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ORDINARY NOTES by Christina Sharpe Kirkus Star


by Christina Sharpe

Pub Date: April 25th, 2023
ISBN: 9780374604486
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A potent series of “notes” paints a multidimensional picture of Blackness in America.

Throughout the book, which mixes memoir, history, literary theory, and art, Sharpe—the chair of Black studies at York University in Toronto and author of the acclaimed book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being—writes about everything from her family history to the everyday trauma of American racism. Although most of the notes feature the author’s original writing, she also includes materials like photographs, copies of letters she received, responses to a Twitter-based crowdsourcing request, and definitions of terms collected from colleagues and friends (“preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness”). These diverse pieces coalesce into a multifaceted examination of the ways in which the White gaze distorts Blackness and perpetuates racist violence. Sharpe’s critique is not limited to White individuals, however. She includes, for example, a disappointing encounter with a fellow Black female scholar as well as critical analysis of Barack Obama’s choice to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in a hate crime at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. With distinct lyricism and a firm but tender tone, Sharpe executes every element of this book flawlessly. Most impressive is the collagelike structure, which seamlessly moves among an extraordinary variety of forms and topics. For example, a photograph of the author’s mother in a Halloween costume transitions easily into an introduction to Roland Barthes’ work Camera Lucida, which then connects just as smoothly to a memory of watching a White visitor struggle with the reality presented by the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. “Something about this encounter, something about seeing her struggle…feels appropriate to the weight of this history,” writes the author. It is a testament to Sharpe’s artistry that this incredibly complex text flows so naturally.

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.