The Book Beat - January 24, 2021
As a creative, I love when art is celebrated. First, there's the comfortable, low-key celebration among friends and family. Fangirling with friends over the dashing Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton. Eating bundtinis and chatting about 50 Shades of Grey with my QVC gals at our book club (we WILL meet again, post-Covid!). Listening to Liz Moore read from her book Long Bright River at my local independent bookstore. Making a mix-CD for a friend or dancing to I Love Rock 'n Roll in the kitchen with my kids. Seeing a performance or play at a local theater.
Second, there's the expansive joy of seeing how art is celebrated throughout the world. And, in those all-too-rare moments, experiencing soul-stirring art with millions of others at the same time. One of the things that upset me about the last four years was the absence of art appreciation on a national level. No Poetry Jam at the White House (Google Lin-Manuel Miranda White House Poetry Jam, you won't be sorry!). No presidential prestige at the Kennedy Center Honors. No music, art, literature. And, to me, because of this absence, a lack of joy and heart.
But then, this past week, a 22-year-old poetry wunderkind rose from the socially distanced chairs at the Inauguration, stood at the podium in her bright yellow coat, and (with more confidence that I even have at 45) presented her poem, The Hill We Climb. If that ignited my dried-out creative soul, the many musical performances throughout the day engulfed it in flame (J Lo, Garth Brooks, Lady Gaga, the reunion of the New Radicals, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, etc). And the kindling? A slew of PhotoShop geniuses inserting a grumpy, cold, cross-legged, mittened Bernie Sanders into everything from Forrest Gump to Sesame Street.
The power of the written word to awe and inspire. The power of graphic design to make millions laugh. The power of music to stir patriotism, community, and joy. For a creative like me, it was a day full of art that I won't forget anytime soon.
Beneath the bookish news and the Cover of the Week, I share Amanda Gorman's poem, The Hill We Climb in full. It's astounding how good this piece of writing is.
Emily Dickinson: A Ginger Who Had a
Way With Words
Most of us have seen the pic on the left in our life, perhaps in a high-school English textbook or on the flap of a book of poems given to us by a friend who thought the sentiment "Hope is a thing with feathers," might help perk us up during troubling times. But I was this years old when I found out that Emily Dickinson was a redhead!
This fun article analyzes hair design in pop culture and looks at the "hair" story of the character of Emily Dickinson (played by Hailee Steinfeld) in the Apple TV+ show Dickinson (on my to-watch list!). I also had no clue that critical hair study was an official part of gender studies. Literature dovetailing with my love of beauty products and the clothes/makeup of Hollywood? Sign me up.
Check out fictional Emily on the right. No red. No precise part. No tight bun. This article explores how her hair is a narrative strategy that uses the reimagining of a literary figure's appearance to speak to the themes of literary and social freedom and feminism that we imagine informed her real life. The literary nerd in me loved reading about it and I hope you do, too.
The Shop Around the Corner FTW!
This is a fun story that makes me smile. I love it when the underdog wins!
And while we're on the topic of You've Got Mail, has anyone rewatched it recently? I love me some Tom Hanks but is he kind of a jerk in this or am I letting my love of small bookstores color my 2021 opinion? Let me know!
Dead Authors Society: Where are Your Favorite Authors Buried?
These links feature some fascinating info and, if you're curious like me, they'll send you down a rabbit hole of researching where you favorite authors are buried, how they died, and then adding "Visit Sleepy Hollow Cemetery" to your Bucket List under "Visit as Many of the World's Libraries as Possible." I've included several articles below, but am going to call-out some of the stories that really piqued my interest.
RIP Charles R. Saunders: Pennsylvania-born Charles R. Saunders was known for his contribution to a literary genre known as sword and soul. He reimagined traditionally white characters like Tarzan and Conan as Black men with African mythologies. He was also an editor and writer for The Daily News of Halifax and had lived in Nova Scotia for many years. A bit of a recluse, Mr. Saunders lived quietly with no internet or phone. Sadly, when he passed away this past spring, Nova Scotian authorities weren't able to figure out who he was and ended up burying him in an unmarked grave. More details of this story are below, but this isn't the first author whose gravestone had to be funded by another author...
Zora Neale Hurston: When Zora passed away in 1960, she was destitute, so her friends attempted to raise the money to give her a proper burial, but couldn't get the total they needed. She ended up being buried in an unmarked grave in a segregated (at that time) cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida. A fan of Zora's, author Alice Walker set out to find Zora's grave and give her a proper headstone and the recognition she felt she deserved. On her tombstone, Alice had etched, "Genius of the South." In the afterword of a collection of Zora's works that Alice edited, she shares her adventure finding Zora's grave.
Nella Larsen: Nella, another writer from the Harlem Renaissance, also has an intriguing story. In 2018, The New York Times debuted a serious of obituaries as part of a project called Overlooked. Its mission: "Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we’re adding the stories of other remarkable people." Nella was one of these remarkable people, and you can read about her life and death below. A movie, based on her novel Passing, will be out later this year.
Dorothy Parker: Who else but Dorothy Parker would make sure to have the epitaph "Excuse My Dust" quoted on her tombstone? Where is Parker buried, you might wonder? Not in her fave stomping ground of New York City. Nope. Parker, a dedicated activist for civil rights, bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, he was assassinated not long after she died, so her estate went to the NAACP. Her ashes are buried in Baltimore, at the national NAACP headquarters...at least for now. The NAACP is moving to Washington, DC, so there's been a call to move Parker's memorial back to her beloved NYC.
I find these stories so intriging! LitHub did a great feature on the gravesites of many famous authors (which is below, too). Check it out!
Zora Neale Hurston:
LitHub Article: https://lithub.com/how-to-visit-the-graves-of-75-famous-writers/
Happy Birthday to Me!
Before we get to the Cover of the Week, I wanted to share the AMAZING gift I got from my mom for my birthday later this week. How cool is my book tree?! Although I did not love putting it together, it was worth it, because it's awesome.
I hope you all have a great week and I'll be back next Sunday for more book news and info!
Cover of the Week:
What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly
By Arianna Davis
The bold colors and dynamic rendering of artist Frida Kahlo that grace the cover of this book do a fabulous job representing the subject. Author Arianna Davis shares the colorful, complicated, exhilarating, and unforgettable life of Frida. How she dared to live exactly as she wanted to, critique or obstacles be damned. I'm really looking forward to reading it! This is a book you see on a bookshelf at a bookstore, go grab it, and crack it open, desperate to know just what it is going to say.
Props to Kimberly Glyder on the design. You can see more of her work at: http://www.kimberlyglyder.com.
"The Hill We Climb"
By Amanda Gordan
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.