Category Archives: identity

To All the Aunties I’ve Never Met: Ode to Black Women Authors

I grew up reading black women authors.  Their stories not only moved me, but felt like home.  Their published words offered me healing, strength, truth, courage, laughter and hope.  I really don’t know who I’d be if I’d not read Carry Go Bring Come repeatedly in infant school, Hacker in Juniors, or The Friends at the peak of my angsty teenage years.  Big Girls Don’t Cry was re-read regularly between GCSEs and university – ie as I was getting ready to go out into the world.  The stories they told have shaped the woman I am.  As much as I revelled in the adventures of the St Clare’s girls, and Tracy Beaker, Kitty Killen, and many other non-black female characters illuminated and accompanied me loyally through various dramas of my young life, they could never speak to the totality of my second generation immigrant, inner city reality like an Edith Jackson.

And my mum and other black adults in my life foresaw that.  A keen reader (a school report once noted I was caught reading ‘at inappropriate times’ aka in Maths), I read and loved all sorts of books; my mum complained for years about my obsession with Sweet Valley Twins.  However the adults in my life were careful to ensure I always had what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie later termed ‘a balance of stories’.[i]  Through my love of reading, my extended family nurtured my sense of self as a black woman to-be:  I became accustomed to black girls being the centre of a great adventure as often as anybody else because of the books I read.  How could I not grow into a confident, ambitious young black woman when I was familiar with so many universes in which black girls like me shined brightly?

Thus when two black friends my age asked me if I could name 5 black women authors of fiction, I genuinely wondered if this was a trick question. ‘Francophone ones?’ I paused ‘Hmm…Condé, Schwartz-Bart, Lacascade…’ With more time I’d have added Danticat, Jessica Oublié. No, they clarified, writing in any language.  They had recently realised they could not name 5 black women authors between them.  That there were black people who didn’t know there was a whole world of black women’s writing was a revelation:  Black women authors part-raised me.  They are the wise, understanding, encouraging aunties I’ve never met.  They’ve been looking after my wellbeing, nourishing my dreams, sharing their escapades and experiences and inspiring my own adventures for as long as I can remember.

The question came in a context:  I’d recalled a former student, a black woman.  At the end of the course her feedback was ‘black people, we have done things.  We’re not always in the background, the sidekick or sideshow.’ She was a Caribbean-born and based heritage professional, at least 15 years my senior and her unexpected response both made me want to weep – she had lived her whole life not knowing black people had ‘done things’?! She learned that in my lil class?? – and determined to teach black history. She’d probably never read many books by black people about black people, my friends had surmised.

At their request, and perhaps subconsciously for that student, I produced a list of my most treasured fiction by black women authors[ii], smiling at all the memories.  Not all the fiction by black women in the world, nor all the books I have read by black women. The 20 odd novels by black women I have loved more than others that came to mind in the 12 hours after the request. Your favourite reads might not appear: it’s my list. It doesn’t include beloved non-fiction, nor recent books on my to-read list, like Homegoing and Children of Blood and Bone, of which I’ve heard great things. Just my favourite novels, brilliant fiction, centring black people by black women writers.

Enjoy!

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende* (YA: Zorro or City of the Beasts, though not 100% unproblematic)
  3. Memoirs of a Born Free by Malaika Wa Azania**
  4. Une Si Longue Lettre (English: So Long a Letter) by Mariama Bâ
  5. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (YA) (kids: Hacker)[iii]
  6. Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe
  7. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  8. Moi, Tituba, Sorcière (English: I, Tituba) by Maryse Condé (awesome companion to The Crucible by Arthur Miller)
  9. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  10. Phillip Hall Likes Me I Reckon Maybe by Bette Greene* (YA)
  11. The Friends by Rosa Guy (YA) (kids: Paris, Pee Wee and Big Dog)
  12. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  13. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (YA)
  14. Passing by Nella Larsen
  15. Small Island by Andrea Levy
  16. To The Black Women We All Knew by Kholofelo Maenetsha
  17. Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell
  18. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  19. Carry Go Bring Come by Vyanne Samuels (kids)
  20. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
  21. Rainbows of the Gutter by Rukshana Smith* (YA)
  22. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  23. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (YA)

Please note, the vast majority of these authors have published more than one book I’ve loved, but I decided 1 spot per author.

If you read the list, and your instinctive response is ‘You would love X novel by Y black woman author!’ please comment and suggest it! I might have read it, it might get bumped up my to-read list, but I might have never heard of it and you then gift me with my newest favourite book. For which I’ll always be grateful.

 

[i] In her 2009 Ted Talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’

[ii] As I looked up some of my most cherished reads, I realised some authors weren’t black women. As I’d lived blissfully ignorant of/clearly forgotten this fact until now (except Isabel Allende) I left the books on anyway and asterisked the authors because I clearly felt that auntie love through their work.

[iii] Where authors or books are for children or young adults, I’ve added a kids (up to 10) or YA (10-16) title or bracket.

**Okay, not technically a novel, but her memoirs recount three generations of women living through and after apartheid, and I was so engrossed it felt like a novel.

Sometimes I Want To Write

I see things, hear things, try to make sense of them, and writing helps me understand it all; what I think I witnessed, what emotions coursed through me, my response, and how (if) that reaction changed the situation. Or what the experience just taught me about the world. I love writing.  I didn’t know that before I started movingblack – it was more of a challenge I set myself – but I found I proper love using words to express the myriad of thoughts that I have about the world and my adventures in it.

If you’ve followed this blog for more than a week, you’ll have realised I’m kind of a fraud.  (Though I secretly prefer the term renegade) I’m not a blogger.  At least, not a good one.  I don’t blog frequently anymore, nor with anything resembling a rhythm. I get off topic easily and most posts exceed 1000 words.  I am slow at replying to comments, and my blog doesn’t seem to be a community of its own.  I am not a good blogger.  (So, if you’ve left a comment I’ve taken ‘a while’ to reply to, it’s nothing personal at all.  I only struggle with internet etiquette,  I’m really polite in reality.)  I figure, I’m not a surgeon, nobody’s life depends on being able to read a new blog post from me, so I don’t beat myself up about it too often. Plus I have a day job and plenty of real-world commitments and I’ve had one hell of a writer’s block for months now.  But then I read this piece by Radical Faggot and it all made sense again.

I need to write. Not for you dear reader, nor even for me, but because as Chimamanda once argued, there really is a danger in a single story.  By writing, I contribute to the existence of multiple narratives.  Of every thing, person and place I write about.  To me, this is crucial because multiple narratives sharpen the mind.  When multiple narratives present themselves simultaneously, a choice is necessary because questions arise; who said what?  When?  In what context?  Why?  What are their interests?  Are they reliable?  Consistent?  Revolutionary? Do I agree with their standpoint?  What does that change?  Are the available narratives the only narratives?  The most important? What is missing?  Who is missing?  Where multiple contradictory narratives exist, critical thinking happens.  No statement can be taken at face value; by virtue of a second, third, fourteenth version of the same story, holes appear, through which the truth starts to poke.  Sometimes.

So I guess this is a statement of intent to blog*, inspired by a blog post entitled ‘the political significance of being inconvenienced.’  The politics of rad fag are just On Point.  As committed an armchair activist as I claim to be, the one action I can take relatively frequently is to simply state my Afro-Caribbean/British/Migrant/French-Speaking/Girl truth.

black-woman-writing-pf

I’m currently processing a fabulous Haitian adventure, so watch this space.   And follow Radical Faggot for powerful political commentary of the radical variety.  Plus, they post frequently.

 

 

 

* Disclaimer: in my haphazard, wordy, unrecommended-by-wordpress way

Opening December’s Most Talked-About Town

‘Have you been to Palestine?’ is not a question I have been often asked if I’m honest. But thus began some really interesting conversations on a chilly London night.  I found myself among people passionate about Jesus’ birthplace.  And some who called or still call Bethlehem home.

What I quickly realised, was that many of those most involved with the evening’s events were Christians. Not box-tickers forced to select an option, evangelical types, proper Jesus freaks. The women I got to chatting with had recently been to modern-day Palestine, to do otherwise mundane things like teach music or run marathons. But their engagement deepened and they are now involved with project ‘Open Bethlehem’ and promoting the film about it.  Given my exposure to a general discourse of Israel vs. Palestine as Jews vs. Arabs, the evening began to get interesting.

Continue reading

A Black Brit Hangs with Matinitje aka Martinicans

Madinina, as Martinique is known to locals, is a beautiful place.  It’s very easy, on any random day, to take a picture lifted out of a stereotypically stunning postcard version of Caribbean topography on an average mobile phone.

The Flower Isle

I’ve not done any empirical research on this, but it seems sometimes as if every Caribbean island’s name has a subtitle; Dominica is the Nature Island, St Lucia is Simply Beautiful, Grenada is the Spice Island, Madinina is the Flower Island.

Can you imagine how many flowers you have to be able to see, how frequently, how many varieties and how lovely they have to be for an island to end up nicknamed ‘the flower island’?  Combine the overflow of beautiful flowers in all manner of species and colours, with a terrain of peaks, valleys and more peaks, rivers and waterfalls, a fabulous coastline, rainforest and incredible landscapes.  And that’s just the land mass.

Les Gens

As much as I love walking across the beach after work, or watching the sun dip behind the horizon line spectacularly at dusk, what I really love are the people.  Unfortunately, they have a distorted vision of themselves.  I never knew any one people to be so convinced of their own worthlessness.  And I’m black.  Nothing gets Matinitje (pronounced Mat-in-it-che) more frenzied than talking about the wotlessness of other Martiniquais (pronounced Mar-ti-nee-kay)*.  Seriously.  But I always find the display somewhere between alarming, amusing and disturbing because it has not been my experience at all.

The greatest gift that Africa, with its traditional culture of ubuntu, the Biko quote goes, would give to the world, is a more human face.  Without getting overly sentimental, that’s kinda how I feel about moun matinitje aka Martinican people.  For me, this is an unconditionally giving people.  They give of themselves very naturally and very generously. Continue reading

ROFL!! : When Teaching History Meets Colonialism in Martinique

I love Martinique.  Love it!  Why?  Because I catch the most jokes here.  I write this with a silly grin, teary eyes and chuckling.  This place is nuts.  It’s like Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.  Beautiful but incomprehensibly crazy.  Though it might be a crap analogy because I remember feeling like I didn’t ‘get it’.  Although it’s possible that it is therefore the perfect analogy.

But I digress.

What had me laughing so hard I felt compelled to blog about it?  Slavery – history versus the discourse here? The state of education in contemporary Martinique?  Or perhaps both?  I’ll let you decide.

First off, I was not alone.  The group of crying splutterers included me, two Martinican dudes, and two girls, one Martinican and one Guadeloupean.  We had convened at 8am and were reviewing the contribution of our comrade in educational struggle, who was also a Martinican, at around midday.  His task was to translate the fruits typically found in a jaden kréyol Matinitje (literal translation: traditional Martinican creole garden) into kréyol – as in the language so that creole-speaking students learning to read and write their language could have a written reference point aka a dictionary while they learned a bit of Martinican cultural history.  There’s a real and problematic lack of learning materials in creole – the first language of many if decreasing numbers of Martinicans (and St Lucians, Dominicans, Guadeloupeans, Trinidadians and Haitians…Mauritians, and Seychellois…but that’s another story).  Bref, this was an important task. Continue reading

Ooh la la! One crazy month in Martinique!

It’s not a huge secret that I love Martinique.  I try and play it cool like it’s a place like any other, with its good and bad, people and places.  Just another Caribbean island but with a French twist, but that’s a lie.  The truth is that I love this complicated place despite myself.  And several seemingly unconnected innocuous events will help me explain why.

First, there was the night I debated and discussed until I fell asleep.  Exhausted, we all crashed out on our sofa.  Me, and the husband and wife creative team I’ve been calling housemates this past summer.  The subject?  The private view had of Hélène Raffestin‘s art exhibition ‘Sois belle et plais toi’ which I’ll translate as ‘be beautiful and make yourself happy’ (‘please yourself’ has distinctly sexual connotations in English).  The title had intrigued my housie who noticed the play on the play of words on the charming French expression ‘Sois belle et tais toi’ aka ‘be beautiful and shut up’.  Who says the French aren’t romantic?  We were both looking forward to seeing how her desire to look at ‘the role of women in our contemporary society’ would manifest itself in her art.

She did a good job.  Art is supposed to provoke debate and emotions and she certainly did that.  According to the flyer, Raffestin lives and works in Martinique, did her first art school here, and we infer was born here.  The picture of her is shadowy, so although she looks ‘kinda white’ she could also be mixed.  Why is that important?  Because this is Martinique.  The personal, the impersonal, the private, the public, it’s all political!  Martinique, an ‘overseas region of France’ exists as a complete anachronism.  A colony in the classic Age of Empire sense of the world in the age of 21st century necolonialism.  And it retains many of the features of a colony, such as skin colour as an arbiter of social class.

Raffestin’s critique of women in ‘our contemporary society’ threw up immediately the question of ‘which society?’  Continue reading

Loving London

English: Roundel on Goodge Street tube station...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, a world lives in you.”

– Frederick Buechner (cited in The Shack)

I carry my friends and family everywhere. Although sometimes it seems like my laptap is my best friend and closest confidante, actually, it’s just the main way that I keep in touch with those I call my heart. My heart is the people who love me. It’s the place that nourished my spirit, birthed my dreams, and inspired my adventures. It’s the kindness and acceptance and piss-taking by people who have made my life better in ways they do and do not know. That make me feel human.

Like Sam, who I always call my brave friend. She is also the white person who makes me feel better about being the black late one all the time as she’s usually later. When we were 15 and studying Latin, we had an evening school trip to see Lysistrata at a central London theatre. We were both late, and the group waited as long as they feasibly could (or so they said), before getting on the train without us. Continue reading