Reflecting on Reading

In the past week, I’ve read two books that have really resonated with me. The first one being Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, and the second being Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. Frankly, these books have absolutely nothing in common. The genres, themes, and characters are nothing alike. Nevertheless, I found a piece of home in each story, and was inspired to truly reflect on my experience with diverse books.

For the last few years, I have been trying to read a wider range of books, books with characters who are not straight, or male, or white. To me, it is important to engage with diverse texts that do not revolve around whiteness, or maleness, or heterosexual relationships. So when I picked up Akata Witch and SIMON, I felt confident that reading these books would be a positive, healing experience. My experience with these stories was extremely emotional simply because these are books I wish I could’ve gotten my hands on when I was younger. I always wonder who I would’ve been (or what I would’ve been like) if, as a child, I were able to read books with characters I could identify with. Would I have been more confident? More self-assured? More comfortable in my own skin? Would I have chosen to write a book at an earlier age, assured that it would be successful even though the characters may not have been male, white, or straight? What happens to children when they are able to consume positive media representation? Does it change them? Does it affect their self-concept? If our quality of representation changed, would young adults be able to imagine themselves achieving more, striving for opportunities that seemed inconceivable?

I often reflect on these notions. I think about them in relation to my students, who I push to read, and especially push to read books with main characters who look, think, and act like them. I know what it’s like to be hungry for a character I can relate to. I also know what it’s like to be fed table scraps in the form of the quirky black friend, the sassy gay friend, the black basketball star/drug dealer/criminal, or the ambiguously brown kid who has two or three lines. It is exhausting and alienating. At times, it has kept me (and I’m sure many others) from enjoying literature and media to the fullest extent.

I say all this to say that I’m thankful for the brown, black, and queer writers who tell these amazing stories, and create vivid characters that carry pieces of all of us. It’s an honor to read these stories, and I constantly feel compelled to add to this narrative, to create and promote more diverse art. We all deserve to feel at home in the stories that we love.

(What was your first experience with a diverse/multicultural book like? Leave a comment below, tell me about it! OR, recommend a good book for me to add to my shelf!)

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#ShroudedSundays

It’s that time of the week again, #ShroudedSundays. Enjoy this week’s excerpt of A Shrouded Spark as you prepare for your week.

Find the first excerpt here!

Find the second excerpt here!

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#ShroudedSundays

I will be releasing excerpts from A Shrouded Spark every Sunday, #ShroudedSundays–so, enjoy what’s left of your Sunday with this excerpt!

Find the first excerpt here!

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Excerpt from my upcoming novel “A Shrouded Spark

As a writer, the most important contribution I can give to young adults is representation. Through literature, I want to give young adults of color diverse stories that they can see themselves in, stories that I wished I would’ve had when I was a child.

My first novel, A Shrouded Spark, is a diverse, YA fantasy novel, one that I hope will reach the hands of adolescents who need diverse books, and need black and brown characters to look up to.

A Shrouded Spark has reached it’s final stages of production, and I couldn’t be more excited. Therefore, every week, I will be posting excerpts to get everyone else excited! In order to cover the costs of distribution, marketing, and production, I’ve started a fundraiser on GoFundMe. I hope to gain support from my fellow writers and readers of diverse books! Plenty of rewards and incentives are being offered! If you cannot contribute with funds, please share the link and spread the word!

GoFundMe Campaign

Check out the first excerpt here!

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Building Diverse Bookshelves for Middle and High School Students

I haven’t written for my blog in quite some time! The sad reality of grad school is that you will most likely never have time to indulge in the things that are most enjoyable. I miss writing here, but I’m sure I’ll get back into the swing of things once I’ve graduated.

However, I digress.

In the next few months, I will be taking on a Middle School/High School English Language Arts Teaching Position. I’m very excited to begin teaching! Essentially, this means that I need to start bulking up my bookshelves sooner than later.

Therefore, I’m asking for suggestions! If you know of any age appropriate, diverse books written by POC that I could use in my classroom, I would love to hear about them!

Please leave a comment on this post, with any good book suggestions!

Thanks so much!

-Ashe

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Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Author: Benjamin Saenz
Page Count: 359
Year of Publication: 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel that moved me in ways that this one did. A brilliant coming-of-age novel, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, tells a raw, honest, heartfelt story of boyhood, adolescence, manhood, and all of the painful spaces in-between.

The first aspect of this novel that stood out to me was the voice of the main character, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza, a Mexican-American boy, trying to find his place within his family, and the world around him. Ari struggles to form an understanding of manhood as he enters his teen years, angry, friendless, and lost. Nevertheless, Ari’s voice shines brightly on every page, evoking a poignant, nostalgic feeling, that leaves the reader grasping for the smallest remnant of our own memories of adolescence.

Ari meets Dante at the age of fifteen, and their friendship takes off at the very beginning of the novel. On the outside, the two boys are nothing alike. However, as the reader gets to know Ari and sees Dante through Ari’s eyes, we come to understand that the two boys have quite a lot in common. Ari’s solitary upbringing hardened him, while Dante’s made him a carefree, wisecracking teen, with a beautiful appreciation for the arts. The reader is able to clearly hear each boy’s voice coming through the pages as they grow and learn more about life.

Secondly, the content of the novel was extremely enlightening. Even in it’s darkest moments, the brilliance of the story radiated. Saenz used the idea of summertime as a formative period to delicately describe two teenage, Mexican-American boys, discovering and understanding their heritage and culture, sexuality, and friendship. The ideas of “Manhood” and “boyhood” are discussed within this novel in every section, and Ari’s understanding of both themes evolves as he grows older.

Finally, my favorite aspect of the novel was the discussion of sexuality. Saenz skillfully examines sexuality through Ari’s voice, and helps the reader see and feel all of the awkward, uncomfortable, and extremely touching experiences that the two boys go through.

Without giving too much away, I will say that this story is one that will stay with me for a long time. My heart was so full after reading it, so much so that I considered reading it again as soon as I had finished. I encourage all of you to read this novel.

Many thanks to Nazahet, at ReadDiverseBooks, who inspired me to read this book, and many others. Check out their blog! They review and discuss many other novels written by people of color, which is definitely something the world needs more of.

Happy reading!

-Ashe

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12 Blogs That Promote Diverse Books and Authors.

I have only been blogging for a little under a month and have been thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m a happy bookworm! Much of my time is spent perusing other blogs and participating in the vib…

Source: 12 Blogs That Promote Diverse Books and Authors.

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Black Girls Can Be Magical Too

Recently, I finished a novel titled Promise of Shadows, written by Justina Ireland. I came across an article online, listing about 5 or 6 novels, written with diversity in mind. This novel was the last on the list and the one I was most interested in, due to the genre–Fantasy. The main character of Promise of Shadows, Zephyr Mourning, was a black teenager, and she was a Harpy! I rushed to rent this book from the library and, within two days, I had devoured it. I didn’t realize how ABSOLUTELY STARVED I had been, up until that moment. Starved for literature in which I see myself. Starved for representation. Starved for black girls in fantasy novels.

So, now it’s your turn! Can you name the last fantasy novel you read with a black, female protagonist?

No, I’ll wait.

Oh, right. You probably can’t.

Let’s talk about that.

There are tons of fantasy novels on the shelves. These novels tell stories of different worlds, universes, and realms, where magic and mythical creatures run rampant. Authors have minds creative enough to invent new languages, animals, social structures, religions, and even species. Unfortunately, the same writers are too closed minded to write about a dimensional, black protagonist.

Fantasy, unfortunately, is one genre where black people just seem to disappear. And it’s exhausting.

Black and brown people do not have space in popular literature. It is for this reason that campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #1000BlackGirlBooks were started. Both of these movements were created in order to enact change and shed light on the lack of diversity in literature. These movements are growing in popularity and will continue to do so, because the NEED for diverse books is high.

Growing up, I loved the Harry Potter Series, like the majority of my generation. It allowed for me to escape my mundane lifestyle and experience something entirely new. I loved reading about the adventures and the danger that Harry and his friends experienced, every year they returned to Hogwarts. Unfortunately, as much as I loved those books, I could never see myself in them. There were no visible black characters in the series. In the movies, they slipped one or two black people in, but it was still clear that people of color were not written into the novels. As I got older, I lost the ability to read and enjoy those same books for that reason. There was no space for me.

Fantasy novels provide an escape. For black, female, readers who grow up in situations that are less-than-ideal, a literary escape might be their only form of escape. Black girls should be able to escape into a character, become the character, and see themselves in those novels when they read them.  Authors must paint dimensional, black, female protagonists. People need to believe that black girls can be magical too. People need to believe that black girls can save the world. When I read Promise of Shadows, I saw myself, my blackness, in Zephyr Mourning. I believed that Zephyr could save the world.

The reason I began writing my book is because I couldn’t find one like it. I wanted to read about a black girl with amazing powers, who could protect people. I wanted to read about an ambitious black girl who reminded me of myself. I wanted to read about a black girl who was kick-ass.

I couldn’t find that book.

So I wrote it.

I encourage all black authors to do the same. Write what you cannot find. Don’t settle for anything less than what you want.

One of my kindest friends has always reminded me that I have the right to take up space. We all do. TAKE UP SPACE. CREATE SPACE. And don’t forget to write about magical black girls!

-Ashe

 

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Becoming an ‘Actual’ Writer

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.

No, really, I’m not being cliché. One of my first memories was scribbling on the inside of my children’s books, drawing lines that were supposed to resemble text. In my mind, I was adding to the story. I was adding characters, dialogue, plot points– in my mind, I was making it better. Whether or not my scribbles made the book better was left up to my great grandparents, the people who bought the books and let me scribble in them in the first place.

I wrote my first “story” when I was in middle school. I remember writing it in tiny notepads, giving to me by a teacher, who’d gotten them from some school grant and been instructed to pass them out to the class. I was the only one in my class who used them. And when I used up all the pages in the two notepads, that’s where the story stopped. It didn’t occur to me that I could just, you know, get another notebook. I threw them away, embarrassed by the fact that I never finished.

In middle school, I wrote really crappy poetry like every other twelve-year-old. I also discovered the art of fanfiction. I filled notebooks and binders with ideas, plots, and lots of really bad purple prose. I had a sizable internet following. I wrote two or three pretty successful fanfics. It boosted my confidence as a writer–don’t ever underestimate fandom.

When I was 14, and in the 9th grade, I tried to write a book. Tried. I had a plot, I had characters, and I had a mental play-by-play of everything I wanted to write about. The book never happened. By 11th grade, I had about 30 pages written, and that’s when I realized that I wasn’t a good enough writer to execute the story. This killed my confidence. I tried to start writing different books during that year, but I was never successful. I retreated back into the fandom writer’s community, where I felt secure. I felt like I could succeed there.

During my freshman year of college, I discovered Slam Poetry/Spoken word. It spoke to me in ways that written poetry never could. It was something that I could feel in my soul. The first Spoken Word Poet that I ever saw perform was Andrea Gibson; her poetry was the soundtrack for the rest of my year. The following summer, I had my very first real heartbreak; naturally, I started writing spoken word. I was all achy inside, as most heartbroken freshmen are. Poetry was my relief. I discovered a new talent; I found something that I was actually good at. I pushed aside my feelings of inadequacy, concerning my inability to write a novel, and threw myself into my poetry. This worked…for about three years.

In November of my senior year in college, NaNoWriMo called to me. I dusted off some of my old material. I tore it all down and built something new. Something fresh. Something I could believe in. I didn’t meet my NaNoWriMo goal (I was student teaching. It was nearly impossible to stay up past 8pm), but I proved to myself that I could write this novel. I proved to myself that it was within my grasp, even if it did take years for me to finish. So I kept writing. I gave up 3 or 4 times along the way, but it’s done.

I’ve been writing for a long time. Not all of it has been good, but it’s something that I’ve accomplished. Sure, I got discouraged. I quit. I distracted myself with other talents and hobbies. Nevertheless, I came back. No matter what, I believe that I will always come back to my craft.

After years of doubting myself, and doubting my capacity, I finally have the confidence to call myself a writer. My book isn’t published (working on it) but it exists, it’s tangible, and it’s a reminder that failure isn’t the end. Giving up isn’t the end.

Feel free to give up as many times as you need to. If you want it bad enough, you’ll have it.

-Ashe

book with coffee

 

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African Love Stories: An Anthology edited by Ama Ata Aidoo + GIVEAWAY!

Source: African Love Stories: An Anthology edited by Ama Ata Aidoo + GIVEAWAY!

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