Bird of Paradise is a charming, engaging memoir from hip-hop journalist Raquel Cepeda that mixes emotional personal history with a reporter's quest to decipher her racial identity. Officially released today, it's a great read.
Cepeda is one of a handful of women who were prominent in the glory days of hip hop journalism. Feminist hip hop fans will recognize her name from the masthead of Russell Simmons' now-defunct One World, and as the editor of the anthology And It Don't Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years.
In the first part of the book, we get to watch Cepeda grow up in New York City, the daughter of two immigrants from the Dominican Republic. A child of divorce who finds community with Latinos and African Americans as hip hop's progenitors, Cepeda is a tomboy who inherits her farther's sarcasm. Even as she takes tennis and piano lessons, young Cepeda is not shy about cursing out anyone who crosses her. Her infrequent vulgarity, just like her Spanglish, is delightful to read.
Trans icon Kate Bornstein's memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today, shines a bright, unflinching light on self-image, gender, and life on the far edge of the fringe.
Jeanette Winterson is probably the most quotable author I have ever read, especially for those of us who live passionately, love obsessively, and believe that art can (and will) change the world. If you ever want a cool literary tattoo just read one of her books—you are sure to find some kind of quote that resonates. With the release of her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? in October (in the U.K—official U.S release date is March 2012), the harsh reality of Winterson’s upbringing stand out even more starkly against the layers of her non-linear, heavily metaphorical, fictional work.
Chaz Bono's new memoir, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, co-written with Billie Fitzpatrick, brims with candid emotion. It covers his entire life so far, and as the title implies, it frequently comes back to Chaz's lifelong discomfort with being thought to be female and his gradual acceptance of himself as a trans guy. Unfortunately, it's also full of sexist statements about who men and women can be.
I am in awe of feminist author and activist Dorothy Allison.
Born in South Carolina in 1949 and now living in California, Allison has attracted numerous accolades in the last thirty years for her six published books. (They include Lambda Literary Awards, ALA Awards for Lesbian and Gay Writing and a ridiculous number of others.) She is the rare writer to reach, in my opinion, wonderful heights in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, though her two already-released full-length novels, Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller, are her most famous works.
I rode on a plane over the weekend, and since I love excuses to buy shiny new hardcover books (and I do not love air travel), I got a copy of Tina Fey's Bossypants to take along. Note to others who might make a similar decision: Bossypants made my trip go by very quickly. It also made me cry tears of laughter, which made the burly dudes on either side of me visibly uncomfortable. You've been warned.
To the three or so people out there who did not dress as Sarah Palin for Halloween last year: Fear not. This year you can go as Sarah Palin, bestselling author! That's right, the former governor of Alaska and perpetual wackjob has a book out on November 17 entitled Going Rogue: An American Life. It will undoubtedly be available at a corporately-owned and homogenized chain bookstore near you in time for the holidays. What a maverick!
Only the rogue-iest of rogues would publish a memoir with HarperCollins!
Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History is a memoir about one of the the more melancholy aspects of Danzy Senna’s childhood: her relationship with her father. Senna’s parents, an interracial couple, married in 1968 with dreams of being a part of an idyllic, multicultural family. This book is a complex blend of remembrance, internal exploration, and detective work, as Senna travels throughout the South to uncover pieces of her father’s story she never knew as a child and young adult.
Though Senna does ultimately finds something that resembles acceptance and understanding, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? does not have a tidy ending, which only lends the book its charm. I talked to Senna about the challenges of writing such a personal story, and what she gained in the process.