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#Black Hair + Books: “Dreads”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Beautiful book, beautiful style.

Beautiful book, beautiful style.

Did you think I’d run out of books for my “books about Black hair challenge?” Oh no, cornrow! I’m just getting started. Today’s entry is probably one of my favorite photo books, Dreads by Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano with an introduction by Alice Walker. Yes, this is a gorgeous coffee table book dedicated to the beauty and wonder of dredlocks, written and photographed by two Italian men.

I remember when this book came out in 1999 there was some shade thrown on Mastalia and Pagano, seeing as how they weren’t Black yet they were writing about Black hair. But here’s the thing, while many of the simple but lush black and white photos in this book do feature Black people and their dredlocks, there are also Japanese people, White people and Indian people among others, who also sport this ancient style. For some people their locs represent their cultural heritage, for others their dreds have religious meaning, for some it’s just a funky style. This book still makes me marvel at the beauty and versatility of hair left in its natural state. I still think dreds are kind of magical. And now I also want to do something exciting with my own locs. Maybe dip them in gold? Hmmm…

Peace + Hair Grease!

#Books+Black Hair: Madam CJ Walker Bios for Grown folks and Kids

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Madam C.J. Walker, an inspiration to young and old.

Madam C.J. Walker, an inspiration to young and old.

You can’t talk about the Black hair business and not spend significant time on the influence and genius of Madam C.J. Walker. Born Sarah Breedlove, this single mother and daughter of slaves, built a multi-million dollar empire by selling hair care products to Black men and women (mostly women). But her impact on the world wasn’t restricted to beauty salons and barber shops. Madam C.J. Walker funneled her profits into the Black community, founding community centers, professional schools, and supporting the anti-lynching movement among other causes. She was a patron of the arts and the reason that thousands of Black women in the early to mid-20th century were able to walk away from demeaning and low-paying domestic jobs and launch their own careers as stylists, saleswomen and salon owners.

Lucky for us, Madam Walker’s great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, decided to turn her considerable talents as a journalist and writer into writing a deeply researched and well-written biography of her famous relative. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker is a delicious read that delves into all the details of not just Madam Walker’s amazing life, but of the burgeoning Black beauty business as well. And for young readers who would definitely be inspired by Madam Walker’s story of self-empowerment, Bundles penned an illustrated, shorter version of Madam’s life for the Black Americans of Achievement series from Chelsea House Publishers.

Needless to say, both of these books are among my favorites and most used in my research on Madam Walker and her remarkable contributions to the Black hair industry and modern Black culture.

Peace + Hair Grease!

#Books+Black Hair: Miss Jessie’s

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

For today’s entry in our list of Black History Month books about Black hair, I present, Miss Jessie’s: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch – Naturally by Miko Branch with Titi Branch.

One of my favorite 2015 #Blackhair stories.

One of my favorite 2015 #Blackhair stories.

Now people, please note, so far I’ve not had to venture any farther than my own private bookshelves to come up with entries for this “books about Black hair” challenge and this book, Miss Jessie’s, is one of my new favorites. The book just came out last summer and I had the chance to read it and meet the lovely Miko Branch. Needless to say, I really loved this book. It was about far more than the Black hair business, it was also about family and following one’s passions. The book is really well written, engaging and an easy read. I learned a lot about the Miss Jessie’s brand but I also picked up some really useful tips about starting a business.

So, for anyone who loves to deep dive on Black hair enterprises or who dreams of turning their passions into profits, I’d pick up a copy of this book. My guess is that since the hardcover came out last summer, the paperback should be coming out sometime later this year.

P.S. Another reason this is a Meltingpot favorite is because Miko and Titi Branch are Mixed – Black and Japanese – and their meltingpot approach to hair and beauty has always made Ms. Meltingpot smile. Sadly, Titi Branch passed away right before the book came out. May her spirit rest in peace.

Peace + Hair Grease.

I Read #DiverseBooks: Ms. Meltingpot’s 2015 Year in Review of Books

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

On this last day of 2015, I thought it only appropriate to reflect. Reflect that is, on what I read this past year. If you recall, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read more in 2015 because I’d noticed that I’d been reading for work and not for pleasure and reading is one of my greatest joys. And when you realize that you’ve neglected a simple joy in your life, something has to be done. I wrote in this early 2015 post that I was going to try to read one book a month, and now having compiled my 2015 Reading List, I realized I met that goal.

Here’s what I read in 2015 with a mini review/summary. For the most part, you can assume I enjoyed the book enough, if I took the time to read the whole thing. One thing I won’t do is read something I dislike. Note: the order is reverse chronological, meaning the first book is what I most recently read in December and goes back to the beginning of the year.

1. YO! by Julia Alvarez. A novel about a struggling Dominican-American writer, told in the various voices of the people who know her best. Funny and touching.

2. Disgruntled by Asali Solomon. The hilarious and heartbreaking coming of age story of a Black girl in Philadelphia whose life begins in an all-Black urban neighborhood and then shifts to the mostly White tony suburbs. A great novel that felt very close to my own life in many ways.

3. The Search for Susu by Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts & Marcella McCoy-Deh. A novel about a Black female adjunct professor who is offered a rare opportunity to improve her position in the world of academia. Real life drama with a dollop of extra drama for effect.

4. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. A thrilling murder mystery that melds history and present day life on a Louisiana plantation. After reading this book, I’m definitely going to be reading more by Ms. Locke.

5. Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith. Another thriller merging past and present. A Black lawyer meets a group of powerful Black men who have a sinister secret that they claim is the key to their power. Disclaimer: I loved the premise of this book but reading the whole thing made me a bit queasy and uncomfortable at times.

Substitute Me by Lori L. Tharps. Yes, I read my own novel. For the first time! And for the first time, I didn’t cringe and berate myself for everything I could have done better. It’s a good book about what happens when one woman hires another to be her nanny and the nanny does a better job than anyone ever imagined. 2015 actually marked the five-year anniversary of the book’s release.

loving day7. Loving Day by Mat Johnson. A fantastic and funny book about a Mixed-Race (Black and White) man who discovers he has a teenage daughter he never knew about. The book tackles the issues of family, race and identity with great skill and insight.

8. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. Besides discovering that Issa Rae is not her real name, this well-written memoir by up and coming comedian/actress/writer Rae tells her unique story of life as the daughter of an African father and a Black American mother. As expected, it was funny all the way through.

9. Miss Jessie’s by Miko Branch with Titi Branch. I admit, I didn’t have high hopes for this book. I was really only reading it because I was going to interview Miko Branch at an event. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by not only how well the book was written – I couldn’t put it down – but also how much I learned about the sisters who started the trailblazing Miss Jessie’s brand of hair products. The book is about so much more than hair, it’s about family, following one’s passions and the power of possibility. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a entrepreneurial dreams.

10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I re-read this book for research for my book on colorism in American families. Even though it was the second or third time I read this classic, it still slapped me in the face with it’s searing pain and helplessness.

GodChildBook11. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison. Morrison’s latest novel was a slim volume that depicted the tale of a dark-skinned woman in modern times who was rejected by her light-skinned mother. I lapped it up because it portrayed a fictional family dealing with the issues I was writing about in my nonfiction book, Same Family, Different Colors. Thank you, Toni.

12. Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile. Full disclosure, I didn’t love this book about a single mother who moves south to claim a sugar plantation left to her by her deceased father. But I appreciated the unique story and the descriptive writing.

9780062072269_p0_v6_s260x42013. All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. I reviewed this book here. Very informative and easy to read.

14. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyen. I loved this book about a group of Black Jazz musicians fleeing Nazi Germany. I reviewed it here.

And there you have it. Ms. Meltingpot’s year in review, of books. Clearly with 14 titles I read more than one book per month, so there’s one resolution I actually kept. Now, if only I’d been so good with my resolution to start exercising consistently. Oh, well. There’s always next year!

Happy New Year, dear readers. What’s on your reading list for 2016? I’m totally listening and taking notes.


“All Joy and No Fun:” Parenting in the 21st Century #MeltingpotBookReview

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

This book was a joy and fun to read.

This book was a joy and fun to read.

Earlier this year I promised myself I would read more. I’m a writer so reading should be a part of my regular practice, right? Because I like to write both fiction and nonfiction, exploring themes of race, culture, parenting and identity politics, I figured my reading selections should explore these topics and genres as well. So, I picked up Jennifer Senior’s (relatively) new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. I assumed reading this book would feel like homework, but I promised myself I’d get through it because, like Brussels Sprouts, smart books are good for me. Lucky for me, this smart book was far from tedious and I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.

Rather than learn anything revelatory about “modern parenting,” what I gathered from this book was that everything I feel about this journey of being a mom is normal and I am not alone. What’s more, Senior packed the book full of statistics, studies and expert opinion to explain why I love my children yet feel unsatisfied by “just being a mom,” and why just when I think I know what I’m doing, society goes and pulls a fast one that makes me question everything I’ve established as a good parenting practice. And she does a really good job reviewing childhood development – from toddlers to the teen years – to remind us why, even biologically our kids are meant to frustrate, aggravate and bewilder us. (Completely unrelated, I just discovered the Renegade Mothering website where blogger Janelle Hanchett does a wonderful job, with a lot of cuss words, reminding the rest of us that our darkest thoughts about parenting and family life are totally normal.) Best of all, she reminds us that parenting wasn’t even a verb before 1970. Ponder that for a second.

What Senior doesn’t do – and to be fair she never said she would – is explore how different cultural / ethnic communities vary in their approach to parenting. She mentions Amy Chua and Tiger Parenting and profiles a couple of African-American families, but I would have loved it if she could have explored a little more how the added element of being a different race or from a different cultural background than middle-class White America, plays into the parenting paradox. But like I said, that wasn’t in her stated mission so I cannot fault her for not going there. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed reading the book from cover to cover and I appreciate Senior and others like Andrew Solomon, the author of Far From the Tree, who are really exploring the American family as a way to understand American culture. I hope to be a part of that same conversation with my new book, Same Family, Different Colors – coming soon (I hope.) in 2016.

Next up on my reading list? Yesterday I bought Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and I’m only 15 pages in, but I’m loving it.

What are you reading dear readers? Got anything good to recommend? I’m listening and taking notes.


Black History Month Lite: 5 Black Books That Aren’t About “Black Stuff”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Here it is the last week of Black History Month and yours truly is just getting around to acknowledging it. Where are my manners? Hold on, let me get my tongue out of my cheek here. The thing is, I don’t know who Black History Month is really for and I don’t understand why Black American history isn’t the same thing as American history. I mean, historically speaking, Black people have pretty much been here since the beginning so, it’s not clear to me why our contributions – which are far too many to be reviewed in the shortest month of the year – are segregated from the mainstream. But that’s just me. And I don’t want to be perceived as ungrateful for the opportunity to shine a light on some fantastic Black people.

But I have noticed that a lot of non-Black people get kind of uncomfortable when Black History Month comes up. They’re not really sure if they’re supposed to be celebrating with like, a special fried chicken dinner, or they should be feeling extra guilty and force themselves to watch Roots. It’s confusing. I get it. And then of course, there are the folks who really want to get involved with the Black experience during the month of February. And they are willing to go the extra distance and watch a movie or attend an art exhibit or lecture about Black people. Some people even commit to reading an entire book in February written by a Black author.

But here’s the thing about those books by Black authors. Too many times they are really depressing because they’re always about “Black stuff.” I read that on a comment thread once. Really. The complaint was that Black books were too depressing to read because they are always about “black stuff like slavery and the civil rights and discrimination.” Well, who wants to read about that? I don’t. And that’s why I’ve developed this short list (remember we only have six days left of February) of books by Black authors that are not about Black stuff. And please note that all of these books have been vetted and read by me to ensure that “Black stuff” does not appear in a single one of them, just great characters, love, life, humor and a couple of tasty recipes. Enjoy!

1. 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. Call it chick lit or women’s fiction, but this is an excellent novel about an “ugly duckling” who grows into a gorgeous swan and gets the guy. It’s fresh and funny and just too delicious. And when you’re done and dying for more, read the follow-up, The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men.

Does this book look like it has too much Black Stuff? No worries. It's just a really good book.

Does this book look like it has too much Black Stuff? No worries. It’s just a really good book.

2. Orange Mint & Honey by Carleen Brice, A great mother-daughter story set in Colorado. Now you know a story can’t be too Black if it takes place in Colorado. There’s first love, music and a cookie recipe that makes this a really sweet piece of fiction.

3. The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate. This is a quiet novel about family, relationships and addiction in a middle class family. Martha Southgate is an amazing writer and this book, her latest doesn’t disappoint.

4. Waiting in Vain by Colin Channer. If anyone thinks Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance then they should have their head examined. On the other hand, Waiting in Vain is a story that redefines romance and passion between two beautiful, three dimensional characters with unique back stories. The action zigzags across the globe from Jamaica to London to Brooklyn and will leave any reader panting for more.

5. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson. Yes, I have to add a YA book here because, kids want to read Black books that aren’t too Black too. Here’s a great one about a multi-culti group of middle school kids who have plans to rig the student council elections. It’s a clever, funny, underdog tale with a main character, Jackson Greene, who happens to be a Black teen.

There you have it. What books would you add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments. Let’s see how long this list can be. And sure, I could have added my own novel, Substitute Me but that would be kind of obvious. (wink, wink).


Weekend Reads: What’s New and Next for 2015

Two thumbs up for Half-Blood Blues!

Two thumbs up for Half-Blood Blues!

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Last night around midnight I finished Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. As an indication to show just how much I was drawn into this amazing story, I will admit that I almost missed my stop on the train yesterday because I was reading. Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed this book.

This morning I found myself replaying the characters’ final dialogue in my mind, as if I’d been there watching it actually unfold. Later today, I have plans to investigate a few things the book exposed me to for the first time regarding Black people and World War II, both Black Americans and Afro-Europeans. I love it when fiction is the vehicle for historical learning and this book clearly falls into that category. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who is ignorant about the experiences of Black people in Germany during the war years.

But the book isn’t just about war. It’s not really about war at all, the war is just the backdrop. I’d say this is really a book about music and its powers of redemption. The fact that the characters are Black, Mixed Race, Jewish, foreign and familiar just makes it all the more delicious. I am now officially an Esi Edugyan fan.

Of course, now I have to find the next book. I need a moment to finish digesting Half-Blood Blues, but I honestly am already feeling antsy thinking I don’t have another world to escape to tonight. If you have any suggestions for what I should read next, please leave your suggestions in a comment. I love this list of upcoming books by Black authors in 2015 that appeared on For Harriet. Maybe I’ll start there.

Happy weekend reading! But before you go, enjoy the book trailer for Half-Blood Blues.


Meltingpot Book Review: Prison Baby by Deborah Jiang Stein

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

prison baby book coverA couple of weeks ago, I received a copy of Prison Baby (Beacon Press) in the mail from an editor who thought I’d like it. She was absolutely right, although “like it” wouldn’t exactly be the way I’d describe my reaction to the book.

Prison Baby is a memoir by Deborah Jiang Stein. Adopted as a toddler by White parents, Stein has an ambiguous, multiracial background, was born in a prison to a drug-addicted mother, and suffers from a number of emotional and behavioral problems, all related to her aforementioned background. So, you could call Prison Baby an adoption story, a racial coming-of-age tale, an addiction memoir, or even a saga of triumph over tragedy. The truth is, this slim volume manages to be all of those things and more.

I gobbled up this incredibly readable memoir in two sittings. The child of a literature professor, Stein is a powerful writer in her own right and she details her emotions and passions with such clarity, you actually feel like you’re inside of her head and heart at times. I won’t give away the arc of the story, but I literally could not finish my lunch as I was reading because I was sobbing along with Deborah as she explained a particularly painful part of her life story.

Despite Stein’s painful beginnings and harrowing journey to loving herself, this book leaves the reader with a sense of optimism, hope and marvel at the resiliency of the human spirit. She also forces the reader to reconsider her ideas about family, race, adoption, substance abuse and the lasting harm of psychological trauma. I know, it all sounds heavy and depressing, and it is in a lot of ways, but it is ultimately a book about love and its redemptive powers.

I enjoyed this book immensely and found it to be very inspiring. I will be continuing to follow Stein’s career and her work with female prisoners.

What about you, dear readers? Do you think you’ll pick up a copy of Prison Baby? Have any of you read it already? What did you think?

I’m listening.