For #BlackHistoryMonth, we highlight the work of American fiction author -- Jesmyn Ward

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American and other influential black women fiction authors.

Our list continues with American novelist  -- Jesmyn War(Wikipedia, Amazon)

JesmynWard

Ms. Ward is the first woman to ever received two National Book Awards for Fiction (2011, 2017). She has also won a Anisfield-Wolf Book Award as well as the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship (2017). In 2012, she received an Alex Award. In 2018, she was one of Time Magazine's 100 people where her writing is described as "brutal and moving, tragic and beautiful." 

"Jesmyn captures the African-American experience with authenticity and nuance. She is a modern-day William Faulkner, painting tapestries of an America that has not been heard." (Time Magazine, 2018)

While born in California, Ms. Ward grew up in Mississippi where she was frequently bullied at public schools by her African-American classmates and by white students at the private-school her mother's work paid for. She went on to attend scholarship to Stanford where she received a BA in English and an MA in media and communications. 

It's is said that every great writer must experience tragedy and struggle to have something to write about. Although much younger many of the authors we've celebrated so far, Ms. Ward has had her share of struggle and tragedy.

To give you a sense of her life -- Shortly after receiving her MA, her brother was killed by a drunk driver. She had just received her MFA from University of Michigan when Hurricane Katrina hit. Her family took to the road as their home filled with water. They were turned away at their nearest safe haven, a white family's property nearby, only to have to head out to find another place to go. In order to get to her new teaching job at the University of New Orleans, she had to commute through some of the most stricken neighborhood.

She has dedicated her life to writing and teaching. Ward has been an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama, a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is currently on the faculty of Tulane.

What do we recommend you read? We suggest three books -- her latest book (2017), Sing, Unburied, Sing which received was the won a National Book Award and was a New York Times Top 20 Best Books of the Year, her memoir, Men We Reap, as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award, and the collection of essays and poems that Ms. Ward edited: The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race by Jesmyn Ward


 


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we highlight the work of historical fiction author -- Maryse Conde

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American and other influential black women fiction authors.

Our list continues with historical fiction French (Guadeloupean) author  -- Maryse Conde (Wikipedia)

MaryseConde

Ms. Condé's historical fiction brings to life issues of race as they impact gender and cultural issues. She has the tremendous ability to bring life to overlooked characters in history. Rather than hitting us over the head with these important issues, she delicately unfurls the lives of those who live in these times. In that way, we feel the constrains of race, gender, and social roles as if we were living through them.

Moreover, Ms. Condé uses vivid characterizations to lay bare the often overlooked experiences --  a slave in Puritan New England,  African people brought to the Carribean to work as slaves in plantations, the side effects of large infrastructure projects on poor people of the world, and even the death of the weird little guy in a small town.

Here is a highlight of three of her novels to give you a sense of the breadth and depth of her work:

  1. I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1986): (Wikipedia) Ms. Condé uses the scant historical record to create an entire world around this forgotten part of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Her adept fiction fills in the gaps to bring Tituba alive.

  2. The Tree of Life (1992): (Wikipedia) Ms. Condé uncovered the unintentional personal side-effect for the international creation of the Panama Canal. Using her lyrical fiction, she follows a family who leaves abject poverty in Guadeloupe to work on the Panama Canal. He amasses a fortune as an undertaker. The story is about how this money translates through the generations.

  3. Segu (1980): The book begins in 1797 in the thriving kingdom of Segu in West Africa. The sovereign nation is hit at the same time by the new religion of Islam from the east and the slave trade from the west. Told from the persepective of a single family, the story follows the individual journeys of the five sons including on who is taken into slavery and one who turns his back on tradition to embrace Islam.

Ms. Condé brings to life the important issues that are currently at play in many of our current political and social issues. 

She is a scholar of Francophone literature and Professor Emerita of French at Columbia University.

She is the recipient of the Grand prix littéraire de la Femme (1986), Prix de L’Académie francaise (1988), and the New Academy Prize in Literature (2018) for her novels.


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- Tananrieve Due

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

Our list continues with American novelist and non-fiction essayist, Tananrieve Due(Wikipedia, Amazon)

TananrieveDue

Have you ever met someone that you liked instantly? Just liked them, for no reason at all? I met Ms. Due and her mother, Patricia Stevens Due, when they were on book tour for the civil rights memoir, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (2003) I found myself in awe of both of them. 

At the time that I (Claudia) met Ms. Due, she had already traditionally published in the horror and speculative fiction genre. She was working as a journalist at the Miami Herald when she wrote her first book, The Between (1995)

She is the author of twelve novels including: African Immortals (science fiction/horror), Devil's Wake (post-apocolyptic) with her husband, Steven Barnes,  and Tennyson Hardwick series with Blair Underwood and her husband, Steven Barnes.

She is the recipient of the American Book Award winner and NAACP Image Award. Her website says that she is currently teaching at Antioch College, Los Angeles. 

She is smart, articulate, and shockingly honest about interesting, intellectual topics. She has the capacity to speak clearly about issues of race and how they specifically and very really affect people today. 

If you get a chance to read Ms. Due, you will not be disappointed by this brilliant and bright star. 

Want to read something written by Ms. Due? We'd encourage you to read The Black Rose, a novel about the fascinating Madam C.J. Walker. The Black Rose is regularly on the top lists for most empowering books. Or start in on the African Immortals series with My Soul to Keep about a woman who marries into a clan of Ethiopian Immortals. 

                                                                                                               The Black Rose by Tananarive Due    My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

 

 

If you'd like to read a riveting book about the civil rights movement and it's effects on the individuals and families who were involved, you will love, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. 

FreedomintheFamily


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

Our list continues with Nigerian-American novelist and non-fiction essayist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (Wikipedia)

Chimamanda-ngozi
She has three published novels -- Purple Hibiscus (2003),  Half of a Yellow Sun (2006),  and Americanah (2013).  Her latest book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, is a collection of short stories. As a young author, she has been nominated and received of so many awards for her writing that we stole the chart from Wikipedia.

Chimamanda-ngozi-awards-all
That's not to mention:

  • 2010 Listed among The New Yorker?s "20 Under 40"
  • 2013 Listed among The New York Times? "Ten Best Books of 2013", for Americanah
  • 2013 Listed among BBC's "Top Ten Books of 2013", for Americanah
  • 2013 Foreign Policy magazine "Top Global Thinkers of 2013"
  • 2013 Listed among the New African?s "100 Most Influential Africans 2013"
  • 2014 Listed among Africa39 project of 39 writers aged under 40
  • 2015 Listed among Time Magazine's "The 100 Most Influential People"

Ms. Adichie was born into a large Nigerian family. During the Nigerian Civil War, her family lost both maternal and paternal grandfathers and most of their possessions. Her family migrated to the city where her father worked as a professor of statistics at the University of Nigeria and her mother was the university's first woman registrar. She move to the United States to study medicine at Drexel University. She transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University to be near her sister Uche.  She graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State University. Her first novel was published the year she graduated from Johns Hopkins with a master's in creative writing. She was a Hooder fellow for the school year 2005-2006, the MacArthur Fellowship in 2008 and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University for 2011-2012.

Having grown up in Nigeria, she knew about division based on someone's religion, social class, and ethnic division (Igho people). She had never been identified by the color of her skin. She experienced racism for the first time when she came to the United States for college. 

Because of this, she has a unique perspective to look at racism in the United States. She is a powerful advocate for feminism. A consummate storyteller, she is a smart, eloquent speaker with smart and interesting perspectives on racism and feminism. 

Haven't read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? We recommend that you read Americanah. This best selling novel has been translated into thirty languages and is in development for a television miniseries, starring and produced by Lupita Nyong'o. It is also highly readable. 

Americanah_book_cover

Her TedX talk on the Danger of a Single Story has more than 4 million views and is frequently assigned for college students to view. 

 

_______________________________

previous entries in #BlackHistoryMonth exploration of African-American female fiction authors

Maya Angelou

Alice Walker

Toni Morrison

Octavia Butler

Zora Neale Hurston


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- Maya Angelou

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

Our list continues with the comparable poet, mentor, and author, Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou
We selected this picture because Ms. Angelou laughed so often and freely.

Ms Angelou led such a BIG life that there's almost too much to talk about. Here are a few things that aren't usually highlighted.

  1. Ms. Angelou was the mentor and adopted mother to Oprah Winfrey. Ms. Angelou was able to translate her wisdom and love to support Oprah to become a cultural icon. Oprah Winfrey's work and life has directly impacted millions of people. Much of this is due to the support and wisdom given to her by Ms. Angelou.

  2. Ms. Angelou worked through her personal experiences and traumas to benefit others. If you have experienced severe trauma, you know how your heart and mind can be stuck in that time. Rather than relive that time over and over again in her mind, Ms. Angelou took the time and effort to work through it. She never let it hold her back. Her series of memoirs are a beautiful example of a translating trauma into wisdom. If you have experienced trauma, you may get a lot out of reading her autobiographies.

  3. She was good friends with Malcolm X and helped him create the Organization of Afro-American Unity. She was devastated by his murder. She gave herself some months to mourn before she was ready to write again.

  4. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked her to organize a march but he was killed before she had a chance to. His death devastated her. She was nurtured out of her depression by her dear friend, James Baldwin.

  5. She translated her grief into a ten part series called Blacks, Blues, Black!  for the National Educational Television which she wrote, produced and narrated. The ten part program discussed the role of African-American history and the creation of the blues.

  6. She was the first African-American woman to have her a screenplay produced into a film (Georgia, Georgia) and she was the first African-American to direct a major motion picture (Down in the Delta.)

  7. While she is known for her poetry, she also wrote:
    1. eight children's books,
    2. 7 plays,
    3. 14 films or television programs including the first screenplay ever written by an African-American woman ,
    4. acted in at least 8 films or television programs,
    5. sang on at least five albums, and
    6. created four spoken word programs.

Ms. Angelou translated every experience into grace and wisdom. She inspires us to do the same thing.

Our favorite poem is "I Rise", performed here by Serena Williams.


Haven't read Ms. Angelou? We recommend the book of poems, And Still I Rise. (Wikipedia | Amazon)
And_Still_I_Rise

 

 

 

 

 


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- Alice Walker

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

The third on our list is living legend, Alice Walker

AliceWalker from the Daily Beast (2012)
Photo credit-Monica Morgan / Wire Image

Like most of us, you probably associate Ms. Walker with her seminal book, A Color Purple -- either the book or the movie. For many women, the book opened us to our own experience of adult sexuality as well as abuse. The book highlights the delicate interplay of the family and cultural pressure that goes into silencing an individual's experience. It also displays the interplay of control and violence. 

Here are a few things you might not know about Ms. Walker:

  1. She's always been willing to lend her name and fame to causes that could use her light. We gave the example of her reviving interest in Zora Neale Hurston earlier in this series. She's reached out to support Chelsea Manning as well as brought attention to Pema Chodron.

  2. She practices Transcendental Meditation. 

  3. She was educated under segregation in Georgia. She was valedictorian of her class at Butler Baker High School. In spite of these humble beginnings, she went to Spellman college on an academic scholarship. After two years, she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College where she graduated in 1965.

  4. She and her first husband were harassed and threatened by white people including the Klu Klux Klan for being an interracial couple.

  5. She is an extraordinary poet who has also written twelve non-fiction books, including Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism.In Anything We Love Can Be Saved, is about the authors belief that the world is fixable as long as we act.

  6. She is the co-founder of the small publishing house, Wild Tree Press.

Please join us in celebrating, author, poet, activist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and living legend, Alice Walker.

Looking for a book to read? If you haven't read the Color Purple, it's worth another look. It won a Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Award. The audiobook is brilliant.

Anything We Love Can be Saved is an inspirational call for authors to use our power as storytellers to create the world they long to see. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker   Anything we love can be saved by Alice Walker

 


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- Toni Morrison

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

The third on our list is living legend, Toni Morrison.

M_toni_morrison

Ms. Morrison is the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, a Presidential Metal of Freedom, and a Pulitzer Prize, to name three of the more than thirty major awards she has won for her writing. She is the author of eleven novels, five children's literature books, two short fiction, two plays, one libertto, and eight works of non-fiction.

If there is a word that describes Ms. Morrison, it's "freedom." She gave herself the freedom to write what she was interested in. In each of these projects, she gave herself the freedom to dive deep into the topic, to grasp it fully, and come out with beautiful prose to explain the complicated. She has given herself the freedom to write about what interests her including "taboo" topics such as politics, religion, multi-generational trauma, incest, and issues of being African-American in modern society.

She is a beacon to all writers encouraging them to dive deep, take on hard topics, and write, write, write. 

In this brilliant piece, included in "The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison" (New York Times, 2015), she speaks of knowing how to write forever.

 

Haven't read Toni Morrison? We encourage you to read Beloved.  (Amazon | Wikipedia) The book covers the impact of trauma as it's passed through generations. It is a brilliant look at the ghosts from secrets and untold stories that exist in most families. 

First edition cover of Beloved by Tony Morrison
First edition cover of Beloved

 


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- Octavia Butler

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

I'm embarrassed to say that a few years ago, I was completely unaware of how many African-American women have written successful fiction. They get such little attention. That we thought it might be nice to shine a light on the tremendous work done by  African-American women fiction authors.

Second on our list is Octavia Butler.  Of course, it's likely that she would not have liked being on this list as she called herself a "Writer" without any qualifier.

OctaviaButler

Ms. Butler was born and raised in a racially integrated neighborhood in Pasadena, California. She worked during the day and went to Pasadena City College at night. Like many people of her age and time, she got involved in politics and the Black Power Movement when she went to Pasadena City College. 

She knew that she wanted to be a writer as early as 10 years old. At twelve, she re-wrote the story to the film, Devil Girl from Mars, which became the backbone of her Patternist series. She earned her first income as a writer at Pasadena City College by winning a college wide short story contest. This germ of an idea became Kindred.

Laser focused on what she wanted, she went to California State University, Los Angeles, but switched to taking writing courses through UCLA extension. Her desire to improve her craft led her to an Open Door Workshop led by the Screen Actors Guild where she was notices by Science Fiction author Harlan Ellison. She sold her first short story to be included in Mr. Ellison's compilation of stories.

Until her career took off, Ms. Butler worked temporary jobs to support herself. She got up at 3 am daily to write and went to work in the afternoons. 

While many people call her a "science fiction" author, she did not prefer the term. She felt like it constricted her into talking about robots and stories like "Star Wars". In modern times, we would like call her a speculative fiction author.

Ms. Butler talks about transcending barriers in this interview.

After she'd received critical and financial success, she taught writing classes to give back to the writing community. 

If you haven't had a chance to read Ms. Bulter, we recommend that you read Parable of Talents. Amazon

ParableofTalents

 

This novel follows Lauren Oya Olamina and her daughter Larkin Olamina/Asha Vere. Lauren has survived the collapse of the United States to create a religious community named "Acorn" in Northern California.

From Wikipedia:

"The novel is set against the backdrop of a dystopian United States that has come under the grip of a Christian fundamentalist denomination called "Christian America" led by President Andrew Steele Jarret. Seeking to restore American power and prestige, Jarret embarks on a crusade to cleanse America of non-Christian faiths. Slavery has resurfaced with "shock collars" being used to control slaves. Virtual reality headsets known as "Dreamasks" are also popular since they enable wearers to escape their harsh reality."

Published in 1998, the book highlights the tears in American culture that bring about much of the current political landscape. The book is shockingly prophetic. 


For #BlackHistoryMonth, we're taking a look at our favorite African-American female fiction authors -- 1rst - Zora Neale Hurston

For Black History month, we'd like to share some of our favorite African-American women fiction authors.

I'm embarrassed to say that a few years ago, I was completely unaware of how many African-American women have written successful fiction. They get such little attention. That we thought it might be nice to shine a light on the tremendous work done by  African-American women fiction authors.

So here we go --

Our first is Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston-Zora-Neale-LOC

Ms. Hurston took an unapologetic look at race relations and life in the early 20th century. Her characters are rich and interesting. They dive right to the heart of post-slavery south. If you're an author, do yourself a favor and check out her Wikipedia page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston

If you haven't read her, it's not surprising. Her work was mostly unknown until Alice Walker used her celebrity and fame to shine a light on her. Ms. Walker wrote an article called "In search of Zora Neale Hurston" for Ms. Magazine.

Ms. Hurston's latest book was published last year, in 2018. The book was created from series of interviews of Cudjo Lewis, a survivor of the last slave ship which landed on US soil, the Clotilda. (It's important to note here that the Clotilda brought slaves to the US long after the import of slaves was banned. Further, most historians never believed the ship existed, let alone landed on US soil. The wreckage was found in 2018.)

We recommend you start reading Ms. Hurston with her most famous novel -- Their Eyes Were Watching God. Here's a link: https://amzn.to/2t0UJxi

Their Eyes Were Watching God


To what extent is your fiction autobiographical? We asked authors -- here's what they said:

Autobiographical

Last week, we asked female authors "to what extent is your fiction autobiographical?" 

Here's what they had to say:

Kerri Davidson

With a lead up like that, we had to hear everything!

Davidson2

Go here to find out more about The Chronicles of Henny

 

Most authors said that every character held a bit of themselves.

TGTerry Gibson writes at my story | our story

 

VashtiVashti Quiroz-Vega (website) is the author of the Fantasy Angels Series -- The Fall of Lilith and Son of the Serpent (due out late 2018)

 

RobinlRobin Lyons (website) writes mysteries and thrillers including the School Marshalls series -- Unknown Threat, Unknown Alliance, and the prequel MAC

 

ShearerTracey Shearer is a new author. With the help of her writing group, we hope to hear about her new book very soon!

 

How much of your fiction is autobiographical?