BY ASHIA AJANI
Amidst all my paolo santo and lavender water, the wounded child in me keeps calling for forgiveness. We are all on our own journeys towards healing- mine is not complete and I do not know if it will be complete in my lifetime. But here are some books by authors of color that have changed the way I think about myself, the world, and all our heavenly interconnectedness. Happy reading.
This Bridge Called My Back – multiple authors, compiled/edited by Cherríe Moraga y Gloria Anzaldúa
Solidarity is hard. And creating linkages between people of color in a capitalistic, racist, heteronormative society proves difficult at each turn. In the forward to this incredible collection, Moraga and Anzaldúa lay out their goals for this book: 1) to radicalize people of color into action as they themselves have been radicalized into producing this book, 2) to become required texts in all women’s studies courses, 3) to raise the consciousness of white women surrounding issues of misogynoir and racism, and 4) to create ties between “our colored sisters” by using this book as an educator and agitator.
I read this book on the train ride back from the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam, where Black women truly bodied the competition. I attended workshops on healing, on queerness, on solidarity and needed to keep that energy going. Compilations of essays, stories, poems by Native women, Black women, Asian women, Latinas, queer and straight, worked their way into my bloodstream. What a beautiful feeling! No narrative dominants another: they are all given their proper space to thrive. During moments of despair in my life, when horizontal aggression I have faced from my fellow Black and brown folk rules my psyche, and I am unable to envision a world when we all are committed to a process of healing and collective understanding, I think back to this collection, and I am renewed. As expressed by Moraga and Anzaldúa, “the revolution begins at home.”
“ ‘Alienation’ and ‘assimilation’ are two common words used to describe contemporary Indian people. I've come to despise those two words because what leads to ‘alienation’ and ‘assimilation’ should not be so concisely defined. And I generally mistrust words that are used to define Native Americans and Brown People. I don't like being put under a magnifying glass and having cute liberal terms describe who I am. The ‘alienation’ or ‘assimilation’ that I manifest is often in how I speak. There isn't necessarily a third world language but there is an Indian way of talking that is an essential part of me. I like it, I love it, yet I deny it. I ‘save’ it for when I'm around other Indians. It is a way of talking that involves "Indian humor" which I know for sure non-Indian people would not necessarily understand.” - Excerpt from “Gee, You Don’t Seem Like An Indian From the Reservation” by Barbara Cameron
Don’t you just love free resources? Enjoy!
All About Love: New Visions – bell hooks
Read this book after heartbreak. After you have lost love and do not know if you can love again. Read this book when you are thinking about the state of our world. When the heart is a lone cry wailing into the night. It will change you. It will change your perception of love. It will encourage you (especially if you are a woman/femme person) to demand more of the love you receive. And hopefully, it will expand the love you feel in your day to day life.
I can’t just do one quote from this book - there’s too much yummy stuff so here’s a couple of my favorite excerpts:
“Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands.” - All About Love
“Redeemed and restored, love returns us to the promise of everlasting life. When we love we can let our hearts speak.” - All About Love
“When I speak of the spiritual, I refer to the recognition within everyone that there is a place of mystery in our lives where forces that are beyond human desire or will alter circumstances and/or guide and direct us. I call these forces divine spirit. When we choose to lead a spirit-filled life, we recognize and celebrate the presence of transcendent spirits.”
God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
I love, love, love me some Arundhati Roy! Hands down one of my favorite authors. So, I have to give honorable mention to a couple other crucial Roy pieces: Ministry of Utmost Happiness (which is one of the first fiction books about trans identity I read that was not exploitative or uselessly tragic, and I must say that this was a close, close second to God of Small Things), The End of Imagination, and Power Politics. This novel, wrought with generational pain, resistance and palpable imagery, was one of the first love stories I read that wrenched my heart to pieces. While some may critique the pervasive use of the caste system in her novels, and with good reason, she is an incredibly lyrical writer with such a command for language. The translation of love through mysticism, class, color and generation to such an emotional degree is a skill that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. Definitely take the time to familiarize yourself with Arundhati Roy’s writing. If you are someone who doesn’t really like, or has a hard time making it through non-fiction writing, Roy’s lyricism and command of language may convert you.
“But what was there to say?
Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teethmarks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.
Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.” – God of Small Things
Seam – Tarfiah Faizullah
Talk about an emotional series of poems. Faizullah, the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, explores the devasation of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, specifically focusing on the narratives of just a few of the two hundred thousand women that were raped during this traumatic period in time. It is a heavy, heavy piece of writing. But more than that, Faizullah seeks to return agency to survivors- tragedy cannot be reduced to numbers, and narratives cannot be forgotten. On the painful journey, Faizullah creates space for this stories to not only be preserved, but venerated. Through sharp imagery and longer philosophical anaylsis, Faizullah weaves her own tales of trauma to those of survivors, formulating a chain of collective healing we desperately need.
I read this book during a time in my life when I was recovering from sexual trauma. The universe sometimes just knows what you need, no?
“I admit that when the falling hour/ Begins to husk the sky free of its/ saffroning light, I reach for anyone/ willing to wrap his good arm tight/ around me for as long as the ribboned/ darkness allows. Who wants, after all,/ to be seen too clearly?” - Excerpt From Dhaka Nocture
A House of My Own – Sandra Cisneros
WOW. Another author who changed. My. Life. The first piece of writing I read by Sandra Cisneros was a short story called , unpacking Latina identity and notions of shame surrounding menstrual cycles, eventually coming to terms with and embracing the things that make us (cis) women. I delved into her poetry with a fervor, letting her rhythm influence my own writing, making my way through My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Loose Woman and Woman Hollering Creek until I finally came to A House of My Own. In this compilation of essays, Cisneros bears pieces of herself not revealed in her poetry and short stories. She takes the reader on a journey through la vida de Sandra; not only does she make peace with her youth, but she venerates her attained wisdom. Through stories like “Que Viven Los Colores!” y . What does it mean to be a woman, alone and independent? How does one come to know themselves through family, through ancestry and indigeneity, through rebellion and heartache and purposeful isolation? How do we formulate connections to land we are not familiar with, but are nervertheless part of our bloodline and ours to reclaim?
(Side note: I met her and my soul lit on fire What a beautiful, hilarious, wise human being: “books are medicine. And the medicine you need may be different than the medicine I need. But always take your medicine.”)
“I do want to inherit the witch in my women ancestors- the willfulness, the passion, ay, the passion where all good art comes from as women, the perseverance, the survivor skills, the courage, the strength of las mujeres bravas, peleoneras, necias, berrinchudas. I want to be una brava, peleonera, necia, berrinchuda. I want to be bad if bad means I must go against society- el Papá, the boyfriend, lover, husband, girlfriends, comadres- and listen to my own heart, that incredible witch’s broom that will take me where I need to go.” - excerpt from essay “I Can Live Sola and I Love to Work”
The Kitchen God’s Wife – Amy Tan
Mo’fkn unnnnnn talk about a problematic fave. Forget what you heard for an afternoon and take the time to read this book all the way through in one sitting. I wonder if a lot of my love for this novel stems from the fact I read it out loud to my mother on a road trip to college (we drove all the way from Colorado to Connecticut with a couple of brief detours in Michigan and Mississippi). I did read it once before, but returning to a book you loved after a long break is a bit like coming home. Like most of her books, the mother daughter relationship is the most prevalent aspect of The Kitchen God’s Wife, but like Roy, Tan is able to weave in mythology, generational trauma, international relationships (specifically between Japan and China in a World War Two context) and class/colonial struggles into one piece of writing. Talk about talent. This book shows just how much our mothers have hidden, and how sometimes we cannot recognize their strength until it is too late.
“That is the saddest part when you lose someone you love - that person keeps changing. And later you wonder, Is this the same person I lost? Maybe you lost more maybe less, then thousand different things that come from your memory or imagination - and you do not know which is which, which was true, which is false.” - The Kitchen God’s Wife
Black Dove: Mamá, Mi’jo and Me - Ana Castillo
The first book I read by Ana Castillo was So Far From God, a collection of interwoven short stories about people living on the borderlands of Arizona and Mexico. It is certaintly evident that she is true to her heritage; even beyond that, she breaks down not only the trauma of being a Brown woman in American, but the trauma of raising Brown children in America. We travel throughout her life, her heartbreak, her upbringing, the lines between Mexico and Chicago, and (thank God) her queerness. If you are in need of some good nonfiction storytelling, Castillo is definitely one to look towards.
“thought of the countless people in the world who were born to live and die in anonymity, playing out lives no better or worse than anyone else’s and no one noticing. Sometimes we give others who don’t make a big mark in some way a moment in the limelight in fiction. Our novelists’ eyes and ears say to our readers, “Look here, please. Listen. This existence mattered, too.” That” - Black Dove: Mamá, Mi’jo and Me
On Beauty – Zadie Smith
Another author with a lot of identity to unpack. And despite the fact that she believes makeup is used to hide beauty rather than enhance it, Zadie Smith knows how to tug at the heartstrings. Drawing upon her own mixed race heritage, she is able to unpack the romanticization of interracial relationships, noting the lives we must give up and the things we must let go of, whether we want to or not. I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, but imagine, for a moment ,that you are a Black woman living in Britain with your white Professor husband and your half white children...and then learn your husband cheats on you with a white woman. How does that look? What does it do to your family? And what does that do to your self-image, as a Black woman in a predominately white space?
How do we perceive beauty, in relation to each other, to the world, to ourselves?
“Art is the Western myth, with which we both console ourselves and make ourselves.” - On Beauty
Homegirls and Hand Grenades – Sonia Sanchez
How to be Black and poor and depressed and woman in America and survive and survive and survive and survive!
“Your face like/ summer lightning/ gets caught in my voice/ and i draw you up from/ deep rivers/ taste your face of a thousand names/ see you smile/ a new season/ hear your voice/ a wild sea pausing in the wind.” - “Poem for Jessie”
There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé – Morgan Parker
THIS IS THE BOOK OF POETRY I HAVE BEEN WAITING ALL MY LIFE FOR !!! Thank you, Morgan Parker, for unpacking all of my feelings about Blackness, about womanhood, about depression and resilience and heartbreak. Parker, with the bold title There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, explores Black pain, identity and the notion of self through the lens of such folks like Beyoncé, imagining her in a therapists office, breaking down Obama’s existence as Black, as mixed race, and creating personal narratives in poems like “Hottentot Venus”, “Afro”, and “13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl.”
You can access the first few pages for free through this link: http://tinhouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/There-are-More-Beautiful-Things-Than-Beyonce-Preview.pdf
“I don’t know/ when I got so punk rock/ but when I catch/ myself in the mirror/ I feel stronger. So when at five in the afternoon/ something on my TV says/ time is not on your side/ I don’t give any/shits at all. Instead I smoke/ a joint like I’m/ a teenager and eat a whole/ box of cupcakes./ Stepping on leaves I get/ first-night thrill./ Confuse the meanings/ of castle and slum, exotic/ and erotic. I bless/ the dark, tuck/ myself into a canyon/ of steel. I breathe/ dried honeysuckle/ and hope. I live somewhere/ imaginary.” – Excerpt from “Another Another Autumn in New York”