welcoming valerie boyd, sheree renee thomas, and shay youngblood TO THE KITCHEN TABLE LITERARY ARTS ADVISORY BOARD
I've been waiting to make this announcement for months, and I'm not entirely sure why. That's a lie. I do know why. I wanted the announcement to be grand, a supersized press release that put fireworks, somersaults, and a twelve-hour parade in word form.
I wanted to start off with how reading Wrapped in Rainbows before I decided to attend graduate school for writing--leaving my family for the first time and shunning a corporate career--made me feel possible. I had planned this mini-essay recalling how Zora Neale Hurston's Florida helped this Wisconsin girl make sense of Tampa Bay and how Valerie Boyd's research and writing and careful loving attention to fact, fiction, and the in-between made everything about my own writing journey, with its starts and stops, disappointments and discoveries, an exercise in trusting the divinely mysterious plan that promises to lead you right where you're supposed to be. I have a photo with Valerie Boyd from nearly every writing conference I've attended since graduating with my MFA nine years ago, and I just saw her again at Zora Fest in January. Something about seeing her is like a cosmic nod that I'm on the right track.
There's more. I wanted to write a four-page letter of gratitude to Sheree Renee Thomas, telling her how Dark Matter was the first time I truly lost myself in magic and terror and fantasy and future. The letter would detail how emerging from stories by Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, and Samuel R. Delaney, inspiration and imagination ran so hot in my blood it blistered my skin. I was also going to talk about how I felt cheated at first, betrayed by the world of books I loved so much. The years of reading my sister's Koontz, King, and Bradbury hand-me-downs were fine, but reading each story in both Dark Matter anthologies exploded my world. I got over it, that cheated-missing-out-where-you-been feeling and realized that Sheree's work of creating and holding space for Black speculative fiction was an altar call, and though I didn't know how or when or where, I knew I wanted to be in this thing for real--not just writing, but exploring the limitless landscape that is Black imagination, and not just for myself, but for and with others. I also planned to mention, as I closed the letter, how our shared name gives me a thrill every time, all the time.
I had all these grand plans, all these dreams about how I wanted it to feel, how I wanted the announcement to be. But there is no way to make this moment any more perfect. Right here. Right now. This is the dream.
Thank you Valerie, Sheree, and Shay for sharing your work and sharing yourselves. Your guidance and support mean the absolute world to me.
In gratitude, community, and sisterhood,
Sheree L. Greer
rEAD BIOS FOR VALERIE bOYD, SHEREE RENEE THOMAS, AND SHAY YOUNGBLOOD HERE
a review of dr. nnedi okorafor's binti: home
by silk-jazmyne hindus
The second book of Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series is a story of return and growth. Binti: Home takes places a year after the protagonist Binti experiences the death of all her classmates on their way to Oomza University. The first scene is in mathematics class, when she begins to feel intense emotions. At first she’s confused then realizes that it’s her connection to her Meduse friend, Okwu. Knowing that his rage will result in killing his professor, she rushes to his weapons’ presentation to deescalate the situation. Soon after, Binti decides to return home in order to go on pilgrimage in hopes to calibrate herself, ridding her of the conflicting emotions she’s felt for the past year. While at home, she quickly learns that not everyone is excited to see her and were angered by her leaving. Things go from bad to strange when a figure shows itself to Binti that typically only reveals itself to men. This prompts a group of people, her grandmother included, to arrive at her doorstep ready to whisk her away to destiny.
The author carries on the originality of the first book while delving deep into sensitive topics. The reader gets to see Binti’s growth while understanding her challenges. There’s an incredible amount of time spent on mental health. From instances of panic attacks to night terrors. Often times in science fiction when disasters occur, the protagonist is sad for a moment then goes on to save the day. The reader is able to see her strength through moments of pain.
“For the first few weeks, I was okay, but eventually I started having nightmares, day terrors, I’d see red and then Heru’s chest bursting open.”
There’s even a moment when Binti challenges her own preconceived notions.
“I felt a sting of shame as I realized why I hadn’t understood something so obvious. My own prejudice. I had been raised to view the Desert People, the Enyi Zinariya, as a primitive, savage people plagued by a genetic neurological disorder. So that’s what I saw.”
During the first book, the reader is only given a glimpse of familial ties and man does she give the whole picture in this one. We get to see Binti’s siblings exactly how they are and how their bond has been shaken by her leaving and near death experience. There was a moment I was so angry and sad for the protagonist because the moment was so real and raw. Okorafor gives us such strong fiction, we can’t help but feel the human truths.
With one hundred sixty two pages to work with, the author uses simple, concise sentences for the majority of the book until she deems it absolutely necessary to expound. She slows the narrative down in the big moments to allow the reader to fully soak up what’s happening.
“In one sentence, she explained something that had been bothering me for a year. That’s all it was. The random anger and wanting to be violent, that was just Meduse genetics in me. Nothing is wrong with me? I thought. Not unclean? It’s just … a new part of me I need to learn to control? I’d come all this way to go on my pilgrimage because I’d thought my body was trying to tell me something was wrong with it.”
The plot progresses quickly. There’s quite a bit of movement in this book, especially compared to the first which took place mostly in one location. This book goes from university, to ship, to home, to desert, to the priestess, back to Binti’s home. Entire days are covered in a few pages but never does the journey seem rushed; the element of urgency and plot occurrences keeps the reader from feeling hurried.
This book is an ode to growing up, letting go and evolving. The first book was about leaving home and the second is about returning. A navigation of balancing who you were raised to be and becoming who you are and want to be. Coming home after being on your own is very hard (ask any college grad who’s had to move back in with their parents after graduation). This book was about how moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting the past but also not being afraid of becoming who you were meant to be, even if it makes people uncomfortable.
Binti: Home is the story of every golden child who has fallen from grace. It’s about family and culture. How following your dreams can feel like turning your back on a collectivist home. I found myself genuinely tearing up at some of the more pivotal moments. There’s a level of beauty in the rawness. The author doesn’t shy away from giving you a complete view of Binti in her strength and weakness. This book is an encouragement to anyone scared to branch out from their traditional family. When I finished, I couldn’t wait to get into the third book to see how this character’s story ends.
MISSED THE FIRST BINTI REWIEW? READ IT HERE!
REFLECTION AS INSPIRATION by memoir magazine founder, mARY MCBETH
As a writer, activist, and woman of color, I created Memoir Magazine to foster more empathy for the women of color experience, particularly African-American Women. I wanted to create a place where our stories could make the most impact in society at large, where people everywhere could experience more of the rich tapestry of our lives, our hearts and minds, as well as the vital roles we continue to play in the cultural collective of this nation. After all, nothing fosters empathy like a walk in another person's shoes, and memoir offers that opportunity.
I knew that we, as women of color writers, needed a literary magazine that would fairly consider our reality in the wider literary landscape, and I wanted to create a safe space for us to tell our stories, without judgment, because I know the power of writing to heal the writer as well as the reader.
"WE HAVE BEEN YOKED BY THE NOTION THAT WE MUST PRESENT OURSELVES AS CLEAN AND GOOD AND PERFECT TO BE ACCEPTED—INSTEAD OF THE BEING OURSELVES, BEING REAL PEOPLE WITH REAL PERSONALITY FLAWS, REAL ILLNESSES, REAL EMOTION, REAL NEEDS, ALL OF WHICH CONTRIBUTE TO THE REAL BEAUTY WE HOLD INSIDE OF US."
For example, writing ushered me through much of my challenges with perfection and acknowledging the pressure put upon us to be perfect. My father used to tell me that I had to be twice as good as everybody else to get anywhere in America. He was right of course, but a side affect of what I call the “walk it off” belief is that, just like society at large, I too began to discount my own emotions. For far too long, we have been yoked by the notion that we must present ourselves as clean and good and perfect to be accepted—instead of the being ourselves, being real people with real personality flaws, real illnesses, real emotion, real needs, all of which contribute to the real beauty we hold inside of us.
We writers are charged with churning this notion into dust. Not only does this idea of perfection create obstacles to good writing, but also it is a kind of (often tragically self imposed) abuse to our intelligent women ancestors. By adhering to oppressive standards of perfection, we are silencing the stories and struggles of our ancestors, maintaining a status quo where we are expected to be and stay silent about our realities—at the cost of ourselves and society in general.
We can stay silent no longer. We cannot leave our feelings and valuable self-reflections out of our narratives.
With Memoir Magazine, I want to contribute to a world in which every woman of color feels like an integral valued part for society and has greater empathy for herself, by fostering an environment for more vital emotional truth-telling in our work and the healing that comes from laying our collective burdens down.
MEMOIR MAGAZINE IS CURRENTLY TAKING SUBMISSIONS! CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE: mEMOIR MAGAZINE sUBMISSIONS
review of dr. nnedi okorafor's binti
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