Tag Archives: essays

There’s Nothing Wrong With Us


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

bookcoverThe Sisters are Alright is not only the title of this book; it’s an affirmation. I think that this book should be for everyone to read, not just black women. This book paints a portrait of how society views the black woman versus how we actually are. It also gives an inside look into the struggles that black women face every day. Also, the book gives varying viewpoints throughout, so it’s not one sided.

I love how the book is divided into separate subjects like beauty, marriage, sex, health, etc. One quote that stuck out to me was from Jamyla, a woman the author interviewed for this book. Jamyla said, “My political feeling is that it very serious work to love yourself as a black person in America.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. This reminds me of the Black Lives Matter movement and the backlash that it received not long after it was formed. It left some people asking, “What about all lives?” Even when we love and accept ourselves it’s a problem.

In the beauty section, Harris discusses the natural hair movement and how black women had to create their own websites and products because mainstream media and big businesses weren’t marketing to women of color. Another part that stuck out to me was in the sex section of the book, where Harris mentions a time when FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly blasted Beyoncé for her video & song “Partition”  because of its sexual content and because she’s supposed to be a role model to young girls. O’Reilly said, “Teenage girls look up to Beyoncé, particularly girls of color. Why would she do it when she knows the devastation that unwanted pregnancies…fractured families…why would Beyoncé do that?”

This quote angered me on multiple levels, because when a black woman embraces her sexuality she gets slammed, ridiculed, even chastised for her behavior, but when stars like Amy Schumer or Madona (who is mentioned in the book) do the exact same thing they are praised and applauded for being so bold and unapologetic. It’s not fair. Why applaud one and criticize another for doing the exact same thing? Another thing, on the song in question Beyoncé is singing about having consensual sex with her husband not a random hookup. Even if she was singing about a random hookup, so what? Like she said herself, she’s a grown woman.

Image from quickmeme.com. Click through for source.

Image from quickmeme.com. Click through for source.

There were a lot of relatable parts of this book for me. One was a quote from the marriage section. Harris said, “And if you trust the what’s-wrong-with-black-women-and-why-won’t-anyone-marry-them industrial complex, black women may not be pretty or chaste enough to merit wifedom.” I can relate to this because I’ve never been in a relationship before, and I sometimes feel like in society’s eyes that something is wrong with me. Looking on the Internet sometimes is so upsetting because I constantly see black women as the butt of jokes or being downed just to praise non-black women. So, sometimes in the back of my mind when I see a cute guy I think, “I wonder if he even likes black women?”

Another part that I related to was in the anger section where Harris said, “Black women do get angry. Everyone does, but the angry black woman stereotype denies them their warranted rage.” I can definitely relate to this because in just about every facet of my life I feel like I have to control my emotions for fear of being perceived as an angry black woman. Even in situations where my anger would be justified. It’s hard to deal with.

This brings me to another point about black women always having to wear a face of control and not only that but strength. One quote in the strength section said, “Ultimately, the ‘strong black woman’ stereotype is an albatross at odds with African American women’s very survival.” This quote is very true because once again I always feel like I have to put on a face and be strong even when I want to break down. It’s like black women aren’t allowed to show any emotion. We’re multi-faceted people and deserve to be seen as such.

The ending of the book reminds black women that we aren’t perfect and that we aren’t supposed to be. “We have facets like diamonds. The trouble is the people who refuse to see us sparkling.”

Request The Sisters are Alright in print, audio CD or eBook.





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An Essay A Day

Today’s post is a guest article from Anna, who currently works in the Ready Reference telephone unit Sheila schooled us about in her most recent post. You’ll be seeing Anna’s articles from time to time as her time permits.

I’m here to admit something. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader.

I’ve tried, honestly, time and again, but I always seem to give up after a few chapters. And it’s not that I lack the interest–far from it. I’m fascinated by a plethora of subjects, from psychological disorders, to early radio dramas, to musical theater. It’s just that, try as I might, I can’t manage to finish a book without a good old-fashioned plot.

Even though I have no trouble admitting this shortcoming, I refuse to accept it. Like clockwork, each New Year starts with a proposed fiction cleanse and, along with it, the hope of introducing some variety into my literary palate. A few years back, when I realized the recurring resolutions were doing nothing to vary my reading selections, I decided to compromise with myself by avoiding “real” non-fiction and opting instead for collections of personal essays and literary journalism. For anyone out there searching for a fic to nonfic transition, here are some of my favorite essayists (ranging from easy breezy to packed with facts):

crosley cakeI Was Told There’d Be Cake begins with a confession: Sloane Crosley has a secret collection of toy ponies. And not just two or three, we’re talking an entire kitchen drawer dedicated to a plastic equine family. This is Crosley’s power, dropping cringe-worthy private details of her life until you feel welcomed into her sphere. Or maybe not welcomed in as much as eavesdropping from one table over, at a hip, divey bar in Brooklyn while you envy her impeccable style, shiny hair, and ability to air her dirty laundry like it ain’t no thang. Her follow up collection, How Did You Get This Number?, regales readers with tales of Portuguese clowns, black market furniture trading, and the worst roommate ever. While I wouldn’t call these essays particularly enlightening, they’re certainly compulsively readable.

I will read anything that David Sedaris writes, and then I will read it ten more times. My obsession with the snarky, OCD-addled nakedmemoirist borders on excessive, but read his account of a week spent at a nudist trailer park, the title story in the aptly named Naked, or his reflections on working as a Macy’s elf in Santaland Diaries, and you’ll see why I literally wept tears of fangirl joy upon meeting him at a book signing. While most of his essays take humorous topics as their focus, don’t get too comfortable–Sedaris is the master of the poignant wrap-up. When he’s got you where he wants you, he’ll hit you with an emotional truth-bomb and you’ll be left awkwardly sad-laughing in public.

bethlehemI don’t know why it took so long for me to read any Joan Didion. I don’t know why I waited until last year, at 25, to pick up a collection of her essays. What had I been doing with my life until then? What better things had I been using my eyes for? Now that I see the error of my ways, I will spend the rest of my days reading, underlining, and memorizing anything and everything she’s ever written. I’m not sure if it’s the subject matter (lots of California dreaming, catnip for a homesick West Coast transplant like me), the dark, nostalgic tone, or just the magical way she has of putting words together, but I’m hooked. Start with Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Album for a good introduction to Didion’s style and save The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, memoirs centering on the death of her husband and daughter, respectively, for when you’re at your most emotionally stable.

Zadie Smith is, hands-down, my favorite human. She’s smart, funny, powerful, a master storyteller, and, as it turns out, pretty changingdarn good at essays too. Smith’s collection, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, is not a breezy read. It’s a bit dense in places, but oh so worth it. Her essay-ing, like her storytelling, is complex and layered: an exploration of her father’s last days becomes a study on the art of comedy, moving seamlessly from a hospital bed in a seaside English village to an experimental performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. An ode to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God investigates the meaning of soulfulness and the power of “extraliterary” readings. And a recap of a weekend in LA covering the Academy Awards peeks at our obsession with fame and the notion of celebrity. With so much information and emotion packed into each essay, you’ll be culturally sated upon completion.


Thoughts on Anna’s nonfiction picks? Suggestions of your own? Leave us a comment!





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