I was fortunate to receive an early copy of Bernice L. McFadden’s upcoming novel, The Book of Harlan. After reading her previous novel Gathering of Waters, a historical fiction tale surrounding the life of Emmett Till, with themes of animism and its presence in a family from Money, Mississippi , I was more than excited to dive into McFadden’s latest offering.
The Book of Harlan is a biographical fiction tale of Harlan Elliott, a musician who is kidnapped by Nazi soldiers and forced into a concentration camp. The novel begins with the meeting of Harlan’s parents: beautiful and musically inclined, Emma Robinson, and hardworking love-struck Sam Elliott. Their love is one so magical it conjures up a son, Harlan, laced with so much lethargy, he enters the world yawning. That lethargy follows Harlan as he stumbles through his early adult years inebriated on a cocktail of women, music, reefer, and the rapture of the Harlem Renaissance. No one could ever imagine that the clock would strike twelve and the fantastical ball would come to its inevitable end. But it does. For Harlan, it is on the eve of his departure from Paris when the magical mist of excess and naiveté clears. What follows are a series of unfortunate events that will irrevocably change his life.
Bernice’s prose stuns, yet again, in its succinct but visceral examination of the lengths of humanity. McFadden plunges into one of the most tragic atrocities against humankind and brings the humanity, the empathy, and the intimacy to the surface.
In one of the most poignant scenes in The Book of Harlan, Harlan debates eating a cookie given to him and the other Holocaust prisoners on Christmas Eve. On one hand it is a gift from a murderer who stripped Harlan of his freedom and friend, on the other hand it is the most delectable piece of food he stands to receive while in the camp. His ultimate decision will bring you close to tears. McFadden continues testing the limits of humanity when Harlan returns from Europe and finds that not only is the euphoria of 1920s Harlem gone, but that life is not done with him—no matter how much he is done with it.
What I found most compelling was McFadden’s juxtaposition of dreams and destiny. While I am not well-versed in McFadden’s work, a theme I am beginning to notice is life’s relationship with pre-destiny. When Harlan arrived into the world, yawning with apathy, we were told that his stay here wouldn’t be easy. And nothing could derail him from that; the alcohol, the drugs, the Harlem Renaissance, were no fortress to the pre-destined path Harlan was made to walk. The same is true for his best friend Lizard, whose escape into a new identity is the very thing that leads him to the confrontation of his truth.
For McFadden’s characters, life has meaning. Each person she places in her stories is ascribed a duty that they are born to fulfill, no matter how trying the process, their existence serves a purpose far bigger than their individual selves. McFadden’s use of foreshadowing gives truth to this belief—she is constantly setting you up with clues, markers of significance, that we can only regard in hindsight with respect to our own lives—and gives her already omniscient narrator an even more mythical element, a structuring reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s.
McFadden’s testing of humanity’s limits reveals one powerful truth: humanity has a resiliency; a capability to withstand the cruelest trauma. While humankind may develop some erroneous coping mechanisms, the will to survive is intact. That will can bring about the best in us -- we’ve seen it reflected in revolutions and protests. That will can also bring out the worst -- we’ve seen it reflected in wars and discrimination. It is a choice. One that must never be made lightly. Louis Armstrong said it best when talking to Lizard on the night before his departure to Paris:
“Son, I don’t hate anyone. That’s not to say that I don’t have it in me. I believe we all got it in us—but whenever I feel it trying to climb out, I […] am reminded that love is more powerful than hate will ever be.”
I continue to be amazed by McFadden’s work, and The Book of Harlan does not disappoint. Although it did leave a glaring unanswered question in one storyline, I can only hope that perhaps it will be answered in a follow up novel. If you aren’t tuned into McFadden, I highly recommend you add her to the top of your Must Read list.
So lucky I got to read amazing Book of Harlan @queenazsa on sale May 3 run don't walk to your local @indiesfirst pic.twitter.com/5p1bzeZO07
— Kim van Alkemade (@KimvanAlkemade) March 19, 2016
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden is a must read. I am so distraught right now. The tidal wave of emotions...#justread
— Kayis2cute (@kayis2cute) March 24, 2016
Here is the link to purchase The Book of Harlan by Bernice McFadden. https://t.co/E2mrQgJ1EW @ReninaWrites @queenazsa
— HUE-MAN BOOKSTORE (@HUEMANBOOKS) March 20, 2016
Be sure to pick up your copy of The Book of Harlan May 3rd!
Publisher: Akashic Books
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Last year I embarked on a project to better understand why some black men treat black women poorly. I just didn’t understand why black men would further oppress their sisters. When I sat down to start my research, I found myself in the world of black feminism — a space I wasn’t sure I understood. But I was determined to learn. I went all the way back to the basics. I started cataloging feminist thinkpieces and resources from around the web in order to help me find my space in the world of black feminism specifically. I eventually became comfortable enough to write about some of my own experiences with intersectional feminism.
Feminism a wide-ranging topic with many facets, each of which has its own historical context and modern-day understanding. There’s a lot to take in! I’m certainly no expert, but having lots of resources on hand has been immensely helpful in my learning process.
If you’re a beginner like me and want to better understand intersectional feminism, here are some great resources you have to check out:
Things you can read
Whether you’re looking for some fast facts, quick reads or in-depth research, these websites are awesome spaces for gaining knowledge.
Wikipedia’s feminism pages (for those at the very beginning of their research): Feminism, Black feminism, Chicana feminism and Womanism. Be sure to check out the sources at the bottom of each article for the in-depth info.
#Solidarityisforwhitewomen: hashtag feminism on Twitter
Sesali B.’s trap feminism (and other feminist pieces)
The Genderbread Person
The Black Feminist eZine
Black Women’s Manifesto
Herstory: The Origins and Continued Relevancy of Black Feminist Thought in the United States
Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog
Bust (website and magazine)
Stanford Women's Community Center
Search "feminism" right here on Blavity!
Who Needs Feminism
Saved by the bell hooks
Feminist Lisa Frank
Black Feminist Killjoy
The Daily Feminist
Make Me a Sandwich B*tch
My Favorite F Word is Feminism
Things you can watch
The things you can watch to better understand feminism are limitless. Many movies, TV shows and other media might not initially seem to highlight feminism, but might have feminist undertones. The key is to watch anything and everything with a critical eye: How are women being represented? Are there problems with their presentation? Are patterns of representation emerging? Asking questions and analyzing what you watch through a feminist lens will take your understanding to the next level.
We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Confessions of a bad feminist by Roxane Gay
How to Date a Feminist
Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere
Walk of No Shame with Amber Rose
The Fault in Our Schools
Amber Rose on It’s Not You, It’s Men
Spike Lee’s She's Gotta Have It
Diahann Carroll in Julia: A landmark role for black women in TV
John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood and Baby Boy: Analyze for their representations of black women.
How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy or any of your favorite shows: Analyze for their representations of women, particularly women of color.
And, if all else fails, there are women’s centers across the country just like Stanford Women's Community Center that you can go to for support services and advice. It’s easy to begin understanding feminism — all you really have to do is start immersing yourself in it.
What resources do you go to for feminist content? Share with us in the comments!
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Reading is definitely a fundamental part of learning, but for many children, especially those with learning disabilities, gaining this skill can be difficult. In December, CNN honored several people who are actively working to make a difference in the world including 14-year-old Imani Henry.
At 10-years-old, Henry created a non-profit organization entitled 100 Men Reading. Although the main mission of the organization is to encourage Delaware youth to be excited and open to reading, it also provides the depiction of positive male role models for those who may not have one. For Henry, her father, brothers and tutors from Reading Assists helped her to overcome one of the most trying obstacles in her life and she wanted to be able to share that level of support with other.
Our work, awards, and service is for you #MLK2016#aGreatMan pic.twitter.com/tCdQimsx2W
— 100 men reading (@100menreading) January 18, 2016
This young CEO's name is one you will want to remember! As she continues to progress, personally and professionally, we salute our young star. As she said, "readers create leaders" and she is truly exemplifying that motto each and every day.
READ NEXT: #1000BlackGirlBooks creator Marley Dias honored by Spelman...
The absolute brilliance of Nayyirah Waheed's words is something we should all embrace. As someone who pens poems addressing self-worth, white supremacy and not feeling at home in the world, Waheed is one of the leading voices speaking to the last vestiges of our humanity in an ever-connected yet still disconnected world.
1. where you are. is not who you are.
2. both. i want to stay. I want to leave. I am three oceans away from my soul.
3. there is no healthier drug than creativity.
4. cruel mothers are still mothers. they make us wars. they make us revolution. they teach us the truth. early. mothers are humans. who sometimes give birth to their pain. instead of children.
5. poetry. is the fire leaving my body.
6. I found flaws and they were beautiful.
7. i will tell you, my daughter of your worth not your beauty every day.
8. if we. are with child. and you believe that fatherhood begins when my body pours a baby into your hands. not before. you do not deserve this child. you are a coward.
9. the worst thing that ever happened to the world was the white man coming across gun powder.
10. if someone does not want me it is not the end of the world. but if I do not want me. the world is nothing but endings.
11. decolonization requires acknowledging. that your needs and desires should never come at the expense of another's life energy. it is being honest that you have been spoiled by a machine that is not feeding you freedom but feeding you the milk of pain.
12. white people try to take blackness. pour it out rub it onto their skin and wear us like they know what we about. but honey it's only ever gon' be a suntan. you ain't neva gon' be black.
13. men give birth, too. to children. to longings. to dreams. that they must hide. their stomachs. their uteruses. their hungers. their softness. their cravings for touch. to be a man. is the thing that closes their light. and eats their eyes.
14. being in love with my people does not mean i hate others. how ridiculous is that.
15. i am a black wave in a white sea. always seen and unseen.
16. the thing that you are most afraid to write. write that.
17. you ask to touch my hair. or worse touch it without asking. this is not innocence. this is not ignorance. this is not curiosity. this is the very racist and subhuman belief that you have a right to me.
18. you. are your own standard of beauty
19. Africa does not need your tears. or your prayers. or your money. or your t-shirts. or your telethons. or your hands ever so lovingly placed on her buttocks. your mouth at her breasts. your fist in her eyes. she wants you to stop pissing in her face and calling it water.
20. i want more 'men' with flowers falling from their skin. more water in their eyes. more tremble in their bodies. more women in their hearts than on their hands. more softness in their height. more honesty in their voice. more wonder. more humility in their feet.
in an age of constant. pressurized thought. sometimes. having no opinion. is the healthiest thing.
— nayyirah waheed (@nayyirahwaheed) January 27, 2016
If you enjoy the works of Nayyirah Waheed as much as I do, the book is available for purchase here.
*Nayyirah Waheed has requested for this article to be removed. According to editorial policy we don’t remove published...
Looking for some literary guidance to lead you into the new year? These four books might be just what you've been looking for.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
A recipient of numerous NAACP awards, Director’s Guild of American Diversity award, and a multiple Emmy nominee, it was just a matter of time before Shonda Rhimes released a book telling us how to create a life you’re proud of.
#aNote2Self Meditation Journal by Alex Elle
The writer and visual journalist knows a thing or two about picking yourself up from failures and heartbreak and fighting for a life you know you deserve. Although it’s not a book, Alex’s journal includes a number of questions and passages to keep you in tune with your emotions, goals and dreams.
O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose by The Editors of O, The Oprah Magazine
It’s been said that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. This guide seeks to help you find the latter part of that sentence through a collection of advice and real-life anecdotes to help your get closer to finding your passion and purpose.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
Janet Mock’s memoir discusses her incredible story of growing up multiracial, in poverty and trans in America. Mock’s kind spirit and resilience to prejudice, failure and heartbreak shines through her poignant memoir, reminding readers that the growth that comes through unforeseen obstacles and vulnerability is what turns us into champions.
What books do you plan to read to start your year off right? Let us know in the comments...
Writers of color on the internet have banded together to form a seemingly-magical, melanin-filled alliance. It's not breaking news that this industry isn't as equally distributed as Cruella De Vil's hair. It's less half-white/half-black and more all-white with subtle black highlights — not a cute look for hair or the writing world.
Although these writers have done a stellar job of working to make names for themselves as individuals, it is with the help of each other that their writing reaches more eyes. Via their various social media platforms — Twitter, mostly —they promote each other and celebrate the accomplishments of their peers. It’s a beautiful thing, y’all.
So even though there are definitely lists out there highlighting young black women writers, I'm gonna just go ahead and hit you with another one because there’s nothing like reading an essay that’s actually accessible to me rather than forcing myself to relate to something that wasn’t written with me — or someone like me — in mind. Here are a few writers I’ve been vibing on lately.
Giorgis is a self-proclaimed “awkward black girl, black feminist writer, organizer, artist, editor...” and so much more, as listed on her site, Ethiopienne. She’s written for sites such as The New Yorker, The Guardian, and The Hairpin, but most recently, she’s been spitting truth on the intersection of pop culture, race, class and gender on BuzzFeed.
Whether it’s a silly piece on treating your edges with respect or a serious story on using the internet as a coping mechanism amidst a failed mental health system, Giorgis is always serving up realness.
As a fellow East African girl with her own share of name-pronunciation issues, here’s an essay that resonates with me on a special level: "Where Everybody Knows Your Name."
Reese has contributed great stuff to Gurl.com and Golly Magazine but her Accidental Virgin column on The Gloss is my Scandal and Ms. Reese is my Olivia Pope — for the record, I’ve only seen like two episodes of Scandal but I still reserve the right to use this metaphor.
Following the chronicles of someone’s vagina might seem odd — then again, people even live-tweet their poops at this point — but trust me, there is good writing to be read here. It’s so much more than just a "will she or won’t she have sex" sort of thing. Reese is willing to put herself out there as she fearlessly navigates topics others fear to tread.
One of my favorite’s is a departure from her usual light-hearted pieces that takes a hard look at interracial relationships and street harrassment.
Adewunmi writes about stuff like internet culture, feminism, television, and art. When you’re feeling thirsty, you can mosey on over to her Crush of the Week column for a thoughtfully curated celebration of wildly attractive people — both in the traditional and non-traditional sense.
She also serves as a Culture Editor at BuzzFeed UK, where she’s written absolute gems like, "The 15 Most Important Things About That “Magic Mike XXL” Poster." It’s kind of a masterpiece. I think about it often.
But Adewunmi writes about serious topics too — not that a description of Channing Tatum’s cap as a necessary accessory to his performance to Ginuwine’s “Pony” isn’t serious — and a piece that definitely deserves a read is "An Article About Black Women Shouldn’t Have To Come With A Warning Label." She begs the question, “What is it that prevents people from seeing themselves in us?” and breaks down the empathy gap as Adewunmi explores the reasons behind why she can manage to find herself in characters like Matt Saracen or Phoebe Buffay as a black woman but most white folks don’t bother attempting to relate to the Joan Claytons and Whitley Gilberts of the television world.
Haile is an Eritrean-American. Okay, I admit I am too, but that’s not why I chose her. She's a short-story writer and essayist as described on her Tumblr. She’s written for sites such as The Awl, The Guardian, The Toast, and Hazlitt. She calls herself a Cumulus Advocate and serves as the Cloud Twitter emissary.
Aside from her year-long project, during which she reads one short story a day on a quest to highlight writers who aren’t white men, Haile also takes time to write about everything ranging from the Horn of Africa to Tracee Ellis Ross.
Again, I’m not being biased here (I totally am) but the piece of hers I hold closest to my heart is "'Ertra, Ertra, Ertra' And The Problems With Patriotism Performed At A Shrill, Unpleasant Register." Haile unabashedly says what all Eritreans have always secretly thought: our national anthem sucks. The sound of our national anthem being sung is, at best, cause for some mild auditory discomfort and, at worst, the unsolicited gift of a splitting headache. In her hilarious essay, Haile manages to find the good in a song that once made her run and hide under the sink as an 8-year-old.
5. Pilot Viruet
Viruet is basically a television goddess. She’s the television/entertainment editor at Flavorwire, founder of the highly entertaining TV Hangover, and has written for outlets such as New York Magazine and The A.V. Club.
I look to Viruet's writing for all of my television watching needs. For example, this past Friday, I read her article "Cancel All Your Weekend Plans and Binge-Watch Aziz Ansari’s Unbelievably Excellent Netflix Series ‘Master of None’" and did exactly as the headline suggested. I must say, the only disappointing moment in the series was when I realized that I’d finished the final episode. I shall wait for season two with bated breath and you shall take all of Viruet's recommendations to heart because she will never lead you astray.
Of course, she doesn’t only write about television. In fact, an essay of hers that I love isn’t really about TV at all. In "Black Exhaustion," Viruet delves into the overhwelming fatigue that comes with being black.
Neyat Yohannes is an Eritrean-American writer who recently graduated from college in Boston. She's from LA, but just moved to the Bay. When she's not writing or trying to be more formidable like Whitley Gilbert and Paris Geller, she's massaging her scalp with coconut oil and trying to keep Drake lyrics from constantly spilling out of her mouth. You can follow her sad Twitter or check out her equally disappointing tumblr. Here’s her...
Iowa-based Courtney Holmes says he “just wants to support kids reading” by giving out free haircuts to local kids if they read to him as part of the community’s Back-to-School Bash in Comiskey Park.
There was also a book giveaway during the event, so many of the kids were able to select a free book before leaving the shop.
As The Des Moines Register reported:
Tayshawn Kirby, 9, of Dubuque, read from “Fats, Oils and Sweets,” by Carol Parenzan Smalley, informing Holmes that the average person eats 150 pounds of sugar each year. Before Tayshawn’s 10-year-old brother, Titan Feeney, took his turn in the barber chair, he told his brother the new look was great.
Over 100 kids and parents participated in the event.
Celebrate this community by sharing these good vibes on Facebook below.
For Blavity's list of summer reads click here. ...
Reading is something that I valued more than anything growing up. Books were a way to leave all of the abhorrent mess going on in the world and travel to a land far away with individuals that I came to consider some of my good friends. But one thing that I will never forget about the list of books I was required to read throughout my high school career was the fact that almost every book was written by a white person. I was left to seek out any black authors on my own, when I knew that it was the other students in my predominately white classroom environment that more than likely needed to read these books the most. Below you will find a few black authors that I believe should be required in every high school curriculum across America — because our history is a part of American history.
1. Toni Morrison
2. Ralph Ellison
3. James Baldwin
4. Frantz Fanon
5. Maya Angelou
6. Aimé Césaire
7. Alice Walker
8. Zora Neale Hurston
9. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
10. Langston Hughes
What black authors do you recommend everyone read? Leave your suggestions in the comments.
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