13 December 2022

Stoner, by John Williams

I'm not quite sure how I can call myself a lover of books, majored in English with a minor in Creative Writing, and never once did I come across author John Williams. In just a few sittings last week, Stoner by John Williams easily crept onto my list of favorites.

While a quiet and simple story covering the life of one man in Missouri, born at the end of the 19th century, William Stoner is a seemingly unremarkable teacher who leads an unremarkable life. Within his cocoon of literature and teaching is a man who feels he has let his parents down, suffers through a troubled marriage, wrestles a continued clash with a colleague, and conceding to a failed relationship with his daughter. With only two friends he can count within his life, William Stoner's story is divulged to the reader in quiet moments which reminded me of Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac

I was so taken by the gentle story of William Stoner, who received an opportunity to begin studies at the local university in Missouri for agriculture, in order to help with his parents' farm. However, upon arrival at the university, staring at the gleaming lawns and stately buildings filled with so many chances of learning, along with a requirement to take a study of English, he very quickly falls in love with academic life and literature. He decides to redirect his life's course from his parents' expectations and chooses to instead study literature throughout his entire time at the university. It's a secret he maintains until his graduation in the most heartfelt and quietly tense scenes in a short conversation with his parents.

Stoner has such a mesmerizing flow that I felt a strong connection to his character, and worried with him on the small highs and deep lows of his life. Nothing quite amazing happens for Stoner, and while it was an easy and comfortable read, the story of William Stoner is filled with so many moments of sadness and choices made that resulted in unhappiness. It is a life filled with insignificant events to others, but extremely poignant for Stoner. It is heartfelt and quiet and hopeful and one of the best pieces of writing I've ever had the luxury of reading.

The legacy of this man becomes nothing, no remembrance. For all the students he taught and the struggles he experienced with another teacher at the university, with his wife, with his daughter, it was an astoundingly sad book, but also incredibly beautiful. It reminded me that even in anonymity and disregard, there is a world of endless possibility in even the tiniest of events in the seasons of a person's life. Each life is precious and individual and not to be taken for granted.

What a lovely book. I've ordered the author's three remaining novels.


18 March 2021

Who's Your Daddy, by Arisa White

First, an overview because I loved it when I read it:
A lyrical, genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.
I committed to post in January, and I failed. Even through many reminders, I procrastinated. Huge apologies all around. Life, moving, unpacking, Dominic going to public school for the first time - it all got in the way.

No more excuses. Too much time wasted in not editing, revising and posting my very eager review of Arisa White's Who's Your Daddy. It's another win for my reading awareness, as the second book I've agreed to read from the Poetic Book Tours does not disappoint.

Who's Your Daddy takes on the explosion of thought and self-awareness of a woman's life told through poetry, each page a single poem, probing her life and the circumstances of the generational trauma of the family she was born into. There is a masculine absence and presence, the dedication of a single mother, a family history steeped in lives from the East Coast to the West, and through Guyanese proverbs and anecdotes.

I read Arisa White's words repeatedly, passages over and again. Poetry is always music when it is at its best, and her writing is even more so: it escalates, crescendos, quiets, and moves with waves of delicate grace and pacing; then shatters you with this knowing, this awareness of the things that happened in her life, how she felt about life knowledge and experience she learned at so early an age, a cultural depth to the interplay within family struggles and quick, brief flashes of men, life, friends. Those who loved her and let her down, betrayed her.

Every word Arisa White wrote, I read each aloud. I liked the way the words felt. Meaty and thoughtful, filled with desperate love, painful awakenings, and more, Arisa White's Who's Your Daddy provoked images and feelings that made me feel strong, small, aware, different, and similar.

I HIGHLY recommend her work of art.

About the Author:

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

Thank you to Serena at the Poetic Book Tours, once again.


19 November 2020

Out of No Way, by Rojé Augustin (Poetic Book Tours)

There is beauty in almost all things in the world, but history has its secrets and sad realities. Hidden tales of real people who are forgotten.

To me, it is increasingly saddening to know that there will always be people in history that are forgotten about. It certainly doesn't mean we can't try to do everything we can to make their legacy live on, and that's when we always try to remember, to learn, and to teach each other. It is our responsibility to continue the education, to memorialize the hero by always talking about it over and over to as many people as possible.

Do you know who Madam CJ Walker was? She is the first Black self-made entrepreneur turned millionaire.

Did you know America held a formal Anti-Lynching Conference? And that this same Madam CJ Walker delivered a speech?

It is yet another unbelievable reality that history forgets entrepreneurs like Madam CJ Walker. Or, if remembered at all, briefly discussed. There was only a small overview in an African-American studies class at the University of Maryland many moons ago, but never once do I recall this incredible woman of history in my high school, or earlier, years. Why?

So this is why I am honored to read Rojé Augustin's poetry, to be part of her blog tour hosted by the Poetic Book Tours. I read her work and I'm reminded that I haven't read more poetry in my life, and especially from people of color about people of color, because voices like this cannot be forgotten. Augustin's poetic drama has done something so creatively thought out that when I read each page, I immediately could see her work crafted into a monologue, then into a play of sorts. I realize that a show has already been created on a streaming service, but I can actually see in my mind an authentically different format, into that play; I can even see college students scurrying to figure out which scenes and segments to use to audition for it, and I am inspired. I believe this will happen.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let's talk about all of it. The structure and subject. The beauty of the words. It's safe to say I'm now a huge fan of Augustin.

Rojé Augustin has put onto paper something that is truly memorable and filled with so much story, vigor, and awareness. Madam CJ Walker and her daughter's relationship while developing a product for African-Americans and paving a way for other people of color, while still constantly experiencing racism and more, all told in verse of varying ranges and styles: acrostic, sonnets, haiku, alliteration, and more, like her variation of an Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven), is both stunning and thoughtful; a lyrical play with each achievement of mother and daughter, interspersed with photos and illustrations, some fascinating and intriguing, and some horrifying to see images of American men lynched from trees; yet this is the reality of this one American story. Sometimes it is the very picture of despair in a period of time completely unwilling to support a Black woman with intelligence and determination that makes me so sad; all I wish is that members of the white community group together for educating themselves and not for violence; to instead correct each other on their own preconceived notions and to increase awareness so that our society moves better, kindly, differently.

After all, it is not a Black person's responsibility to always be the ones over and over to educate those who are not marginalized because it is exhausting. It is vitally important for those not of color to do the work, to reflect on where they can make change, to open their minds more so that we can ultimately partner together to further each other and help each advance up that ladder of success.

Racism has no place in America anymore (or ever), and Augustin's work on Madam CJ Walker has become instrumental in reminding us of a history that is simultaneously sad to remember, but crucial to learn so we can help our neighbors, the future Madam CJ Walkers and their daughters. I would imagine we would not ever want to be mired in a past that holds each other brutally back.

So here is a bold statement, my bottom line critique/analysis of Rojé Augustin's work, but I am eager to write it - this might very well be one of the most truly amazing creations I've read in a very long time. A bold statement to many, I am sure, but I am doggedly adamant that this is so. This was an experience to read and I am SO thankful for it. I want to see this everywhere, I want the vision of it being brought to the stage as a play to actually happen. Augustin has presented, in an extremely unique way, the story of an American visionary, the first Black women millionaire, and I want to hear more about her, learn more of other Black voices, because it goes right back to - why don't we learn this history more, and why can't we celebrate these voices more where it becomes part of our curriculum everywhere?

I want to see this as a Broadway play - I'm going to put the positive vibes out there and hope it comes true.

And side note: I also love Augustin's personal story and would love to see her story as a memoir.

About the author

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel,  The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.

Visit the author:


"Why Our Hair Is Not Straight"

"Elegy for my Mother"

"The Lost Letters"

"Graves & Thrones"


13 November 2020

It's not often that I get to come across an opportunity to be on a team of incredible women and also be part of promoting a book. Especially a book with a vision I'm intensely passionate about. I want this book to really succeed, and I need to tell you why. On a personal level first.

The first thing that reached out to me was the title. That alone pulled me out of a darkness I had been dwelling in, wondering how I could course correct my life so I could feel successful to pursue writing as my creative career, no longer miserable in Corporate America. Something about the way I was lately feeling, and something about their book title - it was interconnected, and it felt like I should pursue participation and support.

And then it hit me why the title meant something to me. For so many years I was defined by a breast cancer journey, a club I never wanted to be part of, and while that chapter is in my rear view mirror, I was done with it. So I abhorred hearing people describe me as a breast cancer warrior; I felt sensitively for those who were terminal and had passed on. Were they not a warrior, also? Did people think they gave up? That I was somehow stronger than them? No. To me, I was just lucky.

And there was this creeping reality sneaking up on me all the time that my life should never be defined by a part of my journey, or one chapter of my life. Yes, there are SO MANY puzzle pieces to me, even I can't figure them all out. So when people describe me as "a mom," "a wife," or "a breast cancer warrior," I feel the imposter syndrome hit me full force and I scream in my head, "BUT THAT'S NOT ME!" I'm so much more than that.

So, the book title is what first connected to me, and then meeting the co-authors who are incredible, smart, engaging, sensitive and aware and thoughtful. I wanted to help, in some small way, in any way that I could.

And while the vehicle to drive the subject of this book might be domestic abuse, with very raw and personal stories shared, analyzed and reviewed to discuss new language and words to describe abuse, the totality of the message is inclusive to all of us. "...but that's not me." is so much more than a book about domestic abuse. It is an important message and I believe will change lives. We have to get the publicity and the online chatter out there, to put it in the hands of people - everyone. We may not be in abusive situations, or maybe we are, but we don't think so. Or, we might know someone who is, but the behavior has become "normal" to us - "that's just the way he is to her." "That's just the way they are together." Is it okay?

And is domestic abuse solely regarding intimate relationships? No. It can be an abusive family situation, it can be an abusive sexual harassment case at work. It can be toxic friendships. Suffering, abuse, victim status don't always come to play and many don't identify with it because it doesn't fit with what we've been indoctrinated to believe is a pure example of abuse. TV and books in the past have painted this image of what it most likely looks like, so when the victim doesn't get a black eye, the words "...but that's not me." echo throughout their thoughts.

This book gives foundation, awareness, and LANGUAGE. That the intuition we might feel is real. Trust it. Go with it. Be aware. Help each other. Help yourself. This book will change lives. Please help us get it out there.

Disclosure: I am a part of the team with The CornHer Office and am supporting the co-authors to get the awareness out into the hands of everyone. I will fiercely do everything that I am capable of to make this successful.

What is available now?

  • The BOOK IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and was just approved to be listed with the Library of Congress!
    • To be part of the first batch of 50 exclusive first edition copies that will be signed by the co-authors, along with more items available for you (including private Zoom sessions, etc.), head to the book website that will redirect you to the purchasing site
    • The site also includes merchandise (tote bags, caps, etc.) you can add to your order (I personally already purchased the vintage cap and the coffee mug today).

Upcoming events

  • November 15, 2020 - Book trailer casting call in Columbus, Ohio. Click here for all of the details; if you are local and have your story you would like to anonymously share.
  • December 4, 2020 - Book launch in Downtown Bryan, Texas at the Chocolate Gallery. 25 guests maximum attendance in-person, with a Q&A and book signing!

What other products are available?

  • Dr. C's Course: click here to see the most recent course launch about Leading through Crisis (what is the difference between crisis and uncertainty?); it is a three module course, includes lifetime access, and a workbook for $40.
  • Peaceful Holiday Planner: the 5th edition has been revised and is a 120-page downloadable product or $34.95. You can print it out in any size and on any paper you would like, and it is a collaboration between the incomparable Sophia Gaudi of Creative Soul Wild Heart and Erika at the BETTER over PERFECT community website specifically to keep your holidays filled with peace!
  • Peaceful Holiday Planner Decor Kit from Sophia Gaudi is absolutely amazing, and so worth $15!

About the authors

Erika Shalene Hull, founder of BETTER over Perfect Co., resides in Ohio with her husband and five active children. While caring for all the humans and managing her home is her current vocation, encouraging and uplifting others through the trials of life is her purpose and her passion. She strives to empower women every day to be the best version of themselves through her daily live videos, courses, writing, speaking and volunteer services. After spending 10 years, primarily as a Financial Development Director for a world-wide non-profit organization, Erika sought to lessen the gap between the challenges of working and motherhood, by leaving Corporate America and becoming a full-time entrepreneur. Having to overcome numerous traumas during this tine, including abuse, the suicide of her oldest child, and the day-to-day hardship of a crippling genetic disorder, she is courageously passionate about helping others rise above their own personal obstacles.

Visit Erika:

Dr. Cheryl LeJewell Jackson, founder of The Psycho Mom, lives in Texas with her husband, two boys and as much family as one house can hold. After earning her Doctorate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, she spent her career working with organizations and helping employees find fulfillment at work through clarity and engagement. In addition to running her own consulting business Cheryl serves as a lecturer at Texas A&M University, serves in her community, and volunteers at her church. In addition to ...but that's not me., she has published two books, Strong. Brave. Powerful., a novel bringing attention to the lasting impact of abuse and the journey toward recovery, and Family Business, making Fortune 500 business practices accessible to the small business owner. Cheryl is also a professional speaker and blogger, passionate about encouraging women to step into who they were made to be.

Visit Cheryl:

Together, Cheryl and Erika also founded The CornHer Office, a physical and virtual community with a mission of leveling the playing field for women in business. By changing the language, we are changing the conversation, which changes our reality. Learn more and join in this incredible movement of women helping women. We would also love to hear from you - share you stories of struggle and triumph at:
  • ...but that's not me. book website
  • ...but that's not me. Facebook page
  • And always - use the hashtag #ButThatsNotMeBook and #womenhelpingwomen on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
Thank you!