annual leave summer reading (2)


(1) was an invisible post of speculative fictions, in words and on film; it’s very much “tl;dr.” Reason for invisibility: this present post (2) is of greater immediate possible value to other readers. (3) is another list of readings but it’s to do with work so it’s waiting until after the contractual-annual-leave-break. This break is a reading and writing retreat. Some of its writing has ended up being about reading.

In lieu of that post (1), here’s a selected short list from it of a dozen suggested writers:

  • Tomi Adeyemi
  • Octavia E. Butler
  • Samuel R. Delaney
  • Tananarive Due
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Walter Mosley
  • Nnedi Okorafor
  • Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Nisi Shawl
  • Rivers Solomon

CAVEAT LECTOR

(Preamble warning in italics, added the day after posting. There are also some additional readings and other updates, over the next few days, further down.)

This first introductory part of this post, and the reading list that follows in its main section, is intended for white people who, like me, know enough to know the extent of their ignorance, are embarrassed by it, wish to know more, and seek knowledge. It may well also be useful to any reader, as might at least some of the readings; the principal caveat here is that the readings will be at an elementary level for others more expert and experienced—especially for those who live racism every day—as might my own reflections and self-examination. While I might dream big, of doing good, of leaving the world—and all of us must be thinking this, that we could die of COVID-19 any time—a better place; the best I can and should hope for is to do no harm: hence a second warning that if you’re exhausted by white awareness and dim self-awareness; general dimness and slowness in a time of urgency; and rapid inundation in a time that is but one moment of a long period of growing fascism, itself within a longer history of racism: please do feel free to skip this part. Please do. It’s OK, I won’t be offended. (Plus I know that I do go on.) I’m in no position to forgive, authorise, or invite. Least of all in talking to Black friends and readers. These are words, out in the open. They are for you and, insofar as words or ideas or anything else does or should be anyone’s property, they are yours. Do with them as you will and as you see fit.

Also, obviously, there are many things that you can do besides read and learn. There’s something for everyone. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.

This post (2) here comprises tweets, threads, links, links to reading lists, and lists within lists; mostly approximatively in reverse chronological order of appearance / Twitter-publication. Most are from the last week or so. Some are samples and examples and tasters and teasers; so, for instance, you’ll see some individuals appear more than once, and others (ex. prolific classic writers and thinkers like Angela Davis, bell hooks, Audre Lorde) referred to in passing or appearing in bibliographical links in an introductory manner. Consider that as a suggestion to go read more. Some, for me, have been rereading. Some were planned reading, ex. Audre Lorde. Some links are new reading: about abolitionism and how it doesn’t end with an official declaration that slavery has formally ended but continues into the here and now, one that includes Vancouver; about police and prisons; and I’ve not included readings (old or new) in Quaker history or other early abolitionist history. Many readings are at a beginners’ level, because that is what I am, in the history of the USA and the Americas, in African-American studies, in Black studies, and in critical race studies.

Reading, imagination, listening, questioning, and learning are humanities—and humanity’s—superpowers. They’re not just passtimes for reading breaks or lounging on vacation; or to pass the time as a distraction in pandemic lockdown; nor even for working hard to catch up with whole worlds of knowledge posthaste on one-off special occasions.

No, you can’t catch up with and be on top of (and “master,” “dominate,” etc.) other people’s worlds in a short time.

You shouldn’t want to, either: born-again fundamentalist religious fervour would be out of place and insulting; virtue-signalling and appropriation are intrusively selfish and greedy, invasive, colonialist, and imperialist. Any attempt at serious sincere well-wishing professions of faith risk being indistinguishable from the do-gooding, sincere-seeming, and serious-looking; wannabe woke fashion-conscious performative allyship, white woman tears a distraction from what matters so as to make—or rather, to keep—you the centre of attention. Alas, thinking that of yourself and worrying that others would look at you that way and worrying about that worry … these are upsetting thoughts and they might bring more tears. There will be tears of angst and anguish and anger. Tears, too, of horror, guilt, growing awareness of responsibility—that’s white privilege, wherever you’re from—desire for penance, and fear. (By “you” here I mean “me,” and an imaginary “you the reader.” Maybe also “you” too. Probably “we,” it would be good if you and I together were to be a “we.”) Fear of getting it wrong isn’t an excuse for avoidance and silence. You won’t and can’t get this right. You can’t win. (We’re beyond such mundane neoliberal toxic masculine trivialities as “winning.”) That’s OK: it’s important. It’s work. It’s good for you, and bigger and better still, it’s good for others around you. It will be confusing and frustrating. It will be tiring. You might be feeling tired already, and think that you’re tired out. You’re not. (Nowhere near. This is just one paragraph, albeit lengthy and rambling, written by one of these polite proper privileged white women.) You are not done yet. You have more to do. Even “just” reading is active work: doing so attentively, conscious that you are bearing witness and that you have a moral duty to look, listen, and learn; eventually, one day, later, you may have to remember and keep the knowledge alive, and to testify and teach. The work is hard. It will continue to be hard and it will hurt. Hope to hurt yourself and not others. You might want to understand, and yes wanting to understand and know everything is a great and wonderful wish; but an early step in learning will be to realise that you can’t understand: the best that you can hope for is to open yourself up to understanding—starting by acknowledging your ignorance—and to try to understand more than you did before.

No, this is something that you can’t sidestep by being facetious and ascerbically clever, lightly witty or heavily darkly sardonic. No, humour is not dead. Far from it, irony still has a place; but it and these its furies are not yours.

Beware of hubris. To learn that you and your capabilities have limits, and that there are limits to your understanding, is an important part of any learning. As is learning that this still makes learning worthwhile and valuable, indeed learning that these limitations make learning all the more vital and rewarding: knowing that you should always try even if—and because—you know that it’s beyond you and that you will fail. Trying and trying oneself, essayer et s’essayer, is one of the moral, social, and political lessons of Montaigne’s Essais. If you are a scholar, learning is your raison d’être and purpose—or, “learning objective”—in our world; an examined life of lifelong learning that makes life worth living is the nearest that it, you, and we get to a “learning outcome.” It is unpredictable and outside your and anyone else’s control. It has no end in sight. It has no fixed finite end at all. There are no tasks to complete and boxes to tick off. There will be no quizzes, exams, or other summative assessments. (OK, except stoicism and scepticism and death. I jest not: this is Montaigne. Add him and La Boétie and Boethius to your summer reading list.)

The best that you can hope for is some slight approach to a dim understanding, at a superficial outsider level, of the life and work and specialism of your kith and kin. If you’re a scholar, you have a duty of care to your community: respect your colleagues and honour their work. You’re in a similar position to any other non-expert. You’re here to listen and learn. You’re here to learn, know, and remember your place: and that place is to use audience and privilege to lift up the voices that matter.

These things are not just passive, the consumption of entertainment, the leisure of voyeuristic tourism. Reading is an activity for every day. It is an everyday activity. It is part of the practice of everyday life. It is also integral to the full deep slow leisure of otium; reminding us of that examined life, of every sensible sentient human’s responsibility to lead a meaningful life.

Remember why I’m reading, why you’re reading, why we read: to learn, in the lifelong learning of an engagé resistance intellectual. (And add Camus, Césaire, Damas, the Nardal sisters, Senghor, Fanon, and Condé to that summer reading list.) To listen and to learn, sensitively and to make sense of life, in the intellectual engagement of any human being that shows they’re alive by being curious about our fellows in our commonwealth. To remembrance. To dream. To share a dream.

We commemorate lives lost, people murdered, victims of killers and of a killer system and culture; and we commiserate the living sorrows, damage, bereavement, wounds, and scars around them. Balancing a context of a longer history and bigger picture, with acknowledging the limits of an outsider’s imagination, and with preserving the precious individuality and specificity of every individual and paying homage to their name and story and world.

Just most recently, we have been paying our respects to Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, David McAtee, Tony McDade, Michael Ramos, Dreasjon Reed, and Breonna Taylor.

Black lives matter.

LECTIO DIFFICILIOR POTIOR

Some fundamental questions to guide our reading:

TOLLE LEGE

Some reading and reading-lists to bookmark: this is long slow hard work. It will take years.

LATER

Here’s some more reading (inc. listening and other media), from after posting this in the morning on 5 June:

Back to where we started, and speculative fiction. Supporting Black voices shouldn’t be patronising, or reductively stereotyping and fetishising suffering; but honouring history and culture and knowledge, and individual lives and social fabrics as full wholes, in dignity and respect and humanity. Learning isn’t just facts. Reading isn’t just non-fiction. Black writers shape word-art and make words sing, poeticise, bring ideas and beauty into being; and that also means imagining and creating worlds and futures too. Here’s a reading list from the Otherwise Award (formerly the Tiptree Award), an award encouraging the exploration & expansion of gender.

Alexis Lothianjune, “Black Speculative Fiction: Imagining Otherwise for Racial Justice” (8 June 2020):

We believe another world is possible.

To change the world requires that we first imagine it otherwise. One small thing that the Otherwise Award can do for the current struggle is to amplify the voices of Black authors whose visionary speculative fiction creates pathways to imagining and building a more just world. And so we offer a list of fifteen works, honored by the Otherwise Award in the past, to feed the imaginations of those engaged in this moment and this movement. […]
As you engage in this struggle in whichever ways you can, we hope these books bring inspiration, solace, escape, and pleasure.

  • Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium
  • Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents
  • Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater
  • Andrea Hairston, Mindscape
  • Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire
  • Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring
  • Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber
  • N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
  • Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon
  • Kiini Ibura Salaam, Ancient, Ancient
  • Nisi Shawl, Filter House
  • Nisi Shawl, Everfair
  • Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts
  • Rivers Solomon, The Deep
  • Sheree Renée Thomas, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life

POSTSCRIPT / VIDA E RAZO

SATURDAY 6 JUNE 2020

This radical profession of faith, credo, and confession was added the day after posting. Warning, contains further self-indulgent self-flagellation.

The first introductory part of this post, and the reading list that follows in its main section, is intended for white people who, like me, know enough to know the extent of their ignorance, are embarrassed by it, wish to know more, and seek knowledge. It may well also be useful to any reader, as might at least some of the readings; the caveat here is that the readings will be at an elementary level for others more expert and experienced—especially for those who live racism every day—as might my own reflections and self-examination.

Warning: the rest of this post might cause eye-rolling or groaning. It may be trying. I’m trying. I’d rather try, and fuck up, than not try and keep quiet. There’s no need for it. Not your thing. Not your fault. Not your responsibility. Nothing to do with you. Nothing to gain, much to lose. Just post a few things by other people. Join in, don’t actually add anything yourself, just jump on this week’s fashionable band-waggon. Maybe stick your neck out a teeny discreet ladylike bit: add a trending buzzword or decontextualised quote, insert a polite peaceful platitude or make a few generic woke statements, better still if they’re name-dropping, best of all if they turn names (and the individuals and their lives and work) into abstracted dehumanised hashtags. Keep up the good white work of appropriating Black lives, struggle, and history and, bonus, emptying it out of meaning. More than that? Risky. Sure silence would have been easier, less work, and avoided potential shame or public ridicule. Who wants to stick their neck out, get it wrong—or worse, get it right—and have it pointed out, be pointed at by all and sundry, and look silly? Why risk hurt?

Because there are more important things than one privileged white woman’s ego and fears.

Writing this hurt. Learning is work and hurts. Thinking-work hurts and is draining; some writing also physically hurts. While writing and thinking about it, and the rest of the day after posting it, I was ill: stress headaches and nausea (I know these all too well from work). Aggravated because I wrote a lot of it through the night; I’ve been up late at night anyway, reading (most recently this reading list here). And like others, my sleep has been disrupted anyway. Not half as much as a Black brother or sister in the USA. I can barely start to imagine how disrupted your sleep is. This first part of this post is also about trying to imagine, and thinking about trying, and thinking about the knowledge that is acknowledgement: acknowledging the work—works and words, activities and activism—of others, acknowledging my own lack of knowledge, acknowledging the limits to my capability for imagination and knowledge, and trying anyway.

Because that is an important thing than a privileged white person can do.

This post was tiring to write. Thinking about and through it was tiring work. Doing the reading has been tiring. I had no idea, back when I booked this time as my contractual annual leave with my employers, how much reading there would be in my reading break. Unexpected reading. Enriching reading. Valuable reading. And so much more reading, and other work, to do in the future. If my clumsy attempts to confront discomfort raise a snigger at my expense, if that provides relief rather than adding to the burden of Black colleagues: that’s great and I shall treasure that as a valuable Public Humanities Service.

Because this is the least of what any white person has a responsibility to do.

Black lives matter.

SUNDAY 7 JUNE 2020

WARNING: MUPPETRY

Today’s latest reading is somewhat different, and I hope a note of luminous budding hope. It’s still about Black history and about how Black lives matter. It brings in SF (which I am allowed to be thinking about and immersing myself in). It brings in education and course design (which I’m not, until I am back at work after the end of annual leave, on the 15th), with important ideas about a “hidden curriculum”—inside, underneath, behind, subversive, meta—and affective learning and the role of love (in, and of, learning). And futuristic imagineering speculative fiction lessons from 1973 for 2020 #CovidCampus online teaching and learning, from kindergarten to university.

Today is, as usual, #CiteBlackWomenSunday. This week is also the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street. (I’ll add some links for the latter event in comments.) As you may know, I love Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I learned today that Loretta Long, a.k.a. Susan Robinson, is in fact Dr Loretta Long. She’s the first Black woman I saw on TV or film, and was one of the first, and few, Black people I encountered when a very small child (most were musicians on my father’s jazz records). She’s the same age (well, a few months younger) than my mother. While working on Sesame Street, Loretta Long was also working on her doctorate at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst. I strongly recommend reading her dissertation. Sample screenshots here are from ProQuest; freely openly publicly available at:
https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3815&context=dissertations_1

Dr Long’s dissertation title alone is Awesome Brilliant Wow Of The Century: “Sesame Street: a space age approach to education for space age children” (Ed.D diss, U Mass Amherst, 1973).

Free public education is a utopian shared common good that changes people, neighbourhoods, and a world.

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