Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Notables of 2008

Happy New Year! Below are lists of notable black books from 2008 I received via email and that I compiled. I thought instead of linking to each author or to a site like Amazon, I would suggest ordering any book that interests you from an independent book-seller such as Eso Won Books, in Los Angeles. They will ship anywhere in the country, and they're good people.

Bonnie Glover's list:

Fiction
All or Nothing by Preston Allen (NY Times review)
Trading Dreams at Midnight by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
The Sunday Brunch Diaries by Norma Jarrett
The Right Mistake by Walter Mosley
Midnight: A Gangster's Story by Sister Souljah
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Nonfiction
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Grace After Midnight by Felicia Pearson
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

Doret Canton's list:

Fiction
Slumberland by Paul Beatty
Trading Dreams at Midnight by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Nonfiction
Definition by Cey Adams

Children's
Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
We are the Ship by Kadir Nelson
Hip Hop Speaks to Children by Nikki Giovanni
After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson


Carleen Brice's list:

Fiction
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Taking After Mudear by Tina McElroy Ansa
Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Passing for Black by Linda Villarosa
Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon
Stand the Storm by Breena Clarke
The Air Between Us by Deborah Johnson
Song Yet Sung by James McBride
Incognegro by Mat Johnson
The Knees of Gullah Island by Dwight Fryer
Going Down South by Bonnie Glover






Nonfiction
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon Reed (National Book Award winner)
Kinky Gazpacho by Lori Tharps
The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
Step by Step by Bertie Bowman
Hiding in Hip Hop by Terrance Dean
Black Pain by Terrie Williams
All About Love by Susan L. Taylor
Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer
Poetry
Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith (finalist for National Book Award)
Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni

What did you think was notable this year? And no need to mention my novel. We'll assume that's been covered enough on this blog. :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest post from The Bottom of Heaven



Claudia from The Bottom of Heaven, a blog about "post-modern blackness," submits this guest post about fiction about slavery. I tend to be skittish about reading books about slaves (or any stories that involve mental, sexual or physical abuse), though I did read Song Yet Sung. But this piece challenges that position and because of her recommendation I'm definitely going to check out one of the Beverly Jenkins and see how I do. I love that an English prof can recommend literary fiction and romance in the same post! By the way, Jenkins has a new book out in January called Bring on the Blessings.

Please leave comments for Claudia here or at The Bottom of Heaven.

Everything following is from Claudia:

"Liberating Literature: Encountering Slavery in Black Fiction"

One of the unofficial rules of the monthly African-American book club that I attend is "no slaves" - that is, we don't read stories that take place during slavery. We've read everything else: from Zora Neale Hurston to Walter Mosley and Zane. But rarely do our selections venture into the Antebellum Era. When I raise the issue among the group of well-educated, assertive black female friends, I'm gently reminded that our book club is for fun and relaxing reading.

And stories about slaves? "Too depressing."

Readers who are new to black fiction may be similarly reluctant to immerse themselves in a world that imagines the inner lives and experiences of enslaved blacks and their white owners from years past. For some, the subject evokes guilt or shame that feels devastatingly personal. For others, slavery is too removed from their own experience or, perhaps, an old wound best left alone.

Nevertheless, as an English professor, I know that black writers have found fresh, inventive ways to bring African-American history into genre fiction. There's more here than public whippings and spoiled southern belles. These texts also take risks by exploring the everyday lives of enslaved blacks through sophisticated humor, romance, and unconventional points of view. So before you tackle Beloved or The Known World (two of my favorite novels about slavery), allow me to make the following introductions:

* Meet Charles Chesnutt: This late-19th century black writer's collection, The Conjure Woman, is filled with captivating southern folktales set during slavery. Unlike the Br'er Rabbit Tales adapted by Joel Chandler Harris, Chesnutt's black characters contain a stronger sense of dignity, determination, and intellectual vigor. The elderly black narrator in stories like "The Goophered Grapevine" is both an expert storyteller and trickster figure who finds ingenious ways to protect his livelihood. So if you enjoy Zora Neale Hurston, take a chance with Chesnutt.

* Meet Charles Johnson: Johnson's award-winning novel, Middle Passage, chronicles the grueling transatlantic journey of enslaved Africans, but what distinguishes this novel is the witty, sardonic observations of its free black narrator - a thief named Rutherford Calhoun. He's a stowaway on a slave ship who moves from apathetic outsider to reluctant hero in a surprisingly clever odyssey between bondage and freedom. And if you enjoy Johnson's style, you may also find Ishmael Reed's satirical neo-slave narrative, Flight to Canada, to be of interest.

* Meet Beverly Jenkins: Her historical romance fiction breaks new ground with well-written love stories that take place during and after Emancipation. Her characters are not only former slaves, but New Orleans Creoles, Buffalo Soldiers, and black Seminoles out West. More importantly, she incorporates historical details into her fiction in a subtle and seamless manner, without over-burdening the romance plot; most of her books even include bibliographies. My favorites include Night Song, Indigo, and any novel that features the smokin' hot Le Veq brothers. (Oh yes, and Jenkins is the author that finally persuaded my book club to suspend the "no slaves" rule.)

Just to be clear, my intent is not to "make light" of slavery, or to suggest that these novels should serve as a substitute for tough, honest American history lessons. I only want to acknowledge that when it comes to stories about our turbulent racial past, African American fiction contains a wide range of creative mediums to carry the message. Each of these writers have found innovative ways to approach historical truths that are, at times, "depressing." Given the realities of slavery, this is unavoidable. But if writers like Chesnutt , Johnson, and Jenkins also bring us closer to a shared understanding of how far we have come as a nation, then there is hopefulness, too, and empathy that speaks to the power of great storytelling.

If you've read any of these books, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how they grapple with the subject of slavery. Other suggestions for books and authors are also welcome!

One last Christmas hurrah


Check out APOOO Book Club's 12 Days of Christmas Book Giveaway. And if you're looking for a last-minute gift for a child or a jazz-lover, Karen Simpson suggests Sweet Music in Harlem. She says:

Debbie Taylor is a wonderful author of children’s books and stories. As her writer buddy and friend I watched her picture book Sweet Music in Harlem ( Lee and Low 2004) grow from an idea, to a manuscript, to a book with illustrations by the wonderful artist Frank Morrison. Sweet Music in Harlem is based on the famous photograph Great Day in Harlem. Debbie was inspired to write her story by the line of children sitting on the curb in the original photo. This is a great book to introduce jazz to young and old alike. Check out her website.

Diversity rocks!


Blogger Ali has put down a challenge to us all to read more widely in 2009 with the blog Diversity Rocks. Here's a little of what she has to say on the subject:


"What if we only read authors who were just like us? How boring would that be? But when I take a good hard look at the books I've read in 2008, most of them happen to be written by white middle class people. Thirty-six out of forty-two, in fact, according to my LibraryThing library. Not that I turn away from books written by non-white authors--but let's face it, there aren't as many (hence the term "minorities"), and they don't jump off the shelves into my arms. In some bookstores they're hidden in their own special section. If I'm going to stretch myself--and I mean, beyond Toni Morrison and Amy Tan--I'll have to make a special effort. So, I'm setting a challenge for myself for 2009, and I invite you to join me."

I'm in. But I'd also like to add to her challenge that reading for pleasure should remain pleasurable. I hope no one feels compelled to buy a book that they "should" be reading and instead remains open to all sorts of authors who already write things they like. It's why I'm planning to showcase a variety of genres (including "trashy" books).
So I plan to read more male authors and more foreign writers. What about you?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Washington Post essay

Sunday, the Washington Post ran an essay I wrote about Buy a Book by a Black Author Month. I received some lovely emails in response. Those that took time to be thoughtful in their messages, I thank you. Unfortunately, the response also included some quite despicable comments. I stopped reading them at noon on Sunday. Last time I looked there were over 100. If you left a thoughtful comment and I didn't see it, I apologize. My eyes were blinded by the hatred and ignorance.

I won't try to answer every person who said they don't read black authors because blacks lie, because our culture is misogynist and homophobic, because we write poorly, because we only write about being black, because our books are dull, boring, preachy, whiny, and self-pitying, and, Lord help me, something about O.J. Oh, and the way black authors are promoted is Je$$e Jack$on's fault. (Racists are big on using $ for s's, apparently.)

But I do want to point out one common, strange assumption that most of the commenters seemed to share. They justified their reasons for avoiding black authors with reasons that also apply to books by whites and others. I mean, woman who talked about misogyny and homophobia, you do realize that there are white people who are women-haters, right? I mean, surely you've heard of Rush Limbaugh and his feminazis? And you do realize that maybe one or two or more black books don't demonstrate misogyny and homophobia, that, in fact, some black writers are actually feminists and/or gay themselves? And to the guy who said our books were dull and boring...so if you read a book or 12 by a white author that put you to sleep, you'd start avoiding Stephen King, too? Because that's the logic you're using.

I don't want to give any more energy to the negative. I'm only responding in this way so that those who have questioned why this blog is needed can see a bit of what black authors face. And to make it clear that I do not plan to STFU, as one commenter advised.

I also realize how much I'm preaching to the choir here, but sometimes the voice of the choir is what we need to hear to know that we're not alone in the world.

Merry Christmas, y'all...and thanks for reading and buying books!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pre-pub buzz

Float like a butterfly, buzz like a bee! Books are sold more like movies these days: it's all about the pre-publicity buzz and "opening" well. So here's a partial list of 2009 books that y'all should start talking about and consider pre-ordering.

For their contributions to this list, my thanks to Yasmin Coleman, APOOO Book Club (which is currently featuring a 12 Days of Christmas book giveaway); Martha Southgate, founding member of Ringshout, (new web site to launch soon!) a nascent group whose mission is to promote ambitious, skilled literary work by African Americans; and Doret Canton, of the Happy Nappy Bookseller.

If you know of other upcoming books, please let us know in the comments! Especially if you have a release later in the year. I'll try to keep up with a list of releases for each month. (Hint: Those that get the most ink make it easy for me by supplying all necessary info. When I have to go hunting for it, sometimes I don't find it.)

January
Donna Grant and Virginia DeBerry write as a team and consider themselves one author. Their latest novel What Doesn't Kill You comes out in January, and it's a book for these times. Says Tee, the main character: “I really thought I had a handle on life—then it broke off.” (Check out their blog for the Your Best Broke Story Contest)

The Black Girl Next Door is a memoir by Jennifer Baszile. In the Jan. issue, Essence magazine says, "Her account of living in exclusive Palos Verdes Estates in Southern California will move you, enrage you, and ultimately empower you."

Something Like Beautiful by asha bandele is a memoir about being a single mother.

Bicycle: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni.

Best African American Essays, Vol I, edited by Debra Dickerson and Gerald Early. This exciting collection introduces the first-ever annual anthology of writing solely by African Americans, and includes writing by Malcolm Gladwell, James McBride and Jamaica Kincaid.

The Someday List a novel by Stacy Hawkins Adams asks the question: What do you do when you realize you're not who you want to be? Authors Adriana Trigiani and Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant say this is a keeper.

Nikki and Deja: Birthday Blues, written by Karen English and illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a 2nd in a series published by Clarion Books. They say they started the series in response to requests from booksellers, teachers and librarians for multicultural books where race is not an issue, just an attribute of the characters. (Sounds good to me!) Kirkus said of this book: "Likable and independent African American girls are a rare find in early chapter books--let's hope these two [Nikki and Deja] can start a trend."

Up to No Good by Carl Weber.

I Heard God Talking to Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings looks at the life and work of the first African-American to have a solo show at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art.

February

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James.

Mitchell Douglas' debut poetry collection, Cooling Board: A long-Playing Poem, will be published by Red Hen Press. It's a book of persona poems written in the voice of the late soul legend Donny Hathaway, and the voices of those who knew him best Roberta Flack, Curtis Mayfield and Hathaway's widow, Eulaulah.

March
That Devil's No Friend of Mine by JD Mason. When Bishop Fontaine passed away, he left behind more than a list of good deeds. He was known as a caring friend and doting father...but he was also manipulative and controlling, especially to those he loved. His death begins to unravel deep secrets and shocking desires among the people he cared most about. Five very different people whose lives are only connected by Bishop suddenly find themselves up close and personal as desires, dreams and passions collide.

Vegan Soul Kitchen: A New and Healthy Way to Cook African American and Southern Fare by Bryant Terry reinvents the traditional cuisine without the use of animal products. Sounds yummy!

April
A New Kind of Bliss by Bettye Griffin. Griffin writes "contemporary stories today's women can relate to." Her website describes A New Kind of Bliss as: a first-person story, funny, poignant, and with plenty of attitude, about a woman who returns to her hometown after the death of her father. She wants to help her mother - who's never even written a check - adjust to the loss. A friend introduces her to a widowed oncologist with sexy bedroom eyes, and he thinks she's a fox. Is this her reward for being a dutiful daughter? Suddenly the hometown doesn't look so shabby after all . . . except there's a catch.

Like '80s "crap culture"? Stuff White People Like says you do. Colson Whitehead's new book Sag Harbor about growing up in the '80s comes out in April. Book trailer is here.

May
Sisters and Husbands by Connie Briscoe. This novel is a follow-up to the best-selling Sisters and Lovers.

Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies by Trice Hickman.

June

The Ultimate Test, a YA novel by Sheila Goss.

July

Goss also has His Invisible Wife hitting stores in July.

My 2nd novel Children of the Waters comes out in July. The blurb off the back cover: The author of the #1 Denver Post bestseller and Essence Book Club Pick Orange Mint and Honey explores the connection between love and race, and what it really means to be a family. You can read an excerpt and pre-order here.


A partial list of African American books for 2008-2009 from Publisher's Weekly.

Other books I'm excited about:

Martha Southgate tells me God Says No by James Hannaham, a novel about a black gay Christian who undergoes "treatment" for homosexuality will be published by McSweeney's in 2009, but I couldn't find any link to the book being available for pre-order yet.

Tayari Jones is finishing up her 3rd novel, The Silver Girl. Read an excerpt here.

Terry McMillan is working on the sequel to Waiting to Exhale.

Anybody have anything in the works that's likely to be published in the next couple of years? Let's get the word out.

There are other non-white writers?

Great minds think alike. Alisa Alering's blog is exploring all kinds of ways we can read outside the box. Including this post on "Reading Outside Myself" with links to books written in languages besides English and this post with links on African American, Asian, Latino, and Native American writers. She also has a link for gay authors (who may or may not be white).

And the New York Daily News recently ran a list of favorite books of 2008 by Latino authors. Thanks to author Alicia Valdes-Rodriguez for the link.

More gift recommendations

from Anika at Writeblack.com and a recipe for cranberry-banana bread. Follow her suggestions for books and tips for baking and you're bound to make someone on your list very happy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

12 days of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa

I've already suggested a few books for Christmas (as did lots of readers in the comments), but a few people asked for more recommendations so here's another list. 12 books for the 12 days of whatever you celebrate in December. Before we get to it though, Bonnie Glover, author of Going Down South, has suggested we put together a list of notable black books for 2008 since the NY Times list was kinda skimpy on the black folks. Please leave your suggestions in the comments or email them to me and I'll post them on Dec. 23rd.

Now to the 12 books:

On the 12th day: The Warmest December by Bernice McFadden

There's a reason why Toni Morrison's name comes up when people think about good books. So if you like Morrison, check this out: Morrison called Bernice McFadden's The Warmest December "searing and experly imagined." From the Publisher's Weekly review: "McFadden's graphic, poignant second novel (following her praised debut, Sugar) charts the resonating legacy that alcoholic parents pass on to their children through the cycle of addiction and domestic violence. Narrator Kenzie Lowe, an African-American woman in her 30s on welfare, has used alcohol to repress the memories of abuse she suffered growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, caught in the physical and emotional grip of her whiskey-swilling father, Hyman Lowe. As Hy-Lo (a name that reflects his erratic mood swings) lies comatose in his hospital bed, dying of liver disease, Kenzie finds herself in the grip of buried memories."

Not necessarily light holiday reading, but come on: Toni Morrison liked it! And I'm telling you McFadden is a lovely, lyrical writer.

On the 11th day: This Side of the Sky by Elyse Singleton

This is one of my all-time favorite books. Think Toni Morrison only lighter and with lots of humor. From Publisher's Weekly: "This is a sprawling, ambitious saga about two women, lifelong friends, who live through World War II and its aftermath, and the men in their lives. That may sound overly familiar, but the novel offers a very important difference: the two women are black, from rural Mississippi; they spend the war as WACs in London and later in Europe and the lover of one of them is a thoroughly decent German prisoner of war sent to work in the fields in the Deep South."

Would make a good gift for your best friend. I've already given it to mine.

On the 10th day: Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece

Because black people write graphic novels too, and this one sounds really cool. Fans of graphic novels, pulp fiction, and noirs should like this one. There's something about picture books during the holiday--feels real "presenty" to me. Put this on your list!

On the 9th day: Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell

Another favorite. Hard to believe, but this was Campbell's first novel. And it will. blow. you. away. I'm so sad we lost her last year, but I'm glad she wrote books that will live on. Read them all!



On the 8th day: Erasure by Percival Everett

Confession time: I haven't read this book. See, even black people sometimes miss a book by a black author! The novel gets to the heart of what this blog is about. The story? Again, from Publishers Weekly: "Everett's latest is an over-the-top masterpiece about an African-American writer who 'overcomes' his intellectual tendency to 'write white' and ends up penning a parody of ghetto fiction that becomes a huge commercial and literary success." A commenter recommended it and based on her recommendation and what I saw online I've ordered it. You should too.

On the 7th day: He's Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson

Nelson illustrates the spiritual with lovely, vibrant pictures. I wish I knew a little kid to give this book to. Maybe I'll get it just to look at the cover of the beautiful smiling African American boy every day. Seriously, it's worth framing. FYI, inside the book are people of all colors.

On the 6th day: You Got to Sin to Get Saved by J.D. Mason

This is one of those books that I bet white folks would look at and think: "Not for me." Well, they'd be wrong. Just because a black couple is on the cover doesn't mean this book is ONLY for black readers. As a matter of fact, the cover hints at just one aspect of the story, which does have it's steamy parts. But it's also a story of adult sisters and the mother who abandoned them, and J.D. is a real writer; she cares about words and character and story. This book should be just as popular as any commercial fiction out there.


On the 5th day: Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks

The first sentence of this book is "Where my panties at? I asks him." Makes you think this is another steamy one. Not really. This is literary fiction that's also funny as hell. Parks was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer for drama, and God does she know dialogue! She's also got great dreads, won a McCarthur Genius Grant and wrote the screenplay for Oprah's production of Their Eyes Were Watching God. If that's not enough to convince you to buy: I met her in L.A. when this book came out in hardback and she was really nice.





On the 4th day: The Tempest Tales by Walter Mosley

I heard Mosley describe this book in March at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and he cracked me up...yet I still haven't read it. Stoopid! Because I think I'm really going to like it. I always like Mosley. The story is a guy gets killed and is judged to go to hell, but he chooses not to. The book is funny but asks interesting questions about race, crime and punishment in our country. Another reason to support this book: it's published by a black publisher, Black Classics Press and is an example of a successful author looking out for an indie publisher.

On the 3rd day: Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood


This book has one of the most lovely, eye-catching covers. I picked it up in hardcover based on the cover alone, and was delighted to find the writing equal to the art. I loved it and highly recommend it. It's the story of a young black woman writer who ups and goes to Paris. As reviewers pointed out, it could have been a very cliched story and was not. It's Youngblood's sophomore novel. We haven't heard from her in a while, which is too bad. She's a fantastic writer!

On the 2nd day: The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Adventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke by Angela Nissel

I can't think of a better topic for these times, can you? And funny, too? Mademoiselle said of the book: "...the deft way Nissel transforms the ordeals of poverty into funny, reassuring anecdotes makes it an almost enviable condition." Since more and more of us are ending up in this "almost enviable condition," seems like more and more of us should be reading this book! If you want proof that Nissel is funny, she's been an exec producer and writer for the TV show "Scrubs."

On the 1st day: My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon
Yes, yes, I'm being personal. Readers of my Pajama Gardener blog will know that I've already recommended some of these books. That's because I LOVE them! Raybon's book deserves to be as popular as Dreams From My Father. Go here for my review. (But please note this book is still in print--I screwed that up last time.)

Want more gift ideas?

The Root's Holiday Book Guide (thanks to Anika for the link)

Attend the Black Author Showcase Holiday Book Fair in D.C.
RAWSISTAZ Book Club's gift suggestions (books they gave 4.5 or 5 stars in 2008)
My American Melting Pot makes some recommendations

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Welcome white folks: the video

This is a special non-Tuesday post because we just got the edits done. Please place your tongue firmly in cheek for optimum viewing pleasure.
There's also a Blogger version of the video below for when YouTube is acting funny. What up, YouTube?



I'd like to thank Rob Simon at Burst Marketing for doing this on the quick and cheap with me. Also my wonderful and game cast of non-black people:

Karen DeGroot Carter, author of One Sister's Song and keeper of the blog Beyond Understanding
Naomi Horii, healer and writing instructor at University of Colorado, Boulder
Bella Stander, writer, book-promotion specialist and co-founder of the Literary Ladies Luncheon
Kieran Nelson, my good buddy

Special thanks to friend and bookseller Charles!

No non-black people were harmed in the making of this video.

video


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New York Magazine approves

New York Magazine places National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month on the brilliant side of their approval matrix. Aw shucks!

Top 10 reasons white people should read books by black people


10. You'll know what the cool kids are reading every month, not just February.
9. Two words: Blair Underwood.
8. Seriously, haven't you read enough Philip Roth? Jewish guy obsessed with sex and death. Oy! Enough already.
7. Halle Berry's making a movie of Nappily Ever After. You know you should read the book first.
6. You already like our music, dances, food, fashion and films.
5. Didn't you resolve to try new things this year?
4. In October, Nikki Giovanni told me this was the best book of 2008 (so far).
3. Paraphrasing President-Elect Obama, we’re not black states of fiction and white states of fiction. We’re the United States of fiction.
2. We read your books.

And, finally, the number one reason white people should read books by black people:

Lots of them are really good.

How many authors of color did you read in 08?

Linda Leigh Hargrove, author of Loving Cee Cee Johnson and The Making of Isaac Hunt is taking a survey on her blog Reconciling Faith and Race on 17seeds.com.

Good question, no?

Calling guest bloggers


This blog needs you. It might come as a shock, but I haven't read every book by every black author. I am not an expert in black literature (or any kind of literature for that matter). But I do love matching people with books. I'm an old bookseller at heart (I used to work here and here, and I also worked my way through college here).
I believe that more books by black authors deserve a wider readership. And call me crazy, but I believe it's possible for that to happen.

I want this blog to get it right. To do that, I'd love to have input from readers and writers and people who love books. Got an idea for a subject to discuss? Know of a great book everybody should read and can make a case for why? Please send me reviews, essays, comments, suggestions.