Monday, March 23, 2015

A Model of Hope

A few days after I returned from the museum conference in San Francisco, I attended a conference on dementia in St Paul. While the CAJM conference was small, a little over 100 rather hip attendees, the dementia conference had around 1300 people and a lot more grey hair. Many of us in our 60s were attending to learn more about how to support parents coping with Alzheimer's. Because I am doing a series of artwork on memory loss, I also wanted to see if I could learn some facts on which to build my work. Ideally each piece supports a relevant aspect of the disease.

One of my initial questions for exploration was what happens to identity as we lose memory. My sample of two, composed of my mother and late father, seemed to indicate that identity is persistent, remaining even as memory fades. My mother, the former first grade teacher, "cuts and pastes" each day. My father, the college professor, used to make his rounds to tell his stories at the university.

My observation of persistent identity was supported by our speakers. One shared several anecdotes. One was about a gentleman who each day would get up and then pull himself under a bed. What was he doing? Finally someone asked him and he reported that he was fixing the drive train. A former mechanic, he was reenacting a familiar role. They in turn entered his world suggesting he might want a pad because the floor was oily and offered him a blanket.

Another gentleman would poke his head into each room at a certain time of day and check on the residents. A former doctor, he was making his rounds. They asked if he would like a nurse to accompany him lest he start examinations and he happily agreed.

I especially appreciated a talk by John Zeisel, author of I'm Still Here and President of the I'm Still Here Foundation. Zeisel spoke about choosing the model of hope rather than despair for dealing with the disease. The public narrative is largely one of despair complete with social stigma. It is the perspective that it is all downhill from here and results in withdrawal from the world.

I remember when my father was losing memory, a former coworker suggested that his frequent presence in the world in his diminished state would tarnish his legacy. Like an aging beauty, it was presumably his time to retreat to preserve the perception. I understand where that comes from, but my father was never one to retreat. He would have responded with a none too polite expression. I mentally said it on his behalf.

Zeisel proposed that if we approach with hope we get curious. It occurs to me that my exploration through artwork accentuates my curiosity. When my mother speaks of feeling that she is in a wilderness, I begin to contemplate what that wilderness looks like. It has begun to bring me into a different place.

In a model fueled by hope we see the person for who they are, not her remaining skills, but her essence. We do things together, go places. Our loved one feels less lonely, as do we, for we forge a connection with the person who is there and appreciate their abilities.

He noted that a lot of programs are inspired by Montessori programming.

He spoke of how much of our brain is hard wired to appreciate nature, use landmarks, facial expressions, visual expression and respond to touch. An awareness of these facets can help us in creating meaning for our loved one.

There were two points that he mentioned that tied closely to my observations of my mother. The first was about identity that remains and can continue to be expressed in their environment.

The second observation is that even while they may not remember the particulars about an experience, they remember how it made them feel. My mother associates me with doing things from our prior travels. When I come in to visit she says she looks forward to the fact that we do things. No, she doesn't remember what we do, but that isn't the important part of the experience for her.

A program within I'm Still Here is ARTZ which focuses on arts programming, developing collaborative programs with artists and museums that engage those with Alzheimer's.

Sean Caulfield, director of ARTZ, spoke about their programming and the principles that underlie it. There are three parts of the creative process.

Imagination-freeing one's self from mental constraints

Action -perception, sensory reaction

Reflection - how can we do it better

The first two are unaffected, also consistent with my mother's creation of art. I have often envied her ability to suspend judgement and just create. It is a state artists often struggle to achieve. The ARTZ program works with both the visual arts and poetry and many of the artists create work that both surprises and delights.

I was especially touched by artwork Sean shared from a person who could no longer speak. It was of a tree with the word "mad" written by it. When asked why the tree was mad she wrote "No longer in the forest".

I thought of an elderly person isolated from the world, no longer able to communicate through speech. I'd be mad too. Artwork remains a vehicle for expression. If we listen carefully we might just learn something.

 

 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Creating Delight

At the museum conference I attended in San Francisco there was discussion about how we create delight. What creates salience and experiences that stay with us? I remember similar discussions in the business world, focused on creating delight in a customer experience, something that happens far too seldom. While a museum or a business may make a conscious effort to create delight, delight often arises organically.

I began to think about my experience with delight and realized it had a lot to do with the unexpected, something happening that I hadn't anticipated that created a special moment. Many of those moments happen when I travel, perhaps because I am often literally in foreign territory and more open to viewing my experience through fresh eyes. Many years ago when traveling I used to make a list each evening of surprises, those magical unexpected moments that delight.

As I contemplated the question of what engenders delight I realized I need only look to my recent travels. We had started our visit in the LA area visiting family. We then rented a car and drove up the coast to San Francisco.

Delight #1. About fifteen miles outside of Cambria we saw some unusual rock formations gleaming white in the sun. We pulled over into a roadside lot and I walked over to a fence to get my photo when I happened to glance down. Covering an extended area of the beach were hundreds of elephant seals. Lying almost motionless, the seals had mastered the fine art of relaxation. Occasionally a flipper would flick sand onto their corpulent bodies or they would wriggle over to warm their other side. They snuggled close to each other, one resting his head on another. We were fascinated by this unexpected discovery. So what caused delight? Certainly the unexpected nature of our discovery. If we had known about them and been looking for them, it would still have fascinated us, but wouldn't have packed as much of a punch. There were sign boards and information that educated us about the seals, also an important component. We liked learning about something that we didn't know. There was a sensory aspect to this experience as well. The sound of the waves rolling in, the barks of the seals. Their presence was interesting visually as we learned to identify males and females by their snouts, applying the information that we had learned. It engaged both our senses and our minds.

Delight #2 One such surprise would have been delight enough, but our trip was to be graced with many. We began one of our San Francisco days at the farmer's market by the water. It was a sunny warm day with a statue of Ghandi overlooking the market booths. Gulls perched on the railing by the water, hoping for a bite of our breakfast. After breakfast we walked along the Embarcadero towards Coit Tower. Many years ago we had seen the WPA murals and hearing they had recently been restored we decided to check them out. When we reached Lombard we looked up at the tower perched high upon a hill. "How in the world do we get up there?" I asked my husband. We soon found the beginning of the seemingly never-ending steps which took us past homes and gardens as we rose high above the water.
At last we arrived at the tower. The murals on the first floor were free to the public, but the 2nd floor required a guide who was not available. We examined the first floor murals and read about the artists on the signboards, then decided to wait on the sunny lawn for the guide to return.

Eventually we were introduced to our guide, a young French woman. We entered the private entry and ascended a curved stairway surrounded on both sides by paintings of street scenes from the 1930s. Artwork in a different style from the first floor surrounded us, somber faces on all. We were told the artists decided no smiles were permitted.

Our guide invited the director to speak with us and we had an opportunity to ask questions on what we had read below. He shared many anecdotal stories with us. Apparently our interest in the paintings was unusual as most visitors came for the view.


We confided to our guide that we were artists and learned that she was a musician. She asked if we'd like to hear her sing to which we eagerly assented. Her voice echoed within the tower as her rendition of La Vie en Rose took flight. You can hear her at virginiemarine.

Again this situation presented us with an unexpected surprise, a private concert in a unique setting and an interaction with interesting people. The meeting with the director offered new information as he told us of interviews that were recorded with many of the WPA artists. There were dramas between the artists and rumors that had been recorded as truths. I think there was also something to the journey, climbing steps through gardens, turning around to see views of the ocean below framed by unusual trees and flowers. Then a wait for the guide. All of these events framed a unique experience that we had to work a bit to find. As most things in San Francisco, it was a sensory experience spanning both landscape and artwork.

The qualities that created delight were something new and unexpected, information and the opportunity to apply it, an experience that used our senses and our minds and a journey that framed the experience. While these experiences were organic, I suspect the same qualities within a museum experience would create the delight museums so desire.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Memory Jar

Where do ideas come from? So much of what I do is about communicating through story. I do that through writing, painting, public speaking and video. Before I can do any of that I need to take in content, to fill my mental gas tank with fuel. I need both inputs and outputs lest I be running on fumes. Input comes from observation, interviewing, reading and education. Often that education occurs in the form of conferences and the past week I attended two of them, one in San Francisco and a later one in St Paul. I've since settled in back at home and am considering those inputs, what I learned that I might carry forward into my work.

The San Francisco conference was put on by the Council of American Jewish Museums. It is a fun conference even for non-museum professionals because we visit museums, some Jewish, others broader in scope.

The theme was Open Source. So what does that mean? It is a techie term from the most techie region of our country. Open source promotes universal access by offering a free license to a product's design and universal redistribution of that design. It incorporates subsequent improvements to it by anyone. Think Wikipedia from which this definition comes.

Now carry that concept over to museums. For museums it means relinquishing control to let other voices and audiences in and engaging audiences and communities in an interactive process that changes the offering. In that process transformation can happen.  The question of the day is how do you become an agent of transformation? Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimlett of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews spoke to that concept. At her museum they try to change the conversation, stepping out of the shadow of the Holocaust to engage audiences in understanding the integral role Jews played in the history of Poland. It is a reclaiming of 1000 years of history. She noted that she is often asked why the museum is in Poland. Her response is that is where there is an opportunity for transformation.

The other hot topic is engaging Millenials. Never did a baby boomer feel so passé. Lots of focus on how to reach an audience that commits last minute, has a much broader definition of what is cultural and seldom would go to a museum alone. One of our speakers was a young woman from the Academy of Science in San Francisco who has the unique title of Nightlife Coordinator. She throws parties with science content that attract up to 2000 young people. They have themes such as time capsules, robots and sharks. How cool is that?

So what does an artist take from a museum conference? A concept I've already been developing in my work happened to dovetail nicely with a presentation on an exhibition of memory jars by Nina Simon, Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

I've written in this blog of a gift of a memory jar I once made for my mother many years ago. It was at a time when her memory was quite good and I never thought of it worsening. I purchased a ceramic jar that had the label "memories" carved into it. I then wrote out memories that we shared or that I had of her, some from our trips together, some from my childhood. The act of doing it touched me. It was a litany of what I love in her. The jar sat on a shelf high on the bookcase until I noticed it on a recent visit. I took it down and together we drew out each memory and remembered it together. Some she recalled, others took some assisted remembering. When we had gone through all the memories she thanked me for helping her remember.

My sister lives closer and goes in weekly. On one of her recent visits she heard a noise in the kitchen and poked her head in. There was my mother laughing at a memory from the memory jar.

In May I will be sharing several pieces on loss of memory at a caregiver conference and had been thinking of calling the series The Memory Jar based on a painting/collage with that title.

When Nina spoke she told us about the exhibit they did of memory jars. They invited visitors to fill a mason jar with objects tied to a personal memory. They also wrote a label that described their memory. Over three months they collected 600 jars.

As I sat in the session the wheels were turning. Was there a way I could make my exhibition interactive?

By the next session I had decided to include a memory jar with the exhibition and invite attendees to contribute a memory about their loved one, a memory perhaps no longer retained by their family member. The memory would represent the fact that they were now the keeper of the memory. With their loved one they could remember it together just as I did with my mother.

By a later session I was contemplating how to turn the memory jar into an art piece on its own and still later how I could work with the contents of the jar to create yet another art piece. This is a bit of a test, more limited in scope because of the short duration of the conference. A lengthier exhibition could invite more extensive participation similar to that of the Santa Cruz museum, but focused on the theme of memory loss. I returned a few days ago and the first thing I did was purchase a jar and paint it.

One other concept that was discussed at the conference was the Pop Up Museum. The Pop Up Museum is a temporary exhibit that is created by the people who show up to participate. They may bring objects such as the memory jars, but the concept is often very time limited and in unorthodox settings. I was chatting with a new museum friend about the fact that I wasn't employed by a museum when she looked at me and observed,"You're a pop-up museum".

Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Unfamiliar Place

When I first decided to do paintings based on memory loss, I identified some possible subjects drawing on my observations of my mother's experience. Topics emerge in the normal course of our interaction, often from our daily conversation.

I call my mother every morning to help her prepare for her day. Our calls have gradually become shorter as content becomes less important than the call itself. Sometimes she asks me why I'm calling. "To talk to my mother," I reply. I've taken to saying, "Hi Mom, it's Susan" to help her identify both me and our relationship. Sometimes she asks "Where are you?", ever hopeful that I might be coming in and be in route at this very moment. Or perhaps she is confused about who is calling and is looking for an identifier.

The content of my call focuses on which aide is coming to assist her and when. She is still a polite conversationalist, asking me about my life, but I've learned that her attention span is short and will soon return to who is coming and when.

She went through a period of confusion awhile back, which fortunately has abated. It had us worried that we were entering a new period of decline as opposed to that imperceptibly gradual decline we had come to accept. On this particular day she started our conversation by saying "I'm confused".

"Is it good that she can identify it?" I wonder. She continues, "Where is everyone? I feel like I’m all alone. Has everyone forgotten about me? It's like I’m in a wilderness".

My mind seizes on the idea of a wilderness. Perhaps the definition will give me some clue to her experience. I look it up. A wilderness is an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. This is where she lives when she is dislocated, confused. A place that feels unfamiliar to a woman who always feared the unfamiliar.

I peruse the definitions. They speak of a voice in the wilderness as one who is ignored. Being in the wilderness means one who no longer has influence or recognition. Both are apt descriptions of one with Alzheimer's. The presence the person cultivated in their life and work now dissipates. They begin to withdraw, sensing the discomfort of others with this change in the person they knew, feeling their own discomfort with a suddenly unfamiliar world.

Wildernesses also signify a passage. Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert, also a wilderness, as he shaped a people. Perhaps my mother's wilderness represents a passage as well. A gradual process of losing one's way, letting go of the world as we know it. Preparing for an unknown. It is a passage for me as well. One of letting go of the person who was most central in my life. Learning to accept this new permutation, still with her essence at the core, but different.

I wonder what is in this wilderness. What does she bring with her? What does she leave behind? What does she see? What does she hear?

I wrote a bit about this last year in Into the Wilderness before I began developing these paintings. This was how I pictured it...

Her cat is her companion and gives her comfort, another living, breathing creature. Her cat would accompany her into this wilderness. My mother writes a lot of notes to herself. Not always logical, she writes down times that five minutes later will be obsolete. It is the act of writing that helps fix her reality. I report how long before her companion would arrive, 20 minutes, 15, 10. She writes this down as if to capture time, to make it stand still for her like her oven clock, stuck at ten after eight for countless years.

I picture a path of yellow post-it notes, a yellow brick road of sorts with her cat leading the way, her shadow behind. A thick and tangled forest in front. The red flash of time through the trees. And my phone call reverberating in waves, an anchor for her as she stands before this forest. I can picture this wilderness with its echoes of noise and light, her following her cat into the unknown.

Many of my paintings go through a long evolution. As you can see this one thus far is amazingly close to my initial description.

 

 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cutting and Pasting

Cutting and Pasting Acrylic on Canvas by S. Weinberg
I've been busy developing my paintings on loss of memory with many in interim stages.  I've debated a bit on what to share with you as they are all subject to change at this juncture.  Sometimes I think a painting is done until I come into the studio and suddenly decide to totally rework it.  So the point of that intro is to keep in mind that what I share is likely to continue to change and evolve.

I am always fascinated by process and as I am in the beginning stage of a new series,  I find myself reflecting on the process that underlies it.  I read about a subject, observe closely, test out some concepts by writing about them in this blog and finally put brush to canvas.  Then I work and rework.  Part of the process is learning how to share what I am working on with other people.  Later in my process I give talks on my work, in fact I am busy speaking about my Jewish Identity and Legacy series currently on exhibition.  For the memory series I am still testing how best to share the stories behind this series.

This weekend we had an open studio where I got to share some of my stories with visitors.  It is part of my process that begins long before I give formal talks.  I think of it as testing the market, learning what people respond to even as I learn how to tell a story in a way that engages the listener. While writing about it helps,  there is nothing like a live audience.

My mother's collages
One of the questions that drives this visual exploration is what happens to identity when we lose memory.  I've written of my mother in Everyone Has an Idea  as she does what she calls Cutting and Pasting.  My mother was a first-grade teacher, known for her artistic talents and love of reading.  As her memory has deteriorated, her past-time of reading became more challenging.  No longer could she remember what she just read to connect the thread to what followed.  While she has aides who come in to assist her, she still has a lot of time on her own, time that once was filled with reading.

More of her collages
My mother is an intelligent and purposeful woman and even with an uncooperative memory she brings her coping skills to bear.  Everyday she would get up and get her newspaper.  This was a very important part of her day, so important that if she didn't get it, I immediately knew I had to call the paper to assure a delivery.  This took on added importance when she began to "cut and paste'.

Now each day she gets her paper and sits down before a notebook, scissors and glue in hand, and begins to collage.  She works at this purposefully, as if it were her job.  It is an extension of her long-time identity.  It is no coincidence that she calls this "cutting and pasting" and that her wall where she puts things up is called her "bulletin board".  She uses the terminology of her career as a first grade teacher and embraces the artistic process that was always part of her life.  Observing her, I can clearly see that identity is persistent.  Just as the Mississippi floods and remembers its original boundaries, so do we return to the familiar etched route from which we came.

I have great admiration for my mother's skills, both her creative skills and also her ability to identify the challenge, find a solution and work it persistently.  That is the woman I admired when she returned to college as an adult and later when she began a career in middle age.  It gives me pleasure to realize that she is still there with all the strength and determination that I have always respected even as her world becomes more difficult to navigate.

When I thought about how to capture this story, I knew it needed to be a portrait.  It also needed the location in which she does her cutting and pasting, at the same kitchen table where she used to type her papers for school.  I decided that I would deconstruct her collages and put the elements in the lower third of the painting, smaller pieces closer to her hands, growing is size as they reach outward, probably more pieces to still add.  For a long time I was uneasy about gluing them down until one day I just did so in a flurry of activity, prepared to paint over them and re-collage if necessary.  It is a collage after all where such things are permitted.  It would have helped if I had a bit of my mother's ability to ignore that part of the brain that worries about making mistakes.  She just keeps going, taking pleasure in the moment with no judgment except if it pleases her eye. Like a photographer who takes a lot of pictures knowing some will work, she actively creates each day.




Monday, February 2, 2015

Emotional Memory

I've been hard at work painting and writing. A new year seems to have brought me new energy. Deadlines help also. I have a show scheduled for my loss of memory artwork so I need to make a dent or it will begin to weigh on me.

I last shared a post with the beginning of a painting based on a Toni Morrison quote that equates "flooding" with "remembering". She talks of how the Mississippi River was straightened and in flooding the riverbanks, water finds its way back to the path it once carved. She spoke of it in terms of writers and the flooding of imagination. I think of it in terms of the emotional memory that leads us back to our well-engrained identity even when functional memory no longer exists.

Emotional memory leads us to the places and people that give us comfort, that feed some sense of who we were and how we still see ourselves. For example my mother likes when I come in because we do things together. Now the things we do are rather limited by her physical capabilities, but she associates me with activity and exploration because that was our history as we traveled together. It remains her emotional memory even as the details of our trips are long gone. Likewise her teaching years were very satisfying to her and hold warm emotional memories, hence her current activities of "cutting and pasting" (collaging) harken back to those times.

This painting is metaphoric, representing the path of emotional memory finding its way home. It is both painting and collage.To move it forward, I found I had to do something that seemed strange. I had to flood it. In my "omnipotence" I had created a river and land masses, together with the suggestion of homes. Now I had to extend the waters to obliterate them. It felt like a creation process in reverse as I let my flood take over, slowly rising over the land and trees I had so carefully created. I'm still debating writing a sentence from the quote over the painting.  You can see I began to do that and then took parts of it out.

The creation-destruction cycle actually is not an uncommon process for an artist. We often get too attached to a painting that is almost right, but not quite. Afraid to destroy our creation, we can remain paralyzed. The only way we can save ourselves is to let go and start over. I find covering a painting with white paint is my favored flooding technique on which to build anew, but here I was actually trying to mimic a flood.

This painting may do double duty in both the memory series and as a piece for the Jewish Artists' Lab exhibition on the theme of water. As a metaphoric piece it can work in many ways and certainly mimics the creation and destruction process contained in Biblical passages.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Favorite Reads

This past year I read 60 books, an all time high for me, but a pittance in the world of literature. Because we are allowed a finite number of books in our lifetime, I choose with care, trying to allot my time wisely. For the past seven years I've kept a list of everything that I read, give it a rating and jot a sentence to remind me of its content. About 60% is fiction and 25% has some Jewish theme as I frequently read on themes related to my artwork. I am in two book clubs, one that has been going for around 30 years and reads a broad range of current literature. The second is focused on creativity and the arts. That assures that I am introduced to books I might not pick up on my own, but which I am grateful to discover.

I am surprised at how easy it is to identify the ones that are standouts. They are the ones that stayed with me, where plot and characters remained lodged in memory. Interestingly several of them are debut novels and all of those have some otherworldly elements. As a child I loved fairy tales and mythology and perhaps these are the adult versions, often weaving mythical creatures and historical fiction.

The Debuts

Three Souls (2014) by Janie Chang is set in China and told through the eyes of a woman who has died and is looking back at her life. It begins with "we have three souls or so I've been told, but only in death could I confirm it". The novel begins in 1935 and looks back upon the politics of a changing China. The main character is guided by her three souls, one stern, one impulsive and one wise. She must make amends before she can move on in her journey. On this premise one is taken into her life as a Chinese woman in search of the matter which must be remedied.

The Golem and The Jinni (2013) by Helene Wecker takes the Jewish theme of a golem made of clay and imbued with spirit coupled with a jinni drawn from Arab folklore. It sets them loose in turn of the century New York and lets them evolve, often testing the limits of their natures. It is an odd premise, but Wecker makes it work, truly bringing them to life.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope (2013) by Rhonda Riley also creates one of the central characters out of mud. This creation has the ability to mirror another person in form and being, even to alter gender. It too is a weird premise, but it works. It examines what it is to live life with a secret. Beautifully written, it also creates an unusual and touching love story.

Nonfiction

I weigh nonfiction on a different scale. Did it give me information I didn't know previously? Did that information affect me on an emotional level?

The Lady in Gold (2012) by Anne Marie O'Connor followed the story of a Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the life of its owner and the efforts of her descendants to recover the painting. It takes us deep into Austria during WWII and the Nazi reign both during the war and distressingly after. The first part of the book explored Klimt's life and relationships that led to the creation of the painting. The second part was the destruction of both lives and a world under the Nazis. The third part was as disturbing as the second. It explored the difficulties survivors had in regaining their artwork even after the war as Nazis continued to reign, creating countless hurdles and ironically laying claim to this painting of a Jewish woman. A movie titled Woman in Gold will soon come out and I will be interested in how they address the post-war period.

The Birth of the Pill (2014) by Jonathan Eig explores the creation of the birth control pill which placed women in control of their lives. I came of age after this time and sometimes forget the limited choices biology imposed. It is a character driven book for it took a cast of four key characters to make this a reality. The fifth character is the environment in which the Pill's creation unfolded, a culture which was resistant to contraceptives largely because of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile women were desperate for a simple and reliable form of contraceptive. It seems that even today we continue to fight offshoots of this early battle.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher (2012) was addressed in an earlier post and introduced to me by my Arts bookclub. It looks at Edward Curtis and his role as both photographer and ethnographer of Indian tribes at a time when their culture was being quite intentionally destroyed. A fascinating exploration of a life driven by a singular passion.

Authors On a Roll

I've read at least two books by each of the following authors and can vouch for their staying power.
All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr is my all time favorite this year. While I read it in my bookclub, I had already discovered the author's book of short stories titled Memory Wall. His new book is set in France during WWII. It juxtaposes a young blind French girl in St Malo with an orphaned German boy swept up in the machinery of the war. His task is to trace radio broadcasts of the resistance and that task ultimately causes their stories to converge.

Transatlantic (2013) by Colum McCann is a book that leaves trails of breadcrumbs through time. There are three discrete, but connected stories; Frederick Douglas on an international lecture tour in Ireland in the mid 1800s, two aviators who attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1919 and George Mitchell in 1998 trying to broker peace in Ireland. The stories connect through interrelated generations of women.

And two more authors of books that I've addressed in an earlier post...

Night in Shanghai (2014) by Nicole Mones addressed prewar and wartime Shanghai and the experience of black Jazz musicians within it. I recommend any book by Mones and have read them all.

I became a fan of Chimimanda Adichie this year when I read Americanah (2013) in my bookclub and intrigued, followed with her earlier book Half of a Yellow Sun (2009), set during the Nigerian-Biafra war. Americanah was a look at the experience of a Nigerian woman in the United States, examining our culture, both white and black, through outsider eyes. There is also an excellent TED talk by this author.