In The Time of the Butterflies

MariposasAs was the case with other nations coming out of Western occupation or colonialism, the Dominican Republic during the 1960s was marked by political instability. Before the United States’ second occupation of the nation in 1965, Dominicans saw multiple changes of power initiated by assassination, election, and coup. Many who left their country during this period, did so for political reasons.

Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies, was 10 years old when her family left the Dominican Republic in 1960. Her father had been involved in underground political activities which sought to oust Rafael Trujillo (who at that point had been in power for 3 decades). Her father’s underground activities were led, in part, by 3 sisters: Patria Mercedes Mirabal, Minerva Mirabal, and Maria Teresa Mirabal. The 3 sisters were murdered months after Alvarez and her family fled to safety in the United States; because of the stark contrast of these similarly timed events, Alvarez says the story of the Mirabal sisters haunted her.

“A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart.” – Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies (Postscript)

In the Time of the Butterflies tells the story of the four Mirabal sisters and their family during the Trujillo regime. Patria, the eldest, was very religious; she got involved with resistance efforts after she witnessed a massacre of revolutionaries while she was on a spiritual retreat. Dedé, the second-born, never became directly involved in the political activities of her sisters but to this day she is the one who keeps her family’s story alive. Minerva, the boldest of all the sisters, was the first to become involved in politics; even in her early political activities, she attracted the attention of Trujillo. While the first 3 daughters were born in succeeding years, Maria Teresa, the youngest was born 9 years after Minerva. She became political after seeing Minerva’s efforts and of the three politically active sisters, Minerva and Maria Teresa were the only to be imprisoned.Read More »

WATCH THIS: Eaten by the Heart (Interview excerpts) by Zina Saro-Wiwa

How do Africans kiss?
How do you like to be kissed?
When was your heart last broken?

EATEN BY THE HEART (Interview excerpts) by ZINA SARO-WIWA from Zina Saro-Wiwa on Vimeo.

The interview excerpts are from an installation piece that Zina Saro-Wiwa has in the exhibit, ‘The Progress of Love‘ which is currently at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (St. Louis) and the Centre for Contemporary Arts (Lagos) and will open at the Menil (Houston) on December 2nd.

One Day I Will Write About This Place

I’ve been procrastinating like hell on writing up my thoughts on this book but I guess I should explain why I’m so sore about missing Binyavanga Wainaina  dj in NYC this week.  Wainaina has published several essays and short stories, including Discovering Home which won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 and How to Write About Africa which was turned into a video featuring Djimon Hounsou as the narrator.  Though Wainaina is well-established writer, I was largely unfamiliar with him and his work when I decided to read his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place.

Using a sometimes-exhausting first person present point-of-view, Wainaina takes us along as he goes from a shy, imaginative boy raised in Kenya to a writer travelling the world.  But it’s not some romanticized journey of triumph.  Though interconnected with post-Independence East African politics and his own family life, Wainaina’s journey is largely about internal struggle.  When he moves to South Africa for university (because education is no longer being susbisdized by the Kenyan government), he shifts into a deep solitude and a depressive state: he rarely leaves his room which is littered with cigarettes, candy wrappers, and dirty dishes; his sister, who is also in S.A. for university, helps him out by sliding money under his door; and he spends most of his time and money on books.  (This all may sound familiar to some of you writers…)

Aside from his strange, wonderful creativity (from a young age he invents words to describe experiences he cannot label in the languages he knows), his experiences in S.A. are what endeared him to me the most.  I checked this book out from the library a couple of months ago and I keep renewing it, not because I’m re-reading it but because it provides a sense of comfort for me.  I keep it in my writing space (which also serves as my sister’s couch and my bed) as a reminder of what this writing life is sometimes about.

Even if you’re not a writer seeking consolation for the life we sometimes live, I’d still recommend this book based on the Wainaina’s style, knowledge and incredible stories.

You can purchase One Day I Will Write About This Place at:
IndieBound
Powell’s Books
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

#BlackArtRising, October 2012

I don’t know if every October is this packed with amazing art events, but I’m claiming October 2012 as a month of Black Art Rising because I’ll be supporting quite a few indie Black artists this month and I’m more than excited.

A few events in NYC I’d be at if I still lived there…
New York Film Festival
09/28 – 10/14
Punk in Africa would be on my agenda if I were in town. Check out the full schedule here.

Congo in Harlem 2
10/8 – 10/23
Two weeks of Congo-related films and events.  Check out the details here.

Change the Mood: Africans Are Real Release Party
10/13
!!! Binyavanga Wainaina is DJing at this party!!!  Apparently the incredibly talented writer also has some DJ skills or he’s going to completely wing it; either way I have a feeling it’s going to be good and I’m really annoyed I can’t be in NYC for this. Check out details here.

Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series
10/13-10/14
Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies is the feature film and Sam Pollard is teaching a workshop.  Check out full details and schedule here.

I hope all you New Yorkers enjoy these (and the million other art events going on this month)!  Thankfully the Chicago art scene ain’t too bad. Here are a few things I’m planning to check out

Chicago Artist Month
THE WHOLE MONTH!!!
I just discovered this last night so I haven’t completely checked out the calendar but 20 Neighborhoods, a woman-centered exhibition with workshops looks interesting. All details here.

Chicago International Film Festival
10/11 – 10/25
A FEW of the films that are on my agenda:
Alaskaland
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
La Playa DC
43000 feet
You can check out the full festival schedule here.

In other Chicago film news, Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere opens on the 19th at AMC River East and the Steve McQueen retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago opens (to the public) on the 21st (Shame & Hunger are screening on the 19th).

And on the music tip, there are a couple of Felabrations in the middle of the month and Nneka is performing on the 25th at Lincoln Hall!

Suffice it to say, I’m excited about October in the CHI! How about you; What’s going on in your city?

Read This Short Story: A Temporary Matter

A Temporary Matter is from Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories entitled Interpreter of Maladies.  I prefer to read short stories without any prior synopsis so I’ll skip that part and let you read:

The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M. A line had gone down in the last snowstorm, and the repairmen were going to take advantage of the milder evenings to set it right. The work would affect only the houses on the quiet tree-lined street, within walking distance of a row of brick-faced stores and a trolley stop, where Shoba and Shukumar had lived for three years.

“It’s good of them to warn us,” Shoba conceded after reading the notice aloud, more for her own benefit than Shukumar’s. She let the strap of her leather satchel, plump with files, slip from her shoulders, and left it in the hallway as she walked into the kitchen. She wore a navy blue poplin raincoat over gray sweatpants and white sneakers, looking, at thirty-three, like the type of woman she’d once claimed she would never resemble.

She’d come from the gym. Her cranberry lipstick was visible only on the outer reaches of her mouth, and her eyeliner had left charcoal patches beneath her lower lashes. She used to look this way sometimes, Shukumar thought, on mornings after a party or a night at a bar, when she’d been too lazy to wash her face, too eager to collapse into his arms. She dropped a sheaf of mail on the table without a glance. Her eyes were still fixed on the notice in her other hand. “But they should do this sort of thing during the day.”

“When I’m here, you mean,” Shukumar said. He put a glass lid on a pot of lamb, adjusting it so only the slightest bit of steam could escape. Since January he’d been working at home, trying to complete the final chapters of his dissertation on agrarian revolts in India. “When do the repairs start?”

“It says March nineteenth. Is today the nineteenth?” Shoba walked over to the framed corkboard that hung on the wall by the fridge, bare except for a calendar of William Morris wallpaper patterns. She looked at it as if for the first time, studying the wallpaper pattern carefully on the top half before allowing her eyes to fall to the numbered grid on the bottom. A friend had sent the calendar in the mail as a Christmas gift, even though Shoba and Shukumar hadn’t celebrated Christmas that year.

“Today then,” Shoba announced. “You have a dentist appointment next Friday, by the way.”

He ran his tongue over the tops of his teeth; he’d forgotten to brush them that morning. It wasn’t the first time. He hadn’t left the house at all that day, or the day before. The more Shoba stayed out, the more she began putting in extra hours at work and taking on additional projects, the more he wanted to stay in, not even leaving to get the mail, or to buy fruit or wine at the stores by the trolley stop.

Six months ago, in September, Shukumar was at an academic conference in Baltimore when Shoba went into labor, three weeks before her due date. He hadn’t wanted to go to the conference, but she had insisted; it was important to make contacts, and he would be entering the job market next year. She told him that she had his number at the hotel, and a copy of his schedule and flight numbers, and she had arranged with her friend Gillian for a ride to the hospital in the event of an emergency. When the cab pulled away that morning for the airport, Shoba stood waving good-bye in her robe, with one arm resting on the mound of her belly as if it were a perfectly natural part of her body.

Each time he thought of that moment, the last moment he saw Shoba pregnant, it was the cab he remembered most, a station wagon, painted red with blue lettering. It was cavernous compared to their own car. Although Shukumar was six feet tall, with hands too big ever to rest comfortably in the pockets of his jeans, he felt dwarfed in the back seat. As the cab sped down Beacon Street, he imagined a day when he and Shoba might need to buy a station wagon of their own, to cart their children back and forth from music lessons and dentist appointments. He imagined himself gripping the wheel, as Shoba turned around to hand the children juice boxes. Once, these images of parenthood had troubled Shukumar, adding to his anxiety that he was still a student at thirty-five. But that early autumn morning, the trees still heavy with bronze leaves, he welcomed the image for the first time.

Read the rest here (you will need a New York Times account).