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.