April 5th, 2023
What is the book?
Who wrote it?
P. Djèlí Clark
What is it about?
This imaginative fable centers on three friends who are intent on eradicating evil in early 20th
century Georgia. It weaves magical realism through a historically fraught time and place for Black
people in order to accentuate real perils those communities survived.
Why did I read it?
I picked it up because the title evinces a spiritual, celebratory clarion that champions revival, as the
upraised hands on the cover image echoes. However, the rest of the cover menaces with the
haunting hood of a Ku Klux Klan member adorned by two open mouths for eyes, signifying danger
for the congregation.
The story also captures for me the importance of oral histories and the preservation of culture by
those who create and experience it. The smattering of notes throughout that frame the sacred
place the Shout holds to its members also provides context in a memorable way.
What do I think?
Ring Shout combines history with myth, placing real dangers in the realm of fantasy. While Clark
does this, he also reestablishes appropriated and racist caricatures back in the context of Black and
mestiza/o folklore (bruh fox and bruh bear). He also highlights the racial malice of the film The Birth
of a Nation and the confederate monument in Georgia, Stone Mountain, using them as beacons to
foment racist ideologies that helped motivate the Great Migration.
The main characters, Sadie, Chef, and Maryse, each exhibit personality traits that endear them to the
reader and to each other as well. They share a bond as vigilant warriors against an otherworldly evil
and their differences are what make their connection stronger than blood. Maryse is the leader of
the three, as her history and earlier loss at the hands of the enemies fortifies her resolve and her use
of a magical blade against those enemies.
I am reminded of Toni Morrison’s oeuvre and the Black Panther films because this story and those
share the theme that ancestors provide lessons, motivation, and hope to present-day heroes.
Overall, this short work is memorable for both its shout-out to the history of Black culture and for
its ringing knell that historical enemies resurface if given the opportunity.
You can place a hold on your copy of the book by clicking on the cover below:
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Hello! My name is Tom, and I am a librarian here at the Niagara Falls Public Library. Welcome to a recurring blog post that comes out the 5th of every month, where I answer five questions about a book in our collection.