Category Archives: Black Women Writers

Read 210 of 2021. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois

Title: The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois Author: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers Publisher: Harper ISBN: 978-0062942937 Genre: Literary Fiction, African American Literary Fiction, African American Women’s Fiction
Pages: 816
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I will always be grateful to Oprah’s Book Club for introducing me to the debut novel of Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. The minute I saw it being picked by Oprah for her book club, I knew I had to read it. A multigenerational saga, with African American history at its core is something I wouldn’t want to miss reading. What I didn’t realize was how attached I would become to the characters, how I would root for some and become their cheerleader, how I would hate some with a vengeance, how I would fall in love with the language, and more than anything else, how I would find parts of myself in this novel.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is more than just a story told through the lens of an African American family. It is so much more than that. It is not just about African history intertwined with contemporary living, but so much more. Jeffers lays it all out, bares her soul, to make us – the readers see what it was and what it still is. This is most marvellously done through the songs and writing of W.E.B Du Bois who is at the center of this magnificent epic.

Ailey Garfield is a headstrong, vulnerable, emotional, and highly intelligent women coming from a long line of women of the Garfield family. This is her story. This is the story of the women of the Garfield family – her mother, her maternal grandmother, great-grandmothers, her sisters, and her ancestors tracing way back to how they became slaves and what happened. It is the story of so many generations and somehow the story sadly is still the same, the one of fight – the one of voicing what is right, the one of standing up against wrong, and yet at the heart of it all there is love. A whole lot of love, that shines through the writing.

Ms. Jeffers’ voice shifts beautifully between times, between the past, the present, and beyond. The narration shifts swiftly to communicate the timbre of the times, the tone, of how it was, and in all of this never losing sight of the family and its struggle.

What I loved the most about the book is how emotional it gets you, and yet all you want to do is turn the pages. And yet there were times I wanted to just keep it down, which I did, and make sense of all the writing and the emotion. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is personal, it is political, it is devoid of the constrict of time (though it may not seem that way), and above all it is kind. It is a kind novel. It still preaches that over and over again, no matter what. Ms. Jeffers’ takes on topics that are so difficult and yet have to be talked about – the demonic nature of child abuse, the way relationships can get so messy, about slavery and colorism, about what it feels like to be the only black student and a teacher on campus, about black women who lead the novel and life, of how Ailey confronts tough situations as she goes along life, with help from her family and friends and about history that must not be whitewashed or forgotten. History that runs through the veins of every marginalised folk, in this case the African American people. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois is compelling, gorgeous, stunning, and a read that has to be mandatory for all. Please read it.

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Just Us - An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Title: Just Us: An American Conversation
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241467107
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Black Literature
Pages: 360
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Just Us is not an instruction manual. It doesn’t tell you how to be, or behave, or cannot even teach you how not to discriminate. What it does is take the discussion of race up by a couple of notches. This book is a book that impacted me deeply with Rankine’s conversations with people about race, her stream of consciousness and thoughts as she encounters people and situations.

Rankine packs so much in one book – poetry, dialogue, illustrations, and lots of footnotes that give not only clarity to the topic but also evokes empathy in the reader. While reading this book I was reminded a lot about Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, though it doesn’t chronicle the history of caste as Wilkerson does, but it does have its roots there.

She also speaks of her white husband and how he views the world she inhabits and is a part of, which is very different and how there are still some differences in his understanding of what she goes through. Rankine’s writing is easy, and candid. Though the book is primarily about colour, it is also most certainly about gender, orientation, appearances, and what it takes to be a writer at large.

Just Us is a book that is not only relevant in the sense of what we should do, but also to reflect on what we have been doing. Rankine writes a book that is for all – irrespective of the country you live in – casual racism is prevalent and is something we cannot deny. Like I said, this book will make you introspect and understand the world better – and hopefully make us change our ways, day by day, evolving as we go along.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The RevisionersTitle: The Revisioners
Author: Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Publisher: Counterpoint
ISBN: 978-1640094260
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was stunned after reading The Revisioners. I still am. There were times I put down the book because I was scared of turning the page, wondering what will happen to characters I fell in love with, mainly the protagonists. This story is about two African-American women connected by blood, and divided by time. The story moves from 2017 to 1924, and also taking place in 1855. There is a lot going on in the book. It is a tale of generations, legacies, healing, motherhood, racism, prejudice, and old-age traditions.

The book starts in New Orleans in the year 2017, when Ava, a biracial mom and her teenage son King move in with Ava’s white, wealthy grandmother Martha. Ava becomes her caretaker, as she is recently laid off and could do with some money and rent-free accommodation. She does all of this so she can finally buy a place of her own after saving some money. Little does she know what’s in store for her and her son – Martha starts behaving erratically and things start to change.

Josephine, Ava’s ancestor’s story is set in 1924 when she is a free woman with her own plantation and house, alternating in the year 1855 when she was a young slave girl on the Wildwood plantation. Josephine befriends a white, lonely, younger woman Charlotte and an uneasy friendship is formed between the two. Josephine has learned the hard way and strived to find her voice and Charlotte has her own past to deal with. The question then is: Can a black woman and a white woman ever be friends?

The power dynamics between the white and the marginalised black are neatly laid out. Sexton speaks up and makes you realize with every scene and conversation about the privilege, the distance, and the promise and audacity of hope between the white and black women as their paths cross. Sexton’s writing is raw and grabs you from the first page. And might I add that it is not a slave narrative. It is about hope, courage, and how to stand your own ground when it comes to identity and the connections of ancestry. It is about how two black women a century apart experience racism, and how things perhaps haven’t changed all that much. The stories of Ava and Josephine are ground in reality, though sometimes they take on a mythical quality, lending them the magic realism tone.

The Revisioners is a book that is needed. It is needed for people to not only check privilege but also make an effort to reduce gaps, to cross bridges, and examine their relationships with people around them. It is a reminder of blood relationships and also relationships that go beyond blood, and expand into a community, and last forever.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine Title: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Penguin Poetry
ISBN: 978-0141981772
Genre:  Poetry, Criticism,
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

“Citizen – An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine is a book which can be applied to anywhere in any country. It is on racism and according to me racism is not just deep-rooted in The United States of America. It is prevalent all over the world and that is not something to be proud of for anyone. I chanced on this book on Salon.com. It was heavily recommended by one writer whose name I forget. All said and done, I am only too glad that I picked it up and cannot stop talking about it.

“Citizen” is the perfect book of our times and sadly represents the world that we live in. It is an age of race differentiation, colour differentiation and violence and maybe it never stopped. Maybe it never ended anywhere. This book makes you think in ways you didn’t think it was possible to do. It ruffles your feathers and rightly so. It is needed at this juncture. I think it is also the fact that we tend to ignore so many things because we don’t want to confront. I think it is time to confront. Gone are the days of being silent.

I think that maybe “Citizen” can somewhere down the line help us understand why things are the way they are and at the same time, there is so much introspection that we need to do as well. And like I said before, the book is not all American, though it seems like that from the title. It can speak to anyone and it does. When Rankine speaks of what Serena Williams had to go through because of her colour, she is speaking to a wider audience and we need more voices such as these. She speaks of shame of colour, of rage, of loneliness, and what it means to be discriminated against.

“Citizen” is a read that will take its own time to sink in. You cannot rush through it. It is the kind of read that stays with you and makes you think about the world we live in. The writing is stunning and strong and forces you told contemplate on issues you would have turned a blind eye to. The writing also sort of comes across as an out-of-body experience for Rankine. To distance herself from all of this and write, and then to merge her experiences. I finished this book with a heavy heart. The book can be best summed-up in one line as written by Rankine: “I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.”

Read it. You will not regret it.

P.S: This time around was my second read of the book. The first time was in 2015. Sadly, nothing has changed.

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor Title: The Dragonfly Sea
Author: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494047
Genre: Coming of Age, Literary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Books that manage to capture place, time, person, and at the same time keep the prose intact and tight are rare to come about. The Dragonfly Sea is one of them. It scores very high on each of these parameters and then some more. When I say more, I mean what the reader feels for the characters, which to me is primary. The Dragonfly Sea is the kind of book that will keep you enthralled, and make you wonder about the Kenyan landscape – but more than anything else it will leave you wanting more of Owuor’s writing.

The book opens on the island of Pate, off the coast of Kenya, where stubborn Ayaana lives with her mother, Munira. Ayaana has never known what it’s like to be with a father, till Muhidin, a sailor enters their lives and things start to change. There is so much happening in the book that for some time I had to just pause and take a breath. That’s the power of this book. It also reminded me of Homegoing but not so much. So, it is its own person so to say and I love that about it.

The Dragonfly Sea is a coming-of-age book that is unlike any other I have read. Maybe it is the setting, but mostly it is the way Owuor has written this book. This is the first time I am read something by her, and it won’t definitely be the last. Ayaana’s voice, her thoughts, and the way circumstances impact her thoughts are beautifully expressed throughout the book. Whether is a visitor with a murky past or from dragonflies to a tsunami or kidnappers, or even her journey to the Far East, every plot-line has a purpose to serve and even though the book stretches to five hundred and twelve pages, it is worth every sentence.

Owuor’s prose strikes you immediately, it almost jumps at you and you also have to reread some sentences to make sense of what’s going on. It might even take some time for the reader to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the plot and the sub-plots, there’s no stopping you. I loved how descriptions change as per place, which of course they will, but I guess just the deftness with which it is done is remarkable. All details are laid out, and that helps a lot. The emotions of characters are unpredictable and that helps steer the novel in various directions, which is needed for a saga such as this one.

The Dragonfly Sea is one of those books that has it all – adventure, compassion, the choices we make and how difficult they prove to be, and of course more than anything else the need for home – to what becomes home and where we feel at ease. It is the kind of book you want to come home to at the end of the day and not stop reading at all. A fantastic read that is not to be missed.