Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010, See Y'all in February!

Dear Friends,

Thanks so much for all your support this month and all through 2010! May 2011 bring you health, happiness and many good books to read.

I'm starting the new year with a little blog hiatus. I'll be back in February for Black History Month during which I'll host a virtual Read-In for the National African American Read In (thanks Bernice McFadden for the info! If you're in Columbus, OH, go see Bernice on Jan. 8th.). Please join me here for the Read-In and consider hosting a live one in your community.

Schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens are urged to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities. Hosting a Read-In can be as simple as bringing together friends to share a book, or as elaborate as arranging public readings and media presentations that feature professional African American writers.
To be counted as participants, simply:
  • Select books authored by African Americans;
  • Hold your event during the month of February; and
  • Report your results by submitting the 2011 African American Read-In Report Card.

In the meantime, a few things to keep you busy until then:

Save on this year's taxes (if you move quick)! Give to the Literary Freedom Project and support black literature and education.

Go a little overboard with the spending at Christmas time? Read The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life. It's by Natalie McNeal who runs the popular blog The Frugalista Files.

"But Carleen, how will we know what else to read while you're gone?" Don't worry! Check out APOOO Book Club's list of 2011 new book releases. You can count on these ladies to keep you in the loop! Or read along with the Go On Girl! Book Club's reading list for the beginning of 2011. Or join the Reading and Writing Sistazs of the RAWSISTAZ Book Club for their black book chats. Or join the Black Lit Chat on Twitter in January.

The NAACP Image Award nominees will be announced January 12. The LMN movie Sins of the Mother based on my novel Orange Mint and Honey may be in the running! (By the way, it airs again January 22nd.) To vote for the finalists you have to be a member of the NAACP. You can join online for as little as $30. If I'm nominated, I will let y'all know!

If you're a writer and your on Facebook, join us for the 32-day writing challenge.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ginormous Book Give Away Winners!

Thank you to all the authors who contributed books for this give away! This is my first blog post with over 100 comments, so I can tell readers really appreciated it.

Everyone please, please, please check out these books! I promise there's something here for every reader.

If you were the only person to request a book, you won it. If more than one person requested the same book, I used the random generator at I went through the titles as listed and if you were the first person to request the book, you got the number 1. The second person was number 2, etc.

For people who selected more than one book, if you had already won a book, I didn't include you in other drawings. UNLESS all the people who had requested that book had also already won (which happened a few times).

It's probably not the most scientific method, but I didn't cheat, so please nobody sue me.

Here's the winner's list:

Be Careful What You Pray For and What Doesn't Kill You: Andromeda Jazmon
Big Machine: Denise
Black Water Rising: Kate
Deadly Charm and In Search of Tennessee Sunshine: Shalema
The Devil Don't Lie: Shan
Don't Blame the Devil and When I Get Where I'm Going: Fshirer
First of State: Giovanna
Glorious: Kayla
Huddle With Me Tonight and Perfect Shot: Pinkstuff28
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Broken Kingdoms: MissAttitude
Like Trees Walking: Mrstdj
Not Quite What It Seems: AS
Playing the Hand You're Dealt and Trouble Down the Road: PatriciaW
Sins of the Mother and Uptown: according2dmarie
Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It: Carmen1
The View From Here: Melissa
Wading Home: Malca_J
War Anthem: Amy (NOT the blogger My Friend Amy-we had 2 Amy's)
Who Fears Death: Shauna
Wounded: ChocolateMom
Zora and Me: Angelia

Please email me your snail mail address at carleenbrice AT gmail DOT com and I will forward to the author.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ginormous Book Give-Away!

To conclude National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month, the following 26 authors have offered to give away an autographed copy of the following books. If you want one, leave a comment on this post by December 28th 5 p.m. MST. If you want more than one, please leave each book request in a separate comment. If more than one person requests the same book, the winner will be chosen at random. I'll announce winners on December 29th.

There's something here for everybody! Literary, fantasy, thriller, Christian, romance, you name it! Check out this list of award-winners, best-sellers and sleeper-gems:

Be Careful What You Pray For by Kimberla Lawson Roby (Christian fiction)

Big Machine by Victor LaValle (literary/speculative)

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Literary/thriller)

Deadly Charm and Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney (Christian fiction)

The Devil Don’t Lie by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (Christian fiction)

Don’t Blame the Devil by Pat G’orge Walker (Christian fiction)

First of State by Robert Greer (mystery)

Glorious by Bernice McFadden (Literary)

Huddle With Me Tonight by Farrah Rochon (Romance)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy)

In Search of Tennessee Sunshine by Margaret Johnson-Hodge (domestic)

Like Trees Walking by Ravi Howard (Literary)

Not Quite What It Seems by Mari Walker (domestic fiction)

Perfect Shot by Debbie Rigaud (YA) (see book trailer below)

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt by Trice Hickman (domestic fiction)

Sins of the Mother by Victoria Christopher Murray (Christian fiction)

Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It by J.D. Mason (domestic fiction)

Trouble Down the Road by Bettye Griffin (domestic fiction)

Uptown and What Doesn’t Kill You by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant (domestic fiction)

The View From Here by Rachel Howzell Hall (domestic fiction)

Wading Home by Rosalyn Story (domestic fiction)

War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry (Thriller)

When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson (domestic fiction)

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (fantasy)

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon (children’s)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our first winners are....

First, a big fat thank you to all the guest bloggers for this holiday series: Andrea King Collier, Martha Southgate, Ernessa T. Carter, Donna Hill, Tina McElroy Ansa, Heidi Durrow, Tara Betts, Cheri Paris Edwards and Denene Millner. Please check out their books and the books they recommended as gifts.

Second, thanks to everyone who left a comment, shared of Facebook or tweeted about this contest! I'm so grateful for your support.

And, finally, the winners are generated by

Still With Me by Andrea King Collier: Tracey
Third Girl From the Left by Martha Southgate: Pamala Knight
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter: Lifelearner
What Mother Never Told Me by Donna Hill: Amy
Taking After Mudear by Tina McElroy Ansa: Shirin Dubbin
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow: Anita
Arc & Hue by Tara Betts: Dusky Literati
The Other Sister by Cheri Paris Edwards: Tea
Miss You, Mina; My Brother Charlie and March On by Denene Millner: Campbele

Congratulations! Email me at carleenbrice AT gmail DOT com your snail mail and I will send it to the author to put your signed copy in the mail.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday musings from Andrea King Collier

Andrea King Collier is a Michigan based journalist and author. Her books are Still With Me… A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss, and The Black Woman’s Guide to Black Men’s Health. Leave a comment below if you'd like to win a signed copy of her memoir.

Below are her tips for readers on what books to buy and where to buy them and for authors on how to get more readers:

When I think of the holidays I think of joy. (Really, I think about being overwhelmed with the trappings of joy-shopping, parties, getting the Christmas cards out the door.) I also get joyful thinking about how many Black writers are doing their thing, and the hopes that we will all find new readers.

As White readers venture into more stories about Black characters, they embrace few stories by Black authors. And as you find new Black authors that you like, tell your friends. The Black experience is deeper, wider and more compelling than just reading The Help, or the Secret Life of Bees. Read Wench by Dolen Perkins Valdez. Read Carleen’s two fabulous books. Try Sugar or Glorious by Bernice McFadden.  Check out 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. Into the supernatural? Then read Tananarive Due’s books. Buy a cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson or the Neelys. Want to understand our President? Read his books.  Ask your Black co-worker what he or she is reading and why they like that author. If they tell you Beverly Jenkins, don’t hesitate to swoop it up.

Black authors, expand your lane. We complain a lot about where our books are placed, and who does and doesn’t review our books. This wild, wild West of publishing means that a lot of the gatekeepers are gone. Between Facebook, Twitter, the ability to set up your own interviews and reach out to new audiences with your blogs, you get to create a groundswell of people coming into stores and going on line to buy your book. The “If you build it, they will come” mentality is gone baby gone. Do the hustle.

All readers, as you shop for books for yourself and for others, honor the independents, including Black bookstores with your business. This is not only a critical time for writers, it is a make or break time for independents. If we don’t support them now, we will bemoan their closing and what they did for us in the future. This holiday buy a few books, or all your books from an indie. The big box stores are convenient. Every dollar you spend via a visit to, or an online order to stores like Hue-Man in Harlem,  or the Shrine of the Black Madonna helps authors who often get few venues to read and sell. It means that you support community hubs where people come together to talk about health, spirituality, love, economic power and hope. It means that you are investing in the future of books.

Most of all readers, please keep reading. Writers keep working on craft. Make it as good as it can be, then take a good deep breath and go back in and make it better. Here’s wishing you a bright shiny reading/writing holiday and a delicious New Year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Martha Southgate's advice for writers & recommendations for readers

Martha Southgate is the author of four novels, most recently Third Girl From the Left (one of my all-time favorites, a love letter to the movies, and these glowing reviews tell why). Her new novel will be published by Algonquin Books in 2011.

If you haven't read Third Girl From the Left I envy you because you are in for a treat! Leave Martha a comment below and maybe you'll win a signed copy. If you don't, run, don't walk, to your nearest book store or device and buy it. Actually, go get it now anyway. If you end up winning another copy, you can give away the one you bought. Martha is also one of the co-founders of ringShout, a place for black literature. Check out that blog and also her guest post below on writing and reading:

The past year, I’ve been working the first full-time day job that I’ve had in many years (I know, I know, I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to do that sooner). The hours are not oppressive and there is no Blackberry involved but still, I’ve had trouble getting my new novel started. My wish for the new year for myself--and for any writers out there who are facing the same dilemma—is time, discipline and kindness to ourselves. Do what you can and do make a schedule for writing that you stick to as much as possible (I gotta get on that myself). But don’t hate yourself when you fall off course. Just get going again.

On a related note, I believe it’s as important to keep reading as it is to write. Whenever I meet a “writer” who says they don’t have time to read, frankly, I dismiss them out of hand. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Period. And for those of you who are readers alone: thank you. We couldn’t make it without you. So for all the readers and writers out there, here are three of my favorite books by black authors that were published this year:

God Says No by James Hannaham. This first novel is the story, both touching and hilarious, of Gary Gray, a staunch fundamentalist Christian with one big problem. He's gay. The story of how he fights it (unsuccessfully) is one of the most original of the year.

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans This young writer has received plenty of attention for this first collection of stories--and she deserves it. These stories rock! Read 'em yourself and see.

[Carleen here: Ron Charles, the Washington Post books editor, reviews Evans' collection and has an interesting discussion (with himself) about who should review black authors.]

Substitute Me by Lori Tharps. Read this one with your book club and watch the sparks fly. This is pop fiction with some heavy themes about race, class, and what happens when rearing your own child becomes something you outsource.

Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate--celebrate them with a book! And, as Tiny Tim once said," God bless us, every one."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ernessa T. Carter recommends books for everybody on your list

Or at least a good chuck of the people on your list. Ernessa is the author of the novel 32 CANDLES, which I would recommend for sisters, bffs, and anyone who hearts funny romantic reads. Read below and leave Ernessa a note and maybe you'll win a signed copy of one of my favorite books of 2010!

Here are her suggestions:

Oh, I just heart books to death, and I’ve felt especially lucky this year, because so many awesome books have come out. Here’s my gift suggestion list -- and make sure to click on the links to read my book reviews for all but one of these suggestions from earlier in the year:

For the young woman, feminist or literate sci-fi nerd on your list: WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor was not only my favorite book of the year, but also my favorite main character of the year. This book has it all: an intriguing future landscape, a powerful and fierce lead, and an epic love story. If it were up to me, this book would be added to the high school canon. But sadly, more girls will be encouraged to read LORD OF THE FLIES than this book which actually portrays young black women in a complex and powerful way. So if you know any teenagers whose parents won’t freak out about them reading a book with sex in it, please do them the favor of gifting them with this stunning novel.

For the academic on your list: I’ve been telling everybody that WENCH by Dolen Perkins-Valdez needs to be on college syllabi across the nation. It’s a amazing feat of historical fiction: well-written, suspenseful, and a page-turner. Seriously, when was the last time you just couldn’t put down a piece of historical fiction?

For the person who’s always complaining that books about Africa are too heavy:Actually that person would be me, so how pleased was I to find AYA by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, a graphic novel, about three young girls living, learning, and loving in a 1970s-era Ivory Coast town? Along with BAYOU by Jeremy Love and INCONEGRO by Mat Johnson, I think this forms a triumvirate of black graphic novel must-haves.

For the mom or dad on your list: I found that the non-fiction COME TO WIN by Venus Williams and Kelly E. Carter, inspired me to be both a better person and a better parent. This book is basically a collection of essays in which successful people (Jack Welch, Bill Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Vera Wang, Phil Knight, and Denzel Washington are just a few of the “names” in this book) talk about how playing sports shaped their future career wins.  It’s a fascinating collection and best read slowly in my opinion.

For your BFF mom friend: I’ve been suggesting that no working mom read SUBSTITUTE ME  by Lori Tharps alone as it will only frustrate you if you don't have someone to talk with about it immediately after finish it. This is a compelling read for working moms and a real conversation-starter. So do yourself a favor. Get a copy for you and your BFF mom friend, read it at the same time, then book a lunch date to discuss it.

So those are my book recs for the holiday season. Let me know which books you’re giving away as gifts this year

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Donna Hill reflects on the blessings of 2010

Donna Hill is author of dozens of romance novels and women's fiction. She offers this list of what she's grateful for this holiday, and to thank her loyal readers, she's offering a signed copy of What Mother Never Told Me. Leave Donna a comment and I'll choose a winner using a random generator. You have until Dec. 19 to get in on this and books from Tina McElroy Ansa, Keith Andrew Perry, Tara Betts, Heidi Durrow, Cheri Paris Edwards, Denene Millner...and more to come!

Below is from Donna:

As the year draws to a close, it is certainly a time for reflection. So much has transpired this year. My son went off to college and he will never know how truly proud of him I am. I embarked upon a new educational journey (very late in life) and the rewards are “priceless.” Being among so many creative minds is no less than awesome and it infused me with purpose. It reinforced the blessing that was bestowed on me—the ability to write and to transport not only myself but others into a world that I created. But it also reminded me of my responsibility as a griot—the teller of tales—to not only entertain but to inform. So even as I write my romances my goal is not always to titillate but to remind us about the power of love no matter what color it is. When I write my more serious novels, I want to bring to the forefront the issues that are of importance and that will leave the reader thinking and evaluating and perhaps looking at life differently.

There is power in the written word and as writers we must be mindful of that power. We have a responsibility to give our best, not for the money but for the art—as our work will stand as a testament long after we are gone.

I am grateful for the two decades that I have been allowed to do what I love. And in this season of giving, I give thanks to all of the readers who have been there and supported this girl from Brooklyn!

I am also grateful for the wonderful books I have read this year and thank the authors who shared their gift with me and the world. If I start naming folks I know I will leave someone out!

I am also grateful for the friendship and support from my sister and brother writers who share their trials and triumphs and remind me why we do what we do when it gets really hard.

I am thankful for my family that keeps me grounded, and remain my biggest cheering squad. And most of all I am thankful to God for giving me this wonderful gift of words!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tina McElroy Ansa expresses gratitude & shares a little about her writing process

This is the fifth guest blog in my 2010 holiday series. It's from Tina McElroy Ansa, author of one of my favorite books of all time UGLY WAYS (a very quirky mother-daughter story), and the sequel TAKING AFTER MUDEAR. Leave Tina a comment and you'll be entered to win a signed copy of TAKING AFTER MUDEAR. And...she says she'll add "a little holiday gift from my garden, my heart and my hands."

What book-related/writing-related things I'm grateful for

Thanksgiving has come and gone. However, I try to remember to be thankful every day the Good Lord gives me.

In my writing life, I have one big thank you. And in my publishing life, I have another..

So, I am thankful this year that I discovered how easy it was to install the Voice Recognition program on my computer.

I followed the instructions, I had a mic and I had a story, so I was ready to go.

I not only am able to get ideas -- that come in the middle of whatever -- down on the computer for use later. I’m also able to dictate the notes, quotes, descriptions, conversations, edits, etc. that are so easily lost to us writers because we say, “Oh, that’s so wonderful, I’ll surely remember that!”…Never happens.

I also find that if I dictate first drafts, I can:

1. Hear how the prose and dialogue sound in the air as well as on the page. Writing, especially dialogue, that is not just right lands like a horse shoe in the middle of a funeral when spoken. The same is true for descriptions, even beautifully written descriptions that go on too long for the context. (I know that’s one of my challenges.)

2. When reading it on the screen again for typos and such, I have another chance to edit each word and the work as a whole. A real opportunity I gratefully take.

In my role as publisher at DownSouth Press, I am thankful for Carolina Knight, who has entrusted me with her first novel THE BOOK OF EPHESUS, which we will publish in 2011.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Keith Andrew Perry's WAR ANTHEM

Keith was to participate in the holiday action over here, but he has suffered the loss of his 20-year-old son, and I don't expect he'll be writing any blog posts anytime soon. I wanted to put his book up to let y'all know about it (here's an interview and his Facebook fan page) and to say if you can, order a copy. This gesture isn't meant to dispel any of his sorrow, but we do what we can. Do keep him and his family in your prayers. RIP Keith Andrew Perry, Jr.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Heidi Durrow recommends books about mixed-race and black children

Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, names three must-have titles for people looking for books about mixed-race and African American children for holiday gifts. Leave a comment and you could win a signed copy of Heidi's book, which explores the life of a young half-black, half-Danish girl.

Heidi says:

I'm always on the lookout for diverse books for kids. This year I have some must-buy titles for the young folks I know:

1. Amy Hodgepodge (series) by Kim Wayans & Kevin Knotts. This wonderful series about a young girl who is African-American, Japanese, Korean and white will delight young readers with the lively stories and fun illustrations by Soo Jeong.

2. Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids by Kip Fulbeck. This wonderful photo book tells a tale in pictures that is worth a thousand words. Kip Fulbeck's vibrant portraits of mixed kids of every stripe and polka dot are an affirmation to kids who may not see themselves reflected anywhere but their own mirror. Best of all are the responses the kids give to describe who they are. One writes: "I like being a kid because you have a bigger mind to be different things. I don't want to be anyone else but me." The book is also an exhibit touring the country. Don't miss it if it's in a town near you!

3. Good Fortune by Noni Carter. Penned by the precocious and dynamic Noni Carter who published the book as a freshman at Harvard, Good Fortune is a great read for high schoolers. The story of a slave who yearns for and then enjoys freedom, Good Fortune is an enchanting tale. All the more so because it was written by such a talented young woman! Can't wait for more from her!

Check out a video with Ms. Carter in which she explains the inspiration for her novel.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Poet Tara Betts recommends books for the holidays

Tara Betts is author of Arc & Hue. Leave her a comment in this post if you'd like to win a free, autographed copy of her debut poetry collection (read a review here).

Everything below is from Tara:

The holidays always mark a lull for me that lets me read uninterrupted. Here are a few of the titles on my shelf that I thought might be good holiday gifts in fiction, poetry and books for kids. I’ll be curling up with them to avoid the cold this season.

The Fiction Section

Some Sing, Some Cry by ntozake shange & Ifa Bayeza is the first collaborative novel between these sisters. Bayeza is an accomplished playwright, and shange is the author of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa tells the story of several generations of an Afro-Puerto Rican family facing their struggles and relying on traditions that affirm them. I heard Llanos-Figueroa speak and read from this novel. Her words on page and in person are lush and intense.

How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique is a debut collection of short stories. This is on my winter reading list, but if her prize-winning chapbook “The Saving Work” is any indication of how amazing this collection is, then it’s worth reading!

The Poetry Section

I devour poetry, so, here are some collections I’d like to share.

Kaffir Lily by Bianca Spriggs is a debut collection filled with visceral lines and rich images.

Running the Dusk by Christian Campbell is another first poetry collection that recently won the U.K.’s coveted Aldeburgh Prize.

Ruth Forman’s Prayers Like Shoes is her third collection. Prayers Like Shoes is published by Whit Press, a small press for work by women involved with the Hedgebrook writers retreat.

Thomas Sayers Ellis’ Skin, Inc. is his second collection that features varied images by the author. Ellis topples the well-worn notions of identity politics and performance poetry.

Conversion by Remica Bingham won the Naomi Long Madgett Prize a couple of years ago, but I think this is a book that speaks as a close observer of the world who notices family, history, land and the literature that shaped her.

Books for Young Readers

I recommend Virginia Hamilton’s The People Who Could Fly, She Stories, and Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush since Christmas is for the kids! Keep Climbing, Girls by the late Beah Richards is a book that I’ve given to little girls that I know. It may be good for the women and girls in your life too. If you don’t know Beah Richards, she gave the moving monologue in movie “Beloved” about loving and kissing your own hands.

I’m looking forward to checking out Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon. This fictional account of young Zora Neale Hurston as a detective has me excited about her adventures. I haven’t seen a young black detective since Billy Jo Jive and Suzy Sunset were on “Sesame Street.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Christmas memory from Cheri Paris Edwards

Happy Black Friday, y'all! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! If you're shopping till you're dropping today, make sure to pick up a few books to celebrate NBABBABAAGITSNBM.

Following is a guest post from Cheri Paris Edwards, who will be giving away a copy of her brand new novel THE OTHER SISTER. (You can read an excerpt here.) Leave her a comment and share a holiday memory of your own or suggest a book we should all read. A winner will be chosen at random and announced on December 20th.

It was clear Christmas was Mama’s favorite time of the year as soon as you stepped inside her home. Sparkling white lights draped over fragrant sprigs of eucalyptus and glowing candlelight brightened the rooms. Fat gold ribbon curled in oversized champagne glasses sitting on tabletops and Mama perched on her white couch like the queen of her own kingdom, instructing us kids to do whatever was needed. Mama didn’t fool us though. We sibs knew that she was really a princess—a girl of a woman, who believed in fairy tales AND the Lord.

When Mama became ill two years ago, we all took turns helping her. In the hospital, she refused to let nurses bathe her, telling them, “My daughters will do it.” And, we did. Once she was home, we stayed with her in shifts. We never could figure out if she couldn’t do things for herself or wouldn’t. To some extent we had waited on Mama a long time and we wondered if maybe she just got used to depending on others, but we cared for her anyway. Mama lived a year and 6 months past the Mother’s Day Sunday when she lost consciousness in my sister’s garage. My sister told me as we prepared for her funeral that Mama said Jesus sent her back that day, that’s when she heard the two of us praying, and we saw her body snap back to life.

Today as I drove passed my mailbox I wished it held one of Mama’s handwritten cards—the ones I didn’t even open sometimes. I miss you, Mama.

My newest book, “The Other Sister” is dedicated to my Mother.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Denene Millner recommends books for kids

The following is from Denene, who will give away signed copies of three children's books she's authored or served as editorial consultant on:

My Brother, Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Peete
March On, by Christine King Farris

Read below and leave Denene a comment for a chance to win! Feel free to chime in and tell us what children's books you are giving this year. You have until December 20th to leave your comment. Denene will send the books in January. Thanks much Denene!

Why I Buy Children's Books by Black Authors and Why You Should Too

I hated bugs, so playing in the backyard wasn’t an option. And my parents, who worked and slept and worked around the clock, didn’t have time to entertain me, so being taken to the park or bowling or the museum hardly ever happened—if at all. And I didn’t have many friends, so there was that. Books were my refuge. My babysitters. My BFFs. Judy Blume. Beverly Cleary. Frances Hodges Burnett. Their worlds, their spirits, their thoughts, their shenanigans—all of it made me… happy.

I never really noticed that none of the characters looked like me. There were no black girls, no cornrows, no thick lips and chocolate kisses and double-dutch rhymes on the library shelves or at the bookstore at the mall or in the cleverly-wrapped boxes under our Christmas tree. It just was what it was.

So long ago, it was what it was.

But when I got pregnant with my first baby, I promised that this didn’t have to be her reality—that my child didn’t have to spend the most impressionable part of her life missing and longing for herself in the pages of the best gifts I could ever give her: literature. And before she made her big debut on this sweet Earth, she had a shelf full of books, many of them books that featured characters that looked like her: Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day,” “Goggles,” “and Whistle For Willie”; Vera B. Williams’ “More, More, More Said the Baby”; Faith Ringold’s “Tar Beach,” Nikki Giovanni’s “The Sun Is So Quiet,” Donald Crews’ “Big Mama,” Andrea Davis Pinkney’s “Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra.” Admittedly, the pickings were slim. But I found them.

Some eleven years later, the pickings are still slim. I mean, presumably there are more books for, about and by children of color being published today than there were back in 1999, for sure. But finding them is about as elusive as a towheaded elf beneath a four-leaf clover. I swear, at least once a week I find myself standing in Borders or Barnes & Noble, watching some unsuspecting clerk search in vain for children’s books featuring black characters, knowing full well they’re not there. Their exasperation with the search always leads to a heart-felt discussion about why the store doesn’t bother to carry black children’s books (they insist no one buys them; I suggest that it’s impossible to buy something that isn’t available for purchase), which inevitably leads to me lecturing about how important it is for stores, librarians, teachers and parents to recognize that books featuring children of color not only can help make black kids fall in love with the written word, but, in the most basic of ways, give white children an up close and personal view into the worlds of little people who don’t look like them, but, in many ways, are just like them. I wrote about that last point in a piece for the MyBrownBaby page on, in which I fessed up to integrating the bookshelves of my children’s white friends by giving them black books for birthdays, Christmas and, well, just because:

My hope is when I pass along a black children's book or a black doll baby to my daughters' friends, that they get the same subliminal lessons -- that brown children matter. Books like "Ruby and the Booker Boys" speak to our experiences and show both our differences and our commonalities with white culture. Introducing books like these to white children is the most simple, basic way to introduce a child to another race in a positive, thoughtful way. A white child introduced to Ruby may not necessarily say, "Oh look! A black girl is the star of this book!" when she reads it. She might not notice the character's color at all. But she just might decide to make friends with a little black girl out on the playground because she looks like the character in the book she liked. And since she really liked that book, she'll probably really like that little girl, too. Children really are that simple. That uncomplicated…

And really, it is that uncomplicated. Debbie Allen’s “Dancing in the Wings” is every bit as poignant a tale about self-esteem as, say, Jamie Lee Curtis’s “I’m Gonna Like Me,”  just as Derrick Barnes’ “Ruby and the Booker Boys” series is as sassy and humorous and identifiable as Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” books. But black children hardly know this because the black stories are hardly ever made available to them and white children are clueless about it because no one ever fixes their mouths to suggest them as good books they might enjoy.

And that is the shame of it all.

And so this Christmas, I’ll be stashing black children’s books in as many gift bags as I can, donating them to as many charitable causes as I can find, and requesting them as additions to my own incredible and burgeoning black children’s book collection. Here’s what I’ll be purchasing for my sweet little friends:

Miss You, Mina, by Denene Millner
My Brother, Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Peete

Monday, November 22, 2010

Publisher survey: What books do you want to read?

 Hat tip to Raddiah Hubbert for this!

Grand Central Publishing is conducting a survey about African American books and authors. For all of you who have commented and emailed, here's your chance to be heard, by at least one publisher. Let 'em know what you like and what you don't like. What do you wish you could read, but can't find? Who are your favorite authors? Make your voices heard!

Black Authors ♥ Readers

Next month marks the third annual celebration of National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month. The purpose of NBABBABAAGITSNBM is to spread the word about all the great books by black authors that your friends, coworkers and neighbors may not know about. For the last 2 years, I've listed books that I planned to give for holiday presents. This year, I wanted to do something bigger and better.

I want to say thank you. Thank you to all the readers here who have given this blog experiment a chance. Thanks to all of you who've left comments and sent emails. Most important: thanks to all of you who've bought a book that you learned about here.

Other writers want to say thank you for your support, as well. So between now and December 20, we'll have guest bloggers talking about their favorite holiday gift books or some other related topic AND giving away an autographed copy of their book. Writers who've agreed to participate so far include:

Tara Betts
Martha Southgate
Bernice McFadden
Heidi Durrow
Lori Tharps
Keith Andrew Perry
Trisha R. Thomas
Ernessa T. Carter
Denene Millner

To kick us off, I'm giving away a copy of Children of the Waters to a commenter on this post. The person will be chosen at random. Deadline to comment is Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 5 pm MST.

Please spread the word to buy black books this holiday season! And, if you like quirky reads like I do, join the Quirky Brown Reading Challenge 2011.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Diversity in YA Fiction

Writer Unboxed has a great post up today about writing about cultures other than your own from Cindy Pon and Shveta Thakrar, who host the Diversity in YA Fiction website and book tour. Love the idea for taking their show on the road! Maybe we should do a White Readers Meet Black Authors road show.... Hmmmm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

For writers

I have a guest post on the blog Novel Spaces today (part 1 was posted last week). I like Novel Spaces because it's one of the few multicultural, multi-genre writing blogs that I know of. Since I bet a lot of the readers here are also writers, thought I'd ask you to please check it out.

Also, on SheWrites (another diverse writing site):

Martha Southgate will be hosting a webinar  on Nov. 10.
Andrea Collier is blogging weekly about NaNoWriMo.
Every Tuesday, Tayari Jones writes about craft.

And, check out The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, founded by a young black woman and featuring contributors of all stripes. They're doing a give-away this week! (I'll be doing some writing over there myself.

Finally (for now anyway), Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes host The Writers Circle, with blog posts and forums and all kinds of helpful info.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Links

I voted and I hope you have/will too. Because I haven't done a round up in a while, here are a bunch of interesting links. Maybe you can check some of them out when you need a break from politics.

Actor Michael Boatman is also an author. Didn't know that. He writes speculative fiction and has some bones to pick with those that say he should write more "black."

Doubt his critic knows about The Carl Brandon Society. Check out their contest to support the Butler (as in Octavia) Scholarship, which helps writers of colors who write, wait for it, speculative fiction.

Dawn Davis is one of the more influential women in publishing. She recently gave an interview on SheWrites about the current state of publishing. "Most of the books with multi-racial characters that have been hugely successful have been written by white women or men, The Secret Life of Bees, Little Bee, The Help. We've yet to really make those same inroads with readers with books penned by black women."

One of her authors was just featured in an article about 5 young authors you should be reading. Nick Burd author of The Vast Fields of Ordinary was a new name to me.

Miss this? A podcast of Martha Southgate, Eisa Eulen and Bridgette Davis talking writers and books.

Congrats to Heidi Durrow! Booklist named The Girl Who Fell From the Sky one of the top 10 debuts of 2010.

Who's going to see For Colored Girls....? I saw the play in college and was very moved, but so far am not real excited about the movie. I hope it's great and I hope at least half of those who go to the theater also hit up a bookstore and pick up a copy of the book.

Speaking of movies, filmmakers are raising funds to make Leaving Atlanta, based on Tayari Jones' first novel.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meet: Robert Greer

Robert Greer is a Denver-based novelist and renaissance man (as you'll see). His latest is a prequel to his CJ Floyd mystery series, FIRST OF STATE, which is out today! On Thursday evening, he'll be speaking and signing at the Tattered Cover Colfax Avenue store. I've had the pleasure of meeting him several times and he's a fascinating and lovely person. If you're in Denver, go!

White Readers Meet Black Authors: You also are a practicing physician and a rancher, correct? What made you start writing? When/how do you find time to write?! Do doctoring, ranching & writing have anything in common?

Robert Greer: There are many things that being a doctor, rancher and writer have in common but the two most significant things might well be the fact that each requires a demanding sense of dedication and precision. I’m actually a pathologist and as such, when trying to establish a diagnosis, I have very little margin for error. The same thing goes for ranching. Sending too big a head of water down an irrigation ditch to irrigate hay meadows can result in disaster. A little bit of math and physics expertise and a great deal of common sense are required to irrigate 700-800 acres of hay meadow without taking out half a mountain side. Writing, of course, requires a precision of language and often an ear for dialect. These I suspect are but a few things that the three things you have mentioned have in common.

WRMBA: Tell us about your latest novel.

RG: My latest novel, a prequel to my CJ Floyd mystery series, represents the tenth novel in the series. I wrote FIRST OF STATE after finishing a literary novel SPOON, my brief respite from the mystery and thriller world. I decided on a prequel because I wanted to bring readers up to speed on the central character’s early life. I first introduced CJ in 1996 in THE DEVIL’S HATBAND. At the time of that novel, CJ was forty-four. The reader never really finds out in that book what happened in CJ’s life between the ages of twenty and forty-four except that he’d served two tours of duty as a navy patrol boat machine gunner in Vietnam and that he eventually joined his uncle Ike’s bail bonding business in Denver. FIRST OF STATE fills in much of that twenty-four year void as CJ takes on the task of finding out who killed an antiques collector friend of his. A man he befriended just weeks after coming home from Vietnam. The novel also lets readers see CJ forging long-term friendships and watch him get bitten by the western memorabilia collecting bug. Interestingly as the novel unfolds, CJ ends up solving three cases, not simply one.

WRMBA: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

RG: I think my writing can best be described as character-driven writing that has an associated strong sense of place. I use the backdrop of Denver and Denver’s historically black Five Points community to set most of the novels in motion and have explored everything from the perils of molecular biology and gene splicing gone array in novels like LIMITED TIME and HEAT SHOCK to who might’ve really killed JFK in THE MONGOOSE DECEPTION. In a sense, all of my novels are travelogues that take the reader across the vastness of the American West, allowing them to rub shoulders with, and to find out about, people they might not otherwise encounter in real life.

I’m not sure how to describe my writing style except to say that I was trained formally as a writer and have a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I suspect academics would argue that there is some of the “academy” in the way I write. I often use language, dialect and certainly dialogue to move a story along and to describe the West, a land that I so much love.

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?

RG: I have never really had goals as a writer except to write a book that I am proud of and that I hope people will enjoy. I suspect that I do educate people about certain things although I don’t purposefully start out to do so. I do not use my writing to try and change the world, and I am exceedingly suspicious of people who claim that they not only do but have. There seems to be a certain arrogance to such statements, and although there are clearly documents out there that prove that you can change the world with words (the United States Constitution, for instance) I guess I’m just not arrogant enough to believe that my words equal those of Jefferson.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

RG: I’m always working on a book and typically write one a year. Currently I’m working on a stand-along thriller entitled ASTRIDE A PINK HORSE, a book about revenge which deals with the making and possible triggering of a “dirty nuclear weapon.” That’s probably as much as I should say about the novel right now because I don’t fully have it formulated in my head.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?

RG: I would recommend that readers read “Cemetery Road” a mystery by Gar Anthony Haywood. The book is a great mystery and Gar is a wonderful great writer and friend. For those who have not read him, I think you’re in for a treat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Warm fuzzies

Go over to the sweet Shalema's blog Authors In Color and see the nice shout out she gives black authors. And, ahem, take note of her message:

I wanted to let authors know that I appreciate you and will support you by purchasing your books and sharing the good news with all I encounter.

Seriously, this brought tears to my eyes. Thanks Shalema!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guest review of HOW TO READ THE AIR

The following review is from The Happy Nappy Bookseller. Please check out her blog for more reviews, especially of diverse children's and YA novels.

How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

This is Mengestu's second novel. His debut The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears was very well received, with much critical praise. It was also one of my favorite novels of 2007.

Jonas Woldemariam was the first person in his family born in the United States. His parents are from Ethiopia. Jonas didn't have great relationship with them. Now in his 30's Jonas decides to retrace his parents life in America beginning with a road trip.

In his verison Jonas imagines a better outcome for his parents. He dreams for them if only for a moment. Mengestu's writing throughout was gorgeous though it was in these moments that I was completely wowed and found myself rereading passages.

The novel alternates between Jonas' story of his parents, his life and failed marriage. Jonas lives in New York. He meets his wife Angela working at a refugee resettlement center, while punching up (the sadder the better) immigrants' stories in hopes of getting them American citizenship.

Thanks to the book synopsis I knew Jonas got divorced. The author put so much care into Jonas relationship, I still found myself hoping for a different outcome. Though their marriage didn't last, at times Jonas and Angela reminded me of George and Coco from Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. I loved Mama Day and the portrayal of George and Coco, so this is not a comparison I would make lightly.

How to Read the Air is a beautifully layered story. Mengestu is a very talented writer and should not be missed. I can definitely [see] this novel on a few best of lists at the end of the year.

Mengestu talks, in this video, about How to Read the Air. For more, see The New York Times review of How to Read the Air.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Guest review of THIS I ACCOMPLISH

This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers Bible Quilt and Other Pieces by Kyra Hicks is a testament to how quilts can tell stories as rich and complex as any novel. In a passionate voice fueled by comprehensive research, Hicks introduces readers to a fuller and truer version of the life and work of master quilter, Harriet Powers.

Harriet Powers was born a slave in Georgia on October 29, 1837. It is assumed that she was raised as a house slave and learned to sew as a child. She is best known for two magnificent story quilts she made after the Civil War.  For over 125 years the Bible Quilt and the Pictorial Quilt she stitched have been closely studied for what they could tell historians and museum curators about African American folk art and the lives of slaves after the Civil War. Because she was a slave, scholars assumed she was illiterate. This assumption had often been used by scholars to explain the so called primitive look of the appliqué figures she used on her quilts to tell stories from the Bible and her life.

Powers’ life and quilts seemed to be so well known; Hicks originally intended her book to be a simple annotated bibliography. However, as she pored over the sources she began to notice that some researchers, made statements about Mrs. Powers and her quilts without citing verifiable references. Curious, Hicks decided to make a game of challenging what she read, and like the fictional African American woman detectives she admires in her favorite mystery novels, Hicks began to ask new questions about Harriet Powers and her famous quilts. Questions like: Was Powers really illiterate? What was the exact chain of custody or historical background for each quilt? Had Powers created other quilts and where were they if she had?

As if to make sure that everyone understood exactly where she was coming from, Powers triumphantly signed her letter: This I Accomplish, Harriet A. Powers.

It is because Hicks decided to ask what she didn’t know as opposed to accepting as fact what others had written that we readers are now blessed to have the full story of both the Pictorial Quilt and the Bible Quilt. We now know in intricate detail the movements of each quilt from one interesting owner to the next on their journey to their final homes in The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition, we also get to experience Hick’s joy and astonishment when her hard work and curiosity pays off in the discovery of an incredible letter written by Powers herself. In the letter, the quilter states not only that she was literate but also how she became so.  She also declares that she was the creator of at least three other quilts and represented her own artwork at fairs and shows. As if to make sure that everyone understood exactly where she was coming from, Powers triumphantly signed her letter: This I Accomplish, Harriet A. Powers.

The story of the discovery of the letter and the stories of the people who owned the quilts would have been enough to make This I Accomplish special, but Hicks goes above and beyond this. In the second half of the book she presents a complete annotated bibliography including books, articles, poems, plays, exhibits and other media. She also presents timelines that help place Powers and her quilts in context with what was going on in the rest of the world. And as if to pass on the baton of her meticulous research, Hicks offers in the concluding pages of her book, questions and ideas for future historians, museum curators, and quilters to work on. Examples of future projects range from: locating other quilts by Powers, to the petitioning the Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp celebrating the 185th anniversary of her birth in 2012.

I loved this book. The new research it uncovered about Powers and her life made my heart sing and after a long hiatus of just writing fiction, I felt the need to go back to my first love of quilting. I am deeply grateful to both Kyra Hicks and the magnificent quilt artist, Mrs. Harriet Angeline Powers, for reviving my passion of telling stories with fabric.

About the guest reviewer
Karen Simpson in Ann Arbor Michigan. Writing, fabric art and history are her passions. She taught African American quilting for over twenty years before her focus shifted to stitching words together to create fiction. Her debut speculative novel Act of Grace will be published in February 2011 by Plenary Publishing. In the novel Grace Johnson, an African American high school senior saves the life of a Klansman and everyone in her hometown of Vigilant, Michigan wants to know why.  With insight shaped by voices of ancestors and spirits Grace bears witness to her towns violent racial history so the all involved might transcend it. More information can be found on Karen’s blog Grace Notes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ban my books, please

Banning books is serious business. For the record, I am against it. Against censorship. Let people read what they want to read. Having said that, I've noticed that banned books get an awful lot of attention in the media.Banners don't seem to get that the quickest way to make someone want to check out a book (especially a kid!) is to say you can't read it.

So I'm thinking...won't one of y'all try to ban my books? There's not any violence in them, but, for some reason, book banners don't seem to care about that. But I use the "n-word" in Children of the Waters and the "f word" in Orange Mint and Honey. Both my novels have, gasp, sex. Ooh, ooh and Children of the Waters has a character who doesn't believe in God!

As a matter of fact, there are lots of worthy books out there some nutcake could do a great favor by trying to encourage the world to run out and read ban.

For example, I'm reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin right now. This is a book with multiple gods and gods who get it on with humans. Seriously bannable! (And for the non-crazy seriously readable.) The really cool thing is the second book in the trilogy is coming in November, so trying to ban the first book will probably really help sales of the second book!

And we'd be in such good company. Folks are always trying to ban The Color Purple and To Kill a Mockingbird, as just two examples.

In all seriousness, today is the beginning of Banned Books Week. Celebrate your right to read by buying or borrowing from the library a book that has been challenged or banned. If someone wants to keep you from reading it, it's almost guaranteed to be worth reading.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oprah's last book club pick

UPDATE: So I heard wrong. This isn't the last book club pick! Yay, I still have a chance to be selected! Boo, people will keep asking, "When are you going on Oprah?" Oh well, I suppose that's a small price to pay.

Tomorrow Oprah is expected to announce her final selection for Oprah's Book Club. Hooray! Now we authors won't have to cringe at the frequent question, "When are you going on Oprah?" (As if it were just a matter of picking a date!)

The blogosphere is guessing Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is the pick. Too bad O couldn't use her PR machine to give some worthy unknown novelist a shot. But we can't be too surprised really. Her job is to get eyeballs on the screen. Franzen and Winfrey making nice will get people to tune in.

If I had a show that millions of people watched and could only recommend one more book for them all to read, it would be hard. But for many reasons, I'd go with This Side of the Sky by Elyse Singleton. It's a great story and available in paperback and on e-readers, so it's affordable. About everything from the Jim Crow south to WWII to women's friendships, mothers and daughters and interracial relationships, it has lots of stuff for book clubs to discuss.

And, ahem, it's been a little while since O has selected a female author. Just sayin'.

If you were Oprah, what would your last book club selection be?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting to Happy

I remember buying Waiting to Exhale. It was hardcover (first edition, hot off the presses), and I wasn't working so it was a splurge. It was shortly after my mother passed away and I was grieving hard. I needed a distraction. I went to the Aurora Mall and wandered the halls before it hit me that what I wanted was a novel. I hadn't read a novel in years. At the time, I was reading a lot of self-help and nonfiction stuff trying to get my act together. But after my mother died I wanted a big juicy read, something to get lost in. I went into Waldenbooks and plopped down on the floor in the fiction section and started browsing. I hadn't heard of Waiting to Exhale or Terry McMillan before then. The title intrigued me. I opened it and the narrator lived in Denver. I lived in Denver! She worked in PR. I worked in PR! I bought it. I took it home and sank into it like a warm bath. I probably didn't exhale once that whole year after my mother's death, but this was one of the books that made me think that one day in the future I would.

I remember later when the movie came out. I was with my stepmother and my Latina sister-in-law in Killen, TX and we were so excited as we got in the line. All of us, white, black, Latina, in groups of friends and relatives, were eager to see a movie about grown women and grown woman stuff.

I never would have guessed back then that I too would be a novelist. I never would have guessed the book I bought (and then, of course, went back and bought Mama, Disappearing Acts, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and all the rest) was opening a career door for me and dozens (hundreds?) like me.

Today the sequel is out. And reading it is like visiting with old friends you haven't seen in a long time. And just like real life old friends, these women made me laugh, made me sad, made me frustrated (I'm talking to you Savannah!) and, yes, made me happy. I'm curious to see how Getting to Happy will do in the current book-selling environment. I'm hoping the audience that Terry helped create will show up big for this one. I'm hoping that all those women who stood in line to see the movie version of Waiting to Exhale will show up in bookstores for this visit with some old friends. (You can follow Terry on Facebook and Twitter too.)

Anyone else care to share their experience of the Waiting to Exhale phenomenon? You buying Getting to Happy? You are, right? Right?