Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

selecting books: update on a (so far) failed search

Anne Dalke's picture

so today i hauled a HUGE and HEAVY pile of books
(Kettle Bottom, Sula, Orange is the New Black--okay Jody brought that one!--
Angela Davis's autobiography, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird...,
down to a coffee shop in south philly, where jody and i looked through them,
seeking for our next book group book (need to order early next week...pressure's on..)
none of them worked. we walked to the wooden shoe and looked through the shelves;
nothing worked. we are e-mailing folks who might have suggestions about a readable,
contemporary memoir by a woman of color (preferably from Philly), and are also
planning to look @
Lorene Carey's Pride and If Sons, Then Heirs (contemporary Philly writer, but these are novels)
and also James McBride's The Color of Water: A Black man's Tribute to his White Mother
(Brooklyn man, but we both remember this as very powerful).
any leads from any of you or your friends would! be! great!
have a good weekend, all--



Anne Dalke's picture

other possibilities

so we got LOTS of suggestions from our friends and family-->

Danticat's memoir Brother, I'm Dying

Jeannette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal?
Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy

Native Son
Poetry: Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. DuBois

Ntozake Shange

Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped
Nikki Giovanni's new Chasing Utopia, prose poetry, a kind of memoir
Joy Harjo's Crazy Brave
Leslie Marmon Silko's Turquoise Ledge
Demetria Martinez, Confessions of  a Berlitz-Tape Chicana
Shaking the Tree, memoir and fiction by Af Am women

women of brewster place by gloria Naylor (not philly)
sonia sanchez or is she all short story and poetry

Bebe Moore Campbell - Raised Right , or Your Blues Ain't Like My Blues , or Singing In the Comeback Choir
Diane McKinney-Whetstone - Trading Dreams at Midnight , or Leaving Cecil Street , or Tempest Rising, or Blues Dancing. (Several of her other novels are also set in Philadelphia, and everything that I've read by her is about family relationships.)
Toni Morrison - The Bluest Eye (OK, so the setting is Ohio, but the mother/daughter connection is one of the major motifs, and I just love this book.)
Lorene Carey - Black Ice (Mostly about her prep school experience, but the relationship with her mother and grandmother are prominent)

the twelve tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis has philly setting,
Brother I'm dying, edwidge danticat-- any thing by her is great.
Danielle Evans, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self--
short stories by a 30 ish black woman.
zz packer, coffee will make you black--also short stories

Life on the Outside by Elaine Bartlett
No Disrespect by Sista Soulja:

jccohen's picture

more book recommendations

Lorene Cary certainly came to mind. I haven't read it, but many friends have also loved The Color of Water.

I don't know why but Rosa Guy's two novels (neither set in Philadelphia) might be worth looking at.  One is called Friends, but the one I'm really thinking about is Edith Jackson.  This latter one is about a women who raises her younger siblings and, at age 17, is ready to start out on her own, but she makes mistakes that have consequences for her.  The novel has a good ending, but it talks about accountability, maturation, and the burdens many poor women and women of color have to negotiate.  Guy was from Trinidad and just died in June. 


  • Tumbling, by Diane McKinney Whetstone. “Captures a tightly knit African-American neighborhood in South Philadelphia during the forties and fifties. Its central characters, Herbie and Noon, are a loving but unconventional couple whose marriage remains unconsummated for many years a Noon struggles to repossess her sexuality after a brutal attiak in her past.
  • Substitute Me, by Lori L. Tharps. Tharps is an Asst. Prof. of Journalism at Temple University. Her most recent book, “Substitute Me” tells the tale of two women in New York city, an educated nanny and her employer, and their own challenges and journeys of self-discovery. Tharps pulls much of her content from her own experiences as a well-educated African American woman.
  • An Angry-Ass Black Woman, by Karen E. Quinones Miller.  “This is the author’s memoir about a girl growing up poor in Harlem during the 1960’s and 1970’s and, facing obstacle after obstacle, grows up to become a successful author.” It was selected as one of the top 5 street lit books of 2012.
  • Zachary's Wings, by Rosemarie Robotham.  “A love story set in Philadelphia that features class conflicts, race, and sexuality issues.” 
Anne Dalke's picture

and further thoughts...

i looked up all these books on amazon, and "looked inside" all those i could.

@ first, "life on the outside" put me off--the review says it "is told in encyclopedic detail, sometimes to a fault-including the entire texts of many letters, minutiae of clothing and even full grocery lists....Gonnerman's style is utterly artless, occasionally to the point of awkwardness"--but the section on amazon was pretty good, and it did make me want to read more. and (however it's written) it's about what the women in our class will face.

the review compares it to what it says is the better-written Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx--so: what would you say to that as an alternative? (there are also pages of that to preview from amazon).

if i had to decide tonight, i'd go for "life on the outside"....
and would feel fine about ordering 20 copies
(? yes? on my bmc credit card? w/ the intention of charging it to LILAC?)
tomorrow. what do you all think?

jccohen's picture

selecting that next book...

hi all,

thanks for putting this on serendip, anne, and moving us along. 

i'd also looked up and at these books, and i agree that overall 'life on the outside' seems like the strongest choice. part of what i'm drawn to here is the look at sentencing stuff, which might get us into some of those political issues in class... and of course there's the focus on re-entry.  thanks, hayley, for your good searching! 

'random family' seems more focused on younger people, and though also put out with a kind of sociological framing, those aspects seem less on-target for our crew.  though i agree - it's a good alternative, and if others argue for it, i'm open.

two others of these interested me:

'crazy brave' raises some of the same life issues but in a very different geographical and cultural frame.  i'm wondering about this as a possibility a bit down the road, thinking we might be building a kind of foundation that we can then move off of - like to poetry (kettle bottom, sanchez, giovanni all seem possibilities) and/or to another cultural context (like in crazy brave - oklahoma, native americans, different kind of 'natural' world...).

i'm also interested in 'men we reaped' by ward, partly bc by a woman and 'about' men and masculinity but also it's her memoir - intriguing, andbut i think i'd want to look more closely at the book, and also see this one as more challenging/harder, and again, maybe down the road.

so:  yes, i'd go with ordering 'life on the outside' - just putting down these thoughts for future reference, and will add to serendip too

looking forward to hearing from others...