10 books for her 2021 book club
For her 2021 book club, Oprah Winfrey has chosen 10 books.2017 novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing
Sing, Unburied, Sing, the 2017 novel written by Jesmyn Ward, a MacArthur Fellow.
latest selection for the book club
Oprah Winfrey revealed her selection on “CBS Mornings” on Tuesday and stated that “Let Us Descend” will have a significant impact.
Ward is well-known for her powerful storytelling and is recognized as the youngest person to receive the Library of Congress’s Prize for American Fiction. Her latest piece, “Let Us Descend,” is gaining recognition for its emotionally charged storytelling and thorough examination of history.
“Let Us Descend” is a book published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a division of Paramount Global, the parent company of CBS News. The book follows the story of Annis, a young enslaved person, as she endures a difficult journey from a plantation in North Carolina to being sold in New Orleans.
Oprah Winfrey stated that the existence of both the mind and spirit are crucial for her survival.
“The first weapon I ever held was my mother’s hand” is the powerful opening line of the novel. According to Ward, this metaphor represents the strong bond and protective nature of the protagonist’s relationship with her mother.
Ward stated that the mother is getting her ready for life in that particular world and also for the possibility of living without her, as the mother is aware of the potential risk of them being apart.
Ward’s book, “Let Us Descend,” was a deeply personal experience as she dealt with the loss of her husband during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I was deeply immersed in the sorrow of losing a loved one,” she explained. “As a result, I was able to empathize with Annis and her struggles in navigating a future without her mother and loved ones. It became a guide for me as I began to envision what my own life would be like without them.”
Please refer to the following passage. Keep up with the designated reading plan on OprahDaily.com.
As a child, I remember holding my mother’s hand as my first weapon. I was young and still had a soft belly. One night, my mother woke me up and took me into the Carolina woods. We ventured deep into the forest, where the trees seemed to murmur and the sun was setting, casting everything in blackness. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother’s fingers were like blades in their sheaths. We walked until we reached a small clearing with a tree that had been struck by lightning. It was far from my father’s sprawling cream-colored house, which was situated beyond the rice fields.
Separated from my father, who has a fair complexion unlike my mother’s deep skin tone. Separated from the man who claims to own us, who forces my mother to slave away in his kitchen all day to feed him and his two plump, pale children. I was small and fragile, barely reaching my mother’s shoulder.
Many years ago, my mother kneeled among the roots of a broken tree and retrieved two long and slender branches. One was sharpened to resemble a spear, while the other was unevenly carved to resemble a snake.
“Your fingers are long.” My mother taps the center of my palm and my fingers quickly close.
“Tonight, we will be practicing with my staff.”
“Take this,” says my mother, uncovering the weapon left to her by Mama Aza. She runs her hand along the smooth, dark surface, still warm from the oil of her hands and those before her. Mama Aza had passed down her knowledge of fighting with this weapon, passed down to her from the sister-wives across the vast ocean. My mother throws the weapon to me and grabs her old staff, sharp as a bolt of lightning. I feel anxious, my armpits sweating with fear.
I feel my heart pounding in my ears as Mama brandishes her spear and we engage in a practice fight. With each rotation, attack, and thrust, my mother transforms into a blazing inferno, losing her usual self and becoming more like a flickering, fluid flame. I am not fond of this change, but I have no time to dwell on it as I must defend, deflect, and strike back. The world becomes a blur of motion and sound, with us caught up in the spinning chaos. When we return to the cabin, Nan and her two eldest children are already asleep. Nan and her family share our living space. Her youngest two are awake and crying uncontrollably.
They hold each other in their blankets, breath hitching from sobbing, while their mother and siblings doze. Nan has always diverted her love for her four children. She throttles it to a trickle, to an occasional softness in her orders: be still, hush, don’t cry, and the rest of her care is all hard slaps and fists.
My mother shows me love by teaching me to fight once a month. As we settle into our bedding, she reaches out for my hand and I hold onto it. She has always been a woman with a tender heart, telling me stories in a hushed voice and guiding me through life’s challenges. She shines like a lantern, providing light in the darkness, and gives me a special gift when she teaches me how to defend myself.
The following day, my mother wakes me up before sunrise. She has the scent of hay, magnolia, and fresh game meat from our late night hunting. I am tired and tempted to stay in our blanket and sleep more, but Mama gently rubs my back.
“Annis, my daughter, it’s time to wake up.”
As we make our way to my sire’s house, I adjust my clothing and tuck my blouse into my skirt. Despite my efforts, I can’t shake off the sullenness weighing me down, causing me to walk with a dragging pace. My mother is walking ahead of me, and I try to push down my resentment. She is in a hurry, needing to reach the oven and tend to the fire so she can start baking for the morning. I know she has just as many tasks to complete in the house as I do, but I am irritable and exhausted. Suddenly, my mother starts limping, a reminder of the pains from last night. I quickly catch up to her and slip my hand through her arm, gently rubbing it. I admire the soft down on her ear and the intricate weaving of her hair.
“Mama?” I say.
She whispers, “At times, I crave something sugary,” as she lightly taps her fingers on top of mine.
“No,” I reply. “I would like some salt.”
“Mama Aza used to tell me it’s not healthy to crave sweets. I would search for them and eat so much that my hands would be stained red and blue.” Mama sighs. “But now, all I can think about is having just a little bit of sweetness.”
eyes and taking a deep breath.
The large, imposing house of my father creaks and groans from the inside. My mother is hunched over the stove, busy with her tasks. I gather firewood and fetch water, carrying them up the stairs and glancing into my half-sisters’ rooms. Despite knowing the truth since my mother first trained me to fight, I still feel a twinge of envy and disgust every morning when I tend to them. They slumber with their mouths agape, their cheeks flushed with pink, and their eyelids fluttering like shallow water fish. Their red hair is tangled and unkempt. They will sleep until their father rouses them with knocks on their doors, long after the dawn has broken. I push down my emotions, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath.
The person in front of me. The man who is my father is sitting at his desk, wearing his robe, and writing. The room he is in is filled with the smell of stale smoke and sweat.
“Hello Annis,” he greets with a nod.
“Sir,” I say.
I anticipate his usual disinterest towards me, similar to how water glides over a smooth stone, as I attend to him every morning. However, his gaze catches on me, lingering as I move about his room, performing tasks such as filling his washbasin, gathering his clothing, and handling his chamber pot. He examines me with the same scrutiny he gives his horses, with a steady and intimate focus like his touch on their manes, hindquarters, and backs marked by saddle wear. I avoid making eye contact and only notice my trembling hands once I descend the stairs with his soiled chamber pot.
I am careful to avoid being seen by him. It is something I have always been able to do: I keep my mouth shut. As the day goes on, I move quietly on my toes through the wide, dim hallways of my father’s house. I place buckets and basins down gently, slowly lowering the metal to the ground. I stand very still just outside the entrance to my pale sisters’ schoolroom and listen to their tutor reading to them inside. The stories I hear are not the same as my mother’s stories: there is a different tone, a different melody that settles deep in my chest and trembles like a weapon vibrating against flesh. These girls, pale sisters, read from the texts their tutor assigns them, ancient Greek writers who talk about animals and industry, wasps and bees. And I listen.
“Bees appear to enjoy the sound of rattling, and as a result, people claim that they can gather them into a hive by rattling with crockery or stones.” The youngest sister’s voice quiets down and then grows louder. “They remove any lazy or wasteful bees from the hive. As mentioned before, they divide their tasks; some produce wax, some produce honey, some create bee-bread, some shape and mold combs, some bring water to the cells and mix it with the honey . . .” I inhale the scent of pine in the hallways and repeat the most powerful words: wax, honey, bee-bread, combs.
The tutor explains that Aristotle called the leaders of beehives “kings,” but research has revealed that they are actually female, or queens. In ancient Greece, the priests of Artemis were referred to as “king bees.” It was also believed that bees bestowed the power of prophecy upon Apollo, Artemis’s brother.
The tutor laughs dryly and expresses his disapproval. He references Aristotle’s wise advice on the consequences of excessive labor, comparing it to a beekeeper leaving a hive with too much honey, which can lead to laziness. Despite speaking about bees, his words also apply to all of us who work. He is likely alluding to my mother’s cooking, as well as the tasks of myself, my sister Cleo, and her daughter Safi, who clean and maintain the house.
I quickly rush downstairs to my mother, who reads me just as fast as the tutor reads his written passages.
“Are you listening again?” she inquires.
“Be cautious,” she murmurs, before forcefully tapping her spoon against the dark pot. The kitchen is filled with the smell of cured meat. “He wouldn’t appreciate being informed.”
“I understand,” I responded. I have the desire to share more with her. I wish to express how I am envious of my sire’s twin.
daughters, their soft shoulders, their hair pale and thin as spider’s silk, their lessons, their linens, their cream-colored, paper-thin dresses. I want to tell her that when I listen at their doors, I am taking one thing for myself, one thing that none of them would give. I say the tutor’s words in my head again, trying not to feel guilty at my mother’s worried frown, the way her anxiety
She stabs her spoon into the pot, filled with wax, honey, bee-bread, and combs. How can I make amends for desiring a word, a story, something beautiful for myself?
“I apologize, Mother,” I utter as I step outside to collect additional firewood.
A solitary bee leisurely wanders around the vegetable garden, with its plump body and striking black stripes making it a sight to behold. It alights on my shoulder, its touch as gentle as a fingertip, and I ponder on the possible message it carries from other realms. As the bee takes flight and vanishes into a vibrant yellow squash blossom, the wind rustles through the trees and I briefly perceive a faint echo drifting down from above: Queens.
This text is taken from pages 1-9 in “Let Us Descend.”