The New Jersey City University (NJCU) Center for the Arts Presents

A Conversation with Emily Bernard

Author of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine

Moderated by Edvige Giunta and Meilli Ellis-Tingle

Tuesday, April 20, 6 p.m.

Emily Bernard is the author of Black is the Body: Stories from My Mother’s Time and Mine, which was named one of the best books of 2019 by Kirkus Reviews and National Public Radio. Black is the Body won the 2020 Los Angeles Times Christopher Isherwood Prize for autobiographical prose. Emily’s previous works include: Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendship, which was chosen by the New York Public Library as a Book for the Teen Age; and, with Deborah Willis, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, which received a 2010 NAACP Image Award. Her work has appeared in: O the Oprah Magazine, Harper’s, The New Republic, newyorker.com, Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, and Best of Creative Nonfiction. She has received fellowships from the Alphonse A. Fletcher Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Arts Council, and the W. E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University. Emily was the James Weldon Johnson Senior Research Fellow in African American Studies at Yale University. She is the Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont, and a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Emily lives in South Burlington, Vermont with her husband and twin daughters.

Free with RSVP.

The End of Life

I have a friend whose elderly mother lives with her and is driving her crazy. Her mother was once a talented artist, an intellectual with myriad interests. Now, my friend says, “she gets up in the morning and makes a cup of coffee and she’s so slow, doing it. I mean, I just watch her sometimes to see how she can possibly be so slow. Then she sits at the kitchen table and talks about what might be for lunch. I just can’t stand it! All she talks about is her cup of coffee in the morning and the weather and what her next meal will be. I really wonder . . . is there any meaning to the end of life?

I’ll Be Seeing You, p. 193

Gah. This is a depressing book. The author’s final reflections are “How young and strong and beautiful they were” and she remembers telling her mom, “I’ll miss you.” (To which self is tempted to say: HA. HA. HA.) To her readers, she says that her parents “belonged to each other more than they did to us.” (Imagine! Incredible!) The last page talks about love and blah blah.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

April 15 BRIGHT SQUARES

And here we are, halfway through April! How time flies.

I’ve been wanting to post this picture for Becky’s April Squares challenge theme of ‘Bright,’ for a long while. They’re from a March visit to Gamble Garden Center in Palo Alto. I don’t know what they are — daffodils? I’ve never seen anything like them before.

See more Bright Square galleries here.

Paragraph, p. 187, I’LL BE SEEING YOU

The author sounds so patronizing here, it is driving self crazy:

  • My mother says no, she will stay where she is. She also says she would like to try embroidery, and so I send her some skeins of floss and some needle and a hoop. I also send her some yarn and knitting needles, in case she would like to join the group of women who knit sweaters for charity every Friday. She has made a new friend named Betty who still drives, which is the high school equivalent of being head cheerleader and prom queen and president of the student body and highest-ranking member of the National Honor Society. My mother has also signed up to go to Byerly’s grocery store on the bus, and sometimes she sits at the kitchen table to play double solitaire with my dad. When I hear all this, Cat Stevens comes into my head. Morning has broken like the first morning.

Only a chapter to go. What an excruciating read this has been. Next up is Walter Moseley’s Blood Grove. Haven’t read Moseley in such a long time, happy to re-discover him.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

April 14 BRIGHT SQUARES

Self hasn’t skipped a day yet in the April Bright Squares Challenge.

The host of this challenge is The life of B.

Today, self is honored to share the artwork of Dublin-based Jacinta O’Reilly, whose work is so fabulously vivid. These pictures are from Jacinta’s exhibit at Naas Library in Kildare, Ireland, October 2019.

The System

The system is broken. When you have adult children hustling parents off into “assisted living,” and giving up the home they’ve lived in for four and a half decades.

The parents give in because, at the end of life, we all become children again. We become helpless. It makes me angry.

3/4 of I’ll Be Seeing You is about what is past. The past is very pretty. The present isn’t. And the future doesn’t even bear contemplating.

Me thinking as I read: Why would anyone want to look at a bunch of total strangers and do crafts? What is so damn delightful about living in a place where you have the crafts option? Who cares about keeping busy? Why doesn’t “assisted living” have a library?

At the same time, the parents are such a burden to the author. She has meals with them, every gesture delicately described.

To me, the parents are functional. Childish, but functional. In the home, they become truly lost, not themselves. They have to adhere to meals at set times, and talking to people. Isn’t the fun of growing old the fact that you can do whatever you like? Because you’ve earned it, right?

And then the big end-of-life talk. Which comes, deadeningly, at the end. It’s so predictable, and really sad.

This is the third week that my mother has been in hospital in Manila. She got COVID. No one in the family has seen her. No one can visit because COVID is raging through the Philippines. She has a trach.

But she is a fighter to the very core. She is somehow hanging on, and a few days ago they transferred her out of the “critical” section of COVID patients. What I think I am trying to say is: Don’t count the very old out. Never, ever count them out. Give them that last shred of dignity, and don’t count them out.

I am nearly through with this book. On p. 171, author states she hopes her 90-year-old father “will find a friend.” His “assisted living” place offers the author a partial schedule of the father’s daily activities:

  • current events
  • exercise
  • lunch

The children auction off of all their parents’ precious things: “the auctioneer arrives promptly” and offers them five hundred dollars.

I am outraged by the author’s nostalgia for all the events that happened in her parents’ house. How dare she indulge in touchy-feely emotions while her parents aren’t allowed to have them. She expects them to be “objective,” to accept that what is happening is inevitable.

REALLY?????

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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