“Monotony Is a Luxury”: A Reading List of Black Writers and Journalists

Writers will gather in Miami for the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention from August 7-11. Through workshops, speaking sessions, and a career fair, black journalists have the opportunity to network with media and PR professionals, explore journalism schools, and connect with fellow writers and reporters. In celebration of the convention, we’ve selected a few noteworthy pieces by black writers and journalists, published in recent years on some of our favorite WordPress-powered magazines.

“Traveling While Black Across the Atlantic Ocean,” Ethelene Whitmire, Longreads

Following in the footsteps of African Americans traveling to Denmark in the early 20th century, Ethelene Whitmire hops aboard a Cunard cruise ship to experience a 21st-century transatlantic crossing.

I did not worry about segregation during my 21st century transatlantic crossing, but wondered about and anticipated possible microaggressions — slights and condescending comments often based on racial stereotypes. I did not see many images in Cunard’s brochures and website featuring Black people among the passengers. I was educated in predominantly white institutions and worked at similar institutions as an administrator and as a professor, so I was used to being in white spaces. And I live in Wisconsin — one of the whitest states in the nation. I wondered what would my journey be like on the Atlantic Ocean?

“Walking While Black,” Garnette Cadogan, Literary Hub

In a beautiful essay from 2016 at Literary Hub, Garnette Cadogan writes about the complicated act of walking while black, both as a child on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, and as an older man in cities like New Orleans and New York City.

Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance. It has made me walk more purposefully in the city, becoming part of its flow, rather than observing, standing apart.

* * * *

But it also means that I’m still trying to arrive in a city that isn’t quite mine. One definition of home is that it’s somewhere we can most be ourselves. And when are we more ourselves but when walking, that natural state in which we repeat one of the first actions we learned? Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black. Walking alone has been anything but monotonous for me; monotony is a luxury.

“The Charge to Be Fair: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay in Conversation,” Barnes & Noble Review

Both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay use WordPress to promote their work.

This conversation from August 2015 between writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay focuses on Coates’ book Between the World and Me, written as a letter to his teenage son.

RG: In Between the World and Me, you center much of the discussion on the black body. What compelled you to make this rhetorical choice?

TC: There is tendency in academia and in (some) social justice circles to make that which is oppressive distant and abstract. We use a language, which at times obscures what’s going on -– racial discrimination, racial segregation, racial justice, etc. This sort of language eliminates the actual actions of actual people. It was deeply important to me to situate racism as a done thing: as a thing you actually feel. I should add that in my stripe of atheism, it’s very hard to see beyond the body. There is a tendency to adopt euphemism when confronted with the very real violence that comes with having a foot on your neck.

“I Am, I Am, I Am: Writing While Black and Female,” Vanessa Willoughby, The Toast

In The Toast, a publication active from 2013 to 2016, Willoughby writes an incisive essay about being a black female writer in an industry dominated by white males.

This older white man frowned as I articulated the plot and despite the unsaid confirmation that my work was indeed adult fiction, he suggested that it could be a children’s book and he knew someone who knew someone who worked in children’s books and could give my manuscript a read. I suspect that he would not be surprised, or even care to know that in 2012, only 3 out of 124 authors on the New York Times Top 10 Bestsellers were people of color.

Why do I have to water down my work? Why do I have to strangle myself?

His comment is a microaggression, a coded way of saying that my work is childish and immature, that the subject matter is not something that interests or even pertains to adults. He looked at the unintimidating presence of my physical body and assumed that my words and the root of my experiences were not based in reality.

“Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom: Raising Really Good Hell for People Who Cannot,” Roxane Gay, Guernica

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s online hub is also on WordPress. Read our interview with her for more.

In another writer-to-writer interview, this time for Guernica, Roxane Gay chats with sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom on reinforcing her authority, taking black women seriously, and writing her second book, Thick.

Guernica: In this book, you do get personal, and you do write about trauma, but you have very firm boundaries around it. It was an excellent choice: especially for black women, we do have to protect what we put into the world. Was it difficult to get to this place where you said, “I’m going to write about this,” and to know that you would then have to talk about it?

McMillan Cottom: Real talk, I’m not kissing your ass: In large part, it has been watching you navigate this. I’m also competitive, and I was like, “Oh, well, Roxane did it.” [laughs] I said, “Well I’m gonna give it a shot, see what happens.” Then I tried to draft it, and I walked away from it. I was not doing it. I failed miserably. This is why it matters so much, by the way, to have black women as editors.

“Getting In and Out,” Zadie Smith, Harper’s

“Who owns black pain?” At Harper’s, Zadie Smith dissects filmmaker Jordan Peele’s Get Out and explores appropriation, art, and race.

But Jordan Peele’s horror-fantasy—in which we are inside one another’s skin and intimately involved in one another’s suffering—is neither a horror nor a fantasy. It is a fact of our experience. The real fantasy is that we can get out of one another’s way, make a clean cut between black and white, a final cathartic separation between us and them. For the many of us in loving, mixed families, this is the true impossibility. There are people online who seem astounded that Get Out was written and directed by a man with a white wife and a white mother, a man who may soon have—depending on how the unpredictable phenotype lottery goes—a white-appearing child. But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations. And even when Americans are not genetically mixed, they live in a mixed society at the national level if no other. There is no getting out of our intertwined history.

Double Take, Teju Cole, The New Inquiry

Before his “On Photography” series at the New York Times, author Teju Cole published musings on visual culture, art, and photography on a blog called Double Take at The New Inquiry. The post series is unexpected and varied, with explorations on art and art history, reactions to cultural moments, textless commentary on pop culture, and even a record of his online experiments, like the “Small Fates” narratives he tweeted over time, drawn from news stories in Nigerian newspapers.

In a spectacular case of carelessness, Ugbo, 75, of Benin, a witch doctor specializing in arrest-evasion amulets, has been arrested.

Some ladies whisper sweet nothings to their boyfriends. Into the ear of hers, Ejima, 35, in Asaba, poured hot Indomie noodles.

Monkey see, monkey do! Many of those who gathered to watch a troupe of baboons perform at Ikotun found their wallets lighter afterwards.

Lesbians! There are reports of more and more of them in Calabar, which is great. Greatly worrisome. And terrible. Terribly exciting.

Learn more about the National Association of Black Journalists. If you’re interested in exploring our entire showcase of writers on WordPress, visit the Writing category.