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Read With Us: The How To Say Babylon Discussion

It’s discussion (and Zoom!) day for our Spring 2024 Read With Us Book, How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair. Today, Bonny and Kym and I will each post questions about the book on our blogs. And tonight, we will meet virtually with anyone wishing to participate to have real time talk about the book.

As a reminder, I gave this book 4 stars and had this to say on Goodreads: This is a touching and inspirational memoir, written by a young woman who grows up in a Rastafarian household. Sinclair, who is incredibly smart and brought up in an impoverished home, yearns to break free from her strict and abusive father and the limited roles available to women under his rules. She ultimately finds herself through writing poetry and a new world is opened to her as a result of her beautiful talent, but it’s a world that is still fraught with dangerous pitfalls. The writing is gorgeous due to Sinclair’s skill with poetry and the story is compelling, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Highly recommended.

I’d like us to consider how literature impacted Safiya’s life. Was her poetry writing (and feel free to consider her modeling here, as well) an act of rebellion or a path to self-discovery and empowerment? How did it help her confront and question her father’s misogynistic beliefs?

And, to take it a step further, how does literature serve as a form of liberation and healing for Safiya? Can you think of a moment in your own life where a book or a piece of writing helped you cope with a difficult situation?

For me, personally, literature has saved me and helped me cope over and over again. When I was a little girl, reading was a way to take me away from the fighting adults and scary situations . . . I could be with Laura Ingalls in the big woods and on the prairie or commiserating with Margaret Simon about parties and boys and small boobs. As I got older, reading was a way for me to work out bigger problems and discover the world. I learned to stand up for justice from To Kill a Mockingbird, I modeled how to be a feminist from The World According to Garp. And I discovered the joy of love and devastation of heartbreak from The Time Traveler’s Wife. Literature has always been there for me, it’s a constant in my life that has never let me down. And, in case you couldn’t tell, I think it has done the same thing for Safiya.

I hope you’ll share your thoughts on these questions, either here on the blog or at the zoom tonight . . . or both!

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Books surely have been the salvation of so many who pick them up. But the teacher who encouraged Safiya to write really gave her the key to her freedom. She could take all those feelings and pour them out on paper. I especially loved the moments she shared with Derek Walcott (who I love even more now!) How he helped her move from just pouring out the pain to writing moving poetry and I wonder how many times she has read his Love After Love (I hope lots!) I did a quick Google search after finishing the book yesterday and read some of her poetry that is online. It is so moving.

    These are great questions, Carole. Really great questions (thank you for them… these will be a delight to discuss tonight! XO)

  2. Literature – and poetry – can be such powerful forces for us! I listened to several interviews with Safiya as I prepared for the discussion tonight, and in each one, she mentions the power and wonder of poetry . . . introduced to her by her mother as a child. As I read the book, I could feel the way poetry “unlocked” the world for Safiya, and could see it paving a way forward and out of her Rastafarian life.

  3. Beyond the power of literature for Safiya, what stuck with me was the drive to learn all the Sinclair siblings shared. They were so gifted they were able, with the support of their mother, to transcend the limits and restrictions their father imposed on them. While school want easy for any of them, it helped them meet their need to use their brains and learn and create. Their domains are different but their brilliance seems similar.

  4. I think poetry and literature served Safiya in several capacities – as a way to rebel against her father and Rastafarian strictures, as a way to learn and read about other lives and other ways of living, and as a way to express her own complicated feelings. Poetry and literature can be wonderful pathways.

  5. The power of literature has certainly influenced my life in so many ways.
    I think poetry and literature guided Safiya on her journey of self discovery and empowered her to rebel in a way that was not destructive to herself or others. I look forward to discussing this further this evening!

  6. I would suspect many of us who are big readers as adults would say that literature played a huge role in our childhood; I know it was the case for me. I was a shy, sensitive kid, but I could do anything and be anyone through books.

    Thanks again to all of you for a great discussion!

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