28 8 / 2012
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife’s childlessness.
Meet Baba Segi …
A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing.
And his wives …
Iya Segi—the bride of Baba Segi’s youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband’s home.
Iya Tope—Baba Segi’s second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear.
Iya Femi—the third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost.
Bolanle—Babi Segi’s fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life’s misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives … and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.
This was BookTini’s July book club selection for our International theme. Based in Nigeria, Shoneyin’s novel burrows deep into the polygamous lifestyle of the well off Baba Segi, and his conniving and dangerous wives who will stop at nothing to make sure their position in his life is safe.
Though polygamy is taking a downturn in the African country, it still remains a practiced custom among those who have yet to embrace the mostly modern practice of monogamy. So what happens when a polygamist adds a modern, educated woman to his list of wives, a woman who couldn’t fit in as wife #4 no matter how hard she tried?
Jealousy, stubborness, and “mean girl” antics permeate throughout the story. When the beautiful and sophisticated Bolanle is heralded as Baba Segi’s new wife, the older, more experienced wives begin to worry that she’ll soon take over their household. But when it is apparent that Bolanle can’t bear any children, the women use that to their advantage to keep her low on Baba Segi’s totem pole.
Shoneyin doesn’t just regale us with negative stories of women, though. She makes sure to include every wife’s back story, starting from their birth, so that each woman’s reasoning for their actions is apparent: powerlessness will make you do what you have to do to survive.
I greatly enjoyed this peek into Nigerian life, customs, and tradition. Though the ending seemed to wrap up much too quickly, leaving me (and much of my book club) wanting more, the overall story was entertaining. The book club had a great time discussing what we all would do if ever put in such a situation.
I’d recommend this to those interested in African literature, Nigerian lit in particular. Also, those who are interested in stories filled with polygamy, the lives of women in Nigeria, and cat fights.
24 8 / 2012
"Let me ask you something, he said, with mischief in his eye. The American blacks—he used the English expression—are they really as they are shown on MTV: the rapping, the hip-hop dance, the women? Because that’s all we see here. Is it like this?
Well, I said slowly and in English, let me respond this way: Many Americans assume that European Muslims are covered from head to toe if they are women, or that they wear a full beard if they are men, and that they are only interested in protesting perceived insults to Islam. The man on the street—do you understand this expression?—the ordinary American probably does not imagine that Muslims in Europe sit in cafes drinking beer, smoking Marlboros, and discussing political philosophy. In the same way, American blacks are like any other Americans: they are like any other people. They hold the same kinds of jobs, they live in normal houses, they send their children to school. Many of them are poor, that is true, for reasons of history, and many of them do like hip-hop and devote their lives to it, but it’s also true that some of them are engineers, university professors, lawyers, and generals. Even the last two secretaries of state have been black.
They are victims of the same portrayals as we are, Farouq said. Khalil agreed with him.
The same portrayal, I said, but that’s how power is, the one who has the power controls the portrayal."
23 8 / 2012
"And, as thought leads to thought, standing there looking at the river, I felt an unexpected pang of my own, a sudden urgency and sorrow, but the image of the one I was thinking of flitted past quickly. It had been only a few weeks, but time had begun to dull even that wound. It was getting cold, but I stood awhile longer. How easy would it be, I thought, to slip gently into the water here, and go down to the depths. I knelt and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were ignoring that water, paying as little attention as possible to the pair of black eternities between which our little light intervened. Our debt, though, to that light: what of it? We owe ourselves our lives."
23 8 / 2012
"Was she still writing those stories? That was like asking a former slave if he still wanted to be free. Of course she was still writing those stories. Writing kept her sane, kept her from spinning out of control, kept her tongue still whenever some white person spoke down to her. She had to write, it was the only thing that was completely hers, that she could look forward to at the end of her long day. There wasn’t one thing she owned that hadn’t belonged to someone before her, not a thread of clothing or pair of shoes—even the bed she and her husband slept on and their tattered sofa had previous owners. But her stories didn’t belong to anyone else. She couldn’t even say that about the silver wedding band that graced her finger.
You goddamn right she was still writing, writing like a fiend sometimes, writing herself into a fervor that left her shaken and drenched, writing until her fingers cramped and her spine ached, writing straight through the night and into the blue day.
Was she will writing? She was writing to keep a grip on life, the evidence of which was right there on the skin of her index and middle fingers—dark indentations from the pencils she used. Was she still writing? Well, she had to leave something of herself behind, something that said she’d been there and had made a contribution, because she sensed that her body would never yield a child. So her stories had become her babies. And the fact that her babies were conceived in her mind and not her womb did not make them any less alive, any less beautiful, any less loved, or less glorious.
‘Yeah, I’m still writing,’ she said."
20 8 / 2012
So happy to be included in this list!
It’s no stranger to anyone who knows me that I an enamored of the written word. I am an avid reader and stan the entire fuck out for my favorite authors. In my travels through the interwebz though, I’ve come across a few writers that are not published, but give me everything that I need through their writing. I be over here yelling out “YYYYYAAAAASSSSS” and nodding at the keyboard when they post.
For me? That’s the mark of a great writer. They write things that make you FEEL. Things that reach down into your body, snake around your heart and clutch it like a tightly closed fist. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They make you say “HELLO” in that way that signifies agreement. They make you want to give up writing, yet inspire you to keep on keeping on because one day maybe your writing can make someone else feel the way theirs does for you. (run onnnnnn, sentence. run like forrest!)
As someone who would like to be a writer, I know that encouragement is one thing that fuels writers to keep going. So I wanted to post this little shoutout to let them know that their work is *Monica voice* EVERYTHING TO MEEEEHHHHEEEEE. Below are their names (or noms de plume), blog URL, twitter, reasons I think they rock & some of my favorite posts. I limited myself to only three posts per person, but I could have easily picked WAY more than that. Without further ado, here’s my list of 10 Writing Ass Writers I Adore.
Twitter name: @St_Syn
Blog URL: http://excitingredbonelightning.com/
Why her writing rocks: I always say that Syn is one of my favorite people that I don’t know. Why? It’s simple, she’s intelligent, thoughtful, sincere and honest. I’ve been following her blogfor a while now and I’m always enriched by what she writes. I like the way she offers her point of view as well as takes the thoughts of others into consideration. She is not afraid to play devil’s advocate nor does she pander to reach an audience. Syn is Syn no matter what & I dig that. And one of these days when I make it to Atalanterrrrr, I’m buying her a drink just because. HAHA!
Favorite Posts: Syn makes this hard for me because she doesn’t always title her damn posts!! LOL But anyway… when the youth revolt, untitled one (re: rearing kids), untitled two (re: the american dream)
Twitter name: @skinnyblackgirl
Blog URL: http://theskinnyblackgirl.com/
Why her writing rocks: I started following Robyn on Twitter fairly recently. I’d seen her @name skitter across my TL every now and again and figured I needed to finally gon’ head & follow. Shortly thereafter, she posted a blog that had me going through her archives and reading all of her stuff. And I’m still going through them archives and gleefully clapping when she posts new things. Whether it’s chronicling her journey as a writer or just talmbout life in general, Robyn’s writing is fresh and inviting.
Twitter name: @GoldingGirl617
Blog URL: http://goldinggirl.com/sg/
Why her writing rocks: Aliya King posted a link to Shenequa’s blog and I instantly liked it. I really like Shenequa as a person, at least the person I’ve seen through her writing. She is honest, with bits of vulnerability peeking through. She is sincere. She is earnest. She is determined to make it and be the best at what she does. She’s willing to do the work, waiting patiently for her chance to shine & I dig that.
Twitter name: @_sugahoney
Why her writing rocks: Nakia’s writing has heart and soul written all over it. She writes what she knows and loves, which (in my opinion) is what a few more people in this world need to do. She reminds me of my girlfriends when she tells stories about being The Date Master or a Single Black Woman With Zero Options. She has a lasting relationship with God and is grounded in her spirituality. She has an honest zeal for the craft of writing and it shows in her work.
Twitter name: @slb79
Blog URL: http://stacialbrown.com/
Why her writing rocks: I have no idea how I found Stacia, but I thank God that I did. She is just…listen, I can’t even. Her life is steeped in poetry. Her words carefully crafted in ways that make you just…feel. I’m nobody’s mama, but her posts in relation to parenting have me over here completely enthralled. The language is so lush. The words carefully selected to convey emotion, evoke feelings and draw the reader into her world. I am a Stacia stan & will be buying whatever book she eventually has for sale because her writing is all of it and then some.
Twitter name: @DoctaSlick
Blog URL: http://www.doctaslick.blogspot.com/
Why her writing rocks: So earlier this summer I went to go see a play that was in town because Phylicia Rashad was the director. It was well written and beautifully acted. One of the characters that really entertained me was played by this lady here. Somehow I found her on “the Twittas” which lead to the blog and it was o-v-a-h, ovah, okay? She is hilarious, thoughtful, slick tongued, and intelligent. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check out her blog, tbh.
Twitter name: @Ladidahdi
Blog URL: http://www.liquorloansandlove.com
Why her writing rocks: I think I found her through a retweet from Syn, actually. I don’t quite remember the post or if there was actually a post, but I do remember hitting the follow button immediately thereafter. La’s writing is honest, pure and simply inviting. She has no qualms about writing about real life experiences and what she has learned from them. She’s fearless in her writing and I love that.
Twitter name: @thepbg
Blog URL: www.dirtyprettythangs.com
Why her writing rocks: Many on the interwebz refer to CaShawn as Auntie Peebz and I absolutely agree with this name bestowed upon her. She reminds me of that auntie who is there for you to help you through your times of need and get you together when you’re stepping out of line. Through her writing you see a woman who is self-assured and wants to help others get to that point in their lives as well. She shares stories that are genuine and funny, offers advice deeply rooted in common sense and is truly the Natural Hair Whisperer.
Favorite Posts: Hey, You Asked: A Divine Responsibility, Breathing Easier: An Epiphany Within a Deliberate Choice, I think it is VERY tacky to call someone else “Ugly” (this one’s actually from her tumblr)
Name: Tia & Toya
Twitter name: @BGLUBlog
Why their writing rocks: “Black Girls Like Us” is probably one of the first blogs I read with consistency. I’ve been reading this blog for oooh, prolly close to ten years now. I found them when I was a member of the JJB [if you don’t know what this is, I ain’t telling you LOL]. Immediately I connected with their writing because it comes from a place of honesty. These girls unabashedly love boy bands, alternative music and other things that we as Black people stereotypically aren’t supposed to like. The gals at BGLU provide their perspective on everything from pop culture to music to relationships to spirituality.
Twitter name: @sweat_btwn
Blog URL: http://kimajones.com/
Why her writing rocks: Kima’s writing is…intense. Yes, that is the perfect way to describe her writing. She’s fearless and releases an unrelenting attack on the written word, carefully selecting each word in order to get her message across. She’s imaginative and determined and vivid. Kima lives loudly and invites you to do the same.
16 8 / 2012
"If you’re dating a writer and they don’t write about you — whether it’s good or bad — then they don’t love you. They just don’t. Writers fall in love with the people we find inspiring."
16 8 / 2012
1. Read diversely.
3. See items 1 and 2.
4. Accept that there is no one way to make it as a writer and that the definition of making it is fluid and tiered.
5. Accept that sometimes literary success is political and/or about who you know and that’s not likely to change. Yes, celebrities are going to keep publishing terrible books. Yes, Lisa Rinna’s Starlit is an actual thing. I read the book and… I’m scarred. But. You’re not getting better as a writer, worrying about the system.
5a. If you’re a woman, writer of color or queer writer, there are probably more barriers. Know that. Be relentless anyway. Strive for excellence. Learn how to kick the shit out of those barriers. Don’t assume every failure is about your identity because such is not the case.
6. Accept that sometimes cream actually does rise to the top and hard, consistent work will eventually get noticed, maybe not in the way you envisioned, but some way, some how.
7. Understand the actual odds and learn to love the slush pile. The slush pile is not your enemy. It’s actually one of your best friends.The truth is that a significant percentage of the slush pile, which I prefer to call the submission queue, is absolutely terrible because people are lazy and will submit any old thing. If you can write a good sentence you are already heads and shoulders above most of what is found in submission queues. You’re not competing against 10,000 submissions a year a magazine receives. You’re competing against more like 200. Those are still intimidating odds but they’re also far more reasonable.
8. Be nice. The community is small and everyone talks. Being nice does not mean eating shit. Being nice does not mean kissing ass. Being nice just means treating others the way you would prefer to be treated. If you’re comfortable being treated like an asshole, then by all means.
9. Know that more often than not, editors have your best interests at heart. Stand up for your writing but be open to editorial suggestions. A good editor is giving you feedback in service of your writing.
10. Ignore most of the atrocious writing advice that proliferates at such an alarming rate.
11. Stop listening to conspiracy theories about publishing.
12. Stop listening to doomsday predictions about publishing.
13. Don’t talk yourself out of the game by listening to conspiracy theories, doomsday predictions, and bad advice.
14. Make note of the distinction between writing and publishing. They are two very different things.
15. Know that you can get an agent through the mystically fearsome slushpile. It may be hard. It may take more time than you want but it can and does happen. I found my first agent through the slush pile. She’s great. My second agent found me because of essays I wrote. Sometimes people find agents at conferences, or through friends of a friend, or other such connections but you absolutely can go the old fashioned route.
15a. Do your research. Know what agents are interested in. Spell their names correctly. Have a book you give a damn about and make sure it shows. Know how to talk about your book.
15b. If you want to see a sample query letter, just ask a writer who successfully signed with an agent through the slush pile. They will probably share.
15c. This is an interesting take on navigating the business of agents.
15d. But don’t be so discouraged!
16. You do not need to live in New York to be a writer, though New York is great (dirty bathrooms aside) and it might be better if you live elsewhere and visit New York for a few days at at time.
17. Perspective is everything. Someone getting a book deal is not taking yours away. Success is not as finite as it seems—it’s a matter of luck, timing, and hard work. (Or sometimes, yes, who you know).
17a. You are neither as great or terrible a writer as you assume.
18. Know that sometimes you simply need to work harder and sometimes you’ve done the best you can do and there’s no shame in either.
19. Participate in the literary community in the ways you are comfortable participating. What matters is that you contribute. That could be subscribing to a magazine, attending a reading, volunteering at a literary magazine, and so on. (See #8)
20. Have an online presence or don’t. It’s shocking how much time writers spend stressing over this that could be spent writing. Yes, an online presence helps but only if you actually use it with some regularity. Plenty of writers don’t have a significant online presence and manage to still be writers. If you feel like having an online presence (Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Tumblr, whatever), is a pain in the ass, it’s going to show and it’s not worth having.
21. If you’re going to have a website, don’t have an ugly website. There’s no excuse anymore. If you cannot afford a designer, no problem. Use a content management system like Wordpress or Tumblr and a nice template.
22. You will probably need a job unless you’re fine with financial stress. Yes you can have a job and be a writer. It happens all the time. I used to be fine with financial stress because I was young and my fantasies were exciting. I am not anymore because I am old and I love my apartment and health insurance and buying stupid shit. A job facilitates these things so keep it in mind. There are worse things than a job.
23. Learn to deal with rejection. You don’t have to like it. You can sulk and whine and cry. You can blog about it. Just know that publishing involves rejection far more than acceptance. It’s easier if you can process that early on.
23 a. Maybe don’t write editors who reject you to call them names. That doesn’t ever end well.
24. Have other hobbies. Don’t be one of those people who only writes and can only talk about writing. My hobbies are embarrassing but I do have them and am grateful to have them.
25. Ignore all of this as you see fit.