PageTurners: Literature Racing Against Time, Ghosts, Past Decisions, and Police in the 1960s

PageTurners: Literature Racing Against Time, Ghosts, Past Decisions, and Police in the 1960s

This week's authors are haunted by ghosts of the past, attempting to stay rooted in the present, and preparing to fight for the future.

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Image: Doubleday Books, Beacon Press, Bold Type Books

“In order for Morrison to take you seriously...you needed to demonstrate that language was a skill you had, that Black culture was known to you and respected by you.” — novelist A.J. Verdelle on Toni Morrison

Based on the work this week—the themes, tones, authors and language—they could all put their name in the hat to earn Toni Morrison’s respect. Whether it be fiction or nonfiction, the way the narratives are delivered are what makes these such good stories, regardless of what it’s about.

For example, Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle is a story about family values wrapped up in a hilarious crime story featuring sleazy cops, a furniture store and a robbery gone wrong. Tiffany D. Jackson’s long-awaited novel, White Smoke, follows Marigold as she attempts to escape the ghosts of her past but no matter how far or how long she runs, they always end up tripping her back up.

One of Toni Morrison’s friends and contemporaries Gayl Jones, has rereleased a novel after two decades. Jones’s Palmares follows a young slave as she escapes the Portuguese plantation she was raised on after she comes of age in search of her husband and his platoon. And while it won’t hit shelves until February, we can’t wait to read the tale the aforementioned A.J. Verdelle has to tell of her friendship with Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison) and how they pushed—and shoved—one another forward in the upcoming Miss Chloe.

Gabrielle Union’s second memoir You Got Anything Stronger? updates us on how life has evolved since becoming a mother to daughters, including the more difficult aspects of her unconventional journey. Union also discusses her life, career and newest book with Maiysha Kai, managing editor of The Glow Up in last week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit.

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808s & Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes & Mythologies – Sean Avery Medlin (Essays)

808s & Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes & Mythologies – Sean Avery Medlin (Essays)

808s & Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes & Mythologies – Sean Avery Medlin
808s & Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes & Mythologies – Sean Avery Medlin
Image: Two Dollar Radio

Set against the backdrop of the suburbs in Phoenix, Az., Sean Avery Medlin deals with the edicts of the misrepresentation and performance of Black masculinity in media. Their stories are told through rhymes and narratives and explore vulnerable topics such as systemic anti-Blackness through the lens of contemporary Hip Hop culture. Stories of young lovers, classmate appropriating Black culture and comic book characters, Medlin “weaves a tapestry of worlds and otherworlds while composing a love letter to family and self, told to an undeniably energetic beat.”

September 14, 2021, Two Dollar Radio

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Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead (Fiction)

Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead (Fiction)

Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead
Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead
Image: Doubleday Books

If you needed a decent conversation—and a decent-priced piece of furniture—Ray Carney’s store was where to go. He was “only slightly bent when it came to being crooked,” which meant he was quite upstanding to his friends, family and customers on 125th street, thank you very much. But things started to slip as the payment plans for couches didn’t come on time, and Ray’s cousin Freddie gives him a few pieces of stolen jewelry here and there to pawn off. Ray doesn’t ask questions and Freddie doesn’t offer answers.

But Freddie falls into a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa and volunteers Ray’s service as a fence. So Ray ends up involved with “shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.”

What could go awry?

September 14, 2021, Doubleday Books 

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Palmares – Gayl Jones (Fiction)

Palmares – Gayl Jones (Fiction)

Palmares – Gayl Jones
Palmares – Gayl Jones
Image: Beacon Press

Gayl Jones, a talented writer first discovered and edited by Toni Morrison who has been described as “as one of the great literary writers of the 20th century,” is now publishing again for the first time in over two decades. Palmares, one of five of her books to be recirculated over the next two years, follows a Black woman’s journey through Brazil in the 17th century. Almeyda, a slave who comes of age on a Portuguese plantation, escapes to a fugitive settlement called Palmares and embarks on a journey across colonial Brazil to find her husband. Jones is regarded as a vibrant storyteller with imaginative settings and unforgettable characters. From the New Yorker: “[Her] great achievement is to reckon with both history and interiority, and to collapse the boundary between them.”

September 14, 2021, Beacon Press

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Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America – Keith Boykin (Nonfiction)

Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America – Keith Boykin (Nonfiction)

Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America – Keith Boykin
Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America – Keith Boykin
Image: Bold Type Books

White resentment has consumed the GOP over the last 32 years as the Republican Party has lost the popular vote in seven out of the eight most recent presidential elections. Over that same period, the leaders of the party have used this fact as fuel to incite white supporters to act on their hatred of Black Americans in unspeakable ways. Political commentator Keith Boykin has not only watched this rise in systemic hate grow within the GOP, but create a divide in the Democratic Party as well. Using his own experiences and deep understanding of historical trends, Boykin argues it’s impossible to save a union until we fight sexism, xenophobia and homophobia and look reality in the face—in order to make Black lives matter, the country has to make Black lives equal.

If you can’t get enough of Keith Boykin’s work or directness, stay tuned for his upcoming podcast episode on The Root’s literary podcast, It’s Lit.

September 14, 2021, Bold Type Books 

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The Best Short Stories 2021: The O. Henry Prize Winners (The O. Henry Prize Collection) – Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jenny Minton Quigley (Anthology)

The Best Short Stories 2021: The O. Henry Prize Winners (The O. Henry Prize Collection) – Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jenny Minton Quigley (Anthology)

The Best Short Stories 2021: The O. Henry Prize Winners (The O. Henry Prize Collection) – Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jenny Minton Quigley
The Best Short Stories 2021: The O. Henry Prize Winners (The O. Henry Prize Collection) – Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jenny Minton Quigley
Image: Anchor

The prestigious annual story anthology by winners of the O. Henry Prize has a new look and a new editor. Handpicked by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the mix of “celebrated names and young emerging voices” are together in this new edition. The stories are accompanied by an introduction from Adichie as well as “observations from the winning writers on what inspired them.” Additionally, there is an extensive list of magazines that publish short fiction.

September 14, 2021, Anchor

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White Smoke – Tiffany D. Jackson (Young Adult)

White Smoke – Tiffany D. Jackson (Young Adult)

White Smoke – Tiffany D. Jackson
White Smoke – Tiffany D. Jackson
Image: Katherine Tegen Books

Tiffany D. Jackson’s long-awaited new novel follows Marigold as she runs from the ghosts and phantoms that track her as she tries to shake off her old life, yet they keep holding on. Her “newly blended family” moves from a small California beach town to the midwestern city of Cedarville. Some might view this as a downgrade—but Marigold views it as a fresh start. She now lives in a renovated and picture-perfect house nestled between rows of crumbling ones, surrounded by neighbors that are wary of her and her family.

The wariness isn’t even half of the problem. Items disappear, doors begin opening and closing on their own, shadows are moving in ways they shouldn’t and worst of all, there’s an acquaintance who will stop at nothing to have Mari be “gone.”

September 14, 2021, Katherine Tegen Books

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White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality – Sheryll Cashin (Nonfiction)

White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality – Sheryll Cashin (Nonfiction)

White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality – Sheryll Cashin
White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality – Sheryll Cashin
Image: Beacon Press

Like slavery and Jim Crow, the Black hood has in many ways been shaped by white supremacy. Politicians from both sides of the aisle, people of all races and nationalities propagated and appropriated this idea of “the ghetto” and the myths around it as a way to “justify racist policies that concentrated poverty in the hood and created high-opportunity white spaces.” Based on nearly 20 years of fieldwork and research in cities such as Baltimore, New York, St. Louis and Chicago, Cashin looks at the housing disparities and redlining as it relates to schools, policing and access to transportation. White Space, Black Hood calls for the abolition of state-sanctioned systemic oppression and calls for a new infrastructure of opportunities in poor Black neighborhoods.

September 14, 2021, Beacon Press

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You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories – Gabrielle Union (Nonfiction)

You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories – Gabrielle Union (Nonfiction)

You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories – Gabrielle Union
You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories – Gabrielle Union
Image: Dey Street Books

A lot has happened since Gabrielle Union published her first memoir, 2017's We’re Gonna Need More Wine. As we open her second, You Got Anything Stronger?, Union has become a mom of two incredible girls—one being the shadiest baby on the block—and expanded her career, allowing her to “uplift other voices that need to be heard.” In this book, Union shows readers how to embrace the ever-changing aspects of life that make us human. She reflects on her iconic character, Isis, from Bring It On, a girl’s night at Chateau Marmont, and for the first time, opens up completely about the surrogacy journey and birth of her now 2-year-old daughter, Kaavia James Union Wade.

This vulnerable and hilarious account of Union’s life is now available for purchase, and you can also hear Union’s conversation with Maiysha Kai, managing editor of The Glow Up and host of The Root’s literary podcast, It’s Lit.

September 14, 2021, Dey Street Books

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Miss Chloe: A Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison – A.J. Verdelle (Nonfiction)

Miss Chloe: A Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison – A.J. Verdelle (Nonfiction)




Miss Chloe: A Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison – A.J. Verdelle
Miss Chloe: A Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison – A.J. Verdelle
Image: HarperCollins

Twenty-five years after the success of her first novel, The Good Negress, A.J. Verdelle writes about the success that came after—including her period of friendship with Toni Morrison. Their friendship, which is described as “a precious gift that was most of the time a grace and a blessing, and at other times, confusing and too separate from literature.” The book chronicles the twisted friendship built on love, competition and jealousy. After going in-depth into her own feelings about the subject, the book ends with Verdelle’s perspective on her life after Morrison has died.

She writes, “In order for Morrison to take you seriously, to have patience with you, to be interested, you had to be able to hear her. You had to be able to sit still and listen. You had to be able to pipe up in the pauses, and prove you understood. You needed [to] demonstrate that language was a skill you had, that Black culture was known to you and respected by you.”

February 15, 2022, HarperCollins; available for pre-order now.




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