Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Now Reading: February 2017

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February celebrates two things: Black History Month and Valentine's Day. Since history doesn't have to be represented in text book format, some of us at Literary Mama celebrated via our literary choices.

I know that for years my bookshelf was underrepresented by authors of color and women. I have since remedied this: I was lucky to study under professors in my MFA program who introduced me to authors such as Toi Derricotte, Jennine Cap Crucet, and Cornelius Eady. I first read Eady's Brutal Imagination in a poetry workshop. In honor of Black History Month, I read it for pleasure instead of homework, and I'm glad I did. I was able to appreciate Eady's collection on a different level. I first read Eady's Brutal Imagination in a poetry workshop. In honor of Black History Month, I read it for pleasure instead of homework, and I'm glad I did. I was able to appreciate Eady's collection on a different level. The first half of the book is a collection of poems from the point of view of the imaginary black man Susan Smith accused of carjacking her while her sons were still inside the vehicle. In reality, there was no carjacker; Smith was found guilty of drowning her sons by pushing her car into a lake. Eady explores why Smith chose to use a black man as her scapegoat, and why the public and police believed her story so quickly. Not only does he discuss race, he also tackles gender and challenges his readers in the poem Why I am Not a Woman. The second half of the book, The Running Man Poems, is compiled of poems from Eady's Jazz Opera of the same name. It delves into race and class relations as well as familial struggles. Published 16 years ago, Brutal Imagination unfortunately still rings true in 2017 with lines like "It's been a hard week to be black in Union, SC, a black woman tells a reporter," from the poem "Next of Kin," and "Nothing can run when you've broken its legs. Nothing can fly when you trim its feathers with a knife, a stone" from "First Crimes." Reading Eady's collection forced me to think outside of the bubble I have created for myself. At times it was so honest that I became uncomfortable, but that's how I knew the writing was effective.

Poetry Editor Ginny Kaczmarek shares, "I recently finished a collection that celebrates both the power of love and Black History Month: the award-winning graphic novel trilogy March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. The combination of black-and-white illustrations and straightforward narration cinematically brings to life five years of John Lewis' involvement with the civil rights movement. Because the books tell Lewis' story, historical events feel immediate and urgent, from lunch counter sit-ins to Freedom Rides to the marches on Washington and from Selma to Montgomery—contrasted with the inauguration of Barack Obama. I was thoroughly impressed with how the authors keep pages turning while illuminating both well-known and lesser-known heroes of the movement and the principles of non-violent civil disobedience. Violence and harsh language are handled realistically—making me recommend this book for readers 12 and up—yet, the overall takeaway is that ordinary people, working together in a spirit of positivity, can affect change against great odds. Truly inspiring."

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-editor, states, "I recently read Mrs. Shaw by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, which  tells the story of Kalumba, a young man from the Kwatee Republic, a fictional African country, who is forced to go into exile in the United States. While attending graduate school in Wisconsin, he meets the eponymous elderly white woman, also from Kwatee. He learns that she was married to one of the country's oppressors, who has a secret that could affect the future of his native land. She offers to be his 'white mother,' and they form an unlikely friendship. In America, he capitalizes on his marginal status by giving lectures. He meets and falls in love with Melissa, an American artist, whose father is in prison for bomb-making. Meanwhile, Kalumba continues to support the revolutionary movement in his home country by sending money abroad, waiting for his chance to go back and perhaps, achieve redemption. The novel is told via diary entries and letters mixed with straight up narrative, and from different points of view. Kenyan native Wa Ngugi grapples with issues such as patriotism and the price of betrayal, while avoiding easy resolutions."

Profiles Editorial Assistant Taylor Harris was excited to share her pick saying, "When Colson Whitehead reimagines the Underground Railroad as an actual system of trains under the earth, you show up. I’ve shown up for The Underground Railroad with my sleeping baby in one arm and the hardcover in the other. I don’t mean to get all millennial, especially because I barely duck under the age qualification, but this book is everything, which might be why it won the National Book Award. As a reader, you follow Cora, a runaway slave, on her escape from state to state, through hot attics and chains, captures and releases. Each state has its own set of laws governing black bodies, with North Carolina's being absolutely nightmarish. I have never read such gorgeous and sharp prose wrapped up with such haunting images. On one hand, I’ve never read anything like this. On the other hand, how did this book not exist before 2016? Hasn’t it always been here? It absolutely belonged on the shelves decades ago, yet speaks so much truth to the defilement of black bodies today. I find myself taking pictures of pages to text message to friends with the commentary: 'This is happening NOW.' I have no idea how the author managed a book full of truthful one-liners that capture American culture generally without forfeiting any intimacy on the page. I’m sure Mr. Whitehead hears this a lot: The Underground Railroad is absolutely brilliant and worth all the post-bedtime minutes."

What books are you reading to celebrate Black History Month? Share with us below or tweet us @LiteraryMama. Follow us on Goodreads for more book suggestions.

Abigail Lalonde lives in Philadelphia with her husband, daughter, and three cats. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Sanitarium MagazinePretty Owl Poetry, Crack the Spine, and Memoir Mixtapes. She writes about books and writing on her website.

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Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.

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