I'm thrilled to share this incredible reading list, curated by the Fall 2021 Host Publications Chapbook Prize winner, Sequoia Maner. Before the editorial process for her chapbook, Little Girl Blue: Poems, began, I only knew Sequoia from what can be found in her bio: that she teaches African American Literature at Spelman College, that she was the co-editor of the anthology Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era, and that her critical essays and poems have been published in various places around the web; in short, that she is a formidable force of creativity, intellect and activism.
Working on Little Girl Blue: Poems, I have come to feel and understand what an immense privilege it is to receive Sequoia's profound wisdom and generosity of spirit. I also learned that she has incredible taste, as evidenced by this reading list! Discussing poetry, art, activism and music with Sequoia is an experience in editing that I will always cherish, but more importantly, our conversations have reenergized me to take a more critical approach to my reading of the black diaspora, to discover pivotal texts that I have missed, and to continue to champion writers like Sequoia (..except there's no one like her!) whose work exists in the world as a historical testament, as a reflection of our times, and as a model for future generations of black artists. Little Girl Blue is a collection of poems that is insatiable in its desire to understand, yet desires to be lost in the opulent wilderness of its own bloom.
One text that Sequoia's wild bloom led me to was Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the autobiography of Harriet Jacobs. This book is featured first on this list, and I'd like to second Sequoia's heartfelt recommendation of this book. It is a staggering tale, and to read Harriet's harrowing experiences as an enslaved woman in North Carolina in her own voice is utterly devastating, and a unique privilege. Harriet's appeals to the humanity of Northern folks who, at the time, didn't fully understand the plight of enslaved peoples in the South are so gut-wrenchingly well written, so tender and candid; this slave narrative should be considered required reading for all. In Sequoia's words:
"...I owe everything to women like Harriet Jacobs who had the strength within themselves, after securing their freedom, to then testify to it."
I owe everything to women like Sequoia who testify through poetry their anger, mourning, and unshakable joy. Little Girl Blue: Poems is a gift to us all, and this companion reading list is such a perfect pairing with these elegiac poems that conjure a tapestry of Black voices through which we are not only called to witness injustice, but to hold space for what grows from it. In Sequoia's words:
"There's a populating of voices through this citational practice that is really important for me, and I think that's a way of also writing myself into a tradition, of saying 'I am nothing without what has come before.' So much of it is an honoring of ancestors that made it possible for me to do this exploratory, experimental work that I love so."
Read just one book from this list, and you will be activated. Liberated to "ask / Unanswerable questions." For from these books, "buried bones unbury themselves," and time and time again, we see the soul rise to the call of "elegies and uprisings." I am thankful for Sequoia and her poems, which also rise to that call.