Catching Up: What I’ve Been Reading

Currently slogging my way through about two books on the tablet. Slow going because it’s hard for me to focus on a screen for too long. Also, it’s more difficult when the print is small with my poor eyesight. Nevertheless, I have gotten through some other good reads since the last time I’ve written. Hopefully, with Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Haven dropping, I’ll get some more soon.

midnight robber

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

I borrowed a worn copy of Midnight Robber from the library along with a couple of other books by Hopkinson a couple of months ago and eventually got around to finishing Midnight Robber. What I thought was to be a fantasy about a young girl turned out to be much more. In fact, nothing in this book went the way I thought. And this isn’t a bad thing. Except I must say there may be some trigger warnings necessary for instances of sexual assault and abuse. These instances are never described graphically but are essential to the plot for the protagonist Tan Tan. However, what I found most fascinating about this work is how effortlessly Hopkinson blended fantasy with a real-world scenario. Hopkinson’s world-building skills are unmatched and her transition between Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree is one of the best narratives of legend and myth I’ve ever read. The development of Carnival places you right in the middle of the celebration in a way respectful of its traditions, not as an outsider looking in. But as I stated, the protagonist is a young girl, but this is not a story for children. If you have any sensitivity to sexual assault or abuse, then you want to approach this one with caution.


Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines edited by Pauline Alexis Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams

I love reading nonfiction that not only opens my eyes but also inspires me. I got my hands on a copy of this before the end of last year and finally got around to reading it. Revolutionary Mothering is one of those books I did not want to put down. There are so many different perspectives on motherhood and the work (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) that goes into mothering as well as the resolve it takes to see it through when motherhood is so undervalued. These works center marginalized mothers, particularly WOC, QUILTBAG and disability mothers in various intersections. Even though I’m not a mother, I am an aunt and I often think of ways to support mothers, particularly Black mothers. In any case, this is one of the best in radical thought and shows us ways motherhood can be an impetus or launching pad for radical action and activism. This is one of my favorite books next to The Revolution Starts at Home when it comes to transformative action to bring about real change.


The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I’d been intending to read Nguyen’s work ever since I had the pleasure of attending a reading at our local book festival last year. I finally had to borrow The Sympathizer from the library and see why he won the Pulitzer. Nguyen is one of those writers whose style it takes a moment to adapt to, but once you do, you get so deep into it that it feels familiar. It didn’t hurt that I actually tended to read it in his voice. I found myself reading the first half slowly but approaching the second half voraciously. His style fits the type of literature I like, narrative not told as a simple point by point movement from event to event. Admittedly, his writing requires a bit more attention, much like Toni Morrison, but it’s worth the effort. By the way, The Sympathizer is not a typical spy novel but those who enjoy the likes of John le Carre will like it as le Carre was an influence on Nguyen’s work (it shows even if you’re only familiar with adaptations of le Carre’s work.) While enjoyable, The Sympathizer is not a light read neither in its subject matter or style. The war in Vietnam follows the unnamed narrator and confronts the reader with the roots of repercussions still felt today. Having said this, I’d highly recommend.

For Us, By Us: #BrownGirlsTV and the Joy of Representation

When I first heard about the series Brown Girls last year, I had no idea Sam Bailey, the writer and director behind one of my all-time favorite web series, was the director for the show. Like so many of us who still look for representation wherever we can find it, I was simply ecstatic to know another show that centered women of color was getting some major buzz. However, I had to wait until February of this year for the premier.


It finally came. Releasing the first episode exclusively on Elle magazine’s site before releasing the entire series on the web, Brown Girls was accessible to those of us who have cut the cord or who still may not have access to premium streaming services. And in our Netflix driven viewing experience, we didn’t have to wait week after week for the seven episodes, none of which lasts more than 13 minutes.

Within this series that last a little more than an hour, we got so much more than just another web series. The name alone responds directly to another well-known show that focuses on female 20-somethings who happen to be all white despite its NYC setting. With Brown Girls, we get stories about Black and brown female creatives dealing with singledom, sexuality, family drama and friendship.


Yet it’s all done with a humorous slant. No one is tragic here. Messy maybe, but there are so much more to Patricia and Leila than the -isms that surely have an effect on their lives outside their friends and family. They’re allowed to live as young people and make all the mistakes 20-somethings tend to make and deal with the fallout of said mistakes.

Furthermore, the show brings queer representation and body diversity to a city that is already full of it: Chicago. In fact, almost all the faces in the show are Black and brown and feel safe. Brown Girls refuses to deliver pain porn to audiences used to seeing Black and brown women and girls suffer for their entertainment. While the living isn’t all milk and honey, there is legitimate joy in these characters and the spaces they occupy.


Written by poet Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sam Bailey, the two leads are loosely based on her and her best friend Jamila Woods, yes that Jamila Woods who delivered us some Black girl joy with her single “Blk Girl Soldier” and subsequent album Heavn. Woods actually does the music and performs in an episode as well. While Asghar says the depictions are not autobiographical, she describes the characters as the alter-egos of her and Woods.

Bailey brings much of the humor she infused in You’re So Talented to this new series. The collaboration between her and Asghar reminds us of what women of color can do together, much like we learned with the first season of the excellent Queen Sugar. Overall, it lived up to the much-deserved hype it’s gotten over the past few months. While we hope for a second season, we should also hope this series brings more opportunities and visibility for all those involved. Brown Girls does not purport to be “the voice of a generation” as other shows might, but we do see that the voices vary and each one deserves to be heard in its own way.

My $2 Investment in… Me

square-microphone-on-keyboardFor the past hour or so, I’ve found those wheels in my head turning as I either think of ways to make next month’s rent or avoid thinking of ways to make next month’s rent. I’m not sure which, but I’m sure these wheels come from events of the past two days. You see, 1) yesterday I almost on an impulse bought Hindenburg Journalist software without knowing what it really was and 2) I finally got around to starting my online Introduction to the Music Business course.

First, the software. I found today that Hindenburg is audio editing software. I watched a couple of tutorials today and saw that it works rather intuitively, which means that $1.90 I spent will most definitely not go to waste. In fact, I may have a means other than Audacity to edit my audio and perhaps provide better quality to my shows. Also, I may have another incentive to do other types of podcasts besides my lil music show.

I’m glad my instincts told me to go ahead and get the software because it looked like it would come in handy (much like the reason I never throw away lidded jars). I feel that I’ve made a small investment in my future that would have been out of my means any other day. I love podcasting and would love to create more opportunities through this medium, but I fear I cannot offer much of a quality product with what I have now. So we’ll see how this works out.

Second, the music course. I’ve grown fond of online courses through EdX over the past couple of years. I took a history of comic book superheroes a couple of years ago and just finished a Hollywood history courses a couple of weeks ago. (I also took a comic course more about creating and understanding how comics work through another outlet recently as well.) Now with the Introduction to Music Business, I’m adding to my interests.

I should note that I have an M.A. in communications, so the Hollywood history and music business courses are a bit of a refresher from what I already gained from more than 20 years of study and independent scholarship. However, the first week’s lesson of the music course has me thinking, especially with the recent discussion about the Grammy’s and other cultural institutions.

One of the first things that kept going through my head as the course began is the acknowledgment that Black female blues singers were the first stars of the recording industry. In fact, I’d say by extension that all visual and sonic cultural institutions came from the (often invisible) labor of Black people whether or not we got credit and/or compensation. I feel like this is why it cuts so deeply when Black cultural creators and innovators are not given recognition during awards seasons. The desire is not for white acceptance but for an acknowledgment that Black people are the reasons for these institutions. To have our culture stolen then be shut out from the very institutions that benefit from us is more than a punch in the gut. It is soul stealing.

So I get back to this question or declaration that my esteemed online professor John P. Kellogg made regarding the music business: “If it gets played, somebody gets paid.” As he says, he’d rather you get paid than get played. Unfortunately, Black artists have been on the receiving end of getting played more often than not when it was their music and creative innovation that created a multi-billion dollar industry.

This is where the wheels in my head come in. I am a lifelong music fan. I don’t go a day without listening to music in some way or another. Music artists are my heroes and role models. They have a talent I both admire and envy. Social media have allowed me to connect with other music lovers, many who are Black women like me, and share my experience as a music fan. However, I also noticed something about them.

They all seem to have some type of frontwoman talent. They can sing and/or play instruments. I can do neither. Like most people, my vocals are only decent in the bathroom where acoustics are good. I also have trouble moving both my hands in sync, which means I could never play chords on any instrument. Most people I know who work on the business end of the music industry have in some way or another been in the talent pool. At nearly 40, there’s no way I could ever learn music talent.

But I have to ask myself does this exclude me from being part of an industry I love so deeply even though it has been most unkind to my people? Is there a way I can put myself in a situation that would help me rectify some of the wrongs to the artists who have given so much to me?

This is the question that led me to start The Black Swan Collective. It’s been more than a year and the show really hasn’t gained that much traction. However, I keep it going through Mixcloud because I like to believe the site’s claim that artists receive royalties. Even if this is not true, including the playlist allows Mixcloud to link to sources where artists’ music is available for purchase and I hope people sometimes click these links.

I plan on keeping the show going as long as possible. It’s a labor of love and has exposed me to some really great Black female artists whom I might not otherwise heard of. Hopefully, the show is another outlet for them and those six or seven listens I tend to get per show finds a way to expand beyond that short reach.

But I want to do more. With this Hindenburg program, I might be able to do more in the way of critique. I can fangirl a little more than I do with the current show. The Hindenburg interface looks user friendly enough for amateurs such as myself. So in the next couple of weeks, I’ll give it a try and see how well I can do with this platform. I owe that much to these women. I owe that much to myself.

In the meantime, I’m trying to do more with the blog in terms of exposing music artists and giving them their due while I try to get new work and bring in more income so that I’m not floundering when I worry about not bringing in enough cash to take care of myself. We’ll see how my lil $2 investment goes.

Happy Love Day, QUILTBAG


Every year I try to do something special for VDay because I try to make the day all about love. So this year I’m honoring Black women/femmes who fall under a QUILTBAG flag. I’ve got some great stuff by trans and queer women as well as a few selections about WLW. So Happy Love Day to all my QUILTBAG peeps. And thanx to all these wonderful Black QUILTBAG women/femmes for this kickass music.