Well-read black girl Finding our stories, discovering ourselves : an anthology

Book - 2018

"An inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl, on the importance of recognizing ourselves in literature. Remember that moment when you first encountered a character who seemed to be written just for you? That feeling of belonging remains with readers the rest of their lives--but not everyone regularly sees themselves on the pages of a book. In this timely anthology, Glory Edim brings together original essays by some of our best black women writers to shine a light on how important it is that we all--regardless of gender, race, religion, or ability--have the opportunity to find ourselves in literature. Contributors include Jesmyn Ward (Sing, Unburied, Sing...), Lynn Nottage (Sweat), Jacqueline Woodson (Another Brooklyn), Gabourey Sidibe (This Is Just My Face), Morgan Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing), Tayari Jones (An American Marriage), Rebecca Walker (Black, White and Jewish), and Barbara Smith (Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology). Whether it's learning about the complexities of femalehood from Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, finding a new type of love in The Color Purple, or using mythology to craft an alternative black future, the subjects of each essay remind us why we turn to books in times of both struggle and relaxation. As she has done with her book club-turned-online community Well-Read Black Girl, in this anthology Glory Edim has created a space in which black women's writing and knowledge and life experiences are lifted up, to be shared with all readers who value the power of a story to help us understand the world and ourselves"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Ballantine Books [2018]
Language
English
Edition
First edition
Physical Description
xxv, 239 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN
9780525619772
  • Magic mirrors / Jesmyn Ward
  • Why I keep coming back to Jamaica / Veronica Chambers
  • Her own best thing / Tayari Jones
  • Go tell it / Barbara Smith
  • Legacy : a conversation with Rebecca Walker
  • Zora and me / Marita Golden
  • Space to move around in / Renée Watson
  • Gal : a hard row to hoe / Gabourey Sidibe
  • The need for kisses / Dhonielle Clayton
  • Witnessing hope / Stephanie Powell Watts
  • Dear beloved / Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • Dreaming awake / N.K. Jemisin
  • To be a citizen / Morgan Jerkins
  • Two New Yorks / Zinzi Clemmons
  • Putting women center stage : a conversation with Lynn Nottage
  • Finding my family / Bsrat Mezghebe
  • Complex citizen / Mahogany L. Browne
  • Living a "soft black song" / Jamia Wilson
  • Amazing grace / Carla Bruce-Eddings
  • Continue to rise : a conversation with Jacqueline Woodson
  • Books for a black girl's soul / Kaitlyn Greenidge.
Review by New York Times Review

no one becomes "not racist," despite a tendency by Americans to identify themselves that way. We can only strive to be "antiracist" on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country's racist heritage. We learn early the racist notion that white people have more because they are more; that people of color have less because they are less. 1 had internalized this worldview by my high school graduation, seeing myself and my race as less than other people and blaming other blacks for racial inequities. To build a nation of equal opportunity for everyone, we need to dismantle this spurious legacy of our common upbringing. One of the best ways to do this is by reading books. Not books that reinforce old ideas about who we think we are, what we think America is, what we think racism is. Instead, we need to read books that are difficult or unorthodox, that don't go down easily. Books that force us to confront our self-serving beliefs and make us aware that "I'm not racist" is a slogan of denial. The reading list below is composed of just such books - a combination of classics, relatively obscure works and a few of recent vintage. Think of it as a stepladder to antiracism, each step addressing a different stage of the journey toward destroying racism's insidious hold on all of us. Biology "FATAL INVENTION: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century," by Dorothy Roberts (New Press, 2011). No book destabilized my fraught notions of racial distinction and hierarchy - the belief that each race had different genes, diseases and natural abilities - more than this vigorous critique of the "biopolitics of race." Roberts, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, shows unequivocally that all people are indeed created equal, despite political and economic special interests that keep trying to persuade us otherwise. Ethnicity "WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANTS: A Black Success Story?" by Suzanne Model (Russell Sage Foundation, 2008). Some of the same forces have led Americans to believe that the recent success of black immigrants from the Caribbean proves either that racism does not exist or that the gap between African-Americans and other groups in income and wealth is their own fault. But Model's meticulous study, emphasizing the self-selecting nature of the West Indians who emigrate to the United States, argues otherwise, showing me, a native of racially diverse New York City, how such notions - the foundation of ethnic racism - are unsupported by the facts. Body "THE CONDEMNATION OF BLACKNESS: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America," by Khalil Gibran Muhammad (Harvard University, 2010). "Black" and "criminal" are as wedded in America as "star" and "spangled." Muhammad's book traces these ideas to the late 19th century, when racist policies led to the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of blacks, igniting urban whites' fears and bequeathing tenaciously racist stereotypes. Culture "THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD," by Zora Neale Hurston (1937). Of course, the black body exists within a wider black culture - one Hurston portrayed with grace and insight in this seminal novel. She defies racist Americans who would standardize the cultures of white people or sanitize, eroticize, erase or assimilate those of blacks. Behavior "THE NEGRO ARTIST AND THE RACIAL MOUNTAIN," by Langston Hughes (The Nation, June 23, 1926). "We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame," Hughes wrote nearly 100 years ago. "We know we are beautiful. And ugly too." We are all imperfectly human, and these imperfections are also markers of human equality. Color "THE BLUEST EYE," by Toni Morrison (1970); "THE BLACKER THE BERRY," by Wallace Thurman (1929). Beautiful and hardworking black people come in all shades. If dark people have less it is not because they are less, a moral eloquently conveyed in these two classic novels, stirring explorations of colorism. Whiteness "THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X," by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965); "DYING OF WHITENESS: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland," by Jonathan M. Metzl (Basic Books, 2019). Malcolm X began by adoring whiteness, grew to hate white people and, ultimately, despised the false concept of white superiority - a killer of people of color. And not only them: low- and middle-income white people too, as Metzl's timely book shows, with its look at Trump-era policies that have unraveled the Affordable Care Act and contributed to rising gun suicide rates and lowered life expectancies. Blackness "LOCKING UP OUR OWN: Crime and Punishment in Black America," by James Forman Jr. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017). Just as Metzl explains how seemingly pro-white policies are killing whites, Forman explains how blacks themselves abetted the mass incarceration of other blacks, beginning in the 1970s. Amid rising crime rates, black mayors, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs embraced toughon-crime policies that they promoted as pro-black with tragic consequences for black America. Class "BLACK MARXISM: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition," by Cedric J. Robinson (Zed Press, 1983). Black America has been economically devastated by what Robinson calls racial capitalism. He chastises white Marxists (and black capitalists) for failing to acknowledge capitalism's racial character, and for embracing as sufficient an interpretation of history founded on a European vision of class struggle. Spaces "WAITING 'TIL THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: A Narrative History of Black Power in America," by Peniel E. Joseph (Holt, 2006). As racial capitalism deprives black communities of resources, assimilationists ignore or gentrify these same spaces in the name of "development" and "integration." To be antiracist is not only to promote equity among racial groups, but also among their spaces, something the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s understood well, as Joseph's chronicle makes clear. Gender "HOW WE GET FREE: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective," edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Haymarket, 2017); "WELL-READ BLACK GIRL: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves," edited by Glory Edim (Ballantine, 2018). I began my career studying, and too often admiring, activists who demanded black (male) power over black communities, including over black women, whom they placed on pedestals and under their feet. Black feminist literature, including these anthologies, helps us recognize black women "as human, levelly human," as the Combahee River Collective demanded to be seen in 1977. Sexuality "REDEFINING REALNESS: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More," by Janet Mock (Atria, 2014); "SISTER OUTSIDER: Essays and Speeches," by Audre Lorde (Crossing Press, 1984). 1 grew up in a Christian household thinking there was something abnormal and immoral about queer blacks. My racialized transphobia made Mock's memoir an agonizing read - just as my racialized homophobia made Lorde's essays and speeches a challenge. But pain often precedes healing. By not running from the books that pain us, we can allow them to transform us. 1 ran from antiracist books most of my life. But now 1 can't stop running after them - scrutinizing myself and my society, and in the process changing both.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 2, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

By reading Eloise Greenfield's Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems (1978) to her daughter, Edim's mother seeded in her an abiding passion for reading and profound appreciation for the work of black women writers. So ardent a reader is Edim, her partner presented her with a T-shirt declaring her a Well-Read Black Girl. The responses this evoked in New York inspired Edim to create an online book community, a national book club, and a literary festival. The creative and affirming synergy these projects have generated is embodied in this vital anthology, zestfully introduced by Edim, of personal essays by 21 black women writers who share memories about their girlhoods and early reading experiences and reflect on why they write and which writer has influenced them most. Tayari Jones muses on Toni Morrison, Veronica Chambers on Jamaica Kincaid, Marita Golden on Zora Neale Hurston. Other contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Stephanie Powell Watts, and N. K. Jemisin. Well-Read Black Girl Recommends reading lists covering various themes and genres add to the reach and radiance of this empowering literary resource.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Started in 2015 as an Instagram page, Well-Read Black Girl has grown into a nationwide book club and Brooklyn literary festival. WRBG founder Edim's collection of brief, pithy, and original essays by 21 distinguished black women addresses the question, "When did you first see yourself in literature?" The answers include discovering "the right book at the right time," reading a book first through one lens and later through another, and recognizing oneself in figures as seemingly far removed from one's experience as Hans Christian Andersen's little match girl. As expected, a pantheon of black women writers are acknowledged, with Veronica Chambers, Marita Golden, and Jamia Wilson paying tribute to, respectively, Jamaica Kincaid, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nikki Giovanni. There are thought-provoking surprises as well: Stephanie Powell Watts recalls finding inspiration in the Jehovah's Witnesses magazine Watchtower, and N.K. Jemisin in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The book's thematic organization-sections include "Books on Black Feminism," "Plays by Black Women," and "Poetry by Black Women"-makes it easy for readers to dive in based on personal preferences, though they could just as contentedly read from cover to cover. Speaking directly to black women readers, this book contains a journey from which anyone can derive enjoyment and benefit. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Review by Library Journal Review

Edim, creator of the Brooklyn-based Well-Read Black Girl (WRBG) book club, invites readers to discover uplifting stories by black women writers in this thoughtfully edited anthology. Part essay, part interview, and part bibliography, this compilation gathers inspiring literacy narratives from major contemporary authors such as National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones), Veronica Chambers (Mama's Girl), and Jacqueline Woodson (Another Brooklyn) to reveal the influences that have shaped them as writers and also to give greater visibility to their literary contributions. VERDICT This work affirms the transformative power of reading. Bibliophiles will find it hard to put down, and their reading lists expanding. All English teachers should take note and consult. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/18; Editors' Fall Picks, LJ 8/18, p. 27.]-Meagan Lacy, Guttman Community Coll., CUNY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by School Library Journal Review

An invigorating anthology edited by the founder of book club and online group Well-Read Black Girl. Black women writers across genres and generations share moments of strength, joy, grief, and vulnerability in response to the question, "When did you first see yourself in literature?" Renée Watson's "Space to Move Around In" explores racism, fatphobia, and the author's unexpected discovery of Lucille Clifton from a disinterested white teacher, while Dhonielle Clayton muses on coming out, loss, and Black girlhood in "The Need for Kisses." Teens will gravitate to recurring themes of self-discovery, pursuing creative ambitions, and building rich inner worlds to escape hardship. Some sensitive topics are addressed that may benefit from further discussion, including abortion and abuse. The emotive entries from well-known and emerging creators read quickly but are worth savoring and visiting many times over. Interspersed are "Well-Read Black Girl Recommends" lists including the book club's 2015-2018 selections, sci-fi and fantasy books, poetry, and more by Black women. Closing out the collection is the eminently helpful "All the Books in this Book" list, which simultaneously compiles all titles referenced and shapes a contemporary Black women's literary canon for avid readers and the classroom curriculum. VERDICT A stellar example of an accessible text about writing as craft, and reading as transformative practice.-Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A book club founder and creative strategist gathers pieces from distinguished black females to celebrate "the legacy of Black women in literature," which is "extensive, diverse, and beautifully complicated."Well-Read Black Girl founder Edim writes that "[s]torytelling is an extension of [African-American] sisterhood." In this book, she highlights black literary achievement by offering first-person narratives from noted writers, activists, and intellectuals along with recommendations for further reading. In each essay, the contributor discusses her relationships to reading, books, and the world, yet each bears the unique experiential imprint of the woman who wrote it. In "Magic Mirrors," two-time National Book Award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward explores storytelling and representation. A favorite childhood bookJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabethdepicted a rarity for that time: a black girl who "harbor[ed] the power of magic." But because the girl did not narrate her own story, Ward felt cheated. Only after she began writing her own stories was she able to find the "mirror" literature had been unable to offer her. Edim's interview with Rebecca Walker deals less with literary reflections and more with the truth-telling power of words. Walker discusses how witnessing a man beating a woman in the street and then writing about the incident for her high school newspaper made her aware of just how important storytelling could be. It could give voice to the voiceless and socially marginalized and spotlight those "challenging the status quo." Barbara Smith, lesbian activist and co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, discusses how reading saved her during the culturally repressive 1950s and how her own awakening came after reading the works and "miraculous language" of James Baldwinin particular, his hetero- and homosexually explicit novel Another Country. Candid and thoughtful from start to finish, Edim's collection amply celebrates the many paths black women have traveled on the road to self-definition. Other contributors include Tayari Jones, Jacqueline Woodson, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and N.K. Jesimin.An eloquently provocative anthology. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Jesmyn Ward Author Magic Mirrors I was a reader before I was a writer. I fell in love with books when I was seven years old. It was partly a conscious decision, partly not. Stories were doorways that opened to other worlds: It was easy for me to step through the sentences and forget myself, to walk or fly or run or crawl through the unfamiliar, to swim through the magical. I remember grabbing a reading comprehension packet in second grade as my classmates were grumbling about how they loathed doing the work, and I thought: "Everyone hates reading. But not me, I'm going to love it." And I did. Wandering my small, one-room elementary school library, I checked out book after book. I read everything: Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, collections of fairy tales, and children's biographies of Mary Lou Retton and Prince. By the time I was eight, I had developed a certain taste. I loved books with girl protagonists. It didn't matter when or where the story was set; if it featured a girl on an adventure, I'd read it, savoring the experience as the heroine lived the kind of life I didn't. Had the agency I didn't. I read The Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Anne of Green Gables, The Hero and the Crown, and Pippi Longstocking. These girls I encountered, whose skin I inhabited, felt like friends. I believe there are two gifts that writers give young readers. First, they build vividly rendered worlds for readers to fall in love with and fall into. Second, they create characters that are so real, distinct, and familiar to the young reader that the reader has space to imagine him- or herself in that world during the reading and after they are done. When I read my childhood books, I felt a part of those worlds intensely while I was reading. I felt an invisible sister in the narrative. But coming out of the books was hard for me. Although I could lose myself in the story while I was reading, once I was done with each of those borrowed books, their worlds were closed to me. I wanted to think back on the worlds and the characters and imagine myself in that place, with my sister character again, eating bacon sandwiches with Mary, or hiding in the dumbwaiter with Harriet, but I was never privy to the parting gift of immersion that some books afford readers after turning the final page. I could not exist in their worlds because no one who even looked like me spoke or walked or sang in those worlds--not even peripherally. It was another year of reading before I found the first book that allowed me to imagine I could have a place in it after it ended. But it was a place I did not want to occupy. In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Cassie, the heroine, is black and from Mississippi. Her family owns a large, hundred-acre farm during the Great Depression. Her family isn't rich, but it isn't poor like mine was, either. One of the chief struggles of the book is Cassie's family's effort to keep their land, to keep the material wealth they have as the white people around them attempt to pressure them into selling it. Cassie's story was just unfamiliar enough to entice me to spend more time with her, to sink into the sisterhood. But as I read on, she became too familiar. Cassie was as powerless as I was, living in a world of adults and bewildering circumstances, a world rotten with Jim Crow and sharecropping and "night men" and racism. I knew what it was like to be an outsider, to be ostracized for aspects of my identity beyond my control. To listen to white children in my classes tell racist jokes, or to hear stories about kids who said the n-word when they weren't around black kids--this was one of the hallmarks of my Mississippi childhood. I knew what it meant to feel very small in a large, hostile world. To instinctively understand that racism was a voracious force, a blazing fire, and I knew it demanded submission. I knew what it was to watch a landscape burn, a house blaze and crumble to embers. I knew how to cower, to tremble. I read to escape, to molt my skin. Something inside of me recoiled from Cassie's world at the close of the book. I was a child leaning away from a warped mirror in fear of the distortion I saw there, the smile turned to a rictus, the neck elongated, stretched. Cassie's story made me acutely aware of the fact that in that moment, she inhabited a black body, and so marked, would never be gifted with escape. So much of my horror stemmed from the fact that I recognized Cassie's face as my own. It was too much. When I was eight years old, I was obsessed with witches. I read any book with witch, witchcraft, or a vague allusion to magic in the title. I borrowed these books immediately and without reservation. I dressed as a witch every Halloween. I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Witches, Little Witch, Witch Family, Witch Child, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and on. I longed for a reality wherein girls could wield magic. So by the time I found Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, I knew it was for me. A famous witch's name was in the title of the book: I checked it out. Before I put it in my bookbag, I gazed at the front, doubly transfixed. There was an image of two girls on the cover, fingers linked, caught in mid-twirl. One was short and light, probably white, with a long key hanging from her neck. The other was dark, tall, and skinny: Her face was shaded, her head was tilted up. This girl was black. The shorter white girl, named Elizabeth, tells the story. This being one of the first narratives I'd read told from the first person, it took some adjusting to figure out that Elizabeth is telling the story as she lives it, and that the opening scene occurs as she is meeting Jennifer, the tall black girl on the cover, for the very first time. Their story begins when Elizabeth is walking to school through a patch of woods. She encounters Jennifer, who is perching on a tree branch. Jennifer speaks to her, demands the cookies Elizabeth is carrying in exchange for her name and conversation, jumps out of the tree, and introduces herself as a witch. Here, I paused, struck by the possibility that Jennifer, a black girl, could be a sorceress. Could harbor the power of magic in her dark, thin frame. What better key for escape from what one is born to than magic? I read on. After a few weeks, the two girls are fast friends: Jennifer is a master witch, and Elizabeth is her apprentice. This mirror was beautifully blurred. I leaned into it, enchanted. I recognized that girl. Jennifer is an outsider, but she is an outsider mostly of her own making. She stands apart, insisting on her magical abilities, powerful and confident in her difference. On the first day she and Elizabeth meet, it's Halloween. Jennifer walks across the stage during their pageant with a paper bag over her head, no eyes cut out. She gracefully curtsies in the center of the stage and stalks off. Elizabeth asks Jennifer "why she didn't wear a mask. She answered that one disguise was enough. She told me that all year long she was a witch, disguised as a perfectly normal girl; on Halloween she became undisguised." If Jennifer could be so insistent in her oddity, if she could walk in one reality while living in another, why couldn't I? Why couldn't I move through the world and expect it to adjust to me instead of me to it? During recess, I hung upside down from the monkey bars and read books while the blood in my head pulsed and my ears throbbed. I practiced reading and walking without tripping or bumping into anything because this is what Jennifer does. Not only did I admire Jennifer's insistence on her difference, I understood completely her love of books, of the written word. She and Elizabeth meet every weekend at the library, where they read and talk about witchcraft and history. Each week, Jennifer takes home a pile of borrowed books in her wagon. She writes poems and passes them off as spells: She and Elizabeth chant them and dance together in the local park, under the trees, in a magical circle drawn around a fountain. Jennifer reads Shakespeare, adores Macbeth for its powerful witches, and attempts to explain the play, rife with power-hungry adults, betrayal, and tragedy, to Elizabeth. Jennifer is such a prolific reader that Elizabeth says: "Jennifer," I asked, "what do you ever do besides read?" She looked up at the sky and sighed and said very seriously, "I think." I might not have understood Jennifer's explanation of Macbeth or many of her other literary allusions as a child, but I respected her reading prowess, her clever wordplay, and the fervor with which she loved words. This girl was a witch AND a reader. I wanted to be her so badly I imagined the mirror turning to an open door that would allow me entry. And of course, I was continuously overjoyed that Jennifer looked like me. That she was the hero, an indomitable force on the page who was obviously black. Not until I was an adult would I think about the choices the writer, E. L. Konigsburg, had made in writing Jennifer as a black character. I realized that the illustrations on the cover and throughout the book indicate again and again that Jennifer is black, but her blackness is evident only once in the text, when Elizabeth says, "I saw Jennifer's mother sitting in the audience. I knew it was Jennifer's mother because she was the only Black mother there." Konigsburg writes Jennifer without the burdens of racism, of powerlessness. The clarity and restraint of these choices were freeing. When the other children in Jennifer's class snubbed her, it seemed to me that they did so because she was poor, not because she was black. As a child, I studied Jennifer's face again and again, always in profile: her snub nose, her marked lips, that chin of hers tilted up. I recognized my face in her profile; in first grade, my class had cast shadows and traced our profiles in cameo illustrations to give our mothers for Mother's Day. "She could be me," I thought. "I could be her." Jennifer's hunger was as familiar as her face. Much of Jennifer's lessons in witchcraft revolve around food. Each week, Jennifer dictates a different food Elizabeth is not allowed to eat, and each week, Elizabeth must bring Jennifer food each day: a boiled egg one week, coffee cake the next. Elizabeth continually notices how skinny Jennifer is, how sparely built. When they trick-or-treat on Halloween, Jennifer acts out an elaborate scheme at each house. She knocks, breathes hard, leans on the doorway, and asks for a glass of water. The adults oblige, and while she is drinking water, they fill her sack with candy. As she leaves the houses, Jennifer dumps her candy into her wagon and then approaches the next house to enact her elaborate play for sympathy again. As a skinny, knock-kneed kid, I understood what it was to be hungry like Jennifer. As an adult, I see a bit more about Jennifer's socioeconomic status. Her father, a caretaker for the estate next to the apartment complex Elizabeth lives in with her parents, would not have earned much money. When Jennifer walks home for lunch, I imagine crackers, potted meat, perhaps a filched piece of fruit from the greenhouse her father manages. As a child, I once ate four hot dogs on buns in one meal. I snuck spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream out of a giant container in a deep freezer in my grandmother's shed. I knew what it was to be poor and hungry, to long for sugar, for fat, for variety. In the scenes Elizabeth did not share, I imagine Jennifer counting her candy, apportioning it so it might stretch the whole year until the next Halloween, the last few pieces of candy gummy with age, sticking to the wrapper, but still hard and sweet at the heart. When Jennifer isn't deliberately setting herself apart, she still stands out. As a child, I intuitively understood the undertones of what made Jennifer an outcast among her peers. I understood the fact that her family was poor; my mother was, for much of her life, a maid and caretaker for other people's children. I understood how alienated Jennifer might have felt as she observed that all the other children she went to school with lived in apartment complexes or homes, and her family lived in a small cottage on an employer's estate. I understood what it was like to be the only black girl in the room in nearly every room, how that makes one perpetually aware of difference. Perpetually lonely. I understood what would have driven Jennifer to embrace an otherworldly identity for herself, unbound by race or class, in order to curry friendship. I understood what it meant to be black in a white world. That mirror image, achingly sharp at the edges. But in the end, this book in which I could see myself, wanted to see myself, faltered. The mirror remained a mirror, and it shattered. After an argument over a pet toad and a potions pot, Jennifer admits she is no witch. Whether or not this was Konigsburg's intention, I was crushed. The two girls carry on as friends, without the ruse of witchcraft or magic to bind them. Jennifer is clever and creative, but she has no special powers, is not gifted with otherworldly ability. She does not crackle with the possibility of agency married to wonder and made manifest in telekinesis or transformation. And ultimately, she is filtered, however admirably, through her friend, but she does not tell her own story. She was not there to answer all the questions I wanted to ask about the books she read, the calligraphy she practiced, the spells she cast. She is without voice. In the end, the Jennifer I recognized, that I fell in love with, the Jennifer who had so much confidence and power, was a mere human. She, too, was bound by her body. The girl I wanted to teach me witchcraft and courage, who I wanted to walk with hand in hand through a chilly northeastern park, did not exist in the book or without. Excerpted from Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.