2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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Every afternoon, I wait in my children’s grade school library with the other parents for pick-up. The principal reads off students’ names over the loudspeaker, the signal that they are dismissed and can meet us in the library.

Every day, without fail, the principal stumbles over Ayanna, my six-year-old daughter’s name. She tries “Ah-yanna,” “I-yanna,” “E-yanna”—every pronunciation except the correct one. (It’s “A-yahn-na,” in case you’re wondering.)

As a black mother, I felt pressure—mostly from well-meaning relatives—to give my daughter a racially ambiguous name, one that was simple and easy to pronounce. Too many vowels or even one apostrophe meant trouble. I chose “Ayanna” after reading it in an Eric Jerome Dickey novel and loving that it means “beautiful flower” in Hebrew.

My husband and I have not regretted our decision, but I was brought up short reading Nikisa Drayon’s post in the New York Times titled, Will a “Black” name brand my son with mug shots before he’s even born? The writer is seven months pregnant and fretting over giving her son an “ethnic” name like Keion:

“The father of my child recently told me of his wish to name our son Keion, after his childhood best friend. I was nothing short of horrified. In my opinion, ‘Keion’ is identified as a ‘black’ name. My two best friends politely asked, in unison, ‘Don’t you think it sounds too ethnic?’ And I cannot forget my brother’s blunt, stinging remark, ‘Hell, no … way too ghetto. You guys need to revisit the baby books.’”

So Drayton Googles the name to learn more about its provenance and is confronted instead with mug shots of various “Keions.”

“Contemplating baby Keion led me straight to a a black mother’s biggest fear, mingling inside me along with the common aches and pains of motherhood,” she writes. “My unborn son, a seven-month old fetus, could have all the world’s unspoken markings of a criminal — the wrong skin color and the wrong name.”

While I was conscious about how freighted a name can be, our choices for our daughter and son Thomas were personal, not fearful. We gave them names that sounded strong, had meaning for our family, and that would convey some idea of the hopes we held for them. Being worried that an employer will toss their resume after seeing a “black” name is a concern – one that sociologists continue to investigate. But should such caution be determinative? Let us know your thoughts.

A recent New York Times article examines the relationship between readers and authors in the social media landscape. Previously, the divide was rather clear: authors write the books and readers gobble them up. There wasn’t much mingling besides the occasional book signing or speaking engagement. 

But now with the social atmosphere cultivated by Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and Twitter, readers can interact with their favorite authors like never before, and authors can have a more direct involvement in the marketing of their books. Moreover, authors can get feedback that is more personal than an Amazon.com review or an anonymous post on a message board. 

From NYT.com

When they use social media, authors have as many personae to choose from as they do in their other writings. Some strike poses that effectively increase the distance between them and their readers, foiling voyeurs. Gary Shteyngart (4,187 followers), whose first tweet was posted on Dec. 1, is charming yet enigmatic (“grandma always said to me, ‘boytchik, do not start a meth lab.’ but i guess i had to learn the hard way”), and often writes in the voice of his dog (“woof!”). When I asked if he enjoys interacting with readers on Twitter, Shteyngart responded: “There are so many clever people out there. I love each one of them. Many times I laugh with them.” Humor is common and welcome in authorial tweets. One of Twitter’s funniest is Mat Johnson (39,712 followers), who told me he consciously becomes “Mat Johnson, author and humorist,” on Twitter. (“Teenagers hanging out at a playground, laughing to each other at how ironic they’re being. I want that made illegal.”)

Read the full article here

Wondering if your favorite Anisfield-Wolf authors tweet? Follow us on Twitter as we share of their wittiest tweets and comments.