The Word: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing- Marita Golden

The symbiotic relationship between reading and writing is a cornerstone of our individual intellectual journeys and our educational system. We write as an act of self-expression. We read because language renders unto us the vitality of real and imagined experience.”– Marita Golden

An excellent  book, a collection of 13 (14 if you count the editor’s) interviews of prolific black (African-American, African and Caribbean) writers, men and women whose writing covers a  wide range (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, plays).  I had only heard of six of the writers (and have read only Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mat Johnson and Edwidge Danticat) but every single interview in this book  inspired me and got me thinking about what roles reading and writing play in my life and can play in my life in the future. Additionally, due to the favourite books of the writers included at the end of each interview, I now have more books to add to my to-read list.

The questions asked by Golden, the editor, to the writers were very thoughtful and lead to quite instructive information. An important theme in this collection was representation. I think it may be hard for people who have never had to search for their likeness in literature to understand, but for all the black writers featured in this book, finding someone like them represented in a book was a turning point in their lives.  I  remember the first time I encountered a black character, one who was well-developed and wasn’t just there as a token, was when I was around 9 years old and encountered an African boy called Akimbo in one of Alexander McCall-Smith’s children books. Seeing myself, or at least someone similar to me, represented in literature was  honestly an event.

This book definitely inspired to continue with my writing endeavours. It’s sometimes hard to know whether it’s worth it but I think reading this book convinced me that it was, even if it’s just for the following reason :

“A writer can kind of be an inward-looking psychiatrist, almost, trying to go back, trying to assess the damage, trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.“- Wil Haygood

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Off-topic: I liked what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about writing often reflecting a colonized mentality. When I was in primary school I only wrote stories with white characters . I never thought anything of it then, possibly thinking that black people did not belong in books, sadly enough. I think one of the reasons, apart from the fact that I lived in a small town that wasn’t at all ethnically diverse,  was definitely the lack of representation. Had the representation been there, who knows how many black kids would have been more interested in reading and writing.
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