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NewsHour staff members discuss new books they have written


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: If, by chance, you are looking for something good to read this summer, you might start with a books written by our very own "NewsHour" staff.

Three of our colleagues are out now with a memoir, a novel, and a nonfiction book, all in very different styles.

Jeffrey Brown spoke with them for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

The title is irresistible, "You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids," a book of short essays, prose poems and sketches, in which Frances Kai-Hwa Wang writes of raising multiracial children after a divorce and navigating the current cultural and political climate, especially as an Asian American woman. Wang is based in the greater Detroit area, as part of the "NewsHour"'s Communities Initiative, a reporting project to bring undertold stories from around the country.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Author, "You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids": It's a collection of stories inspired by the wisdom of my multiracial children, the feistiness of my bossy Asian American aunties, and the humor of unreliable suitors.

And it's all set against the backdrop of kind of an uncertain political landscape that we have had for the last few years.

Jeffrey Brown: Each one of these is a highly personal take. But I can see that you are also exploring your own life in history, in our political and cultural moment.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang: Some of the stories are, I want to say mundane, everyday stories, like teaching my son how to drive. That's something everyone goes through. But then how do you teach a multiracial boy how to drive the summer after George Floyd is killed, and then having to also deal with teaching him, how do you deal with police?

And how do you teach your children about this? How do you teach them to be safe? How do you teach the community about this and help other folks know, how do you navigate forward?

Jeffrey Brown: You are writing about serious things. But I note that there's always some humor.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang: When you have a room full of teenage girls sitting around your kitchen table complaining about boys, and you find these -- there's a lot of humor and joy in that. But it also connects. So, we have the most amazing conversations. And that, I tried to capture as much as I can. It's inspired by the wisdom of all the people around me.

Jeffrey Brown: So, who do you see this book as being for?

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang: I think of it as a love letter to the task of constructing a life, raising children, taking care of elders, finding your identity, finding -- creating a home and a community and finding your place in the world.

Jeffrey Brown: "Boys Come First" is also a story of twists and turns in relationships with plenty of humor.

But Aaron Foley has written a novel, his first, about three Black queer friends in Detroit, where Foley himself grew up. He's now the senior digital editor for the "NewsHour"'s Communities Initiative.

Aaron Foley, Author, "Boys Come First": This is something that is a lifelong dream come true to just tell a story about my hometown, tell a story about Black identity, queer identity that I hope resonates with folks that live in the intersections of those two things.

It's a story about three gay Black men in Detroit that are all at a different crossroads in their life, being in their mid-30s, where in -- sometimes in Black communities, that's when a lot of pressure starts to hit.

And so these three characters are struggling to get to those places with good relationships, getting their careers on track, but also the city of Detroit is changing around them.

Jeffrey Brown: And it's important to say that this is a funny book.

Aaron Foley: You know, a lot of queer literature too can be a little bit self-loathing, just kind of wallowing in a particular kind of sadness.

I wanted something that was a little bit more joyful, a little bit more funny, something that poked fun at certain elements of queer culture and sexuality, and because a lot of my friends, we -- we're out of the closet. We're trying to figure these things out.

And we have a lot of fun and a lot of mistakes and a lot of mishaps along the way.

Jeffrey Brown: This story that you're telling, as you have described it, of Black queer boys to men, a kind of coming of age, you're familiar with it.

I wonder if you felt like it exists it much in literature.

Aaron Foley: If you look at the vast majority of queer fiction, you don't often see Black characters centered.

I wrote this so that many of the gay Black men I have known over the years and friends with, acquaintances with could go to a bookstore and see part of their story. I wanted three strong Black characters right in the middle.

Jeffrey Brown: In "We Go High," Nicole Ellis tells true stories of others. She profiles some 30 influential women of color who overcame barriers in their lives or careers, activists, scientists, cultural business and political figures.

Nicole is the "NewsHour"'s digital anchor and a correspondent.

Nicole Ellis, Author, "We Go High: How 30 Women of Color Achieved Greatness Against All Odds": The general premise of the book is focusing on not only the accomplishments of different women around the world of color, but how they got there, through the lens of the different types of challenges and adversity that they have had to navigate.

It's intended to be the kind of book that validates the challenging experiences that we all experience, and also give you a few of the tools to figure out how to move forward.

Jeffrey Brown: And you felt all this personally?

Nicole Ellis: Yes.

I mean, I'm a woman of color who also has to deal with a lot of challenges that sometimes feel unique to myself and to the women that are profiled.

Jeffrey Brown: Is there an example you can give us in brief, somebody that stood out for you?

Nicole Ellis: One of the profiles that really stood out for me is Stacey Abrams, because it goes back to her high school days, when she was valedictorian of her high school class and was basically turned away at the door for a dinner for high school valedictorians at the governor's mansion.

And it follows her journey of being told no and being told she doesn't belong in certain spaces, all the way up to her run for governor and how she navigated failing in that instance, and is now obviously in the running to run again for that office, and having explored different ways to bring more voters to the polls in the meantime.

Jeffrey Brown: And when you went through these stories and put them together and went back to look, is there a common thread that comes through?

Nicole Ellis: Perseverance. Hands down, perseverance.

And I'd also say that something that my grandmother used to say that I also attribute a lot of the idea for this book coming from, as coming from a Southern Black family of Southern Afro-Texans, is that success is not a zero sum equation.

You see a lot of these specific instances of women hitting a wall, and how they navigate that stems from a relationship to themselves and to seeing the playing field as big enough for them and for other women like them, and not operating from a space of scarcity.

Jeffrey Brown: "We Go High," "Boys Come First," "You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids,"

Congratulations to our "NewsHour" authors.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.

Judy Woodruff: Nicole, Aaron, Frances, so proud of the three of you. Thank you, and congratulations.

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