On My Bookshelf: Associate Professor Bianca Baldridge
As the fall semester was kicking off, Associate Professor Bianca Baldridge shared what’s currently in her book rotation and why she’d invite her sister-scholars to her book group.
What are you currently reading? Right now, I am reading The Prophets, a novel by Robert Jones Jr., also known as Son of Baldwin.
What drew you to this book? Robert Jones Jr. has a popular website called Son of Baldwin. For years, I’ve appreciated his analysis of race, Blackness, gender, sexuality, and culture. He’s a very honest writer, and I’m always drawn to honest and vulnerable writers. I was very excited when I heard that he had published his first novel. Many of my favorite authors raved about it, so I wanted to make sure I had a chance to read it.
What kind of reader were you as a kid? Growing up, I was the kind of reader who read in waves. I enjoyed reading, and there were times when I would be consumed with books for weeks or months. And then I’d have periods when I was more into watching television shows than reading. As a child, I reached for books that my parents bought for themselves, much to my mom’s dismay. She would often say, “You’re too young to read that novel.” Of course, that made me want to read it even more. Haha.
What’s the last interesting or useful thing you read in a book? The most recent thing that stopped me in my tracks and made me think differently comes from Kevin Quashie’s newest book, Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being, where he writes in the introduction: “This equation of Blackness and death is indisputable and enduring, surely, but if we want to try to conceptualize aliveness, we have to begin somewhere else.” It’s a simple statement that carries a lot of weight for me. I think about problems often. I’m great at that, but I always need reminders to move to a space of envisioning and reimagining something different. Something as simple as “beginning somewhere else” is powerful to me.
You’re forming a book group at your house. Name three people you’d want in the group. My father Mac Baldridge Jr. While he spent more than 30 years as a dedicated bus driver for the Los Angeles School District, he always wanted to be a history teacher. He is such a Black history buff. He always asks great questions, and I’ve always loved his curiosity. Author Kiese Laymon. While I don’t know him personally, I enjoy his writing immensely. I also enjoy his analysis of just about everything and his love for Black folks. I’d learn a lot from his insights. I’m going to cheat a little and say a group of about four Black women I call my sister-scholars. I appreciate book clubs that allow you to talk through the book and draw connections to your personal life. This requires empathy and vulnerability, and my sister-scholars have the capacity to do this. And it just so happens that everyone on my list has a great sense of humor. I need jokes and laughter!
Is there a book you’re assigning to your students this year that you think all educators should read? I’m mostly assigning excerpts from books rather than entire books this year. I am assigning my book (Reclaiming Community: Race and the Uncertain Future of Youth Work) for my course, Education and Resistance in Community-based Organizations. I promise I don’t do this to be a snob, but, because it’s an ethnographic text that shows the intimate day-today of a community-based youth program navigating anti-Blackness and education privatization, it works well for the course.
What about for high schoolers? There are many books I think every high school student could read, but one that had a profound impact on me was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was not assigned to me in high school (though it should have been), but I came to it on my own and through my dad. It was formative for my understanding of race/racism, America, power, politics, and religion. It’s a text that I returned to in college and graduate school, and it always makes me think about personal transformation and the truths of race in America. I think it’s important for high school students to read a book that makes them question EVERYTHING, and this book did that for me.