Books I Loved in 2017

I make my living as a school librarian which means I am constantly trying to model that readers are always reading. This year I have been writing down all the books I read to show my students, which means theoretically I could have made a book list of every book I read, but I am just going to write about the books that months later still stick with me.

In September I interviewed Jesmyn Ward about Sing Unburied Sing. I’m holding back the exclamation points here. To prep for the interview I spent one incredible weekend rereading Salvage the Bones, the Men We Reaped, and The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, the essay collection which she edited. After I followed up with her first novel Where the Line Bleeds, which I’d never read. I’m still thinking about something she said in the interview which you can read here.

Jesmyn’s memoir The Men We Reaped captures what it is like to be black and from Mississippi (from the South, from America) like nothing else. I’m from Mississippi. In some ways this book is the book I spent much of my life  wanting to read. If you haven’t read The Men We Reaped, you need to.

Ariel Leve’s memoir An Abbreviated Life is about growing up with a toxic mother and Leve’s gradual break from her mother.  It really resonated with me.  Go Ariel!

Robin Coste Lewis’ Voyage of the Sable Venus (NBA 2015) is mind-blowing. I also loved listening to Robin discussing “The Race  Within Erasure.”

Nina Riggs’ posthumously released memoir The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying made me cry the best kind of cry, one where I grieved with Nina as she grieved for her kids, for her husband, and for her mother, who was also dying of cancer. Nina was a poet. Each line is gut-wrenching.

Patricia Lockwood is also a poet. Her memoir priestdaddy about growing up the daughter of a married Catholic priest is a hysterical, introspective, and illuminating take of what it’s like to grow up within the patriarchy.

I kept thinking Danzy Senna’s novel New People shouldn’t have worked but it did. I can’t even begin to describe it. My friend Diana has it. It’s the next book I’m re-reading. It’s brilliant.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib is a collection about music and Marvin Gaye and being black and from the Midwest in a country which wears the blood of your ancestors on its teeth. Loved it. Also on my rereading list.

Gene Oishi’s Fox Drum Bebop is a collection of stories about the Japanese Internment and the aftermath. My father in law was an internee. I’m writing a children’s book about the internment and have been reading a lot about the internment. Fox Drum Bebop allowed me to connect with the internment in a way that I haven’t previously.

I’ve had a lot of friends who are adopted, growing up I wanted to be adopted, I’ve thought about adoption, but Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere helped me understand more deeply the many ways trans-racial adoption can be an erasure. I couldn’t stop reading it.

I just finished up an interview with Leni Zumas for Electric Lit, which means to prep I also read Leni’s two other books, The Listeners and Farewell, Navigator, both of which are highly recommended. Some of her short stories still have me by the throat. Red Clocks, her new book, is about an America that has been overtaken by Christian zealots, which, wake up people, is happening in real-time. For me it was a personal relief to read because someone out there not #raisedreligious gets this. However, Red Clocks isn’t heavy. I’ve been working on the interview so long that I can’t say more than to let you know that this book, which comes out January 16th, is important. People are going to be talking about Red Clocks. Pre-order it.

Interview with Jesmyn Ward in Guernica

I interviewed Jesmyn Ward recently for Guernica. Can’t even describe the thrill! I think everyone should read her memoir THE MEN WE REAPED, but I also feel that way about SALVAGE THE BONES, her new novel SING, UNBURIED, SING and her essay collection THE FIRE THIS TIME. One of the craft questions I asked her was about a comment she had made about her first novel, WHERE THE LINE BLEEDS (she’d said she’d been a benevolent god with her characters); it was fascinating to go back and read that book with her answer in mind.

Ward and I are both the oldest of four. We both grew up in Mississippi in the seventies, and we both share an appreciation for the classic cars of our youth such as the Caprice Classic and the Buick Riviera. I loved every moment of our conversation.  Enjoy!

In Revision

I had this dream the other night I was walking in a Delta forest. The sun was shining golden green. The birds were singing.  All around me frogs croaked.

I walked down to the brake. Trash was floating up against the knees of the cypress.   I looked down at my feet. An iPad was lying facedown next to a clump of pussywillows.  All of which goes to confirm this ongoing need I have to withdraw from the digital world.

However, I have been revising Unreformed. I signed with an amazing agent in December.  She’s guiding me through another round of edits, which could be daunting. However Fiction School had a great episode on revising a book-length project. My favorite trick: opening a new document and retyping the draft. There’s no way I’m wasting time typing one unnecessary scene or word.

Also, Dinty Moore’s The Story Cure was recently published by Penguin.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

Manifesto 2017, #WritersResist- Athens,GA

I wrote and delivered the following manifesto for the #WritersResist event at Avid Bookshop.  I also read it at the Athens, GA Women’s March.  We must speak out.

 

Manifesto 2017

We are gathered here because we dream. Like many of you, I grew up believing in this dream.  I grew up believing in the dream of an America founded 12 score and five years ago as a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal.

Like many of you, I grew up to realize that this dream of the America which I loved was flawed.  I grew up to recognize that my America was stolen from indigenous people, that my America’s wealth was built upon the backs of those brought here in chains.  I grew up to understand that in my America all men were not created equal, that in my America, women were viewed as property, that in my America those who practiced homosexuality were persecuted, that in my America, a country founded on the idea of religious freedom, the only religion respected is Judeo Christian.

I, like so many of you here, have dedicated my adulthood to creating my vision of America, an America of tolerance.  I, like so many of you, have striven just by being and living and working and doing, to create an America where all people are equal, one where black lives matter, to create an America where immigrants and refugees are welcome, an America where those with disabilities are respected, an America where women can take ownership over their bodies, an America where diversity and inclusiveness are celebrated, one where our people and our planet are valued over profit.

This view of America is being challenged.  And I am here to remind you, we are all here to remind each other, that we need to fight back in whatever way possible to protect the America that we love, even when others would chide us to imprison ourselves by not speaking out.

We need to speak out- we must speak out now against injustice and repression- for the sake of those of those not yet born, for the children here now, for my son.  We need to speak out- we the living must be dedicated to exercising our privilege, no matter what it may be, and speak out against fascism and tyranny, no matter the risk.  It is only by speaking out and committing ourselves to the fight that we may ensure that our nation will rise and thrive and have a new birth of freedom, that our government of the people, by the people and for  the people shall not perish.

We must speak out now to protect our vision of America. We must speak out to protect our way of life.  We must speak out to protect our water, our land, our air, and our planet.

I thank you all now for speaking up and joining me in this fight.

#WritersResist: Silence- Athens, GA

Because our democracy is at risk, a group from Athens is joining with writers throughout the nation to focus attention to the ideals of a free, just, and democratic society  for all on Sunday, January 15, Martin Luther King’s birthday.  More about national events can be found here.

Here in Athens, we will have

  • a workshop at the 1493 Prince location of our beloved Avid Bookshop  at 3 p.m. for all ages.  We will create peace flags.
  • a reading from 5 – 6 p.m. at Avid, featuring a wide variety of speakers throughout the community, reading from works celebrating the ideals of democracy.
  • an oratory orchestra, with people reading works celebrating democracy throughout the community.  More details to be announced.

 

Please mark your calendars and plan to bring your friends, your family, and all those you love.

We are possibly adding more events.  Check back for updates.  If you would like to be involved, please contact Deirdre Sugiuchi at athenswritersresist@gmail.com

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