Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mother's Day Book Recommendations

If you're shopping for books for *Mom, check these out:

For a single mom: Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother's Story by Asha Bandele. From the book: "Something Like Beautiful is not only Asha's story, but the story of thousands of women who struggle daily with little help and much against them, and who believe they have no right to acknowledge their pain. Ultimately, drawing inspiration from her daughter, Asha takes account of her life and envisions for herself what she believes is possible for all mothers who thought there was no way out--and then discovered there was."
For a mom who enjoys murder mysteries: Blackbird Farewell by Robert Greer. A Denver Nuggets basketball player has been murdered, and his family and friends (including some Mob guys and private investigators) try to unravel who did it.

For a mom who want stories about how hard it can be to be a mom: Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin. This stay-at-home mother is overwhelmed and unhappy. Will she abandon her kids or will she stay with them? It's a complex story done very well.

For gay moms, moms of mixed-race kids or children of a different race from them, activist moms and others: Who's Your Mama? The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers a collection edited by Yvonne Bynoe

For a spiritual mom: Meeting Faith by Faith Adiele. "In Meeting Faith, Adiele recounts her transformation from cultural anthropologist to spiritual novice, from over-achieving multi-tasker to quiet contemplator....She ells difficult stories bravely, with both dignity and humor...." - Pam Houston, O Magazine

For a nerdy mom: Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead. It's on sale today and I'm picking up my copy! (Go here for more, including book trailer.)

For your sister: Sisters and Lovers by Connie Briscoe (Get her caught up in time for the sequel coming in June, Sisters & Husbands!)-a fun, satisfying novel that readers of Terry McMillan or Jennifer Weiner will enjoy.

For a grandmom or auntie: Life is Short but Wide by J. California Cooper. 91-year-old Hattie Brown tells her story of living in Wideland, Oklahoma.

For a mom interested in different cultures: Unburnable: A Novel by Marie-elena John, a suspenseful 1st novel about 3 generations of Carribean women.

For a mom who devours the tabloids: The Vow by Denene Millner, Angela Burt-Murray & Mitzi Miller. Publisher's Weekly called it "an emotionally charged portrait of contemporary Hollywood with a cast of unforgettable characters."

For a mom who believes in wishes or who's ever wondered what it would be like to go back in time or who's young or who likes YA fiction:
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott. A synopsis from the author: "Almost every day 15-year-old Genna visits the garden and tosses coins into the fountain, wishing for a different life, a different home, and a different body. Little does she know that her wish will soon be granted: when Genna flees into the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn."

For a mom who's been laid off: What Doesn't Kill You by DeBerry and Grant. (I've included this one on other lists.)

For moms who read fantasy: The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson. From The Washington Post's review: "Unusual things happen to Calamity Lambkin. A cashew orchard sprouts in her backyard overnight. Toys she played with as a child drop from the sky. A half-drowned toddler washes up, tangled in seaweed, on her stretch of beach. Is it magical realism Caribbean-style, or is it menopause?"

Speaking of menopause, for moms of a certain age try: Age Ain't Nothing but a Number edited by Carleen Brice. It's a collection of fiction, poetry and essays about midlife.

For foster moms: The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell. A memoir of being a foster child by the actress.

For a mom with addiction issues in the family: The Warmest December by Bernice McFadden. From Publisher's Weekly review:"Seamless transitions between Kenzie's past and her present life anchored by AA sessions imbue this difficult tale with dramatic suspense. While McFadden's decision to tie up loose ends into a neatly contrived ending may seem facile, its cathartic message of forgiveness and recovery will elicit tears."

For moms who like "dark fantasy": Bad Blood by L.A. Banks. The author of "the vampire huntress" series takes on werewolves. Heck, these mass market paperbacks are cheap! Get mom all 3 books in the "Crimson Moon" series.

For moms with mentally ill family members: 72-Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell. (Also recommended this one during Women's History Month--FYI, all the books on that list would make great Mom's Day gifts.)

For moms who love films: Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate. From the Booklist review: "Spanning three generations and the continental U.S.--Tulsa, L.A., and New York--this novel tells of the struggles of three black women entranced by the power of movies to represent the longings of ordinary people and to fulfill the desire for self--expression." 

*And yes, I think my other books would make great Mother's Day gifts. No need to add them to the list.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

6 easy ways to help authors

From time to time people ask me what they can do to help the writers they enjoy. Here're my top 6 easy suggestions for helping an author or a book you love. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comments!

  1. Buy the book. Of course. Or check it out from the library-demand could make the library buy more copies. And the closer you can do this to the book's release date, the better for the book.

  2. Make booksellers aware of the book. There's no way they can keep track of all the books they sell. When you're in the book store, casually mention to a bookseller how much you enjoy this book/author's work or are looking forward to this book.

  3. Write a review on Amazon, BN.com, Borders, Goodreads, Shelfari, your blog.

  4. Talk it up. Tell people about the great book you just read. Word of mouth is everything in publishing! Ask people what good books they've read lately. Encourage others to talk up the books they read. Post a comment on your Facebook or Twitter feeds. A book I just read and loved is THE AIR BETWEEN US by Deborah Johnson, and I've been talking it up a storm. It's only a month old in paperback so there's time to push this one up the charts!

  5. Send a picture of your book club holding copies of the book to Essence magazine patrikspicks@essence.com. Every month they run a photo of a book club and the book they are reading.

  6. Play "shelf elf." Don't tell anybody this recommendation came from me, but we authors love our books "face out" (with the cover showing) rather than spine out. And if your bookstore has a display that you believe a book fits well with (i.e. I added Orange Mint and Honey to a Mother's Day display the other day), then ask your bookseller if you can add the book to the display. Don't get too creative about reshelving though. You don't want your favorite books to be where booksellers can't find them when they're looking for them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guest post by E. Ethelbert Miller

I'm happy and grateful to present the following from poet and scholar E. Ethelbert Miller in honor of National Poetry Month.


Something important is going on. we are speakin. reachin for yr person/we cannot hold it/we don’t wanna sell it/we give you ourselves/if you listen.
- Ntozake Shange

In the May 2009 issue of Ebony magazine, there is a nice photograph of the top African Americans holding key positions in the Obama Administration. These individuals have political and social influence over our lives and would be considered as being part of the mainstream establishment. At any given time a few African American writers also move inside a similar orbit. These individuals are part of our literary establishment. Their names can be linked to affiliation with literary organizations and creative writing programs. Others obtain increased visibility and influence by winning prestigious literary awards and prizes. It’s possible to monitor and compile a list of names by going to two “popular” sources: Poets & Writers and The Writer’s Chronicle. African American writers who are profiled in these publications, or write for them will also have a small degree of literary clout. One can also see what African American writers are “in vogue” by examining the advertisements in these journals for workshops, creative writing programs, prizes, and residencies.

Pick-up recent copies of the two magazines that I mentioned and you will find a few names mentioned with a degree of regularity. These African American writers are “hot” right now. Depending on their talent or personality they could quickly disappear. The growing cultural significance of an organization like Cave Canem is something that should be monitored. One can almost predict that for the next 20-25 years any African American poet who emerges and wins a major award will have CC in their DNA. How this will change the literary landscape of America is something that should be monitored.

Meanwhile, here is a list of a few of the African American poets who no longer wear the mask or are invisible. White people already know their names and more black people need to learn them. How many of them do you know?

Let’s name names: Al Young, Natasha Trethewey, A. Van Jordan, Patricia Smith, Major Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Cornelius Eady, Toi Derricotte, Elizabeth Alexander, Terrance Hayes, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikky Finney, Tim Seibles, Carl Phillips, Kevin Young, Afaa Michael Weaver, Rita Dove (Go to Poems Out Loud to hear Dove read from her latest), Harryette Mullen, Tyehimba Jess, Nathaniel Mackey, Crystal Wilkinson, Lucille Clifton, and Claudia Rankine.

Just looking over the above list one will immediately notice three Pulitzer Prize winners. Add maybe another seven or eight additional names to this list and one can estimate that a mere 30 African American poets will shape the future of African American literature. Where are we going? Pull the books of the poets I’ve just listed and look at everything from form to content. What will you discover? African American poetry has finally caught up to jazz. What do I mean by this? Let’s go back to a very prophetic speech given by Ntozake Shange in May 1977, at the National Afro-American Writers Conference held at Howard University. Shange made this remark:

we, as people, or as a literary cult, or a literary culture/have not demanded singularity from our writers. we cd all sound the same. come from the same region. be the same gender. born the same year.

Zaki was so right. We know the difference between Charlie Parker and Ben Webster. David Murray not Oliver Lake or Julius Hemphill. But what is the “sound” of African American poetry today? Is there such a thing as a Cave Canem poem? Can you tell me in the dark that this is Harryette Mullen and not Claudia Rankine?

We’ve always given our musicians more freedom to explore, discover and improvise. What lies beyond the pages of Poets & Writers and The Writer’s Chronicle? I suspect African American poetry will continue to dazzle and amaze the literary establishment. However, I’m waiting to meet the African American poet who will say – “Ethelbert, I can hear this new sound in my head. I just can’t play it yet.” When I meet that person, I will ask him or her if I can become their disciple. I want to know what’s beyond the horizon. I’ve already been reminded beware of the dog.

- E. Ethelbert Miller, April 13, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New books column on The Root

Felicia Pride launches her new "Books on The Root" column today. Check it out and let me know what you think. (So far, the comments are disapproving.)

Who can write about whom?

Novelist and screenwriter Steven Barnes has a website called Lifewrite.com. I signed up for free emails from him (which are great for writers), and this one seemed an interesting topic for blog discussion. He gave me permission to post it below:

"For years, at Science Fiction conventions a panel with the title: 'Can Human Beings Write About Aliens' has been popular. I've been a speaker on several of them, and enjoyed the debate. Inevitably, in time I also participated in 'Can Men Write About Women?' and 'Can Americans Write About Foreigners?' and 'Can Christians Write About Moslems?' etc.

A couple of years ago, I attended a play ('Permanent Collection') with my wife Tananarive. The play dealt with the stresses of a black curator taking over an art collection in a white suburb, and insisting on African pieces taking a more prominent position. After the play, we found ourselves wondering if the writer was white or black. Recently in the L.A. Times (January 15th) the author of the play, Thomas Gibbons, wrote of his struggles and conflicts, being a white playwright who has often written black characters. Well. Mystery solved, controversy begun. Can Whites Write About Blacks? The real question hidden beneath all of this is: can one person ever write about another? Gay and Straight? Conservative and Liberal? Southerner and Northerner?

Ultimately, it becomes ridiculous. Taken far enough, we can only conclude that no human being can write about anyone but himself. But wait...how many people really know themselves? The entire premise of Lifewriting is that one can most accurately determine one's hidden values and beliefs by actively engaging in three things: a healthy intimate relationship, a satisfying career, and a dynamic physical body. Let's be honest--what percentage of the human race has ever had all three simultaneously? That suggests, then, that we usually can't even know ourselves. In that case, no one should write about anything at all. Absurd. We have an obligation to write about the world we see, about people other than ourselves, and about the deepest reaches of the human heart...the basic premise is: extend to others the same basic motivations and needs that you yourself feel, your own humanity, your own fears and loves, and you will be right more often than wrong."

The best writers, Barnes and Due among them, do this. Which is why their books are applicable to all, no matter who the characters are.

Poll results

Obviously, this poll was extremely unscientific and, therefore, was not meant to be a definitive statement on whether or not bookstores should have black book sections. Which is good since our results are mixed. Almost half of us are of mixed feelings about the African American fiction section (44%), though 29% of us think that they shouldn't exist and 25% of us think they should.

I'm sorry I didn't make it clear with the poll that there was a book give-away attached for those who commented and linked. I'll do better next time. But there was and the winner is Angie! She'll get a free paperback copy of Seen it All and Done the Rest by Pearl Cleage from me. (Why do I have a free copy? Because I conducted the interview with Pearl that's in the reader's guide.) Congrats Angie and thanks to everyone who voted!