What We're Reading

What jewel bush is Reading

If you’re reading this, congratulations!
You have survived AWP, Bayou-hosted Contributor’s Reading, and the second-coldest Mardi Gras on record. After all your hard work, consider taking a break and picking up a book.

jewel bush, founder of MelaNated Writers Collective, has a few suggestions that span from Dickens to Life On Mars. They have the power to help your gift-giving skills, broaden your concepts of spirituality, and maybe even improve your dating life.

jewel bush

A few months ago, I was g-chatting with a friend of mine about a recent date she had gone on. She had a good time. The guy was a cutie studying to be a medical doctor. He didn’t have any children, wasn’t obsessed with video games, opened the door for her and had his own apartment and car. The conversation between the two of them flowed up until the talk turned to … literature.

Friend: i wonder if we are in two completely different worlds.
he doesn’t know who sonia sanchez is and he hates great expectations

MOI: because he doesn’t kno sonia sanchez and doesn’t like pip that means y’all in two different places? that’s your barometer?

F: i knowww
pip is my favorite!

M: i fux with pip too. but i ain’t using him as my yardstick to measure my romantic relationships

F: peace sis, love you sis… a.p. english was the shyt sis.

It didn’t work out between the two of them. I guess you could blame it on Charles Dickens, her relationship deal breaker.

While most high school students in our class turned to Cliff Notes instead of reading the requireds (Chaucer, Salinger and Beowulf) we actually did; and gasp, enjoyed doing so.

As a tribute to the Victorian literature classic we both read nearly 20 years ago at Xavier Prep, we are re-reading Great Expectations (1860) and falling in love with Pip, hating Mrs. Havisham in the beginning only to later feel sorry for the loaded spinster — all over again.

artonmymind_bell hooks

Since the end of December, I’ve been carrying around Art on My Mind: Visual Politics by bell hooks (1995) like the Bible. I’ve been referencing it and scanning its essays and sharing them with my visual artist friends and my fellow bookworms who overall revere bell hooks. Most of my conversations about art and activism as of late have started with “Have you read bell hooks’ Art on My Mind?”

What makes this book so special to me is that bell hooks discusses the dearth of critical analyses of black art by black writers. This work has come in handy personally as I critically write about art, in particular #ProjectBe, an unsanctioned, unofficial community participatory art project which turned the deserted Florida Projects into an underground art gallery.

In the chapter, “Talking Art With Alison Saar,” an artist known mainly for her art installations and sculpture that explore themes of African Diaspora and spirituality, Saar’s quote resonates with me: “… mix the sacred with the profane in my work; it’s a process of exorcism. If I didn’t do it in my work, I’d just jump off a cliff. There are constructive ways of facing tragic, painful experiences. And that’s how the slaves survived all that pain – through creating, by making music, dance, poetry. That’s how, you know, we survive in Haiti, in Mexico. You just somehow turn it around; you’re up against death, then you make death this buffoon, this trickster, and that’s how you deal with what you face, and that’s how you survive it, because otherwise you’d just lay down and die.”


When the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced aside from the resentment I felt at the fact there was no fiction award given, I was encouraged once I stumbled across Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars (2011), the recipient of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Poetry is the genre that I most adore and struggle with too. For now, my ditties are scraps of emotions that live in my Moleskine and spiral notebooks as well as in the notes section of my iPhone. It was refreshing to discover some contemporary poetry that dabbled in science fiction yet remained so grounded in the human experience. My favorite is the 10-liner “The Good Life”:

When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.

I’ve been so enamored with this collection that for an entire year after it won the Pulitzer, I gave it as a present to loved ones and colleagues on their birthdays. To date, I’ve purchased and gifted 13 copies of Life on Mars.

{New Orleans writer jewel bush is an award-winning writer who has covered assignments in Haiti and Palestine. Her work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Times-Picayune and The Washington Post. She writes a weekly column for the Uptown Messenger. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective to inspire writers of color. Her short story, “Red Polish” will appear in “Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop” out on May 1 with an intro by Junot Diaz.}

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