Friday, October 24, 2014

In Defense of Basket Weaving

A degree in basket weaving… This is supposed to be a metaphor for a useless degree—a degree that will reap no financial rewards whatsoever. There’s an art to basket weaving, of course. In fact, I own many baskets, like the colorful baskets from West Africa, the ones made from recycled magazines, and the one’s from the craft store. 

Baskets are necessary. They are vessels. Humanity has always needed vessels. We, in our bodies, are vessels. And we all come from the ultimate vessel, the womb. 

Someone had to weave my baskets with their bare hands. I have a couple of “fair trade” ones, or some made by single mothers in Kenya with shredded bits of American fashion magazines (the irony). I don’t suppose there’s some giant factory with intricate machines weaving baskets. So, of course, there are still basket weavers in the world, and they learned the ancient art from somewhere and from someone. 

My degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults is like a degree in basket weaving—not the “useless” part, but the ancient art part. Telling stories to children is an ancient art. We’ve all been told stories. Stories are our myths and folktales that have evolved into our religions and worldview and cosmology. There are still children being born, of course. So they need stories. The stories of their families, their communities, and their cultures are what ground them to this place, what settles them into their own skins. 

The old stories will give them a frame of reference, a foundation. The new ones will affirm the here and now for them. They will connect them to a certain zeitgeist. 

One of my favorite authors, Ursula K. LeGuin, wrote an essay called “The Carrier Bag Theory.” Part of the idea of the essay is about subverting the lone hero narrative where a man goes forth on an adventure and follows a straight and sometimes narrow path to heroism. There’s evil in the world. The world needs a savior. One man, and only one man, was born to save this world. But he must battle beasts and resist tempting sirens, and blah, blah, blah, and he becomes the hero of his world. Stories that follow this trajectory are more like ropes or fishing lines or arrows or phallic symbols. Male-centered, and for the most part, Western-centered. They too have served their purpose in history.  

LeGuin proposes in her essay, the Carrier Bag story. The bag is like the womb, the vessel, out of which all the elements of a story can spring forth. In this sense, baskets hold our stories. And stories carry our cultures, our traditions, our morals and taboos. And to weave baskets is to weave our brokenness back together again—to remember the stories that made us whole. 

So when I look around my community, at all those statistics and articles and documentaries about a lack of this, and a dearth of that, and woe the poor children, the underserved, the underprivileged, and the at-risk, I know there’s a crisis. My day job(s) take me into different schools throughout NYC, I have children in public school, and my husband is a veteran public school teacher. I know firsthand that there’s a problem—a big one. And it has to do with stories—the stories children are reading and internalizing about themselves, and the stories they read and hear about other people and the supposed power they have in the world. When the stories we hear and read are not the ones told by our foremothers and forefathers, it’s like having tupperware in place of baskets. Okay, bad analogy. It's like having plastic bags for baskets. Okay, worse analogy. But I hope you get the point.


I recently came across a video about the expensive art degrees. It makes me sad. And for a moment, it made me feel not very smart. But I had to shift my perspective. I truly believe art is healing work. I have to see it as such. And art is a science. Basket weaving is a very intricate science— think fractals in math. And the most valuable thing I learned from story art school is that great stories, like baskets, can have mathematical patterns. Yes, like the snowflake (I'm not quite sure what the snowflake method is, though). They can be graphed and charted and measured and quantified. It’s a science and it’s a healing art. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I AM HERE: Girls Reclaiming Safe Spaces

I Am Here: Girls Reclaiming Safe Spaces- an 
exhibition of photographs and words curated by Delphine Fawunda & Ibi Zoboi

From Curator, Ibi Zoboi:
As a mother of two daughters, it's become crucial for me to constantly think of safe spaces for them to truly grow and dream and know that the world belongs to them. I don't try to hide the negative truths about their world, instead, I let them know that they are safe within their own bodies and there are indeed safe spaces all around for them to play and laugh out loud. 

As a writer for children, I know that reading can be a safe space for little brown girls. By highlighting quotes from successful black women and books that feature black girls on their covers and within their pages, I want to affirm that their stories are indeed relevant. There is such a dearth of images of little black girls simply being their wonderful, unique selves. The I AM HERE exhibit will serve as a safe space where girls and their families can simply embrace the magic and joy of girlhood. 

About Delphine Fawunduhttp://www.delphinefawundu.com/





Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Triple 7 Challenge

Nothing like a good 'ole work-in-progress challenge to dust off this cobwebbed blog. More on that later.

But for now, I gladly accept the 777 challenge from VCFA classmate, friend, & former roomie, Heather Demetrios. The 777 challenge is, according to Heather, "this thing where writers are challenging other writers to post the first full seven lines of their work in progress, on page seven, seven lines down." Ooookay. I shall give this a try. 


I've been writing my current project for the past--what year is this?--oh, SIX YEARS! And yes, it took an MFA for me to figure out HOW to actually write it--meaning, including all those story craft things to make it an actually STORY. I've worked on other books since then, of course. But this is... l'histoire de mon coeur. This does not mean, however, that it's any good in its current condition, but I love it. It is my heart of hearts. And that's all that matters when I have to read it over and over and over again and fix this and change that. Oy! 


I'm undecided about the title, but my work-in-progress is a YA fantasy based on Vodou mythology & Haitian/Dominican history.

So, this is UNTITLED, 7 lines, 7 pages in, 7 lines down:



The eye is open. The serpent is awake.
It isn’t smoke. The djab have linked themselves to form a shield of darkness around me. They only move aside to let the white light from the stone’s eye beam straight into the dawn air. I take a quick gulp of air keeping my eyes shut hoping, praying that maybe a teeny tiny djab had not managed to slip into my body. I hold that small breath—my eyes tearing, sweat easing down my forehead, cheeks, and neck. 
A bell rings in the distance. “Ana!” 

Now tagging Kiini Ibura SalaamDaniel Jose OlderZetta ElliottLynn Joseph

Monday, August 25, 2014

CRESCENDO

for the mothers. and the holes they must fill. 

The breath, the sweat
the in, the out
the rhythm

the push, the pull
the force, the life
the egg so round

the pulsing
the heat
the rising like air

the pounding, the pounding
the rhythm
the pain
the scream

the push, the pull

the cries so sweet
the life so warm
the body so small

the nestling in arms
the suckling on breasts
the life, the life
the rhythm, the rhythm

the changing
the feeding
the loving
the cooing
the kissing
the snuggling
the life, the life
the breath so new

the stumpy legs
the tiny feet
the world so wide
the very first steps

the school
the words
the songs
the alphabet
the teachers like them
the students like us

the tests
the homework
the stepping-ups

the laughter
the play
the smiles
the sunshine
the snow
the darkness
the high-tides
the joyrides 

the fear
the calls
the prayers
the songs
the worry
the coughs
the sneezes
the bites
the bumps
the salves
the syrups
the soothings 

the fingers
the toes
the deepening voice

the uncles
the aunts
the grandfathers
the mothers
the blood
the ancestors
the africans
the humans

the mountains
the valleys
the rivers
the oceans
the moonlight
the sun
the stars
the stardust
the dust
the ashes
the powder
the gun
the bullets
the holes
the blood
the rhythm
the breath 
the beat
the silence
the light
the stream
the ladder
the clouds
the heavens


the Rhythm

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club hosts GIRL RISING Screening for International Day of the Girl

Here's the second event for the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club! I love the idea of a U.N. sanctioned International Day of the Girl (October 11th).  This brings to light all the atrocities that girls are facing around the world. I saw Girl Rising (10x10 Action Campaign) a few months ago and was moved to tears by each of the girls' stories, especially the one from Haiti, of course. Check out the trailer, a short feature with Edwidge Danticat, one of the narrators, and a flyer for the event!








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Monday, September 16, 2013

huffington post's mom of the month

Mom of the month?! Okay. I'll take that. Though this was part of the mater mea feature. I do feel special, however. No impostor syndrome here. I deserve all accolades. I used to type while nursing. That involves some serious skills.

Read the interview here on the Huffington Post.



Monday, September 9, 2013

matermea.com feature

My children and I were featured on this wonderful site highlighting mothers of color. I worked with a fantastic team of journalists, editors, and photographers. Very impressive. So honored to have had the opportunity to share my mothering story. I remember wanted to know all the details in the lives of other mothers. How in the world was it possible to do it all. My youngest is now 6. I did it. I survived. We all survived, in fact. Unfortunately, my husband Joseph was not featured here. Understandable. But there does need to be a pater mea.

You can get a glimpse into my home life (they took photos of knickknacks!) and my beautiful children and read all about how I manage (or mismanage) it all here on matermea.com.








Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club w/ Rita Williams-Garcia



Rita Williams-Garcia's sequel to the award-winning One Crazy Summer takes place in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early 1970s. So I absolutely had to have this event at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza, one block from where Delphine, the 12 year-old main character, lives with her grandmother, father, and two sisters. 

The event will feature a double-dutch contest, a reading and signing by Ms. Williams-Garcia, a 1970s fashion showcase by vintage boutique owner and friend Helen Williams Nurse, and girlie goodies by Soultanicals founder Ayo Ogun-McCants and her KiddieTanicals line. AND Greenlight Bookstore will be in there selling books that I personally hand selected!

This was a bit of a dream come true. I don't know why I love to do this, but it was absolutely fun planning and organizing this. I even took my daughters with me along Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy handing out flyers to any little girl we came across. 



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rejectionist: Introducing the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club!

Author Sarah McCarry of the wonderful blog The Rejectionist interviewed me about my new literacy initiative, the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club. August 31st will be the inaugural event with guest author Rita Williams-Garcia and her new middle grade novel, P.S. Be Eleven.



Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Tell me about Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club! What's your ultimate plan for the book club? Who will be a part of it?
Well, the cutesy little name was my daughters' idea. They're ten and eight and they read lots, of course. I'm in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA so my bookshelf is full of picture books, middle grade, and YA titles. My daughters are lucky to own nearly every single book featuring a black girl as its main character. I'm in a position to know what those titles are. Most folks are not. My daughters' friends' parents are not aware of what's out there for their daughters. When I read a good book that I know will empower a girl in some way, I want to hand out free copies at a schoolyard or something. That's how I felt about Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven. I just happen to have daughters who fit the age range for those books, and they have friends. So the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club was inevitable.
But it's more than just a book club, of course. It's more of literacy initiative aimed at underserved girls in Brooklyn. By underserved, I mean the girls from neighborhoods with poorly funded libraries and no independent bookstore in sight. I want to hold book events in community centers or playgrounds and make certain books accessible to those who need them the most. I want our local libraries to be safe spaces for girls. Some libraries in Brooklyn are so underutilized. There are more young people waiting in line to use computers than there are sitting at tables reading books. It's not uncommon to see a girl making out in the corner of the library. I once a stopped a fight that was about to happen right on the steps of my local branch. I think the library staff spends more time babysitting than actually being librarians.
I want these girls to develop critical thinking and writing skills from book discussions. I want them to create skits from these books, make themed art projects, write book reviews, and interview authors on camera. I want literacy to be a multidisciplinary, engaging, and fun experience. I need these girls to begin to examine how they are portrayed and perceived in stories, and in the media in general, through the lens of picture books, middle grade, and YA titles. Ultimately, I want these girls to let the world know that they're brilliant, they have their own opinions, and they have the final say on what images and ideas they want to claim for themselves.
Read the rest of the interview here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ebony.com's coolest black family in america #17

Our family is featured in EBONY.com's COOLEST BLACK FAMILY IN AMERICA series. It's the story of how we became a family.

Check out some family photos and the story here.

 
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