How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
(Dial Books, 2014, 112 pages)
I grabbed How I Discovered Poetry after reading A Wreath for Emmett Till. I was hoping to get more insight into Nelson as a poet and this book seemed like it would offer that. The book is slim and is comprised of 50 poems. We see Nelson progress to young adulthood as the United States is gradually progressing toward racial “equality.”
Born in the 1950s Nelson was the daughter of a military man and her family moved often so not only did she see a lot of the United States, she was regularly the new girl and often one of very few black faces in her classrooms. This memoir in poetry was well done but I came to it expecting a little more depth and detail about her life. I’d eagerly read a prose memoir if she ever chose to write one. I think it’s clear I think she has a way with words 🙂
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005, 48 pages)
This was the book that introduced me to the work of Marilyn Nelson. I was doing some research on the Coretta Scott King Awards and that is how I discovered this title which received an “Award for Author” Honor in 2006. Something about the way it was described compelled me to request it and I found it so incredibly heartbreaking and moving. The art that accompanies the piece was also very well done. At the end of the book there is an explanation of the poems (something Nelson does regularly and which is a feature I love) in addition to an explanation of the art.
This poem tells the story of Emmett Till’s murder while also reminding the reader of his humanity – it’s so easy to just hear the name, remember the story, and not think about him as a boy living in the world, as a son, as a man who didn’t get the chance to grow up. A Wreath for Emmett Till is aimed at younger readers and I think it powerfully combines history and poetry in a way that quickly captures the reader’s attention. This is one of those books that will find its way to my permanent book collection so I have it on hand when my daughter is old enough to read it. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” it given the subject matter, but it was beautifully done and led me down a Marilyn Nelson path for which I am so grateful.
Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey
(Ecco, 2017, 64 pages)
I don’t remember what poem jumped out to me initially as I flipped through, but there was something about the language in this book that compelled me to check it out rather than allow it to be re-shelved. Sealey is the Executive Directer at the Cave Canem Foundation and I always try to stay on top of the poetry they spotlight and the prizes they award. A collection by the Executive Director was surely going to find a place in my hands.
Her work in Ordinary Beast was accessible, thoughtful, and creative. There were more than a few poems that I had to stop and reflect on. Not to mention Sealey’s poetry had me going out of my way to look things up so I could better understand various references and what she was trying to spotlight in some of her poems. When a poet can inspire you to delve deeper, you know you’re in good hands.
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South
by Michael Twitty
(Amistad, 2017, 464 pages)
The premise of Twitty’s book is to explore how African-Americans influenced Southern cooking as we know it today. He uses his own family history to trace this influence. It was interesting to learn about slaves being sent abroad to learn French culinary techniques so they could cook the cuisine their owners wanted. I also appreciated learning a bit about how slaves adapted to their new surroundings by seeing what was comparable to food they had back home or by finding ways to introduce their own culinary traditions to the new world they were a part of.
This book had received such acclaim and it dealt with issues I love reading about (food and race) that I was eager to finally pick it up. But it didn’t deliver for me. There are people that thoroughly enjoyed it, I just think it was billed as a different book than what it actually is. A considerable amount of the book was spent going through Twitty’s genealogy. Unfortunately, it read pretty dry to me and I felt like more time was devoted to figuring out his heritage (valuable, to be sure!) than talking about the culinary component (the whole reason I picked up the book).
Like I said, some people loved this book. I didn’t find the writing particularly compelling. The focus of the book should have been more on the food than on Twitty. I did learn some new things, but it was a slog trying to get through the book.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
(Balzer + Bray, 2017, 444 pages)
Important, Powerful, Real-World Happenings
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
(Algonquin Books, 2018, 320 pages)
This is the story of a marriage and what happens to a couple put in a situation they never could have imagined. Roy and Celestial haven’t been married long when one night their lives are turned upside down. Roy is charged with a crime he didn’t commit and is imprisoned. As Roy and Celestial’s families fight to overturn the charges and clear his name time goes by. We get insight into the relationship and how it changes through letters the two write to each other.
When Roy’s name is finally cleared years later the only thing he wants is to return to the wife, and the life, he knew before his incarceration. But does that life still exist?
This was a powerful novel that quickly sucked me in. I didn’t want to put it down. The character development was great and I couldn’t wait to see how the story was going to play out. I’ll definitely be checking out Jones’s backlist. (pub. date February 2018)
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
(Kensington, 2017, 263 pages)
This historical romance offered a unique twist on what we normally see. Set during the Civil War we are introduced to Elle and Malcolm as the country is first struggling to come to grips with what’s happening. Elle is a free black woman working undercover as a slave to spy for the Union. Malcolm is a white man who is also spying for the Union, though in the guise of a Confederate soldier. When the two realize they’re supposed to be working together things get complicated. They have to keep their identities secret from those around them, but at the same time there’s an attraction they’re both trying to fight… Can they accomplish the task at hand without blowing their cover or falling for each other?
I appreciated the diverse angle this romance took. It got high praise and while I wanted to like it more than I did, I can understand why it got so much attention. If you’re in the market for a unique historical romance (that’s not overly steamy) this could be just what you’re looking for.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
(Harper Perennial, 2018, 272 pages)
I follow Morgan Jerkins on Twitter (@morganjerkins) and I don’t remember how I first was exposed to her work, but I’m glad for whatever it was that caught my attention. This collection of essays was so well-written and thought-provoking. In the spirit of not reinventing the wheel, below please find the review I posted on Goodreads:
“There are some books that you are content to read but don’t feel like you need to own. This Will Be My Undoing is a book that I’m so glad I read and that I will certainly be going out to buy so it has a permanent place on my shelves. The essays in this book are packed with so much that I know every time I revisit them I’ll come away having gleaned something new.
These essays talk about what it means to exist in this world as a black woman. There is no separating the two. Not only was I nodding along while reading I also found myself tearing up more often than I ever would have imagined I would. There’s so much depth here. It was a fabulous read.”
I definitely recommend (pub. date: January 2018).
We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
(Dey Street Books, 2017, 272 pages)
I’m a Gabrielle Union fan and while I knew I would read this book I was wary about the quality of the writing. Celebrity memoirs typically go one of two ways, and I was scared to have this be a letdown. Union actually exceeded my expectations. The essays in this book range from humorous to serious. I laughed out loud a few times and I found myself raging alongside her when she talked about having to teach her black stepsons how to protect their lives in this world we live in.
This book reads the way Union would talk if she actually was one of your girlfriends dishing over wine. I definitely recommend it. She talks about everything from claiming your sexuality and partying with Prince to dealing with personal trauma and facing what it’s like toe be black in America. This was an entertaining and well-written book that lands firmly on the side of quality celebrity memoirs. That being said, while she does discuss her marriage to Duane Wade, there’s not a ton of dish there so don’t expect too much on that front 😉
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
(Amistad, 2016, 175 pages)
Woodson is a poet and that comes across in this book. Her way with language is amazing. This is a slim book and Woodson has a way of conveying so much so concisely that you just sit back and appreciate her way with words. This book transports you to Brooklyn in the 70s. We’re introduced to a friendship made up of four girls: August, Gigi, Sylvia, and Angela. We see the power of friendship but we also see that childhood is fleeting and the real world has a way of coming in and changing your life whether you’re ready for it or not.
This is a poignant and powerful novel.