A dazzlingly inventive, deeply moving, intellectually bracing exploration of pain and beauty, private memory and public monument, art and complexity in contemporary Black life.
“I wanted to write about silences and terror and acts that hover over generations, over centuries. I began by writing about my mother and grandmother.” —from “Note 18” in Ordinary Notes.
A singular achievement, Ordinary Notes explores with immense care profound questions about loss, and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. In a series of 248 brief and urgent 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-day realities and possible futures, intricately constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence. Through the striking images and words in these pages, themes and tones echo: sometimes about life, art, language, beauty, memory; sometimes about history, photography, and literature—but always attending, 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 and other gifts and ways of seeing, Sharpe steadily summons a chorus of voices and experiences to become present on the page. She articulates and follows an aesthetic of "beauty as a method,” collects entries from a community of thinkers towards a “Dictionary of Untranslatable Blackness,” and rigorously examines sites of memory and memorial. And in the process, she forges a new literary form, as multivalent as the ways of Black being it traces.