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75 Books You Should Read During 2023

Part of a reading campaign for 2023

Lorna Goodison

Lorna Goodison is one of the finest Caribbean poets of her generation and lauded as such by Kwame Dawes in the Caribbean Writer: “Superlatives glint all over commentary on Lorna Goodison’s work… she is now one of the greatest!”

Goodison was born in 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica, on the 1st of August – the Jamaican Emancipation Day, on which the abolition of slavery is commemorated. She originally trained to be a painter, and has said that she aims to bring the technique of chiaroscuro to her writing: “All these light images I place in relief to dark historical facts or hold them up as talismans against the sense of hopelessness and despair which can overwhelm us as human beings.” Her work focuses on the struggle and celebration of those living in a country with a tragic history and she has said in interview that she believes the health of Caribbean poetry lies in the hands of its contemporary writers: “They are the ones that have to tell the half that has never been told, and they will tell it”.

Many of Goodison’s poems are about the different roles a woman can play, and one of her best known, ‘For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)’, tells how her mother – “a child of the petite bourgeoisie/studying to be a teacher” – fell in love with a working class man who “had nothing but words to woo her.” The couple moved from the lush countryside of Harvey River to a busy street in Kingston, and went on to have nine children, of which Goodison is the eighth. The poem is a celebration of her mother’s remarkable domestic skills, which included making “a garment from a square/in a span that defied time.”

Goodison feels a deep sense of responsibility about the portrayal of her homeland and has said in interview: “If I have an agenda this is it: I want to first of all write in a language that accurately represents the people I write about. I have a great fear of writing as if I’m from middle earth.” She blends Jamaican dialects, or codes, to build up a richness of language which is both sumptuous and graceful. Velma Pollard has said that “the rendering of… complex voices in a single statement by the deft manipulation of lexicon and syntax of the different codes is, I believe, Goodison’s major contribution to Caribbean literature.” Listening to Lorna Goodison’s voice on this Archive recording, we are able to understand immediately how the music and cadences of her language are integral to its meanings.

Michael Manley

Rachel Manley

Rachel Manley is known not only for her poetry, but for her non-fiction trilogy about one of Jamaica’s most influential families—her own. Manley was born in Cornwall, England, on July 3, 1947. She was the first child of Michael Manley and Jacqueline Kamelard Gill. Michael Manley was a charismatic man who served as Jamaica’s prime minister between 1972 and 1980, and then again between 1987 and 1992. Her parents divorced when Manley was two, and she was sent to Jamaica to live with her grandparents at Drumblair, the family estate. Michael Manley was married five times, providing Manley with several step-mothers and siblings. Her grandparents, who were prominent citizens and led extremely active public lives, managed to provided Manley with the only family stability she had while she was growing up. As she told Maclean’s, “They were all mine.” Forced to share her father with several different families and his demanding political career, Manley often felt very distant from him.

Manley’s grandfather, Norman Washington Manley, was the founder of the People’s National Party, and one of the key figures in the Jamaican struggle for independence. An athlete and a Rhodes Scholar, Norman was also a World War I hero. After the war, he returned to Jamaica to practice law. Rising to the post of Jamaica’s chief minister in 1955, he became prime minister when Jamaica gained full independence in 1962. Manley’s grandmother, Edna Swithbank, a well-known sculptor, was also a prominent figure in Jamaica’s cultural life. Edna and Norman were first cousins, and this fact caused much public discussion. To make things even more complicated, Norman was from the “brown” side of the family, while Edna was from the “white” side of the family, thus producing a mixed marriage. Adding to family turmoil was the fact that Norman’s cousin, Alexander Bustamante, led a rival political group, the Jamaican Labor Party.

Manley, who attended boarding schools, had a solitary but relatively pleasant childhood in Jamaica. The household was particularly lively before elections, which sharpened the conflict between Norman and Edna, a situation that the Jamaican public found highly entertaining. For Manley, it was not easy to be part of a family that was under so much public scrutiny. Nevertheless, most house visitors were Norman’s supporters, friends of the family, or Edna’s fellow-artists. In 1969, when Manley was 22, Norman Manley died. Three years later, in 1972, Michael Manley was elected prime minister of Jamaica, a position that he held three times over the following twenty years. In 1975 Manley moved to Barbados, and eventually settled in Canada.

Although Manley always perceived her father as a distant, elusive figure, in the 1990s she moved back to Jamaica to be at his side after he became terminally ill with cancer. She wrote in Slipstream, according to The Antigonish Review, ” After a lifetime of chasing my father’s attention like a fleeting phantasm, I needed to be with him now.” When her father died in 1997, Manley was devastated.

Published in 1996, her first memoir, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, won the Canadian Governor General’s Prize for non-fiction. In Drumblair, Manley focuses on the lives of her grand-parents, Norman and Edna Manley. The second in the trilogy, Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers, is devoted to the political and private lives of her father. Manley told Barbara Ellington, a reporter for the Jamaica Gleaner, that she chose that title for the book about her father because, “a slipstream is the strong current left in the wake of two giant propellers … my father’s parents were the propellers and he came in their wake; by extension we (his children), are caught in his wake and so I thought the title appropriate.” For Manley, writing about her father was definitely cathartic. According to the Jamaica Gleaner, Professor Rex Nettleford, who was a guest speaker at a gathering to honor Manley’s book, described her writing as “straightforward and elegant, never dense or unfathomable; the prose is beautifully poised, deceptively easy on the senses, eye, ear, and sensibility. It is joyously disturbing and disturbingly joyous.”

By 2002 the third book in the trilogy had not yet been written. Manley, who in 1989 had edited Edna’s diaries and published them as Edna Manley: The Diaries, planned for the final book in her trilogy to focus solely on Edna Swithbank Manley. In the final volume of her trilogy, Manley, who is intent on coming to terms with her illustrious family, will present another intimate, yet historical, view of Jamaica. In the prologue to the first of the trilogy, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, Manley declared, “This is not history—this is memory.” Manley’s memory is rich in detail and of great interest to her readers, who are certainly awaiting the last installment of her Jamaican trilogy.

Barack Obama

Michelle Obama


Edward Seaga

Krystal Tomlinson

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Raised between Mandeville, Jamaica, W.I. and Long Island, New York, Sheryl Lee Ralph was born in Waterbury, Connecticut to an American father and a Jamaican mother. Sheryl attended Uniondale High School in Uniondale, NY. She starred in the High School musical Oklahoma! and played Ado Annie. Sheryl graduated in 1972. In 1973, she was crowned Miss Black Teen-age New York. At 19, Ralph was the youngest woman to ever graduate from

Rutgers University.Also that year she was named as one of the top 10 college women in America by Glamour magazine. Initially she hoped to study medicine, but after dealing with cadavers in a premed class and winning a scholarship in a competition at the American College Theater Festival, she quit medicine for the performing arts. Many years later, she served as the commencement speaker at Rutgers for the Class of 2003.

Original DREAMGIRL, Sheryl Lee Ralph is a multifaceted jewel of a woman who sparkles in every area of her life. An acclaimed show business “pro”, her award winning body of work in film, television and the Broadway stage includes originating and creating the role of Deena Jones on Broadway in the landmark musical Dreamgirls, which earned her a Tony Award Nomination and a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Actress. After Dreamgirls, Ms. Ralph turned her attention to music, television, and film. She scored a top-ten selling dance hit in the mid-eighties with the infectious anthem In the Evening. The video is a You Tube hit.

On television, she has starred in It’s a Living, her own series New Attitude, the George Foreman series George and in the hit comedy Designing Women. She was voted one of TV’s Favorite Moms for her portrayal of loving step mom, Dee on the smash series Moesha and received numerous NAACP Image Award nominations for this role. In the SHOWTIME series, Barbershop, Sheryl broke new ground as the popular, post-operative transsexual, Claire. She brought a new face to the sufferings of war in the NBC hit series ER.

Her extensive film credits include The Mighty Quinn with Denzel Washington, Sister Act II with Whoopi Goldberg, Mistress with Robert De Niro, and Eddie Murphy’s Distinguished Gentleman to name a few. Sheryl Lee’s performance with Danny Glover in To Sleep with Anger won her the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Author, Sheryl Lee Ralph’s first book Redefining DIVA (Simon & Schuster) debuted to rave reviews. Kirkus Reviews says, “A highly enthusiastic memoir by one of the original Broadway Dreamgirls… Actress Ralph embraces the label Diva (“Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed”) … Proposing that a real diva is a strong woman who respects herself and others and who promotes positive change. Ralph presents an engrossing story of a woman who challenged Hollywood… Her responses to trying circumstances reveal genuine grace and the ability to move forward with forgiveness.” Wendy Williams, Sherri Shepherd, Richard Simmons, Raven Symone, Shaun Robinson and Publishers Weekly all say it is a must read!

As a producer, Sheryl Lee found new success with her production company, Island Girl Productions, writing, directing and producing her award-winning film short Secrets. With an all-star cast, that includes Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard, Tina Lifford, Victoria Rowell, La Tanya Richardson, Robin Givens and Ralph herself. Secrets was a finalist in the HBO Film Short Competition, Showtime Filmmakers Series, Acapulco Black Film Festival, Hollywood Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, Urban World Film Festival and “Audience Favorite” at Outfest Film Festival. She is also the founding creator of The Jamerican Film & Music Festival, which in five years gave birth to five SHOWTIME Filmmaker Finalists.

As a national speaker, Sheryl Lee consistently creates a contagious positive energy with her spontaneous humor and quick wit, which has made her a much sought-after speaker, guest, guest-host and celebrity expert. She has appeared on: HLN, Joan Velez Mitchell, Entertainment Tonight, CNN, The Daily Show, FOX & Friends, Good Day LA, Good Day NY, CBS Morning News, CNBC Africa, The Martha Stewart Show, The Wendy Williams Show, The Michael Baisden Show, Tom Joyner Show. Sheryl has been featured in: People Magazine, JET, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, Ebony, ESSENCE, Bazaar, Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Time Magazine, Black Enterprise, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer and hundreds more publications. Sheryl Lee Ralph captivates and motivates audiences around the world.

A passionate AIDS activist, Ms. Ralph is the founding director of the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation 501(C)3 which she created in memory of the many friends she had lost to HIV/AIDS. She also created the critically acclaimed Divas Simply Singing!, an evening of song and entertainment that after 22years is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. Ms. Ralph has added the critically acclaimed one-woman show Sometimes I Cry, written, directed and performed by Ralph herself, about the lives, loves, and losses of women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS to her list of outstanding credits. Sometimes I Cry touches the heart leaving audiences around the world deeply moved and encouraged to know their HIV status. Ms. Ralph, was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the UN for her unique use of the arts in HIV/AIDS activism.

Mother of two with a blended family of four, Sheryl Lee loves every moment of motherhood and marriage. Happily married to State Senator Vincent Hughes of Pennsylvania in what Entertainment Tonight called, “The most elegant and romantic wedding!” she acknowledges love is the greatest gift to be given and shared.