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Performance occurs in a myriad of ways, from spoken and written poetry to taking the stage, to playing a game of spades. In fictional universes, particularly in fantastical worlds, a character’s performance can range from their abilities to their descriptions. This week, the intricate tapestry of Black performance is explored through many different lenses in the books.
This week, poetry once again takes the national stage with Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country. Her reading of this poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration shook the nation as she not only brought hope to all who were watching but ignited and inspired creativity in young writers across the country. On that note, parts of her poem are also included in a new anthology, You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, which focuses on building up young women’s confidence through lyrical and prose poetry.
Hanif Abdurraqib’s long-awaited collection of stories on Black performance, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, examines all types of performance narratives and how they have shaped not only Black American culture but American culture across the board. Dawnie Walton’s debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, also examines Black performance, but through a fictional lens with twists and turns that show the fragility of both relationships and the music industry.
So how does performance affect the ways in which culture is formed? Is it more impactful from a lyrical standpoint, in person, or in prose? In their own ways, each of these authors examines how the world is shaped through performance, whether that world be the one we know or the ones in which we immerse ourselves.
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance – Hanif Abdurraqib (Nonfiction)
Inspired by the words of Josephine Baker, Hanif Abdurraqib pens A Little Devil in America, a reflection on Black performance and the vital role it has played in shaping American culture. From well-known and highly regarded performances to day-to-day activities to how a room feels after a game of cards is dealt, Abdurraqib explores their significance on politics, culture and his own history with performance. A Little Devil in America is overflowing with pain, love, grief and jubilation, which can be felt through the lyricism and rhythm he channels. From mid-century Paris to the moon to Columbus, Ohio and back, A Little Devil in America explores Black performance as it unfolds and shapes the specific moments around us.
Descendants of the First – Reni K. Amayo (Young Adult)
The kingdom of Nri begins to fall to pieces after their king has died. Corrupt successors whisper about overthrowing the throne, and the newly reunited twin goddesses, Naala and Sinai, are forced to come together and put a stop to the madness before it’s too late.
Though each step of their journey is riddled with unknown obstacles one thing is clear––every inch of the kingdom is full of enemies, ready to attack. As they move forward, the sisters must unmask their true enemy and find their blood––their unique blood––is the only thing strong enough to restore their world to what it once was.
Descendants of the First is the “thundering sequel to Reni Amayo’s epic feminist young adult fantasy, Daughters of Nri.” — Onwe Press
Libertie: A Novel – Kaitlyn Greenidge (Fiction)
From the critically acclaimed author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Kaitlyn Greenidge comes a historical fiction coming-of-age novel inspired by one of the first Black female doctors in America. Libertie follows Libertie Sampson as she tries to parse out what her versions of freedom and independence look like and space where she can fully be herself. Born in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie knows that her mother, a practicing physician, has her life planned out for her––attend medical school and also become a doctor.
However, Libertie is more drawn to music than science and the constant reminder of the stark contrast between her and her mother’s skin leads her to accept a proposal from a young Haitian man who makes promises of equality once settled on the island. Struggling to understand what freedom means, not just for herself but for other Black women, Libertie comes to terms with the hard truths that follow women for generations to come.
Mrs. Wiggins – Mary Monroe (Fiction)
Maggie knows that in order to escape her harrowing family life, she must marry a put-together, church-going gentleman, someone like Hubert Wiggins. Similarly, Hubert is also looking for a wife and falls hard for Maggie, even with her background. Their unlikely union makes them the most envied couple in Lexington, Ala., but not without a cost.
Many years later, their son, Claude, falls for a woman who could unravel their world as they know it. The more Maggie tries to control it, the more obstacles fall in her way and the person she thought was her forever anchor starts to loosen their grasp.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev – Dawnie Walton (Fiction)
Early 1970s New York finds Opal, a fierce and independent musician, and Neville “Nev” Charles, a singer/songwriter, finding their scene in funky and creative spaces. After being signed to Rivington Records and performing a promotional concert, Opal and Nev find themselves performing across from a band––also signed to Rivington––who brandishes the Confederate flag. Opal’s bold protest of these events led to the destruction of relationships, violence and repercussions that remind her—and us—that consequences are always more extreme for Black women.
However, when Opal considers an exclusive interview with journalist S. Sunny Shelton, her reunion with Nev leads to an exposé uncovering nasty allegations that might just uproot their lives all over again.
The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country – Amanda Gorman (Poetry)
On January 20, 2021, America’s first Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman took the stage after President Joe Biden was sworn into office and read “The Hill We Climb,” making her the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Her performance not only brought hope to those who heard it but the aftermath of her deliverance shook the nation. As people continue to talk about Gorman and her powerful words, The Hill We Climb is now available for purchase with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey.
You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves – Edited by Diana Whitney (Poetry)
Poetry often serves as a lyrical escape for readers and can be more personal than a narrative. You Don’t Have to Be Everything is a collection of poetry for young women, exploring topics such as race, gender and sexuality while embracing self-discovery. The collection features poems from 68 prolific female poets such as Amanda Gorman, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Acevedo, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo and many more. Each poem addresses a different complex aspect of coming-of-age struggles while confronting persistent views about femininity. You Don’t Have to Be Everything provides a safe and guiding poetic space for young women to come into their true selves.