Jessica “Culture Queen” Hebron is on a mission to make Kwanzaa fun, enticing, and effortless for families to celebrate. “We have several different black people holidays, but this is the big one,” she explains. “I think it's really cool that black people have something just for them that lasts seven days, helps you to align yourself culturally, and gives you like a cultural sense of self.” She believes that the keys to bolstering participation in the holiday she loves are to start slow and . . .
I marvel at book talk attendees. People trek from great distances, clutching worn copies of favorite reads. They stand in long lines for a brief word with (or autograph from) a favorite writer. The brave ones step to the podium to share stories or ask questions. Their remarks bring more voices and perspectives into conversation. Their contributions add welcome depth and texture to the occasion. At a Jacqueline Woodson BookPeople talk that I moderated in October, an educator in the audience . . .
When people ask what my favorite book is, I always respond with Jacqueline Woodson’s 2012 picture book Each Kindness. But truth be told, everything she writes, from picture book to poetry to novel, is wonderful. Each new work prompts me to consider central questions of who we are, why we are, and how we can grow for the better. And, because I adore her writing and her advocacy for reading, I interview her every chance I get. Here’s an excerpt from our October conversation about her novel Red . . .
Can you spell sesquipedalian? Well, the children featured in anthropologist Shalini Shankar’s Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success can. The elite competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee are largely of South Asian descent and, though born after 1996, exhibit intensity, skill, and poise rare in people twice their age. On stage, they spell obscure words with ease, backed by supportive parents and thousands of hours of practice. And these feats . . .
I would like to designate December National Quitting Awareness Month. After reading Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), I’m fired up to pare down before the New Year. The slim volume argues that quitting (despite its poor reputation) is a key to success. Quit fast. Quit often. Quit without guilt, Godin urges. Because quitting worthless pursuits gives you the time, energy, and focus to obsess about something that matters. “Just about . . .
In Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success, anthropologist Shalini Shankar offers readers a nuanced and scholarly account of a subset of immigrant parents today. Like Amy Chua’s tiger moms, the South Asian Americans Shankar examines—parents of kids who participate in the National Spelling Bee—value education above all. These so-called “bee parents” are just more likely to spend time supporting and advocating for their kids than doling out harsh criticism. . . .
Many picture books aim to spur conversation around the quirks of English spelling, but Beth Anderson’s An Inconvenient Alphabet is a class above. While alphabet books like the popular P Is for Pterodactyl highlight unconventional spellings without illuminating the why’s behind them, An Inconvenient Alphabet goes much deeper. It brings to life some of the history and power dynamics responsible for English spelling—in ways that intrigue adults and children alike. The book explores the true story . . .
Emphatic and unsparing, Kiese Laymon’s Heavy explores the weight of wellness in a culture obsessed with lean. His expansive intelligence and fluid prose bear up to haunting family secrets and American deceptions with deep, potent wells of beauty, humor, and empathy. Initially conceived as a weight-loss story chronicling his family’s struggles with food and violence, the writing of Heavy, which was recently named a finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, got murkier when relatives . . .
Dark and absorbing, Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ debut story collection, Heads of the Colored People, explores the unstable moorings of black identity and citizenship in blistering stories peopled with indelible characters. The title derives from a series of 19th-century literary sketches of free black laborers penned by Dr. James McCune Smith. That Smith, a black abolitionist, intellectual, and elite, chose washerwomen and gravediggers for literary representation and pondered them as “heads” . . .
Tayari Jones is unequivocal in her belief that mass incarceration, with its attendant state violence, is the “most pressing civil rights issue of our day.” Yet her latest novel, An American Marriage, makes an unjust incarceration the backdrop for a nuanced interrogation of another issue of social freedom and equality: a wife’s right to pursue her own desires and fulfill her aspirations independently of her husband. Celestial is an artist on the cusp of critical and commercial success at . . .