Reflections from the 1st Annual National Antiracist Book Festival

This past weekend I went to a book festival. Not that unusual for me. I like book festivals, and whenever there’s one I can make it to, I go. And if there isn’t, I make my own by buying way too many books. Being surrounded by the written word, the people who write it, and the people who read it is one of my favorite things to do. But this one was different. It was the National Antiracist Book Festival, being held at the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington DC.

The fact that I was going with two cool women sweetened the deal, but I have to admit, I’ve been in a funk recently at my unwelcome sense of grievance about the resurgence of virulent and often violent racism. I imagined an ‘antiracist’ book festival would be much too heavy for a Saturday afternoon, and would only feed my not-entirely-positive outlook because I would be in a space with similarly aggrieved people. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The thing is, I should be one of the least aggrieved Black people in America. I grew up in a majority Black nation and can honestly say that I never for one solitary moment harbored suspicions of my own inferiority to any other race. The American Civil Rights Movement was largely of academic interest, and American bigotry was a curiosity and little more. Bigotry, to me, was an affliction carried by the bigot and touched me not at all.

And then I moved to the States when I was seventeen and though I remained largely unscathed I had a slow, sad education about so-called “equality” in America. Some of it I learned it through names like Yusuf Hawkins, Amadou Diallo, and Rodney King. Every year there was a new name. I listened as Black boys-barely-turned-men who I knew well, and some of whom I loved spoke matter-of-factly about their dread and distrust of law enforcement. And finally—as is a rite of passage for most Black folks—had a few of my own perplexing and nerve-wracking run-ins with cops just because of where I was, who I was with and yeah, I really do think because of the color of my skin, and that of my companions.


“So much of the national dialogue about race deals with either terrible trauma or black excellence. I was more interested in the space in between, because that’s where I exist.” 

Damon Young, author of ‘What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays’

But by and large, I believed there were ways to channel those experiences into something positive, and through activism, allyship and advocacy, there was change to be made. We just had to “do the work”, right? Over the last few years, I’ve lost much of my faith in advocacy, no longer believe in allyship, and am pretty much low-key enraged about racism all the time.

So yeah. An Antiracist Book Festival could have been either the best place for me to be, or the absolute worst. Thank God, it turned out to be the former. My friends and I only had time for two sessions. I went to On Poverty which featured Damon Young and D Watkins, moderated by Vann R. Newkirk. Damon Young is very much, as advertised, a Very Smart Brotha, as were the other two men on the panel. Apart from the gems they were dropping just about every other sentence, I was just enriched by the way they spoke. Like they were talking to family; like we the audience were “in this thing together” with them, and instinctively understood every emotion, and experience they described. And it was true. There were mm hms and finger snaps and head-nodding aplenty.

The room (and as far as I could tell, the entire book festival) was mostly Black. Damon and D Watkins talked about everything from how Black writers can shed their inclination to use language suitable for majority (i.e. white) consumption; to Blackness becoming performative as you rise in socio-economic status. Think about that: Blackness as performative. That’s some deep shit. What that refers to is that insidious process where we strip ourselves of Our culture to assimilate, such that markers of Our culture become a kind of performance. We “Black it up” around Black people when we come up because we need to reassure them we’re not too far gone; or we “dial down the Blackness” around white people because sometimes it’s just more expedient that way, or we maybe we would rather just show them the mask than expose our complete, authentic selves. We perform Blackness, gauging how much of it to exhibit based on our audience. Like … yo … tell me that isn’t a thing.

The second session I went to was DeRay McKesson, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton and Wesley Lowery On White Supremacy. Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, who wrote ‘A Kind of Freedom’ talked about her use of fiction to demonstrate the impact of white supremacy on systems, families and individuals in that insidious way that often escapes detection now that we’re no longer living under the old Jim Crow; and the ways that the New Jim Crow is just as destructive of Black lives. DeRay McKesson blew my whole mind when he talked about why it may be more constructive to “preach to the choir” when fighting against white supremacy. I was so feeling him on that, because lately, my view is that when you’re at ideological war, you don’t have time to coddle the enemy or win over uncertain, mealy-mouthed and feckless so-called allies. You just fight alongside those who are willing to fight with you; and leave the rest to tend to their own hearts and minds.

Apart from the sessions, there were the books, Lord the books—all of them focused on deconstructing the experience of Blackness, and the many permutations of how this society responds to and tries to kill not only Black bodies but Black identity itself. If you are the type of person who shies away from difficult conversations, this would not have been the place for you. And if you’re someone who believes the fight is one for acceptance and assimilation you might have had a problem with all the locs, and natural curls, and kinky ‘fros, not to mention the conversations about blackity-black-Blackness and the hysteria that Blackness sometimes produces in a white dominated society.

For me, this event was right on time. Because I realized that what’s been ailing me hasn’t been too much conversation about race, it’s been too few opportunities for meaningful discourse about race. And not even race, but about Blackness, specifically and what that means in a positive, affirmative way, rather than just in response to the negative stimuli of yet another bad police shooting or video of a young Black boy getting his head bashed into a concrete pavement. This event was precisely where I needed to be. It was a place where my mind united with my heart and my creative soul. I needed that. And for sure, I will go again.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

I’m late to the party with this one. Very, very late. I almost always buy critically-acclaimed books by Black authors immediately, or within a couple weeks of their release. First because I’m just happy they exist in the world, and second, because I want to support Black art in all its forms. And since I can’t (yet) afford art from Kehinde Wiley or Derrick Adams, I buy books.

‘Homegoing’ wasn’t on my list of eager-to-read, to be honest, so it sat there for a long time. I have trouble with books that depict slavery, or the abduction of African people from the Continent, their journey through the Middle Passage and the untold horrors they were subjected to as enslaved people. But, after circling this one for about two years, I finally decided to listen to it on Audible. Let me start with this: the narrator is exceptional. He easily sildes in and out of accents and eras without getting in the way of the story, dramatizes well without being over-the-top, and absolutely transports the listener to a new place.

As for the story … Someone told me it took more than a decade for the author to complete it. I can see why. In a thirteen-hour listen, the author managed to touch on just about every theme and issue that helps tell a complete story of what the scramble for Africa by Europeans meant to people of African descent there and around the world. Following the lineage of two half-sisters, one whose descendants remained on the Continent, and the other who was stolen away to the Americas, Yaa Gyasi tells the story of colonialism, slavery, the loss of parents, of language of culture, the cynical use of Christianity to further enslave and placate a people, the Reconstruction, the Nadir. She also tells of racism, of classism within the Black community, of colorism, the Great Migration, the ravage of drugs on Black families, the struggle of the Black artist to survive while practicing his art, of mothers to raise children without their men, of children to raise themselves after slavery, of Black women to protect themselves from the sexual violence of white men and Black men as well, the lure of passing (as white) for some Blacks, and of the foundation of the modern prison industrial complex … I swear, she got all of that in here, but grounded every single lesson in well-crafted, three-dimensional and unforgettable characters. My heart ached while listening to this book, but it also made me swell with pride for coming from such resilient and beautiful people.

Of all the characters that resonated (and there were so many), the one that stayed with me was Sam, the slave who when brought from the Continent could not be “tamed” or compelled to speak English; who raged and resisted until his “owner” (people can’t ‘own’ people, not really. We know this, right?) gave him a woman (Ness) to make him more manageable. It didn’t work, until Sam eventually does something that she takes the blame for, and she (and he) are brutally whipped for it. He watches her suffer because of him, and speaks his first English words: “I’m sorry.” From then on, they bond over their pain, and then in other ways as well. Eventually, he learns and speaks new English words to her; among them “love.”

What eventually convinces Sam to temper his rage at being stolen from his home is when his woman, Ness, gives birth to their son. Family and human connection is his turning point, not the lash of a whip. I tell you I just about bawled my eyes out during that part of the book. Because love and compassion were, at the end of the day what made Sam control his anger, and because it spoke to the letting go of grief at the loss of so much more than most of us have lost—a home, a language, a people, a culture. Except, of course, we have lost those things, haven’t we?

But there was more like that, a lot more. This book is not for the feint of heart and I won’t lie, it will hurt your very soul. But it’ll feed your soul as well. It definitely did mine. Highly recommended.

Nia Forrester Books … In Reading Order

I get asked a lot about the best reading order of my books, and I’ve been remiss in updating it on this site. But here’s a quick reference …

The ‘Commitment’ Novels

Commitment (The ‘Commitment’ Series Book 1)

Unsuitable Men (The ‘Commitment’ Series Book 2)

Maybe Never (A ‘Commitment’ Novella)

The Fall (A ‘Commitment’ Novel)

Four: Stories of Marriage (The ‘Commitment’ Series Finale)

The ‘Afterwards’ Novels

Afterwards (The Afterwards Series Book 1)

Afterburn (The Afterwards Series Book 2)

The Come Up (An Afterwards Novel)

The Takedown (An Afterwards Novel)

Young, Rich & Black (An Afterwards Novel)

Snowflake (An Afterwards Novel)

Rhyme & Reason (An Afterwards Novel) NEW RELEASE!

The Mistress Novels

Mistress (The ‘Mistress’ Trilogy Book 1)

Wife (The ‘Mistress’ Trilogy Book 2)

Mother (The ‘Mistress’ Trilogy Book 3)

The ‘Acostas’ Novels

The Seduction of Dylan Acosta (The Acostas Book 1)

The Education of Miri Acosta (The Acostas Book 2)

The ‘Secret’ Novels

Secret (The ‘Secret’ Series Book 1)

The Art of Endings (The ‘Secret’ Series Book 1)

Lifted (The ‘Secret’ Series Book 3)

The ‘Shorts’

Still—The ‘Shorts’ Book 1

The Coffee Date—The ‘Shorts’ Book 2

Just Lunch—The ‘Shorts’ Book 3

Table for Two—The ‘Shorts’ Book 4

The Wanderer—The ‘Shorts’ Book 5

À la Carte: A ‘Coffee Date’ Novella—The Shorts Book 6

Standalone Novels

Ivy’s League

The Lover

Acceptable Losses

Paid Companion

The Makeover

In the Nothing

Out of Circulation

30 Days, 30 Stories

Happy Reading!

N.

It’s Here!

Maybe friendship is all that’s realistic for us right now.”

With those words, Zora ended their long-distance relationship, shattering Deuce’s vision of a life with the only woman he’s ever loved. But after months of silence, he thought he was over it. He’d moved on, hadn’t he? And as far as he knew, she might have done the same. Now Zora is back from California, and he’s thrown into an immediate tailspin. Nothing’s changed.

She’s the one, the only, his rhyme, and his reason …

But this ain’t no college romance. 

There are serious, grown-folks’ obstacles standing in the way, and the other woman in his life isn’t even the half of it.
And sometimes growing up might mean moving on …

Over a few short summer weeks, Deuce and Zora will have to decide whether the great love they shared in the past, is enough of a foundation to build a future.

AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon: Rhyme & Reason by Nia Forrester for $4.99 or FREE for KU subscribers: https://amzn.to/2UM7Fal

Writers for Sale?

I really need to blog more. I used to do it weekly, then stopped when I realized it was interfering with the books I wanted to write. But lately, I’ve been finding that I want to say stuff, and rather than pick fights on social media with people I otherwise like very much, I thought blogging would be a good idea. Because what is a blog if not an unanswerable, inarguable assertion by someone who wants to talk smack, and not subject their arguments to analysis or criticism?

I’m only sort of kidding. These are the times we’re in. Battle lines are easily drawn and not so easily erased. There’s no, ‘let’s just agree to disagree’ these days. It’s more like ‘let’s fight to the death, preferably yours.’ So now you know why I’m blogging. Here’s what I want to say: this ghostwriter, plagiarism debate that’s been throwing the writing world into a tailspin lately is cray-cray. I mean, writers are out there using their keyboards as swords and are on a search-and-destroy mission to ferret out those who are not true to “the craft” either because they’re thieves or because they crank out hackneyed, formulaic stories and stuff e-books for profit, or they don’t write their own stuff but use ghosts who help them gain notoriety and a few more bucks.

It’s worth a moment to uncouple some of those things. The thieves are plagiarists. That’s a whole separate, unambiguously dishonest breed who deliberately steal the words or ideas of others and repackage them as their own. I think anyone who writes honestly is united with other writers in their condemnation of those folks.

And as for the scammers and book-stuffers; once a cottage industry, it’s now become big business for writers, and some non-writers to create very little new content and then pad their e-books with samples, teasers or previously released material, just to game Amazon’s system. Most writers decry this as well, and no one seriously argues that this practice should be allowed to continue though we may disagree about how much energy honest writers should give to that crusade.

What’s not as clear is where the writing world stands on the increased use of ghosts, people who do the writing for someone else who has maybe no will, acumen, or time to write their own stories. Ghosts are not a new phenomenon. And in point of fact, never used to be quite so ghostly. The most reputable folks who use ghosts say so, and put their ghost’s name right there on the cover, or in the credits or acknowledgments. Lately though, a new breed seems to be proliferating – let’s for the sake of distinguishing them, call them ‘ghouls.’ Ghouls are one-hundred percent invisible. We don’t know who they are because the named “author” does not even acknowledge their existence. This is where things have begun to get a little murky, ethically speaking.

Increasingly, writers who use neither ghosts nor ghouls are wondering whether it’s “fair” to the rest of us, and to the reader for them to be sold a bale of goods of dubious origin. Today, in the digital age, you don’t just sell books (electronic or otherwise). For good or ill, you sell yourself. The accessibility of the writer to today’s readership is unprecedented. We send and receive direct messages from readers, answer questions in real-time, and even form actual friendships with them in the real world. They are attracted to the written word, but often to the writer of it. Some writers are trendy, funny, hipsters, cool professionals, elusive introverts, boisterous extroverts, nervous strivers … and readers sometimes attach to them accordingly.

So, the question is, what if that persona to which a reader attaches is itself fiction? Is that ethical? Sounds like many writers are beginning to say not. It sounds like many in the writing community are growing increasingly uncomfortable with writers who may gain what they see as an unfair advantage by creating fake personas and selling that along with their books. Honestly, I don’t know what’s “fair” or not, and if writers are out there selling fake or amplified personas to move units, more power to you. I guess. I think it’s a broader cultural phenomenon. People do that every day on Instagram, even when they’re not selling a doggone thing except the illusion that they have a perfect life.

So, I’ll just talk about me and my deal. I write under a pseudonym. When I first started self-publishing, I was in a higher-profile job than I am now, and didn’t want my 9—5 profession to be affected by my writing life, or vice versa. I also like the anonymity. But I’m not completely anonymous. I don’t share personal pictures or details, but I do share almost everything else – embarrassing moments, stories about my day-job, my family, my neighbors and even, occasionally, the person I’m in a relationship with. I share it and it’s all true.

For me, the truth of it is important because here’s how I see it: when a writer’s words speak deeply to a reader, the reader feels kinship with them, and they feel understood. They feel it so much they write notes, emails, and send DMs, not as “fans” but as one human to another human saying ‘God, I didn’t think anyone felt this, saw this, understood this.’ And when you get one of those notes, it is hella-cool. It is, I kid you not, way cooler than when someone writes just to say, ‘You’re a very good writer.’ And for angsty, in-your-head types like writers often are, those notes also mean that not only did you understand them, they may understand something of you. I may not tell you where I live, but I do want what you know and understand of me to be real and true, just like I want the characters I write to be real and true.

Now, I know there’s going to be the “it’s just a business” crew and a “you-take-this-too-seriously” crew. Yeah. Both those things may be true. But I’m just here repping for the writers for whom it isn’t just a business, but a gift that allows us to see other people, and be seen by other people, and yet still hide behind the safety of our pen.

Love & Light,

N.

Rhyme & Reason — COMING 2019

An unedited excerpt from Chapter 1 of ‘Rhyme & Reason’, from the new generation of ‘Afterwards’ novels, coming 2019.

Happy Friday.

She had fallen asleep while watching The Best Man and woke up to the sound of her phone ringing. On television, the Netflix home-screen was scrolling through programming options. Grappling for her phone, expecting to see either her brother’s name or Asif’s, Zora sat upright when she saw the initials DS.

Why don’t you have my whole name in your contacts?

Because you’re kind of famous.

Deuce had twisted his lips and narrowed his eyes skeptically.

Here’s what we can do to fix that, he said. Just change it to ‘My Man’. I can live with that. So, whenever you see it, you know.

I already know, she’d said, trying not to blush.

“Hello?” Her voice sounded gravelly, so she cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello.”

“Hey. I wake you?”

“No. I mean, yeah, but it’s fine. I was …” She didn’t finish her sentence, imagining how pathetic it might sound.

I was watching Netflix all on my own. On a Friday night. Yes, I was.

“You alone?”

Zora thought for a moment, wondering why he would think … Oh, yes. Asif. He hadn’t allowed her to explain earlier. One would have thought he would figure it out. Asif and she could have passed for siblings. 

“Yes. I’m alone. And Deuce …”

“I just … I wanted to say I was sorry,” he said. “For speaking to you the way I did.”

Zora felt her throat tighten.

“I’m sorry, too,” she said.

“What’re you sorry for?”

“Springing up on you. I mean … it wasn’t fair. I should’ve …”

On the other end of the line, Deuce sighed. “I don’t know that it would have made a difference anyway,” he said.

“Why?”

“Zee, you know when it comes to you …”

She held her breath.

“Anyway. I’m just sorry I came off like that,” he said in a rush.

The silence stretched.

“How … how are you?” she asked finally. “Lately. How have you been? With work and everything. And that plan you had.”

The last time they spoke he mentioned he was about to make a pitch for a special project with an artist his father’s company had high hopes for. But after the way the rest of that conversation went, they hadn’t spoken since.

“You mean with Devin Parks?” Deuce asked.

“Yes. Did Jamal ever give you the go-ahead to have him as the first …”

“Nah. He shot it down. Said he couldn’t give me an artist of Devin Parks’ caliber right out the gate. Told me to work with the team to find my own people.”

“Ouch. That’s harsh,” Zora said, settling back into her pillows again.

“Not really. He was right. Devin Parks is going to be huge. He is huge. Lettin’ me have him for this new label would have been giving me something I didn’t earn. Hell, I didn’t even earn the right to develop a new label.”

“Don’t say that …”

“It’s true though. Who graduates from undergrad and gets that kind of opportunity from jump? I mean, if I was just some regular dude, I would be an intern at SE for real.”

Zora had heard him speak this way about himself before, but it hurt her every time.

“You’re always underestimating yourself,” she said. “So what if you’re not ‘some regular dude’? So what if you got a foot in the door because of your father? Now that you’re in, you just have to prove you deserve to be there.”

“Tryin’,” he said.

“And?”

“It’s goin’ okay, I guess. Mostly I’m learning the business, y’know?”

“Does your father help?”

“Nah.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t ask him.”

Deuce.”

“What?”

“That’s such a wasted opportunity. Your father probably has an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about how to develop a record label. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”

“So he can get confirmation that I’m just fakin’ through it right now?”

“Are you?” she asked.

Deuce said nothing for a few beats.

“Not really. I mean, I did my homework. I’ma have to take a couple risks, but I feel good about where things are at, considering.”

“Okay, so where are they?”

“What d’you mean?”

“I mean, tell me where things are. What stage are you at in developing the label?”

Deuce didn’t realize this about himself, but Zora knew he needed to process things aloud. To talk them over with a thought-partner, and problem-solve through conversation. When he did, his confidence strengthened. Deuce was not short on confidence by any means, but Chris Scaife Sr. was a formidable yardstick to measure oneself by.

“You won’t be bored by all that?”

“Have I ever been?” she asked, before she caught herself.

Then they both laughed at the same time.

“Okay, fine,” she said. “There were moments, I admit …”

Moments?” Deuce echoed, laughter still in his voice. “You fell asleep on me, Zee. When I was talking about …”

“In my defense, it was right after …” She broke off.

Right after they’d made love. Made love. That’s what it was with him. Every time, maybe even including the very first time.

After lovemaking, Deuce was wide open. He talked. Told her his greatest fears, his biggest dreams. He talked until he was exhausted, and sometimes until she was, as well.

“Yeah,” he said now. “I’ll give you that. The moment wasn’t … opportune.”

“Baby?”

 The sound of a female voice, interrupting their conversation was so unexpected that Zora for a moment didn’t know where it was coming from. Her eyes instinctively shifted to her tv even though the sound was clearly coming from her phone.

She heard shuffling, and the muffled sound of Deuce talking to someone. To the someone who had called him ‘baby.’

From ‘Rhyme & Reason’ COMING 2019

Before ‘Rhyme & Reason’ gets here, make sure you’re caught up, by first reading ‘Young, Rich & Black’ and ‘Snowflake’.