9 writers who perfectly capture what it’s like for Jews of color



In Jewish News of Northern California, Nylah Burton (Jewish Telegraph Agency) reviews writers who capture the experiences of Jews of color. Among these, we find Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua/US) and her 1990 novel Lucy, and poetry by Denice Frohman (of Puerto Rican descent). Other texts explored in this article are Rosebud Ben-Oni’s assorted poems, Brandy Colbert’s Little and Lion, Karl Taro Greenfeld’s Speed Tribes and Triburbia, Roya Hakakian’s Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran, T Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, MaNishtana’s Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi, and Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.  See excerpts below.

[. . .] As a black Jewish writer, I obviously want to read books written by and highlighting the stories of Jews of color. That’s easier said than done, though. It’s not that these stories don’t exist — Jewish literature is an amazing, rich genre of diasporic Jewish stories. However, the narratives of Jews of color are often left out of the Jewish literary canon, and we suffer for it.

With that in mind, I decided to make a list of books you should be reading — all written by Jews of color or featuring Jews of color. Some of the stories here aren’t explicitly Jewish, but there may be a good reason for that. [. . .] Whatever the reason, though, and whatever the content of their work, these writers remain unequivocally and deeply Jewish.

  1. Jamaica Kincaid’s “Lucy”

I studied Caribbean literature in college, so the Antiguan-American novelist Jamaica Kincaid is one of my heroes. A lot of people don’t know that Kincaid is Jewish, and that could be because her work isn’t explicitly so. Kincaid converted to Judaism in 1993, after over a decade of being married to the Jewish composer Allen Shawn. Telling Tablet magazine of her decision to convert, Kincaid said a rabbi told her that she and her children wouldn’t be buried in the same cemetery if she didn’t. Kincaid remembers thinking, “‘What if there’s a Jewish heaven and I’m in the other heaven and I’d have to send them letters?’ I couldn’t bear to be separated from them.” After her divorce, when people asked Kincaid if she would return to Christianity, she thought it was ludicrous, saying, “People ask me if I’m still a Jew and it’s like, do you think Judaism is a fashionable skirt?”

Kincaid’s work may not be explicitly Jewish, but it’s firmly rooted in an experience that many Caribbean Jews of Color can identify with. Themes of colonial legacies, complicated familial relationships, racism, and class ripple through her writing. There are so many books of Kincaid’s to read and they’re all worth it, but I would suggest starting with “Lucy,” the story of a West Indian girl who leaves her home to work for a white family. The story is loosely autobiographical, mirroring Kincaid’s own experiences.

  1. Denice Frohman, assorted poems

Now, a lot of people aren’t “into” poetry, but you should definitely check out this poet before you write it off completely. Frohman is a queer Latina with Puerto Rican and Jewish heritage. And she’s a badass poet who’s been published widely and has appeared on lots of international stages. Her bio says that her work “focuses on identity, lineage, subverting traditional notions of power, and celebrating the parts of ourselves deemed unworthy.” She’s been featured in poetry anthologies like “Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color,” “Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism” and the forthcoming “What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump.”

Frohman’s work is powerful, and it makes a clear message on the societal problems we face today. For example, she takes on racial hatred and gun violence in her heart-stopping poem, “The Hour Dylann Roof Sat in the Church.” [. . .]

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full article, see https://www.jweekly.com/2019/03/29/9-writers-who-capture-what-its-like-for-jews-of-color

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