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ASHA BANDELE is an award-winning author and journalist. A former features editor for Essence magazine, asha is the author of two collections of poems, the award-winning memoir The Prisoner’s Wife and its follow-up Something Like Beautiful, and the novel Daughter. She lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.
SOMETHING LIKE BEAUTIFUL
Collins – January 27, 2009
From the author of The Prisoner’s Wife, a poetic, passionate, and powerful memoir about the hard realities of single motherhood.
When asha bandele, a young poet, fell in love with a prisoner serving a twenty-to-life sentence and became pregnant with his daughter, she had reason to hope they would live together as a family. Rashid was a model prisoner, and expected to be paroled soon. But soon after Nisa was born, asha’s dreams were shattered. Rashid was denied parole, and told he’d be deported to his native Guyana once released. asha became a statistic: a single, black mother in New York City.
On the outside, asha kept it together. She had a great job at a high-profile magazine and a beautiful daughter whom she adored. But inside, she was falling apart. She began drinking and smoking and eventually stumbled into another relationship, one that opened new wounds. This lyrical, astonishingly honest memoir tells of her descent into depression when her life should have been filled with love and joy. Something Like Beautiful is not only asha’s story, but the story of thousands of women who struggle daily with little help and much against them, and who believe they have no right to acknowledge their pain. Ultimately, drawing inspiration from her daughter, asha takes account of her life and envisions for herself what she believes is possible for all mothers who thought there was no way out—and then discovered there was.
Praise for SOMETHING LIKE BEAUTIFUL
“asha bandele tells the truth. Courageous, profound, and achingly beautiful, asha delivers her art, soul, and passion once more. I could read her work for days, get lost in it, find myself in it. The world is a better place because asha bandele has transformed pain into something like beautiful and proves that you can, too.”—Rebecca Walker, author of Baby Love
“Like her powerful and poetic writing in Essence, asha bandele’s Something Like Beautiful takes straight aim for the heart. Having been a single mother myself, I connected intimately with her astonishing insight into the complexities and challenges of parenting solo. Her honesty is cathartic and healing. This is a book not just to read, but to live with, ponder and treasure.”—Susan Taylor, Essence editor in chief emeritus and founder, National Cares Mentoring Movement
“Once again asha bandele has a poignant story to share in Something Like Beautiful. It is the love that comes through that makes this such a compelling tale.”—Nikki Giovanni, poet
“We should all be blessed with the intellect and insight bandele brings to motherhood—the struggles, the joys, the fears, and the hope. Indeed, this is a fine portrait of what it means to be a single mom—a mom, period—in America.”—Denene Millner, Reality Check columnist, Parenting magazine
“…Poignant, inspirational…Mothers single and married, black and white will find nurturance in her story.”—Library Journal
“…A poetic and passionate memoir.”—Heart & Soul
Scribner – September 16, 2003
The gifted author of the acclaimed memoir The Prisoner’s Wife delivers a deeply penetrating work—an emotionally shattering first novel that explores the perils of silence and illuminates the fragile complexity of the mother-daughter bond.
On a winter night in Brooklyn, Aya Rivers, a vibrant nineteen-year-old black girl, is shot by a white police officer in a case of mistaken identity. Her mother, Miriam, a rigid and guarded woman, rushes to the hospital. As Miriam desperately waits at Aya’s bedside, she falls back into memories of her own youth, when her life took a series of tragic turns as she struggled for independence and dealt with the end of her relationship with Aya’s father. But as Miriam’s recollections of love and regret descend upon her, this woman who has spent nearly every day of her life in an emotional prison finds that her wounds slowly give way to healing and a tentative hopefulness.
With the lyrical economy of poetry, asha bandele tells a powerful story that boldly confronts timely and troubling issues. Daughter is an unforgettable portrait of one extraordinary woman and her journey—from secrecy to openness, from the silence of isolation to the beauty of connection.
Praise for DAUGHTER
“A wonderful first novel about the very complex ties that bind mothers and daughters in pain, the inevitable sacrifices that redefine love, passion, and commitment. asha bandele proves here that she can do it all: poetry, memoir, fiction. And much like asha’s other work, Daughter will move and transform you.”—Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!
“If silence is the cancer that kills our dreams, then asha bandele’s Daughter is surely the cure for what ails us. As real and as terrifying as the news stories we don’t want to read, daughter forces us to look behind the headlines and see the human beings who live there. bandele’s truth creates almost unbearable pain on the page, but her great gift is that she is able to find a path leading us out of that deadly quiet and into a song of sisterhood.”—Pearl Cleage, author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
“The silences that injustice feeds are so intricate and mutable that the mere possibility of expressing them is risky. Gloriously, in Daughter, asha bandele speaks from this impossible place. Let her take you there.”—Adrian Nicole Leblanc, author of Random Family
“My oldest daughter and I…had the same reaction; we think it’s the best book we’ve read in a long time….This story is compelling and powerful and meaningful and keeps you thinking.”—Kimberly Elise, O, The Oprah Magazine
“This lyrical writer gives us another penetrating look at the endurance of love under harsh circumstances.”—Essence
“A provocative meditation…bandele’s imagery is spare and effective…the kind of storytelling that resurrects lost family history.”—The Washington Post
“bandele’s low-key take on a grim aspect of the urban black experience stands in refreshing contrast to more sensationalistic renditions.”—Publishers Weekly
“bandele writes about family grief and bitterness with searing immediacy. This powerful story does what the author asks for: it breaks the silence.”—Booklist
THE PRISONER’S WIFE
Scribner – 1999
How did a beautiful, talented college student fall in love with a man serving twenty to life for murder? And why did she marry him? At a time when one in four black men are caught in the web of the criminal justice system, asha bandele shatters the myths of prisoners’ wives and tells a story of embracing the beauty of love in the ugliest circumstances and of people’s ability to change, to do better, to grow.
Whether she is describing her restricted but romantic courtship with Rashid—when letters were like dates, like “whispers on the slow, blue-light dance floor”—or riding the bus upstate with the other wives and girlfriends, asha bandele creates haunting images and reflections so powerful and unique that they beg to be reread and savored. At the same time that she recalls the extreme ups and downs that accompany a relationship constantly scrutinized by guards and surveillance cameras, she confronts her own dark secrets and sadness. The love of a man with an ugly past but a firm belief in redemption is what heals her broken spirit and grants her the courage and confidence to embrace life again.
This is a love story extraordinary in its circumstances but universal in its message. With unblinking honesty, asha bandele writes about the tenuous balance of power upon which most relationships rest, the deep needs that bring two people together, the jealousy and insecurity that can drive them apart. But most of all, The Prisoner’s Wife reminds us why we love—what we give up for it and what we receive from it. An immensely gifted poet whom the Bay Guardian has called “an essential new voice in African-American literature,” asha bandele has written a remarkably candid book that resonates with poetic language and abundant insight.
Praise for THE PRISONER’S WIFE
“It is not easy to trust your heart, but here is a love story. The Prisoner’s Wife takes us through not the dungeon of emotions but the sunshine of hope. Good for all of us. If we can continue to find a reason to care, we all can be saved. This book needs to be read by anyone who has ever hummed a tune on the day the rent was due; by anyone who tapped her foot on the day the kids needed money for the school trip; by anyone who is sitting drinking coffee because she’s hungry and there isn’t enough to go around. By anyone who has paid a price for love.”—Nikki Giovanni
“The Prisoner’s Wife, for all the hardship and pain and ugliness and futility and anger it describes, is love-swollen and beautiful. It’s powerful, poignant, persuasive. It’s gut-wrenching, soul-shaking, heartbreaking. The book is a cry of love in a cold, bleak wilderness and, as such, it underscores and defines our basic humanity, and our abiding strength to endure.”—Bob Shacochis
“asha bandele tells the story of a love that flourishes in the constricted space between freedom and captivity. Ironically, the captive whom she loves helps her to extricate herself from her own emotional prison. In celebrating a triumph of the heart, The Prisoner’s Wife also challenges the ideologies spawned by the prison industrial complex. It compels us to imagine a future in which prisons would cease to be spurious guarantors of security in the ‘free world.’ This is a powerful and provocative book—everyone should read it.”—Angela Y. Davis
“The Prisoner’s Wife echoes Edwidge Danticat’s Farming of the Bones in the urgency in which it reminds us of the possibility of love even amidst the ruins. This is a terrifying, heart-breaking and, ultimately, important book.“—Junot Diaz
“asha bandele’s writing soars with emotion. And the reader’s emotions soar as well, not because of a shared experience but because her highly polished and skillful writing makes one feel her pain and joy. This is a romantic but realistic story, told with a directness and honesty that makes us know that however impossible the problems asha and Rashid face, we can question neither her motives nor sanity.”—Booklist, starred review
“A haunting, intensely emotional memoir… Columnist and performance poet asha bandele presents piercing portraits of herself, the man she loves, and a prison system designed to stifle all sensibility…mesmerizing and disconcerting, offering insights into why caged birds sing.”—Kirkus Reviews
“The author has a poet’s fluid skill with language and maintains a lyrical tone throughout. This book explains the inexplicable.”—Library Journal
“Harrowing is the journey we take with asha bandele in The Prisoner’s Wife. As the author charts a course of meaning through a life stitched together with a thread of longing, we accompany her, and become invested in her discoveries. We’re rewarded when she bears witness to the wonder of her sweet/tortured love, and in the honesty and poetry of her tale.”—Black Issues Book Review