The week’s recommended reading and culture from Orion authors and artists.
Books are on my shelf, my mind, my iPad, my computer, my phone, and my car’s CD player. I’m booked. Literally. I even have a booking agent—Loyd Artists—that has booked me as a performance poet for six to seven months out of the year for the last twelve years. And when driving, I pass those copious hours alone listening to audio books, doubling my reading capacity.
As a poet and a reader, books are tools of the trade, but they’re also an occupational and financial hazard: when down to my last twenty-five dollars, I will often choose a book over a meal.
I buy books from my favorite independent bookstore, Malaprops, in Asheville, North Carolina, and I buy them from Birchbark Books in Minneapolis and from The Strand in New York. I almost had a cardiac in Powell’s, in Portland, Oregon—the largest independent bookstore in America. And I fell in love with The Book Warehouse, in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is closed now, sadly, but any time I was on I – 40, I could not resist the urge to buy loads of hardback books for four or five dollars a piece. The African-American section was well endowed, and I consider it the history class I never had.
When I am impulsive, I scroll the internet, letting it speak to me like an oracle. I order books and forget that I placed the order. Then, when I arrive home to a package at the door, it feels like Christmas—until I remember that my higher self purchased a nugget for my soul during some midnight hour.
I admit I am powerless over my addiction. Here are some of the books that enable me, the ones on my current reading rotation.
In the CD player:
The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James
James skillfully takes the reader through the cruel turns of a Jamaican plantation during its slavery years. He provides no place for the reader to lay her head—during this sojourn, even in the midst of love, there is no soft resting place.
The Quest of the Silver Fleece, by W.E.B. Du Bois
I had no idea that Du Bois wrote fiction. With his lyrical prose, he proves why he was a genius and ahead of his time in dealing with issues of race, identity, and freedom. Du Bois created language to articulate the experience of living black in America.
On the shelf:
Daemonic Genius, by Margaret Walker
This is a biography of Richard Wright’s tormented life. Before this written account, I knew little of Wright other than what I’d gleaned from his novels. Walker concludes:
“That psychic wound of race prejudice embittered him, festered inside him and made him swell up with that bitterness and hatred and anger until he was full of rage—until rage boiled up into a rage flood out of control. It was that anger that drove him to write, to create, to dig down into his unconscious and bring up painful memories that had grown ten feet tall and wore garments of one driven, desperate character after another.”
The Illuminated Rumi, edited by Coleman Barks
One of my most prized books. Rumi’s words resonate as if they were written today:
“Gamble everything for love, if you’re a true human being. If not, leave this gathering. Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty. You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses.”
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte is a literary beast. Her craft transcends the artifice of the romantic novel, which confined so many women of her time.
Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, by Harriet E. Wilson
Harriet E. Wilson was the first African-American novelist, and though written as fiction, this book is an account of Wilson’s early life. She was a biracial child, given away by her white mother. The book tells of the cruelty that ensued.
After reading Our Nig, I crafted five poems that turned into a full-fledged collaboration with Dr. Gabrielle Foreman and Dr. Lynette Overby, professors at the University of Delaware. Books bring people together in beautiful ways: we combined scholarship, dance, and poetry to create the piece below.
Glenis Redmond‘s latest book of poetry is Under the Sun. She is poet in residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts, and the recipient of a literary fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council. Glenis’s essay “What Hangs on Trees” was published in the November/December 2012 issue of Orion.