BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes [in Shelf Awareness]

Edited by memoirist and essayist Cinelle Barnes, A Measure of Belonging gathers 21 “established and emerging” writers of color with Southern ties – by birth, immigration, relocation. The resulting collection examines, defines, and confronts the idea of belonging. A highlight is Carnegie Medal-winner Kiese Laymon’s (Heavy) “That’s Not Actually True,” in which his declarative title becomes an affecting refrain of both surprise and knowing as he recounts the experience of recording his audiobook in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. North Carolina born-and-raised Devi Laskar also provides a significant entry, about leaving Georgia in 2012 “not by choice,” but after a shocking police raid at her home, which would eventually become the basis of her novel The Atlas of Reds and Blues.

In such a diverse assemblage, other standouts are many: Osayi Endolyn entices with culinary delights to emphasize that “unfolding what the South can become is as much reconciliation and reeducation as it is adaptation.” Jaswinder Bolina empathizes with the desperate young brown men who mug him on his Miami walk home. Aruni Kashyap, a newly hired Georgia professor, house hunts among seemingly benign racists.

Before she herself moved south, Barnes, an immigrant from the Philippines by way of New York City, weathered warnings from family, friends, employers – really, everyone: “There is nothing for you there. You’re gonna turn right back around.” The locals weren’t open-armed: at a (supposed-to-be) welcome dinner for Barnes’s spouse, a woman told her, “Honey, nobody asked you to move here.” Despite dismissal, in the decade since, Barnes knows “there is not nothing for me here… not nothing for other people of color … not nothing for readers like you. There is this book.”

Discover: Essayist and memoirist Cinelle Barnes, a Filipino Southerner by choice, gathers 21 fellow writers of color to provide memorable glimpses of their experiences below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Review: “Essays & Criticism,” Shelf Awareness, October 13, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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