Oppression On My Table?

My Sugar Crush diet depends in large measure on fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve got to govern my fruits though, choosing to eat the fruit and eschew the juice. So, my eyes light up at the array at the local supermarket or the corner fruit stand. But because I’m pondering the fruit I eat,  I wonder at the nearly invisible chain of custody of my apple or banana or orange. I’m no agricultural xenophobe. I don’t want to ban fruit or vegetables from anywhere. But I recognize the costs some people pay to get these scrubbed and stunning fruits to my table.  Organic? Non-organic? Local? Schmocal? Global?


Habari Gani?


collective work and economic responsibility.  Let’s take this opportunity on the third night of Kwanzaa to reflect on the world’s millions of agricultural workers who labor in oppressive conditions on factory farms and endure the effects of virulent pesticides to provide the fruits and veggies for our tables . . . and unfortunately, in our trash cans.


“One toxic insecticide widely used in banana production is chlorpyrifos, a potent neurotoxicant member of the organophosphate insecticide family. Chlorpyrifos can harm workers, communities and the environment but is not generally detected on peeled bananas. Children are especially sensitive to chlorpyrifos toxicity. The chemical can disrupt brain development and impair cognitive functions, measured by intelligence tests, when the child is exposed during pregnancy and early childhood (Rauh 2011). Costa Rican researchers found that children living near banana fields where pesticides were used had much higher concentrations of chlorpyrifos in their bodies than children living where only 12 percent of farmers reported using pesticides.” —–Sonya Lunder, EWG.org

for more on bananas and pesticides, Bananas are pesticide intensive

for more on worker safety:

U.N launches Banana Worker Safety handbook

Celebrate Kwanzaa by trying to find a way to eat responsibly and not waste. Check out a recipe for banana bread to rescue overripe fruit. Banana Bread      


Now check out my diabetes-friendly substitutions:

Use 1&1/2 cups of whole wheat flour with 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

Use an artificial sweetener blend like Truvia baking blend instead of sugar

Use 1/2 cup of canola oil for the butter

Add some chopped walnuts


Warmth of Other Suns

The brilliantly comprehensive, Pulitzer-Prize winning book, “The Warmth Of Other Suns”: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson details the crushing experiences of southern agricultural workers in the 20th century.  After reading this book, I began to think that saying a prayer before eating was not a bad thing. A prayer/a hymn for the picker and the picker’s children. A prayer for the oyster-shucker and the oyster-shucker’s children, a prayer for the cane cutter and the cane cutter’s children. A prayer for all those who harvest and box and pack our meals.




Kwanza     IMG_3709

for more on Breena Clarke’s books, go to www.BreenaClarke.com



Determined to Crush It

What a year! Phew! We started out mobilized, determined to resist the Trump agenda, to persist like pit bulls on a meat wagon. We marched worldwide on January 21, 2017, to assert the rights of women to equality and dignity. I marched proudly in New York City.

Habari Gani?

Kujichagulia (self-determination) to be responsible for the community and to speak for oneself.

Let’s celebrate Kwanzaa by being determined to recognize the needs of our communities and by being willing to stand for justice and dignity and against racism.  For more information about Kwanzaa, go toWhat is Kwanzaa


On January 21, 2018, thousands will come together in Las Vegas, Nevada, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March.  Find a march in your city:  https://www.womensmarch.com/power-to-the-polls/

In the spirit of Kwanzaa, the Harvest Festival we ask:

When will there be a harvest for the world?

[lyrics by Ronald Isley]
All babies together, everyone a seed
Half of us are satisfied, half of us in need
Love’s bountiful in us, tarnished by our greed
When will there be a harvest for the world

A nation planted, so concerned with gain
As the seasons come and go, greater grows the pain
And far too many feelin’ the strain
When will there be a harvest for the world

Gather every man, gather every woman
Celebrate your lives, give thanks for your children
Gather everyone, gather all together
Overlooking none, hopin’ life gets better for the world

Dress me up for battle, when all I want is peace
Those of us who pay the price, come home with the least
Nation after nation, turning into beast
When will there be a harvest for the world?
When will there be?
I wanna know now, now
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be?
When will there be?
Everybody, talking bout the children
When will there be, a harvest?
When will there be?

for more information about Breena Clarke’s books, go to www.BreenaClarke.com




Sugar Crush Saga

candy-chalet gingerbread house
     Christmas is over. The Sugar Plum Fairy has pirouetted into the sunset for another year. Candy canes can come down from the mantle and fruitcakes, pies, puddings, frosted donuts, chocolate-covered everything and cookies, peanut butter cookies with a dollop of jelly in the center are officially over. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Yikes.
     Like my maternal and paternal grandmothers, I’ve got sugar. I’ve got what my grandmothers called “sugar diabetes.” And, despite taking the sophisticated medications now used to treat the condition, until a year ago I mostly ate anything that appealed to me. Cookies. Peanut butter and jelly cookies. I made dozens of them last Christmas. My medication mitigated my transgressions of diet just enough to keep me on the edge of management of the condition. But last year’s dozens of pb&j cookies and the Entenmann’s donuts and the ice cream and that pretty bowl of red and green M&Ms caused a sugar shock for my husband that threatened his eyesight. We had to confront our sugar crush.
      For a diabetic, Christmas isn’t easy in the grocery stores. I’m comfortable with my diet. I’ve had great results and I feel good. But it is a principle of food retailers that candy is shelved, displayed alongside the lines to the checkout. That way, all shoppers have the opportunity to linger and consider purchasing the most addictive, unhealthy and generally more expensive offerings they sell. After Christmas I tell myself, they’ll take some of this temptation away until Valentine’s Day. We’re in this seasonal sugar celebration from Halloween, to Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter, then Mother’s Day. What is a diabetic to do?

Celebrate Kwanzaa, a harvest festival created to acknowledge African culture in the Americas.    IMG_1105

December 26 – January 1 
There are seven principles of Kwanzaa called Nguzo Saba and each day is dedicated to one of these principles:

Umoja (unity) to maintain unity in the family and community

Kujichagulia (self-determination) to be responsible for the community and to speak for oneself.

Ujima (collective work and responsibility) to build and maintain a community.

Ujamaa (cooperative economics) to help build and maintain our own businesses.

Nia (purpose) to build and develop goals to benefit the people of the community.

Kuumba (creativity) to make the community more beautiful and beneficial for the future generation.

Imani (faith) to believe in our people, parents, teachers, and leaders.

more: What is Kwanzaa    

No need to stuff yourself with sugar. Consider this the time to explore lower sugar, lower carb, higher fiber, higher protein options for your diet.

Kwanzaa greeting: Habari Gani?

Today’s response: UMOJA, Unity.


The First Principle of Kwanza is Umoja, Unity. The past year of Trump trauma has tested the idea of Unity in our nation. Paradoxically I’ve made community with a wider array of people because of the traumatic events of the Trump presidency. I’ve talked a lot about health and fitness, “sugar” diabetes and communities of color. And I’ve reflected that the people of the African Diaspora are particularly, uniquely, and peculiarly connected to sugar and the trade in sugar and slaves and rum and the wealth it created.
Traingle trade
The Triangle trade in American History is a pattern of colonial commerce in which people were purchased on the African Gold Coast with New England rum, then the enslaved were traded in the West Indies for SUGAR or molasses, which was brought back to New England to be manufactured into rum.  for a fuller understanding of the Atlantic Slave Trade: http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_43.html
Compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes:
  • 13.2% of all African Americans aged 20 years or older have diagnosed diabetes.
  • African Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.
     Over-consumption of sugar has been implicated in the occurrence of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and tooth decay. And diabetes is associated with an increased risk for a number of serious, sometimes life-threatening complications, and CERTAIN POPULATIONS ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED.  And because good diabetes diagnosis and management can be expensive for uninsured or under-insured people, many are unaware they have diabetes until they develop one of its complications. African-Americans are significantly more likely to suffer from diabetes-related blindness, kidney disease, and amputations. from American Diabetes Association website.Living With Diabetes
So this is about how to celebrate Kwanzaa in 2017.
Light a candle tonight and reflect on UNITY. UMOJA Let’s think about the historical impact of sugar . . . or NOT. Let’s celebrate our triumph over that moment and resolve to push back against King Sugar. Make this cranberry cake/pie that I adapted for my diabetes-friendly diet. It satisfies my sweet craving and gives me the wonderful benefits of cranberries cranberry 411  and the usefulness and flavor of walnuts and some whole grain.
Cranberry Pie/Cake
3/4 cup of whole wheat flour & 1/4 of all-purpose white flour & 1 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 cup of Truvia baking blend – a combination of the stevia leaf and a small percentage of granulated sugar.
 A dash of salt
2 cups of fresh cranberries (frozen is a-okay just not canned/jellied)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts – a healthy fat
1/2 cup of canola oil or oil of your choice
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla flavoring (optional – can use almond)
Preheat oven to 350degrees. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with a cooking spray of your choice. Combine flour, sweetener, and salt, add cranberries and walnuts and stir to coat. Stir in the oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Mix and spread into pie pan. The mixture will be thick-ish. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
for information about Breena Clarke’s books, go to www.BreenaClarke.com
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Festival of Women Writers 2017 Holiday Book Gift Guide

Celebrating five consecutive years of platforming women’s writing, The Hobart Festival of Women Writers has created a video guide to books by Festival authors.

video by Festival co-organizer, Breena Clarke

for more information about Hobart Festival of Women Writers, go to www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com

for more about the Festival’s participating writers, go to www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.blog

about Breena Clarke, go to



An Interview with Breena Clarke

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 Breena Clarke speaks to Write Angles, a one day writer’s conference in Eastern Massachusetts, November 18, 2017.

Breena Clarke is this year’s featured after-lunch speaker.  She was interviewed by Liz Bedell.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

Firstly, No biting, especially not insects. I come naturally to writing I would say. I have always been inspired by books, since my very first trip to the public library. These buildings in my childhood in Washington, D.C. were pleasant places. I majored in theater, acting at Howard University and I wrote and directed and performed plays. So I’ve always felt like a writerly person. But the thing or series of events that made me into a committed, daily, working writer began with the early death of my son, Najeeb. Motivated to record all of his life that I could remember, I began keeping small notebooks capturing thoughts and observations. A friend said that writing is like a muscle. The more exercise it gets, the stronger it becomes. I suppose I exercised my writer’s imagination through these books that I still have and that have never actually served any purpose other than as personal writing. The important part is that I began a training regimen for my mind. I consumed the good books written by others and launched into my own inquiries. I set aside time for writing, for developing an idea.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

Non seriously, but with humor at self: Reading what you’ve written a few days earlier that reads well and you think, “Hey, this girl is good, who is she?”

Seriously, but not wanting to sound self-satisfied: When someone comes up to you and tells you how moved they were when they read your work or heard you read. This is the moment of greatest satisfaction for me. It comes right before the “hey, who is this girl?” moment.

And the most frustrating part of being a writer?

I don’t know that yet. I haven’t gotten there yet. My mind is still sharp, and my energy is good, so I feel productive as a writer. Productivity relieves writerly frustration for me.

Can you tell us about your most recent novel? What inspired it?

I was inspired to write ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE by an interest in imagining the lives and community of people living outside the strictures imposed by racist white America. It’s set in mid-19th century New Jersey. Loosely based on the so-called Ramapo Mountain people, who were said to have been a tri-racial maroon community in the mid-Atlantic region, the people of Russell’s Knob privilege no color above another. And though they are insular, they welcome those who escape from oppression in the white towns. I enjoyed speculating on this somewhat utopian vision of racial amalgamation rather than separation. The novel has at its climax the horrible events of the New York City Draft Riots (July 13-16, 1863).

For more of this interview, go to https://writeanglesconference.com

For further discussion of ANGELS MAKE THIER HOPE HERE, listen to Breena Clarke’s podcast interview with Tim Knox for  Placing Literature


visit www.BreenaClarke.com

River, Cross My Heart   Stand The Storm      Clarke-AngelsMakeTheirHope




Since when is new?

“New York! New Amsterdam! Act! Grandmother spit when she say it. She say ‘since when is new?’ Grandmother’s spittle runs into our creeks. It sustains us. We won’t die of thirst in these hills.Our Grandmother sleeps there up ahead. She is taking her well-earned nap. Her lips fall back. Spittle runs our of the side of her mouth while she sleeps. The hills, the outcropping, the ridges, these are her misshapen teeth. Them sharp juts are what remain when flesh pulls back from bone.”  from ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE

Angels Make Their Hope Here     Dossie Smoot

Since when is new, I ask. I write historical fiction primarily from an urge to re-tell the past, rehabilitate the skimpy, fractured, fragmented narratives of the people of The Americas, the so-called New World. I believe that much of the national narrative of The United States is based on limited facts, racially motivated lies and the visceral belief that all people are NOT created equally. .Sometimes it feels like I have a score to settle. I think I must be a caretaker of imagination so that our race of people are not unimagined and thus disappear from the earth. I feel I need to be  like Scheherazade. I survive daily because I’m able to continue to tell stories of myself/OURSELVES. 

                                 Breena Clarke

read an excerpt of ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE  http://bit.ly/2kUtZZ4

visit Breena’s website: www.BreenaClarke.com


Breena Clarke’s books


February (Feb-roo-airy) has 28 Days


Dr. Carter G. Woodson

February is the month designated to honor and celebrate the achievements and culture of African Americans in the United States. Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), www.blackpast.org/aah/woodson-carter an African American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. launched the celebration of “Negro History Week” in February 1926; it was the precursor of Black History Month.

Breena Professional Photo

Novelist, Breena Clarke celebrates the history of African peoples in the Americas in three critically acclaimed novels. Add these to your “GotToRead” list for February 2017.

IMG_0598    Eight-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of an apparently haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. In scenes alive with emotional truth, River, Cross My Heart weighs the effect of Clara’s absence on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city, to which they have moved in search of a better life for themselves and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara’s sister, twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions sparked by her sister’s death as she struggles to decide and discover the kind of woman she will become. Read an excerpt here:  http://bit.ly/2kP20hF

IMG_0599   Even though Sewing Annie Coats and her son, Gabriel, have managed to buy their freedom, their lives are still marked by constant struggle and sacrifice. Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, where the Coatses operate a tailor’s shop and laundry, is supposed to be a “promised land” for former slaves but is effectively a frontier town, gritty and dangerous, with no laws protecting black people.The remarkable emotional energy with which the Coatses wage their daily battles-as they negotiate with their former owner, as they assist escaped slaves en route to freedom, as they prepare for the encroaching war, and as they strive to love each other enough-is what propels Stand the Storm. Read an excerpt here: http://bit.ly/2kNABZR

Clarke-AngelsMakeTheirHope   ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE is set in an imagined community in a mountainous area roughly north and west of Paterson, New Jersey in the 19th century. Russell’s Knob is a hidden, secretive place settled by people who might be described today as bi-racial or tri-racial. The inhabitants describe themselves as runaways and stay-aways. They are people who reject the limiting definitions of racial identity and character of 19th century, mid-Atlantic, North America and live outside of the “white” towns. They are spoken of derisively as “amalgamators” and “race mixers” though their true history is as complex as is the history of settlement in the region. Read an excerpt here: http://bit.ly/1NZsFus

Visit Breena’s website at: www.BreenaClarke.com

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Breena_Clarke onTwitter


When She Climbed From The Pool

 Since they opened the public swimming pool for white folks only on Volta Place, right across the street from her Aunt Ina’s house, the pleasures of Higgins Hole were diminished for Johnnie Mae. In that public pool the water was so clear! Clara said it must be ice water. Clara said they must get big blocks of ice from the ice man on Potomac Street and put them in there. She was certain of this because the white boys and girls they saw through the fence and bushes surrounding the pool were always shivering.        from RIVER, CROSS MY HEART


In the 1990’s my mother tape-recorded her oral recollections of having grown up in Georgetown in the 1920’s, 30’s and forties. When she retold incidents related to the segregated swimming pool on Volta Place, her voice changed dramatically. Much of her story was like all the anecdotes she and my father told and retold on our summer rides through this mostly affluent part of town. Georgetown in the 1960’s was where Kennedy-era politicos built townhouses and bought up the historic mansions that had always been located there. Because of the Old Georgetown Act of 1950, most of the African American community had been forced out in the early 50’s. My father’s family owned one of the houses on “P” street that became the last block of African American residents in Georgetown.


James Sheridan Clarke, Jr., my father, and James Sheridan Clarke, Sr., his father in front of 2721 “P” St. N.W. Georgetown,  Washington, D.C.

My parents’ recollections  of Georgetown were vivid and complex. They told fairly frank stories about the segregation they lived with, but had as well many stories of community, camaraderie and achievement.

When my mother spoke on the tape about the pool on Volta Place her voice changed so distinctly that I had a visceral response. I think my head snapped to attention. I’m sure I listened to her again and again. It was not the particulars of the tale. I’d heard all of the stories many times. I knew she’d been a fierce, bold, athletic swimming girl. But I’d never before heard the great change in her voice. Her voice had not been light and airy – that wouldn’t ever have been my mother’s voice — but it was relaxed and carefree. I recognized that she was softening and brightening her narration for my benefit. She was taking this project seriously so she was trying to give me helpful, positive information. When she began to talk about her feelings of wanting to swim in the whites only pool that was across the street from her aunt’s house, but that barred any colored/Negro/Black /African American people I felt arrested, compelled, riveted. My mother was not always self-revelatory. She was sometimes a secret- keeper and a grudge-holder. The change was in the timbre of her voice – a change that was not shrill or more vehement, but changed. A bell rang – sort of. It signaled that she was expressing certain childhood feelings, but I was to know that she no longer felt this small, raw way. I thought she did very much still feel those angers and that she was justified and I knew then that I’d write the novel that became RIVER, CROSS MY HEART just for this reason. I could make a novel of it because this was a story I could lift and carry for a while.

“How come we can’t go in that pool and swim?” Johnny Mae had repeatedly asked Aunt Ina since the beginning of summer.

“You don’t need to be over there anyway,” Aunt Ina had answered time and again.


My mother became an outstanding swimmer. She had her first lessons at Francis Junior High School’s pool. She no doubt already had the rudiments of swimming because she told me they really did dip into the C&O Canal for swimming. A young medical student who would later become Dr. Charles R. Drew (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_R._Drew), the renowned African American physician, taught her formally at Francis pool. My mother called him Charlie Drew and always mentioned his handsomeness and his brother’s and spoke of his generosity in teaching all of Georgetown’s African American children to swim. A large part of my parents’ Georgetown narrative reflects a staunch optimism and wry humor with examples of uplift, misfortune, haplessness, foolishness, bravery, compassion and meanness added. They were all good stories.

The only childhood photo we have of Edna Higgins is this very young one. Her swimming exploits mostly took place after this was taken and before adulthood.

Little Edna Edna Higgins in Georgetown circa 1920.


Dr. Charles R. Drew

By the time I accompanied my parents on automobile rides through the old Georgetown neighborhood, the carriage houses and servant’s quarters of the rich and famous had become the luxury townhouses of the nouveau. My parents liked to point out places where they’d lived and played, their favorite landmarks. Despite legal desegregation, Black children still weren’t swimming in the pool on Volta Place.

On the tape, despite all efforts to thwart it, my mother’s young girl self showed up to talk about her feelings. All of those years later she’d remembered and was articulate and analytical. She still recalled that deep sense of thwarted opportunity. I can no longer remember her words. I have the cassette tape and some written answers to specific queries I made. (She gave me the 411 on menstruation in her era in a frank, specific, helpful and surprising way.) I don’t think I used any of her actual words when I created the character Johnnie Mae Bynum in RIVER, CROSS MY HEART, but my mother gave me a model of access. She helped me to formulate my key – my trigger — to an emotional voice that takes on the timbre of true/deep.

Blue Breena   Breena Clarke in Pershing Field Pool, Jersey City, N.J.

“River, Cross My Heart” is available in all formats. Link here to purchase: http://bit.ly/BuyBreenaClarkeBooks

My most recent novel, “Angels Make Their Hope Here,” is available in paperback with Reading Group Guides on July 14th.  Link here: http://bit.ly/1S8f8Wb for my “Angels” blog. To purchase a copy, link here: http://bit.ly/BuyBreenaClarkeBooks