Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Am I Going to Top My Best Bookish Year?

You may remember that 2014 was my best bookish year yet. I didn’t plan to outdo myself in 2015 but with half the year under our belts, I’ve already made more literary memories than anticipated!

Last week I attended the book tour for Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk. Ota Benga was an African man featured in an anthropology exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Two years later, the New York Zoological Gardens displayed him in its Monkey House alongside an orangutan. Someone asked Newkirk how burdensome it must be to write a book like this. She responded that self-care was very necessary. Where exercise was a pretty routine outlet for her, she discovered that it wasn’t enough while writing the book, so she began meditating.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s second novel is out and I attended her DC Book Launch Party. It’s the only time I’ve attended an author event at this venue and they had to bring in more seats! Balm explores the trauma of the Civil War and the end of slavery. This love story follows Madge, Sadie, and Hemp who have each traveled to Chicago in search of a new life.

Angela Flournoy’s debut novel, The Turner House, hit shelves in April and she was in town just one week after the book’s release.  

The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It's a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home.” AngelaFlornoy.com

An art center in the area hosted a three-week series series to explore the life and work of Alice Walker. There was a special emphasis on her ground-breaking novel The Color Purple which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983. The series was free and open to the public and we were encouraged to explore our own thoughts about personal identity and expression during the discussions. It was quite the experience engaging with other literature lovers from around the area to discuss the work of Alice Walker. I’ve read two of her books, The Third Life of Grange Copeland and The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart, but the series piqued my interest in the work of her daughter who is also an author. Rebecca Walker’s autobiography, Black White & Jewish, and her novel, Adé: A Love Story, are on my to-read list. 

I posted about the Lawrence Hill event and you can find it here if you missed it. I read all of his novels in January and am impatiently waiting on his new release, The Illegal! According to the publisher's press release, "The Illegal tells the story of a young marathon runner, Keita Ali, fleeing for his life from a repressive government and forced into hiding. This is the ‘new underground,’ a hidden society made up of people who are denied the basics of life because they don’t have the necessary paperwork to make them full citizens. This new novel by Lawrence Hill is a significant contribution to our understanding of the fate that plagues millions of undocumented migrants to developed nations."

The DC Black Theatre Festival opened with a one-woman portrayal of Zora Neal Hurston, “Letters from Zora: In Her Own Words.” Vanessa Bell Calloway truly brought Zora to life! I left the show feeling so full that I woke up smiling the next day! While watching, I could anticipate much of what would come next as the play closely mirrored Hurston’s autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. But there were several things that I learned from the play and am hoping to connect the dots when I read Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd.

Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay are teaming up to turn Natalie Baszile’s debut novel, Queen Sugar, into a drama series for the OWN network! Natalie was in town just after the announcement in February and she told us about how the deal came to be. The story was like a real life fairy tale. Queen Sugar follows Charley, an African American woman and single mother, to Louisiana when she unexpectedly inherits eight hundred acres of sugarcane land. She and her eleven-year-old daughter say goodbye to smoggy Los Angeles.

The Maya Angelou Stamp Dedication Ceremony was held at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC. The RSVP list reached capacity before the event, of course, but I walked over anyway and ended up getting inside! The event was unforgettable and the attendees included First Lady Michelle Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Oprah Winfrey, Nikki Giovanni, just to name a few!

When I signed up for the Underground Railroad Experience Trail hike, I had no idea that the experience would also be a literary one. The hike is a free guided tour to commemorate the involvement of Montgomery County, Maryland residents in the Underground Railroad. Hikers learn about various techniques that "freedom seekers" used to elude trackers, find food, and navigate their way North to freedom. The guide referenced several books and even brought along a few. Here are the ones that I added to my to-read list:

Maryland Slave Narratives: Slave Narratives by Federal Writers' Project
A Shadow on the Household: One Enslaved Family’s Incredible Struggle of Freedom by Bryan Prince
Slavery in New York by Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris
The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts by William Still

Even with all of that, can you believe that I miss many more events than I attend! The lit scene here is amazing. What about your neighborhood? Have you attended any literary events lately?


Jacqueline said...

The DMV is such a rich place, and I am extremely grateful that I live there...Wouldn’t talk nothing for that place!

Shannon said...

Hi Jacqueline,

When I saw your blog's post this morning, I tried to remember if I had told you about the Underground Railroad Experience Trail. It seems like something you'd enjoy.

If I ever moved away from this area, the lit scene is something I would truly miss. I always hope you write about the events I skip! Between the two of us, we cover a significant number of them!

Jacqueline said...

Yes, I think that we definitely have the DC lit. world covered, my sister!

Didi said...

I hope to get to Balm this month. I feel terrible that I haven't started any of Lawrence Hill's work. Will jump The Book of Negroes up the TBR list. From all the great things I've heard. It certainly deserves to be read soon. Have you seen the television series yet? Was it as good as the book? I envy all of the great literary meetings you get to go to. they are few and far between here in Paris.

Shannon said...

I saw the series and they took quite a few liberties with the plot. It was good though, not great. Very few films top the book - same here.