Tag Archives: Jesmyn Ward

Contemporary Black Voices

There’s a lot of great African American writing out there these days, waiting for you to discover it. Thanks to blogs like For Harriet and White Readers Meet Black Authors, it’s easy to keep up with new–and new-to-you–authors and titles. Your friendly neighborhood librarians are, of course, another great outlet for keeping up with Black literature, fiction, poetry, and memoir. Here are a few recent titles to consider.

Photo from Louis Cameron's African American Flag Project - click through to see more images.

Photo from Louis Cameron’s African American Flag Project – click through to see more images.

residueThe Residue Years, Mitchell S. Jackson. Her name is Grace, and she desperately needs some. His name is Champ, and he desperately wants to be one. They are mother and son, recovering addict and drug dealer, dancing in different ways to the same tune. Set in Portland, the story begins with Grace graduating from rehab and struggling to find a job, pay the bills, and renew her relationships with her children. Champ spends his drug earnings lavishly on his mother, trying to help her achieve a better life, but Grace feels wrong about taking it. Champ, for his part, doesn’t always feel good about earning it, but with the costs of living and a baby on the way, it’s the fastest, easiest path to success…right up to the point where it isn’t. A sobering look at how hard it can be to break destructive patterns, even when you want to.

The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men, Ernessa T. CarterThursday has never been interested in awesomedating any guy longer than a month, but lately she’s been having these strange dreams about accepting a stranger’s proposal in–of all places–a farmers’ market. The dating guide she borrows from a husband-hunting friend becomes her go-to source of advice, supported by the loving–and sometimes blunt–input from her group of girlfriends. Although the story revolves around Thursday’s complicated search for true love, her friends Sharita, Risa, and Tammy are also having their own struggles. But at least they can all count on each other to stay grounded about what’s important. Keep a box of tissues handy on the way to the happy ending, then cry for joy when the power of love and friendship carry the day. Solid chick-lit with some gritty themes.

birdThe Good Lord Bird , James McBride. In the aftermath of a church fire, an unusual manuscript is discovered in a lock box: the narrative of former slave Henry Shackleford who, through a series of both comedic and not-so-funny mishaps, finds himself a) fighting in abolitionist John Brown’s army, and b) spending a large portion of his life pretending to be a girl. Fans of historical fiction will find much to love here, as Shackleford’s fly-on-the-wall adventures–related with dry, dead-pan delivery–take him all over the country, meeting the likes of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, culminating in a front-row seat at Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.  McBride does an amazing job capturing what historical events must have looked and felt like to the common people of the time, and his 2013 National Book Award for the adventure is well-deserved.

Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward. Novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones) turns from fiction to memoir with an exploration of her reapedhometown, DeLisle Mississippi. Five men important to her, including her brother Joshua, died between 2000 and 2004. While the surface causes varied, the underlying reason was horrifyingly simple: hopelessness brought on by feeling trapped in their circumstances. Ward pulls no punches in examining the experience of being both poor and Black in the contemporary South, the lack of work (any work, much less meaningful work), the forced choice between staying home and repeating old patterns or getting away and “making it” but being unable to spend your life surrounded by the people you love best. Beginning with her own family’s roots, then spiraling out into the many stories that make up DeLisle’s closely-knit Black community, Ward weaves a ferocious tapestry of love, loss, and, ultimately, her choice to live in spite of the dying.

mcmillanWho Asked You?, Terry McMillan. Betty Jean’s worked hard all her life, and retirement is only six years away. However, the double-whammy of her husband’s unexpected illness and her daughter’s disappearance means that Betty Jean has a sick man to care for and two grandchildren to raise. Her sisters have strong opinions on how she should handle these plot twists, but Betty Jean is determined to do what she thinks is right, no matter what. Told by a colorful cast of characters in alternating chapters, Who Asked You? is a large-hearted look at one woman’s life as perceived by her family, friends, and neighbors. McMillan (Waiting to ExhaleHow Stella Got Her Groove Back) leaves  no stone unturned with her candid and funny take on growing older and weathering the unexpected, and readers who enjoy stories about family ties will root for Betty Jean and her kin as they learn to love each other better.

Your turn: what African American titles and authors have you been reading lately?

Leigh Anne


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Maybe in This Lifetime

I use Goodreads to keep track of books I’ve read and want to read and every time I put another book in my “to read” list, I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure. I understand that I will never be able to read every book published and I’m fine with that. I just want to read every book I want to read and don’t seem to be making any headway. Even though I tell myself not to put any more books on my list until I finish a book or to review my current “to read” list to make sure I still want to read the books on the list, I never listen. The list grows and grows. Because not all books are created equal, there are some books in which I’m more interested in than others. Here are some books that scream at me when I look at my Goodreads list.


At the Mouth of the River of Bees     The Collected Stories of Grace Paley    TheInterestings

SalvagetheBones     The Savage Detectives

At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories by Kij Johnson

  • This is a book of science fiction short stories and while I read a lot of short stories, I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi short stories. The titles of the stories (“Schrödinger’s Cathouse”, “My Wife Reincarnated as a Solitaire”, and “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” are a few) make me think these stories will be ambitious and very interesting.

The Collected Stories of Grace Paley by Grace Paley

  • I initially was interested in this book because it’s a. short stories and b. for some reason, I had confused Grace Paley with Grace Coddington and wanted to see what kind of stories Coddington had written. (Don’t worry about me; I’m fine.) Once I realized they were not the same person, I did a little research into Paley and she sounds like she was an interesting woman and was multi-talented, also writing poetry.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

  • I started this book about a group of adults who met at summer camp when they were young are still friends years later a couple of months ago, but didn’t have time to finish it. I really enjoyed what I read and have been hoping to get back to it. I also think the cover is beautiful.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

  • Taking place in Mississippi right before, during, and just after Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones follows the Batiste family as they deal with the storm along with their daily lives which are difficult enough in their poverty-stricken household.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

  • Out of all the books on this list, this is probably the one I’ll get to next. Two founders of a poetry movement attempt to track down a vanished poet and end up on the run. The story follows them through several continents and is narrated by the people they encounter. I’ve also heard good things about Bolaño’s 2666 so may put that on my never-ending list once I finish The Savage Detectives.


The Antidote     Bruce     Detroit

Her     Salt Sugar Fat

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

  • Since I’m from Indiana, I should probably have John Mellencamp’s biography on this list, but if I had to choose between reading a bio of Springsteen or reading a bio of Mellencamp, I’d probably choose Springsteen. (Sorry, John. It’s nothing personal. I used to dance in front of the TV when you came on. I remember you when you were John Cougar Mellencamp. I went to grad school near your town and never once stalked you. I sing your songs way more than I sing Springsteen songs. I respect you. I just think Bruce’s biography might be slightly more interesting.)

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

  • While I know a little about why the city of Detroit has declined, I’ve not yet sat down and read a book about it. LeDuff, a reporter and native of Detroit, dissects what led to Detroit’s decline with what I’ve heard is a darkly humorous eye.

Her by Christa Parravani

  • I had this checked out and returned it because I had just finished Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen and didn’t think I was in a place to read another memoir just yet. Her is about twins, the author, Christa, and her sister, Cara. Both talented artists, their lives split apart and Cara dies while Christa struggles with being alone without her twin.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

  • This has been recommended to me by several people. I don’t usually like to know how bad for me the food I’m eating is, but this sounds more like an investigative book and less like a health book so I’m more likely to read it and enjoy it.

Are there books you keep intending to read, but somehow they keep getting pushed down your to-read list? Or are you able to keep a tight rein on your to-read list? (If so, please tell me how.)



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