A Literary Desegregationist Selects 11 Works Published by Black Women Writers in 2020

To witness is to humanize. Reading is an act of both witnessing and humanization. The passive activity of reading – sitting silent in a room and devoting one’s full attention to a printed page – is a powerful action. A step toward becoming anti-bias.

A cisgender, white female friend of mine quipped that she found a certain transgendered woman’s poetry unexceptional because the transgendered woman still felt post-transition rage.  My friend said, “I know other trans women, and frankly, their transition is the least interesting thing about them. I know one, for example, who is extremely well-read. In fact, she is better read than you.”

Zingers zap amok.  My friend rendered invisible the transgendered woman and me in a few sentences. She edited us out.

With humility, I am a well-read Black girl.  My professors at Columbia University — James Shapiro, Maryse Conde, and Eric Foner — are better read than I.  To everyone else: I challenge you to post a picture of your bookshelves on Instagram and let’s start counting.

Nonetheless, if you were to study my shelves, you would see that I read a disproportionate number of Black women writers.

My friend perceived deficiency in my reading because she and I are not reading the same books. She devalues my reading selection to the point of invisibility. She is a literary segregationist. Whites only.

I have another white female friend who lives in Shaker Heights. She travels along Buckeye Road to work at a law firm in downtown Cleveland. Her friends and colleagues urge her to stop taking such a dangerous route. She says, “It’s the quickest way to get to work, and these people are just poor.”

My Shaker friend is an accidental tourist. She views the abandoned houses, bag ladies, and lottery-tobacco-liquor stores. She does not stop for gas, but she witnesses the other. To witness is to humanize.

Therein lies one answer to a literary “whites only” policy. Drive across literary racial boundaries because it’s the quickest route. The quickest route to a different story. The quickest route to witnessing the other. Ideally, the quickest route to anti-bias humanization.

If you too are an accidental tourist willing to cross the color line and become a freedom rider of letters, here is a list of my favorite books written by Black women in 2020.

Nonfiction

Wow, no thank you by Samantha Irby (Memoir): Discovering Samantha Irby is like being transported to humor heaven. Filled with zingy one-liners about all facets of life, Irby is in rare form. The essays in the book cover an enormous number of topics, from Crone’s disease, to marrying a woman with children, to house repair, to introversion, to urination and poop. Nothing is taboo to Irby, and everything in life can be a source of humor.

Memoir shout out – Memoir Drive by Natasha Threthewey

Just Us: An American Conversation, Claudia Rankine (Essay): All hail Claudia Rankine.

Overground Railroad, Candacy Taylor (History): Overground Railroad is an impressive tour through U.S. history when it was unsafe for Black people to travel the roadways since they were often turned away from restaurants, hotels, and gas stations. The book is a great companion to the movie Green Book and the television series Lovecraft Country.

Fiction

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Short Stories): I have been holding my breath for Danielle Evan’s next book of short stories since Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. This collection was worth the wait. She delivers the same great story telling, insight, and sharp cultural commentary. Her touch on themes usually associated with older people, such as redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, moved me.

The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson (Fantasy): If you’re fan of gothic literature, tales of cult-like religion, examinations of race and misogyny, and powerful witches, then I can guarantee that you’ll love Alexis Henderson’s debut novel. Henderson has crafted a terrifying, heart-pounding, and surprisingly romantic feminist fantasy that you’ll tear through in a day.

Fantasy shout out – The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin and The We and the They by Kyra Ann Dawkins

LaGuardia, Nnedi Okorafor (Graphic Novel): Not every author can transition from novel writing to comic writing smoothly. LaGuardia did not disappoint. This is an allegory about ‘America First’ immigration policies, racism, and fear. She builds fearful anti-alien characters with compassion while tracing an arc that reveals the absurdity of their prejudices. She creates a large cast of characters from across the world and the universe illustrating the complexities of immigration, war, and hatred.

Graphic novel shout out: Parable of the Sower by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, adapted from Octavia Butler

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett (Literary Fiction): Scroll down to read Margy Adams’ blog post “Black Looks: Race, Beauty, and Memory in Brit Bennett’s new Must-Read, The Vanishing Half.

Party of Two, Jasmine Gillory (Romance): Of all the offerings in Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series, I loved this one the most. Not only do the characters feel authentic in their feelings and actions, the tension between our two main characters is wonderfully delicious. Funny, warm and romantic. I recommend it to anyone who loves – or even just likes – contemporary romance novels.

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Garden Photo Contest Winners!

Hello everyone, I’m pleased to announce our winners for the Loganberry Garden Photo Contest!

First, in the children’s category, we have Sarah Holbrook with “Coneflowers and a Bee”

And in our adult category, our winner is Laura D’Alessandro with “Cleveland Sky”

Congratulations!

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Afrofuturism: The Diaspora Strikes Back

Black writers throughout the world grapple with the same question as Black American writers: How do we make money in a world which had once used our bodies as money? How do we thrive in a place – whether it be Guadeloupe, Canada, or Cuba – that had been our ancestors’ hell.

The global movement for racial justice intertwines with Loganberry Books’ celebration of Black Future Month. Afrofuturism, a multi-national movement, imagines a world in which the people of the African diaspora, a global underclass, continue to live and thrive. This American Life describes Afrofuturism as a way of looking at Black culture that’s fantastic, creative, and oddly hopeful.

Director of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice and University School alumni, Professor Richard Ralph Banks gave a lecture to his alma mater in July. Posed with the question whether U.S. citizens can look to another country as an exemplar of racial justice, he answered, “Not really. The United States is attempting something that has never been done.”

If racial equality ever exists, it will exist in the future.

We know the history of the 17th Atlantic slave triangle: land, labor, capital. Capital and finished goods flowed from Europe to west Africa where African people where captured as payment and investment. Enslaved Africans were shipped to American lands as conscripted labor to farm raw materials, such as sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Raw materials were transported to Europe for production and capital investment payments. The official end was 1853.

Modern novelists from the African diaspora query how today’s obstructions to the triangle – walls, detention centers, and anti-blackness – stint the flow of labor and capital.  In an irony, new walls against immigration imperil the people who were the slave triangle’s abductees and source of capital. Black people are confined in places capital abandoned.

Here are three novels which explore Afrofuturism from a global vantage.

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Conde (2020, translated from the French by Richard Philcox)

Fraternal twins Ivan and Ivana migrate from the French department Guadeloupe to Mali and finally to France, tracing backwards the slave trade. Ivana embraces French culture which Conde calls the “the effluvium of civilization” as she prospers in changing environments. Ivan, a strapping black youth, falls victim to French culture and becomes an increasingly violent adherent to radical Islamic terrorism. Think of the Paris bombings.

The novel is both an intellectual exercise and a page-turning thriller. Like most celebrated French authors, Conde is a literary snob. She references Victor Hugo, Flaubert, and Aime Cesaire and expects the reader to keep pace. The novel will appeal to people who enjoyed the Senegalese movie “Atlantics” (2019) which contemplates the fate of African men who migrate to Europe for work and the women left behind.

The Black Cathedral, Marcial Gaia (2020, translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner)

Black Cathedral is interesting. The setting is mostly the Cuban town of Cienfuegos which has its fractured divisions of middle class and poor, black, white and mulatto, the good side of the tracks and the bad, the creative class and the workers, foreign and native born. The characters are static; the book seems to be about what happens to those who stay in Cienfuegos, those who immigrate to other countries but carry their hectic homes in their hearts, and those who immigrate to forget the place.

Two things make Black Cathedral highly readable and suspenseful. First, the book is refreshing in its taut sense of real violence, not staged violence because the blood is real; every character is in imminent danger of physical harm. You turn the pages because you fear for them. Secondly, it overturns the idealized notion of Cuba as egalitarian society. Racial, gender, and class conflicts are complex and shifting, disappearing for a moment only to emerge relevant again. As a bookseller, I would recommend it to a reader drawn to the masculine perspective of Gabriel Garcia Marques, the religious iconoclasm of Salman Rushdie, and the national myth-busting of Naguib Mahfouz.

Brown Girl in a Ring, Nalo Hopkinson (1998, published originally in Canada)

People debate whether “Brown Girl in a Ring” is magical realism or fantasy. Let me say this: If you are a fan of the fantasy genre and a lover of the classic quest story, “Brown Girl in a Ring” is everything. This novel is for fans of Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” and Olivia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.”

The wealthy abandon Toronto, taking with them all investment in electricity, water, and roads and moving to the suburbs where they dwell behind armed barricades. A bad man, named Rudy, lords over post-riot Toronto from the CN Tower, enriching himself off its people’s desperation and harvesting organs. The hero, Ti-Jeanne, a young Jamaican immigrant mother, must harness the power of Papa Legba, the god of the crossroads, to take Rudy down. She has three days to break his calabash pot which is the voodoo equivalent of the Ring of Power.  Go, girl.

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Children With a Different Point of View

I have read three excellent Teen/Middle Grade novels this summer, that all feature children with an unusual way of looking at the world.

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart, out now.

Lily and Dunkin is a charming upper Middle Grade story featuring Lily, a transgender girl who is forced to hide her true nature from both her father and her peers, and Dunkin, a new guy at school who happens to have bipolar disorder, and who hides a dark secret about his past. The two meet by chance just before the start of school, and, while they follow different crowds in the middle-school environment, happen to orbit each other from afar until a crisis drives them together.


Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick, out now.

Tornado Brain is an upper middle grade mystery with a twist – the main character, Frankie, has Asperger’s and ADHD. She and her twin sister must solve the mystery of their classmate’s and best friend’s disappearance – before it’s too late! This book does an excellent depiction of how a neurodivergent person thinks, and no detail of her wandering mind is spared as we, along with her, try to sort through the fogginess of her mind and work with her spurned twin sister to save the day. Will they be able to step in where the police have failed? Read and find out!

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos, out now.

A novel, not for the faint of heart, about a teenage girl who navigates her dangerous and disturbed world. Whether at school, home, or with her peers, one thing is guaranteed – this girl has an attitude! The format of the book is interesting unto itself, as it is written in the form of (mostly) alphabetical “Dictionary” entries. But what really makes this a great book are the fascinating characters and the gritty storyline. But beware, this book does indeed get quite disturbing at times.

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Book Reviews – Fierce Young Ladies

I have recently read two very entertaining new and upcoming fiction books, both are great summer reads.


The Comeback by Ella Berman, out now:

Grace Turner was one of the world’s hottest teenage stars, yet she suddenly went into hiding for a year at her parents. Once her parents force her out of their house, Grace figures out that she was running from problems that she could not hide from, and she becomes pre-occupied with revenge against the man that controlled her entire career before she burnt out on drugs and left him hanging at an awards ceremony. Will Grace be able to let the world know what happened to her while keeping her image intact? Find out by reading this well-paced and engaging book!

White Ivy by Susie Yang, out November 3rd, 2020:

Ivy, the teenage daughter of chaotic and poor immigrant Chinese parents, has a crush on a Golden Boy named Gideon. When she attempts to stay over at his birthday slumber party one night, her parents react by sending her to China. Once back in the states, she has a different outlook on life after having spent time with a rich family member, which makes her want to be with the wealthy Gideon even more. Finally, as a young lady, they start dating – but just as they become serious, the Bad Boy she lost her virginity to shows up in her life. Who will she choose to be with? Read and find out!

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The Bishop’s Bedroom – by Piero Chiara

This classic Italian murder mystery was first published in Italy in 1976. The novel was an instant bestseller and its popularity caught the attention of the Italian film director Dino Risi. Risi created a film script faithful to the novel’s plot and recruited two of Italy’s top actors of the 1970’s: Ugo Tognazzi and Ornella Muti to play the main characters.

The novel centers around the main character of Marco Maffei, who somewhat like the character of Nick in The Great Gatsby, is part observer and part participant in the plot the develops on the shores of beautiful Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. The story takes place immediately after WWII, in a part of Italy that was still reeling from the physical and psychological damages of the war. The descriptive imagery of the natural scenery, the lakeside villas, and the joys of sailing are all used to create an intoxicating and romantic atmosphere – one that is aptly used by the author to create a contrast as the mood darkens and a possible murder suddenly occurs.

The twists and turns of the plot keep the reader in suspense and never sure of the outcome until the last few pages. Highly recommended for readers looking for a new mystery/murder writer with a strong sense of place and history.

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Book Review: “Humans” by Brandon Stanton

Many of you are probably familiar with the website Humans of New York, which was started by Brandon Stanton. For those of you who are not, the basic concept is that he approaches strangers in the street to take their photo and get them talking long enough to find an anecdote to share with the picture. All posts are anonymous. He has previously come out with books based upon the website, but this one is special – it covers people from all over the world.

Due to a confluence of various circumstances, I was at a very low point in my life when I came across this book. In fact, I was really not able to read much of anything. But I was able to read this. And it helped immensely in my fight against despair. (BTW, don’t worry, things are looking up now). I feel that this is the perfect book to cheer people up in the face of pandemic restrictions and other forces causing anxiety in today’s world.

The stories range from whimsical, to terrifying, to joyful, to tender, to anger-inducing, to inspirational; and there doesn’t seem to be a subject left untouched, so there is something for nearly anybody to identify with. I cannot recommend this book enough for anybody interested in the human condition across cultures and countries. (Comes out October 6, 2020)

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Last Tang Standing, by Lauren Ho, reviewed by Susan Petrone

Andrea Tang is 33 (almost), working to make partner at one of the top law firms in Singapore, and surrounded by good friends. She has it all except someone to share it with. Then she meets Eric, an older, sexy millionaire who is ready to give her the world. But there’s also her co-worker, Suresh. He’s her competition for partner, but he’s smart and talented and challenges her in all the best ways. What’s a girl to do? Described as Crazy Rich Asians meets Bridget Jones’s Diary, Last Tang Standing is the ideal read for your socially isolated beach day this summer.

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Members Only, by Sameer Pandya, reviewed by Susan Petrone


Raj Bhatt is a happily married Indian-American with the holy trifecta–job, kids, mortgage. He’s happy but hasn’t always felt like he fits in. When he says absolutely the wrong thing to an African American couple applying for membership to the tennis club where he and his family belong, he begins the worst week of his life. In his quest for connection, he’s accused of racism from both left and right. Pandya hits upon issues of identity and profiling without getting heavy handed. Members Only is a fun, easily digestible tale of one man’s search for belonging.

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2020 and 1596: How We Are (Still) Finding Links to Shakespeare through Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel “Hamnet”

Yet another way Shakespeare has infiltrated his way into our contemporary realities comes in the form of Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel, Hamnet. While O’Farrell could not have predicted the current pandemic in which we find ourselves, the novel, with its universal themes of grief, growth, and healing have been joined with those of sudden loss and fear as they relate to a public health crisis. Shakespeare’s was the Black Death, or the “pestilence,” as it was more commonly referred to at the time, and O’Farrell takes us through the lives of the Shakespeare household before and after the death of his son, Hamnet. 

O’Farrell, in conversation with author Jen Campbell in early May, says that in the biographies she’s read of perhaps the greatest playwright to ever live, Shakespeare’s only son is mentioned once or twice per volume, often followed by statistics of the likelihood that children would fall ill and die due to the plague or for other reasons. As if they (the parents) should not have been surprised by the death of their child. What is more curious is that, in all the historical and biographical accounts of Shakespeare’s life, no one really knows what he was like. This can also be said of his wife, Anne Hathaway. She, however, has faced much more criticism, often painted as shrewd, cold, or unlovable.

But O’Farrell changes this in her newest novel by doing a few things. First, the name “William Shakespeare” in any iteration is never uttered. No “Will” or “Mr. Shakespeare” touches the narrative. Then, he becomes a marginal character, cast to the side; though, as Campbell aptly comments, he still has presence like a “shadow” looming over the text. He is only referred to as “the husband,” “the father,” “the tutor,” or “the son.” This gives room for those often sidelined or stereotyped to come to the fore: most significantly, Anne Hathaway, or, as O’Farrell suspects is her real name, Agnes (pronounced then like “añ-es”). O’Farrell brilliantly writes Agnes as the novel’s center and guide, where all would be lost without her. She is other-worldly and remarkable, perceptive to a level that leads others to often misunderstand her. Just like Agnes’ husband, the reader is immediately intrigued by and infatuated with her.

The names “Hamnet” and “Hamlet” in Shakespeare’s time were also interchangeable. O’Farrell has said that her mission in writing this novel is to investigate why “the father” was compelled to name his most famous play after his son four years after his death. This story is so poignant because, just as O’Farrell explores the love that blossoms between Agnes and “the tutor,” how it is sweet and sunny and strong, the moments of grief are difficult, dark. The duality between loss and love has the reader aching, feeling both emotions fully throughout their body. And, since this story is based in history, the reader knows what will happen, that the son will die and the play Hamlet will be written some years after. But the ways O’Farrell builds tension and grounds the story in the characters’ reactions is extraordinary. Turning the final page—I’m serious—I gasped.

Many have claimed this is a modern masterpiece. I would even go so far as to say that this is Maggie O’Farrell’s magnum opus. There is much I haven’t touched on that seemed redundant to review, but I will quickly list a couple qualities I thought remarkable as well: O’Farrell’s superb prose, the immersive imagery, and the significance of nature. I will sit with the Shakespeare family in Stratford for a long time. O’Farrell’s characters are delicately drawn and full, made fuller because the story does not shy away from describing what grief does to the body, to the mind, to familial bonds, and how it colors happiness, in memory and future moments. Whether in the context of the Black Death or the current pandemic, O’Farrell has created for us another connection to Shakespeare through themes unbound to time, of tragedy and recovery. Moving and resounding, Hamnet is a triumph. 

Set to come out July 21, 2020. We already have a bunch of preorders, give us a call or email us to add your name to the list!

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