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Theft (A Short Story by James Haile)

He walked into the building and arrested everyone. He wore what appeared to be a mask covering his nose and mouth; it was not clear if he was there to rob the place, or if there was just another outbreak; or, if it was merely the coincidence of his dark skin pressed against his darkened features that shrouded his broad nose and his dark, plum lips causing them to disappear into his cheeks and his chin. Whatever was the case, whether he wore a mask or not, he was, indeed, there to rob the place.

He had become arrogant, even audacious. But, he wasn’t careless or reckless; it’s just that he just didn’t care about precision; of crafting the perfect plan, not to mention the perfect escape, because he knew, whatever that was going to mean, they could never catch him. Let them come; he would wait for them. He was well aware of the feeling of metal entering into the body hot, and staying there; or, leaving. He knew entrance and exit points in himself and in others—and had been the cause of both. He sat with his back against the wall and waited for them to come, and only stood up when they entered into the building and recognized him with a point and a glare and gave chase to try to capture him. Running, running, running the speed and danger of his flesh.

Quick feet press and break the ground, concrete to asphalt to rubble, to dirt broken open to carry his body into the air to float, crumbling earth, asphalt, concrete, grass, turf, motorcycling legs beneath upended by the supernatural: blackened mask and features became glossy raven, wearing feathery just beneath an extended mandible. The officers and the patrons ran out to catch only a glimpse. A fluttering up into the air, and the cascading fall of small plumage calmly, circularly landing on their shoulders. Haloed by the sun just above their head, the black thing appeared holy, right before it disappeared into the glint and din of the towering, mirrored buildings.

*          *

He had walked into the store to pick up exactly three things. Juice. Coffee. And, boxed cake. The pandemic was now two weeks in, and things were pushing their way off of the shelves. But, he wasn’t there to join to fracas; just to pick up a few luxury items for the virtual brunch later in the day for his wife’s centennial celebration of her alma Mata. A hundred years. Generation upon generation, recently removed from slavery, they had built the school for colored girls—those whose fathers could not be named, but whose mothers had ensured them a future. And, it was simple: walk into the store; down the aisles; select the specific three items and leave, unnoticed. With one simple rule: don’t attract attention.

It couldn’t have been any simpler: they had already ordered their essential wartime munitions—water, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, frozen and canned goods—online. He would be invisible, move through the building undetected, slide his card into the machine, and disappear as anonymously as he had entered. They had mapped out his entrance and his exit, and his escape, if necessary. Park exactly one hundred yards from the left most entrance; get a handheld cart only, never a bascart; wear agreeable colors—turquoise or fuchsia, but never black or brown; no deviation from the three items; and, lastly, walk in straight lines, never zig-zag—the store had been pre-mapped, and his direction clearly laid out: aisle three for the coffee (if he couldn’t find Kenyan whole bean, Ethiopian would serve as a solid second; and, if those failed, and only if those failed, Folgers or whatever he could grab. He wasn’t to stand in one place more than exactly one minute, timed to the buzzing on his digital wristwatch), aisle eight for the boxed cake (whatever he saw at eye-level; he was under no circumstance, no matter how grand the Dutch chocolate or the Windsor Torte looked, to stretch his arms over his head, or to bend at the waist; if he could not reach forward, he was to leave it); and, aisle fifteen for the juice (preferably orange, the pulp to liquid ratio was irrelevant, whatever shelf was least populated would be selected—he could not run the risk of a full shelf; of pulling 64 fluid ounces a-loose, and having the small backfire/snap back sound of plastic adjusting for a recently released, too tight squeeze of a container). He was, under no condition, though, to backtrack for a forgotten item. If he missed aisle three, they just wouldn’t have coffee; or, if he somehow missed aisle eight or fifteen, she would understand what stress can do to memory—no sense being a hero for a caffeine or sugar rush.

He knew the layout: two entry doors, two exit doors (each would open in the opposite direction, but that would only spook the customers and draw unnecessary attention to himself); five cameras, and two uniformed guards. It was supposed to be a routine visit; it wasn’t supposed to include helicopters or sirens; or, the crack-whip sound of misidentification and misunderstanding. “You’re innocent; you haven’t done anything wrong. I love you,”—this was the last thing his wife told him as he was pulling/backing out of the driveway. He hadn’t forgotten any of the rules; hadn’t deviated from the plan, was there to purchase exactly three items. But he was navigating the pandemonium of black flesh and ended up robbing the place.

 

*          *

 

He parked exactly one hundred yards from the left-most door. He and his wife had measured the distance themselves during their dry run the night before. He had picked up a handcart and had remembered the perfect posture—back erect, eyes straight ahead, slight bend at the knee. He was making his way to aisle seven, and had made it safely there. He selected the Kenyan roast, whole bean, placed it in his cart, stood up—not too quickly, but the adequate speed, a slow and deliberate ascent—made an about face to go back down the aisle; he turned left at the endcap and walk approximately one hundred feet to aisle eight when it happened. He had been spotted. Before he entered the aisle and could select the boxed cake: “Excuse me. You; yes, you.” This how it began and ended.

 

He always knew he could become what he needed to be. His wife had always hoped that he could just color himself the shade of whatever background he was in; they had rehearsed it, and had been ready for what would happen to them under these conditions when the pandemic broke out and everyone began to obsessively hoard, and had decided this was the best strategy.

He had simply eschewed what they had decided upon. He had decided, in this moment, to abandon it all. The strategy for safety; the resurrection of organized and disciplined principles—never engage, always stare ahead, avoid conflict; there were ten steps to practice for shopping as there were for sitting at lunch counters to order a soda (any brand), a hamburger and French fries. No matter what is said, never stop, pick up exactly what you have preordained in the list. Execute, execute, execute. But something changed, “You heard me, I know it. What are you doing here? Hey, you.” Radio silence, then. “We’re gonna need back-up.” And, the plan was deviated; the order broken, he turned around, backtracked like he had a change of heart—not of his selection of the Kenyan blend: “I might try Ethiopian or maybe Columbian instead”—and it was decided in that moment that he was, in fact, there to rob the place. Routine and planned became spontaneous at the flash and speed of a man once invisible, now turned hybrid: half-man, half-illusion. But, in this moment, he also knew he would never be caught, octopus disguised as cuddle fish suddenly unhidden shifting shape into lion fish, moving his arms to make what was a purchase look like an obscene gesture of concealment.

It is never really clear when a shapeshifter changes form if it is for protection or predation. He had felt in himself a changing, a subtle and uncontrollable shifting and knew he could not control the outcome. He could no longer hide himself, and knew, in that moment, he no longer wanted to. It is said that when they dream, octopus change colors and can even look like they are wearing masks, can change the texture of their skin to look ragged and pointed, or soft and light; even dark and ominous depending on what they are dreaming about, and in/for black men it is no different.

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Excerpt from: “The Buck, the Black, and the Existential Hero: Refiguring the Black Male Literary Canon, 1850 to Present”

“His lip is slightly curled, like a coiled spring or the haunches of a cat watching and ready to launch on a small and insignificant field mouse in some middle-class suburban backyard, just below an open kitchen window and in a bed of freshly laid flowers, except his lip was poised to let loose the slow leak of a small and clever phrase, rather than inhale an insignificant pest. Nevertheless, he and the coil and the cat were on the verge of something they thought monumental but were each ridding the world of something it never wanted (to begin with)—a mouse, another clever phrase, more relief of excess tension.

…This man did not realize that when one wakes up in the morning or releases a curled-lipped claim of wit or justice, what can happen in the span of the day. He did not think that like the field mouse leaving its nest, an anxious spring releasing its exertion, or a cat thrusting itself through an open window, that one’s life is but a series of chance occurrences. Rather, this man thought of the world as a scripted rehearsal of stimuli and response, actor and audience, and had become reckless in his very belief in the power of cleverness or the repose of moral outrage to manipulate the actors and actions on the stage. He imagined a landscape where there was (yes!) moral outrage but also manipulation, and he imagined that he, too, could raise children to attend college, move out to the suburbs, and take care of a wife who could bake pies and sit them in an opened window, just above innocuous pests and their own small world of wonder and danger, that he could be a Great Baron of this land—albeit not of an entire country or continent but the thirty by sixty square feet of his own backyard!—unaware that he was not hunting as the cat had done but was being hunted as the equally inane pest.”

The Buck is a beginning statement, not of this particular man’s life but of how to begin to think and write about him, how this man’s existence challenges traditional concepts, traditional language forms, and storytelling to reflect the diversity and complexity, contradiction and fluidity, that this man himself is and represents . . .

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Four Great Cookbooks for Afro-Vegans & Vegetarians

If you’re anything like me, the hardest part about permanently committing to a vegetarian lifestyle is giving up favorite foods – American soul food, Caribbean cuisines, and African dishes.  Sure, I can load up on collard greens (sans the meat flavoring) and sweet potato souffle, but there are so many other dishes I gave up because I don’t know how to prepare them without using meat. 

In my struggle to remain a vegetarian and (once) attempt a vegan diet, I’ve fallen short many times. But recently I found a few great books to help me in my journey. I hope that sharing my finds may help our readers who have similar goals. We hope this list is useful and please don’t be shy about sharing you recommendations or tips with us!  It takes a village to raise a vegan/vegetarian 🙂

 

 1) The Vegan Soulfood Guide to the Galaxy by Aya Ibomu

This book is more than just a cookbook, it’s a lifestyle guide to help new vegans learn where to shop, how to plan meals, understand restaurant menus and simply eat healthy.  This is a must-read for those even considering a dietary change. 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Vegan-Soulfood-Guide-Galaxy/dp/097700922X

 

 2) Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry

Soul food doesn’t have to be greasy and loaded with meat. It can be fresh, healthy and also taste amazing. This wonderful cookbook will help you think outside of the box and eat flavorful comfort food without compromising your health and nutrition goals.

http://www.amazon.com/Vegan-Soul-Kitchen-Creative-African-American/dp/0738212288/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y

 

 3) Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry

Another vegan cookbook by acclaimed Afro-Vegan Bryant Terry.  Here you will find recipes from Africa and the Diaspora with a creative and delicious vegan twist. This is a great book to add to your culinary rotation if you’re getting bored with traditional American vegan recipes. 

http://www.amazon.com/Afro-Vegan-Farm-Fresh-African-Caribbean-Southern/dp/1607745313/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y

 

 4) Vegetarian Soulfood Cookbook: A Wonderful Medley of Vegetarian, Vegan and Raw Recipes Inspired by the Southern Tradition by Dawn Marie Daniels and Imar Hutchins

This cookbook will convince any nonbeliever that you can maintain the same delicious soul food flavors you grew up eating without using meat or unhealthy ingredients. The cheese grits and sweet potatoe pie recipes are my favorite but there are so many recipes here I am itching to try. 

http://www.amazon.com/Vegetarian-Soul-Food-Cookbook-Wonderful/dp/0964128454/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427654823&sr=1-3&keywords=Vegetarian+soul+food+cookbook

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Stories of Reconciliation: The Genocide in Rwanda (20 Years Later)

April marks 20 year’s since the Rwandan Genocide in which an estimated 1 million Rwandans (mostly Tsutsi) were murdered in a four month period.  In remembrance of this atrocity, the New York Times released an article “Portraits of Reconciliation”, containing photos and stories of perpetrators and victims who are attempting to regain peace, forgive, and be forgiven.  The photos and stories are haunting but a powerful example of the strength and resilience of which human beings are capable.  This is a must read:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?ref=world&_r=3

Also check out this compelling short film entitled “Let The Devil Sleep” by Alan Whelan, Eoghan Rice and Elena Hermosa that documents four haunting stories of reconciliation 

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Traveling While Black

  

I’m leaving on the next plane/I don’t know when I’ll be back again…

–Yasiin Bey, “Travellin’ Man’

We are headed to France for the week. For me it will be a working vacation; for her, it will be a working vacation, but of a different sort. While I will be attending a philosophy conference, she will be teleworking from abroad. This trip, and its working significance for both of us has me reflecting back on a conversation we had once about the idea of writing a travel guide, “traveling while black.”

This idea came about after we discussed our separate experiences abroad and juxtaposed that with discussions we have had with our peers.  The great joy many white Americans take in traveling, generally, and especially traveling ‘home’ to the European continent is often not met with the same fervor of excitement for black Americans. And, when it is, the joy is an imagined space of ‘seeing the world’, a joy (that is) met, frequently, with the reality of an ambiguous ambivalence that only the term ‘history’ can begin to describe. This is the ‘history’ that often the notion of ‘travel’ and the meaning of ‘traveling’ is understood alongside that of being received abroad, not solely as American, but as an American of a special sort. There is often a state of indecision as to how you might be traveling; the often invisibility within the hyper-visibility of tourism; and, then, the experience of historical discontinuity of what it means to be black and traveling, freely amongst the world. James Baldwin once noted in his essay, “Stranger in the Village” such an ambiguous ambivalence of the meaning of history and ‘traveling while black’. He wrote, “the cathedral of Chartes says something to them which it cannot say to me.”

I hope to discover something new during this trip  but I, at the same time, discover that I am discovered in this world.  I take solace, however, in that I will not be alone; and that I will be ‘traveling’ with someone who is also discovering the world anew and also ‘traveling while black’.

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Re-Blog: Love It or Hate It

Thanks to @lifeofafemalebibliophile for posting these questions!

Check out her link below: http://lifeofafemalebibliophile.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/book-tag-thursday-love-it-or-hate-it/

1. Biggest literary let-down?

– Toni Morrison’s long awaited comeback: Love, A Mercy, and Home 😦

2. Books that you liked that other people hated?

  • The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett

3. Best Quotes?

Not sure if these are my absolute favorites, but the below (afro-lit) quotes have been on my mind lately:

“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles”- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“Love is like the rain . . . if you’re not careful it will drown you.” – Edwidge, Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory

“Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

4. Worst Quotes?

Stumped on this one . . . sorry!

5. Books you didn’t finish?

I simply could not get into it…

    • The Kite Runner

***ducks for cover***

6. What book have you read the most times?

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (3 times . . . and it’s better each time)

7. Series where the first book was amazing but went downhill from there?

I was crazy about the Left Behind series when I was in high school.  I read the first four and then abandoned the brand :-(.  The made-for-tv movies are even worse.

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The 2013 Golden Baobab Prizes Longlist Announced

Shoutout to KinnaReads for posting great content. Check out this year’s best in African Children’s literature:

Kinna Reads

Golden Baobab Longlist

The longlist for the 5th Golden Baobab Prizes were announced on August 30th, 2013.

Nanama B. Acheampong, coordinator of the Golden Baobab Prizes says,

“Golden Baobab is really excited about this year’s stories and we are looking forward to growing further by publishing a collection of these amazing stories we have received. We are currently looking to partner with corporations that share in our vision to bring these stories to the doorsteps of African children everywhere.”

So, if you know of companies that are interested in stories for African children, please do pass along the name of Golden Baobab.

The shortlist and the winners will be announced on October 30th and November 13th respectively.

Now to the longlist.  (Summaries of longlisted stories and biographies of writers are available on the Golden Baobab Website):

—————–

Longlist for the Picture Book Prize

Carol Gachiengo – Grandma Mimo’s Breakfast (Kenya)

Mandy Collins…

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