New Daughters of Africa edited by Margaret Busby (RR)
Whew! I finished it. (Warning: this is a long one) New Daughters of Africa. All epic 790 pages of it, not including the end credits and with roughly 200 writers (I didn’t count), there are considerable credits. None of this is a complaint. This book is thick but filling; it is so good and if there’s a story or poem or writer you don’t quite gel with (and I had only a handful of these), continue reading; there’s more good stuff to come. I read every writer and found something to appreciate in most and downright loved (!) much of the writing. The book as a whole was slow going because of the sheer size (this book came out in 2019 and I’m only now finishing it in 2022 and I was motivated to finish). But Margaret Busby is a G for pulling this together, twice (because New Daughters is a sequel to her Daughters of Africa, published 25 years earlier). I have to acknowledge that I am in this collection and feel extremely honoured to be in amazing company – Antiguan and Barbudan writer Jamaica Kincaid was in the earlier edition (per the listing of authors from the previous book at the back of this one) and reading that made me emotional, like my little piece of the rock was a part of something great. And this NAACP Image award book is great. That’s the Tl;dr… if you’re still with me, let’s get to some details.
The book, in addition to reaching in to so many corners of the African diaspora, spotlighting new and established voices, brilliantly structures its authors by decade of birth beginning pre-1900s forward to the 1990s. This allowed this reader to observe the evolution of writing styles (from a classical formalness to more experimental post-modern writing), themes, and outlook (how issues pertaining to Blackness or Black womanhood, for instance, are perceived from one generation of Black women to the next). What’s a bit depressing is that, though the specifics shifted through time, at no point in the timeline are issues related to Blackness or Black womanhood not an issue. Granted the early writers are addressing urgent issues like slavery and lynching and the later writers are talking about Black hair and generally how we show up in the world, but there is a through-line.
I can’t speak on every story or poem, so I will only be pulling out some that spoke to me, such as:
“Ode to My Grandfather at the Somme 1918” (p. 35) by US writer Barbara Chase-Riboud, kicking off the segment featuring writers born in the 1930s.
Excerpt: “He stands a solitary figure in/Dark brown and khaki along the Somme trenches”
If you absorb history through the lens of popular culture, you would be hard-pressed to believe that there were Black people present in this case in the trenches of WWI. As a resident of Antigua and Barbuda in the former British West Indies, I know we were there, and with this “Ode”, dedicated to James Edward Saunders (1898-1966), Chase-Riboud makes sure we know that her African-American grandfather was as well. It is a searing and heartbreaking history lesson.
“Forget” (p. 40) by US writer Adrienne Kennedy, also born in the 1930s, and whose narrative poem is also a riveting history lesson (personal and societal).
Excerpt: “I met my white grandfather a few times.”
Nigerian writer Simi Bedford, born in the 40s’, entry is from her 1991 autobiographical book Yoruba Girl Dancing (p. 53), and yes it’s one of several now added to my TBR. A delight of anthologies of this type is the ‘discovery’ of new voices and the expansion of your reading ambitions. Both Simi and Ghanian writer Nah Dove who follows in the line-up give sociological insights to being Black British (of the African diaspora). Dove’s piece is specifically entitled “Race and Sex: Growing up in the UK” (p. 57)
US writer Bonnie Greer’s “Till” (p. 61) felt timely in light of the 2022 Hollywood film of that tragic murder (the 1955 murder of Emmett Till by white racists after a false accusation by Carolyn Bryant, who is still alive at this writing).
US-born and UK-based Candace Allen’s “The First Night in Accra” (p. 97), part of a work in progress, was vivid.
Excerpt: “It might as well be Halloween! Mixing Yoruba and Fante into fairy tale characters; and the drama at the slave castles!” (said in a mocking tone by one of the characters about people from the diaspora visiting the forts where enslaved people were held before transshipment)
British writer SuAndi’s poem “Intergenerational Trauma” (p. 211)
Excerpt: “My father never talked of the past/I never asked” (p. 211)
Ugandan writer Goretti Kyomuhendo’s “Lost and Found” (p. 332) had me feeling frustrated for (and so, engaged with) the narrative character, the whole story; what her sister did, what she’s lost.
The inclusion of the excerpt from US writer Sapphire’s Push (p. 198), the basis of the movie Precious, reminded me how good this writing was, how the character Precious, largely mute and frustrated, just pushes through. I remember this book, by the way, as one of (if not) the bleakest I ever read, and was reluctant to watch the movie as a result and it turns out that rough as the movie was it left enough gaps to let some light in and wasn’t at all bleak (not compared to the book) considering how dark the material remained.
Zimbabwean writer Blessing Musariri “She, on the way to Monk’s Hill” (p. 566); I was surprised to come across Antigua in writing (Blessing’s tag indicates that this poem was written in Antigua in 2010).
Nigerian writer Nnedi Okorafor’s “Zula of the Fourth Grade Playground” (p. 577) hits with “…because in our fourth-grade Catholic school world, I could not be pretty. I was too black, my hair was too coarse, my lips were too big…”
Ghanaian English writer Louisa Adjoa Parker’s “Black Histories aren’t All Urban: Tales from the West Country” (p. 581) was an interesting read, which at some point called back to me a CREATIVE SPACE piece I did last Independence season referencing some colonial place names (e.g. [John] Hawkins Drive, now Lionel Hurst Street) in Antigua and Barbuda.
Excerpt: “Although we tend to think of Liverpool and Bristol when we think of slavery, British involvement has its roots in Devon – John Hawkins of Plymouth is recognized as the first English slave trader.” (p. 582)
Nigerian-German writer Olúmìdé Pópóolá’s (p. 587) “The Swimmer”.
Excerpt: “It is hard to take your own life.”
I remember this next author, Taiye Selasi, from her TED Talk “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m local” and you’ll get why when you consider that she was born in the UK, raised in the US, and has Ghanaian and Nigerian roots. Her “from The Sex Lives of African Girls” (p. 598) fills me with a slow building dread as I read with its themes of incest, sexual violation, and powerlessness.
Excerpt: “In the peculiar hierarchy of African households the only rung lower than motherless child is childless mother.”(p. 603)
Ugandan writer Harriet Anena’s poetry (p. 643) – “The Stories stranded in our throats”, “My depression…”, and “Step by step” – was painful and resonant (unfortunately).
Ghanaian writer Ayesha Harruna Attah’s “Unborn Children” (p. 645)
Excerpt: “If anyone is to be given the task of liberating her, it should be him.” (p. 646)
Cameroon writer Imbolo Mbue “A Reversal” (p. 696).
Excerpt: “I don’t want to leave you here by yourselves, in another man’s country.” (p. 698)
US writer Zandria Robinson’s “Memphissippi” (p. 742) in which the encounters with in your face racism are keenly and deeply felt.
Sudanese-American Safia Elhillo’s (p. 772) “border softer”, “how to say”, “boys like me better when they can’t place where I’m from”, “ars poetica” – poetry which both gave me insight and broke me.
There are some where I simply noted the story or poem, indicating that it spoke to me in some way but not why. For example,
South African writer Makhosazana Xaba’s “Tongues of their Mothers” (p. 223)
Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s “She is our Stupid” (p. 347)
South African writers Reneilwe Maltji’s “My Perfect Husband” (p. 351) & Phillippa Yaa de Villiers’ “Foreign” (p. 424)
Ghanaian Zoe Adjonyoh’s “A Beautiful Story” (p. 443)
Wanjiku wa Ngũgĩ’s “Hundred Acres of Marshland” (p. 566)
UK-and-Nigeria based Nigerian, Swedish, and Finnish writer Minna Salami’s “Searching for My Feminist Roots” (p. 592)
South African writer Vangile Gantsho’s (p. 680) “smallgirl”, “Mama I am burning”, and “Her father’s tractor”.
Excerpt: “I forgot to pull my skirt down. I put too much lipstick on.” – from “Mama I am burning”
Somali-British writer Warsan Shire’s (p. 752) “Backwards”.
Zimbabwean writer Rutendo Chabikwa’s “Mweya’s Embrace” (p. 762).
I mentioned other stories or poems in past online reading journals (e.g. Reading Update 26-05-21, Reading Update 06-06-21, Reading Update 26-07-22, Reading Journal 27-11-22, The 1970s (NDOA) – Reading Journal, Read Caribbean Post 6, Read Caribbean Post 8, Read Caribbean Post 9, Read Caribbean Post 19) and probably more.
I should mention here, meanwhile, that I am, as I write this, also preparing a paper on this book for the Antigua and Barbuda Conference in October 2022 – my paper will focus on Caribbean writers; as such they will not receive as much emphasis here (some but not plenty plenty) but I will share the paper anon. ETA: Here are the presentation and the full paper.
Barbara Jenkins of Trinidad and Tobago is an always affecting writer and no less so here with “A Perfect Stranger” (p. 73) A charming and charged meet-cute of a romance. If you want to check out her writing, we are both in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean.
Bermudan Angela Barry’s “Without Prejudice” (p. 107) was a gut punch of a story about race and privilege, and lost children. Subtly done. I know Angela as well; we were on a panel together once and another time we were both participants in the same workshop.
Professor Carolyn Cooper was an influential professor (certainly to me) in my university years; she pushed boundaries and encouraged us, her students, to push boundaries in and out of the classroom. And this Caribbean-centered modern dating tale, “Finding Romance Online in 2018” (p. 133), is certainly boundary pushing, and funny as hell.
“Security” (p. 292) by UK writer of Montserrat origin Yvvette Edwards.
“Poem for the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere” by US based Haitian born writer Danielle Legros George (p. 306) – she had several poems in the collection beginning with this powerful reminder about twisted narratives.
Excerpt: “O poorest country, this is not your name./You should be called beacon. You should/be called flame.”
“Snow Day” (p. 317) by Nalo Hopkinson, another author I’ve met and communicated with a few times, of Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and Canada – one of my faves and a story that stays true to the writer’s fantasy roots.
Celia Sorhaindo (p. 399) of Dominica who included pieces from her remarkable collection Guabancex, which I’ve written about in Blogger on Books and in CREATIVE SPACE, was one of the times the book motivated me to write.
“The Cook” (p. 448) by TnT writer Lisa Allen-Agostini, another literary associate, who was shortlisted in 2022 for the Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel The Bread the Devil Knead, had me nicknaming her she who pulls no punches. Because…
*spoiler alert* but this part hit me hard*
Excerpt: “she did tall and thin and black and she head did plait up in false hair hanging down all by she bottom and she did look like a magazine model or a girl in a nastiness picture on the TV not the white people nastiness with them blonde white girl with fake breast but black people nastiness with big bottom woman and man with wood like chair foot except she wasn’t no fat woman she did thin and hard but she bottom did fat the only fat thing on she except for she mouth she mouth she mouth she had them thick rude lips and I hold she neck and squeeze and squeeze and stuff wood in she mouth force open them rude lips till she choke” (p. 451)
“Midwives (fragment)” (p. 460) by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro is a reminder that the collection does not exclusively feature anglo writers as this is a work translated by Alejandro Alvarez, originally written in Spanish by a Puerto Rican writer. I first came across this writer through her story “Bruises” in Windrush, a collection I was also in, and here again she tackles racism, imperialism, sexism through a Afro-Latino lens; it was a brutal and fascinating story which I found myself reading a bit like crib notes, just curious to learn more about the character but also about the ways we rebelled, about which I’ve read so little. I would read this as a whole book.
“Letter from Hegar to Sarai” by UK writer of Grenadian and Guyanese descent Malika Booker (p. 477)
Excerpt: “I’d rather dry up in the desert than be gutted by you, hearing you sing hymns at me like you striking me with cuss word, something whispered, “you better run.” (p. 478)
US-based British writer Zadie Smith, one of the more well-known names in the collection, is distinguished as well by sharing these pages with her mother (someone else I met in Sharjah) Jamaica-born Yvonne Bailey-Smith (“Meeting Mother”, p. 104), with her entry “Speech for Langston” (p. 606)
Excerpt: “I was part of a historical and geographic diaspora that has penetrated every corner of this globe, and which no single passport can contain or express.” (p. 607)
Trinidad and Tobago writer Attilah Springer’s “Castle in the Sand” (p. 608)
Excerpt: “To those who say it is time to forget, I say that the stench of 400 years of human waste is unforgettable. To those who say black people should get over it, I say we need more than ever now to understand enslavement is real and present and as much a threat now as it was 170 years ago. Some of us choose enslavement now. To material things. And people. And the god of someone else’s ancestors. And the drivel of politicians. And looking like someone else.” (p. 609)
So to reiterate, it’s a bellyful of a read (my story “Evening Ritual”, p. 528, included), but the evenness of the distribution of the stories means you won’t choke; as with any bellyful though, with the book being so long and its themes so substantial, you might feel overstuffed and need a break sometimes to allow things to digest before continuing. But that’s okay, you don’t need to rush it, you will finish it in time (as I did) and (like me) might find that after you finish it, you still want more.
Which is why, as I mentioned in a post, I’ve added or moved up my TBR books by contributing authors Candice Carty-Williams (p. 654, “Body Hair, Conversations and Conflict”), Reni Eddo-Lodge (p. 688, “Women, down your tools!”), Naomi Jackson (p. 689,”from The Star Side of Bird Hill”), who is American of Antiguan descent, Nadifa Mohamed (p. 699, “A Lime Jewel”, “The Symphony”), Irenosen Okojie (p. 719, “Synsepalum”),Chinelo Okparanta (p. 723, “Trump in the Classroom”), Jesmyn Ward (p. 629, “from Sing, Unburied, Sing”), and Tiphanie Yanique (p. 633, “Monster in the Middle”).
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