery book, I now find myself being much more selective in what I read.
While it was hard to let go of so many books, I couldn’t help but feel giddy at refocusing my mind to start enjoying more books that interest me on my TBR.
Drop down in the comments and tell me if you’ve unhauled any books lately or just how your reading taste have changed over the years?
Kadrey’s book follows a thief named Coop, who specializes in stealing magical items. Desperate for a quick payday, Coop agrees to help an old friend steal a mysterious box only to find himself smack dab in the middle of two doomsday cults, an exiled angel who’s been searching for the box for millennia since it’s his ticket back into heaven, and a shady government group called The Department of Peculiar Science or DOPS for short that oversees the magical world. Unfortunately for Coop, he has no choice but to fight all of them to get his big payday.
I started The Everything Box on Scribd last year and was loving the dry humor and shenanigans from the cast of characters. But, my subscription expired before I could finish it. Thanks to winning a year subscription from Lupita (@Lupita.Reads), I was able to finish, and boy was Kadrey’s book a hoot.
From the high jinks to the backstabbing of each faction trying to one-up each other, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Kadrey did a good job of making each of his characters stand out. And the voice actor, Oliver Wyman, was phenomenal in distinguishing each character from the other. This is especially important because while Coop is one of the main characters, Kadrey tells his story from seven other characters’ perspectives. So, having a voice actor that is good at accents and altering his voice for female and male characters was a nice touch.
My only problem with the book is it had one too many “backstabbing” plot twist near the end. And this made the ending feel like it was being dragged on forever and a day.
Nevertheless, if you love mysteries, dystopian novels, or comedic books, I’d highly recommend this book.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor,on the other hand, is a book from my TBR that holds sentimental value for me. It was the first book I got to check out to a patron when I was a student librarian. Ever since then, I’ve been curious about Addison’s fantasy series.
This first book from the series follows Maia, the exiled half-goblin son of the deceased Emperor of the Elflands. As his father’s youngest and most hated son, Maia is completely clueless when he is called to take the throne in his murdered father and older brothers’ place. Learning on the go, Maia is made to face plots to kill him, an unwanted marriage proposal, and dodge those who see him as incompetent and wish to replace him as Emperor.
Like Kadrey, Addison does an excellent job creating a world of magic that sucks the reader in immediately (Maia literally learns his father has been killed on page 2) and doesn’t let go until the end of the 400-page epic. This was another audiobook read from Scribd, and the audiobook voice actor, Kyle McCarley, was another talented narrator who does voices well. This talent makes the epic fly by.
Each book in Addison’s series is balanced between being “action-packed” and hinging on being “character-driven.” The GoblinEmperor looks at how Maia reacts to his newfound power and explores the power dynamics he experiences as he becomes a part of his new world. If you’re a lover of books about court dramas and people in power, Addison’s book will be one you’ll love. I’d definitely recommend getting the audiobook and checking out the second book in the series, The Witness for the Dead, which follows Thara Celehar, a reoccurring character in the series who helped Maia discover who killed his father in The Goblin Emperor.
The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia
My final recent read was an Indian romance novel called The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia that I found while browsing Goodreads. For anyone in need of a quick read that has various love pairings in it, Bhatia’s book is a must read.
The Rules of Arrangement follows Zoya Sahni, a well-educated, career woman who’s hitting her “expiration date” for being of “marriageable age” in Mumbai. With her mother and Bua plotting together, Zoya is set up with a childhood friend, and from there, Bhatia explores the complex emotions that go into dating and finding your love match. With Zoya also being plus size and having a darker skin tone, Bhatia also tackles things like fatphobia, colorism, and the role of education in how women in Indian are “valued” as they come of age.
I will caution that for readers who are triggered by constant references to a character’s weight or the constant devaluing of women, you may not find this book to your liking. However, for readers who are willing to place Bhatia’s exploration of character into the context of the story, you will find joy in the plot and be able to understand the inter-monologue of Zoya as she fights to stand up for herself and choose her own destiny.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently focusing on my second Sealey Challenge read, The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. This poetry collection examines Phyllis Wheatley as a political, philosophical, and religious figure in American history.
Jeffers’ work is one that I am finding a little harder to read than Hafizah Geter’s Un-American, which I read last week. So, I will to have to re-read it more than once and do a little background work to help put Jeffers’ poetry and Phyllis Wheatley’s life in perspective.
I’m also reading Jeffers’ upcoming novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.In this novel, Jeffers follows Ailey Pearl Garfield as she struggles to come to terms with her identity as a mixed-race woman of Indigenous, Black, and white heritage in the deep South. To uncover her family history, Ailey Pearl depends on the stories of women in her family throughout history to guide her.
Both these books were provided by the publishers (Wesleyan University Press and Harper) for free for honest reviews. So, I will have full reviews up soon.
What will you read next?
I’m a big “mood reader,” so I can’t say for sure what I’ll be reading next. However, I’ve been on a Fantasy and YA genre binge.
Drop down in the comments and tell me some of your favorite Fantasy or YA novels from your 2021 wrap-up!
I turned thirty this Fall, and I felt super reflective. This milestone made me think about some of my favorite reads and songs that got me through my 20s.
Borders used to be my go-to spot on the weekend when I was at Howard University. Whenever I went to the bookstore, I would get either a Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant or Pearl Cleage book to get me through the week to read.
Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Here is where I found DeBerry & Grant and Cleage’s books. By the time I was a junior in college, I’d read these three authors’ catalogs cover to cover and was hungry for more.
If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden’s books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is my favorite from DeBerry & Grant. This book is about “sisterhood, family secrets, and the ties that bind.” Cleage writes about two sisters who inherit a house in Prosper, North Carolina. While figuring out what to do with the house, they begin to come to terms with their tangled relationship with each other and their parents.
Babylon Sisters is for readers that enjoy mysteries and doing deep dive into Southern Black culture. Cleage’s writing exists within a specific universe/neighborhood called “Wed End” that she created in Atlanta, Georgia. Babylon Sisters is the second book in the West End series where the author tackles everything from crime in the Black community, gender roles, and other social justice topics using these really intricate character studies. They’re so good because they remind me of Walter Mosley‘s books and a touch of Black Futurism type reads where characters use Black Spirituality to draw conclusions and carry out tasks.
You have to read these books to know what I’m talking about.
My first stint in graduate school for my Masters in Literary and Cultural Studies allowed me to go more in-depth, learning about African and Caribbean Literature and reading classics from the African-American canon I’d never been introduced to in high school. I read books, like Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, in my Globalism and Transnationalism course and did an individual study of Sam Greenlee’s Blaxploitation classic, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, for my final project. But, most importantly, this was the first time I found myself delving deep into a book when I wrote my entrance paper on The Blacker the Berryby Wallace Thurman.
During this time, I felt super isolated since I was the only Black person in my program and felt behind since I was going into the program as a Psychology student. This lead me to constantly fall behind in my reading and constantly feel disconnected while I was in the program.
The one thing that I loved about the program was taking courses with my favorite professor at the time, whose specialty was Postcolonial Studies. In her class, it was the only time I felt myself coming alive and being excited to read.
My favorite book that I studied during that year was Aidoo’s book, where I got to look at feminism and woman’s rights from the perspective of Ghanaian Literature. Getting to see how Aidoo used Changes: A Love Story to talk about intimate relationships and gender roles through the lens of another culture from the Diaspora were eye-opening and made me curious about African Literature.
Reading Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid was one of the first times I felt myself becoming possessive of a character. I remember one instance where I ended up verbally sparring with my classmates about Lucy’s character and her choices in contrast to her white employer. Having to defend Lucy’s character against my classmate’s ire was one of the first times I found myself experiencing the fact that I, as a Black woman, experience life and literature differently than my white peers.
If I could give anyone advice to someone in their 20s who has the means, I would say to try and get out of your comfort zone and travel to new places. If you can, travel and travel widely.
Throughout my time in school, I’ve had the chance to travel to three locations to study abroad as student. As an undergraduate, I went to Florence, Italy and London, England to study film and literature for a semester as a junior and senior. During my graduate education, I spent the summer learning about social work practices and social justice issues in Prague, Czech Republic.
My favorite experience by far is the Fall semester I spent as a senior in London. During this semester, I read Zadie Smith for the first time and Nella Larsen, which my best friend introduced me to when we were Sophomores by gifting me a copy of her novels, Passing&Quicksand.
Going to London was amazing because I got to experience theatre and literature almost every day in a way where it was integrated into my studies and curriculum. In our courses, we’d follow the paths of literary greats’ journeys throughout the city and connect them to our interests. My semester in London was the first time I ever got to see an August Wilson play performed live or saw a Shakespeare play with colorblind casting. Experiencing these types of art after having spent almost two years at a PWI where I rarely read any literature from the African Diaspora was refreshing.
You know when we talk about older generations living through technology shifts and how seeing all those tech innovations must have affected them in their lifetimes? I was randomly thinking about this and how by the time I was in college, social media was embedded into our global culture and a part of our daily lives to the point it was becoming taught in certain curriculums.
Technology affected my life in many ways, but I’ve seen the greatest impact on my reading. In college, I was an avid YouTube watcher. I would usually spend my nights watching YouTube videos instead of doing homework or as entertainment in college and graduate school, and this lead me to join BookTube in 2011.
During that brief stint as a content creator on YouTube, I realize how many genres I’d neglected as a reader from watching other bibliophiles across the world. This time period lead me to delve deeper into reading theory books I’d just started hearing about in graduate school. It also made me read more diversely and intentionally.
The first theory book I’d ever tackled on my own was Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon. This was a book I read chapter by chapter in the library. I was so proud of myself because I remember having to go over each line annotating Fanon’s words with my dictionary and Google search tab open to guide my way. Finishing this text made me feel super confident as a reader. Through posting about Fanon’s book in 2015-ish, I connected with my current reading group, with who I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. From there, I’ve read a lot of other theory books, with the above two being my favorites, along with On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder.
Readers, what’s your favorite books that you’ve read over the last ten years?
As a future social worker, these numbers are horrifying.
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. 😑
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.
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.
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.
“Sir, do you have ‘man of the house’ money?!” – Kimberly Nicole Foster, @for.harriet
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.”
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!
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, TheJoys of Motherhoodis 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.
“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
In Mildred D. Taylor’s prequel of the Logan Family Saga, “The Land,” she follows the patriarch of the family, Paul Edward Logan, during the 1870’s to 1880’s in the American South. Paul Edward is a man of mixed Native, African-American, and White heritage. The recently emancipated son of a well-off White land owner, Paul Edward is learning the rules of what it means to be a multiracial man in this new Southern world where both, Whites and Blacks, are coming to terms with Slavery ending.
Taylor does an excellent job of showing depth in Paul Edward and the surrounding characters’ development as the story progresses. This was my second reading of this book since high school, and I got mad all over again for Paul Edward. Where a less assured writer may have skirted the origins of Paul Edward’s mixed heritage and feelings of discomfort at not being fully White, Black, or Native, Taylor leans into these emotions.
Taylor allows her readers to see Paul Edward’s parent’s relationship in the confines of the Reconstruction Era along with how it affects their White and Black children. The emotions in the book are raw. Issues of racial identity, family dynamics between a slave holder and his Black children, and ownership of land for Blacks and Whites of varying class sizes all get tackled in a way that parses through the messiness, but remains true to real life.
This is important since the Logan Family Saga stories are based on Taylor’s own family history, and is relatable for any one who has grandparents who grew up in the American South and experiences the harsh race relations of this region. Taylor story felt familiar to me because in Paul Edward’s struggle to acquire land, I heard my grandparents and parents’ belief echoes about why land ownership was so important.
Because of the rawness in Taylor’s writing and how well she depicts the harsh realities of the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era for African-Americans, I’m always in awe that this book is actually categorized as children’s fiction. That being said, I HIGHLY recommend this book and that you read the series in order including the novellas!
The next novellas in the series to read are “The Well: David’s Story” and “Song of the Trees,” which shifts over to the main narrator for the rest of the series, Cassie Logan. The Land and The Well follow the two patriarchs, Cassie’s grandfather, Logan, and her father, David, and give essential information about the relationship between the Logans and their White neighbors.
A: Thank you for your time, Ms. Dixon! I got a chance to read your essay collection, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and your poetry collection, No God In This Room, last month, and both pieces really resonated with me!
What was the process like writing and getting The Incredible Shrinking Woman published? Did you find your experience with an independent press different than working with a larger publisher?
AD: The manuscript started as a series of individual essays in 2012. I was going through a pretty rough breakup and I found poetry wasn’t giving me the space I needed to express everything I was feeling. I began writing personal essays as a remedy. In 2016, I attended a creative non-fiction conference and started toying with the idea of pulling together a book. I threw together every essay I’d written over that four-year span and started trying to make sense of it. It didn’t go too well and I went back and forth in adding and subtracting pieces from it. I continued to write and publish work from time to time and in late 2019 I thought I’d come up with a decent manuscript. I researched presses I thought would be a good home for the book and came up with a list of four. I did not pursue publishing with a larger press at all. Fortunately for me, Split/Lip was on my first-choice list and wanted to give the book home.
Working with an independent press has been great! From the very beginning I’ve felt that they were not only interested in the book, but also me as a person. Writing personal essays can be a very scary thing and having a group of people working on your project who respect that is a gift. Being with an indie press allowed me to have a stronger voice in the kinds of edits I was willing or unwilling to accept. I also had amazing freedom in deciding on my cover design, promo events, and blurbs. It felt more like a collaboration than someone doing me a favor by publishing my work.
A: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were writing The Incredible Shrinking Woman?
AD: I generally consider myself my first audience and from there I hope to find a connection with people who’ve had similar experiences. I hope that I am writing for people who feel on the fringes or invisible—kinda like background music. Those people who help make the world go ‘round but aren’t necessarily the ones in the spotlight. I think it is important to craft stories for audiences who are dynamic and interesting in ways that may not always get attention. There is a world of people who feel as if they don’t have a voice and I hope that in my exploration of my own invisibility and shrinking I am helping them be seen and heard as well.
A: In a virtual craft chat with The Writer’s Center, you mentioned “wanting to be seen and then being afraid when you [were] seen [and] working through what you’re asking people to see.” Did this sentiment play into naming your essay collection The Incredible Shrinking Woman?
AD: The collection had several names, but this one seemed to fit the best once the final slate of essays was solidified. When I began writing, I thought I was writing about something completely different, but as the manuscript progressed it seemed more and more, I was writing about ideas of shrinking and invisibility. I’d never considered just how much time I’d spent trying to fit into boxes and roles that never seemed to contain all I believe I am. But I also had to confront what it means to be seen. Asking for it and actually having it are worlds different. There’s a bit of a play on words with the title, too. There is the active shrinking that takes place, but there are also elements of a sideshow or exposure in the use of the word incredible.
A: My favorite essay in your collection is “Reader’s Insert.” In the piece, you say:
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve slipped myself into roles that don’t quite fit, roles that aren’t quite real…I’ve always felt invisible, so accurately telling the story of me starts with a disappearing act.
Invisible. It’s a word that has gotten blowback from friends and family in ways I never expected. I suppose they think they see me. But I don’t think anyone really does. At least in terms of a whole person, that is.”
This quote resonated with me because, as a Black woman, there seems to be a substantial gap between the expectations placed on us individually and as a group versus the actual empathy that is offered to us as human beings. Instead, we seem to be rendered as invisible or treated as pieces of a whole. Did your perception or definition of yourself change as you wrote this collection of essays and came into your voice as a writer?
AD: My greatest fear putting the collection in the world was being exposed and judged. I thought people would see me as weak or damaged in some way, but I found that I grew more confident personally and creatively as the collection took shape. I think it is partially because I was able to let go of some experiences that had been weighing me down and also realizing there are dynamic parts of me I should share with the world despite my fears. As well, by examining some of the issues in the collection, I was able to see parts of myself I couldn’t while I was in the thick of it. I learned I am much stronger than I knew and that I have so much to offer to not only myself but also the world. I think writing the book helped me unlock portions of myself I’d hidden away in order to fit what I thought the world wanted to see of me.
A: Your essay, “Native Tongue,” was another favorite for me. One of the things I loved about your essays is the way that you give voice to those Black girls who aren’t labeled as being “conventionally Black” in the way you described your cousins as being with their “Salt N’ Pepa hairstyles” or even your best friend, Greta. Why was it important for you to tell this particular story of coming into your Blackness in “Native Tongue?”
AD: It was important for me because I think sometimes there’s an idea that if you are born into a particular background you settle in smoothly. For me, I always felt loved and cared for, but I struggled to find where I fit within the confines of the culture around me. I so badly wanted to be like my cousins and my parents, but I never considered the idea there were other avenues that were tailored to me. And I think it was important to recognize and acknowledge my own narrow view of what I thought Blackness entailed.
A: There’s a line in “Vagina, Slightly Used,” where you say:
“It’s because I’d felt so invisible my entire existence that I gathered greedily what was laid out before me. I’ve always felt like my being deemed desirable by a man was a fluke.”
In the same way you give voice to the “non-conventional” Black girls, you represent for women who are believed to take up too much space physically with their bodies and those Black women who are denying themselves a “fairytale ending” because the world said we can’t/don’t deserve one.
Currently, soundbites of “image consultants,” like Kevin Samuels, and celebrities, like B. Simone, are going viral for shaming Black women for daring to believing we deserve a happy ending. Do you feel as if there is starting to be a movement to commodify the inherent “shame” that Black women, like yourself and I, are fed throughout our lives by mass media and brands?
AD: I do. I think people are so intent on solidifying their own importance, and pockets, that they are willing to sacrifice the well-being of others in order to do so. I think it’s easy to prey on people’s insecurities while setting impossible standards they can never achieve because the goal posts always move. There is a part of me that feels some of this is a backlash to the “less desirable” women starting to gain confidence or ignoring what society thinks they should be. The shameful part of it is when other Black people, who know discrimination and harm first hand, take part in it denigrating their own people for the sake of profit and popularity.
A: The Incredible Shrinking Woman is raw and has so many visceral moments that left me, as a reader, swept up emotionally in your words because of their authenticity and how true they rang in my lived experience as a Black woman. How were you able to draw on so many powerful emotions as a writer, and not become bogged down by them long enough to get your thoughts onto the paper?
AD: I was able to do that in some instances, but there were a few times that I got lost. I couldn’t read “Liturgy” without crying for about a year after I wrote it. Part of that was because I hadn’t really dealt with that grief. Fortunately, I’d processed, or started to process, most of the other topics I covered in the book. I look at my subjects as a bruise. If I can touch it and there is only an ache then I feel safe writing about it. If there is marked pain, then I know that I am not ready to fully explore that topic for public consumption.
A: Music is heavily attached to your writing with your father being a DJ. What’s on your playlist now?
AD: I have a playlist for everything, but there are few things I have on repeat right now. “Everything I Wanted” by Nuq, “Moment” by Victoria Monet, “Good & Plenty” by Alex Isley, “I Mean It” by PJ, “Vibe” by Cookie Kawaii, and “Whoa (Remix)” by Snoh Aalegra feat Pharell Williams. I’ve also been using “Whatever Lola Wants” by Sarah Vaughn and “All Blues” by Miles Davis to craft a few pieces on my plate at the moment.
A: What writers or pieces of art have influenced your writing?
A: Do you have any advice you would give to people who want to write?
AD: I would say write for yourself before anyone else. If there is no heart or passion behind what you are writing your audience can tell. If you don’t like what you are writing why would your readers?
A: Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Dixon! I can’t wait to read more of your work!
Athena’s work has appeared in various publications both online and in print. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee (2016, 2017), a Best of the Net nominee (2017), a Callaloo fellow (Oxford 2017), a V.O.N.A. fellow (2018), and a Tin House Workshop attendee (Winter 2019). Athena is a member of the Moving Forewards Memoir Writers Collective. Additionally, she has presented at AWP (2013, 2020), HippoCamp (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and The Muse and the Marketplace (2019) among other panels and conferences.
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
– Blurb from Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
What surprised you most about the process of writing this first novel?
The thing that surprised me most about writing this novel was that it did not become this novel until maybe the fourth or fifth iteration. There were things about Grace Porter that didn’t surface until my very last time editing. Some of her motivations and wishes and desires were still hidden until I had both the input from my amazing editor and also an entirely different headspace. I always hear the phrase, “writing is re-writing,” and I think the depth of that truth didn’t really hit me until I was knee-deep in revisions and realizing, like, wow, I needed so much more time to figure out how to say this, but now I can. Surprise!
In an interview she recorded with Balticon 34 in April 2004, Octavia E. Butler talks about wanting to “desensitize” readers with her writing and show them the “world as she wishes it worked” in her novels. One of the things I really loved about Honey Girl is that you don’t waste time explaining or trying to convince the reader that Grace Porter, your main character, and the rest of her friends, who are LGBTQ+, deserve to exist when it comes to their sexuality.
Instead, your writing creates these characters as messy and flawed human beings doing mundane day-to-day activities, like going to graduate school, trying to live up to their parents’ expectations, and falling in love. Why did you feel this was a significant angle to take with your writing? And did you feel, like Ms. Butler, that you were simply writing the world as you saw it or as you wanted it to be in your writing?
I know in theory it’s significant, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that big to me. Grace Porter is queer. Grace Porter is a lesbian. All her friends are queer. Queer people do really mundane things like work and go to school and date and even disappoint their parents for reasons other than being queer! I wrote a world that is very similar to mine, because I’m a queer person with queer friends and we just do really boring things like complain in our group chats and forget to pay bills. It doesn’t feel revolutionary to me because we are out here living our not-very-exciting lives, but then I remember in the larger scheme of things, us living our lives is revolutionary.
All of that is to say, I didn’t go in with any particular mindset except portraying queerness the way it is in my little corner of the world, and now in Grace’s, too. In academia and the corporate world adjacent to it, the reality is very cis-heteronormative and white, so that’s the reality I put on the page. I wish the world did not work that way, but it does. So, to answer the question, I feel like I was writing the world as I saw it and also how it really is, which is a world in which queer people, especially queer people of color, live and breathe and survive for as long as we can.
There is a strong sense of community and collective care that is frequently referenced in Honey Girl. At times, Grace is treated with more love and acceptance from her “chosen family” than her blood relatives. What made you create such a multilayered approach to family and community care when portraying Grace’s support system?
I say this all the time, seriously, but I feel like “found family” or “chosen family” is such an important component of the varied queer experience. It’s so hard to be alone, especially with people who are your blood, and may still love you, but can’t really understand something that makes up such a huge part of you and influences the other intersections of your identity. You need queer friends and queer friends that feel like family because those are the people you lean on and learn from and support on your respective journeys.
For Grace, her chosen family provides her with unconditional love and unconditional honesty. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she gets in her head a lot, and they are right there to be like, hey, you are not the only person going through this thing. They all have their own lives and issues, and though not every problem revolves around their LGBTQ+ identity, because they are all sharing this queer identity, they are able to be their full, authentic selves when they are vulnerable and asking each other for help.
At the same time, I wanted to show Grace’s mom and dad as people she thinks should be infallible and all-knowing, but she has to realize that’s not possible. Parents are not perfect. Parents don’t know everything, or even half of everything. They are flawed people who make mistakes like anyone else. Sometimes those mistakes can be apologized for and relationships redeemed and repaired, and sometimes not. Sometimes the best thing is for people to break off from their parents entirely. It was important in Grace’s journey for her to start to think about the type of relationship she wanted with her parents that was best for all them and didn’t sacrifice her mental and emotional health. Basically family, in all of its manifestations, can be really complicated and intricate and nuanced, and there are so many different ways to build one or multiple with the different people in your life.
What books have you read recently and loved, that inspired Honey Girl in some way or that you very much look forward to reading?
Recently I’ve read and loved Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West, Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht, Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey, and of course, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.
There are so, so many books coming out this year that I want in my eyeballs immediately. I can’t list them all, so here’s five:
Thanks to Terminal Tours, I was able to get an advanced readers copy of the fantasy-themed short story anthology, A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology. This anthology was edited by Dhonielle Clayton and included authors like Samira Ahmed, Zoraida Córdova, Kwame Mbalia, Tochi Onyebuchi, and many more authors of colors.
In her editor’s letter, Clayton talks about growing up as a reader of color and not seeing herself in fantasy novels. This was something that I could relate to. While I always had stories, like The Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor or The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, to read if I wanted to see real-world images of myself in the 90s if I wanted to read a fantasy novel with African-American characters, my pickings were slim.
Reading through A Universe of Wishes, I was pleasantly surprised to read stories, like “Liberia” by Kwame Mbalia, where readers are shown a story of where the love of one’s family takes center stage. Having Mbalia speak to African-Americans’ collectivist nature and centering the magic of this cultural trait warmed my heart.
Likewise, reading “The Takeback Tango” by Rebecca Roanhorse, where a teen thief sets out to reclaim her planet’s artifacts, is reminiscent of my favorite scene from Black Panther with Kilmonger in the British Museum. Having Roanhorse show the power that comes from taking ownership over one’s heritage is what I love to see!
As a lover of Disney’s Tangled, “Longer Than the Threads of Time” by Zoraida Córdova was also a treat. However, like so many stories in this anthology, I wanted the stories to be so much longer.
A Universe of Wishes holds all the magic a reader could want. Having authors of color flex their muscles and show creativity outside the normal realm of “suffering” that so many BIPOC writers are pigeonholed into to get their break in the publishing industry was refreshing.
If you enjoyed this anthology, I’d highly recommend looking into all the featured writers’ works and read Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which was one of my favorite short story collections of African-American folktales and fairy tales as a kid.
Furia is the story of Camila Hassan, a soccer prodigy that lives in Rosario, Argentina. As the only daughter of a misogynistic father, Camila is forced to hide her dreams of playing soccer from her parents, who hope she will become a doctor or marry rich to help them escape poverty.
Méndez’s #OwnVoices book is everything I could ever want in a YA Novel. This author tackles feminism, the fragile male ego, domestic and mental abuse, and what life can be like for women and abandoned children in a violent and impoverished country in the Global South. And, not to mention, Méndez’s book has a “friends to lovers” romance, a sports plotline, and involves social commentary on what it means to be a woman in a culture that runs on machismo.
Earning the nickname, “La Furia,” from admirers for her prowess on the soccer field, Camila is sure that she can help save her family if given a chance. When her childhood friend, Diego, comes home from playing pro-soccer overseas, she is forced to choose between her desire to be independent and play the sport she loves or yield to her family and Diego’s wishes for her.
Méndez navigates multiple plot lines and character development with finesse and manages to ask the bigger question of what happens in society if women are not protected and allowed to live full lives? This book has a little something for all readers.