Monday, April 13, 2015

Author Event with Lawrence Hill

January turned into the month of reading Lawrence Hill after being swept away by The Book of Negroes, my first read of the year. I finished all three of his novels that same month. And this month, I finally got to see the man himself!

I could’ve listened to him talk for hours! He is such a vessel of knowledge. Hill discussed the amount of research required to pull the book together and he did rely on some experts. He had many connections, having been a journalist, and wasn't bashful about calling them up.

Hill wanted to write The Book of Negroes for some time but didn't think he was ready to do so before he did. Once he said that, I thought about the love that oozes from the narrative, and it became obvious that this story was nurtured. I asked myself, if I had a story this captivating in me, could I have waited until the right time to share it with people. I truly believe he has been rewarded for his patience, and so have we. 

He received other offers to adapt the book into a movie, but he wanted to give it to someone whose work he could trust. Authors have little say once they sign on the dotted line. After astutely waiting for an ideal time to write the book, it only made sense that he would take his time when handing it over to be made into a movie.

Someone asked about the book’s US title, Someone Knows My Name. It came about when bookstores were not ordering copies of the book with the original title. But when the novel became a miniseries,using The Book of Negroes as the title, naysayers quickly warmed up to the idea and the US publisher is reissuing the book with the original title.

Hill’s fourth novel and tenth book,The Illegal, will be released in Canada on September 1, 2015 and in the US in early 2016. According to the HarperCollins press release: Lawrence Hill says, “I have been thinking about the lives of undocumented refugees since meeting Sudanese expatriates in West Berlin in the 1980s. In Canada, the United States and around the world, millions of people have to survive with a huge question mark over their lives. Will they be deported? Persecuted? Executed? What do their lives look like while they are hiding in rich nations and trying, against all odds, to get on with their lives? These questions became my obsession and the inspiration for The Illegal.

This. Sounds. Awesome!!! I don't usually request advanced review copies of books, but this may be a worthy occasion. 

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Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival

After an exciting literary year in 2014, I decided to kick it up a notch. The 2015 Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival is taking place at the end of the month. And I’ll be there! Thanks to the suggestion by Jacqueline, who blogs at The Big Sea, April will be devoted to reading books by authors that will attend the festival. And Jacqueline will be there too!

The Caribbean literature I’ve read was set in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, including The Farming of Bones, the first book I read by Edwidge Danticat. However, I read ‘Til the Well Runs Dry around this time last year which was partially set in Trinidad. 

Here's a quick rundown of the books I'm trying to finish up by the end of the month! 

I've already started The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson. She's known for writing speculative fiction and I'm enjoying the supernatural elements of this story. Goodreads describes it as a book that “transports readers across centuries and civilizations as it fearlessly explores the relationships women have with their lovers, their people, and the divine.”

The festival’s website has a captivating image of Karen Lord, alongside her novel The Galaxy Game, on the front page. But I decided to read Redemption In Indigo which is her debut novel. The story centers around a woman who leaves her husband and receives a gift “which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world." Caribbean literature, inspired partly by a Senegalese folktale, this book falls into the speculative fiction genre as well.

 I learned about Earl Lovelace when I stumbled upon The Wine of Astonishment at one of my favorite used bookstores. But when I started researching his novels, I decided to read Salt, a novel set in Trinidad. The Goodreads description of this book sucked me right in, “One hundred years after Emancipation, the diverse people of Trinidad, African, Asian, and European, have not settled into the New World. In Salt, an unforgettable cast of men and women strive with wit and passion to make sense of life in an evolving homeland.”


I’m beginning to appreciate short stories, so that helped me decide on Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape From a Leper Colony: A Novella and Short Stories. It’s her debut collection set mostly in the U.S Virgin Islands. Her most recent novel, Land of Love and Drowning, was published last summer. A closer look at the Goodreads description of this one has me thinking I’ll read it too, “Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. “

Bocas Lit Fest 
The Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival
Celebrating books, writers, and writing from the Caribbean and the rest of the world. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

Happiness, Like Water is a suspenseful collection of short stories. Several of the stories are liberating, but several of them are tragic. They illustrate what can happen when women succumb to external pressure or expectations. This is demonstrated with overt cultural connotations, but I think the stories are universal. 

Chinwe is a woman who marries to satisfy her mother. Unfortunately, the man loves his toys more than he loves her. There is Ezinne, a woman whose husband’s “patience is running out” because she has not conceived a child. Uzoamaka, a girl whose mother uses skin lightening creams and insists that she does the same. Nneoma, single and childless, commits unthinkable acts against women who are married and pregnant. Ada is a student whose mother becomes ill. She needs money for medical treatment so she trusts a friend, that makes money by entertaining men, to arrange a meeting for her to do the same. Ada tragically learns that “private dinners” and “intelligent conversations” are not the only things some of the men expect. And the stories of several more women follow...

The book was enjoyable but several of the stories end abruptly, which is one of the reasons I steer clear of short stories. They leave you wanting more. Or maybe that's the point. Okparanta’s second novel, Under the Udala Trees, will be published on September 22, 2015. I've already added it to my to-read list.

“Happiness is like water. We’re always trying to grab onto it, but it’s always slipping between our fingers.”
Happiness, Like Water

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Happiness, Like Water on Amazon
Under the Udala Trees on Amazon

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dust Tracks On a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Dust Tracks On a Road, Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography, was published in 1942. This verbose but colorful book reads like a collection of short stories. Hurston often poses questions that she proceeds to answer, but not without excluding the reader from her thought process. Sometimes by the end of the chapter the questions are still unanswered. But for Hurston it seems just thinking though it was enough. And so goes her autobiography.

Hurston always had a fanciful way about herself. We find out early in the book that she was a storyteller from the beginning. A significant portion of the book is dedicated to stories that she recalls from her childhood. While Hurston’s mother was always supportive of her anecdotes, her grandmother found them troubling. I laughed when I read Hurston’s account of what happened when she was telling her mother a story within earshot of her grandmother, “Oh, she’s just playing,” Mama said indulgently. “Playing! Why dat lil’ heifer is lying just as fast as a horse can trot. Stop her!”

Hurston’s mother died when Hurston was a teen and her father remarried. She found her stepmother impossible to get along with. They had physical altercations with Hurston admitting at one point that she wanted to kill the woman. After six years, Hurston had had enough. This discontentment is was caused her to venture out into the world. Things serendipitously fall into place for her time after time once she sets out on her own. She even writes, “From the depth of my inner heart I appreciated the fact that the world had not been altogether unkind to Mama’s child.”

Filled with quotable material, Dust Tracks On a Road, is less about the chronology of Hurston’s life and more about how she makes sense of the cards life has dealt.

“But his looks only drew my eyes in the beginning. I did not fall in love with him just for that. He had a fine mind and that intrigued me. When a man keeps beating me to the draw mentally, he begins to get glamorous.”

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Interview: Tendai Huchu (Author)

Welcome Tendai! I’m glad you stopped by Reading Has Purpose! Your first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, is on my to-read list. Before I could even read it, you’re back with novel number two! So let’s get to it!

RHP: Is The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician a book you’ve wanted to write for some time or did the idea just come to you?
TH: It took about three years from conception to finish. There was a lot of refinement and fine tuning needed. One of the most important parts of the process was working with my editor Jane Morris from amaBooks who completely understood the scope of my ambition for the text and was instrumental in helping me tweak. In certain ways I’m, perhaps, a very old fashioned writer in that my fiction is a vehicle for the dissection and dissemination of ideas which are important to me.

RHP: After releasing one novel, what’s the biggest lesson you learned and applied to the writing or marketing of this book? And how’s that working out for you?
TH: The reality is when you’re an unknown writer without the benefits and resources of a corporate PR machinery, then marketing is going to fall on your shoulders. Book bloggers like yourself, Shannon, are essential, because they are willing to look at work on its own merit wherever it’s coming from. But I still maintain a na├»ve belief in word of mouth, that if my work is good enough then readers will recommend it to their friends and family.

RHP: Is there anything you were particularly nervous or worried about with the release of The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician?
TH: There is always going to be a bit of anxiety before a book goes on sale. Your internal editor goes into overdrive: “Is it good enough?”, “Did I miss something?”, “Will anyone even read it?” I could go on and on, but in the end, you just take a chill pill and let go, because once it’s out there, what else can you do?

RHP: Tell us why we’re going to love the new book!
TH: I’m obviously biased in this regard, but I think it’s an interesting book about love, friendship, identity, ideas and some of the big questions we have in life. Outside the thematic elements, the reader may well be enticed by the structure of the book which works as three interlinking novellas.

RHP: You seem to keep a pretty low profile. I couldn’t find you on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.  Is this intentional or are you getting ready to make a grand entrance into social media!?
TH:  I think you’ve been looking in the wrong places:  and on Twitter I’m @TendaiHuchu.

RHP: What, if anything, do you miss about living in Zimbabwe?
TH: The strong sense of community, that each individual is tied to the next and this bond is important. I suppose that and the sunshine!
RHP: Further to my previous question. Sometimes I sit back and think about the stories that are missing. Being African American, I wonder when stories will start to emerge about being the child, grandchild, or great-grandchild of a participant in The Great Migration. What was it like being sent South for the summers? What was it like being hundreds or thousands of miles away from the rest of the family? So many questions come to mind. What does that look like from your experience? What stories, and essentially history in the making, do you think are missing?
TH: If I think exclusively of the Zimbabwean experience, then I have to recognize that we have only been a literate society for the last 140 or so years; that’s nothing in historical terms. A lot has been said about the colonial and post-colonial periods, but I reckon the pre-colonial period is much more interesting, especially when you think of the great trading empires, Munhumutapa, Great Zimbabwe, or even the Rozvi much further back. Piecing out what life was like for these folks would be very rewarding.

RHP: We all know the big names in literature, old and new. Well... we do here at Reading Has Purpose! But I love reading books by authors that fly under the radar as well. You’ll even find reviews here for books that are out of print. Are there any books or authors that you think people are missing out on?
TH: For anyone who wants to read something new outside the mainstream, I recommend visiting The African Books Collective. They have an awesome collection of both fiction and non-fiction by 150 independent publishers across the continent.

RHP: Anything else you like for us to know about you or The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician here at Reading Has Purpose?
TH: Nah, but I think I’ll reproduce the [book's] blurb for you:

“Three very different men struggle with thoughts of belonging, loss, identity and love as they attempt to find a place for themselves in Britain. The Magistrate tries to create new memories and roots, fusing a wandering exploration of Edinburgh with music. The Maestro, a depressed, quixotic character, sinks out of the real world into the fantastic world of literature. The Mathematician, full of youth, follows a carefree, hedonistic lifestyle, until their three universes collide. 

In this carefully crafted, multi-layered novel, Tendai Huchu, with his inimitable humour, reveals much about the Zimbabwe story as he draws the reader deep into the lives of the three main characters.”

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The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician on Amazon
The Hairdresser of Harare on Amazon

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Under the Radar: "Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America"

One thing I like to do in this space is introduce books and authors that may have flown under the radar. I make many of these discoveries in used book stores, but sometimes I discover them because they are mentioned in other books. Since I don’t get around to reviewing every book that I read, I’m introducing Under the Radar as a way to ensure that I’m getting these titles to you whether I write about them or not.

While finishing up Dust Tracks On a Road by Zora Neale Hurston, I learned about Cudjoe Lewis. She interviewed him while doing research for the Journal of Negro History and Columbia University. He was the last known living captive that came to the United States on a slave ship. The ship arrived after the African slave trade had been abolished. I did a quick search and found Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America which discusses the last recorded group of Africans deported to the United States as slaves. Cudjoe Lewis died in 1945.

The book was published in 2007 and I will soon have my hands on a copy. You can get your hands on a copy of this book or click here to find out more about it on Amazon.

Please share in the comments if you know anything about it!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory

This was a challenging review to write. I’ve had it drafted for a while, but I didn’t think it was good enough. I still don’t. So to sum it up I’ll go ahead and tell you, Nigger makes my list of best books ever.

Migrations of the Heart by Marita Golden has been the book with the most memorable dedication I’ve read. That was until I opened this one:

Dear Momma - Wherever you are, if ever you hear the word “nigger” again, remember they are advertising my book.

I didn’t make it much further than that before realizing this would be the most emotionally taxing book I’ve read. I ultimately decided to read it in one sitting. It was too distressing to read daily. I started to wonder how so many misfortunes could befall one person.

Kids made fun of Gregory because he had an absentee father, and his family was on welfare. He discovers his knack for comedy when he begins using humor as a coping mechanism. But dealing with kids at school was only one of many worries. When his father was present, he was abusive and not providing financial support. Gregory was left to try and support the family with whatever money he could make from whatever jobs he could find. 

A boy having to provide for his family, as a man would, came with its own set of challenges. Gregory found himself in countless compromising situations. He never did tell his mother about the burdens he carried because in addition to helping her support the family, he felt he had to protect her.

Things started to turn around once he got to high school. He became a runner and even earned an athletic scholarship. He became Outstanding Athlete of the Year at Southern Illinois University. But he left college before graduating after determining that a degree was useless for a black man.

After doing a number of successful comedy shows, he was sure he could run a profitable comedy club of his own. He managed to borrow money from people that believed the same; however, it was only a matter of time before his luck turned again. A brutal Chicago winter had something else in store for Gregory's new business.  

As we know, things did eventually turn around. The second half of the book shifts to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. He heads south after deciding that sending a check wasn't enough. As good as this book was, it felt incomplete. Maybe adding more would’ve taken something away. But he wrote several books after this one. I suspect they pick up where this one left off.

“I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.”
Nigger: An Autobiography

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Monday, January 12, 2015

The Book of Negroes/Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

I posted in July 2013 that The Book of Negroes, also published as Someone Knows My Name, would be aired as a television miniseries. Once I found out that the premiere would be this upcoming February, on the B.E.T network, I made this my first read of 2015.

I will use the same words I used to describe The Warmth of Other Suns. The Book of Negroes  is “thoroughly researched and impeccably pulled together.” It is historical fiction at its finest. And as with The Warmth of Other Suns, this book is of the same epic proportions.

Aminata Diallo is the storyteller. When we meet her she is an older woman, but the novel quickly shifts to her childhood where she recounts her life from the time she was conceived, to the moment that she was captured by slave traders, and then to the the life she lived after being sold to her first owner. 

The care the author took to include details from this time period immediately stuck out to me. It allowed me to lose myself in this book. It’s the closest I’ve come to being able to imagine I was there - to the extent possible- while reading any book covering this subject matter.

The trauma of being captured, long before being sold to an owner, is a detail that seems to be overlooked, at least in the literature that I’ve read. The trek from the villages to the ship lasted a few months in this novel. Women menstruating while unclothed is something that never occurred to me. Not so for this author. Many lost their sanity, one character even lost his ability to speak. The trauma, even long before being sold, is a detail that some writers seem to overlook. 

Hill frequently mentions the smells in and around slave ships. Charles Town, currently Charleston, South Carolina, was enveloped in an unmistakable stench. The same stench that intensified, allowing you to know when a slave ship had docked. And it wasn’t uncommon for bodies that had been thrown overboard to wash ashore.

The first time Aminata saw “smoke” come from her mouth, due to temperatures that she’d never experienced in her homeland, she thought for sure that she was on fire. She waited for the burning sensation which, of course, never came. And then there are the things that are not horrific in nature but are equally successful in dehumanizing a person. It’s details like these that are included throughout this novel that make reading it an experience unlike any other.

It was easy to love many of the characters. Aminta’s mother figures, they are wise and nurturing. One of them, also a slave, even knew how to immunize for small pox. Aminata’s fortuitous love interest, he is resolute in his commitment to her. Aminata herself is skillful. She was taught to “catch babies” by her mother and read by her father. Even while being enslaved, her skills completely changed the trajectory of her life.  

And then there is the history, so much history. An entire section of this book is devoted to the Sea Islands of South Carolina, indigo plantations, and the Gullah language. Even today, there is a Gullah Festival that takes place annually to preserve African American Gullah the culture and heritage. There is the creation of the Book of Negroes, which is an actual document. As noted in the reference of this novel, “it contains the names and details of 3000 black men, women, and children, who, after serving behind British lines during the American Revolutionary War, sailed from New York City  to various British colonies." Then there is the resettling of former slaves in Freetown, Sierra Leone. And the facts surrounding this particular section of the novel touched me at my core, but the same was true through most of the book.

I am currently reading Hill’s second novel, Any Known Blood and am enjoying it so much that  I ordered his first novel, Some Great Thing. Although, the latter title could also be used as an alias for The Book of Negroes; it is, indeed, a great thing. 

"That, I decided, was what it meant to be a slave: your past didn't matter; in the present you were invisible and you had no claim on the future." 
The Book of Negroes 

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Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Wrap Up

I decided that 2014 would be my best bookish year yet. And so it was.

In addition to reading forty books, I attended twelve author events. Meeting Holocaust survivor Margot Freidlander at her book launch was one of the most memorable of any events that I’ve attended. Jesymn Ward came to promote the paperback release of her memoir, Men We Reaped. It was such an emotional reading that I saw man with tears in his eyes when she was done. Cornel West arrived in DC on the heels of being arrested in Ferguson, and the venue was filled to capacity. And Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Wench, moderated a lovely panel discussion with Okey Ndibe, Chinelo Okparanta, and Taiye Selasi on New Writing of the West African Diaspora. It was quite an impressive event. They even served wine and cheese afterwards! You can find more event recaps on the blog under A Bookish Life.

The Cornel West photo was taken by the establishment: Busboys and Poets

But that’s not all! Between reading forty books and attending author events, I managed squeeze in the following literary events:
  • Baltimore (Maryland) Book Festival
  • Decatur (Georgia) Book Festival
  • A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, starring Denzel Washington
  • The Half of a Yellow Sun movie screening and Q&A with Chimamanda Adichie
  • Twelve Years a Slave book and movie community discussion
  • A visit to the Library of Congress
  • Chicago Independent Bookstore Day
  • Literary Walking Tour: Books of the Harlem Renaissance (in DC)
  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf stage play
  • And I hosted my first Book Swap 

So on to the final list of books, starting with the 10 Best Books I Read in 2014:

Nigger: An Autobiography by Gregory, Dick
An Untamed State by Gay, Roxane
Forty Acres: A Thriller by Smith, Dwayne
The Beautiful Struggle by Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Arrows of Rain by Ndibe, Okey
Redefining Realness by Mock, Janet
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Blow, Charles M

And the remaining 30:

The Husband's Secret by Moriarty, Liane
Nervous Conditions by Dangarembga, Tsitsi...
Foreign Gods, Inc. by Ndibe, Okey
A Raisin in the Sun by Hansberry, Lorraine
Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie, Chimamanda
Redemption Song by Berry, Bertice
'Til the Well Runs Dry by Francis-Sharma, Lauren
The Rat-boys of Karalabad by Rashid, Zulfiqar
Breathing Room by Elam, Patricia
When Washington Was in Vogue by Williams, Edward Christopher
The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Greenlee, Sam
Perfect Peace by Black, Daniel
Yellow Crocus by Ibrahim, Laila
Ayiti by Gay, Roxane
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Shoneyin, Lola
The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Walker, Alice
Somerset Grove by Peart, Dionne
Song of Solomon by Morrison, Toni

Bad Feminist by Gay, Roxane
The Five Love Languages by Chapman, Gary
The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart by Walker, Alice
Last Night on Earth by Jones, Bill T
Letter to My Daughter by Angelou, Maya
Nine Years Under by Booker, Sheri
Sketches of a Small Town by Meador, Clifton K
The Wealth Choice by Kimbro, Dennis
Don't Play in the Sun by Golden, Marita
The Other Wes Moore by Moore, Wes
Try to Make Your Life by Freidlander, Margot
Chewed Water: A Memoir by Rahman, Aishah

Oh! I almost forgot about the two coffee table books:
American Cool by Joel Dinerstein

I don't expect 2015 to be anything like this! But I do have a few exciting events already on the calendar. Stay tuned!

For the 2013 Wrap up click here
For the 2012 Wrap up click here 
For the 2011 Wrap up click here    
And my favorite, the 2010 Wrap up click here
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