A long-time-in-coming meandering from Africa–one to inspire!
Please join me in rejoicing in Rwanda’s vision and the hope that the people’s vision will spread far and wide…
Rwanda is working on a “green city,” in Kigali city. The
plan is to have the 2.3 square miles allocated to efficient factories, sustainable
housing and green cars. The estimated cost? $5 billion, according to the African Exponent.
of this scale considers many factors. The “Rwanda
Green City Pilot Project”
covers every environmental concern and is created in a sustainable way. The
project has developed its own “Pillars of Green Urbanism” that the project
follows and can be easily piloted in other cities.
“green city” will have all the infrastructure and services of a city, but each part
will be eco-friendly. Electric vehicles, bicycle lanes, biogas, forests,
environmental waste treatment are all part of the city planning process and
will be part of the final city. The government hopes the city will lead to job
creation, improved sanitation and public transport access.
two main projects happening on the site. The first, “Cactus Green Park,” is a 410 house
development that meets environmental standards. This will be a pilot for other
urban planning green building projects. Second, green affordable housing will be added
to the city. Future phases will include green office and commercial buildings.
of the pilot, the project will track the metrics it has developed.
“Key” metrics include avoided CO2 emissions and green jobs created.
has a new mayor, Pudence Rubingisa. In an interview in September, 2019, he spoke about the need for a Green City, “Now,
why do we need green development? This will help cope up not only with the
climate change issue but also the urbanisation that is really affecting the
city in a way. That is why we need to start thinking of a green city and
the key major factors include all Rwandans being or having that environmental
responsiveness and understanding. We need to utilise land properly, be
innovative and use less polluting materials.”
I first learned of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s collection of short stories, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (2017) from Levar Burton’s brilliant podcast, Levar Burton Reads. I loved that even though the story that he read—the title story—could’ve been set anywhere, the author chose to situate the narrative in Nigeria. “What it Means When a Man Fall from the Sky” is about a gifted mathematician—one of several in the country—who are also not only empathic, but they can absorb others’ grief through the use of a particular mathematical formula called Furcal’s Formula. It is easily imagined that such a “gift” is also a curse, driving some of the mathematicians to lunacy and suicide, especially in a world in which the great powers, The U.S. and Europe, have, through their own greed, been swallowed by water (the effect of climate change) and thus, invade those lands—formerly colonized—that have been spared.
While I liked the story, especially read as it is so
masterfully by Burton, once I got the collection and read the rest of the
stories, “What It Means” turned out to be my least favorite.
I had to read the first story, “The Future Looks Good,” at
least three times. The prose about a tragic case of mistaken identity is so
tight and economical that it was disorienting. Another story, “Wild,” is about
a young American woman who, just before heading to university, is sent by her
mother to spend the summer with her family in Nigeria. The story raises issues
of familial dysfunction, the meanings behind the epithet “wild” and the prison
of respectability politics especially in relation to girls and young women,
class, and appearances.
Another story to be celebrated for its brilliant insight
into respectability politics and female oppression is “Light” about a father in
Nigeria who tries to save his daughter from her mother who lives in the U.S.
and wants the budding young woman to come and live with her. Both of the
stories, along with “Windfall” about a young woman with a scam artist for a
mother raise important points about how women can be some of the most fervent
defenders of rules of behavior that are most detrimental to girls’ and women’s
self-esteem and wholeness.
“Windfall” is so fastmoving and relentless in its assault
against human dignity in the name of family that I felt, as the reader, like I
needed to take a breath. But I couldn’t put it down because I needed to see it through.
The story’s shocking ending—one that I could not fathom—frankly brought me to
Yet another story with a heartbreaking ending, “Buchi’s
Girls,” was painful to read, in part, because it was so recognizable. After a
woman loses her husband to a freak accident when he tries to help a stranger,
she and her two little girls must depend on her sister and brother-in-law to
survive. The only way she can see out of her predicament is to “do something a
mother just couldn’t do.” (145)
There are several stories that, I’m sure, could be
considered speculative or magical. “What It Means” is one. “Second Chances is
another. Still another is “Who Will Greet You at Home” about a poor young woman
who desperately wants a better life for her child. But as someone who has lived
in places where the lines between the “natural” and the “supernatural” are
regularly blurred, with, for example, hopeful new brides carrying around and
caring for fertility dolls as it they were alive, the narrative seemed familiar
if not plausible, though heartbreaking.
My favorite story, by far, was “Glory” about an ill-fated
young woman who seems, no matter how hard she tries to make the right life
choices, to make the wrong ones. She’s a disappointment to her parents who
define success the way that most of the world does: marriage to a “respectable”
person, a high-paying “prestigious” job, and having a couple of kids. Glory
does not seem to be able to access to any of these things no matter how hard
She gets wept up in the tidal wave of Thomas, a fellow
Nigerian who is “successful” and, like a bulldozer, steadily making plans for
Glory is faced with yet another a decision.
At the story’s denouement, with Glory facing two difficult
choices, quite wonderfully, Arimah leaves the question about what she will
decide unanswered. I’m usually frustrated when an author does such a thing, but
here it is soooo… appropriate and dare I say, satisfying, because, again, there
is no simple “good” choice. Basically, the choice, which all of us are called
to make on a daily basis, is whether we are going to take responsibility for
our lives and what that looks like.
Arimah has garnered many accolades for her craft, including The Kirkus Prize and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is a wonderful escape into reality. As The Seattle Times characterized it, the collection is “chilling, dreamy, often breathtaking.” It is definitely worth picking up and sharing with other lovers of the Word!!
I was hooked from the very first page where Watkins tells a brilliant story of being at a swanky party populated by wealthy and influential African Americans and striking up a conversation with a “scholarly Danny Glover-looking guy laced in tweed.” When in response to the guy’s questioning of Watkin’s lineage, Watkins tells him he is between jobs and his family worked wherever they got hired, the guy, without even as much as an “excuse me,” quickly makes a beeline for someone “more worthy of his time.”
While the way that Watkins relates the story had me laughing until tears rolled down my cheeks, my joy was tinged by the deep injustice that underpins such dehumanizing encounters with people who you think look like you, but who have very different agendas; sadly often based in racial politics and driven by capitalism. Following the story of his encounter with the man Watkins notes that he has seen him on several TV shows following the shootings of unarmed black men spewing the “tired script” that “not-all-cops-are-bad-so-strategic-protest-will-equal-reform.”
We Speak for Ourselves challenges mainstream media’s production and usage of these black talking heads, but perhaps more importantly, African American people allowing themselves to be used in such a way. About the proliferation of African Americans race books that define “the systemic issues that plague the African American experience, while our white counterparts are doing the same—swooping in as super-allies, schooling their lost friends on what it means to be black, and offering step-by-step lessons on acknowledging their own privilege” Watkins asserts that many of these books miss the point. This is because they have no connection to the black people they are fighting for. According to Watkins, “their books and language never include the very people who live the poor black experience every day.” Such people he argues, dibble and dabble in a world from which people from Watkins life cannot escape.
We Speak for Ourselves is filled with death: the close and up-close death of friends and acquaintances like Snaggletooth Rib, who is murdered right in front of Watkins and an unnamed “dude’s” baby after Rib makes a good-natured joke about the guy leaving his baby to gamble in an alley! Watkins remarks “the stories of Rib, Hurk, Wop (two other friends he’s lost to gun violence) and dozens more make up the bulk of my life. I’ve been on the wrong side of a pistol plenty of times.”
We are reminded here of well-known victims of senseless black death in the story of Nipsey Hussle, a beloved young brother who used his success as a rapper to uplift his community through his entrepreneurship and his store, The Marathon Clothing. In honor of his memory, his family has founded the Neighborhood Nip Foundation to provide opportunities for young creatives in music.
Across the water we are reminded of Lucky Dube, a brilliant musician from South Africa who was carjacked and murdered in his own community.
It is critical that we link these deaths across
socio-economic status, fame, naming and namelessness, and time and space,
because our continued enslavement and death is dependent upon us not making
I appreciate Watkins’ work precisely because he connects the stories of pain and the deaths of his friends and family to larger systems of oppression, including the “Black Tax”, slavery, “Black Codes” and Jim Crow laws, sharecropping, and indentured servitude, to the “war on drugs” and the “prison industrial complex;” important connections that way too many of us do not get and which keeps those systems in place and working.
We Speak for Ourselves is not an easy read. It is painful and haunting and downright scary. As such, Watkins is a much-needed brave voice emerging from the trenches. And while I do not look forward to reading his other works—they hurt—I will because I know that I cannot afford to turn away.
Watkins is not only writing about his community, he’s also
walking the walk, working tirelessly to get his books into the hands of as many
young people as he can, mostly high school students from neighborhoods that are
impoverished and affected on a daily basis by the issues that he raises in the
Too many young people of color simply do not read beyond hashtags and headlines, but as Watkins points out, it is incumbent upon those of who understand the power of the Word to help them get excited about reading. One way is by writing about things that they care about and in a way that they can relate to.
The only qualm I have with Watkins is the way he’s chosen to sub-title the book: A Word from Forgotten Black America.
I don’t think the poor and disenfranchised African American population of the United States are forgotten by the rich and the powerful. In fact, I think the rich and powerful are very much aware that their position is dependent upon the poor. As I say to my students time and again, there cannot be an upperclass without an underclass. As such, Black America haunts not only the waking hours, but also the dreams of those in power. Why else would they need to hide behind their tall gates and armored cars?
I am in no way affiliated with Well-Read Black Girl, but am sharing this information about their upcoming festival because 1) I believe it’s important for black women to support each other and 2) I believe in what WRBG is doing and want to support it.
If you live in Brooklyn where the festival will be held, I’m soooo…jealous! 😉
The inaugural Well-Read Black Girl (WRBG) Festival occurred on September 9, 2017. This month marks their anniversary!
From WRBG: “The entire experience could be summed up with the following words: community-powered, thought-provoking, and simply magical. The festival focused on Black women writers from all genres and all experience levels. Women made their journey to Brooklyn for a full day of camaraderie, connection-making, and inspiration.”
Tickets go on sale tomorrow, Friday, September 13th
Confirmed panelists include Jacqueline Woodson, Elizabeth Acevedo, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Saidiya Hartman, DaMaris Hill, Kalisha Buckhanon, Mahogany Browne, Rachel Cargle, Nic Stone, Dhonielle Clayton and more. Plus, we’ve added a 2nd festival day for families with young children & pre-teens! More festival announcements coming throughout the month of September.
I’ll admit, I approached Victor Lavalle’s The Changeling (2018) with a healthy amount of trepidation.
While I love science and speculative fiction, I’m not big on horror. It’s why, although I am deeply curious about them both, I have yet to see either Jordan Peele’s Us or Tate Taylor’s Ma.
The novel’s cover art, description, as well as some of the reviews led me to believe that the narrative could be classified as horror: the main character, Apollo Kagwa, has a Ugandan mother and a white father from upstate New York. His father mysteriously disappears when Apollo is only four years old, leaving the child haunted by “strange recurring dreams.” In adulthood, after a marrying a woman whom he relentlessly pursues and having a child with her, Apollo’s dreams return. At the same time, his wife, Emma, begins acting strangely, exhibiting what he believes are signs of postpartum depression. However, her strange behavior escalates, culminating in her “committing a horrific act and vanishing.”
You can understand why I was a little leery of undertaking the read.
But after four months of a steady diet of autobiographies for my latest writing project, I was ready to delve into the imaginary. I am so glad I took the plunge.
The Changeling is a beautifully crafted work of imagination that is, rather than horror, more along the lines of magical realism. I was immediately drawn to the story because, not only is Lavalle a gifted wordsmith, but he sets the narrative in New York, largely Queens, where I spent all of my childhood and teenage years. Major points!!
The book is pretty long—431 pages—but the chapters are no more than five pages, with most of them being two. While this would seem to provide a break to allow the reader to head off and do other things with her life, his writing is so gripping—he does a wonderful thing whereby he ends almost each chapter with a teaser or cliffhanger—that she (meaning me) had no desire to go to the gym or make dinner, or do any of the other hundred things I was supposed to be doing.
The Changeling was deservedly voted a Notable Book by the New York Times in 2017.
The accolades from Marlon James, author of one of my favorite novels, The Book of Night Women (2010) that I will in all likelihood never be able to read again because it is so disturbing, are warranted.
The cover art by Yuko Shimizu is beautiful and a fitting precursor to the haunting tale within.
I will say, I didn’t particularly like Apollo as a person. In fact, I’d call him a jerk. My aversion to the character, I think, speaks to how well developed he is. As another reviewer points out, he is “a man who doesn’t take no for an answer” and “who cuts wishes from his wife’s wrist.”
When he reached across the dinner table and with no warning, cut Emma’s wish string, I had a visceral revulsion, partly because I’ve known quite a few men who think it’s their prerogative to curtail a woman’s dreams in the name of “love” when it’s really about possession.
I was also reminded of my own “wish string” which I was given last year at the cost of my first week-long silent retreat at Spirit Rock and which was meant to drop away on its own. If someone had tried to interrupt that process, they would’ve gotten a solid punch in the face. As it turns out the sweetest little puppy that I was roughhousing with recently snapped it off—point being, it was my choice!!
I was also really angered by Apollo’s reaction to his mother who literally saved his life when he was a child, but when she tells him the story of his father’s disappearance, blames her for the guy’s absence!!!
It’s always the mother’s fault.
“What a self-absorbed prick,” I thought, before putting the book aside to recover.
I also agree with the reviewer who notes that they would’ve liked to have had more of Emma’s perspective. The same could be said for Lillian, Apollo’s mother. Nonetheless, Lavalle does provide, at least for Emma, a strong support system in her sister, Kim, and the “witches” with whom she consorts and finds the truth. Now if he had been more respectful of his wife, Emma would’ve shown Apollo that same truth much sooner in the narrative, he is only able to access it after he has undergone several harrowing, traumatic, painful, and exhausting experiences, and most of them with his male ex-military friend, Patrice.
We may ask what this says about “the new dad” who believes he is sharing equally in the raising of his child in a way that his ancestors never did. Is it another form of delusion?
I would say yes as statistically, even in the most “progressive” cisgender heterosexual families, men perform only about 35% of the household chores.
The Changeling is a fairytale/folktale of fairytales/folktales. As such, there are lessons to be learned.
For me, the biggest lesson is Believe Women
Victor Lavalle is an enormously talented writer. I’m sure I’ll be reading more from him in the coming months.
2019 will long be remembered by many of us, not only for the great voices that we’ve lost just this month, but also because it is a year of significant historical anniversaries and commemorations.
Two that immediately come to mind are: 1619 and 1919
Let’s begin with 1619 since it marks the beginning of African Americans’ fraught relationship with the colonies that would become the United States of America; a nation based and built on the slaughter and displacement of indigenous populations and the exploited and dehumanized labor of Africans and their descendants. (An excellent text that makes this important connection is The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2016) by Edward Baptiste)
August 20, 1619 marks the date 400 years ago when the first 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from Angola arrived on the shores of Point Comfort, Virginia.
The New York Times 1619 Project, first published in the August 12th issue of The New York Time Magazine, sheds light on the legacy of that historic moment in history.
The Project, conceived by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a writer at The Times, aims to challenge the notion that American history began in 1776. Not only is it the focus of several issues of the magazine, but it is accompanied by related materials in multiple other publications of the Times as well as a project curriculum developed in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center, for use in schools.
The Project is legit, having employed a panel of historians and, with support from the Smithsonian Institute, undergone, no-doubt, rigorous fact-checking, research, and development.
A major cool aspect of the 1619 Project is that it highlights the perspectives and voices of African American scholars and artists with almost all of the contributions coming from African-Americans.
As you can imagine, the project has garnered A LOT of attention, both positive and negative.
If you’d like to learn more about the project, here are some resources:
I just learned that there is a podcast dedicated to the project as well. As a lover of podcast accompaniment during my nature walks, I am super excited!!!
Red Summer of 1919
This summer also marked the 100th year anniversary of the Red Summer of 1919, by the end of which there were at least 25 documented anti-black riots across the United States, including in East St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; Charleston, South Carolina; and Elaine, Arkansas.
There were several reasons and sparks for the Red Summer; all rooted in a belief in white supremacy. Following the bloody Summer of white rage, in the Fall of 1919, Dr. George Edmund Haynes completed a report on the causes and scope of Red Summer, arguing that “the persistence of unpunished lynching” contributed to the mob mentality among white men and fueled a new commitment to self-defense among black men who had been emboldened by war service. “In such a state of public mind,” Dr. Haynes wrote, “a trivial incident can precipitate a riot.”
Fear/Hatred + Impunity = Anti [fill in the group] Violence.
Read more about Red Summer, beginning with this excellent article about the genius writer and NAACP field secretary James Weldon Johnson‘s role in publicizing and naming it:
August has been a rough month for us lovers of the word.
A couple of weeks ago, the great Toni Morrison took her place amongst the ancestors.
A few days ago, on August 12th, the incomparable Paule Marshall joined her.
Marshall holds a special place in my heart as a fellow native New Yorker!!
Although she is best known for her 1959 novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, she also authored several other gorgeous works including Soul Clap Hands and Sing (1961), a collection of four novellas, and four other novels, The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969), my personal favorite, Praisesong for the Widow (1983), life changing!!!, Daughters (1991) and the Fisher King (2001). She also authored a collection of short stories, Reena and Other Stories (1983) as well as a combination, novella and short stories, Merle, A Novella and Other Stories (1985). Her memoir, Triangular Road, was published in 2009.
Her many accolades include being winner of the National Institute of Arts Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship Grant. She is also a Literary Lion with the New York Public Library.
Paule Marshall was also loved and will be deeply missed.