I’ve been writing in so many directions lately—it’s fun to experiment right now—and designing some editorial offerings that I’ll share here soon. Meanwhile, registration for my June 18 Family History With Imagination class will close tomorrow, Thursday, June 1! Details on the class and how to sign up are over here. In other news, Goodreads is giving away twenty copies of the Ancestor Trouble paperback, which is out on the 20th.
And most importantly, for The New York Times Book Review, I had the honor of reviewing Leah Myers' slender and poetic Thinning Blood: A Memoir of Family, Myth and Identity, a finely crafted totem pole of a first book. Here's the the opening:
The cliché has it backward. To the Jamestown S’Klallam people, a Coast Salish tribe of the Pacific Northwest, the 'low man' depicted on a totem pole is often the most revered, the foundational figure and sometimes the ancestor of everyone carved and painted above. “They are the one who starts the story,” the S’Klallam writer Leah Myers explains at the start of her finely crafted totem pole of a first book, Thinning Blood: A Memoir of Family, Myth, and Identity. Myers imagines her monument standing in a rainforest clearing in Washington State, a tribute to her maternal lineage and a corrective mythology.
Her great-grandmother forms the base of the pole, represented by the spirit of Bear. Next comes Myers’s grandmother (Salmon), then her mother (Hummingbird), and finally, at the top, Myers herself (Raven). “No matter how my family tree may grow,” Myers writes, “the tribal citizenship stops with me.” Blood quantum rules — which began as a colonizer practice designed to limit tribal citizenship but were later adopted by some Native peoples as a means of preserving cultural identity — require the tribe’s members to be at least one-eighth S’Klallam and to have at least one full-blooded S’Klallam ancestor. And so Myers, who just meets the one-eighth rule but says any children she might have would not, leaves no room above Raven for another generation.
In our ongoing email back-and-forth about ancestors and the pain, joy, and travails of writing about them, the writer and New Yorker cartoonist Carolita Johnson recommended Gloria Anzaldúa’s “La Prieta” for people who (like Carolita) have both Latin American and Afro-Latin American ancestors.
As Carolita knows, I’m always looking for recommendations for fellow writers, friends, and students, and to expand my own thinking on ancestors, and so after receiving her email I picked up the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, which Anzaldúa co-edited, and had to share the opening of “La Prieta” here:
“When I was born, Mamágrande Loche inspected my buttocks looking for the dark blotch, the sign of indio, or worse, of mulatto blood.” My grandmother (Spanish, part German, the hint of royalty lying just beneath the surface of her fair skin, blue eyes and the coils of her once blond hair) would brag that her family was one of the first to settle in the range country of south Texas.
Too bad mi’jita was morena, muy prieta, so dark and different from her own fair-skinned children. But she loved mi’jita anyway. What I lacked in whiteness, I had in smartness. But it was too bad I was dark like an Indian.
I also devoured this posthumous profile of Anzaldúa: “Self-Described ‘Chicana Dyke-Feminist, Tejana Palache, Poet, Writer, and Cultural Theorist.” Thank you for the recommendation, Carolita.
Some recent reading, links, and more:
“I wonder what this place must have looked like to the ships bobbing in the distance; what my ancestors thought about the land coming into view” — Latria Graham in Condé Nast Traveler, “In Charleston, Leaving the Nostalgia Behind.”
“Ancient DNA research is helping to restore the origin story of the Swahili people along the coastal region of East Africa.”
On the bakers “introducing a rising generation of Jewish eaters to their ‘great-great-grandmother’s food.’”
“Early human species adapted to mosaic landscapes and diverse food resources, which would have increased our ancestors’ resilience to past shifts in climate.”
“A new genetic analysis of 290 people suggests that humans emerged at various times and places in Africa,” upending what scientists thought they knew about the origins of homo sapiens.
An argument that we should prohibit large language models like Chat GPT from using first-person pronouns.
Jeanna Kadlec’s class on Writing the Hybrid Memoir.
Sending love until next time.
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