The first time I read a book that authentically described the Brooklyn hood I grew up in was Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñónez. He used the slang my friends and I used. The book wove Spanish and English words together with the same elocution the people that surrounded me had.
But Bedford Stuyvesant and Williamsburg have long changed. Describing things in my writing has been difficult because I don’t have the luxury of revisiting and watching my environment to be inspired. The landmarks that were essential to my growing up are no longer there.
And then I picked up Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, after seeing it on Twitter, all my writer friends raving about it, and while taking Vanessa Mártir‘s Writing Our Lives class- it came up again and again.
I was hesitant at first because a common thread in people’s reviews is that it was sci-fi genre. The closest I have come to sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal elements was reading the magic school bus as a kid, or watching the Twilight Zone on TV. (Sorry guys!) I was a novella watching, biography and historical fiction kinda girl. But reading a book about a magical Afro Latina from Brooklyn ? Say no more.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older is a riveting story about Sierra, a strong, independent, and artistic female lead growing up in a Latino household in Brooklyn, NY. As any teenager in NYC can tell you, something magical always happens in the summer. Only this time, the magic is inside Sierra. I kept reading, fixated on how Daniel described her neighborhood. The scenes transported me to the corner bodega buying an icee before I go home, or taking a selfie in front of the murals that graced empty lots. The author also did a great job describing Sierra in physical attributes that our female characters usually don’t have. Mentioning her hair, her style of clothing in comparison to her friends, her dreams and fears, and even the way she navigates peer pressure makes you root for her from the beginning. If you want to read a book that allows you to explore dimensions beyond the physical realm we are in, that combines elements of Afro-Latinidad, explores family dynamics and takes place in the heart of your hood- pick up this book!
My Experience with MUSA
Creating a Reading and Writing Group:
- Decide that it is necessary to host a community for women who are readers, writers, and more. Set the tone for supporting these women in their writing and challenging them to read more.
- Recruit women who are mothers, homeowners, teachers, dancers, professors, lawyers, pet-lovers, multi-faceted lovers of books and the written word.
- Take on the impossible task of picking a time that works for everyone’s schedule.
- Have one of these phenomenal women open the doors to their home to facilitate discussions.
- Establish rules like respect and to listen to one another, and of course read!
- Pick books that were written for us, by people who look like us, or pick books from cultures, who look nothing like us and still have something important we should all read.
- Start a blog or an online forum to keep track of the club and show everyone that women read, that we enjoy it. In fact, start a hashtag like #womenwhoreadaredangerous #MUSAreadinglist
- Celebrate one another, acknowledge the journey you have been a part of.
- Create a plan to continue hosting a bigger, better, writing and reading group.