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Book Review :: Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Christina Sharpe has written an incisive and insightful book about what it means to be Black in America today. Though the 248 notes that make up the book are brief, they dig deeply into the realities of white supremacy as a central tenant of American culture. Sharpe draws on a wide variety of contemporary and historical writers, artists, and thinkers, ranging from some most readers would be familiar with—such as Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass—to a number who will be new to those same readers. Her 248 notes include 208 footnotes, in fact, as she steps into the long and deep river of Black thought and art. Sharpe structures her book around the various meanings of the word note, whether as a verb meaning to notice or a noun in the musical sense. She’s interested in definitions and words in general, as one of the longest sections of the book is what she refers to as “preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness.” Given her investment in the tradition of Black thought, she calls on other thinkers to help her provide definitions for “unbuilding,” “spectacle,” “property,” and a number of other terms. All of her notes—like a piece of music—combine to create a composition that is more than its individual parts, one that celebrates Black culture and history, while reminding readers of the White supremacist reality that Black tradition has been and currently is being forged within and against.

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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