New Year, New Page: 2016 in Review

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2016 was a year of struggle and resistance. A year of heartbreak and heartache. A year of tragedy and horror. A year of fighting, fighting, fighting. A year in which trauma ripped me away from solid ground. But it was also a year of grand adventure and steadfast love. It was a year of strengthening and growth. I’m looking towards 2017 now, not with empty optimism, but with resolve and grit.

In 2016, the majority of the books I read were written by women of color authors. In 2017, I resolve to amplify marginalized voices even more. I resolve to use my meager platform the best I can to raise & rise. I’m ready.

2016 Book Stats

Total Books Read: 89 (90 authors)

Books by Women Authors: 80/90 (89%)

Books by Authors of Color: 62/90 (69%)

Books by Women of Color Authors: 54/90 (60%)

 

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#GirlsLeadingOurWorld Library Wish List

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Empowerment, imagination, and accessibility. These things are important to girls and young women all around the world—including in my under-resourced Moroccan community. To make a real grassroots difference where it matters most, the students in my Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Club are building a community library.

Morocco has an extremely low reading rate. On average, Moroccans read a quarter of a page a year (not counting schoolbooks or the Quran), compared to the American average of 11 books a year. The root of the problem is access. Our community is full of bright and curious minds, but we do not have any accessible libraries or affordable options. —GLOW

If you would like to support girl leaders, literacy, and grassroots development, please consider sending us something from our Library Wish List! You can also help by sending us recommendations to put on our list, with priority for Muslim/Arab/Amazigh/North African stories written by #ownvoices authors. Contact us at settatglow@gmail.com for a mailing address.

English Language Library Wish List

  • Ms. Marvel (Volumes 1-5), by G. Willow Wilson
  • I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
  • Extraordinary Women from the Muslim World, by Natalie Maydell and Sep Riahi
  • The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami
  • Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane, ill. by Hoda Hadad
  • The Flag of Childhood: Poems From the Middle East, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, written & ill. by Jeanette Winter
  • Ruler of the Courtyard, by Rukhsana Khan
  • Yassmin’s Story, by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
  • The Butter Man, by Elizabeth & Ali Alalou
  • The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine
  • A Map of Home, by Randa Jarrar
  • The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
  • Amina, by Mohammed Kabir Umar
  • Night of the Moon, by Hena Khan
  • The Conference of the Birds, by Alexis York Lumbard, Demi and Seyyed Hossein Nasr
  • Emails to Scheherazade, by Mohja Kahf
  • Salaam, Love anthology
  • Love, Inshallah anthology
  • Any book by: Paolo Coelho

Arabic Language Library Wish List

  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

To donate or learn more, visit the GLOW fundraising page here. 

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Five Ramadan Reads: Own Voices in Islam

Ramadan is a time for reflection, patience, and spiritual discipline. Although people like to focus on the empty-stomach aspect of Ramadan, this month is also all about mindfulness. While this manifests differently for everyone, one of my Ramadan goals this year was to read only Muslim voices for the entire holy month.

Because of my busy work schedule, I didn’t read as many books as I would have liked this month, but my Ramadan Reads list was curated to be as diverse as possible. These authors engaged with their Muslim identities in many different ways. Their faith and spirituality were incorporated into their works in many different ways and to varying degrees. I read memoir, literary fiction, historical fiction, contemporary adult, young adult, fantasy/science fiction, and poetry. The authors were Turkish, Moroccan, Pakistani American, Black American, and Somali American.

I had too-optimistically put a dozen books on my Ramadan Reads list, but only ended up reading five. Perhaps it was maktub (fate), because five is such an important number in Islam. Five pillars. Five prayers every day. Five principles of Zakat. The khamsa or the Hand of Fatima, with its symbolic five fingers.

#RAMADANREADS


The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

40rules Julie: On the recommendation of several trusted sources, I began Ramadan with Shafak’s melodic novel. My love affair with Sufi poetry began when my university library supervisor, a Persian woman, gifted me a book of Hafiz poems. After that, I could never drink enough ghazals. I thirsted for Hafiz and Rumi and more. I can’t believe I’d never picked up a Shafak work until this year. Magical and universal and particular all at once. I was far more into the story of Rumi and Shams and the people they encounter than I was the story of Ella. Without giving spoilers, I was particularly disappointed by Aziz Zahara. Ultimately though, Shafak tells a story of a mythical figure that is very human and very moving.

Official book synopsis: In this lyrical, exuberant follow-up to her 2007 novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz—that together incarnate the poet’s timeless message of love.

Ella Rubenstein is forty years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read and report on Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by a man named Aziz Zahara. Ella is mesmerized by his tale of Shams’s search for Rumi and the dervish’s role in transforming the successful but unhappy cleric into a committed mystic, passionate poet, and advocate of love. She is also taken with Shams’s lessons, or rules, that offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all people and religions, and the presence of love in each and every one of us. As she reads on, she realizes that Rumi’s story mir­rors her own and that Zahara—like Shams—has come to set her free.

Secret Son by Laila Lalami

secretsonJulie: This is my third Laila Lalami book—and the second one set in modern Morocco. As an outsider living here, it’s a curious feeling reading Lalami’s work… It’s at once very familiar and very strange. The same settled/unsettling fluttering I get when I look outside my window. Intimate yet separate. Home away from home. I recommend every Lalami book highly. 

Official book synopsis: Raised by his mother in a one-room house in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has always had big dreams of living another life in another world. Suddenly his dreams are within reach when he discovers that his father—whom he’d been led to believe was dead—is very much alive. A wealthy businessman, he seems eager to give his son a new start. Youssef leaves his mother behind to live a life of luxury, until a reversal of fortune sends him back to the streets and his childhood friends. Trapped once again by his class and painfully aware of the limitations of his prospects, he becomes easy prey for a fringe Islamic group.

In the spirit of The Inheritance of Loss and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Laila Lalami’s debut novel looks at the struggle for identity, the need for love and family, and the desperation that grips ordinary lives in a world divided by class, politics, and religion.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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Julie: Young Adult Fantasy is a genre that will forever be close to my heart. And YA fantasy that is not whitewashed? Sign me up, always. Tahir’s novel is fast-paced, thrilling, and unique. She takes a well-worn genre and makes it exciting, which is an incredibly difficult task. And as someone who studied classics in university, I was very into the Roman Empire allusions. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, A Torch Against the Night!

Official book synopsis: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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Julie: Malcolm X’s autobiography has on my list for a long time, but kept putting it off. But a Ramadan Reads challenge was the perfect time to learn more about one of the most famous American Muslims. His famous charisma absolutely shows, even on a static page. I think this is a required read for anyone who is engaged with social justice in the United States. It is fascinating and revealing—and like always, it’s the best choice to learn from #OwnVoices on any topic.

Official book synopsis: From hustling, drug addiction and armed violence in America’s black ghettos Malcolm X turned, in a dramatic prison conversion, to the puritanical fervour of the Black Muslims. As their spokesman he became identified in the white press as a terrifying teacher of race hatred; but to his direct audience, the oppressed American blacks, he brought hope and self-respect. This autobiography (written with Alex Haley) reveals his quick-witted integrity, usually obscured by batteries of frenzied headlines, and the fierce idealism which led him to reject both liberal hypocrisies and black racialism.

Vilified by his critics as an anti-white demagogue, Malcolm X gave a voice to unheard African-Americans, bringing them pride, hope and fearlessness, and remains an inspirational and controversial figure.

Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed

nejma1Julie: What an absolutely perfect way to end my Ramadan Reads list. My core is twined with the stars and the roots of Waheed’s words. It is bound and boundless. Irrefutably tied to the experiences of people of color and euphonious as fuck. Every line, every lilt, every letter-tilt. All magic. I first read salt. in 2013 when it came out, and it changed my life. Nejma was another soul-altering experience.

Nayyirah Waheed on her work: “appreciate. from afar. from behind the boundary. it is that simple. people of colors’ cultures. realities. lives. histories. are sacred. and rife with boundaries. as all sacred things are. decentralize and simply appreciate. the assertion that i do not want non POC engaging with my work is false. engagement is fine. it is the defining of what engagement means. which becomes the issue. what i do not want is non POC appropriating my work. my culture. my experiences. my heritage. my people. and i will not allow salt. or nejma. or for any of my work. to be whitewashed. exploited. exoticized. or to become an educational manual on who we are. these are my boundaries. if anyone is unclear. i wrote salt. and nejma. i write. for the health. the breath. the bone. and the flower. of people of color. and so i simply assert that my work be appreciated and respected and honored as someone else’s truth. when you engage a POC work. the first thought should be about what it means to that POC. what it might mean to their communities. their cultures. their histories. that should be processed. first. the work in the context of themselves and their world. then. and only then. can your next thoughts be informed properly. then. and only then. when your being. comes into the interplay. from behind the boundary of this person first. and you second. can your perspective be honest. and aligned correctly. decentralizing. involves removing yourself from the center. and appreciating someone else’s reality. someone else’s art. as it is. for what it is. leaving alone what you can not touch. or access. and not engaging for what it can give you. what you can take from it. how you can alter it to serve you. but engaging as an honoring and appreciating. of accepting it. for exactly what it is. exactly as it is. exactly who it is. ”


Of course, I’ll still be reading Muslim voices for the rest of the year as well! I’m still eager to finish the original Ramadan Reads list I made. As a non-Muslim who has lived in a Muslim country for two years now, I believe it’s my responsibility to be conscious and respectful of my neighbors. One of the best ways is to engage in #OwnVoices works.

A few days ago, on Lailatul Qadr, the Night of Power, I was gifted a English language Quran, which is a sign that I should start reading it more thoroughly for understanding. Lailatul Qadr is usually celebrated on the 27th night of Ramadan, and it is the night that Muslims believe the Quran was revealed.

Well, I’m off to a full day of feasting and merry-making! Wishing everyone a lovely day. Eid Mubarak!

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Four Badass Feminist Literary Heroes From My Childhood

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These four (actually, six characters from four authors) literary loves of mine played vital parts in my young feminist awakening. Plus, they are steeped in nostalgia. I haven’t read these books in years, but they’re all seared in my mind.

Note: these are four white women authors. While I adore all of them, it would be remiss of me as an intersectional blogger not to comment on this fact. I have four things to say about this.

1) This is a systemic failure. Why was it so difficult for me as a little girl of color to find books written by authors of color?

2) It just goes to show that kids of color have always related to white characters. Why isn’t it possible the other way around? (IT IS.)

3) One of these books has characters of color, written by a white author. And while I adored it as a kid, I wonder what it’d be like to re-read it again as an adult, through a more conscious lens? Non-marginalized writers CAN write beautifully about marginalized people. But we can’t ignore the power differentials.

4) Again, people can be critical AND celebratory. This is a post about books that made a difference in my life. Books I loved to my core. I’m not popping my own bubble by commenting on the lack of diversity—I’m complicating and elevating the dialogue.

So, introducing… Julie’s childhood feminist faves!


Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

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Jo March was restless, fiery-tempered, and idealistic. She was too blunt. Too careless about some things—and about other things, cared so much that her heart nearly burned with the sense of it. She was selfish in the way that dreamers are. She loved literature. She dreamed of being a writer in a world that told her people like her couldn’t be writers. I was Jo March. I still am Jo March.

Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series

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Alanna, red-haired and sword-wielding, was probably a feminist awakening for many young lovers of fantasy literature. I followed her through her quartet and beyond, rooting for her as she fought for her knighthood and eventually became a legendary hero. I flipped the pages eagerly for Alanna’s cameos in Pierce’s other books.

Shaharazad and Marjan from Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner

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Drawn by the gorgeous cover, I picked this book from the shelf of my library when I was ten, and thus ignited a lifetime of obsession with Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights. This middle grade novel is told from the perspective of Marjan, a disabled serving girl who is drawn into the lives of these legendary figures. As an adult, I breathe stacks and stacks of Scheherazade-based feminist literature, especially written by Muslim scholars. As a kid, I remember relating deeply to Marjan—a fierce but quiet girl who yearned to be a storyteller.

Addie and Meryl from Gail Carson Levine’s The Two Princesses of Bamarre

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Before Anna and Elsa, there was Meryl and Addie. These two were the bastions of how badass and feminist sisterly love could be. I always yearned to be a Princess Meryl type—a sword-wielding action hero. But it was Addie who truly taught me what courage meant. Cos being quiet and full of fears does not preclude you from being a BAMF.


 

Have you ever read any of these books? I’d love to know who are YOUR favorite literary feminists, both now and way back when!

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10 Women’s History Month Reading Lists

A compiled list of lists! There are so many great reads out there in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Put all of these on your TBR list ASAP!

  1. So You Want To Properly Celebrate Women’s History Month, via BookRiot
  2. 33 Life-Changing Books in Honor of International Women’s Day, via LitHub & VIDA
  3. Librarian Picks Books for Women’s History Month, via NPR
  4. Recommended History/Social Studies Books for Women’s History Month for Ages 11-13, via Scholastic
  5. Celebrating Women’s History in Pictures: Picture Books for Women’s History Month, via A Mighty Girl
  6. Women’s History Month: A Book List, via Lee & Low Books
  7. 30 Books Every Woman Should Read, via Refinery29
  8. 11 Essential Reads for Women’s History Month, via Off the Shelf
  9. International Women’s Day – A Reading List, via Riffle Books
  10. Staff picks: Feminist books for International Women’s Day, via VersoBooks

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5 Uplifting Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day 2016. A day to center the power of women, as well as to take action against inequality. In conjunction with action, we can also celebrate women and femme folk in vital ways. Here are five things you can do to uplift yourself and others this March 8th.


 

1. Buy a fabulous vintage-inspired frock from ethical & empowering She Loves Dresses. Read designer Jenny Baquing’s story here.

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2. Listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.”

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3. Listen to Michelle Obama‘s #DayOfTheGirl Feminist Playlist on Spotify. Cos who run the world? GIRLS.

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4. Read some poems. Start with Maya Angelou’s glorious “Phenomenal Woman.” And then peruse this great list from the Academy of American Poets.

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5. Reach out to the women in your life and tell them how they’ve inspired you. Our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, friends, significant others, teachers, neighbors, mentors, heroines, advocates. Appreciate them. Thank them. Uplift them.

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pre-amble

Lately, many professional people (authors, editors, publishers, and researchers) have been querying me through the contact form on my personal blog page. I think an editor at Everyday Feminism somehow linked one of my articles to the blog.

It was an awkward anomaly at first, but now—with floods of emails coming in—it’s all-out embarrassing! The blog was never meant to be a professional website. It was definitely a repository for the ridiculous musings of a slightly lost twenty-three year old.

So I’ve decided to turn that site into a semi-professional thing. Editors can solicit from me and critics&trolls can rant at me without having to scroll through my personal drivel.

But my personal drivel has to go somewhere! And so mint & ink is born. Here, I will dispatch all my journal-like rambles on books and poetry and linguistics and classical history. Here, I will relegate all my aesthetic and pop culture squealing. Here, I will talk about what I think is brilliant or beautiful without clogging anyone’s feed.

So yes, here you can find uncensored digressions on anything I love or feel for. A snippet of such a list: mythology, Claudia Rankine, the plays of Sophocles, multilingualism, the politics of food, Little Women, etymology, Avatar/The Legend of Korra, Phil Levine, YA novels, coffee, Taiwanese sovereignty, representation in popular culture, Dean Young, education systems around the world, Maya Angelou, Harry Potter, travel & adventure, anti-colonial (NOT post-colonial) literature, Calvin and Hobbes, cute raiment, academia & the ivory tower, global citizenship, Seattle, intersectional social justice.

Follow me if you’d like, but I feel just fine inking out into the void. Fair warning: you should probably stay away if you aren’t okay with unreticent feminists or excessive ampersands.

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