‘Negro Speaks of Books’ Talks Books, Diversity and MWF18

Since 2017, online platform ‘Negro Speaks of Books’ has hosted conversations about books written by authors of colour. Taking its name from the Langston Hughes poem ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’, it celebrates the diversity of Bla(c)k literature across the Diaspora.

At MWF18, ‘Negro Speaks of Books’ founder Inez Trambas will join journalist and filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe at Afro Hub for a workshop, ‘Ownership of our Narrative’. In preparation, we asked Trambas about her experience with online publishing, authors of colour and her recommendations for the Festival.

Tell us a bit about your online platform, Negro Speaks of Books.

I started ‘Negro Speaks of Books’ last year in order to talk to other people of colour about literature written by us, share reviews and recommendations, and to celebrate and uplift our literature. Black literature is not particularly accessible, and I was always looking for reviews by other blackfolk about black books. Through Instagram, I stumbled upon the ‘bookstagram’ world and found many like-minded people sharing their thoughts on exclusively black lit.

What are some of the themes that will be discussed in the MWF workshop, ‘Ownership of our Narrative’?

We’re gonna be talking about what inclusion looks like beyond tokenism, and what we hope to see in the future of the Australian literary scene. We’ll be discussing what ownership of our narrative actually looks like when our writers are navigating systems that don’t support them adequately, what ownership of our narrative looks like in a time where ‘diversity’ is a buzz word, and other such topics.

Can you point us toward some recommended reads for people interested in these themes and issues?

Marlon James’ essay on Literary Hub called “Why I’m Done Talking About Diversity” is a good one to read to understand some of the short-comings of conversations about diversity. The Man Booker prize winner talks about shifting the onus onto white industries and white authors to tackle the issue of a lack of non-white authors in the literary world.

Chinua Achebe’s essays ‘Colonialist Criticism’ and ‘Thoughts on the African Novel’ give a really great context to understand the limitations placed upon African authors navigating the literary world, that could be applied to all non-European authors. Despite being written in the 70s, much of what Achebe writes still applies.

I would also recommend that people watch as many Toni Morrison videos on YouTube as possible! Morrison is unapologetic in her goals and provides an excellent example of what owning your narrative looks like in quite rigid systems.

Are there writers at MWF that you’re particularly looking forward to hearing from?

The first tickets I booked this year were to see Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, and admire how he makes very complex ideas accessible. I think we’re lucky to be hearing from him at this time in his career, following the success of We Were Eight Years in Power, the Black Panther comics, and now in this midst of his working on a television series about the Civil Rights era. I’m looking forward to a rich conversation.

I’m also very excited to see Nayuka Gorrie and Nakkiah Lui. I admire both of their work tremendously and can’t wait to hear them in conversation. And, as always, I look forward to hearing Maxine Beneba Clarke and her poetry, even though she always leaves me a bit teary.

Finally, what books are currently on your bedside table?

There’s quite a large pile of books on my bedside table including the books I’m currently reading, the books I hope to read next, and a handful of books that I never remember putting there but have somehow made their way onto the stack. At the moment, I’m reading Chinua Achebe’s Hopes and Impediments, a collection of essays discussing everything from Igbo art and literary criticism, to James Baldwin and Thomas Sankara.

To split up the nonfiction, I’m also reading Toni Morrison’s Jazz, a novel about life in 1920s Harlem. It’s incredible so far (I mean, it’s Toni Morrison), and Morrison’s writing style purposely mirrors the music of its title. I recently picked up Black Klansman, the memoir of Ron Stallworth, a black detective who went undercover in the Ku Kluk Klan. I am yet to start reading (I’m a bit terrified to be honest) but it is waiting there. Other books on my bedside table include Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, Hilton Als’ White Girls, Flora Nwapa’s Efuru and a few others too.

Browse through our full range of sessions in collaboration with Afro Hub here