Seems like everything is going to crap, huh? Well, on one hand…yes, it is. On the other hand, we’re still here, aren’t we?
Listen. I’m a Black women, descended from American slaves, who went to Harvard Law School and practices at one of the top firms in D.C. 200 years ago, my ancestors were likely caught in the midst of a never-ending despair, and their wildest dreams probably would not have ever concocted a vision of the life that I, their descendant, currently live. But I’m here! And so are you. Despair for a moment, if you must, but remember to resist, resist, resist…and read. I’m listing a few novels, some classics and some off-the-beaten-track, that may help you refocus your perspective…because Dr. King said the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but before that, he said it was long…af.
- The Color Purple – Alice Walker (Spelman, woot woot!). This story is beyond beautiful and will remind you that there is a path for every person. The film version centered on Celie, which is fair, but the book looks deeply at Shug, Sophia, Celie, and even Squeak, all of whom are Black women who should never have been what they turned out to be, but they made themselves that anyway! As Celie famously says in film, “I’m poor, black; I may even be ugly. But dear God! I’m here! I’m here!”
- Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston. Not the traditional love story and certainly not a traditional happy ending, that’s for sure. But, as Janie, a young Black woman in the early 20th century in rural Florida, grapples with her existence in spite of, in light of, and in connection with the men around her, she finds herself, she finds the sky, and she finds God. How can you not find some hope in that story?
- As Mulheres do Meu Pai or My Father’s Wives – José Eduardo Agualusa. After her travelling musician father dies, his daughter travels the continent of Africa to meet his many widows and children in an attempt to reconstruct his enigmatic life. That journey teaches her more about herself and the world than she will ever learn about her father, but my goodness (!!), is it worth the read. Thankfully, this book has been translated from the original Portuguese for those of you who don’t speak the language.
- Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward. I reviewed the book more fully here, but this glimpse in the life of the poor Blacks impacted by Katrina, who simultaneously exemplify and destroy every stereotype about this group of people, is beautifully conceived, constructed, and written. There is calm even after a storm of that magnitude.
- Roots – Alex Haley. Forget all the controversy that surrounded Alex Haley following the publication of this book. Forget the mini-series. Forget what you thought you knew that it meant to live for generations under the ownership of another person. Forget it all and just read or re-read Roots. This story (supposedly) traces the several generations of Haley’s family from the ancestor who was kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery through to those who were freed through the Emancipation Proclamation and beyond. This is from whence we came, and we come too far to turn back, y’all.
Read, read, read. And then resist.