Monday, June 18, 2012

In Memory of Author Erica Kennedy

Note: This has details about how to make a donation in Erica's honor, per her family's request.

Erica Kennedy, author of Bling and Feminista, died last week. There are several moving tributes and remembrances of her as a friend and writer of social commentary and articles. Here, I wanted to remember her as an author with a re-post of the Q&A she did here on this blog and a tribute from Doret at The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog.

In her own words
I published the "Meet Erica Kennedy" Q&A when Feminista published in 2009. This weekend, I felt a deep pang rereading some of her comments, like the following:

"I tackle most things with humor and that's how I think of myself: as a humorist. Sometimes I think that comes out of the fact that I had a very dysfunctional childhood and I have suffered from depression so it's a 'tears of a clown' thing. You need to find the humor in everything just to survive. Like if I were ever to write an Augusten Burroughs-style memoir of dysfunction -- and I could -- it would still be funny like his always are."

But overall, I found her answers to be funny, wickedly smart and full of energy and ideas and wanted more people to read them. For example, check out this almost throw-away analysis of Beyonce and Jay-Z that could literally have sparked a magazine article, PhD thesis or a nonfiction book or novel.

"I think everyone loves Beyonce, this global superstar who literally has it all at 27, because she always takes the 'I'm so blessed just to be here' road and shunts all of her aggression and ambition off on an ALTER EGO. I swear I could write a whole DISSERTATION on the meaning of Sasha Fierce which is at once totally brilliant and totally terrifying that you have to go to that extent to be wildly successful and still be liked if you are a woman. Meanwhile, her husband, the former drug dealer who once shot his brother, stabbed a record executive, brags endlessly, like all male rappers, about how much dough he makes, can let everyone know exactly who he is. The difference in what they each had to do to get and maintain their success is ASTOUNDING."
I thought it fitting for my tribute to be to let Erica's own words about the meaning of her work honor her. When I go, I know that part of what I will leave behind is my words. I hope they represent me as well as Erica's do her. May she rest in peace.

Book give-away and tribute from a reader
And let's not forget the novels themselves! Doret certainly hasn't and doesn't want you to either. She so strongly wants us to remember that she's giving away 2 copies of Feminista. To be entered to win, leave a comment on this blog post. This contest is open until 7 p.m. Eastern Friday, June 22, 2012. I'll pick winners at random. You must live in the lower 48 United States to be eligible.

Everything below is from Doret:

On June 16th, I was having a very nice uneventful Saturday. The weather was good. I spent a few hours at Cozee Tea, a new Black-owned tea shop in Decatur, GA, and got some reading in. While I was enjoying my day, news of author Erica Kennedy's death was quickly making its way around twitter. Since I don't have a twitter account, I was blissfully unaware until a friend emailed the news. It took a moment for the news to sink in, and when it did I wish it hadn't. I haven't been this upset about an author's death since Bebe Campbell Moore and Octavia Butler died in 2006. Kennedy only published two novels, Bling and Feminista, however anyone who has read either will attest to her talent.   Especially Feminista, which showed growth, range and added some much needed depth to the chick lit genre.

If we lived in a world that fully embraced talented Black women writers, Feminista would've gotten the recognition it deserved. After said praise, Kennedy would've received a well-earned new book deal. I should be anticipating Kennedy's next novel but now there is no next. That cannot be undone, but what can be done is to read what we have.

Artists live on through their work and I like to believe that they know when their work is loved even after they left us. Wherever the after is, I like to believe that writers are touched that the words they've left behind are remembered and still move us in some way. So one day I will reread Bling and Feminista, but not anytime soon. When I am strong enough to immerse myself in one of Kennedy's novels again, I will say a silent prayer for the author, and send her my thanks for giving the world two novels that make laughter so easy.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

And now for some good news!

Congratulations to Natasha Trethewey who will be named our new poet laureate today!

Watch the video below to hear in her own words what motivates her to write.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Race and Book Reviews

It's been a while since I've done a blog post about the state of things regarding race and publishing. The reality makes me tired and I'm busy and can't afford to be tired. It can make me depressed and I sure can't afford to get depressed. Plus, I feel like I've said what I had to say on the subject.

Fortunately, there are others not so tired. For example, Roxane Gay decided to take a look at race and book reviews, specifically at The New York Times. The analysis reveals what most of the readers of this blog probably suspect. The Times, they are not really changin' so much.

From her article published by The Rumpus:

"The numbers are grim. Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers. That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white. We know that far more than 81 books were published by writers of color in 2011. You don’t really need other datasets to see this rather glaring imbalance."

Hopefully these numbers will encourage review outlets to be more inclusive in reviewing books—considering race, gender and let us not forget sexuality or other brands of difference—rather than treating diversity as a compartmentalized issue where we can only focus on one kind of inequity at a time. Such mindfulness is important. If we want to encourage people to be better, broader readers, that effort starts by giving readers a better, broader selection of books to choose from.
But go read the whole thing. Look at the pie chart. The sad, sad pie chart. Like Gay, I sure don't pretend to have all the answers, but clearly one is to shed light on the situation as Gay does here.

In related news author Jennifer Weiner (mentioned in Gay's article) shouted out this blog at BEA this week and posted her speech on her blog.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Win a copy of The Devil in Silver

Hat tip to Twitter and author @matjohnson for the news that Victor LaValle is giving away a copy of his upcoming novel The Devil in Silver. I loved Big Machine, which was a little scary. This new one sounds really scary! (Devils are big this summer Devil's Wake, Tananarive Due's and Steven Barnes' zombie novel is out soon too!)