Friday, September 23, 2016

Decolonize Your Teen Book Club

We all know that publishing has a diversity problem, but I contend that all of us have a diversity problem. We see the world through a white lens, all of us do because that's all that we've been given. This becomes especially problematic when I work with young writers of color. Inevitably, when I begin a new year and I get those first slips of flash fiction there are the tell-tale signs of whiteness. Blake is running from the monster in this story, or Karen is looking back at her teary blue eyes in the mirror. This would not be a problem if my young writer's had blue eyes, they don't. They're more likely to be named Keisha or Keyshawn than Karen. They've been indoctrinated. As voracious readers they've soaked up the imagery and normalcy of whiteness and thus have erased themselves. If they are not told to actively write people like themselves into the story then they won't. Some may even believe that by virtue of including a character of color it somehow makes the story cheap or low rent. Maybe because the only books they see with characters of color are the mass produced series for reluctant readers. And don't get me started on the aversion to self-publishing. Kids really do judge a book by its cover (btw, colorful and hardback wins every time).

Here are some steps to broadening the narrative in your clubs for the next generation.

1. Read through colored lenses.

Choose a book for the club to read together. It doesn't matter what book it is just tell them from the beginning that the characters are not white. Kevin is now Kumar and Lucy is now Luz. Talk about how that changed the story for them. Did it matter? Could you keep it up the entire book or were the people you saw in your head still white?

2. Give your writing prompts over to Jamal.

When you're assigning writing prompts deliberately use ethnic names. How does this change the kinds of stories the students tell. Are there stereotypes that need to be rooted out?

3. Have the talk.

Nothing works like bringing the elephant in the room to the center of the circle. Ask them why the characters they write don't look like them or speak like them or have names like theirs, if there are students of color. Let them talk.

There's been a lot of discussion about white writers infusing their writing with diversity. I don't necessarily agree that white writers have to do that. I think its more important to have writers of color writing the stories themselves, hence ownvoices. However, if you have writers who live and go to school in a pretty diverse area it makes sense for the writing to reflect that. There's no reason for a kid who lives in Brooklyn to write a story without any characters of color. The same would be said of a kid who lives in Miami neglecting to include anyone who speaks Spanish.

4. Flip the Script

Try an exercise where the writers flip classic bedtime stories and fairy tales. Put Little Red Riding Hood in the middle of Compton in the present day. Make Cinderella queer and Latina. Make Dracula Haitian and Frankenstein Laotian. Allow the backgrounds of the students speak through the tales and have them share.

Let me know how it goes with your groups. 

Episode 7: Review of Rani Patel in Full Effect

Monday, September 19, 2016


It seems like every week there is another shooting of an unarmed Black man, and with football season in swing the silent protest of Colin Kaepernick has brought the fight for an end to police brutality to the forefront. The Black Lives Matter movement is controversial to some and a necessary progression of the civil rights movement to others. However you feel, it cannot be ignored and that means there is an opportunity to gain more understanding through books. I’ve sifted through my stacks and pulled a number of titles that address:
  • ·         The Prison Industrial Compex
  • ·         Jim Crow laws and their legacy
  • ·         Slavery and the roots of the modern prison system
  • ·         The War on Drugs
  • ·         The Civil Rights Movement
  • ·         The Black Power Movement

All of these topics give insight into how and why the Black Lives Matter is important. Here is my list. It’s a great list to take to your librarian and if you’re a librarian, it serves as a good purchase list. I've included some fiction from Walter Dean Myers, Jason Reynolds and Kekla Magoon, because fiction can speak to us in a way that raw information cannot on an emotional level. Let me know if you've read any of these and please go check them out.

Alexander, Michelle. The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York : New Press, 2010.

Cates, David. The Scottsboro boys [electronic resource].

Duke, Bill. Dark Girls. [S.l.] : Buyservice T1, c2014.

Abu-Jamal, Mumia. We want freedom : a life in the Black Panther Party. Cambridge, MA : South End Press, c2004.

Duneier, Mitchell. Ghetto: The Invention Of A Place, The History Of An Idea. [S.l.] : Buyservice T1, c2016.

Edwards, Sue Bradford. Black lives matter. Minneapolis, MN : Abdo Publishing, 2016, c2016.

Guyatt, Nicholas. Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation. [S.l.] : Buyservice T1, c2016.

Kitwana, Bakari. The hip hop generation : young Blacks and the crisis in African American culture. New York : Basic Civitas, c2002.

Moore, Wes. The other Wes Moore : one name, two fates. New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2010.

Morris, Monique W. Pushout: The Criminalization Of Black Girls In Schools. [S.l.] : Buyservice T1, c2016.

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 1999. (Fiction)

Reynolds, Jason. All American boys. (Fiction)

Shakur, Assata. Assata : an autobiography. Chicago, Ill. : L. Hill, c1987.

Shipp, Robbin. Justice While Black. [S.l.] : Bolden, c2014.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. The beautiful struggle : a father, two sons, and an unlikely road to manhood. New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2009, c2008.

Magoon, Kekla. How it went down. (Fiction)

Watkins, D. Beast Side: Living and Dying while Black in America. [S.l.] : Buyservice T1, c2015.

Haas, Jeffrey. The assassination of Fred Hampton : how the FBI and the Chicago police murdered a Black Panther. Chicago : Lawrence Hill Books, c2010.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: The Threadbare Lie

Today's flash fiction was inspired by a recent Fresh Air episode about the racist past of Forsyth County and a lynching that sprang from a rape accusation. Ida B. Well's called these accusations made by white women (or their fathers, friends, husbands) against black men "the threadbare lie". She suspected these trysts, if they even happened, to be the result of affairs the women wouldn't admit to.

This inspired today's writing. Remember, the exercise focuses on 20-30 minutes of free writing without self edits. Try it.

The Threadbare Lie

The house was quiet, without even the usual creaks and groans of old age that she was used to. It was like it knew that it too needed to be silent, or maybe it wanted to lie still in order to bear complete witness to the event.

Coleman Redding’s daughter was on display.

Her skin glowed in the moonlight and her chest rose and fell in the slightest of movements. She could barely breath with anticipation, but still, she smiled wildly with eyes like hungry cat’s drinking in all of him. His smile matched hers, though in every other way they were opposites. While light bounced from her toes, elbows, breasts and belly, it was absorbed into his. With skin as dark good sleep his body absorbed the moon’s rays in thanks to his good fortune.

BJ Jackson was not fast, nor big, or even popular. He was an average kid with average grades in a run down town. His saving grace was his laugh. It bloomed like flowers in Beth Ann Redding’s ears. It melted into cool water’s that soothed her raging heart and quieted her screaming brain. He had saved her and tonight she would reward him.

His kisses were slow at first. He was nervous. He’d never done this before, and Beth had to lead him. She could never tell him how she knew what to do, but that was fine because she knew he would never ask. She was grateful.

He was grateful.

Rough hands met soft places and warm kisses set off bells in both their hearts. They rang until the vibration shook off their skin and left their souls bare and pulsing in rhythm.

It was the ringing that filled the room. It was the ringing that shook the house. It was the ringing that kept Coleman Redding’s homecoming silent.

His home was never silent. Televisions were left on too loud so that he couldn’t think. Radios blared at top volume so that his word couldn’t be heard clearly and then there was always the sound of his own rage clanging inside the halls and at the most horrible times inside his daughter’s body.

He climbed the stairs in discordant opposition to the remembered music. It was music, yes, music that he’d hated, music that he’d kept from her and music that would be soon lost to the lot of them.

When he opened the door he’d known what he’d seen, but she was scarred in unseen places and the goodness within her couldn’t be found to stand up for the truth, to stand against her father’s own eyes. Instead, she screamed and clawed at her novice lover’s face, and tried to remember what he looked like before the music stopped.

Episode 6: Review of Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen

Monday, September 12, 2016

Episode 5 of The Best Book Ever Written: Labyrinth Lost

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Diversity has become the watchword in YA recently, but that doesn't mean that publishing has answered the call just yet. Building a library with characters that reflect the appearance and lives of kids of color is difficult, but NEVER FEAR. I can help. Here are 7 fun books for teens with Black Boy leads.

All American Boys
Jason Reynolds and Brendon Keily
Atheneum, 2015
978-1481463331Contemporary Fiction

Told from Dual points of view, All American Boys, explores an incident of police brutality at a northeastern high school. The two boys, one the boy brutalized and the other a white classmate and witness, have to come to grips with what happened, how it affects not only themselves, but their community and the nation as a whole. It's heartfelt and scarily relevant.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party
MT Anderson
Candlewick, 2008
Historical Fiction

Octavian is a young slave owned by a group of scientists paid to study the ability of the negro to learn. The problem is that Octavian doesn't know that. Raised in comfort and given the best tutoring that anyone could hope for in pre-Revolutionary War New England he believes he is a student. It isn't until the death of his mother and the stirrings of war begin to rumble through the city does he begin to understand who he is and what he must do. An engaging and emotional read, adventure lovers and history lovers will be more than satisfied.

Fake ID
Lamar Giles
Amistad, 2014

Nick Pearson is on the run. With a new name and a new identity every few years he's tired and just wants to settle in. When the only friend he's had a chance to make at his new school ends up dead he's forced to dive headfirst into a mystery that could blow his cover at the very least and at worst end his own life. Super fun and full of twists and turns, mystery lovers will love this novel.

When I Was the Greatest
Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2015
Contemporary Fiction

Hood tales abound on the reluctant reader circuit, but you have to search for a truly good story. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, When I Was the Greatest tells the tale of Ali, a fierce friend and his friends Noodles and his brother Needles. Needles has Tourette's syndrome and knitting seems to calm his flailing and curses, but that doesn't mean that everyone is so understanding of his needs. When Needles is severely beaten at a party Noodles and Ali must navigate their own emotions in addition to the fallout in their Brooklyn neighborhood. Told with heart and attention to detail, this story will delight anyone looking for a real life story that's as beautiful and tragic as life can be.

The Marvelous Effect
Troy Cle
Simon and Schuster, 2008

Louis Proof is special, more special than he ever imagined. When Louis receives a mysterious invitation to an amusement park his world his turned upside down. Soon he's battling strange beings from another dimension. This hip-hop adventure features beats, rhymes, fast cars and interplanetary intrigue. An easy-read it will appeal to middle grade readers and teen readers alike.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz
Riverhead Books, 2008
Literary Fiction/Contemporary

Oscar is a geek. A fantasy loving, Klingon speaking, light saber wielding geek from the Bronx by way of the Dominican Republic. Without the least bit of swagger he has a hard time navigating the world, a world that pretends he doesn't exist. In his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Diaz takes us through the lives of  Oscar, his sister and his mother, while detailing nearly 50 years of island life, internal and external racism and the quest for love and acceptance. I recommend the audiobook in order to really immerse yourself in the music of the language. 

Sag Harbor
Colson Whitehead
Anchor, 2010
Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

In Whitehead's novel we follow Benji, a black prep school student who's spending the summer of 1985 in Sag Harbor among a small community of elite black folk. Like all summer novels he'll have his usual mishaps with the townsfolk and making new friends, but Benji's sheltered and performing his blackness isn't something he's used to. Watch Benji smile. Watch Benji code switch. Benji is happy. Benji feels like a moron.

Colson has gotten a lot of great press lately for his newest novel, The Underground Railroad, so Sag Harbor may be a good introduction into the author's aesthetic.

Special thanks to everyone who responded to my inquiry during the #askalibrarian twitter chat on Thursdays at Noon.