Book Passage

Below is information on the guest participants. We encourage you to peruse their accomplishments and become familiar with their book titles, which are available for in-store and online purchase at Book Passage. This first-of-its-kind event for Book Passage has been carefully and lovingly curated by Paula Farmer, who will also moderate the virtual event on June 19th.

Submissions (Alph. by Last Name)

Kia Corthron Julie Lythcott-Haims Zach Norris September Williams
Aya de Leon Rhonda V. Magee Anna Malaika Tubbs Paula Farmer (Moderator)
Jarvis R. Givens Jason Mott Larry Ward  

 

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Juneteenth
Kia Corthron

As the pandemic raged in mid-June 2020, some National Archivists made a momentous discovery in their stacks: the original Juneteenth document. The handwritten message, read aloud by U.S. Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston on June 18, 1865, was brief and graceless:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

It reads less like a celebration of freedom than as an admonition to the newly freed not to get too carried away with this emancipation thing.

I’d never heard of Juneteenth until well into adulthood, but I’d certainly often pondered how word got out on Lincoln’s ’63 decree. Entrusting its dissemination to slaveholders? When I was thirteen, I saw the TV movie adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and one of the handful of scenes that stayed with me was the begrudging plantation master’s reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to his black bonded servants. I couldn’t imagine that every master so faithfully, if resentfully, followed the law.

In researching Moon and the Mars, I came across the Battle of Poison Spring, a civil war encounter in Arkansas pitting the 29th Texas Calvary against the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the same company that had whipped the Texas unit the year before. That they had been defeated by a black corps was an unbearable humiliation for the Confederates, so in the Arkansas confrontation Texas was savagely vengeful, applying barbarisms such as crushing the skulls of dead and dying black soldiers by rolling wagons over them. The rebels justified their atrocities in part by the black regiment’s alleged local looting, apparently mostly or wholly a false accusation. There had been plundering by white Union soldiers, but what the black volunteers had done was much more insidious to the rebs: informing every slave they happened upon of the existence and ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom is subjective: one populace’s illusion of safety may be predicated on law enforcement’s restriction of and brutality against another community. Freedom is by whims doled out and snatched back, as with recent policies and proposals toward eviscerating voting rights gained at the cost of countless lives. So Juneteenth to me is a recognition of the first sentence of that 19th century Galveston communiqué—a promise of freedom which, as African Americans know well, is conditional: it is ours so long as we remain ever-vigilant in the struggle to keep it.

Kia Corthron is a playwright and novelist. She is the author of The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter which was released by Seven Stories Press in 2016 and awarded The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She is also the author of the forthcoming Moon and the Mars. Her plays have been produced in New York, across the U.S. and internationally.

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Photo courtesy of Seven Stories Press

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Juneteenth
Aya de Leon

Juneteenth has always been powerful for me, because it is a holiday that celebrates a delayed reaction. Enslaved African people in the US had been declared free, and it took a while for the news to get to us. This is the day of celebration for when we became aware of how free we already were.

I think that this year, Juneteenth is more important than ever. Steve Phillips said it in his book Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, people of color and progressive whites already form a New American Majority that could win any election in any state in the US. That is to say, could win any free and fair election. Which is why there is so much voter suppression. And a big part of that voter suppression is that we haven’t yet gotten (or internalized) the message that we can win. That we are free. And that we are in a position to usher in legislation and representatives who will enact policy to initiate, deepen, and enshrine our freedom: from abortion access to free healthcare to forgiving student debt to affordable childcare to abolishing ICE to defunding police to ending the prison industrial complex to ending our dependence on fossil fuels and stopping the climate crisis. We can transform this nation to serve the needs of the people And if we organize to meet the needs of Black people, we can meet the needs of everyone.

You might ask, why I am talking about the climate crisis? I should be talking about Black issues. But so many Black lives have already been lost and impacted by the climate crisis. On the gulf coast, in the South, in the Caribbean, on the African continent. It is precisely the anti-Black racism that allows our political leaders to treat Black people and the places we live as acceptable sacrifices to the climate crisis. We need to take action on the climate emergency now. And we need to implement policy that is rooted in justice for Black communities. We will not sacrifice Black Lives or accept false solutions that perpetuate unjust social and economic systems. Climate Justice is Racial Justice.

We are free already. We have everything we need. Let’s do this.

Aya de Leon is an acclaimed writer of prose and poetry. She directs the Poetry for the People program, teaching creative writing at UC Berkeley. She is known for award-winning feminist heist/romance series, Justice Hustlers, and her latest book, A Spy in the Struggle, was released earlier this year with great anticipation. She first came to national attention as a spoken-word artist in the underground poetry scene.

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Photo courtesy of author

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Juneteenth
Jarvis R. Givens

My first memory of Juneteenth takes me to the seventh grade. We returned from summer vacation and a group of us discussed how we’d spent the time away. When July 4th came up, my classmate Kevin commented rather assertively that, “we really should be celebrating Juneteenth!” Most of us were unfamiliar with the holiday, so Kevin explained that Juneteenth was celebrated by his grandmother’s family back in Texas. I would not learn all the specifics of this story, about black people’s delayed freedom in Texas, until much later; and I would not celebrate the holiday until my freshman year at UC Berkeley. But my first encounter seems quite fitting now that I reflect on it. It points to the story of Juneteenth’s migration narrative—how the holiday spread beyond the Lone Star State with all those black folks who sought out opportunities elsewhere during the great migration; just as black people have always carried their memories and traditions along the way. As Isabel Wilkerson wrote in The Warmth of Other Suns: “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.”

And yet, Juneteenth represents a much longer history of black Freedom Day celebrations that preceded it—like celebrations of January 1, 1808, commemorating the end of the International Slave Trade in the United States. It also indexes black Freedom Day celebration that exist beyond the borders of the United States, such as Keti Koti (which translates to Broken Chains), commemorating the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colony of Suriname. Black Freedom Day celebrations teach us to not only remember slavery, and commemorate emancipation, but they are important moments to organize around political issues that continue to confront black people. Holidays like Juneteenth push us to think critically about black people’s ongoing suffering—and striving—in the aftermath of slavery. Indeed, the long history of retrenchment that had continued to shadow black people’s hard-won victories—in civil rights, education, voting rights, and housing—has sustained the relevance of Juneteenth. The holiday demands that we remember slavery and its afterlives, despite a society that insists on forgetting. Juneteenth is about cultivating hope in the black political imagination. And the history of Juneteenth embodies a particular kind of hope, the kind written about by W. E. B. Du Bois: “a hope not hopeless but unhopeful.”

Just as freedom continued to be an unfinished project in the days after June 19, 1865, the same continues to be true today, as this holiday created by the freedpeople has now achieved international recognition. Juneteenth is about a call to action; the celebration of the holiday has always been aspirational; a means, not an end.

Jarvis R. Givens is an assistant professor of education of African & African American Studies at Harvard University. He specializes in the history of African American Education and his first book, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching was released this year. Professor Givens earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Photo courtesy of author

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Juneteenth
Julie Lythcott-Haims

Growing up I was a tiny black island in a sea of whiteness and the one paragraph on slavery in my high school history textbook left a lot out.

When I found out I felt ashamed for not knowing.

But then I remembered that those in power took their sweet time to tell our enslaved ancestors that they were finally free, just as those in power decide which truths to leave out of textbooks.

Julie Lythcott-Haims believes in humans and is deeply interested in what gets in our way. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto How to Raise an Adult, which gave rise to a TED Talk that has more than 5 million views. Her second book is the award-winning prose poetry memoir Real American, which illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces. Her most recent book, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult, helps humans lead a more authentic adulthood. Julie is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean.

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Photo by ComePlum

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What Juneteenth Means to Me
Rhonda V. Magee

To me, Juneteenth represents the coming together of two opposite things.

The commemoration of it opens up celebration! Celebrating the fact that our society has come a long way from one in which we formally sanctioned slavery — the now hideous notion that some people could be legally held in bondage, for life, by virtue of having been born in a body categorized as Black.

And yet, the commemoration of it also yields sadness. Sadness as we recall what it took to end the systems of enslavement, and the legal sanctions of them. Sadness as we soberly recognize the extent to which our culture remains enthralled in the fantasies about the meanings of so-called race and racial difference that support racist, dehumanizing practices and policies to this day.

Thus, for me, sitting with and bearing witness to both of these is essential. And is why navigating these waters will always require something more than intellectualism, something with the power to hold this tension and not break but grow deeper, stronger, more capable of alleviating suffering in our midst today, wherever we find it.

Something like grace.

Rhonda V. Magee is a Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco and an internationally-recognized thought and practice leader focused on integrating mindfulness into higher education, law, and social change work. A prolific author, she draws on law and legal history to weave storytelling, poetry, analysis, and practices into inspiration for changing how we think, act and live better together in a rapidly changing world. Rhonda is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on mindfulness in legal education, and on teaching about race using mindfulness. Her first book, The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness, was featured at a Book Passage event in 2020.

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Photo courtesy of author

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Juneteenth?
Jason Mott

Growing up a little Black boy in a small town in the South, I never heard of Juneteenth. It wasn’t taught in school and even though my parents owned copies of the Ebony: Pictorial History of Black America, I never stumbled across whatever page Juneteenth was on—if it was even in there.

Fast forward 1996 and here’s eighteen-year-old me in a club at 1AM—trying to learn what it means to be me—surrounded by a sweaty, heaving mass of Black bodies, all of us moving hips and nodding heads and making sure nobody dares step on our shoes while Outkast raps about Elevators and Cadillacs so loud the bass shakes the air from our lungs and somewhere on the edges of this moment—maybe at the bar, maybe in line for the bathroom, maybe out in the parking lost burning one with their homies—stands the ghost of one of those Juneteenth slaves.

He watches the young Black bodies dance. He watches us lose ourselves in the music. He watches unshackled Black feet in ’96 Jordans and Air Maxes thump out basslines. He watches unshackled Black arms and hands rocking FUBU wave beneath the dim club lights. He sees no whip marks across our backs—though we are all whipped by this country every day. He sees no tobacco-cropping callouses on our palms—though we are all being hardened by this country every day. He only sees us: set free by the bass and the knowledge that all the weight that we carry as Black kids in White America does not exist within these walls…so long as the lights stay low and the music loud.

Someone sees this ghost. They walk up to him and say “You good, cuz?”

He wipes his tears. (When did he started crying?)

The music rises even louder. Outkast raps the words he cannot find to say, and the entire club of Black bodies and souls dances before his weeping eyes.

Juneteenth?

Yeah. We got those.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jason Mott lives in southeastern North Carolina. He has a BFA in Fiction and an MFA in Poetry. He is the author of three novels: The Returned, The Wonder of All Things, and The Crossing. The Returned, Jason’s debut novel, was adapted for television for ABC under the title Resurrection. Jason’s fourth novel, Hell Of A Book, will be released on August 10, 2021 and is available for pre-order.

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Photo by Michael Becker

Juneteenth
Zach Norris

Juneteenth is important to me because it is a celebration of the end to legalized slavery. My grandfather’s grandfather was sold at the age of seven from Virginia to Mississippi. He would never see his mother or family again. I think about my own children who are roughly the same age and all of the resilience it took over generations for them to be here. Juneteenth is a celebration of our resilience. It is also a reminder that “Freedom is a constant struggle.”  The first Juneteenth celebrations also served as political rallies to move Black people to exercise their right to vote. Today, in 2021, the right to vote is under attack across the country. We must fight with all we have to ensure that every person has the right to vote. We must also remember that electing someone to office is far from “the end all, be all” and that we need to hold our elected leaders accountable. I am excited by local and national efforts to move resources away from policing and prisons which have their roots in slavery and toward emancipatory visions of safety and restorative justice, we will not only secure a more prosperous future but also a more democratic one.

Zach Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and co-founder of Restore Oakland, a community advocacy and training center that will empower Bay Area community members to transform local economic and justice systems and make a safe and secure future possible for themselves and for their families. In addition to being a Harvard graduate and NYU-educated attorney, Zach is also a graduate of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles, California. His second book, Defund Fear is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.

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Photo by Demi Chang

Juneteenth
Anna Malaika Tubbs

Telling history in an accurate way that confronts both the ugliness as well as the beautiful stories of power and joy that have pushed against it, is one of the most important missions of our time. It is too easy for too many to gloss over histories of injustice in attempts to erase the paths that have led to where we are as a nation and a world today. Everytime we celebrate Juneteenth, we are not only honoring the emancipation of slaves and bringing attention to a day that symbolizes freedom much more wholly than the fourth of July, we are also fighting the disastrous effects of historical amnesia; we are keeping our stories alive, making sure they are being told with accuracy; we are celebrating what we have overcome while setting our eyes on what is left to accomplish in our fight for justice, in our pursuit to live life with dignity. Juneteenth is filled with reminders: the fact that many in our nation still do not know what the day signifies is a reminder of just how important it is that we proudly celebrate it and grow the awareness of its significance for those around us; the fact that some may be tempted to celebrate emancipation as if we are not still being kept from living full lives where we are not treated as all human beings should be, is a reminder of how much work is left to be done; and the fact that on June 19th we will come together in joy across the country to uplift one another is a reminder of the revolutionary power of our shared love - it is what sustains us in this tug of war between the ugly and the beautiful.

Anna Malaika Tubbs is an author, advocate, educator, and scholar who is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Anna has published articles on topics ranging from celebrating motherhood to addressing the forced sterilization of Black women as well as the importance of feminism, intersectionality, and inclusivity. Her work has been featured in TIME Magazine, the Huffington Post, and more. Her first book, titled The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation, is a New York Times’ Editors Pick, and has achieved widespread acclaim.

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2021 Juneteenth Celebration
Larry Ward

This 2021 Juneteenth celebration is for me a heartfelt practice of remembering the working ground of my ancestors. When standing firm in this present moment I witness an unfolding journey illuminating the continuing tragic effects of shared collective trauma and mighty powers of shared collective resilience within our ancestral stream. It calls me to new ways of healing grief and transforming the seemingly constant melancholy in a land still addicted to the fallacy of white body supremacy in this land.

Shot at by the police as an 11-year-old child for playing baseball in the wrong spot, as an adult, Larry Ward experienced the trauma of having his home firebombed by racists. At Plum Village Monastery in France, the home in exile of his teacher, Vietnamese peace activist and Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. Ward found a way to heal. His book, America’s Racial Karma, consists of short reflective essays in which he offers his insights on the effects of racial constructs and answers the question: how do we free ourselves from our repeated cycles of anger, denial, bitterness, pain, fear, and violence?

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Photo by Jovelle Tamayo

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Love Letter to My Juneteenth Baby
September Williams

Juneteenth reminds me that I am a member of the last generation of my family who has had direct contact with one of us close to our slave roots. On Juneteenth 1990, I gave birth to a baby, who was born a woman unlikely ever to be enslaved. Nor is there any evidence that she will stand by and allow anyone to be captured on her watch. I’ve recently been working on a film, about a 99-year-old Black Man who was nearly lynched at age twelve, because he was born to make change. It took me a long time editing to understand that my attraction to his story is that resolve in the old man’s eye that I also see in my daughter.

My great grandfather, Luther, was born in 1900. I knew him. He gave me a pocket knife when I was in medical school in 1980, saying, “A woman should always have a knife because you never know when you might need one.” There were no platitudes about feminism. He wasn’t talking about using the gift as a scalpel or a makeshift tool—but a weapon. It was the first time I’d spoken with my great-grandfather as an adult. Grandfather Luther’s mother, my great-great grandmother was born in 1867 outside of slavery. However, Luther also knew his grandmother who was born a slave in Texas. Now that Grandfather Luther has died, there is no direct connection to our slave family line living. Yet, our anti-slavery presence is running strong—beginning with our not enslaving ourselves.

Four months before my daughter’s birth on June 19, 1990, she apparently felt it was inappropriate for me to be up running around in a hospital emergency room in the middle of the night. She threw me into preterm labor. This knocked the long suffering over achiever, gotta show ‘em I can do it all and better—i.e. a twisted version of slavery—right out of me. Months later, when my daughter was ready—anticipating a long labor—we stopped at a pizza parlor for lunch next to the hospital. Her father; our two year old son; my dear medical colleague cum sister from Argentina; her 4 month old daughter; and her marvelous mother were all with me. Just as the Pizza arrived, the elder mother noticed I was contracting. I never got to eat that Pizza. Luckily, My baby’s father, also a physician, delivered my beautiful Juneteenth baby—while the nurse was calling my obstetrician.

I learned from my Juneteenth baby that slavery does not end because someone’s government or job, changes a constitution, fights a war, or gives a general order. Slavery ends because slaves decide they will not take it anymore and then they just don’t. Freedom, like health, is determined in large part by the recipients resolve. For me, Juneteenth will always mean generations of my and many other families taking charge. The key is guaranteeing the next generation is always more able—to be agents of progressive change—than the one that came before.

September Williams is an American physician-writer, bioethicist and filmmaker. She is the author of the novels Chasing Mercury and Weighing Lead, forthcoming in Winter 2022, as well as the nonfiction book The Elephant in the Room: Bioethical Concerns in Human Milk Banking. All of her work seeks a better understanding of and between ourselves. And, yes, she is named for a song.

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Paula Farmer (Moderator)

In addition to curating and moderating the special Book Passage events for social discourse and change, Paula Farmer is a features writer, and hosts “Speaking Of,” an interview series on Instagram in which she regularly talks with BIPOC authors, artists, and activists on topical issues. She is the Chairperson of the Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee of CALIBA and was recently selected for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee for the American Booksellers Association. For information on Paula’s Instagram series or to contact her, visit her at paulafarmer.com.