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With Her New Anthology, Cinelle Barnes Aims to Help People of Color Feel More Welcome in the South

With Her New Anthology, Cinelle Barnes Aims to Help People of Color Feel More Welcome in the South
October 2020

She asked 21 writers to share how they define their sense of place

Anthology editor Cinelle Barnes, the author of Monsoon Mansion and Malaya, is going on a virtual book tour this month, including a stop with Turning Pages Books on October 27.

“Just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game,” the monumental Toni Morrison once said. In A Measure of Belonging (Hub City Press, October 2020), Charleston resident and author Cinelle Barnes has taken those words to heart.

In the introduction, the Philippines native writes about a not-so-warm-welcome to the Holy City she received a decade ago after moving from New York City and her vow “that everything I do personally and professionally will be welcoming to brown and Black people. That I will try to open doors for others like me, and hold them open.” With this collection of essays, Barnes does that and more. She asked 21 writers to respond to a simple prompt: “I want to know what your sense of place is like here in the South—whatever that means to you.”

The result is much more than a rainbow, or melting pot, or even a grab bag of candy, or whatever inclusivity metaphor suits your fancy. For me, the book is a trek through a Southern landscape that I’ve traversed all my life but now see reflected in new and revealing light, thanks to these poignant reflections.

There are the tobacco fields I drove past on umpteen road trips to North Carolina beaches that now come alive in the smells “of old pine walls and sunbaked earth and dried leaves and burlap” that Diana Cejas writes of in her penetrating finale, “Gum.” There’s the raucous and, to some of us, hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium where I cheered on the Blue Devils as a Duke undergrad and now revisit through the lens of racial and religious power dynamics, thanks to Cristina Cleveland’s provocative “White Devil in Blue.” In Columbia, we travel past Lizards’ Thicket and a motel on Two Notch Road where Jennifer Hope Choi (a former Charleston magazine editor) lies awake as her 65-year-old roommate mom, a Korean immigrant, falls asleep to true-crime videos. There’s hip-hop blaring from Joy Priest’s 1988 Cutlass Supreme Classic on a ride through Kentucky neighborhoods in her brilliant rap-like essay, “Black Southern Mobility, Intra-regionality & Internalized Misogyny.”

But don’t let those big, woke words scare you; the writing in A Measure of Belonging is a beautifully measured harmony of often poetic personal voices, not diatribes. A slim book of short pieces, it’s easy to plow through, but the essays will pull readers to go deeper inside the door that Barnes has opened for a wildly talented, multi-hued, multi-ethnic chorus of Southern voices. (I loved reading the distinguished author bios as much as the essays.)

When Barnes approached Spartanburg’s Hub City Press, they responded, “This is exactly the type of book we’re looking for.” I fully agree. It’s a book that encourages readers to see the South as a richer, more nuanced, more beautiful, more devastating, and more hopeful place.

To attend one of author Cinelle Barnes's virtual book tour events, visit these websites:

Southern Festival of Books, October 4 

The Bitter Southerner, Oct. 14

Atlanta History Center, October 15