In this One Quote Response, I’m interested in two quotations that stand together for me as I consider the importance of reading as a black/Afro-Latina woman and the writing of story as mother. Here are the two quotations:
Reading highlights the intersection of narrative and self-image to create compelling explorations of identity. Reading allows us to witness ourselves. Being a reader is an incredible gift, providing me with a lens to interpret the world. Most important, it has invigorated my imagination and allowed me to choose which narratives I want to center and hold close.
From the Introduction of Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, edited by Glory Edim
They were painfully conflicted about choosing children instead of their careers, even when filled with a profound longing to give birth. This was my story, too. I had been raised to think I would lose my identity, my self, my sovereignty if I became a mother. What else to do but write about this dilemma?
Rebecca Walker in “Legacy: A Conversation with Rebecca Walker” as told to Glory Edim with editing by Maya Millett
In reading this anthology, I found such connection in the essays by other black women about their reading experiences and their discoveries of self and the world through books. I found myself flooded by memories of my immersions in libraries. I prided myself, growing up, on having worked in some capacity or another in libraries while I was student at the elementary (St. Clement-Irenaeus), secondary (West Catholic High School), collegiate (Penn State University) and doctoral levels (University of North Carolina).
My local library in Philadelphia, Eastwick Library (which often reminded me of the Witches of Eastwick), too, was a sacred place of refuge. There I read fairytales across cultures, discovered that I’m a winter when it comes to colors, read Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso (though I understood perhaps about half of what I was reading in elementary school), learned basic French from recordings (I sing a mean Frere Jacque), and Yiddish sayings (because there was a book in the language section on Yiddish phrases). I listened to Tom Petty, Enigma, Jon Bon Jovi, Garbage, and so many other CDs through the lending library. I typed some of my first reports. I even tried to get a volunteer job there, but I was too young to work as a volunteer they said.
I remember getting my library card, the many trips to the library to do research beyond what our home encyclopedia set (the one my mother paid for month by month and took a while to get all together) could provide information for. I still delight in the smell of old, musty, dusty books.
And still, outside of my parents actively finding books written by black people – I wasn’t exposed to any Latinx authors until I was about 16 or so on a trip to Puerto Rico – I rarely saw myself in the books I read; I could step into the story but so much, as much as delighted in those stories.
I’m interested now in the stories of mothering as an academic, writer, black and Afro-Latina woman in a cishet marriage with a partner who sincerely interrogates with me politics, gender and race, impositions, biases, and oppressions and truly partners with me to define together how to best communicate and equitably support our work and our family. We are a multicultural family whose interwebbing of love sometimes breaks my body open with the incredible love I feel in the small scenes that are magnificent with light and tenderness; as a writer, I want to tell the stories so that someone might read them and dream something even more lovely than I have found through faith, prayer, clarity of self and purpose, and, honestly, swiping right on Tindr in 2014.
As Rebecca Walker wrote, she pointed out the dilemma of choosing self and career and the fear of losing that self and one’s sovereignty in choosing motherhood. I’m interested in engaging in the questions she raises, which still persist. She wrote Baby Love, and there are starting to be more and more books about mothering from our distinct backgrounds and experiences. I want to be a part of that story, in the libraries and on bookshelves together, so that some eager young people who devour books, who start to imagine themselves within them, perhaps imagine walking with me, their own hurts bursting with an unexpected breadth and magnificent surprise.
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