As a truly "hands on author", in addition to Malaika's Costume Book Launch on March 5, I decided that I wanted to also throw a party to celebrate the launch of my first picture book in a completely kid-friendly birthday party-style (minus the cake and ice cream). This event would be noisy and messy and over-run with children and books. And certainly, this it was. Malaika's Carnival Book Bash took place on April 2nd at my Albion Library, my childhood public branch. Currently, Albion library is going through a major expansion (so badly needed, can anyone say noisy teenager-with-strict-parents'-after-school-hangout with crying babies and computer classroom and no more study carrels left, anyone?). This did not scare off attendees, though. It was also nice to give something to Rexdale, my community that has given so much to me. Rexdale is an area located in northwest end of Toronto, part of the outer "inner-city", a "high priority" neighbourhood. Having grown up in and still living in Rexdale has meant day-to-day exposure to and appreciation of diversity, Canada's immgration, and inequality of socio-economic and arts and cultural development when it comes to other parts of the city. It has also meant seeing the media report on all of the ills of this community without highlighting the great things (like the diversity and high proportion of youth). Only over the last twenty years, I have noticed the increase in social and community services to Rexdale. Also, I celebrated and did my happy dance when the first Starbucks (not that I am endorsing any corporation but some place after hours in Rexdale that one can sit, think, and ponder is so need that the Starbucks is often packed with local university/college students who need a place to study and families on an outing) opened its doors last year. So these and also my nostalgia (my first library card, first book sign outs, seeing my first storyteller, the same high ceilings and vintage green walls and red bookshelves from my 1980s childhood) was all the more reason to have Malaika's Carnival Book Bash (or, Malaika's Costume Book Launch Part 2) at the Albion Library. I invited the Ubuntu Drum and Dance troupe to perform as well. Although they perform in a West-African style and Malaika's Costume takes place in the Caribbean, the group is composed of African-Canadian children and youth who I had the opportunity to teach at the Africentric Alternative School. (In my dedication of Malaika's Costume, I write to "to my dear students at the Africentric Alternative School".) Ubuntu was founded by drum/dance educator, Amma Ofori, and the group is raising funds for a performance trip in Jamaica this summer. Click here to find out more about this group. After Ubuntu opened the event, I did my reading. There were forty-ish attendees which included the regular Storytime crowd (the Carnival Book Bash was in their timeslot) and as well as lots of new and old faces (families, friends, colleagues, and "back in the day" high school friends). We sang, danced, and listened to Malaika's Costume. Then, illustrator Irene Luxbacher led the children in some serious Carnival headpiece making and there was colouring too. We also had a bookselling and signing table and then Ubuntu drummed and danced again to end off the day. I loved every moment of Malaika's Carnival Book Bash. For me, it was taking my teaching outside of the classroom, just as I originally envisioned my educational career. (What I did at Albion Library, is not very different from what I do everyday as a kindergarten teacher.) The reading was a little rowdy (I had a great group of little seated listeners but there were some criers and runners and fascinated-screen-touchers and parents chasing kids around and behind me) but it was a lot of fun. However, it what made it all worth it was the smiles and hugs from all of the kids and parents. Here's to more Malaika Costume events coming soon. Please check my Events page for more to come. Photo credits: Camille Mitchell, Tierra Hohn, Kerri Hill-James
This past March, for my launch, I wanted to have a look which was reminiscent of one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Adichie-- stylish, modern, tailored African dress with beautiful coiffed natural hairstyle. As the weeks progressed and I took out this hairstyle, I took a photo of myself. It was then that I took my hair out to vary the look and then I realized that I looked like Nalo Hopkinson. I thought, wouldn't it be neat to do a photo shoot tributing Black women authors including ones whose books I have loved over the years, have served as mentors for me from a far, and books I have read throughout the years and have come to admire. Some of these authors, I have been so blessed to actually meet like Coe Booth, Rita Williams-Garcia, Toni Morrison, Staceyann Chin, Jacqueline Woodson, Nnedi Okorafor, Edwidge Danticat, and Zadie Smith. What I love of about meeting each of these authors is that there was no pretension and instead of "rockstar narcissism", I was treated like a peer, a colleague. I know that there are other influential authors whose names do not appear on these lists however the following authors are ones whose works have had an impact on me. I have listed them as well as the titles of these works (to the best of my memory). Also, I promise that none of these photos, except the Staceyann look alike photo, were taken for the intention of this blog post. I selected them as photos to reflect my own hidden author and a huge thank you to them for their contributions.
M. Nourbese Phillip- I read Antiguan-born Canadian author's middle grade novel Harriet's Daughter in Grade 5 (?) and I believe it was the first book I ever read by a Black-Canadian. Her book was set in Toronto and the girls' Caribbean upbringing and frames of reference reminded me of my own.
Nalo Hopkinson- I read this Jamaican-Canadian author's title Brown Girl in the Ring (made into a play) which turned Toronto into a futuristic wasteland in which Afro-Caribbean traditional practices were used. I had never seen this in a novel before. I listened to her Sister Mine on audiobook.
Staceyann Chin- Jamaican poet and author of This Side of Paradise was a window that made me see the island of my parents' birth and ancestry (a place that I fantasize about) with a new set of eyes-- hate, embarrassment, and sadness due to the pronounced homophobia and abuse she experienced. Yet, I was encouraged to learn, she has since returned and that there was some reconciliation between mother and daughter. At the end of the day, Jamaica is still home.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- I am going to admit that out of this whole list, Nigerian author Chimamanda is in my top 3. She is totally awesome. I have read all of her books-- Purple Hibiscus, Half of A Yellow Sun (made into a movie), That Thing Around Your Neck, and Americanah (being made into a movie). I listen to all of her TED lectures and even Beyonce sampled Chimamanda's feminism speech in one of her songs. Besides this, Chimamanda is a stylish fashion icon who I unapologetically tried to emulate at my Malaika's Costume book launch in March. Between her stylishly tailored modern African dresses and her Africentric hairstyles, I look to Chimamanda for my "what to wear" ideas. I can't wait to meet her one day.
Zora Neale Hurston
Florida-born, Harlem Renaissance author, Zora Neale Hurston, was certainly a woman before her time. She conducted ethnographic research on Jamaica and Haiti and wrote a wonderful book called Their Eyes Were Watching God (made into a movie starring Halle Berry) which I first read in my postcolonial literature class. A woman before her time.
National Book Award-winning African-American poet and author, Jacqueline Woodson writes gorgeous picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels that embody true poetry. I have read and reviewed a number of her books-- Visiting Day; Show Way; Locomotion; If You Come Softly; After Tupac and D Foster; Hush, Peace, Locomotion; From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun; Brown Girl Dreaming; and I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. Meeting Jacqueline Woodson was fun and everyone wanted to meet her as she had just won the National Book award in 2015.
I hadn't expected to meet British author of Jamaican descent, Zadie Smith which happened at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA). And even then, I didn't expect to get to the front of the line. Reading White Teeth years ago helped me to realize that you don't need to be middle aged to publish book. It also showed me how complex stories can intertwine in novel. I read White Teeth (made into a movie) and listened to On Beauty and NW on audiobook.
Award-winning Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat also proves that you can be very young and publish. She has written a number of award-winning novels but I am shy to say that I have only read her picture book, Eight Days: A Story of Haiti which is a child's view of Haiti during the Hurricane of 2010.
I have been reading the books of African-American Rita Williams-Garcia since I was in high school in the I requested a larger one. Rita has written many of my favourite novels for middle grade students-- the PS Be Eleven, One Crazy Summer, and Gone Crazy in Alabama. I love how Rita intertwines tough topics into novels for middle grade readers. I have meet Rita a few times and she is quirky. I have also read Jumped, Like Sister on the Home Front, No Laughter Here, Every Time A Rainbow Dies, and Blue Tights. The last one is from highschool days and I loved it. It was about a Black girl, the boy she had a crush on, and self-esteem.
African-American author Coe Booth wowed me with her Bronxwood trilogy for young adult readers. The books Kendra, Bronxwood, and Tyrell were harsh, rough, and real. I asked Coe a few times, how do you write like that? I felt like I was the main character in the stories and I felt so close to the characters. I even enjoyed reading the middle-grade novel Kinda of Like Brothers.
I first read Alice Walker when I was in Grade 5 or 6 or so. I was exposed to The Color Purple (and it's adult topics) way too early (because it was one of the few movies and books at the time that featured Black characters. Alice Walker is also gets cool points because she found and marked author Zora Neale Hurston's grave. I also read The Temple of My Familiar and The Third Life of Grange Copeland.
I love African-American author Toni Morrison's novels and writing. I even got to meet her. However, besides The Bluest Eye (the first novel I read by her), I will only "read" her books by audiobooks. I find them challenging and not easy to get into however, I do prefer listening to them. I have "listened" to Paradise, Beloved (made into a movie), A Mercy, and Love.
Dr. Maya Angelou
I loved the way Dr. Maya Angelou wrote about her life. This African-American poet's poetry was good but I really connected to her life story. These are the ones I read most-- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, And Still I Rise, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water Before I Die, and Phenomenal Woman. It's been so long since I cracked open a Maya Angelou book.
Dr. Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett-Coverley
The late Jamaican-Canadian poet, playwright, author, ethnographer, songwriter, Cultural ambassador, folklorist, children's show host, etc., Miss Lou has been a wonderful mentor to me from afar. Born in 1919, she popularized and honoured Jamaican patois as her main means cultural work. And this is what I love about her. Read more on my Groundwood Women's History Month guest blog post here.
Dr. Nnedi Okarofor
Reading Nigerian-American author's young adult science fiction novel, Who Fears Death, opened my eyes to Afro-futuristic literature set on the continent. She mixed in tradition with science fiction and it is brilliant. She helped me to think of my writing in a whole new way.