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Ten Books Bahamians Should Read, A Response to Strachan (Helen Klonaris)
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Posted by:Apr 12th 2007, 01:20:16 am
Fig Tree News TeamMY TURN
A Guardian Column
April 11th 2007

Dear Beloved Community:

Helen Klonaris
My Turn

I was thrilled to read in print Ian Strachan's list of ten books he would take with him to a deserted island as well as his morose, though truthful admission, that sometimes Nassau feels like one… alas! So, I thought, what a great idea… and wanted to share a list of books that have been on the 'sacred books shelf' for this Greek Bahamian writer, truth seeker, rules breaker… and, perhaps, give you a little back story on why they are important to me:

1. This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga is a collection of essays, memoirs and poetry published in the early 1980s. I came across "Bridge" in 1987 in university on the East Coast of the US. What I found were the words of radical women of colour speaking their truths about what it is like to live with the double and sometimes triple oppressions of being female, of colour, and in some cases, lesbian or bisexual in America. The essay by Anzaldua called "A Letter To Third World Women Writers" was especially life saving. In it Anzaldua writes: "I write to keep myself and the spirit of my revolt alive."

2. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, by Alice Walker is a collection of vitally important essays by the author of "The Color Purple". The title essay "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens" was pivotal in the formation of my own feminist consciousness as a writer/artist in a small place, in that it looked at the ways women, and particularly Black women in the US South, were silenced, their creativity suppressed as a result of patriarchal and racist and economic oppressions. Creativity without release drove these women to holy madness. Walker asks, "What did it mean for a Black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers' time? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood."

3. Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde is also a collection of very readable essays and speeches. Audre Lorde was, in her own words, "a black lesbian, feminist, poet, mother, warrior" with West Indian roots. Although she was well known as a poet, her essays are also concentrated moments of intense wisdom. In one of these she writes that poetry is not a luxury but is a necessary act of making connections between what we know inside ourselves and what we can create out in the world. She says poetry gives us the words to name what we feel, so that we can act in the world for justice. She writes, (and this is a paraphrase), "The white fathers taught us 'I think, therefore I am' but the black mother within us says 'I feel, therefore I can be free.'"

4. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, by bell hooks, and really, anything by bell hooks… This book revolutionized my understanding of feminism, widened it to include analyses of race and class, and the importance of seeing oppressions as interconnected, not separate. Again, very readable essays, by a woman who believes in creating theory about how human beings live that the most people possible can read. She is influenced by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, author of "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" (see No. 9), and talks about coming to voice as a Black woman in the US as necessary in being able to define her own reality. One of my favorite lines from that book is "Speaking out is not a simple gesture of freedom in a culture of domination… It should be understood that the liberatory voice will necessarily confront, disturb, demand that listeners even alter ways of hearing and being."

5. A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid… When I first read this book I saw in print for the first time what it looks and feels like to live in a tourist plantation, like we do, and heard the righteous anger of 'the native' towards 'the colonial/tourist' in a way that was entirely liberating. As Strachan says, She don't play. Here's a line from that terribly important book: "Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seemed to have learned from you is how to corrupt our society and how to be tyrants? ...You came. You took things that were not yours, and you did not even, for appearance's sake, ask first."

6. Two Or Three Things I Know For Sure, by Dorothy Allison is a memoir that could also be read in one sitting. Allison is a white lesbian author from South Carolina who speaks with raw honesty about what it was like being poor, female, and lesbian in the south. She writes about the violence she experienced around her, as well as the violence directed towards her by her step father, both physical and sexual. She writes from her guts and heart and mind… The title of the book is also a refrain throughout, taken from this quote by Allison's Aunt Dot: "Lord girl, there's only two or three things I know for sure. Only two or three things. That's right. Of course it's never the same things, and I'm never as sure as I'd like to be."

7. Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko is a story of a 'mixed blood' Native American man, Tayo, who returns from having fought against Japan in World War II to his poverty-stricken reservation at Laguna, heart and soul sick from having fought and watched his cousin die in the conflict. At first he resorts to alcohol, but eventually, he looks for a stronger medicine, which he finds with the help of Betonie, a mixed-blood medicine man. That medicine turns out to be the retelling of the old tribal stories in a way that suggests healing and reconciliation between Native Americans and Europeans is possible.

8. Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as the Love and Power of God, by Carter Heyward is a non-fiction exploration of the erotic as the love and power of God in the world. Using Audre Lorde's essay (see above, No. 3) "Uses of the Erotic as Power" as her foundation, she looks at the erotic broadly, as the generative force of all living things, which when used by human beings in right relation with one another, can be a powerful source for right action, for mutuality, for making justice between us, in intimate relationships as well as in our relationships with one another on a national and international level. Let me clarify that for Lorde, and Heyward, 'the erotic' is not pornography, which Lorde says is sensation without feeling, rather, the erotic is "lifeforce", that energy which causes us to be alive, to feel, to be.

9. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire is crucial reading. Freire is a well known (now deceased) Brazilian educator who espoused the theory that education must be the practice of freedom, not the perpetuation of oppression. He created models of education in which teachers and students participated together in this practice of freedom by eliminating the "banking" method of "depositing" information into the student, and insisted instead on dialogue. Freire believed in a process of putting names to experiences in order to change circumstances for the better.

10. Paradise and Plantations, by Ian Strachan. I have to include this book in my list of necessary reading. My own copy is so underlined and dog-eared, it might be impossible to lend to anyone who wanted to read it without my own commentary running alongside every word. And I wouldn't lend it anyway, I would advise interested persons to get their own copy. This book is necessary reading for any Bahamian who is in the least way interested in how we came to be The Bahamas, the name we call these islands itself so synonymous with tourism, with the myth of 'paradise' and the ongoing machinations of the neocolonial 'plantation'.

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