Will You Read Books By Obama's Kin? And Other Lit-Related Questions

Illustration for article titled Will You Read Books By Obama's Kin? And Other Lit-Related Questions

Have You Experienced The Ecstatic(s)?

I think it's pretty dope that Mos Def named his latest CD after Victor LaValle's 2002 acclaimed novel, "The Ecstatic," which explores mental illness from a fresh vantage point. Regarding his decision, Mos told USA Today, "The term was used in the 17th and 18th centuries to describe people who were either mad or divinely inspired and consequently dismissed as kooks." He continues, "Something about that just resonated with me. It's also a type of devotional energy, an impossible dream that becomes reality but is discredited before it's realized. The airplane, a nutty idea. The telephone, the Internet. People who envisioned those were considered radical or extreme." Does Mos see himself this way?


If you haven't read "The Ecstatic," do yourself a favor, cop it, and read it while listening to Mos' new album, which is also attention-worthy. Then, in August, be sure to check for LaValle's new book "Big Machine." It's already getting rave reviews. Mos said that LaValle's writing in this forthcoming project is "Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed with Edgar Allen Poe." Quite a combination.

Are Authors Underpaid?

At BookExpo America, a publishing conference, I had an opportunity to talk to Walter Dean Myers, the acclaimed young adult author known for books like "Autobiography of My Dead Brother" and "Bad Boy." Myers has been writing about the lives of black kids for more than thirty years. We talked about publishing, the need for more marketing support for books, and what's required to increase the output of quality work by authors of color. He told me plainly, "Writers need to be loved and paid." Word. So why is the last part overlooked so often?

How Cool?

Big congrats to Michael Thomas for winning the prestigious IMPAC Prize for his debut novel "Man Gone Down," which follows a middle-aged married man and father desperate to make ends meet. About the book, award judges said, "We never know his name. But the African-American protagonist of Michael Thomas's masterful debut, Man Gone Down, will stay with readers for a long time. Tuned urgently to the way we live now, [Man Gone Down] is a novel brilliant in its scope and energy, and deeply moving in its human warmth." Thomas beat folk like Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates to win not just acclaim, but also $140,000. Regarding his winnings, the Hunter College professor told the Guardian that he was going "pay some bills." He added, "I've got three kids, a mortgage, a half-built house …" Yes, writers need to be loved and paid.

Who Will Win?

The Hurston/Wright Foundation, cofounded by writer Marita Golden, announced its 2009 Legacy Award nominees, which includes categories for outstanding fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. It's a great list that includes authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates for his memoir "The Beautiful Struggle," Tananarive Due for her novel "Blood Colony," and Myronn Hardy for his poetry collection "The Headless Saints." Check out the complete list of nominees. Tough competition. Any early predictions?


Will You Read These Books by the President's Relatives?

If the dude on the corner selling Barack Obama neck ties can cash in on the presidency, surely the president’s family can. I'm not saying that getting paid is necessarily the intent of any of his kin popping up with books, but it is interesting nonetheless. So far, his sister, brother, brother-in-law, and late mother will have books published soon.


Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president’s sister, and a high school teacher, has written a picture book entitled "Ladder to the Moon," which according to Publishers Weekly, "imagines what lessons Soetoro-Ng's four-year-old daughter might have learned from her grandmother (Soetoro-Ng's and Obama's mother) if the two had ever met." This is her first book.

This December, Duke University Press will publish a book by Soetoro-Ng's and Obama's late mother, S. Ann Dunham, who died in 1995. "Surviving Against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia" was the anthropology dissertation that she completed at the University of Hawaii in 1992. According to Duke University Press, the book "centers on the metalworking industries in the Javanese village of Kajar, and how they offer a viable economic alternative in a rice-dependent area of rural Southeast Asia." Dunham spent fourteen years researching the topic. Her daughter and two anthropologists have helped prepare the dissertation for publication.


From the book's press release, peep the quote from Ken Wissoker, the editorial director of Duke University Press. He says, "Her global perspective and obvious respect for other people's intelligence and self-direction is a model we all can learn from. Her children clearly have!" Got to connect the book with Obama some way, right?

Thankfully, her daughter voices the real significance of the project. Soetoro-Ng says: "I am grateful to Duke University for making this dream of hers come true. My hope is that this book will be read by those who come to love the particularities of its world and who also see the myriad potential application of its ideas and methods to other worlds."


Even the First Lady's brother is getting in the mix. Craig Robinson's book, "A Game of Character," is described by the Associated Press as "part tribute to his family and part inspirational guide." Robinson is a men's basketball coach at Oregon State University (hence the "clever" book title) and you can check for his book next year.

The latest of the relatives securing book deals is the president's brother, George Obama. With a working title of "Homeland," the AP reports that the book will be co-written with journalist Damien Lewis and will "tell of George Obama's fall into crime and poverty as a teenager and his eventual embrace of community organizing-a passion shared by the president-and of advocacy for the poor, an identification so strong that he chooses to live among them." Really? Okay.


The younger Obama, who has the same father as our president is twenty-seven and lives in Kenya. Supposedly, he received a six-figure deal.

David Rosenthal, Simon & Schuster publisher and executive vice president, said, "Even had George Obama not been our President's half brother, his story is moving and inspirational." You really have to love the subtlety.


What do you think of all the books popping up? Great? Overkill? Opportunistic? Just good timing? Are you looking forward to reading any of them?

is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at feliciapride.com.