Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Yolanda Wisher, "Monk Eats An Afro"

Poetry Is Not a Luxury Book Club
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 @ 7pm

Monk Eats an Afro by Yolanda Wisher

Yolanda's Philly launch party for Monk Eats an Afro at Big Blue Marble is legendary. The store was packed, the music went on for hours, the energy was through the roof and walls, and (we are booksellers after all) the sales were so busy Yolanda had to keep bringing more cases of books out of her car.

And that was before she was named Philadelphia's 3rd Poet Laureate!

Monk Eats an Afro is an extraordinary poetry collection, and Yolanda Wisher is an extraordinary poet. Not only talented, but outrageous, generous, inspired and driven to bring the gifts of poetry to everyone, everywhere.

Below you'll find a collection of resources to help you explore the book and the poet. Read up, because Yolanda will be visiting our book club as we discuss her book!

Cold Front Magazine, Best Poetry Books of 2014:
Yolanda Wisher’s Monk Eats an Afro is the most complete and perfectly constructed book of poems I read in 2014. Each poem seems built ideally unto itself and in the context of the full product. Every single note and line break is perfectly suited to the mood or condition of the poem, and she keeps our attention by fitting the entire manuscript with interludes–“Songs” that are deeply felt, that are deeply musical, and that read like standards
Yolanda Wisher on finding out she was the next Philadelphia Poet Laureate in Philly Voice
 How did you react when you first heard the news that you’d be the next poet laureate?
I danced to a Missy Elliott song on the third floor of my house.

 Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Interview with Yolanda Wisher
Poetry has always been a healing tool. I grew up in a house that was embroiled in some domestic violence and addiction and poetry was my outlet, so I knew what kind of space it was able to create. And I also knew what kind of dreams it could make for me.
So, as much as I can see that and connect with that in other people, regardless of age, I want to support it and guide it and create a space for it. Knowing that not everybody is going to want to be a professional poet, but the tools of poetry, expression, giving form to your emotions and your ideas, all of the little minute things about the craft that I learned as an undergraduate and graduate student can be boiled down to some way of connecting with people, some kind of human relationship.
Poetry Society of America on Yolanda Wisher
Yolanda Wisher's debut collection of poems Monk Eats an Afro is blues: sorrow, soul, rhythm, breath. The poems in this collection coincide with italicized song lyrics (Wisher is a singer and musician, not just a poet). The narrator of these poems often speaks to the reader colloquially (recounting stories, images) then shape-shifting words, sounds, and meanings. "I be the ruby flo / I be the ruby flowin / that jewel / anciently / aggravatin / undulatin..." 

Poetry Foundation on Yolanda Wisher
Wisher’s poems are musical, playful, and brutal, and she infuses spoken language with blues-informed cadence to engage themes of intimacy, power, and identity. In a 2014 interview with Lynn Rosen for the Philadelphia City Paper, Wisher stated, “I definitely saw early on the job of the poet being [to create] a collective and collaborative experience. I love the solitary experience of writing and mulling over and reflecting on things. But something about the exchange, whether it’s through a reading or a workshop, … the communal experience of poetry really speaks to me.”

Publishers Weekly on Monk Eats an Afro
“You are Black/ and have a right to this// this be your fiddle/ claim it,” announces Wisher in her debut collection, a blend of beat and slam poetry, peppered with lullabies and ballads. For all of Wisher’s songsmithing, her poems are strongest for their dexterous mix of gall (“America, you beautiful suitor of indigenous bitches. I am a slaveship and you are a skyscraper”) and lyric restraint (“the trees/ were her lovers/ the wet earth/ her alibi/ she knew the way/ forward/ was going back/ and she gathered us up”).
Hear Yolanda perform some of the poems from Monk Eats an Afro, including "Ruby Flo"

On Immigration and Refugees: Books for Kids and Teens

In the wake of the new president's unethical halt on immigration from select Muslim-majority countries, I am compiling some beautiful and inspiring books that focus, first, on exactly those populations -- Muslim people and/or refugees from the Middle East. They are joined by other books that focus on immigration and different cultures. This is not at all a comprehensive list; at the end, I'm including links to other, similar lists, and some further resources for understanding the issues.

Compiled by Jennifer Sheffield
latest update: 8/28/17

Picture books:

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammad; illustrated by Doug Chayka (2007)
Two kids meet in a refugee camp in Pakistan, each having acquired one of the same pair of shoes. Story of sharing and friendship.
Email us to order.

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle; illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix (2009)
Detailed and gorgeously illustrated account, based on scant available research, of the ways the Muslim community of Paris were able to smuggle Jewish refugees out of the city during the Holocaust.
Email us to order.

Coming to America: A Muslim Family's Story by Bernard Wolf (2003)
Photo-essay about an immigrant family living in New York. Tells the story of their emigration from Egypt while focusing on a year in their life in the U.S.
Email us to order.

Migrant by José Manuel Mateo; illustrated by Javier Martínez Pedro (2014)
This detailed fanfold book follows the journey of a kid and his family from Mexico to the United States, through both text in English and Spanish and a single connected narrative illustration.
Email us to order.

Sitti's Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye (1994)
A Palestinian-American child goes to meet her sitti, or grandmother, who lives halfway around the world.
Email us to order.

Yoko Learns to Read by Rosemary Wells (2012)
With only Japanese picture books at home, Yoko worries that she won't be able to learn to read English as soon as her classmates.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (2001)
Worried about not being accepted at her new school, Unhei announces she will choose a new name. A story of self-acceptance.
Email us to order.

My Dadima Wears a Sari by Kashmira Sheth (2007)
Rupa's grandmother tells wonderful stories about what a sari can do, and shows her the sari she wore to travel to America.
Email us to order.

We Came to America by Faith Ringgold (2016)
Vivid illustration of the diversity of peoples that make up this country. (Including those who were already here.)
Email us to order.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey (In English and Arabic) by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Nizar Ali Badr, translated by Falah Raheem (2016)
A beautiful collaboration between a Syrian artist who makes breathtakingly emotive pictures using beach pebbles and a children's book writer who discovered his work online. Tells a story in verse of a family's experience fleeing war in their own country and finding refuge in a new land.
Email us to order.

From Far Away by Robert Munsch and Saoussan Askar, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (1995) / Rebecca Green (2017)
A new release of Saoussan Askar's story of coming to the U.S. to escape a war, and starting school in a new country. She wrote to Robert Munsch in 2nd grade about her experiences, and he helped her turn them into a picture book.
Email us to order.

Chapter/Middle Grade books:

The Storyteller's Beads by Jane Kurtz (1998)
Two children, one Christian, one Jewish (and blind), learn to trust each other while fleeing the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007)
A wordless, detailed, and surreal graphic novel of migration to a partly real, partly fantastical new world.
Email us to order.

Refugee by Alan Gratz (2017)
Three parallel stories: Josef's family is trying to flee Germany for Cuba in 1939. Isabel's family is trying to flee Cuba for the U.S. in 1994. And Mahmoud's family is trying to flee Syria for Germany in 2015. Told in short chapters one after another as they move farther and farther from their homes toward an unknown future.
Email us to order.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)
A Christian girl helps her Jewish friend's family to escape Denmark during the Holocaust. Based on true history: the Danish resistance managed to rescue nearly all of the Danish Jews.
Email us to order.

The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow (2016)
A story of four kids from different social circles who together develop strange and awkward powers, including a kid who's been ostracized due to made-up fears about his Iranian parentage. Sequel coming in September!
Email us to order.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011)
A verse novel based on the author's experiences as a refugee in Alabama after fleeing the Fall of Saigon: at first speaking no English, and then struggling to find happiness in a new world.
Email us to order.

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan (2017)
A Pakistani American girl struggles with change while watching her best friend, also from an immigrant family, befriend a formerly mean kid and talk about changing her name. And then her local mosque is vandalized.
Email us to order.

Young Adult:

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (2016)
Two teens, one a child of Korean immigrants and one trying to halt her whole family's imminent deportation to Jamaica, meet and fall for each other.
Email us to order.

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein (2015)
Set in the 1930s in both the US and Ethiopia, a story of two kids of different races, raised as siblings after one of their mothers dies, learning to navigate both air flight in peacetime and wartime, and issues of race, gender, country, and parentage.
Email us to order.

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration by Linda Barret Osborne (2016)
A nicely accessible history of immigration from the 1500s to almost-present, not shying away from the contradictions and cognitive dissonance that have followed that history over the centuries. Illustrated with photos and historical documents.
Email us to order.

More Young Adult: I highlighted quite a few Young Adult books (and one for Middle Grade) on these topics in September's YA newsletter. Follow the link to read descriptions of the following:

Highlighting: The World Trade Center attacks of 2001 and resulting xenophobia
Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (2009) Email to Order
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2016) Email to Order

Highlighting: Arabic/Muslim kids
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (1999) Email to Order
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (2013/2014) Email to Order

Highlighting: Immigration and refugees
Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (2015) Email to Order
Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña (2008) Email to Order
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (2007) Email to Order
Outcasts United by Warren St. John (2009/2012) Email to Order

Additional lists and resources:

Books to Help Kids Understand What It’s Like to Be a Refugee by author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Young Adult and Middle Grade Reads from & about Countries from Trump’s Travel Ban by Kelly Jensen at Book Riot (2017)
I'm Your Neighbor Books, a searchable database of books portraying the contemporary immigrant and refugee experience.
Ten Middle Grade Books that Reflect the US Immigration Experience by librarian Natalie Dias Lorenzi (2012)
Children's Books about the Refugee/Immigrant Experience from Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services (BRYCS)
Contemporary Immigrant Experiences in Children’s Books from the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) of the American Library Association (2006)
Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff from Teaching Tolerance
Fact Sheet for Refugee Week 2016 from the British Red Cross
8 educational resources to better understand the refugee crisis from Amnesty International (2015)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Look" by Solmaz Sharif

Let it matter what we call a thing

The Poetry is Not a Luxury Book Club January selection is Look by Solmaz Sharif. 

Look is an astonishing first book that asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable losses of human lives and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech. In this virtuosic array of poems, lists, shards, and sequences, Sharif assembles her family’s and her own fragmented narratives in the aftermath of warfare. Those repercussions echo into the present day, in the grief for those killed, in America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the discriminations endured at the checkpoints of daily encounter.

In Look, Sharif, who was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents who fled the country after the 1979 revolution, appropriates terms from the United States Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, which appear in small caps in a majority of Look’s poems. Through careful juxtaposition of military language designed to disguise and discount human life and of the lives of her family, Sharif makes private moments of everyday life precarious—a “thermal shadow” marks sexual intimacy deadly in “Look” and a “permanent echo” rebounds less divinely than ominously through the acoustically designed domes of Masjid-e Imam in “Break-Up.” In her most powerful political poems, among them “Safe House,” “Deception Story,” and the elegiac “Personal Effects,” the technique tears through the expected discourse put forth by the America government and media, forcing readers to confront the personal realities that grow out of seemingly distant policy decisions.

Below you'll find links to articles and review to help you more fully explore this amazing collection.

Look is:
A Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry
One of The New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2016
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
A Washington Post Best Poetry Collection of 2016
One of The New Yorker's Books We Loved in 2016
One of the San Francisco Chronicle's 100 Recommended Books of 2016
Click here for a video of Sharif reading from the collection at the 2016 National Book Awards 
Click here to read the title poem "Look" on PEN America
Solmaz Sharif in an interview with the National Book Award on who she wrote this book for:  
I wrote Look for the dead. For the displaced. For myself and my own outrage and perceived powerlessness. For history, believing that somewhere in our literary record, this outrage, this grief, this Mustapha Mohammad Khalaf, 15 months old must be registered, that the history of the “Wars on Terror” should not be left to the generals and the embedded journalists. read more
Lisa Higgs, in the Kenyon Review Online, writing about Sharif's use of "I" in the poems:
Sharif’s use of first-person in her collection invites readers into points of view that have largely been ignored, with the “I’s” as likely to be an intelligence officer or a battlefield soldier as the poet herself. At first, the effect is disorienting—who is talking, and to whom? Is it the poet as herself or the poet as persona? Am I the intended “I” in these poems? read more

Brandon Amico in The Rumpus on the forms Sharif uses in the poems:
Formally, the poems in Look defy expectation, and in some cases easy categorization—indeed, it appears that a static and predictable form might be seen as a form of creative oppression (“What is fascism? / a student asked me … The sonnet, / I said” – from “Force Visibility”). The poems reflect and channel the energy of a speaker that is agitated, uncomfortable with the way the world is shaped around her, and is actively attempting to enact change. They shift between thin, enjambed columns and prose; they take the shape of definitions or short encyclopedia articles; some have lines that stretch or alternate between the page’s left and right margins, that braid narratives; others make ample use of white space, lists, indentations, even erasure. read more

Friday, January 20, 2017

Community Organizing: Books for Troubled Times, Part 3

A particularly difficult day in difficult times. Here are some of the books people have recommended for action or comfort (or both!) during this inauguration day and a few previous resistance days.

from Lori Tharps:
Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori Tharps
"Explains so much about race and color in these troubled times."
The Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
"Will make you feel good."

from Gail Mershon:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
"Restores my faith in the goodness of people."

from Jes:
Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook by CrimethInc
"Direct action for everyone."
Alice's Restaurant Cookbook by Alice May Brock
"Cooking with friends makes everything better."

from a customer:
Dylan Thomas: Collected Poems by Dylan Thomas
"They just kind of cheer me up about life."

from staffer Jennifer Sheffield:
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
"It's important right now to know of so many women standing strong in their chosen occupations and to recognize the importance of science in our lives."

from Claudia Ginanni:
The Tea House Fire by Ellis Avery
"This wonderful novel asks important questions about the human cost of art."

from Anne Rubenstein:
Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James
"The relationship between the sport of cricket and anti-colonialism in the British Caribbean, beautifully written. How everyday life can get us out of this mess."

from staffer Mariga Temple-West:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
"Evil is spreading over the land, but goodness and hope triumph!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bookstore Bestsellers, 2016

Happy New Year! I'd like to present the annual list of Big Blue Marble bestsellers -- the top 25 books sold in 2016, and top 25 overall.

Please tell us in comments: What books have you read and loved over the past year?

Top 25 Bestsellers at Big Blue Marble in 2016:

1) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
2) Good Night Wissahickon Valley Park by Adam Gamble, Mark Jasper, and Scotti Mann (local setting)
3) My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
4) Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5) Snape: A Definitive Reading by Lorrie Kim (local author)
6) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
7) Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
8) Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury by Arnold Lobel
9) The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
10) Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
11) Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori Tharps (local author)
12) Judenstaat by Simone Zelitch (local author)
13) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
14) The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
15) I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems
16) Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
17) Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
18) The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow (local author)
19) El Deafo by Cece Bell
20) We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
21) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
22) The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
23) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
24) The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
25) Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Top 25 Bestsellers at Big Blue Marble to Date:

1) The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
2) Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
3) Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton (onetime local author)
4) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
5) Body Trace by D.H. Dublin (local author)
6) Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
7) Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
8) Good Night Philadelphia by Adam Gamble and Cooper Kelly (local setting)
9) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
10) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
11) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
12) Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
13) The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
14) The First 1000 Days by Nikki McClure
15) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (somewhat local author)
16) There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems
17) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
18) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (companion book for the 2011 One Book, One Philadelphia program)
19) My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
20) Amulet 1: Stonekeeper by Kazi Kibuishi
21) The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
22) Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Postwar Philadelphia by Abigail Perkiss (local author, local Mt. Airy setting!)
23) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
24) Wild by Cheryl Strayed
25) The Daring Book for Girls by Miriam Peskowitz (local author) and Andrea Buchanan

Check out our list of young adult bestsellers, posted in the January YA newsletter:
Big Blue YA News -- Series to Read and Reread, Store Bestsellers, and Activism!
And stay tuned for a list of top sellers from our 2016 events!

Happy reading for 2017!