The Next Chapter

3 books by black women writers that Donna Bailey Nurse thinks you should read

Donna Bailey Nurse recommends reading The Black Peacock by Rachel Manley, Electric Fences by Gugu Hlongwane and Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston.
Donna Bailey Nurse is a columnist for The Next Chapter. (Michael Athill)

This interview originally aired on Nov. 5, 2018.

Donna Bailey Nurse of Pickering, Ont., is a literary journalist and a columnist for The Next Chapter. In making the case on why Canadians should be learning and reading more about black women authors, Bailey reviews three books: The Black Peacock by Rachel Manley, Electric Fences by Gugu Hlongwane and Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston.

Electric Fences by Gugu Hlongwane

Gugu Hlongwane is a Canadian author and academic originally from South Africa. (Mawenzi House)

"It's a collection of stories set in various cities in South Africa. Most of the protagonists are well-educated black girls and women who are attempting to navigate apartheid and its lingering aftermath with dignity and integrity. The female characters are so strong, witty and very determined. What one takes away from these stories is a sense that these women are committed to valuing themselves and making sure the students and children in their care also feel extremely valued."

The Black Peacock by Rachel Manley

Rachel Manley is an author based in Toronto. (Cookie Kinkead, Cormorant)

"I think what was so remarkable about The Black Peacock is that Rachel Manley was previously known as a memoir writer. Her memoirs so captivated readers by the extraordinary presence of her famous relatives that I'm not sure she got the credit for her writing skills and literary talent.

"I was thrilled when I read her fiction because it highlights her literary skill. It's a beautiful story about two writers, a man and a woman, who have been in each other's lives for about 50 years. It's a very intense relationship centred on love and art. They're reminiscing about their relationship and about their writing life. What's most magnificent about it for me is that it takes place on this deserted island in the Caribbean."

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon was published 58 years after her death in 1960. (US Library of Congress, HarperCollins )

"This is the true story of one of the last men to be forced across the Atlantic into American slavery. It's a new book, but this manuscript has been around for many years. The author, Zora Neale Hurston, was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, which was a rebirth of African American literature and art in the first few decades of the 20th century. She's best known for a wonderful novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, but she is actually a trained anthropologist.

"She graduated from Barnard College and this was something that she was hired to do in 1927. She travels down to Alabama to interview this man whose name is Cudjoe Lewis and they spent three months together. She learns about his kidnapping in Africa, his voyage across the Atlantic, his time in slavery and then, of course, the years after slavery. What's really troubling and interesting about the book is just how strongly it resonates today." 


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