Category Archives: Books

Into Africa: 50 must reads for “Every African”…

…courtesy of afripopmag.com… lots of good stuff for a book nut like me.

Anthem of the Decades, by Mazisi Kunene.
Biko, by Donald Woods
Roots, by Alex Haley
Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
Woman at Point Zero, by Nawal el Sadaawi
Purple Hibiscus + Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimimanda Adichi Ngozi
Our Sister Killjoy, by Ama Ata Aidoo
Head Above Water, by Buchi Emecheta
The Heart of Redness, by Zakes Mda
You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town/David’s Story/Playing in the Light, by Zoe Wicomb
Mother to Mother, by Sindiwe Magona
Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai
Decolonising the Mind, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Anthills of the Savannah, by Chinua Achebe
Hero of the Nation, by Henry Masauko Chipembere
Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
Distant View of a Minaret, by Alifa Rifaat
So Long a Letter, by Mariama Ba
A long way gone, by Ishmael Beah
Song for Night/Becoming Abigail, by Chris Abani
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Desert Flower/Desert Dawn, by Waris Dirie
Born Under the Big Rain, by Fadumo Korn
When Rain Clouds Gather/Maru/A Question of Power, by Bessie Head
Women are Different, by Flora Nwapa
The Stone Virgins, by Yvonne Vera
Call me Woman, by Ellen Kuzwayo
And they didn’t Die, by Lauretta Ngcobo
Maru, b y   B e s s i e   H e a d
Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Petals of blood, Weep not child, Ngungi wa Thiongo
Black Sunlight, by Dambudzo Merachera
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by Amos Tutola
Question of Power, by Bessie Head
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neal Hurston
Ready For Revolution, by Kwame Ture
Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
The Making of Black Revolutionaries, by James Forman
Destruction of Black Civilization, by Chancellor Williams
The African Origin of Civilization, by Cheikh Anta Diop
The Isis Papers, by Francess Cress Welsing
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama
The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois simply bcoz this century is about identity
O’ Mandingo!: The Only Black at a Dinner Party, by Eric Miyeni
Gerard Sekoto: I Am An African, by Chabani Manganyi
The Good Women of China, by Xinran just coz Africa and Asia share so much in common
Capitalist Nigger, by Chika Onyeani
African love stories, (edited) by Ama Ata Aido
Black skin, White masks, by Franz Fanon
Scatter the Ashes and Go, Hyenas, by Mongane Wally Serote
Black God of the Sun, by Ekow Eshun
Mavericks, (edited) by Lauren Beukes
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Indaba, My Children, by Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
Development as freedom, by Amartya Sen
The Spirit of Intimacy, by Sobonfu E. Some
God’s Bit of Wood, The Money Order with White Genesis, by Ousmane Sembene
Zenzele: A letter for my Daughter, by J. Nozipho Maraire
The Bible
The Land Is Ours: The Political Legacy of Mangaliso Sobukwe, by S.E.M. Pheko
Subukwe and Apartheid, by Benjamin Pogrund
I Write what I like, Steve Biko
Blues People, by Amiri Baraka
Stolen Legacy, by George G. M. James
Democracy Matters, by Cornel West
Encyclopedia Africana, probably the greatest manuscript about the entire African Diaspora
Speak so You Can Speak Again: The life of Zora Neale Hurston, by Lucy Hurston


The Other Side of Paradise, in plain view

2009-05-16-OtherSideof-Paradise-author

2009-05-16-OtherSideofParadisePoet Stacyann Chin’s memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise” (Scribner, 2009), is a coming-of-age story.  It’s a tale of growing up never fitting in, not with family, not with social structure.  It’s also about living in Paradise (both literally and figuratively), but never feeling as though Paradise’s bounty is available for you.  Ultimately, however, the book is about discovering that no man (or woman) is an island in regards to pain and loss…and joy.

A one-time performer on Def Poetry jam, Stacyann Chin’s upbringing was enough to seal in insecurities, and yet, she kept trying to break out beyond her circumstances.   She was born on Christmas Day in Lottery, Jamaica, and systematically denied by both her mother and father, something she  struggled with throughout her childhood.   Stacyann grew up in the slums of Jamaica that tourists never visit, and she suffered abuse that no girl should ever have to suffer at the hands of family… always dreaming of the life of the fortunate ones, always dreaming of being safe and happy.

“The Other Side of Paradise” is a fresh, poetic read that balances images of hope in trying times and the darker side of Paradise.   

Below, Stacyann Chin performing “Untitled” on Def Poetry Jam.


Light: On the South Side…Grit and Gold Lamé

I, for one, have stared for more than a moment at the forgotten, peeled paint on the side of the 408 Club building over on 79th Street (just East of King Drive).  In mid-seventies hipster font, the ad reads “Sheba Disco”, apparently some sort of disco club.  I’ve wondered what manner of elephant bells and Quiana was to be found there in its heyday. 

In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided:  a dream of grit and gold lamé.   

Those photos have been compiled in Light: On the South Side, which is set for a November release by local label Numero Group.  The package also includes a 17-track vinyl-only comp entitled Pepper’s Jukebox, featuring various local juke joint luminaries including Bobby Rush and Little Mack. Cratediggers, this one also includes the one-time cockroach of Chicago 45rpm collecting: “I’m a Streaker, Baby” by Arlean Brown.  Remember that one?  Couldn’t even give that one away, it was so plentiful.  Anyway, check out the photo gallery, above (from the forthcoming book).  Be inspired.  Jive on.

 photo by Michael Abramson224_x600_cl_light18


Sweet Flypaper of Life: 1950s Harlem in Black & White

De_carava_the_sweet_6

Picture it.  It’s the mid 1990s, I’m in high school, late for the morning bus, desperate for something to read during my lengthy commute.  On my Grandmother’s disheveled porch, I find a slightly sunfaded paperback.  The book is Sweet Flypaper of Life, with text by Langston Hughes and photography by Roy DeCarava (originally published in 1955).  I toss it in my backpack, completely unaware that:

1. My life would never be the same… I would see the world differently from that day on.

2. That paperback was (at the time) thirty years old and worth nearly 100 bucks.  I would only discover its value when I attempted in college to upgrade for a hardcover.  Apparently, it’s an exceptionally rare book.  And I threw it in my backpack.  Did I mention it rained that day?

About the book:

Essentially, the Sweet Flypaper is written from the vantage point of an older woman named Sister Mary Bradley, who’s a fixture in her Harlem community.  The Langston Hughes’ text is accompanied by photos by Roy DeCarava. In the text, the woman introduces us to each person in her world, as conceived by Hughes as a means to tie together a series of DeCarava’s intimate, moody photographs.  We’re let in on the subjects’ struggles as well as the hard-fought victories in their lives.  

DE_Carava_the_sweet_1How I love this book.  It captures a time on the cusp of the Civil Rights Era: a time steeped in the Electrified Delta Blues, in Joe Louis Fights, in sedans with gleaming chrome portholes, in Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, in Miller High Life, in the smell of Dixie Peach pomade.  It captures something so timeless that it stays with you…. always.  I recommend you discover a copy of your own, but until you do, enjoy the pages I reproduced here for you. Jive on!

De_carava_the_sweet_2


Blackness…Finally Forgivable?

from the Stop Smiling Blog….

A Pugilist’s Pardon, Once Unforgivable

blog-johnson1It’s Jack Johnson, 1 — Scooter Libby, zero. Senator John McCain delivers some straight talk we can believe in with the announcement this week that he is seeking a presidential pardon for the late Jack Johnson, the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, who he “feels was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman” (read more about the story at AP); STOP SMILING featured Johnson on the cover of our Boxing Issue back in 2005, timing with the release of Ken Burn’s extraordinary documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. The final bell will be rung by President Obama.

Really? What’s McCain’s motivation? I remember an audio piece produced by my friend Kabuika for Vocalo.org in which an eleven year old kid asks Black Journalists if they think McCain is afraid of Black People (after McCain declined an invite to a Conference of Black Journalists in 2008).

McCain, Afraid of Black People? by Kabuika

So, what is McCain’s Motivation for pushing to pardon somebody who’s been dead sixty-0dd years?  Like the classic Tootsie Pop commercial, the world may never know


Achy Obejas presents her “Ruins”

achyobejas

“Achy Obejas writes like an angel: flush with power, vision and hope … one of the Caribbean’s most important writers.”

Junot Diaz, author of Drown, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Achy Obejas, author of “We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?” and “Memory Mambo” (stories of Cuban Americans in ruinsChicago), spins disjointed dreams into tangible things through her poetry and prose. And come this month, the Chicagoan has released another book of dreams, entitled “Ruins”.  “Ruins”, set to be released on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, bears echoes of Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” reset during the “special period” in Cuba.  The main character is “Usnavy”, a dig on the American military’s longsuffering relationship with Cubans.  A Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Obejas feels she will eventually leave Chicago to settle permanently into Cuba (she left with her family when she was six).  She recently told Cafe Magazine, “I live in Chicago, with an ever-diminishing Cuban-American community and far from the Miami epicenter. I am much more interested in being a part of a post-revolutionary Cuba than the diasporic community, which will most likely follow historical pattern and be absorbed into the U.S. mainstream as another immigrant (no longer exile) community.” for more on Obejas and “Ruins”, click here.



I am Not Sidney Poitier

not-sidney-poitier(Graywolf Press, 2009)

I was, in life, to be a gambler, a risk-taker, a swashbuckler, a knight. I accepted, then and there, my place in the world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier.

–from I Am Not Sidney Poitier

This is not a full review… that, my pretties, is still to come.  This is just a heads up on “I Am Not Sidney Poitier”, a forthcoming (May ’09) novel by Percival Everett.  According to the publisher, Graywolf Press:

“Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation.

Percival Everett’s hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney’s tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than watchful eye of his adopted foster father, Ted Turner, Not gets arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, sparks a dinnertable explosion at the home of his manipulative girlfriend, and sleuths a murder case in Smut Eye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem:

“What’s your name?” a kid would ask.

“Not Sidney,” I would say.

“Okay, then what is it?”

Sounds like summer reading to me…..


Book Review: More than just Race

(Norton Press, 2009)

more-than-just-race

According to William Julius Wilson, author of More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City (in stores March 2009), “the disproportionate number of low-skilled black males in this country is one of the legacies of historical segregation and discrimination”.  This statement cuts cleanly the notion that class-ism is the new racism.  Racism’s shockwaves have not yet subsided.  The book’s title alludes to the notion that race for race’s sake is not the virus plaguing America: it is “structural forces” (that is, individual decisions and “the machinery” (law, policy, and institutional practices).

In this book, Wilson essentially alludes that when the fight for integration took precedence over the fight to end impoverished conditions, neighborhoods (and people) suffered dramatically.  They still do.

Class-ism is not the new Racism.  It has lingered with us since Jim Crow and was, perhaps, the heavyiest load of old guard racism.  In More than Just Race, Wilson quotes the late black economist Dr. Vivian Henderson as saying thirty years ago that “racism put blacks in their place, but changes in the modern economy make the place in which they find themselves more and more precarious”.

After the election of Obama, news sources nationwide asked, “It racism over?  Is this the earmark we’ve all been looking for?”  Wilson responds with this book.  Race alone is no longer the issue that divides us.  It is no longer nearly that simple.