You want to take real pictures

Excerpt from Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

For a long time, this was the only image Mia had of Mr. Wilkinson, a mysterious cross between Marco Polo and Santa Claus who filled his home with treasures. But one afternoon, just after her thirteenth birthday, Mr. Wilkinson had called to her sternly from his front porch.

“I’ve been seeing you traipsing around for a year now,” he’d said. “I want to see what you’ve been up to.”

Mis, terrified, collected a stack of her photographs and brought them to the Wilkinsons’ the next morning. She had never shown her photos to anyone but Warren before, and Warren, of course, had oohed and aahed. But Mr. Wilkinson was an adult, a man, a man she barely knew. He would have no incentive to be kind.

When she rang the Wilkinsons’ doorbell, Mrs. Wilkinson led her into the den, where Mr. Wilkinson sat at a large desk typing something on a cream-colored typewriter. But when Mia entered, he swiveled around in his chair and swung the typewriter shelf down and under, where it folded into a cabinet in the desk as neatly as if it had been swallowed.

“Now then,” he said. He unfolded a pair of halfmoon glasses that hung around his neck and placed them on his nose, and Mia’s knees trembled. “Let’s have a look.”

Mr. Wilkinson, it turned out, was a photographer himself—though he preferred landscapes. “Don’t like shots with people in them,” he told her. “I’ll take a tree over a person any day.” When he went on a trip, he took his camera with him and always scheduled himself half a day to go exploring. From a file he pulled a stack of photographs: a redwood forest at dawn, a river snaking through a field shot with dew, a lake reflecting the sun in a glittering triangle that pointed to the woods beyond. The photographs all over the hallway, Mia realized, were his as well.

“You’ve got a good eye,” Mr. Wilkinson said at last. “Good eye and good instincts. See this one here?” He tapped the top picture, a photo of Warren perched in the low branches of a sycamore, back to the camera, silhouetted against the sky. “That’s a fine shot. How’d you know how to frame that?”

“I don’t know,” Mia admitted. “It just looked right.”

Mr. Wilkinson squinted at another. “Hold onto that. Trust your eyes. They see well.” He plucked out another photo. “But see this? You wanted that squirrel, didn’t you?” Mia nodded. It had been running along the ridge of the fence and she’d been mesmerized by the undulating arc its body and tail had traced as it ran. Like watching a ball bounce, she’d thought as she clicked the shutter. But the photo had come out blurry, focused on the fence instead of the squirrel, the squirrel itself simply a smudge. She wondered how Mr. Wilkinson knew.

“Thought so. You need a better camera. That one’s fine for a starter, or for birthday parties and Christmas. Not for you.” He went to the closet and rummaged in the back, the old overcoats and bagged dresses inside muffling his voice. “You—you want to take real pictures.” In a moment he returned and held out a compact box. “You need a real camera, not a toy.”

It was a Nikon F, a little silver-and-black thing, heavy and solid in her hands. Mia ran her fingers over the pebbled casing. “But I can’t take this.”

“I’m not giving it, I’m lending it. You want it or not?” Without waiting for her to answer, Mr. Wilkinson opened a drawer in his desk. “I’m not using that one anymore. Someone might as well.” He removed a black canister of film and tossed it to Mia. “Besides,” He said, “I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with it.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Little Fires Everywhere – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost . . .

Copyright © 2017 by Celeste Ng.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Adulthood’s full of ghosts

Excerpt from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Photo by 戸山 神奈 on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

“These people you coach, do they ever actually change? I mean in any kind of lasting, notable way?”

He hesitated. This was actually something he’d wondered about.

“They change their behaviors,” he said, “some of them. Often people will simply have no idea that they’re perceived as needing improvement in a certain area, but then they see the report…”

She nodded. “You differentiate between changing people and changing behaviors, then.”

“Of course.”

“Here’s the thing,” Dahlia said. “I’ll bet you can coach Dan, and probably he’ll exhibit a turnaround of sorts, he’ll improve in concrete areas, but eh’ll still be a joyless bastard.”

“A joyless…”

“No, wait, don’t write that down. Let me rephrase that. Okay, let’s say he’ll change a little, probably if you coach him, but he’ll still be a successful-but-unhappy person who works until nine p.m. every night because he’s got a terrible marriage and doesn’t want to go home, and don’t ask how I know that, everyone knows when you’ve got a terrible marriage, it’s like having bad breath, you get close enough to a person and it’s obvious. And you know, I’m reaching here, but I’m talking about someone who just seems like he wishes he’d done something different with his life, I mean really actually almost anything—is this too much?”

“No. Please, go on.”

“Okay, I love my job, and I’m not just saying that because my boss is going to see my interview comments, which by the way I don’t believe he won’t be able to tell who said what, anonymous or not. But anyway, I look around sometimes and I think—this will maybe sound weird—it’s like the corporate world’s full of ghosts. And actually, let me revise that, my parents are in academia so I’ve had front-row seats for that horror show, I know academia’s no different, so maybe a fairer way of putting this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I quite—”

“I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they’re trapped. Dan’s like that.”

“You don’t think he likes his job, then.”

“Correct,” she said, “but I don’t think he even realizes it. You probably encounter people like him all the time. High-functioning sleepwalkers, essentially.”

What was it in this statement that made Clark want to weep? He was nodding, taking down as much as he could. “Do you think he’d describe himself as unhappy in his work?”

“No,” Dahlia said, “because I think people like him think work is supposed to be drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness, but when I say happiness, I mostly mean distraction. You know what I mean?”

”No, please elaborate.”

“Okay, say you go into the break room,” she said, “and a couple people you like are there, say someone’s telling a funny story, you laugh a little, you feel included, everyone’s so funny, you go back to your desk with a sort of, I don’t know, I guess afterglow would be the word? You go back to your desk with an afterglow, but then by four or five o’clock the day’s just turned into yet another day, and you go on like that, looking forward to five o’clock and then the weekend and then your two or three annual weeks of paid vacation time, day in day out, and that’s what happens to your life.”

“Right,” Clark said. He was filled in that moment with an inexpressible longing. The previous day eh’d gone into the break room and spent five minutes laughing at a colleague’s impression of a Daily Show bit.

“That’s what passes for a life, I should say. That’s what passes for happiness, for most people. Guys like Dan, they’re like sleepwalkers,” she said, “and nothing ever jolts them awake.”

He go through the rest of the interview, shook her hand, walked out through the vaulted lobby of the Graybar Building to Lexington Avenue. The air was cold but he longed to be outside, away from other people. He took a long and circuitous route, veering two avenues east to the relative quiet of Second Avenue.

He was thinking of the book, and thinking of what Dahlia had said about sleepwalking, and a strange thought came to him: had Arther seen that Clark was sleepwalking? Would this be in the letters to V? Because he had been sleepwalking Clark realized, moving half-asleep through the motions of his life for a while now, years; not specifically unhappy, but when had he last found real joy in his work? When was the last time he’d been truly moved by anything? When had he last felt awe or inspiration? He wished he could somehow go back and find the iPhone people whom he’d jostled on the sidewalk earlier, apologize to them—I’m sorry, I’ve just realized that I’m as minimally present in this world as you are, I had no right to judge—and also he wanted to call every target of every 360° report and apologize to them too, because it’s an awful thing to appear in someone else’s report, he saw that now, it’s an awful thing to be the target.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Station Eleven – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Copyright © 2015 by Emily St. John Mandel.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

You oughtn’t to see this

Excerpt from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

‘Fine, fine,’ he said to me. ‘There’s somebody about to have a baby this minute.’

At the door of the delivery room stood a thin, stoop-shouldered medical student Buddy knew.

‘Hello, Will,’ Buddy said. ‘Who’s on the job?’

‘I am,’ Will said gloomily, and I noticed little drops of sweat beading his high pale forehead. ‘I am, and it’s my first.’

Buddy told me Will was a third-year man and had to deliver eight babies before he could graduate.

Then he noticed a bustle at the far end of the hall and some men in lime-green coats and skull-caps and a few nurses came moving towards us in a ragged procession wheeling a trolley with a big white lump on it.

‘You oughtn’t to see this,’ Will muttered in my ear. ‘You’ll never want to have a baby if you do. They oughtn’t to let women watch. It’ll be the end of the human race.’

Buddy and I laughed, and then Buddy shook Will’s hand and we all went into the room.

I was so struck by the sight of the table where they were lifting the woman I didn’t say a word. It looked like some awful torture table, with these metal stirrups sticking up in mid-air at one end and all sorts of instruments and wires and tubes I couldn’t make out properly at the other.

Buddy and I stood together by the window, a few feet away from the woman, where we had a perfect view.

The woman’s stomach stuck up so high I couldn’t see her face or the upper part of her body at all. She seemed to have nothing but an enormous spider-fat stomach and two little ugly spindly legs propped in the high stirrups, and all the time the baby was being born she never stopped making this unhuman whooing noise.

Latter Buddy told me the woman was on a drug that would make her forget she’d had ay pain and that when she swore and groaned she really didn’t know what she was doing because she was in a kind of twilight sleep.

I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind. doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.

The head doctor who was supervising Will, kept saying to the woman, ‘Push down, Mrs Tomolillo, push down, that’s a good girl, push down,’ and finally through the split, shaven place between her legs, lurid with disinfectant I saw a dark fuzzy thing appear.

‘The baby’s head,’ Buddy whispered under cover of the woman’s groans.

But the baby’s head stuck for some reason, and the doctor told Will he’d have to make a cut. I heard the scissors close on the woman’s skin like cloth and the blood began to run down – a fierce, bright red. Then all at once the baby seemed to pop out into Will’s hands, the colour of a blue plum and floured with white stuff and streaked with blood, and Will kept saying, ‘I’m going to drop it, I’m going to drop it, I’m going to drop it,’ in a terrified voice.

‘No, you’re not,’ the doctor said, and took the baby out of Will’s hands and started massaging it, and the blue colour went away and the baby started to cry in a lorn, croaky voice and I could see it was a boy.

The first thing that baby did was pee in the doctor’s face. I told Buddy later I didn’t see how that was possible, but he said it was quite possible, though unusual, to see something like that happen.

As soon as the baby was born the people in the room divided up into two groups, the nurses typing a metal dog-tag on the baby’s wrist and swabbing its eyes with cotton on the end of stick and wrapping it up and putting it in a canvas-sided cot, while the doctor and Will started sewing up the woman’s cut with a needle and long thread.

I think someone said, ‘It’s a boy, Mrs Tomolillo,’ but the woman didn’t answer or raise her head.

‘Well, how was it?’ Buddy asked with a satisfied expression as we walked across the green quadrangle to his room.

‘Wonderful,’ I said. ‘I could see something like that every day.’

I didn’t feel up to asking him if there were any other ways to have babies. For some reason the most important thing to me was actually seeing the baby come out of you yourself and making sure it was yours. I thought if you had to have all that pain anyway you might just as well stay awake.

I had always imagine myself hitching up on to my elbows on the delivery table after it was all over – dead white, of course, with no make-up and from the awful ordeal, but smiling and radiant, with my hair down to my waist, and reaching out for my first little squirmy child and saying its name, whatever it was.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Bell Jar – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

Copyright © 1963 by Sylvia Plath.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Bums in the Attic

Excerpt from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Photo by Julien Maculan on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works. We go on Sundays, Papa’s day off. I used to go. I don’t anymore. You don’t like to go out with us, Papa says. Getting too old? Getting too stuck-up, says Nenny. I don’t tell them I am ashamed—all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can’t have. When we win the lottery…Mama begins, and then I stop listening.

People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth. They don’t look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week’s garbage or fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind

One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.

Some days after dinner guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.

Rats? they’ll ask.

Bums, I’ll say, and I’ll be happy.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The House on Mango Street – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.

Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous–it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

Copyright © 1984 by Sandra Cisneros.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Five Modern Classics Written by Black Americans

Are you hoping to read more classics this year? Here are some suggestions for Black History month!

I wanted to highlight classics that we don’t hear about as much so that you can read from diverse perspectives. Some of these may be new to you, and some might not.

These five classics are from Black Americans from a variety of genres. All of these are more modern classics, having been written between the years of 1920-1960.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Five books from Black Americans

Here’s a list of five books with Black American authors, for more Black History Month reading suggestions.

Modern Classics

  1. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923)
  2. Passing by Nella Larson (1929)
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  4. The Street by Ann Petry (1946)
  5. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Cane

by Jean Toomer

  • Year Published: 1923
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, short stories, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • 100 years since it’s been published!
  • Importance:
    From the Harlem Renaissance

Summary (from Goodreads):

A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane  are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.


2. Passing

by Nella Larson

  • Year Published: 1929
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, emotional, reflective, tense, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Focuses on mixed-race individuals and racial passing (such as passing as white)

Summary (edited from Goodreads):

Nella Larsen’s fascinating exploration of race and identity.

Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past–even hiding the truth from her racist husband.

Clare finds herself drawn to Irene’s sense of ease and security with her Black identity and longs for the community (and, increasingly, the woman) she lost. Irene is both riveted and repulsed by Clare and her dangerous secret, as Clare begins to insert herself–and her deception–into every part of Irene’s stable existence. First published in 1929, Larsen’s brilliant examination of the various ways in which we all seek to “pass,” is as timely as ever.


3. Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

  • Year Published: 1937
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, literary, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    A classic of the Harlem Renaissance

Summary (from Goodreads):

Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person—no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.


4. The Street

by Ann Petry

  • Year Published: 1946
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, challenging, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    The first novel by an Black American woman to sell more than a million copies

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Street tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.


5. A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

  • Year Published: 1959
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, play, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    The first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award

Summary (from Storygraph):

First produced in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and hailed as a watershed in American drama. Not only a pioneering work by an African-American playwright—Lorraine Hansberry’s play was also a radically new representation of black life, resolutely authentic, fiercely unsentimental, and unflinching in its vision of what happens to people whose dreams are constantly deferred.

In her portrait of an embattled Chicago family, Hansberry anticipated issues that range from generational clashes to the civil rights and women’s movements. She also posed the essential questions—about identity, justice, and moral responsibility—at the heart of these great struggles. The result is an American classic.

You can read an excerpt from the play here.


Final thoughts

As cliche as it may be, Black History is not only for the month of February. I would encourage you to intentionally seek out authors from diverse backgrounds, including Black Americans and other Black individuals from around the world.

This is just a small list, but as you intentionally pursue a diverse reading list, you’ll find more and more books to read. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, so just start small by picking out a few books to incorporate throughout the year.

Personally, I think the most important part is to be intentional about who and what you’re reading. Take time to notice what you’ve read recently and see who the authors and characters are. Then start to incorporate other perspectives to broaden your reading experience.

A Raisin in the Sun

Excerpt from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

Mama: Ruth Younger, what’s the matter with you today? You look like you could fall over right there.

Ruth: I’m tired

Mama: Then you better stay home from work today.

Ruth: I can’t stay home. She’d be calling up the agency and screaming at them, “My girl didn’t come in today—send me somebody! My girl didn’t come in!” Oh, she just have a fit…

Mama: Well, let her have it. I’ll just call her up and say you got the flu—

Ruth: (laughing) Why the flu?

Mama: ‘Cause it sounds respectable to ‘em. Something white people get, too. They know ‘bout the flu. Otherwise they think you been cut up or something when you tell ‘em you sick.

Ruth: I got to go in. We need the money.

Mama: Somebody would of thought my children done all but starved to death the way they talk about money here late. Child, we got a great big old check coming tomorrow.

Ruth: (Sincerely, but also self-righteously) Now that’s your money. It ain’t got nothing to do with me. We all feel like that—Walter and Bennie and me—even Travis.

Mama: (Thoughtfully, and suddenly very far away) Ten thousand dollars—

Ruth: Sure is wonderful.

Mama: Ten thousand dollars.

Ruth: You know what you should do, Miss Lena? You should take yourself a trip somewhere. To Europe or South America or someplace—

Mama: (Throwing up her hands at the thought) Oh, child!

Ruth: I’m serious. Just pack up and leave! Go on away and enjoy yourself some. Forget about the family and have yourself a ball for once in your life—

Mama: (Drily) You sound like I’m just about ready to die. Who’d go with me? What I look like wandering ‘round Europe by myself?

Ruth: Shoot—these here rich white women do it all the time. They don’t think nothing of packing up they suitcases and piling on one of them big steamships and—swoosh!—they gone, child.

Mama: Something always told me I wasn’t no rich white woman.

Ruth: Well—what are you going to do with it then?

Mama: I ain’t rightly decided. (Thinking. She speaks now with emphasis) Some of it got to be put away for Beneatha and her schoolin’—and ain’t nothing going to touch that part of it. Nothing. (She waits several seconds, trying to make up her mind about something, and looks at Ruth a little tentatively before going on) Been thinking that we maybe could meet the notes on a little old two-story somewhere, with a yard where Travis could play in the summertime, if we use part of the insurance for a down payment and everybody kind of pitch in. I could maybe take on a little day work again, few days a week—

Ruth: (Studying her mother-in-law furtively and concentrating on her ironing, anxious to encourage without seeming to) Well, Lord knows we’ve put enough rent into this here rat trap to pay for four houses by now…

Mama: (Looking up at the words “rat trap” and then looking around and leaning back and sighing—in a suddenly reflective mood—) “Rat trap”—yes, that’s all it is. (Smiling) I remember just as well the day me and Big Walter moved in here. Hadn’t been married but two weeks and wasn’t planning on living here no more than a year. (She shakes her head at the dissolved dream) We was going to set away, little by little, don’t you know, and buy a little place out in Morgan Park. We had even picked out the house. (Chuckling a little) Looks right dumpy today. But Lord, child, you should know all the dreams I had ‘bout buying that house and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back— (She waits and stops smiling) And didn’t none of it happen.

(Dropping her hands in a futile gesture)

Ruth: (Keeps her head down, ironing) Yes, life can be a barrel of disappointments, sometimes.

As a bonus, let me share with you the poem that the name of the play references. It’s a poem from Langston Hughes and is included in the book before the play starts.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

Have you read this play? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

A Raisin in the Sun – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

“Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” observed James Baldwin shortly before A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959.

Indeed Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever.  The play’s title comes from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which warns that a dream deferred might “dry up/like a raisin in the sun.”

“The events of every passing year add resonance to A Raisin in the Sun,” said The New York Times.  “It is as if history is conspiring to make the play a classic.”  This Modern Library edition presents the fully restored, uncut version of Hansberry’s landmark work with an introduction by Robert Nemiroff.

Copyright © 1958 by Lorraine Hansberry.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Just sit awhile

This is a quote from the book A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

Quote by Lorraine Hansberry, “Just sit awhile and think…Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”

Have you read this play? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

A Raisin in the Sun – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

“Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” observed James Baldwin shortly before A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959.

Indeed Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever.  The play’s title comes from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which warns that a dream deferred might “dry up/like a raisin in the sun.”

“The events of every passing year add resonance to A Raisin in the Sun,” said The New York Times.  “It is as if history is conspiring to make the play a classic.”  This Modern Library edition presents the fully restored, uncut version of Hansberry’s landmark work with an introduction by Robert Nemiroff.

Copyright © 1958 by Lorraine Hansberry.

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Poetry is not a luxury

Excerpt from Selected Works by Audre Lorde

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Selected Words of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde, from the essay Poetry is Not a Luxury.

The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are—until the poem—nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.

As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.

For each of us as women, there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, “beautiful/and tough as chestnut/stanchions against (y)our nightmare of weakness/” and of impotence.

These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through that darkness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The women’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.

When we view living in the european mode only as a problem to be solved, we rely solely upon our ideas to make us free, for those were what the white fathers told us were precious.

But as we come more into touch with our own ancient, non-european consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge and, therefore lasting action comes.

At this point in time, I believe that women carry within ourselves the possibility for fusion of these two approaches to necessary for survival, and we come closest to this combination in our poetry. I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean—in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. Right now, I could name at least ten ideas I would have found intolerable or incomprehensible and frightening, except as they came after dreams and poems. This is not idle fantasy, but a disciplined attention to the true meaning of “it feels right to me.” We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared. And where that language does not exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

Possibility is neither forever nor instant. It is not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy. We can sometimes work long and hard to establish on beachhead of real resistance to the deaths we are expected to live, only to have that beachhead assaulted or threatened by those canards we have been socialized to fear, or by the withdrawal of those approvals that we have been warned to seek for safety. Women see ourselves diminished or softened by the falsely benign accusations of childishness, of nonuniversality, of changeability, of sensuality. And who asks the question: Am I altering your aura, your ideas, your dreams, or am I merely moving you to temporary and reactive action? And even though the latter is no mean task, it is one that must be seen within the context of a need for true alteration of the very foundations of our lives.

The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us—the poet—whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom

Have you read this book or this essay by Audre Lorde? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Selected Works of Audre Lorde – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

A definitive selection of Audre Lorde’s “intelligent, fierce, powerful, sensual, provocative, indelible” (Roxane Gay) prose and poetry, for a new generation of readers.

Self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde is an unforgettable voice in twentieth-century literature, and one of the first to center the experiences of black, queer women. This essential reader showcases her indelible contributions to intersectional feminism, queer theory, and critical race studies in twelve landmark essays and more than sixty poems—selected and introduced by one of our most powerful contemporary voices on race and gender, Roxane Gay.

Copyright © 1977 by Audre Lorde (for this essay).

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Just felt like gravity

This is a quote from the book Memorial by Bryan Washington.

Quote by Bryan Washington, “It wasn’t like I didn’t know what was happening, or that I wanted us to be over, but it just felt like gravity—like I was slowly sinking into something that would eventually happen anyway and I didn’t know how to stop it or turn it around or what.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Memorial – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

A funny, sexy, profound dramedy about two young people at a crossroads in their relationship and the limits of love.

Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher, and they’ve been together for a few years — good years — but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. There’s the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other.

But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike’s immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it.

Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they’ve ever known. And just maybe they’ll all be okay in the end. Memorial is a funny and profound story about family in all its strange forms, joyful and hard-won vulnerability, becoming who you’re supposed to be, and the limits of love.

Copyright © 2020 by Bryan Washington.

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Dear God…

Excerpt from The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker.


Nettie here with us. She run way from home. She say she hate to leave our stepma, but she had to git out, maybe fine help for the other little ones. The boys be alright, she say. They can stay out his way. When they git big they gon fight him.

Maybe kill, I say.

How is it with you and Mr. ____? she ast. But she got eyes. He still like her. In the evening he come out on the porch in his Sunday best. She be sitting there with me shelling peas or helping the children with they spelling. Helping me with spelling and everything else she think I need to know. No matter what happen, Nettie steady try to teach me what go on in the world. And she a good teacher too. It nearly kill me to think she might marry somebody like Mr. _____ or wind up in some white lady kitchen. All day she read, she study, she practice her handwriting, and try to git us to think. Most days I feel too tired to think. But Patient her middle name.

Mr. _____ children all bright but they mean. They say Celie, I want dis. Celie I want dat. Our Mama let us have it. He don’t say nothing. They try to get his tention, he hide hind a puff of smoke.

Don’t let them run over you, Nettie say. You got to let them know who got the upper hand.

They got it, I say.

But she keep on, You got to fight. You got to fight.

But I don’t know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive.

That’s a real pretty dress you got on, he say to Nettie.

She say, Thank you.

Them shoes look just right.

She say, Thank you.

Your skin. Your hair. Your teefs. Everyday it something else to make miration over.

First she smile a little. Then she frown. Then she don’t look no special way at all. She just stick close to me. She tell me, Your skin. Your hair, Your teefs. He try to give her a compliment, she pass it on to me. After while I git to feeling pretty cute.

Soon he stop. He say one night in bed, Well, us done help Nettie all we can. Now she got to go.

Where she gon go? I ast.

I don’t care, he say.

I tell Nettie the next morning. Stead of being mad, she glad to go. Say she hate to leave me is all. Us fall on each other neck when she say that.

I sure hate to leave you here with these rotten children, she say. Not to mention with Mr. ____. It’s like seeing you buried, she say.

It’s worse than that, I think. If I was buried, I wouldn’t have to work. But I just say, Never mine, never mine, long as I can spell G-o-d I got somebody along.

But I only got one thing to give her, the name of

Reverend Mr. ____. I tell her to ast for his wife. That maybe she would help. She the only woman I even seen with money.

I say, Write.

She say, What?

I say, Write.

She say, Nothing but death can keep me from it.

She never write.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Color Purple – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

As seen in the description above, if there are topics you prefer not to read about, you may want to check out the trigger warnings before reading this book.

Copyright © 1982 by Kahlil Gibran.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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