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Beyond March: Inspirational Writers, Scientists, Musicians & More

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture | Readers Writers

Our staff picks, inspired by this year’s Women’s History Month, look to the present and future as well! Here are phenomenal voices and stories: just a few writers, illustrators, musicians, scientists, directors, poets, characters, comics, and critics found throughout the library who we’d like to celebrate.

Youth Services

Carrie’s Pick

The Water Princess, by Susan Verde and Georgie Badiel, and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Based upon the childhood of model Georgie Badiel in Burkina Faso, Africa, you will carry the story of The Water Princess with you long after you put this book down. The real scarcity and inaccessibility of clean water is a difficult topic for American preschoolers, and many adults, to fully grasp, and yet Verde and Reynolds capture young Gie Gie’s daily struggle with grace and beauty. Gie Gie is strong and joyful, brave and headstrong, a realist who is out to change her world. And Georgie Badiel IS changing the world by raising awareness and money, with this book, to help bring clean water to the people of Burkina Faso and across Africa.

With an upbeat and questioning spirit and rich joyful illustrations Gie Gie’s daily hardship of carrying the family’s water is made memorable, and accessible, for all ages.

Heather’s Pick

A few weeks ago Children’s alerted me to Ada’s Ideas, by Fiona Robinson, a beauty of a book which we highlighted for National Women’s History Month.

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) was the daughter of Lord Byron, a poet, and Anna Isabella Milbanke, a mathematician. Her parents separated when she was young, and her mother insisted on a logic-focused education, rejecting Byron’s “mad” love of poetry. But Ada remained fascinated with her father and considered mathematics “poetical science.” Via her friendship with inventor Charles Babbage, she became involved in “programming” his Analytical Engine, a precursor to the computer, thus becoming the world’s first computer programmer.

This stunning picture book biography of Ada Lovelace is a compelling portrait of a woman who saw the potential for numbers to make art. Come get it at PPL today!

Music & Film

Hazel’s Pick

My pick is LEMONADE!

Beyoncé is such a superstar that reminding everyone yet again of her talent almost feels superfluous—almost. But she just keeps earning it, getting better, beating herself at the top of her own game. Listening to (and watching) Lemonade is such a visceral experience that finding meaningful language to describe it is a daunting task. Suffice it to say, the album breathes; Beyoncé’s formidable, force-of-nature exhales are tempered by the restorative inhale of Warsan Shire’s poetry. It’s a daring and timely creation well worth a listen if you missed the hype last April.

Nate’s Pick

Though perhaps better known for her newer, more award-friendly work such as ‘The Hurt Locker,’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ I believe director Kathryn Bigelow‘s noire-ish Sci Fi thriller Strange Days,’ is as pertinent now as it was upon its release in 1995.  The issues Bigelow was inspired to confront through the film–racism, voyeurism and increased dependence on technology as a way to escape or avoid reality, as well as gender inequality–are still as pressing as ever. Bigelow’s awareness of both the usefulness and potential dangers of immersive technologies in her exploration of experiential memory devices known as SQUIDS in the movie appears to foretell of the abundance of screens many of us find in our lives today.   Telling the intertwined story of Lenny, Lornette, and Faith in the final two days of the 20th century, ‘Strange Days,’ takes the viewer on hunt across near future Los Angeles.  Lenny, with the hesitant help of Lornette, follows a trail of clues in the form of SQUID memory discs which lead him to unscrupulous members of the LAPD, murdered musicians, and ultimately point him in the direction of his ex-lover Faith.


Fiction and Poetry

Emily R’s Pick

Angela Carter is an amazing writer who single-handedly changed the entire landscape of fairy tales.  Her unexpected, visceral and sensuous re-tellings of such well known stories as “Bluebeard,” and “Little Red Riding Hood” remain unparalleled in their brilliance.  Her appreciation for transgression resulted in a prolific  body of work includes a sardonic variety of articles, short stories and novels.  She completely revolutionized my understanding of what a fairy tale could do! Start with the short story collection, The Bloody Chamber.

Elizabeth’s Picks

Solmaz Sharif’s recent volume of poetry, Look, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, and it’s a powerful response, both stark and tender, to the human tolls of warfare. Riddled with vocabulary gleaned from a Defense Department dictionary, Sharif’s poetry asks questions about how the language and vocabulary of war and of power are brought to bear upon human life. This haunting meditation on historical events and personal losses, and the message at its heart as to whether or not we truly see each other and are seen, also reminded me of the impact of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric last year. “Whereas I thought if he would LOOK at my exquisite face/or my father’s, he would reconsider,” Sharif writes in the title poem, concluding: “Let it matter what we call a thing./…Let me LOOK at you.”

I finished Look at the beginning of March; presently, I’m reading Yiyun Li’s memoir Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life, and in the near future I’m looking forward to picking up the holds I placed on Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, and Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions.


Sarah S’s pick

Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi brought a fresh perspective to feminism with her 2012 TEDx Talk We Should All Be Feminists. This has been published as an essay that has quickly gained notoriety as one of the most important books of our time.

“Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

Harper’s Pick

I am not usually a memoir reader, but Maggie Nelson’s beautifully poetic prose style drew me in almost immediately. Drawing on feminist and cultural theory, psychology, and philosophy, Nelson brings to her story an understanding of gender and love that transcends traditional binaried thinking. The Argonauts expands our awareness of how the definitions and life experiences of womanhood, motherhood, and family can be broadened beyond the confines of language.

“A friend says he thinks of gender as a color. Gender does share with color a certain ontological indeterminacy: it isn’t quite right to say that an object is a color, nor that the object has a color. Context also changes it: all cats are gray, etc. Nor is color voluntary, precisely. But none of these formulations means that the object in question is colorless.” -Maggie Nelson

Sage’s Pick

I’m loving reading The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own. Fourteen women writers, journalists, activists and two men write in their own words about this amazing woman and her influence as the first African-American First Lady.

I’ve admired Michelle Obama since “getting to know her” during the first Obama campaign for the presidency.  She’s not only beautiful and classy, she’s also wicked smart, deeply wise and plain spoken; you always know where she stands on the issues and why! Contributors who explore “The Meaning of Michelle” in this book include authors Roxane Gay and Veronica Chambers, professors Tanisha Ford and Brittney Cooper, and another First Lady (of New York City), Chirlane McCray. It’s reassuring to hear those who know her or have been active in the issues she espouses write so thoughtfully and admiringly of her as a person and in the role of First Lady, using an intimate language of deeply felt experiences and history. My own perspective is expanded as individual prose styles make me I feel like I’m being allowed to enter into the private world of each writer. Such an amazing experience!

I highly recommend this book about a strong, wise and beautiful woman I’ve felt gifted with these past 8 years.

Kerry’s Picks

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided is the story of actress and activist’s Diane Guerrero’s immigrant family and the struggles they faced while living illegally in the United States. Her Colombian parents moved to the US to create a better life and lived in constant fear of being deported.  That fear became a reality one day when Guerrero came home from school and found her parents had been taken away.  Guerrero, who was born in the US herself, had only just begun high school and was left completely alone. She moved in with friends of the family to survive, and decided to stay in the US, but faced many struggles growing up without her family. Her heartbreaking story sheds light on the difficult challenges facing undocumented immigrants today.

In her 2001 album Strange Little Girls Tori Amos covers songs that were written and originally performed by men, many of which were written for or about women. Amos interprets the songs through a female perspective.  My favorite songs from the album are Rattlesnakes, which talks about a woman in love, and Real Men, which is about gender roles. The most intense song from the album is the cover of ’97 Bonnie & Clyde, a haunting song about domestic violence.  Strange Little Girls is available on Hoopla.

Sonya’s Pick

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler, is funny and honest as Amy shares stories from her personal life and career. She worked hard to get where she is! (As a side note, I totally want to be Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler’s community-loving local heroine on Parks and Recreation, when I grow up).

Not only is Amy Poehler a hysterical and extremely talented writer and  comedian, her work at Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls is worth following.  Founded by  Amy and producer Meredith Walker, the organization is dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves, emphasizing intelligence and imagination over “fitting in”  and celebrating curiosity over gossip. “We are a place where people can truly be their weird and wonderful selves. We are funny first, and informative second, hosting the party you want to attend.”  

Curiosity over gossip: in the age of “fake news”  that is a tagline a librarian can stand behind! Follow them on social media for daily inspiration.

Meghan’s Picks

It’s hard to know what angle to take first in recommending Hope Jahren’s 2016 memoir Lab Girl, which portrays a life in science that is at once incredibly messy and painstakingly accurate. Is my life richer because I now possess fascinating details about the strange and astounding lives of plants? Yes. Have I been emboldened by the ferocity with which Jahren both cultivated an unusual life-long friendship and fought against her environment to build one lab of her own after another? Yes. Have I been awakened to the serious lack of research funding available to scientists in the United States NOT working on arms development? Yes. But mostly, as I step back, I am awed by Jahren’s life-long ability to overcome the prevailing attitude that she, as a woman  — and a woman who becomes pregnant at that! –, is not as capable as her male counter-parts who have governed the field for centuries. She never questions that the lab is where she belongs; she knows only that other people have not been made aware of it yet. Which is not to say she doesn’t get angry sometimes.

Meanwhile, my daughter, who will be two this summer, has taken a special interest in Over The Ocean, by Taro Gomi, which features a girl who imagines for herself what lies across the ocean.

A Brief Foray Into African Literature: Tram 83

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

Nate, a Reference Staff member, continues his exploration of contemporary African Literature on the blog with a look at the DRC and a review of author Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s recent novel “Tram 83.”

One of the largest countries in Africa, the DRC opens eastwards from a spigot of land on the Atlantic Ocean, where the country is bordered to the north by the Republic of Congo and the south by Angola and the Congo river meets the Atlantic Ocean and progresses eastward increasing in latitudinal breadth, into central Africa, before coming to an end in the African Great Lakes region where it is bordered by the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan, Zambia and Tanzania.

This multitude of borders, access to the Atlantic Ocean, and being home to one of the continent’s largest rivers has impacted the DRC’s history in a variety of ways. Initially colonized by Belgium, and administered by the county’s sovereign, King Leopold’s tyrannical reign over the DRC has been well documented by authors such as Adam Hochschild and Dave Van Raybrouck.  In these accounts he is depicted as a ruthless despot, set on extracting as much wealth out of his colony as possible regardless of the human, social, or political cost. More recently the DRC’s vast mineral wealth has come to be coveted by private corporations and individuals from a variety of countries.  Rich in diamonds, coltan, and timber, among other resources, fighting during recent conflict in the DRC frequently occurred over access to such valuable materials.  This wealth, coupled with ethnic tensions and violence linked to the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi has made for a tumultuous half century of independence as examined by Jason Stearns and Leive Joris in their works on the subject.

Out of this history comes Fiston Mwanza Mujila and his novel Tram 83.  Set in Lubumbashi, a city of nearly two million people in the south eastern part of the country, Tram 83 explores the relationship between the local population, western non governmental organizations, and international business interests.  Told mostly through the perspectives of Lucien, a local playwright and his friend Requiem, an experienced conman, Mujila’s novel paints Lubumbashi as an isolated confluence point, composed of “lovers of romance novels and dissident rebels and brothers in Christ and druids and shamans and aphrodisiac vendors and scriveners and purveyors of real fake passports and gun-runners and porters and bric-a-brac trades and mining prospectors short on liquid assets and Siamese twins.” 

Far from the reach of DRC governmental entities, rules and norms are dictated by outside economic interests and local militia leaders.  Much of the story takes place in the novel’s eponymous nightclub where deals are struck and alliances made.  The novel takes on notes of magical realism, extraordinary sequences of events which recall atrocities experienced by the citizens of many African nations under colonial rule.  Whereas Requiem has committed himself to the apparent absurdity of life in present day Lubumbashi, reveling in its unique freedoms and stratifications, Lucien spends the novel dreaming of a way out: “So whenever I write, it feels like my age is reduced by half, or even fifteen, seventeen, perhaps thirty-five years. It feels like I am returned to the belly of my mother and therefore have no one to answer to. I forget, in turn, my ragged clothes and my tuberculosis and my setbacks and my old pairs of shoes…”

Working on a play, Lucien hopes his ability as a writer will afford him opportunities to escape Lubumbashi.  As the realization of this dream fluctuates in its likelihood, readers are granted the opportunity to experience a variety of the characteristics that make Mujila’s Lubumbashi such a unique place.  From mines, to battlefields, universities, and trains, the mosaic of the city is a character in its own right.  Mujila’s ability to effectively convey the present-day implications of colonialism on African countries through the tale of a single Congolese city is truly remarkable.  This novel is as entertaining as it is informative and the pace of the story makes it hard to put down.

-Nate Mosseau, PPL Reference Staff


Curious about other contemporary writing from countries in Africa? You can read Nate’s first blog post in this series (“New Nigeria”) here.

Movie of the Month: Daughters of the Dust

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture

It’s women’s history month, and our featured film has lots of women and quite a bit of history–the well-researched and visually gorgeous Daughters of the Dust by writer/director Julie Dash.

Set in 1902 on St. Helena Island off the coast of South Carolina, the story is ostensibly about a family reunion that takes place just before a faction of the family moves North, but as the late great, Roger Ebert observed, in a review dated 25 years ago today, “…there is the sense that all of them are going…and all of them are staying behind, because the family is…a single entity.” Indeed, the ancestors are present at the picnic, as well as children yet to be born.

The Peazant family is descended from the Ibo people of West Africa, and like others on the Sea Islands, their isolation has allowed them to maintain many of their traditions and rituals. They speak Gullah, which is mostly English in vocabulary but West African in its cadences and intonations. Nana Peazant, the matriarch, fears that the language, the traditions, the family history will be lost when the family assimilates into mainland culture.

It is rare to find a film set in these islands, focused on these people. In addition, Dash has researched and recreated authentic period hairstyles and exquisitely detailed costumes, and used the device of a visiting photographer to create beautiful tableaux. Check out Daughters of the Dust, and enjoy a unique cinematic experience.


For more films about women, click here and here.

For an interview with writer/director Julie Dash, click here.

And click here to read Richard Brody’s New Yorker article entitled Forgotten Treasures of Black Women’s Cinema.



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