Thursday, August 20, 2015

Race, Sex and Hair: the Cross Cultural Politics of Americanah


Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the politics of race, sex, and hair with British journalist Jon Snow


This Tuesday, we'll be discussing one of the most talked about books of the past two years. Although Americanah has won numerous awards and glowing reviews, it has also been criticized for caricaturing Nigerian life and culture, for being anti-American, anti-male, and for overall snobbery. Reactions clearly vary depending on the race, nationality or gender of the reader, (note for example Snow's bemusement in the clip above on why black hair is such a major issue, or Terry Gross's unwillingness to recognize that hair choice has specific relevance for black women).

Given the multitude of reviews, blogposts, discussion groups and videos discussing Americanah, I won't post much here.  Penguin/Random House has an excellent discussion guide, and you can follow two excellent online discussions at Goodreads Writers of Color Book club discussion  and Literary Fiction by Authors of Color discussion.


If you haven't had time to read the whole book, or if you really want to dive into deeper waters, I recommend Litcharts Americanah  Guide.  It's great for plot summaries, locating favorite quotes, and for understanding themes in the novel, and the character guide is especially helpful.

Some questions I hope we'll get to on Tuesday:


*The difference between tribal/class affiliations in Nigeria, and between African immigrants, and race/class divisions in the US.

*Importance of Barack Obama as a unifying symbol

*The meaning of "truth". Ifemelu is consistently depicted as outspoken, (often uncomfortably) and "truth" is a characteristic Obinze most associates with her. Yet is she a reliable narrator? What would other characters: Blaine, Aunty Uju, Dike, Kosi, Ginika, Raniyinudo, Kimberly, or Curt think of Ifemelu's truthfulness?


For a pointed, largely negative review from a fellow Nigerian writer, see:

Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Americanah: Through a looking glass glumly

"lfemelu’s “blog posts” in the book would have made good provocative essays. However, they are not very good, filled with generalizations and specious arguments, prescriptive at best, never examining why things are the way they are. They are at best mildly thoughtful as if the blogger was too lazy or timid to fully flesh out the thoughts. There is no vision here which is fine if it is just for entertainment but then the book strains to be taken seriously....

"Where Adichie really loses it is in her analysis of race issues in the West. The book swims in cute anecdotes about race – in black and white, but it is complicated. Adichie’s world view on race relations in America misreads the huge demographic shifts sweeping America. America is browning. It is strange, for example, that a book on exile, immigration and race is virtually silent on Hispanics (there is a little paragraph in the book somewhere that seems to do no more than acknowledge the existence of Hispanics).

"In Americanah, Adichie displays a knack for detail, nothing escapes her cynical eyes. Nigeria’s Jhumpa Lahiri, she is this fastidious house inspector groping for dirt in your bathroom. She takes superciliousness and patronizing condescension to chic heights. Americanah bears heavy echoes of Lahiri’s superciliousness. There is no joy here, just people waking up and doing what they have to do. Ifemelu will not be pleased. Nothing impresses her. Ifemelu is anal-retentive, indeed many Americans would call her an asshole. She has a huge chip on her cute shoulders. And it is ugly, bristling with impatience, a quickness to judge others using pseudo-intellectual psychobabble. And she overanalyzes everything. I mean everything. Even the peppersoup is overanalyzed. Just eat the damn thing. While Ifemelu’s preferred romantic relationships were with Western men, she hardly had any respectful conversation with anyone in the West. Everything is tinged with race. In Ifemelu’s world, America is a tired, smelly place clothed in a culture of despair. Many would disagree."

See you Tuesday, August 25th, 7:00 pm in the 1st floor Small Meeting room. To pick up a copy, stop by or call the 2nd floor desk, 847-448-8620.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Contract Buyer's League: an Exhibition





We had a full house for last Wednesday night's discussion of Family Properties! Special guest Jack Macnamara, who played a pivotal role in helping organize the Contract Buyer's League told us about this fabulous exhibit currently on display  at Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, North Lawndale, 3555 W Ogden Ave in Chicago. Here are a few photos from the exhibit.



 



And don't forget, this Sunday July 26th in Winnetka is Justice Day 2015, Open Communities celebration  of Martin Luther King's 1965 speech on the Winnetka Green. It will be a family-friendly event with tables from various community organizations, music, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. It is, "an opportunity to recapture the northern suburb residents’ desire for social justice and for every individual to get involved".  We're hoping to display some panels from the CBL exhibit there too. Hope to see you!
will be a family-friendly event with tables from various community organizations, music, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. It is an opportunity to recapture the northern suburb residents’ desire for social justice and for every individual to get involved. - See more at: http://www.interfaithhousingcenter.org/caldetail.cfm?calendar_id=1116945#sthash.7DDAXTvw.dpuf
will be a family-friendly event with tables from various community organizations, music, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. It is an opportunity to recapture the northern suburb residents’ desire for social justice and for every individual to get involved. - See more at: http://www.interfaithhousingcenter.org/caldetail.cfm?calendar_id=1116945#sthash.7DDAXTvw.dpuf
will be a family-friendly event with tables from various community organizations, music, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. It is an opportunity to recapture the northern suburb residents’ desire for social justice and for every individual to get involved. - See more at: http://www.interfaithhousingcenter.org/caldetail.cfm?calendar_id=1116945#sthash.7DDAXTvw.dpuf

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Tragedy of Chicago Segregation

This week, Mary Barr will be back in town discussing her book Friends Disappear: The Battle for Racial Equality in Evanston. Barr's memoir focuses on the lives of white and black school friends from the 70s, and how race and class affected the outcomes of their lives.

Evanston's path to racial integration has not always been smooth, yet it sounds positively idyllic when compared  with Chicago. As in many northern cities, real estate boards and banks, in collusion with the Federal Housing Administration's redlining, conspired to prevent African Americans from obtaining mortgages, refused to allow them to buy property outside of the "Black Belt" and forced them to resort to outrageous "contract " agreements for inferior overpriced housing. The result was overcrowded neighborhoods, black homeowners working 2 jobs to keep up with exorbitant payments, and family and neighborhood disintegration.

This month, Open Communities (formerly Interfaith Housing) in Winnetka honors the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's speech on the Winnetka green, in which he addressed racial segregation in the Chicago suburbs. As part of this observance, EPL will be discussing  Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, historian Beryl Satter's memoir of Chicago's unequal housing system, and those who fought it, including her father. Her fascinating mixture of urban history and family memoir explores the conflicts between family loyalty, communal responsibility, and racial animosity which resulted in tragedy for so many. We will also look at contemporary issues related to open and affordable housing in Chicago, the suburbs and the nation.

Please join us on Wednesday July 15th at 7 pm at Evanston Public Library. All are welcome! Call 847-448-8620 to get a copy of the book.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Civil Rights, Then and Now

50 years ago this summer, Martin Luther King spoke to over 10,000 people on the Winnetka Green about the racially exclusive nature of Chicago's northern suburbs. Evanston, like other suburban communities continues to struggle with this contentious issue, especially the effect of affordable
housing on racial diversity.

As part of the 2015 Justice Project, Evanston Public Library is proud to partner with Open Communities on Becoming a Welcoming Community: Then and Now, a panel discussion of the history of fair and affordable housing in Evanston, and what is being done currently to make Evanston a fair and welcoming community for all. We'll be speaking with representatives from Open Communities, the North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors, the City of Evanston and the Evanston/North Shore NAACP.

We're looking back on Freedom Summer with several Civil Rights themed book discussions in June and July. Tuesday of course we're discussing Stokely , Peniel Josephs' acclaimed critical biography of the civil rights and Black Power leader. On Wednesday, the History group looks at one of Thurgood Marshall's early cases in Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, And finally, on July 15th the History and African American Literature groups come together to discuss Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America,  a memoir of neighborhood segregation in Chicago. All 3 books are available at the 2nd floor desk of Evanston Public Library; call 847-448-8620 to get your copies.

African American Literature Discussion: Stokely

titleTuesday, June 16, 7 pm, Small Meeting Room, Main Library
Preeminent civil rights scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Stokely Carmichael, arguing that the young firebrand's evolution from nonviolent activist to Black Power revolutionary reflected the trajectory of a generation radicalized by the violence and unrest of the late 1960s. Fed up with the slow progress of the civil rights movement, Carmichael urged blacks to turn the rhetoric of freedom into a reality, inspiring countless African Americans to demand immediate political self-determination.




History Book Discussion Group: Devil in the Grove

title
Wednesday, June 17, 7 pm , Seminar Room, Third Floor, Main Library

Before Thurgood Marshall would argue Brown v. Board of Ed in front of the Supreme Court that he would go on to join, he led the legal defense of four young black men falsely accused of rape. Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, a gripping account of that case, was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.




Becoming a Welcoming Community 50 Years Later

title
Thursday, June 25, 7 pm, Community Meeting Room, Main Library
50 years ago this summer, Martin Luther King spoke to over 10,000 people on the Winnetka Green about the racially exclusive nature of Chicago's northern suburbs. Evanston, like other suburban communities continues to struggle with this contentious issue, especially the effect of affordable housing on racial diversity.
Evanston Public Library is proud to partner with Open Communities on a panel discussion of the history  of fair and affordable housing in Evanston, and what is being done currently to make Evanston a fair and welcoming community for all.
Speakers:
Gail Schechter -  Open Communities
John Fuller - Evanston NAACP
Lin Ewing - North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors
Sarah Flax - Evanston Housing and Grants Administrator

 

title History /African American Literature Book Discussion Group: Family Properties


Wednesday, July 15, 7 pm , Seminar Room, Third Floor, Main Library

Chicago became the most segregated city in the north as a result of a complex system of legal discrimination and financial exploitation.  In Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, historian Beryl Satter tells the story of this system and those who fought it, including her father, in this fascinating mixture of urban history and family memoir.
In this special event, the African American Literature and History book discussion groups join forces for this program in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's visit to the North Shore and the North Shore Summer Project.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Stokely= Malcolm + Martin?

Martin Luther King was  the preacher of nonviolence and integration, Malcolm X the prophet of  black self defense by any means necessary. And then there was Stokely ,the linchpin connecting them, who supported nonviolence as a practicality yet, coined "Black Power"; Stokely, who believed in black economic independence, but within an international,  Pan African framework. All three were full of contradictions, all three were challenged by each other. Yet two are icons, while Stokely, the only one of the three to live past age 40, is largely forgotten.

Peniel Joseph grapples with the legacy of Stokely Carmichael in Stokley: A Life, our AAL discussion for Tuesday June 16th. How did his Trinidadian roots shape his economic and political philosophy? How did he influence both King and Malcolm? And is it ironically the absence of violent death at a young age that has caused his fall into obscurity?

Join us next Tuesday at 7:00 pm as we explore the fascinating story of Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Ture. For a copy of the book, call 847-448-8620.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dorothy West and class, color, and the black bourgeousie

Dorothy West is something of an anomaly: a peripheral figure in the Harlem Renaissance, she published only 2 novels: The Living is Easy in 1948 and this month's AAL choice The Wedding in 1995.

Although a generation younger, she hung out with Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen,  roomed with Zora Neale Hurston, and traveled with other black writers to the Soviet union to film a documentary on black life in the United States. Unlike Hurston, whose work focused on the rhythms and folklore of  rural African Americans, West wrote about the black middle class, especially the conflicts based on skin color hierarchy. In her New York Times obituary, Ms West is praised for her, "brisk narratives, an eye for detail and wit [used] to explore the aspirations of well-to-do blacks and the interplay of race, class and intraracial tensions in America".

Like Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor, The Wedding focuses on an exclusive African American community on the east coast. However, the central theme running through the novel is class and color: extended flashbacks describe the struggles of the family ancestors, whose goal was usually to "bleach" out the family line. As Shelby, the blond, light skinned youngest daughter plans her wedding to a white jazz musician, she must face up to generations of familial and community expectations, and reconcile them with her own desires and sense of identity.

Please join us for the discussion this coming Tuesday May 19th, 7:00 pm at the Evanston Public Library. Call 847-448-8620 to have us hold a copy of the book for you.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jessye Norman: Standing and Singing for over 50 years

Jessye Norman is one of several internationally acclaimed African American opera singers: Kathleen Battle, Denyce Graves,  Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Leontyne Price. Like them all, she acknowledges a debt of gratitude to the legendary Marian Anderson, whose historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial, (after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall) was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights struggle.



Like Anderson, Norman is a pioneer;  the only African American woman to sing the great Wagner roles on the international opera circuit. Her 1969 operatic debut, as Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhauser was highly significant, since it challenged Wagnerian ideals of female "purity". Although Grace Bumbry had earlier played the sultry seductive "bad girl" Venus in the opera, the notion of a black woman as Wagner's Teutonic, virginal heroine was harder for some to accept. Yet Norman triumphed in the role both in Europe and nearly 20 years later at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Norman is not one to dwell on past slights, (although an incident with CBS' Morley Safer still rankles). Her memoir Stand up Straight and Sing! reveals a consummate artist with a staggering work ethic: she never arrives for a performance less than several hours in advance, and she rarely sings in a language she has not intensively studied and learned to speak fluently. And although she rarely refers to politics, it is clear that she views her role as an ambassador for American and specifically African American culture with great pride

Join us as we discuss this fascinating artist and activist at this month's African American Lit discussions, Tuesday April 21st, 7:00 pm. in the Small Meeting Room of Evanston Public Library. Copies are available at the 2nd floor desk: call 847-448-8620.