Free ebook from Cat Valente!

I’m just going to let this (fantastic) title speak for itself:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Go get it, guys! It’s only available THIS WEEKEND!

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It isn’t Black History Month.

It isn’t Black History Month, but I’m like 90% sure it’s okay to talk about Black History even if it’s not February. (/sarcasm)

So I’m reading Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis* and in the back she writes, “I was poking through military records to find information about my grandmother and I discovered an America I’d never seen. After slavery and the Harlem Renaissance, there’s a jump in the history we learn at school to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. What happened before the mighty river that was the civil rights movement is that little streams started trickling. I never found out about my grandmother, but I found others like her. This is the story of their time.” and I was like, “That is SO damn true. One would think that that Black history (in America) goes like this:

forever ago – 1865 – SLAVERY. Damn, this sucks.
1865-1920 – No slavery, so everything was probably okay for Black people, right?
1920-1935 – Harlem Renaissance! Who knew Black people were artistic? (Aside from spirituals, of course!)
1935-1955 – Nothing big happens, just a fuzzy sort of racism. Plus segregation!
1955-1968 – Civil Rights Movement! MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, the end of segregation, etc.
1968-now – No more racism! Phew!” **

There and you’ve got it! Black History. Except… what about those big gaps? Like before the Civil War, in between it and the Harlem Renaissance, and then again in between it and the Civil Rights Movement. Black History isn’t just about those big movements. (And of course, let’s not forget that the Civil War, unlike the other two, was not fought by Black people*** and was also not fought for them. Banning slavery was a political move, a side effect of other goals.) What about Frederick Douglass? What about the great debate between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington about how best to secure the future of Blacks in America? (There’s a great alternate history novel there, I’m sure of it.) What about the millions of other stories and experiences that I can’t even mention because I don’t know about them? And it made me wonder, reading Davis’ words, how much of that history we could fill in through fiction, poetry and biographies. I can think of four novels and a couple of autobiographies off the top of my head to start filling the timeline in and will add more as I think of them.

~~~

Key
Books in this color are historical fiction.
Books in this color are not. (That is, they were written around the time the book takes place.)

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
1775 – 1803?
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

NINETEENTH CENTURY
1815 – Kindred by Octavia Butler
First half of the 1800s? Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
1818-1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
1850sWench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
1863 – A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

TWENTIETH CENTURY
1900 – The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt
Early 20th centuryTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
1930sNative Son by Richard Wright
1940s – Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Poetry
James Weldon Johnson
Langston Hughes
Claude McKay

Jean Toomer
Countee Cullen
Arna Bontemps

Nonfiction that I’m not including on the timeline for whatever reason
W. E. B. Du Bois – The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Zora Neale Hurston – Mules and Men (1935)

~~~

SO HERE’S THE PROJECT: We are going to fill this timeline in! Going as far back as we can, and going up until the Civil Rights Movement (because I feel that there is plenty of literature for that time period, plus I have to cut off the window for historical fiction as some point… If I’m wrong, let me know!), let’s collect fiction, poetry, and biographies (because we’re interested in the people of these time periods. However, if there’s is non-biographical nonfiction that you think should be included, go ahead and suggest it! The one request I have regarding nonfiction is that it be very readable and accessible to the average reader.) chronicling the history of African Americans. (I’m specifying African Americans, but should we open it up to include the histories of the whole African diaspora? A similar project for other minorities would be totally awesome, but I’m going to hold onto my Ambition Hat here and just limit it to Black history.)

This is more important than it may seem. Part of the horror of being a slaves and other displaced/repressed person, or descendant thereof,  is that your history is lost. Only rich, privileged people had time to write, whether autobiographies, novels, or histories. That is why the trend of slaves and ex-slaves writing narratives in the middle of the 19th century is so rare and wonderful and why historical fiction written from the viewpoint of POC is also rare and wonderful. Any book that highlights these unique, mostly untold stories, deserves and needs to be spotlighted and applauded. (Sorry for all the bold, I just feel like that whole paragraph is damned important!)

Now it’s your turn. What books do you know of that will help us fill this timeline in?

~Here is a link to the page I made for this project. Please comment either here or there with your own comments, additions, and suggestions!~

*Tanita Davis is a native Californian who lives in Scotland, according to her jacket copy, with a baker! I have the one part of that that you can’t retcon (being a native Californian), so can I please request from the universe a baking Scottish boy who will fall in love with me and come take me away? kthxbai
**Please note that that is a very sarcastic timeline, espousing views that I absolutely do not hold to.
***There were African American soldiers, but I mean that the impetus for the movement was not from within, but from without.

Poem of the Week, “Why I Am Not a Painter”

Why I Am Not a Painter
by Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg,
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

I am not usually a big fan of ekphrastic poetry, but there are a few poems that take my breath away. Charles Wrights’ “Homage to Paul Cézzane,” Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “Poem” to name a few.  I am also crazy about this O’Hara poem. I hadn’t had the opportunity to read it before this week in my Contemporary Poetry class, but now I am happy to add it to my list of poems I love about the visual arts. Interestingly, Mark Goldberg does have a painting “Sardines” (shown below). What I really love about the poem is it’s playfulness in lines like “‘You have SARDINES in it.’ / ‘Yes, it needed something there.'” that so concisely suggest how ineffable the artistic process can be. And then, of course, the best part is that the painting by Goldberg is primarily orange and does indeed have sardines in it. Also, O’Hara really does have a squence of poems titled “Oranges” without any explicit reference to oranges. But, alas, it does not live on the internet as far as I can see and so I cannot link to it.

If you’d like to read more by or about Frank O’Hara, I recommend the Poetry Foundation’s page about him, though I kind of hate their new format.

It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry by Joey Comeau

Reading It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry feels a little bit like someone’s exposing himself or herself to you at the park or on the train. Except maybe you paid them to do it, but you really didn’t know what you were getting into, so you feel embarrassed but kind of like it anyway?

Something like that.

I’ve been a dedicated fan of Joey Comeau’s work since I started reading his and Emily Horne’s three-panel webcomic A Softer World during my freshman year of college. Two or three sentences, each word precisely right (or precisely, perfectly wrong), makes a whole story bloom in my head. This one in particular breaks my heart a little bit every time I read it.

I’ve read many of the stories in It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry in bits and pieces, online or in randomly picking it up for a few minutes at a time. I remember rushing to read “Red Delicious” when I got home; it was the first story I read online and my favorite. When I picked it up during the recent Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, though, was the first time I read all the stories in one sitting, and it was from this that a pattern emerged. Many of the stories are about discomfort and exposure–intentional exposure, the characters pulling their chests open in front of one another in a way that is honest and a little obscene. It’s difficult to read this, sometimes. I want to help the character close up their exposure because seeing someone that exposed makes me feel exposed too. We avoid embarrassment, awkwardness, too-much-information moments that make us feel like we’re imposing upon other people with the truth of ourselves. Whether it’s right or wrong to do this, I can’t say, but it’s both frightening and refreshing to read about this indecent exposure and imagine being honest like that, not just with one person but with everyone. Talking about imaginary third testicles and two pee holes. Exhausting, but liberating.

I guess I should actually talk about the stories themselves: they’re generally rather short, averaging at maybe 7 or 8 pages. The first few make up what I think of as “the sexy arc”: desire and nakedness and, again, exposure. People putting themselves out there at the risk that the gesture, the feeling isn’t returned. It’s hard for me to summarize them individually, both due to my hatred of summarizing and because I don’t think I could do them justice. “Patricia” is more than just a story about some guy who travels through time to have sex with geniuses. “Historians and Degenerates” is more than a story about a man whose historian fugitive wife writes a memoir about all of his sordid sexual acts. (You can read “Historians and Degenerates” online here, by the way. I was going to link to “Red Delicious” but couldn’t find it anymore. “Historians and Degenerates” is good too, though.)

After the sexy arc comes a pair of sneaking, subtle horror stories that made me cringe in the way horror stories should. As with his other stories, it’s the precise and evocative wording, at least in part, that makes them so effective.

The last three are hard for me to categorize–and really, so are the others, but I did it anyway, for some reason. “Where Are You Off Too Now?” is another one I read online, and since it was around 4 a.m. during the Read-a-Thon I took the time to read it aloud to Jessica. Yelling “HARLOT HARLOT HARLOT” was quite cathartic, although I hope in retrospect that I didn’t wake anyone else in the house. The last story, “Cry Me A River,” is a story of death and confusion and regret. A slight feeling of regret tinges many of the other stories in the collection–all you need to do is refer to the title. I am usually drawn to books with long or strange titles, and It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry is no exception. It really stands for the whole collection of stories. There are missteps and moments that are worthy of regret, but there is also a defiant sense of refusing to regret, of doing something impulsively and it being over before you can be sorry for it.

When I had the opportunity to buy the first printed collection of A Softer World, along with Joey’s works It’s Too Late To Say I’m Sorry; Overqualified; and Lockpick Pornography at Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco in 2009, I was, to put it lightly, excited. Joey looked like he’d had a bit of a rough night, but he (and Emily Horne) kindly signed my entire stack of books anyway while I fidgeted and got embarrassed for not being able to hide my enthusiasm. I feel naked in front of people I admire, like I’m burdening them with my admiration. Maybe next time I’ll just pull my shirt open and then run away. Not likely, but it’s a thought. Then again, simply feeling naked in front of someone and actually being escorted out of a public venue by the police are two different things entirely.

Reading It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry reminded me that Joey Comeau has at least two more books I haven’t read, so I purchased Bible Camp Bloodbath (horror story) and The Girl Who Couldn’t Come (sexy stories) for my Kindle. The prices on Amazon are really quite low, and based on the quality of the rest of his work, they will be more than worth it. Perhaps I’ll review them in a sexy/scary double feature at some point. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend any of his works or collaborations, including and especially this one. It made a good companion read alongside Sweet Valley High: Mystery Date, I can say that much.

Poem of the Week? “Those Winter Sundays”

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
Of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden is an amazing poet, one I’m only beginning to appreciate. This past week in my contemporary poetry class we spent almost a whole class on “Middle Passage,” which is an intensely sad poem in its own way, reimagining the Amistad through high modernism and the voices of the slavers on board. IF you’d like to read it, it’s available online through the Poetry Foundation. While this particular poem doesn’t really have anything to do with race, Hayden was an African American poet, the first to be elected as Consultant of Poetry to the Library of Congress (now referred to as Poet Laureate).

I picked this poem for this week because it came to me by fate. This week, the UVA libraries had a “poem in your pocket” day. They had bowls of little poems wrapped and tied into scrolls, which were free to anyone in the library. I picked this one! This is a poem that I read while I was at UNC, that I loved, and that I haven’t really thought about in two years.

If you’d like to hear this poem read out loud by the poet, click… here!

Sorry for the lack of updates from me… Perhaps I should call this poem of the fortnight not poem of the week! :(

Book Depository Mieville Giveaway

I may be one of the last people to learn about this (it wouldn’t be the first time), but some of all y’all might be as ill-informed as I am and it’s my duty to bring this to you!

The Book Depository is doing an awesome giveaway for a signed print of one the new covers of China Mieville’s books!

Just so you know, these new covers are WAY rad:

If I had to pick (which would be great, although I’m sure everyone and their uncle are entering this giveaway), I’d probably choose the Un Lun Dun print–not just because it’s the only Mieville book I’ve read, but because the carnivorous giraffes were my favorite detail of that book and I like the sweet half-a-giraffe on the new cover.

Anyway, go enter the giveaway! It’s open until May 6th, so you’ve got plenty of time and no excuses. Go, go!

Free book from Maureen Johnson!

Do you remember two weeks ago when I said that Maureen Johnson was giving away her book, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, to promote its sequel that is coming out April 26th?

Well, the links for downloading it are up! You can grab a Kindle, Nook, or Sony Reader version! (Or all three, I suppose.)

YOU HAVE TWO WEEKS, until April 25th, to grab your free copy! Go, go, go!