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Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

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An extraordinary, exquisitely written memoir (of sorts) that looks at race--in a fearless, penetrating, honest, true way--in twelve telltale, connected, deeply personal essays that explore, up-close, the complexities and paradoxes, the haunting memories and ambushing realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD An extraordinary, exquisitely written memoir (of sorts) that looks at race--in a fearless, penetrating, honest, true way--in twelve telltale, connected, deeply personal essays that explore, up-close, the complexities and paradoxes, the haunting memories and ambushing realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD from Yale, of marrying a white man from the North, of adopting two babies from Ethiopia, of teaching at a white college and living in America's New England today. From the acclaimed editor of Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten ("A major contribution," Henry Louis Gates; "Magnificent," Washington Post). "I am black--and brown, too," writes Emily Bernard. "Brown is the body I was born into. Black is the body of the stories I tell." And the storytelling, and the mystery of Bernard's storytelling, of getting to the truth, begins with a stabbing in a New England college town. Bernard writes how, when she was a graduate student at Yale, she walked into a coffee shop and, along with six other people, was randomly attacked by a stranger with a knife ("I remember making the decision not to let the oddness of this stranger bother me"). "I was not stabbed because I was black," she writes (the attacker was white), "but I have always viewed the violence I survived as a metaphor for the violent encounter that has generally characterized American race relations. There was no connection between us, yet we were suddenly and irreparably bound by a knife, an attachment that cost us both: him, his freedom; me, my wholeness." Bernard explores how that bizarre act of violence set her free and unleashed the storyteller in her ("The equation of writing and regeneration is fundamental to black American experience"). She writes in Black Is the Body how each of the essays goes beyond a narrative of black innocence and white guilt, how each is anchored in a mystery, and how each sets out to discover a new way of telling the truth as the author has lived it. "Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book." And what most interests Bernard is looking at "blackness at its borders, where it meets whiteness in fear and hope, in anguish and love."


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An extraordinary, exquisitely written memoir (of sorts) that looks at race--in a fearless, penetrating, honest, true way--in twelve telltale, connected, deeply personal essays that explore, up-close, the complexities and paradoxes, the haunting memories and ambushing realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD An extraordinary, exquisitely written memoir (of sorts) that looks at race--in a fearless, penetrating, honest, true way--in twelve telltale, connected, deeply personal essays that explore, up-close, the complexities and paradoxes, the haunting memories and ambushing realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD from Yale, of marrying a white man from the North, of adopting two babies from Ethiopia, of teaching at a white college and living in America's New England today. From the acclaimed editor of Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten ("A major contribution," Henry Louis Gates; "Magnificent," Washington Post). "I am black--and brown, too," writes Emily Bernard. "Brown is the body I was born into. Black is the body of the stories I tell." And the storytelling, and the mystery of Bernard's storytelling, of getting to the truth, begins with a stabbing in a New England college town. Bernard writes how, when she was a graduate student at Yale, she walked into a coffee shop and, along with six other people, was randomly attacked by a stranger with a knife ("I remember making the decision not to let the oddness of this stranger bother me"). "I was not stabbed because I was black," she writes (the attacker was white), "but I have always viewed the violence I survived as a metaphor for the violent encounter that has generally characterized American race relations. There was no connection between us, yet we were suddenly and irreparably bound by a knife, an attachment that cost us both: him, his freedom; me, my wholeness." Bernard explores how that bizarre act of violence set her free and unleashed the storyteller in her ("The equation of writing and regeneration is fundamental to black American experience"). She writes in Black Is the Body how each of the essays goes beyond a narrative of black innocence and white guilt, how each is anchored in a mystery, and how each sets out to discover a new way of telling the truth as the author has lived it. "Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book." And what most interests Bernard is looking at "blackness at its borders, where it meets whiteness in fear and hope, in anguish and love."

30 review for Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

  1. 4 out of 5

    K

    Wow *cracks knuckles* this book y'all. The introduction and first essay is amazing. So amazing that I had to put the book down and grasp for air. After that, it seemed as though the book went downhill for me, for several reasons. I have a lot in common with the author of this book. I grew up in the south and moved to the North. My mother's family resides on the same historical land that they have since the end of (and during) slavery. I entered white Academia, and maintain a lot of close friends Wow *cracks knuckles* this book y'all. The introduction and first essay is amazing. So amazing that I had to put the book down and grasp for air. After that, it seemed as though the book went downhill for me, for several reasons. I have a lot in common with the author of this book. I grew up in the south and moved to the North. My mother's family resides on the same historical land that they have since the end of (and during) slavery. I entered white Academia, and maintain a lot of close friendships with white people. However, I know all of these things didn't just happen in a vacuum. My proximity to whiteness doesn't make me feel shame, but it also doesn't make me feel immense pride. I try to move through this with self awareness, self awareness that I feel the author lacked as she made the reader hear about how wonderful her husband was, or how cute her daughters are. Which is all good and well, but I wanted to read about what it meant to have a white husband beyond "he's nice to me, we talk about race" and I wanted to hear about how she was navigating having Ethiopian daughters and deciding to raise them in Vermont, and what that could mean for their self confidence and self worth. It seemed like any pushback the author received from other Black people about anything at all was always briefly touched on, in a surface level way. I found a lot of the essays to just be rather boring. It was apparent that the author does not have many Black friends but also does not have many Black radical friends, that engage in community organizing. She invited cops to her class, and seemed shocked that someone who works in social justice would get death threats. There were way too many James Baldwin quotes. As you can see, this book wasn't for me and that's simply okay. But I think it does a disservice to future readers if I'm not honest here: this book feels as though it is written for white people. White people who have not formed intimate relationships with radical Black people, white people that only like Black people in theory. If you are a Black person looking for a book that reminds you of home, you may be bored by the stories in this book because they're too similar to your own AND the author doesn't dig deeper in a meaningful way for you to want to endure reading. I gave this book two stars because the beginning showed me exactly what Emily Bernard could have been capable of if her entire book wasn't dedicated to centering whiteness.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca H.

    This essay collection has pieces on Bernard's experiences as a black woman in Vermont, on her family history in Alabama and Nashville, on her experiences teaching African American literature, and on adopting twin girls from Ethiopia. It's a strong collection, with a lot of interesting ideas and probing explorations of how we talk and think about race. Some of the best pieces are on how her students respond to issues of race in the classroom, and I loved the way Bernard dwells on questions rather This essay collection has pieces on Bernard's experiences as a black woman in Vermont, on her family history in Alabama and Nashville, on her experiences teaching African American literature, and on adopting twin girls from Ethiopia. It's a strong collection, with a lot of interesting ideas and probing explorations of how we talk and think about race. Some of the best pieces are on how her students respond to issues of race in the classroom, and I loved the way Bernard dwells on questions rather than answers and digs deeply into her own ambivalences. She's a thoughtful writer, and this is a valuable collection.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tricia Nociti

    Profound, compelling, relatable, and full of purpose. A new and important addition to the conversation of race and privilege going on in America right now. Ms. Bernard shares the story of her stabbing, her black physical body and also her black cultural body experience. Her willingness to share her vulnerability is apparent and I appreciated it very much. I was struck with a visceral reaction when she confessed to her internal struggles and beliefs about the feelings white people (including her Profound, compelling, relatable, and full of purpose. A new and important addition to the conversation of race and privilege going on in America right now. Ms. Bernard shares the story of her stabbing, her black physical body and also her black cultural body experience. Her willingness to share her vulnerability is apparent and I appreciated it very much. I was struck with a visceral reaction when she confessed to her internal struggles and beliefs about the feelings white people (including her husband) harbor for her. A book that made me rethink my racial awareness and how out of touch I really am. Recommend to all.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Awkward Book Nook

    Teen fantasy is my staple, so this is definitely a change of pace. Also, this review is coming from a white woman who lives in the South, in a place that is 76% white, and racial tension and prejudices are fairly common. This book is written so well and felt so genuine. After the first story (which blew my mind), the essays taper off in pace. But I was already captivated by her words. I loved the contrasts and comparisons to her life in the south versus her life in Vermont. You can tell she loves Teen fantasy is my staple, so this is definitely a change of pace. Also, this review is coming from a white woman who lives in the South, in a place that is 76% white, and racial tension and prejudices are fairly common. This book is written so well and felt so genuine. After the first story (which blew my mind), the essays taper off in pace. But I was already captivated by her words. I loved the contrasts and comparisons to her life in the south versus her life in Vermont. You can tell she loves and adores her family. I wish I had more insight to her view on her marriage or how other people perceive it, as it is biracial. But maybe there was no need. Either way, I really enjoyed this book, and I loved how open she was with her own thoughts and perspective. She was easy to connect with though the reader may have a very different background.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A definite contender for my personal best books of 2019 list! This book is a gift. I savored every essay.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Esther Gulli

    Spectacular! An amazing tapestry of essays woven together with grace and elegance. Bernard’s book should be required reading for all first year college students. Her reflections on race and otherness are deep and thought provoking. But what I found most moving were her essays on family - her childhood growing up in Nashville and family pilgrimages to Mississippi - the life she’s created in her new home in Vermont with her Italian husband and adopted children from Ethiopia. It’s just an extraordi Spectacular! An amazing tapestry of essays woven together with grace and elegance. Bernard’s book should be required reading for all first year college students. Her reflections on race and otherness are deep and thought provoking. But what I found most moving were her essays on family - her childhood growing up in Nashville and family pilgrimages to Mississippi - the life she’s created in her new home in Vermont with her Italian husband and adopted children from Ethiopia. It’s just an extraordinary body of work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    SharonMO

    I found each essay captivatingly intimate. I especially love how Emily expresses her deliberations and honest interpretations of life and humanity. Black Is The Body is a fluid, lovely, meaningful read. If you value motherhood, family, friendship, culture and human connections, you will love this book!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    A beautiful essay collection about the complexities of living in a black female body in America. Lyrical and literary. Personal and communal.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leo Arnold

    Interesting perspective on race relations. Author began writing when hospitalized after being stabbed by a white man.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leena Dbouk

    I'm usually not a memoir fan but from page one I found Emily Bernards writing compelling, honest and insightful. She opened my eyes to things like adoptive motherhood and various challenges we face when talking about race in America. I only wish she had challenged non black Americans more on their use of language and perspective. Regardless, I really felt this was a fantastic introduction to intersectionality.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine is an anthology of semi-autobiographical personal essays about the black female experience over three generations and was written by Emily Bernard. The theme of this anthology is about race – particularly being black in a world that by default is considered white. In a dozen deep, unflinchingly honest, and openly questioning essays, Bernard highlights what it is like to be a black woman from the South, married to a Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine is an anthology of semi-autobiographical personal essays about the black female experience over three generations and was written by Emily Bernard. The theme of this anthology is about race – particularly being black in a world that by default is considered white. In a dozen deep, unflinchingly honest, and openly questioning essays, Bernard highlights what it is like to be a black woman from the South, married to a white professor of African-American Studies, and two adopted twin daughters from Ethiopia. It also depicts the legacy of storytelling from her mother in Nashville and her grandmother from Mississippi. Like most anthologies, there are weaker contributions, and this anthology is not an exception, it started out extremely strong, but meandered downward from there. However, it is still a rather powerful book and describe the female black experience in a very male white centric world. All in all, Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine is a wonderful collection of personal essays showcases Bernard's wisdom and observation of being a black women in a white male centric world.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Misha

    Bernard is a professor in Vermont, married to a white man who is also a professor in the English department at UVM. These essays explore race, racism, violence, interracial marriage, adoption, life as a black woman in predominantly white spaces (and the second whitest state in the nation, second to Maine), as well as raising twin girls adopted from Ethiopia. A thoughtful, personal but also academic meditation on being a black body in a society where safety and the acknowledgment of humanity is s Bernard is a professor in Vermont, married to a white man who is also a professor in the English department at UVM. These essays explore race, racism, violence, interracial marriage, adoption, life as a black woman in predominantly white spaces (and the second whitest state in the nation, second to Maine), as well as raising twin girls adopted from Ethiopia. A thoughtful, personal but also academic meditation on being a black body in a society where safety and the acknowledgment of humanity is still not a given.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    I picked this book up after hearing an interview with Dr. Bernard on NPR. During the interview she did a reading from her essay, Black is the Body in which she overheard her six year old twin daughters becoming aware of race after seeing a commercial about Black History month: "See we're black," Giulia said the Isabella. "No we're brown," Isabella responded. "Yeah, but they call it black," Giulia explained.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    A deeply personal book of essays with an academic lens that explores the life of a Black woman in different stages of her career and family. She delves into the international adoption of her twin girls, her interracial relationship and how both those huge events play out in her understanding of her own race and perception. Perfect for Black History Month.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gin Ferrara

    Thoughtful, complex, and no easy answers. Emily Bernard explores motherhood, adoption, family legacies race, and identity in this collection of raw yet lyrical essays. The words flew off the page and got under my skin.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Porter

    Emily Bernard, what a story teller! Loved this book. I laughed, cried, reflected, and learned. Can’t wait to read it again. Emily’s words are magic. Some parts I just want to read over and over again because the writing is so beautiful.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie Bruell

    Amazingly honest stories. I'm so grateful that Emily Bernard lets us into her life.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    Really loved Bernard's intimate perspective on being a black woman, the loneliness, fear, frustration, and pride. A powerful read!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carly Thompson

    3.5 Stars. I liked the essays about her maternal family and adopting twins from Ethiopia. A good book for readers who enjoy personal essay collections.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Just read this in one sitting. Insightful and beautifully written essays.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Heather Boaz ( mlleboaz.bibliophile)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Monique Smith

  23. 5 out of 5

    Reving

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rosa

  25. 4 out of 5

    Juliaruth

  26. 4 out of 5

    Senshin

  27. 5 out of 5

    rose desimone

  28. 5 out of 5

    Krista

  29. 4 out of 5

    MrCasey McCord

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christine

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