Celebrating The Good Braider

Copies of The Good Braider provided by our generous donors

Copies of The Good Braider provided by our generous donors

On July 11th, I’m Your Neighbor, Portland celebrated its first featured book in the collection, The Good Braider. Author Terry Farish was joined by local performers O.D. Bonny and Bianca Abdalla in an evening of exploration and celebration of both the title and the Sudanese American community in Portland.

Bianca Abdalla reads "Be Free" from The Good Braider

Bianca Abdalla reads “Be Free” from The Good Braider

Kristen Cappy, project director, opened the evening with wishing South Sudan a “Happy Birthday,” as July 9th marked its second year of independence. Student and performance artist Bianca Abdalla reading from the chapter “Be Free,” which takes place early in the novel while the character Viola and her family lives in Juba, South Sudan. Bianca beautifully expressed Farish’s writing and the character Viola’s voice.

Farish then led the audience through a discussion of the mother-daughter relationship a central theme throughout The Good Braider, based on what Farish observed in the Sudanese-American community in Portland. One audience member noted Viola’s preference to confide in her grandmother over her mother and wondered if that was a common occurrence in Sudanese culture. Bianca responded that like Viola, she often talked more to her grandmother about certain things that she would never talk to her mother about. She shared that her mother commanded more authority and might try to lecture, whereas her grandmother, as an elder of the family, would listen.

Sudanese rapper OD Bonny performs from his album "Kwo I Lobo Tek"

Sudanese rapper OD Bonny performs from his album “Kwo I Lobo Tek”

Sudanese rap artist OD Bonny came on stage next to perform two songs from his album “Kwo I Lobo Tek” sung in Acholi, OD’s native language and one of the languages spoken in Sudan. He concluded his set with “A Girl from Juba,” which was inspired by the book. He also shared a special preview of The Good Braider book trailer that he is currently in the process of filming.

Many wonderful connections were made during the book discussion, from OD relating his own personal experiences coming to Portland from Uganda to Viola’s story, to a Portland librarian connecting the book’s theme of identity to her family’s history of being Russian Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s. O.D.’s friend Chris, who plays Andrew in the trailer, said that he enjoys friendships with people of all different backgrounds and that as a child, he felt a connection with the kids who were bullied because of their skin color since he too was often picked on.

Bianca performed a second reading, “Flea Market,” which takes place in Portland and describes an afternoon with her American friend Andrew and a moment when Viola first experiences a step towards a new identity in the U.S. The discussion concluded with a conversation on the ability of fiction to connect readers with people of a different culture and life experience. “I moved to Portland a few years ago,” one participant said, ” and I’m aware of the immigrants in the city, but I don’t know any of them, I don’t know their stories. This book series opens your eyes… It offers a chance to hear their stories.”

Terry Farish (right) with OD (center), Chris (left) and Kirsten Cappy (back)

Terry Farish (right) with OD (center), Chris (left) and Kirsten Cappy (back)

Afterwards, the audience was free to talk with the performers or have Farish sign a copy of her book, as they tasted  Sudanese Cinnamon Sweet Tea, and vegetable sambusas and himbasha bread from Asmara Restaurant. They were also able to pick up an I’m Your Neighbor Portland discussion guide to the novel to continue the conversations.

35 readers of varying ages and cultures joined in this wide-ranging discussion made more powerful by the performances of Sudanese Americans, OD and Bianca. Thanks to all who joined us and to the staff of the Portland Public Library who support and partner with I’m Your Neighbor Portland.

 

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The Good Braider Book Guide

BraiderhiresWe now have a book guide available for readers on The Good Braider page! Scroll down to beneath the book information to view a PDF. The guide is designed to start conversations and offer suggestions on how you can engage with the Sudanese American community in Portland. It is divided into four sections, Discuss, Explore, Engage and Read. In addition to discussion questions, it includes background and resources about South Sudan and Sudanese immigrants, and a recommended reading list.

Please join us at the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland event for The Good Braider this Thursday, 7/11/13 at the Portland Public Library.

Good Braider Event 7/11/13

BraiderhiresWhen author Terry Farish was working at the Portland Public Library, she befriended a young man from the Sudan who told her “there is no word” when asked about his favorite family meal.  “My mother will cook it for you,” he said.  Terry Farish joined his family for a meal and from that day, began a journey of listening.  Her new friends in Portland’s Sudanese community told of their tumultuous  path from South Sudan to Portland, Maine.

The cultural exploration that started as “there is no word” became a braiding of stories, experiences, and words which culminated in the award-winning novel, The Good Braider.

The Good Braider will be celebrated at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 6:00 PM as part of city-wide read entitled “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” Bianca Abdalla, a local performer, will read aloud from The Good Braider, the author Terry Farish will talk about the development of the novel, and South Sudanese rapper OD Bonny will perform songs from his new CD, “Kwo I Lobo Tek.” The event will include a book signing and the sharing of East African refreshments from Asmara Restaurant. The event is free of charge.  For more information, contact Curious City at 207-420-1126.

The free verse novel for teens and adults is told in the character’s Viola’s strikingly original first person voice.  The narrative follows Viola’s dreams of South Sudan and her navigation of the strange world of America – a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.

“As I built relationships with new friends in Portland from Sudan,” Terry Farish said, “I explained to elders that I wanted to write a book about the teens as they made their homes in Maine. The elders very much wanted this story to be told and shared their experience and struggles with me.  I approached the work as documentarian, spending a lot of time with families and learning how they spent their days, about their art, the work of their hands, the music they love, the stories they  tell. However, I used this research method to create a novel. The Good Braider is fiction and based on research and dozens of stories I recorded.”

OD-Bonny-albumSudanese American rapper and performer OD Bonny was given a copy of the book prepublication and recognized Viola’s journey in The Good Braider as he and brothers also fled South Sudan as young men.  In response to his reading, OD Bonny wrote and recorded the song “Girl from Juba” and is currently producing a music video for the song and book with local filmmaker Fred Ben.  OD Bonny performs in a mixture of English and his native Acholi.  His new CD “Kwo I Lobo Tek” translates as “Life is Hard in This World.”  “The song is about the struggle that we are facing in this world,” says OD Bonny, “and what we can do to solve some of those issues.”

 

Teaching Resource for My Friend Jamal

MyFriendJamal

We’re thrilled to include Anna McQuinn’s title My Friend Jamal in the featured books of I’m Your Neighbor, Portland. It’s a terrific children’s book about a multicultural friendship between two boys, one of Somali ancestry and the other of Polish ancestry that celebrates commonalities rather than differences, which fits in perfectly with the mission of this project.

We have found a fabulous teaching resource of the book to supplement your reading. Teachers, parents and students can learn background information like why some people like Jamal’s family have to leave their homeland, and explanations about Muslim culture, from foods, daily prayer and the headscarf.

Be sure to keep an eye out for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland events featuring My Friend Jamal later this year!

 

Supplement Your Reading

In addition to the seven fiction titles, I’m Your Neighbor, Portland features two non-fiction titles, I Remember Warm Rain and New Mainers. Although there will not be a specific event celebrating these two books, we encourage you to read these autobiographical stories written by Maine’s teen and adult immigrants about their experiences and journeys coming to the state. On each Featured Book page, you will find our suggestions of stories to pair with the fiction books based on commonalities in themes, backgrounds or experiences.

You will also find on the New Mainers page suggested portraits from the collection that illustrate the hardships many immigrants face no matter their history or country of origin.

The Books Have Arrived

Check out the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland book collection at the Main Branch of the Portland Public Library!  Look for the beautiful bookcase between Children’s Services and Circulation.

The books were funded by the marvelous Maine Humanities Council.

I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Launched

Students, community members and authors joined on Saturday at the Portland Public Library for the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Launch

I’m Your Neighbor, Portland officially kicked off with the Launch Party this past Saturday at the Portland Public Library. During the event, members of the community were introduced to the featured books and planned events that will be taking place throughout the year. It also gave an opportunity to recognize the many organizers and facilitators whose contributions and hard work are making these programs possible this year.

The nine Featured Books were available for purchase from the University Southern Maine bookstore in addition to copies to borrow from the Portland Public Library

The community was joined by authors Terry Farish, Frederick Lipp, Maria Padian, and Anne Sibley O’Brien, as well as Aruna Kenyi, who wrote a story in I Remember Warm Rain. The authors were recognized along with their books and were available for book signings.

Authors Maria Padian (left) and Frederick Lipp (right) with Kirsten Cappy

The event started off with Kirsten Cappy, Program Director, introducing the inspiration, mission and vision for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland. She was followed by Dr. Krista Maywalt Anderson, professor of psychology at Bates College and Project Scholar, who explained the importance of reading about cultures other than ones own and her research on the issue.

Dr. Krista Aronson, Professor of Psychology at Bates College and Project Scholar spoke to the importance of reading about other cultures

The highlight of the event was the presentation of the Featured Books. Each book was presented by one of Portland’s NAACP Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellows. The students gave a brief summary and read an excerpt of their choice, including one student who related The Good Braider to his own experiences in coming from Iraq to Portland.

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King Fellows presenters with copies of Out of Nowhere

Kirsten Cappy with King Fellows presenters

Following the presentations, attendees were given the chance to donate to the Free Book Distribution, which helps fund and provide this collection of books for the community. The audience then broke up into small discussion groups and Anne Sibley O’Brien led them in introducing themselves by giving the history of their names. The discussion invited attendees to express how they envisioned using these books in the community.

A sampling of snacks and candies from various ethnic markets around Portland, including Sun Oriental Market, Safari Grocery, Mittapheap International Market, Sindibad Market, La Bodega Latina and Tandoor Bakery were available for refreshments. Guests could try Turkish Delight or Korean sesame candies or the tremendously popular freshly made hummus and bread from Tandoor Bakery.

Hummus and bread from Tandoor Bakery

Throughout the event, attendees were encouraged to write “I’m Your Neighbor” in any language that they knew on a banner. The banner will be present at each event for people to add to the growing list of languages. Already the banner has “I’m Your Neighbor” written in Japanese, Arabic, Italian, French and Somalian.

Guests were invited to write “I’m Your Neighbor” in any language on the I’m Your Neighbor banner that will be displayed at all future events

“I’m Your Neighbor” in Arabic

We hope you will join us in reading and celebrating these books throughout the year. Please visit our Events page to see upcoming programs.