Behold the glorious & soon-to-be-portable covers of this year’s offerings from What Books Press. (So grateful my debut novel is among these beauties.) Forthcoming in October. Covers by Gronk #elgronk
This memoir explodes the structures & strictures of keeping secrets and carrying shame. It’s a reckoning on behalf of those who have been fondled, lied to, controlled, terrorized, gaslit, manipulated, damaged, and otherwise abused by pedophiles. (Good!)
(I recommend this book. And this book may bring up past/un-metabolized/unhealed trauma. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, and you choose to read it, please find ways to take care of yourself as needed.)
& may we all find our way toward healing and wholeness.
A couple resonant bits:
“It’s incredible. I’d never have believed it possible. After so many romantic disasters, such a struggle to accept love unhesitatingly, the man whom I eventually met and with whom I now share my life was somehow able to heal my many wounds. We have a son who is just entering adolescence. A son who has helped me gro. Because you can’t remain fourteen years old forever once you become a mother. My son is handsome, with a gentle expression in his eyes, a bit of a dreamer. Fortunately, he never asks me much about my childhood. Which is just as well. In the imaginations of our children, at least when they’re young, our lives only began with their birth. Perhaps they sense, intuitively, that there is a shadowy zone it’s better not to venture into.”
“By setting his sights on young, lonely, vulnerable girls, whose parents either couldn’t cope or were actively negligent, G. knew that they would never threaten his reputation. And silence means consent.
But on the other hand, to my knowledge, not a single one of his countless mistresses has ever chosen to write a book recounting the wonderful relationship she had with G.
Does that tell us something?
What has changed today—something that men like he and his defenders complain about constantly, excoriating the general atmosphere of puritanism—is that following the sexual revolution, it is now, at last, the turn of the victims to speak out.”
When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter memoir
by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
If you want to better understand how systemic racism affects humanity, please read this book.
Here are some specific passages that resonate, for me, and help me see more fully.
On p. 93: Discussing the pitfalls of over/sole focus on personal responsibility as the solution for addiction, within the overarching structure of systemic racism:
“It was easy to understand that when race was a blatant factor, a friend says to me in a political discussion on afternoon. Jim Crow left no questions or confusion. But now that race isn’t written into the law, she says, look for the codes. Look for the coded language everywhere, she says. They rewrote the laws, but they didn’t rewrite white supremacy. They kept that shit intact, she says.
I don’t know if I ever convince my father of this line of thinking. A decade of 12-stepping has ensured that he only really knows how to hold himself accountable. Even with all my speeches and his engagement with me at the Strategy Center, I sense when we talk that everyone and everything else kind of gets a pass.”
p. 98: On the flagrant injustice that is knit into the “justice” system:
“I have never seen him high before but I refuse to turn away. If he matters to me at all then he has to matter to me at every moment. He has to matter to me at this moment. Seeing him like this feels like my soul is being pulled over shards of glass but I do not turn away. His life is not expendable. Our love is not disposable. I will not be to him what the world has been to him. I will not throw him away. I will not say he has nothing to offer.
I tell him that relapse is part of recovery.
I ask, What if we wrote off every person who fell off a diet? We laugh at that, but just briefly.
My father’s addiction and the stigma that attaches to it have made him so deeply lonely, forced him into a world that cannot ever be fully shared by anyone who loves him. I love him. I tell him I want to share his whole life with him. He sighs and expels air. He deflates. I move closer to him. He lets me. I tell him I won’t leave him and I don’t. We talk or we don’t talk, for the rest of the night. We hold each other on and off. We cry.
Two months later my father is sentenced to three years in prison. He is able to avoid the seven-year bid because he volunteers to go to the prison camp fire, a program where convicts are made to serve as front-line first responders when the California wildfires break out. They are the ones who go in before the trained firefighters do.
My father risks death for a faster shot at freedom.”
And p. 143:
“There is rarely discussion about the trauma that often drives chaotic drug use and addiction. And there is no discussion about the fact that fully 75 percent of the people who use drugs never develop addiction. (For some drugs, like marijuana, fully 90 percent of those who use never become addicted.) They wake up, go to work or school, pay their taxes, raise their kids, make love with their partners. They live. They live regular old boring lives. But for my father, my brother, others I know, chaos was a factor before drugs were a part of their lives. Why does no one ever address that?”
Heavy by Kiese Laymon is hypnotic. So much richness in the truth Laymon offers, so much vulnerability, so much powerful toppling of shame. Among other gifts, Laymon’s memoir deepened my understanding of the insidious and varied damage that systems of white supremacy cause on Black bodies and psyches. Of the pressure Black people are under, 24 hours a day, every day. Of what—to me (as a white-bodied person)—may be invisible in the classroom (and world). I’m grateful to Laymon for helping me open my eyes and see.
Please read and re-read this book. And meanwhile, behold some illuminating passages. (“You” in these passages refers to the narrator’s mother.):
P. 123: “In class, I only spoke when I could be an articulate defender of Black people. I didn’t use the classroom to ask questions. I didn’t use the classroom to make ungrounded claims. There was too much at stake to ask questions, to be dumb, to be a curious student, in front of a room of white folk who assumed all Black folk were intellectually less than. For the first time in my life, the classroom scared me. And when I was scared, I ran to cakes, because cakes felt safe, private, and celebratory. Cakes never fought back.”
P. 140-141: “I now knew what ‘patriarchy’ was. I could define ‘compulsory heterosexuality.’ I could explain ‘intersectionality’ to Ray Gunn. I understood gender was a construction and there were folk on Earth who were transgender and gender-fluid. I went to abortion-clinic defenses. I marched in safer-sex rallies. I made photocopies of my bell hooks essays and gave them to my friends. I had new lenses and frames to see the world. I called to those new lenses and frames ‘Black feminism,’ but I didn’t really have the will to publicly or privately reckon with what living my life as a Black feminist meant.”
P. 180: “‘The world was out to smother me and my kids,’ you told me a week after I arrived at Vassar. ‘ My job as a teacher was to help them breathe with excellence and discipline in the classroom. The ones that love you, they become what you model. Don’t forget that. Help them breathe by modeling responsible love in the classroom every single day. The most important thing a teacher can do is give their students permission to be loving and excellent.’”
P. 180: “My first week of class, I understood that none of my students, especially the black and brown ones who gravitated to me, wanted to be treated as noble exceptions to their communities. They wanted to be loved, inspired, protected, and heard. They didn’t want to be punished or unfairly disciplined for navigating the craziness that came with leaving home to sleep, eat, and drink with people they didn’t know while learning in haunted classrooms and dorms. Like nearly every black professor I knew from the Deep South, I expected to protect my students from security, police, and malicious administrations. I expected to pick them up from the police stations, train stations, and emergency rooms. I didn’t expect to fail them as much as I did. I mis-gendered my students when they asked if I could help push the college to cover the cost of transitioning because they’ve been disowned by their parents for being transgender. I made my students engage with art that attacked them for being queer, femme, black, and poor. I came into my James Baldwin lecture after the Virginia Tech shooting and told the one Asian American boy in the class, who happened to be Vietnamese, I was free if he ever wanted to talk about violence. I asked one of my Chicana students who told me her family had been deported if she knew when they’d be back, and if she wanted to publish an essay about it.
I found more ways to fail and harm my kids than I ever imagined. Every time I failed them, I knew I thought I was doing something you would never have done.”
P. 228: “‘We all broken,’ I said. ‘Some broken folk do whatever they can not to break other folk. If we’re gone be broken, I wonder if we can be those kind of broken folk from now on. I think it’s possible to be broken and ask for help without breaking other people.’”
Thrilled to unveil the cover of my debut novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival! Grateful to Ash Goodwin for design, and to Gronk for the beautiful art, and to Rod Val Moore and everyone at What Books Press. (Please treat yourself by perusing the work of Gronk!) Also grateful to the generous humans who read and provided blurbs (Jim Krusoe, Gayle Brandeis, Ariel Gore, and Nick Flynn). It takes many hands & spirits to do this work.
The novel is forthcoming in October. Stay tuned here for more information!
This passage from Celeste Ng’s novel, Little Fires Everywhere, captures so perfectly the feeling of wanting what I know I can’t have.
“After Pearl had begun to snore softly, Mia kept her hand in place, as if she were a sculptor shaping Pearl’s shoulder blades. She could feel Pearl’s heart, ever so faintly, beating under her palm. It has been a long time since her daughter had let her be so close. Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there were something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”
—Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere (p. 248)
(Learning “to live on the smell of an apple alone” seems like the work of my current stage of motherhood.)
My novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, is forthcoming from What Books Press!
I’m overjoyed and gobsmacked to announce that The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival is forthcoming (October 2021) from What Books Press. I’m so grateful to Rod Val Moore and Kate Haake and Gronk all who are working to make What Books Press such a fabulous collective. I’ll share more news when I can. For now, please mark your calendars for October, and get ready to enjoy the show!
p.s. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post, or the writing of this novel.
I recently read The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Wheldon Johnson. Johnson was the polymath who (among so many other experiences and accomplishments) wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which I hope some day the United States will embrace as national anthem…please enjoy this glorious video presented by 105 Voices of History National HBCU Concert Choir.
About The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, from the Penguin website:
“Originally published in 1912, this novel was one of the first to present a frank picture of being black in America. Masked in the tradition of the literary confession practiced by such writers as St. Augustine and Rousseau, this “autobiography” purports to be a candid account of its narrator’s private views and feelings as well as an acknowledgement of the central secret of his life: that though he lives as a white man, he is, by heritage and experience, an African-American. Written by the first black executive secretary of the NAACP, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, in its depiction of turn-of-the-century New York, anticipates the social realism of the Harlem Renaissance writers. In its unprecedented analysis of the social causes of a black man’s denial of the best within himself, it is perhaps James Weldon Johnson’s greatest service to his race.”
The novel is extremely relevant and feels very modern. When I heard “Lift Every Voice And Sing” growing up, I don’t recall learning about the life of the person who wrote it. The resonant anthem seems almost incidental in Johnson’s life story, just one of his many varied works, although music was central to his existence. I’m grateful to know these things now. How different so much would be if I had been taught more about the writer behind the beautiful song, when I was a child.
May we teach our children and ourselves more fully about what our country is made from, so that we may lean toward what it finally may and will be…
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…