A finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction
Named a Best Book of 2023 by The New York Times, NPR, New York Magazine, Kirkus, and Barnes and Noble
Critically acclaimed author of In the Wake, "Christina Sharpe is a brilliant thinker who attends unflinchingly to the brutality of our current arrangements . . . and yet always finds a way to beauty and possibility" (Saidiya Hartman).
A singular achievement, Ordinary Notes explores profound questions about loss and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. In a series of 248 notes that gather meaning as we read them, Christina Sharpe skillfully weaves artifacts from the past—public ones alongside others that are poignantly personal—with present realities and possible futures, intricately constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence. The themes and tones that echo through these pages—sometimes about language, beauty, memory; sometimes about history, art, photography, and literature—always attend, with exquisite care, to the ordinary-extraordinary dimensions of Black life.
At the heart of Ordinary Notes is the indelible presence of the author’s mother, Ida Wright Sharpe. “I learned to see in my mother’s house,” writes Sharpe. “I learned how not to see in my mother’s house . . . My mother gifted me a love of beauty, a love of words.” Using these gifts and other ways of seeing, Sharpe steadily summons a chorus of voices and experiences to the page. She practices an aesthetic of "beauty as a method,” collects entries from a community of thinkers toward a “Dictionary of Untranslatable Blackness,” and rigorously examines sites of memory and memorial. And in the process, she forges a brilliant new literary form, as multivalent as the ways of Black being it traces.
4-color art throughout
Sharpe (In the Wake), a Black studies professor at York University, Toronto, lays bare the brutality of anti-Black racism through 248 brief "notes" on history, art, and her personal life in this poignant and genre-defying triumph. Recounting a visit to the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, Sharpe contends that its decision to feature statues only of enslaved children instead of adults suggests that the curators thought generating empathy for the enslaved children "was an easier task than seeing all Black people, everywhere/anywhere, as human." Her wide-ranging analysis is penetrating, as when she links a journalist's comments calling a neo-Nazi a "good father," Francis Galton's dubious honorific as the "father" of eugenics, and the remarks of a sheriff who said the 2021 Atlanta mass shooter who targeted Asian women had "a really bad day," arguing that white supremacists are "extended the grammar of the human" often denied to people of color. Throughout, Sharpe returns to the supportive influence of her mother, who encouraged her "to build a life that was nourishing and Black" and instituted a family tradition of reciting excerpts from Black authors over tea, making Sharpe feel "accomplished and loved." The fragmentary dispatches are rich with suggestion and insight, generating meaning through juxtaposition and benefiting from Sharpe's pointed prose. Moving and profound, this is not to be missed. Photos.