“Derek Chauvin’s Guilty Verdict Is A ‘Step Forward’ For Justice In America”, Joe Biden Says

The US President has welcomed a Minneapolis jury’s guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

The former police officer was found guilty on all three charges and now faces up to 40 years behind bars.

Joe Biden said in a speech to the nation the trial has been tough for the Floyd family as well as black people all across the country.

The leader said the case unveiled the ‘the pain [and] the exhaustion that black Americans experience every single day’ and it also ‘ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism’.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Biden said: “Let’s also be clear, such a verdict is also much too rare.

“For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors, a brave young woman with a smartphone camera, a crowd that was traumatised, traumatised witnesses, a murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for ultimately the whole world to see.

“Officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks, which should be commended.

“A jury who heard the evidence, carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure.

“For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.

“No-one should be above the law and today’s verdict sends that message but it’s not enough. We can’t stop here.”

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Vice President Kamala Harris echoed those sentiments and hopes the verdict will set a precedent for the future.

“It is not just a black America problem or a people of colour problem. It is a problem for every American,” she said.

“It is keeping us from fulfilling the promise of liberty and justice for all. It is holding our nation back from realising our full potential.

“We are all a part of George Floyd’s legacy and our job now is to honour it and to honour him.”

Chauvin had his bail revoked and has been remanded in custody until his sentencing hearing in eight weeks, which will determine how long he will stay behind bars.

The maximum sentence for second-degree unintentional murder is ‘imprisonment of not more than 40 years’, while the maximum sentence for third-degree murder is ‘imprisonment of not more than 25 years’.

The maximum sentence for second-degree manslaughter, meanwhile, is 10 years and/or $20,000 (£14,000).The murder case against Chauvin drew to a close at Hennepin County Court this afternoon after going to jury.

Credit: PA

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Forest supervisor balances population, budget and environmental concerns

James Melonas thinks the state’s national forests are a reflection of the communities across North Carolina.

“The challenges we face in the national forest are societal. These aren’t just Forest Service issues. They are issues facing all of our communities and everyone living in North Carolina,” said Melonas, the new forest supervisor for the state’s four national forests.

The U.S. Forest Service selected the 44-year-old Melonas last fall to replace retiring supervisor Allen Nicholas.

As supervisor, he manages a $24 million budget, 213 employees across the state and the protection of more than 1.2 million acres of forestland. 

Melonas’ arrival at the state headquarters in Asheville is at a pivotal moment for North Carolina’s two largest national forests: Pisgah and Nantahala. Later this year, Melonas will finalize the land management plan that will guide the future of 1 million acres of federal forest in the mountains.

He’ll also oversee the coastal Croatan National Forest and central Uwharrie National Forest.

Setting priorities

In an interview with Carolina Public Press, Melonas said he will focus on building relationships with users and address development pressure, recreational demands, forest restoration and the impact of climate change.

Strains from a growing population and the bulging volume of forest users are among his biggest concerns. In 2020, over 7 million people visited the state’s national forests, making them among the most popular in the nation.

Before taking the helm in North Carolina, Melonas was the deputy supervisor in North Carolina before his promotion in 2017 to forest supervisor of Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico.

He led the work on 1.6 million acres of public land that experienced extreme drought conditions during his tenure. 

Although New Mexico and North Carolina have vastly different landscapes, national forests nationwide face similar issues, including tighter budgets, less personnel and the existential threat of climate change.

“I think of climate change as a stressor on everything we do,” Melonas said. “We have such a large portfolio and have always been limited in what we would like to do and what we have the capacity to do.”

His strategy is “being intentional about how we set priorities, not just internally, but that they are shared priorities,” he said.

Before serving in New Mexico, Melonas worked closely with national forest stakeholders in the early stages of the Nantahala-Pisgah forest planning process, which began in 2012.

According to Lang Hornthal of EcoForesters, an Asheville-based nonprofit organization, Melonas had a significant impact on the plan.

“Anyone that has worked with James before would want to work with him again,” said Hornthal, who is a member of the leadership team of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, a collaborative group of public and private organizations that formed to support the development of the plan.

“From my seat at the table, he appreciates the enormous amount of work that was put into this process by our members and what it means that we have stuck together.”

Melonas said his appreciation of communities that rely on public lands was formed as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, a small landlocked nation in southeastern Africa, where he worked at a national park. 

His focus as a volunteer was on communities that bordered the park. Among the issues were herds of hippos and elephants damaging cropland.

The takeaway from the experience, he said, is the deep connection of people to the land.

“It looks different, obviously, in different places, but that’s the common denominator. The interplay between the people and the land is inextricable.”

In New Mexico, Melonas formed close relationships with Native American tribes and pueblos living near Santa Fe National Forest. 

He intends to do the same in North Carolina and strengthen connections with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and other tribes that have cultural sites within national forest boundaries.

He is also encouraging more engagement with communities left out of the development of forest service projects, such as Black Americans who live near public lands throughout the state.

“We need to get ownership in a local community so [future] projects are seen as community projects,” he said. “We can be more thoughtful when we are designing projects and engaging those communities.”

Forest plans

Among his priorities as supervisor is finalizing the Proposed Forest Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, which was released in February 2020. 

A final management plan will be signed by Melonas later this year.

“I’m feeling really good about where we are. Even though it’s been a long process and challenging, everyone agrees that the partnerships and relationships we’ve formed over this time have been really important,” he said.

Nevertheless, he’s pragmatic about what the plan can accomplish on its own.

“If we had a hundred years, we could keep refining some of these things [in the plan]. Ultimately, we have to be realistic of what we can ask of the plan,” he said. “There are just things that are too complex, either ecologically or socially, for the plan to address. There is just no one answer.” 

Instead, the management plan will create a framework to foster a more productive conversation about issues in the forest, particularly in areas where groups and individuals tend to disagree, such as land protection or timber harvesting.

Melonas will also oversee issues facing the state’s two smaller national forests: Croatan and Uwharrie.

Currently, he said, the Forest Service is still coordinating rebuilding the areas of Croatan National Forest that suffered an estimated $17 million in damage from Hurricane Florence in 2018. 

Much of the harm was to roads, which were impassable due to fallen trees and culverts blown out by rushing water. 

“As we look at recovery, we’re mindful of the fact we’re going to experience more intense storms in the forest,” he said.

In both forests, he’ll oversee widespread restoration projects to replace loblolly pine with native plant communities, such as longleaf pine habitat, to restore forestland that is more resilient to climate change.

And statewide, a central task is balancing the needs of more users in a rapidly developing state where increasing demand is putting pressure on recreational resources.

“One of the things that hit me coming back to North Carolina was the amount of development that occurred in the last four years,” he said. 

His job, as he sees it, is to rise to that challenge and anticipate future issues around sustainable recreation, development and climate change.

“Everyone in North Carolina benefits from public lands and forests,” he said. 


Women, we are doing fine; one woman at a time!

16But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. — Exodus 9:16

If you want something to be said, tell a man; if you want something to be done, tell a woman, Dame Margaret Thatcher, first and former British Prime Minister.

This week, two statements lead me to unpack hyperboles to drive home the need for some opinionates to fall back on the stereotyping of women as well as the under-appreciation of their achievements.

In the just finished celebration of Women’s Month, among the numerous global events that took place are Tanzania lost a president and a woman ascended to the position, and two Malawian women (former president Joyce Banda and United Kingdom-based research scientist Dr. Alice Mbewe) received the Future Focus Female Icon 2021 awards.

While Tanzania’s elevation of President Samia Suluhu Hassan brought much joy around the world, a media outlet thought it wise to point out that although Suluhu Hassan had risen to the post of first citizen, she still humbles herself and bows to her husband.

The second onslaught to women came from a colleague who, upon reading the banner announcing  Banda and Mbewe’s award nominations, asked what have they achieved? The banner only had the titles.

Turning to the issue of the submissive Tanzanian female president and the lack of it in Malawi, my response is that it is total lies from the pit of a wounded male spouse! For starters, Malawi had its first female president Banda (fondly referred to as JB) and there are countless others that humble themselves to their husbands. There is retired Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa, former Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah and others that are the opposite of the picture painted in the media post.

By the way, submission is not meant for show to outsiders but within one’s home. How did they see Suluhu Hassan bowing to her husband?

Every time one mentions the name JB, a myriad of images flow through the mind, among them that in her first year of office in 2012, she met the crème de la crème of global leaders like Queen Elizabeth II, the first United States of America African-American President Barack Obama and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar President Aung San Suu Kyi. During the same year, Banda, unlike her predecessor, whizzed through Africa and rounded up support in cash and kind that included cows from Botswana. To date, JB has received 50 international awards.

As for Mbewe, although a little less known, her work in the medical field in the UK is laudable. Both spoke exuberantly with vivaciousness and great conviction in the work they have chosen to exert their energies.

In accepting her award, JB paused to congratulate and celebrate President Suluhu Hassan. She then turned to the pandemic, citing that there are 39 million out of school children in Africa and that sadly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, nine million children had dropped out of school. Without mincing words, the former Malawi leader informed participants in the hour-long virtual meeting that one percent of the world’s rich people have become richer because of the pandemic, adding the West has a moral obligation to own the recovery of the pandemic.

JB paid tribute to women, adding that she has spent her entire adult life trying to uplift women in various areas. She also provided tips for young women to succeed.

On her part, Mbewe encouraged young female leaders to understand their life purpose, saying doing so enables one to navigate through and have a meaningful life.

Other awardees were Trinidad and Tobago President Paula-May Weeks, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and former UN Women president minister Penelope Beckles.

The Global Female Icon Awards 2021 was hosted by Crystal Camejo, Future Focus Empowerment Institute International’s founder.




Family background and social upbringing

(Unedited transcript)

                  By Toyin Falola 

Tell me, who is Paul Tiyambe Zeleza?

First, let me begin by thanking you, Toyin, for the honor and opportunity to do this interview with you. In the African intellectual community, both on the continent and in the diaspora, we admire and appreciate the amazing work you have done to promote African scholarship through your own prodigious publication record, but also for your exemplary support and celebration of African scholars including providing publishing outlets and mentoring for younger scholars.

Like everyone else, my personal, professional, and social identities are both multiple and always in a state of becoming. None of us is ever one thing, frozen in a permanent state of being. On the personal front, in my six decades of life I’ve been a son, sibling, husband, father, uncle, friend and colleague, and so on, affiliations that have given me immeasurable emotional and psychological sustenance. Professionally, I’ve been a student, teacher, scholar, public intellectual, creative writer, university administrator, and member of various boards, all immensely rich and diverse experiences that have shaped my intellectual passions, proclivities, and perspectives.

My social biography has been framed by various historical geographies. The family I was born into has lived in three Southern African countries: Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. My parents met in Zimbabwe and I was born in Harare, then they returned to Malawi where I grew up. My mother partly grew up in Zambia. In the early 1970s the family returned to Zimbabwe, while I remained at school in Malawi. Then in the early 1980s the family moved to Botswana. So my siblings and I were born in three different countries. We’re a transnational family, a multilingual and multicultural family. We’re a product of the migrant labor system of Southern Africa engendered by settler colonial capitalism in the region.

My own itinerary built on these transnational trails. I did my primary and secondary schooling and undergraduate education in Malawi. I left for graduate school in 1977, first for the University of London for my masters degree, then for my doctoral degree at Dalhousie University in Canada. My working life started at the University of Malawi where I served as a teaching assistant soon after graduation in 1976. My PhD studies and academic career took me to Kenya three times, Jamaica, Canada, and the United States.

On a more personal level, my two children were born in Malawi and Canada, respectively. My first wife was African Canadian, and my wife of the past 22 years is African American. So you can say, I’ve followed my parents footsteps by creating my own transnational family. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! In short, my social biography has been marked by deep transnational and diasporic affiliations from birth. This helps explain my strong Pan-African identifications and inclinations.

I also see myself as a social activist, fervently committed to emancipatory causes ranging from struggles for gender equality, participatory democracy and active citizenship, to the construction of inclusive and sustainable developmental states and societies. The flip side is my intolerance against oppression and exploitation, human rights abuses, political persecution, marginalization and corruption, which unfortunately are rampant in our societies on the continent and in the diaspora.

Outside office work, I am an avid reader. I subscribe to dozens of newspapers and magazines from Malawi, South Africa and Kenya, and outside of the continent from the UK, Canada and the US. On vacation I love reading novels and biographies. I thoroughly enjoy watching movies and television serials from different regions and countries around the world on my iPad, which I think is one of the coolest inventions ever! One of my favorite pastimes is taking long walks, which I do every day. For more elevated pleasures, especially when traveling or visiting a city for the first time, I find going to art galleries and museums revealing of the collective imagination and history of a place. Musical performances, theater and public readings by authors of their work always uplift my spirits, so does eating out. COVID-19 has been a bane on these pleasures. I find cooking relaxing, an opportunity to indulge my culinary creativity and fantasies. I’m not particularly interested in sports, except for international tournaments during which I’m more invested in the victory of African or African diaspora players than in the actual game.

Let us talk about your town and country when you were growing up?

My earliest memories are growing up in Lilongwe, which became Malawi’s capital in 1975 replacing the old colonial capital of Zomba. The Lilongwe of the early 1960s was a relatively small city. I remember it as being very clean. We lived in a lovely neighborhood, or location as there’re called in Malawi, of neat two- or three-bedroom bungalows, with tree-lined streets. I’m the first born in my family so I was both privileged and subject to strict discipline. My father was a foreman, a kind of manager, in the city’s Public Works Department. My mother stayed at home and was quite entrepreneurial. She made and sold embroidery.

My parents came from two different ethnic groups, and as I noted earlier they partly grew up in the neighboring countries, so they were quite worldly in that sense. One result is that we did not grow up thinking in ethnic terms. We embraced a kind of pan-national and pan-regional identity. My mother’s ethnic group, the Ngoni, trace their history to the great migrations in Southern Africa in the 19th century spawned by the formation of the Zulu nation. My father’s ethnic group, the Chewa, trace their origins to migrations from the DRC many centuries earlier.

Both communities are matrilineal in which lineage, property, and land rights are traced through women. Colonialism overlaid its patriarchal structures, practices, and ideologies on the society, but critical elements of matrilineal culture persisted. In our family, we grew up prioritizing relatives from my mother’s family over those from my father’s. In fact, while I’ve visited my mother’s ancestral homeland many times, I’ve been to my father’s only twice. The first time was in 1960. I remember we drove all day in his green land-rover to get there. The second was in 2014 when I went with him to visit his relatives after he had returned from Botswana where he had lived for thirty years and during which he took Botswana citizenship. It’s a region of stunning beauty, with rolling green hills, golden grassland valleys, and shimmering rivers.

I started my education at Lilongwe Government Primary School from the time I was 5 years old as there were no kindergartens at that time. I initially hated school, especially standing in line during assembly, and the teachers forcing us to repeat the alphabet and counting numbers, which I found easy to grasp. Eventually, I loved it especially once I could read stories in both Chichewa and English. I was excited and intrigued by the way reading transported me in my imagination to different worlds and places, people’s lives and experiences. Thus began my lifelong passion for voracious reading.

At the beginning of 1964, we moved to Malawi’s commercial capital city of Blantyre, named after the birthplace of the Scottish British explorer, David Livingstone. Malawi’s founding president was an irredeemable Anglophile and loved Scotland where he did some of his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, so his government never countenanced changing the city’s name. Malawi got its independence from Britain on July 6, 1964. On the eve of independence, we stayed up late, the first time I ever remember doing so. We lived within a few miles from the national stadium. At midnight, the night boomed and cracked with magnificent showers of fireworks I had never seen before. My parents embraced and danced, the only time I witnessed that public display of pure parental joy.

At that time, Blantyre was much larger and more cosmopolitan than Lilongwe. Besides, the indigenous Africans, it had a sizable population of Malawians of Asian origin, who dominated the commercial sector, and European settlers who run the few manufacturing enterprises and transnational businesses, as well as the large tea estates in the surrounding districts. Unlike Lilongwe, which is relatively flat, Blantyre’s physical landscape is made up of undulating hills and mountains.

We settled in a newly constructed neighborhood of beautiful bungalows. The area became known as the “New Lines” to distinguish it from the much older nearby colonial neighborhoods. I spent some of my happiest years there. At first, my brothers and I were enrolled at a Catholic primary school where I did my Standard 4 and 5. For Standard 6-8 I was enrolled at a school closer to our home, Chitawira Primary School. By then, I loved school. I particularly liked mathematics, the sciences, history and geography. I couldn’t care less about English, Chichewa, or physical education, which I was not good at.

At Chitawira I usually came in third in my class, behind two extremely brilliant girls, both named Rosemary. I have always wondered what happened to them, for when I went to college years later they were not there. In 1968, I sat for the primary school leaving certificate. The top performing students were selected for boarding secondary schools, and others went to day schools. The list was published in the newspaper to the great pride of my family. I was selected to go to St. Patrick’s Secondary School. All our teachers except two, the Chichewa and physical education instructors, were Catholic fathers and brothers from the Netherlands. They were demanding and exceptional. They expected and wanted us to excel. I remember the headmaster, Bro. Aloysius, telling me I was bright enough to become not just a teacher but a university professor one day!

The University of Malawi was opened in 1965 when I was in Standard 5. As it so happened, some of the new students used to walk from their hostels in one part of town to the Polytechnic, one of the constituent colleges of the university, close to our house. That’s when I knew there was such a thing as university. They looked both strange and resplendent in their black gowns which they wore everyday. I told my mother I would go to university one day like the students I saw.

I was very close to my mother. As the first born, she entrusted me with looking after my younger siblings. She taught me to cook and do household chores including ironing and taking care of the garden by the house. We talked all the time and she would usually defend me when my father wanted to discipline me if I had done something wrong or if my siblings had done something wrong.  As I grew older, my mother would send me to the grocery store, or we would go together to the city market on Saturdays. That was usually the highlight of my week. Later when I got married, my wife noted I was pretty domesticated, that I enjoyed going to the store and cooking. Besides my mother’s company, I loved lingering around when she had friends over, surreptitiously listening to their conversations. When the late Professor David Rubadiri first read the draft of my novel, Smoldering Charcoal, he observed that the dialogue among the women had a remarkable authenticity and flow.

As city dwellers, we were often visited by my mother’s and father’s relatives from the rural areas. My parents were also generous in that they raised some of their nephews and nieces as members of our family. My siblings and I particularly enjoyed the company of my mother’s relatives, especially her brothers and sisters and her mother. Grandmother was a bundle of joy who enjoyed indulging us and annoying my mother for her tolerance of our occasional cheekiness. Agogo, the term for grandma, was a remarkable woman, who spent years in neighboring countries including Zimbabwe where she went with her first husband, my mother’s father in the early 1950s. She didn’t suffer fools and married three times. My grandfather established a laundry business in Harare, which apparently did well. There’s a family picture of my mother holding me when I was three days old with my grandfather in his three-piece suit.

The only time we left Blantyre was to either go to Zimbabwe for holiday or to my mother’s ancestral home village, where some of her cousins, aunts and uncles still lived. I loved visiting my mother’s relatives especially her grandfather and grandmother, who we used to call Bambo Nkulu and Mai Nkulu. Bambo Nkulu, whose real name was Ishmael Mwale, was one of the first Malawians to get a colonial education. He would regale us, his great grandchildren, with stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1920s, he was a member of a five-man team that translated the Bible from English to Chichewa. He served as a court clerk and one of the main advisors of the Inkosi ya Makosi Gomani II, the paramount chief of the Ngoni.

To my eternal regret, he passed away in 1972, a few weeks before I went to university. I would have loved to have talked to him as a budding historian. Unfortunately, I never met my grandparents on my father’s side as they passed away before I was born. My grandfather worked in the traditional court in his district and his death forced my father, who had been a leading student, coming on top nationally in primary school national exams he sat before his father’s death, to drop out of school and trek to Southern Rhodesia.

Growing up in Blantyre in the 1960s was full of opportunities. We lived near a sports center run by the Lions Club where my friends and I often went to play lawn tennis and football, although I never really excelled in either game. We also played football in makeshift pitches in our neighborhood, as well as many other games. One of my fondest memories was playing in the national stadium for the under—11s as curtain raisers for a regular football tournament.

We also lived within walking distance to the city’s leading public library and information center, which has since been converted into a conference center, where my friends and I would frequent to read books and comics. Sometimes, we would go to the nearby hills and pick wild fruits including mangoes and guavas. One of the central scenes in my novel is of a kid falling from a mango tree and the chain of events that unfolds from that tragic incident. We made our own toys and competed fiercely in making them from cars, trucks, and buses, to guns, bows and arrows.

One particularly fun hobby my friends and I relished was making song books, that is, writing down the lyrics of popular songs. Our musical tastes were eclectic from soul music, to rock and roll, to pop music. We were particularly enraptured by the Motown sound. For African music, we mostly listened to South African bands and singers, both male and female, and famous musicians from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The local music scene was largely confined to traditional music, which we associated with the rural areas and the dances at political rallies that we didn’t much care for.

In 1968, I left home in Blantyre for boarding secondary school. I was 13. Although the school was not too far away, that was the last time I lived with my parents except for the holidays. Boarding school forces one to grow up quickly, to learn to fend for oneself, to become independent. It can be hard, emotionally draining, of course. It was especially challenging for the boys from far away and the rural areas. I loved secondary school because it expanded my intellectual horizons. I also got to appreciate more keenly the country’s diversity in terms of class, ethnicity, and religion.

I had grown up in a religious home. More accurately, my father was very religious. My mother was not. I found solace in my mother’s indifference to religion. My father would have us do Bible study several times a week. While I liked the Bible stories, I found the studies a chore and I rebelled by not going to church. When my father’s denomination, Jehovah’s Witnesses, was proscribed by the government in 1967, I was secretly pleased.

But when the government started actively persecuting members of the denomination, I was alarmed. In 1972, fearful for his life and that of his family the family fled to Zimbabwe. I declined to go with them and chose to go to university where I had just been selected whatever the consequences. I was not going to sacrifice for a religion I didn’t believe in, but I was prepared to do so for higher education that I so desperately aspired to have. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I was 17 years old. My parents were fearful for me. But I am glad I made that momentous decision.






Humans are generally entangled with a web of identity not because they are naturally inclined to multiple indexes of identification, but centrally because they find themselves in an environment configured to align with plural ethnicities and nationalities. A being does not drop from the sky like a wandering alien; instead, we are attached to a family group that comfortably forms a unit in every human society. Farther from this, we are groomed by individuals who are often entirely unrelated to our sociocultural backgrounds. Because of the lived experience with a different set of people, we are once again accorded another identity within which we would function and with whom we would find in-group sustenance. As we grow up, we navigate our ways in human society to attain a different level away from the cultural, professional, political, economic, and philosophical, and we become affiliated with multiple or diverse identities, which make it generally difficult for us to be confined to a single form of identification. Ultimately, this is the condition that we all find ourselves.

A conversation with Paul Zeleza further confirms the assumption that human nature is transcendental and unfixed. We choose identity either consciously (perhaps after one can make decisions when attaining a certain age) or unconsciously during our development. Zeleza’s trajectory of identity formation is unquestionably eclectic, for he has evolved through the years of being associated with, or by deliberately associating himself to, some well-defined societies of people in professional and practical worlds. Being a son, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a father, and more importantly, a friend have all shaped his perceptions and responsibilities to the society that groomed him. As a son, he learned that one’s responsibility as a social animal is not exclusive to an individual, especially in a continent of people with a deep-seated interest in its human interrelationships. A child’s responsibility to his/her parents and later siblings, for a start, is socially given, for they are part of the materials that form the network of human connections used mainly to advance the social courses of actions. As such, a child considers him/herself an asset and also an instrument: An asset because he/she would automatically inherit the responsibility of advancing the collective ambitions and goals of his/her immediate society (which may not necessarily be defined culturally), and an instrument because he/she is a tool for shaping the said society. In other words, there would be no such notion as social evolution when there are no individuals who would bring about this supposed change. The situation of Zeleza is evident of this, such as others do in similar capacities.

The uniqueness of his situation is confirmed by the historical geographies that nature has associated him with in good measure. To take as an illustration, his coincidence of being birthed in Zimbabwe, raised in Malawi, and having a professional relationship with Botswana all combine to produce the intellectually eclectic individual we have in him. By this permutation, he has experienced a magnificent interplay of cultural diversity, social interactions, and philosophical eclecticism. In fact, anyone who would be prepared for important things in life would necessarily have the opportunity to test different sociocultural and sociopolitical human conditions. It provides one with the required human capital to successfully manage people and advance their collective dreams. Therefore, while it was possible that the childhood and experience of Zeleza would have been dismissively adjudged as complex, or maybe more plainly intricate, nature has carefully been preparing him ahead for the vast responsibility that would be attached to his personal, social, political, and professional identity. We cannot contend that this transnational mobility, known to Zeleza and his family, provided them with the needed technical and philosophical knowledge about Africa, and the complex political terrain enabled by the expediency of colonialism. He had his primary education in Malawi, giving him the necessary sociopolitical exposure to situations and circumstances of the postcolonial time that defined the African children within the context of that timeframe.

Meanwhile, human sociocultural philosophy is always in a constant state of flux. And due to this mobility and/or flexibility, we are able to imbibe a culture of eclecticism in our personal and professional lives. Without being eclectic, or if you like diverse, appropriating the right kinds of human philosophy to solve an existential challenge of a globalist posture is readily difficult, for the approaches needed to address one’s social issues cannot be used when confronted by intricate situations in culturally distant places. At the same time, the situation cannot be evaded in a world in which physical and geographical boundaries are collapsed through the internet―a generational project meant to enhance a globalization agenda. When Zeleza again advanced his academic pursuit to London in 1977, he was preparing for something massive and transcendental. As if he had an incurable urge for the acquisition of knowledge from very diverse sociocultural environments, his Ph.D. academic experience took him to continents, including but not limited to the Americas and Africa. For anyone who understands the tradition in the academic community, it would be difficult not to understand that any academic expedition that takes people from one cultural end to another would always have the advantage of exposing them to different human cultures. For Zeleza, all these became a force that determined his transnational mobility and constantly mobile identity.

Therefore, it is not suspicious that a man exposed to this level of human condition and experiences would be essentially Pan-African or inclined to accept his own complex identity. As a child growing up, his intra-continental mobility has been a product of postcolonial politics that continues to enhance Africans’ spatial mobility and render them in a continued state of flux. As an academic, he was exposed to the educational trajectory of the continent, how it has been colored, and how it has been systematically affected by the said experiences. Being exposed to the network of intercontinental industrial and political expansion ignited a revolutionary drive in him, which later transformed into his series of aspirations and focus on African epistemology. Serving at the professional and leadership level was a protest and resistance culture to effect changes in systems that are essentially rigid due to their dependency on colonial systems and structures. Whereas it is not only important to be flexible if one wants to compete in current global socio-economic engagements, especially in the form of education given to the people, the need to develop an eclectic sociocultural philosophy cannot be underestimated as these are needed for the enhancement of one’s civilization agenda. Compared to other civilizations, Africa is lagging for reasons that are not unconnected to their limitations of educative initiatives.

In the intellectual category in which Zeleza found himself, it is impossible not to become a revolutionary tool, providing people with the most basic understanding of their cultural and political situations to provoke in them the revolutionary thinking needed for sustainable evolution and development. By becoming a gender equality advocate, for example, shows that he has mastered the situation of the continent and realized that one of the clogs in the wheel of African development is their rigidity to gender roles. Although people are usually of the opinion that Africa is an extremely patriarchal society, an assumption that is more controversial than truthful, it cannot be disregarded that the patriarchal conditions were aggravated by the political schematics of the colonizing force. Within the spate of a little less than three centuries, Africans, having been well exposed to the systematic and systemic culture of patriarchy, have perfected the act of excluding their female counterparts in public administration and other political engagements, disempowering them and making them a dangling appendage to their male counterparts. This has brought some unmitigated disaster for Africans and their culture on many grounds.

For one, the exclusion of a female demographic in an environment where they are socially expected to function at a maximum comes with some unforeseen consequences. In addition to their roles as caregivers and mothers, women are expected to be the shock absorbers of the family. They are socially expected to combine caregiving with teaching the children. They are constantly pressured to support their husbands (whatever that means), and other roles are culturally allocated to them. This is despite the fact that the economic opportunities needed to function at maximum in these responsibilities are not usually allotted to them. This compounds their woes and forces many of them to become essentially vociferous advocates of gender equality, in cases where most of them are not depressed already. For anyone who is informed about their existential challenges, it is helpful rather than shortsighted to join the bandwagon of their protest in the quest for a better society. The fight does not necessarily need to be gender-specific. Anyone and everyone who sees the socio-economic lopsidedness is morally expected to join the campaign for gender equity because whoever is fighting for gender equality is seeking the betterment of the society. Perhaps, this is what informed Zeleza’s inclusion in the gender equality protest, whose waves and tides have been definitely registered in the minds of people in this contemporary time. For the continent to progress as expected, the unassigned workload that the male demographic has assigned for themselves must be shared with their female counterparts to relieve them and encourage alternative thinking and approaches in sociopolitical problem-solving.

It is evident that anyone who supports the above agenda would accept a participatory democracy where individuals are represented and included in their social development. Democracy, which is an often-preferred political system in contemporary times, remains the most transparent system for the promotion of a nation and its socio-economic condition. However, the failure to befriend an inclusive government would always have adverse effects observable in African politics that have overtaken the continent in recent times. Having preferences for the exclusion of the people in any governmental dispensation breeds political patronage and a clientelistic government in which institutions are disrespected and abused by those in power. Africa comes unclean in this aspect. One of the reasons for the emasculation of their economic system is that participatory politics has been supplanted in preference for exclusionary ones. Thus, the resources with which the continent has been blessed benefit only the bureaucratic arrangements in the continent. The ordinary people are powerless, perhaps because administrators have found a consummate method of excluding them and their voices in the realm of making important decisions. In essence, the experiences that shaped Zeleza’s sociocultural philosophy are the ones that he grew up to challenge and change so that succeeding generations would not face the same problems that he witnessed.

It is often said that a good reader is a good leader. This saying did not come from the simplistic association of readership to scholarship, by the way. It is from the understanding that on the pages of books are silent ideas and philosophies carefully and artfully archived by brilliant authors whose communication with the audience spans beyond fixed generations. The ideas in books, when unearthed as archaeologists unearth evidence from forgotten sites of history, are in themselves powerful and not without their forces of creation. They create the energy to consider events from a different perspective and challenge traditional models of thinking. Through books, humans are open to diverse discussions and ideas that reflect different sociocultural or sociopolitical conditions. By their appropriation, therefore, it is likely that they would be useful for the enhancement of a revolutionary trajectory to move the people towards a better and more desired condition. Unsurprisingly, the fact that Zeleza has been an avid reader is a revelation of his intellectual ingenuity. Raised in a generation where all hope on the African future is cast on the fact of quality education acquisition, Zeleza has constructed for himself a solid intellectual identity that has unarguably molded him into a respectful and respected individual. While formative education is usually determined by parental and sometimes social factors, the education in subsequent years is usually exclusive to an individual decision.

Despite the freedom that comes from adulthood, however, one’s disposition to life is shaped by the cultural traditions and experiences that one has as a child. In an African environment, the fact that individuals are exposed to a strong social upbringing further solidifies the cultural tradition identified here. Parental contributions to the socialization of children take crucial precedence in the African society, for they are not only the shoulders upon which a child stands to see the world, but they are also the eyes with which they see the social configurations entrenched in the people’s philosophy. Zeleza has good parents who were consciously available for him to have a fulfilled relationship with the environment. Having a father who provides for the family’s financial needs and a mother who supplies the family’s moral and ideological oxygen is an added advantage to him as a child. It was more soothing for him because he was the first child of the family. By that virtue, he met the full preparedness of parents who provided all the needed support for his development. The fluidity of ethnic identity that was well celebrated among Africans before the ascension of the visitors helped him in the visualization of the society, not from a jaundiced perspective, but rather from an elaborate one. He already was equipped with the knowledge that the society is diverse, so it helped him see himself as the center of anything and everything, and shaped him to consider himself a part of the moving society whose knowledge and contributions are hugely important. Indeed, it was because his childhood experience followed this trajectory that he sees himself as constantly evolving and not frozen in a permanent state of being.

Thus, Zeleza’s brilliance was nothing short of conscious training, dedication, determination, and strengthened commitment, all of which were accumulated from the beginning of his childhood. Enhanced by his purposeful parents, he was married to books and numerous scholarly production from a very young age. This earned him the admiration of many and also placed him in a desirable and appropriate level because he was poised and ready for the challenges of life. Even when the indigenous educational systems of Africans were submerged and supplanted by the hegemonic civilization, its structures still survived in a more sophisticated manner in contemporary times. For example, it is within the educational process of Africans that children learn about the immense responsibility ahead of them, and the social contributions they are expected to offer to make it better collectively. Without this, it would be next to difficult for them to understand their roles as members of the society. Perhaps, it comes from the knowledge that the colonial adventurers would not tell them; the knowledge that Africans are socially expected to perform some tasks is passed through the parents, the primary agent of socialization and education for the children.

Being brought up by responsible parents helped Zeleza beyond expectations. He was shown unmixed parental affection and love. Through his parents, he learned that he has a responsibility to the basic family that produced him. Although such knowledge prepared him for the bigger one in the future, the fact that he has to cater to his siblings was injected into him right from the beginning. And this underscores, once again, the place of the African woman in the structuration of the African society. On the occasion that they are abandoned, the results in most cases are usually devastating. Zeleza was schooled by his mother from childhood so that the siblings, the younger ones behind him, would bring social pressure on him because, by the configuration of human relationship, kinship makes it important that he provides for them, not necessarily in terms of money but in the idea that they should benefit from his comparative advantage because of his age. The pressure to support the siblings is not exclusive to Zeleza, and it is not because he is a male. Rather, it came because he was the first child of the family who had the opportunity to experience parental attention in bringing him up. The first child takes on additional responsibilities.

In essence, the sociocultural philosophy of Zeleza is a mix of varieties of childhood experiences. His being raised in a postcolonial environment brought out in him the determination to make a difference by giving full attention to the needed sociopolitical and socioreligious changes. He was also shaped by the politics of an African household where he was introduced to a network of social activities. The fact that the colonial educational system failed to create in him contradictions that reflect instability further affirms the assumption that he grew under the right parents. He moved from place to place because of factors that were not unconnected to postcolonial political eventualities. He is very refined because he grew up witnessing cosmopolitan. Because of divergent opportunities, he has continuously evolved, advanced, and achieved a height that shows that he is dedicated and focused. Personally, professionally, and socially, his identities are constantly shaped and reshaped by events and circumstances, and the inevitable political activities that serve as the context.

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UW offers virtual internships to promote youth empowerment through agriculture in Malawi

The University of Wisconsin partnered with the Associated Center for Agro-Based Development, an organization promoting youth economic empowerment through agriculture, and a student organization to create new internship opportunities for UW students.

The organization currently supports 3,000 rural youth farmers in central Malawi through skill development training, farm input loans and market facilitation, according to the ACADES website. Project Malawi UW is a student organization partnering with ACADES to promote agribusiness as an employment opportunity for the youth in Malawi. 

Project Malawi UW’s president and UW senior Lusayo Mwakatika said he led the organization’s partnership with ACADES after he attended one of their events while interning in Malawi in 2018.

“When I saw ACADES and what they were doing with agriculture, I thought it was a perfect organization for us to partner with,” Mwakatika said. “I saw that they’re actually doing something that has the potential to help the country as a whole.”

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UW International Internship Program advisor and program coordinator Nathaniel Liedl said the new ACADES internship offerings would not happen without Mwakatika — he approached IIP with the idea and suggested trying it virtually when it fell through in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mwakatika said ACADES is doing well keeping up with day-to-day activities, but has difficulty finding time to reflect and get creative with their work as an organization with a small staff now working with 5,000 people. 

“We found that an internship would be an extra addition to their work because now … if they have some overload, they can have an intern help them,” Mwakatika said.

ACADES offers two different virtual internships — Program Assistant Intern and Development Research Intern, according to the UW IIP website

Liedl said the two positions overlap a fair amount. Any students with a background in agriculture, economics, project management or research could benefit from these internships.

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“[The team] started working from just pure passion and believing in the dream of the organization, so you find that they’re not just there for a job,” Mwakatika said. “That’s a very good environment to be in as an intern, because once you can get that kind of spirit, you can take that with you wherever you go to work.” 

Mwakatika said this internship also benefits students by introducing them to another culture. This kind of cultural exposure is important, because it can help students grow and become more well-rounded citizens, Mwakatika said. 

While bigger companies tend to have interns focus on specific tasks, working for a startup-based organization like ACADES also gives students the opportunity to work in different areas, develop troubleshooting skills and have a deeper impact, Mwakatika said. 

While virtual internships cannot recreate the experience of living and working abroad, being engaged virtually still helped students develop valuable skills, the director of UW IIP Michelle Hall said. 

“With the virtual environment, I think they’re getting the network, connection and mentorship with someone abroad, but they’re also getting communication, time management and other practices that are needed to work across languages, time zones and cultural differences,” Hall said. 

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UW Study Abroad is regularly monitoring global circumstances with respect to COVID-19, but in-person summer programs starting prior to July 1, 2021 in addition to Spring semester 2021 programs were canceled, according to the UW Study Abroad website

Hall said she hopes virtual internships will continue to have a place within IIP, because many students appreciate part-time opportunities they can balance with their schoolwork. 

“This has opened up new channels and opened it up to students who might not have considered themselves able to go abroad or able to commit the time for something more intensive than this but have still gotten huge benefits, connections and work experience that these have offered,” Hall said. 

Including the ACADES’ offerings, UW IIP has many summer internships which are still open, Hall said.

Mwakatika said students can also get involved with ACADES’s mission by joining Project Malawi UW and supporting their fundraising efforts. In April, the student organization will be selling handmade jewelry from an artist in Malawi who works with young women who are jobless, Mwakatika said. 

Project Malawi UW will also be selling paintings by one of its artists and donating food from African restaurants in Madison, Mwakatika said. 

“We are also accepting members … and we are very happy to welcome new students who want to join us,” Mwakatika said.


18 books that capture the spirit and essence of living in D.C.

One year ago, the coronavirus was already in Washington, but most people hadn’t yet experienced significant disruption to their daily lives. How naive we were.

Through the quarantines and stay-at-home orders, with restaurants closed, theaters dark and treasures locked up tight in museums, what some of us miss most is the spirit of city — D.C., not Washington — in all its wonderful, unpredictable, maddening glory.

One of the easiest ways to recapture those missing experiences is through literature, so we asked a spectrum of authors, librarians, booksellers and book critics to tell us about their favorite book written about D.C. — one that captures the essence of D.C., reminds readers how special living here can be, or shows a side of the nation’s capital that outsiders often miss.

Even the most jaded of book lovers should find a surprise in these recommendations. All but one are in print, which means you can find them on library shelves or order a copy from your local independent bookstore. After all, we want our neighborhood shops to be able to introduce us to the next great Washington novel.

Responses have been lightly edited for length.

“Heartburn” by Nora Ephron


If you’re invited to a dinner party in Washington, chances are you’ll be seated by someone connected to journalism or politics. It’s true today — and it was true in 1983, when Nora Ephron’s watershed “Heartburn” was published. Writing a laugh-out-loud novel about the dissolution of a marriage because of infidelity seems counterintuitive, but Ephron, whose divorce from Carl Bernstein is widely considered to be her source material, succeeds brilliantly. Her observations about D.C. and the characters who populate it seem nearly as fresh today as when she penned them. A bonus: Woven throughout the chapters are recipes, including a delicious-sounding one for key lime pie. There’s also some diabolical inspiration on what to do with it, if you like your revenge served up sweet.

Sarah Pekkanen, whose books include “The Wife Between Us” and “You Are Not Alone”

Ephron’s 1983 roman à clef remains more compulsively readable than any political thriller. It contains no intrigue beyond some credit-card snooping, no world crisis greater than the battle to make truly crisp hash-browns, no power struggle other than that between a couple whose marriage is about to explode, but read the first page and I promise you won’t be able to stop. Ephron describes her heartbreak in the nation’s capital with such sharp wit and endless charm that D.C. readers will feel proud to have once been able to call her a Washingtonian. It’s a bittersweet thought, though, because I can’t help thinking that 2020 would have been at least a little easier if we’d had Nora Ephron to see it through with us.

Katherine Heiny, author of the upcoming “Early Morning Riser”

“You Can’t Take a Balloon into the National Gallery” by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser (illustrations)

(Robin Preiss Glasser)

While a grandma is giving her grandchildren a tour of the museum, their red balloon — left tethered outside — slips its moorings and blows recklessly through the city, offering us a gloriously playful look at some of D.C.’s most iconic sights. It also gives us glimpses of some of the famous women and men (Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and many others) who have contributed to Washington’s rich history. Back at the museum, we are treated to meticulously rendered works of art by the likes of Winslow Homer, Matisse and Manet. Full of fun, and painlessly educational, every place and person and painting is a pleasure to encounter in this wordless wonder of a book.

Judith Viorst, whose books include “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

This book is out of print, but widely available online.

“Creatures of Passage” by Morowa Yejidé

(Akashic Books)

Set in Anacostia in 1977, the book revolves around Nephthys Kinwell, a taxi driver who ferries troubled passengers, citywide, in a haunted ’67 Plymouth Belvedere. Nephthys grieves the loss of her brother Osiris, murdered and dumped in the river, who returns in another form in a quest for vengeance. There are a multitude of characters, none given short shrift, all richly observed, and though the plot turns are sometimes harrowing, the author locates the humanity in a community that comes to together in the face of their own personal hardships to save an endangered child. “Creatures of Passage” shines a light on a section of the city mostly ignored by fiction writers. In its luminous prose, and its nods to mysticism and myth, the novel brings to mind the best of Toni Morrison. It’s that good.

George Pelecanos, who has written 21 novels set in or around Washington, most recently “The Man Who Came Uptown”

I’m a transplant to the D.C. area, so I know it in a broad way: monuments and museums and obvious landmarks. Morowa Yejidé’s forthcoming novel shares what might be the opposite of my experience. Set in 1977, it points a microscope at Anacostia, using this focus to reveal truths about the wider city. Mind you, this isn’t the real Anacostia. Yejidé’s version churns with myth and magic. We view the neighborhood through the eyes of characters both living and dead. It’s a haunted, supernatural place. In a way, Yejidé writes how D.C. feels, rather than how it strictly is. As if those two states are separable. Reality notwithstanding, the novel’s characters taught me a wise, D.C.-specific lesson: Wherever you are in our city, that’s the center. Landmarks be damned. D.C. asks us to know our neighbors where — and how — they live.

Zach Powers, author of “First Cosmic Velocity” and “Gravity Changes”

“Creatures of Passage” will be released March 16.

“The Lost Diary of M” by Paul Wolfe


Much fiction springs from the “what if” crevices of a writer’s imagination. “M” refers to the ex-wife of CIA operative Cord Meyer, Mary Pinchot Meyer, who had an affair and shared LSD with John F. Kennedy in the White House (1962-63). Months after the president’s assassination, Mary Meyer was mysteriously murdered in broad daylight while walking along the C&O Canal in Georgetown. The accused assailant was found not guilty. “The Lost Diary” refers to the journal Mary kept, later found by her sister, Toni Bradlee, then married to Ben Bradlee, later executive editor of The Washington Post. Toni turned her sister’s diary over to their friend James Jesus Angleton, CIA chief of counterintelligence. The diary was never seen again. Until this novel …

Kitty Kelley, author of biographies on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and others

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

(Random House Trade Paperbacks)

I had often passed beautiful Oak Hill Cemetery on my walks around the city, but I didn’t get obsessed with it until I read “Lincoln in the Bardo,” a novel that might be described as a phantasmagoric “Spoon River Anthology” with footnotes. Set at the cemetery, and told by ghosts, it’s hilarious, disturbing and poignant by turn. George Saunders was inspired to write it after hearing about Lincoln’s visits to the cemetery to see his young son Willie, who temporarily lay in the Carroll Family Mausoleum after his death in 1862. The first time I tried to visit Oak Hill it was closing time, but an employee told me I could get a key and enter any time if I bought a plot, an idea I haven’t entirely ruled out. In the meantime I’ll make due with visiting hours.

Julie Langsdorf, author of “White Elephant”

“Lost in the City” by Edward P. Jones

I’ve come to really bridle at the term “the Washington novel,” which almost always describes a book that has little or nothing to do with the city itself. For me, the perfect antidote is Edward P. Jones’s matchless story collection, “Lost in the City,” which turns a relatively small patch of (mostly) Northwest D.C. into an infinitely rich terrain of love and loss. Jones is so attentive, so gentle, so precise and so open to possibility that, no matter how long you’ve lived here, you can’t help seeing D.C. with new eyes.

Louis Bayard, whose books include “Courting Mr. Lincoln”


This collection of short stories lifts the political veneer off the nation’s capital to reveal the unheralded neighborhoods of what was once Chocolate City. Ordinary people doing ordinary things, yet extraordinary in the telling. Jones’s stories squirrel into the depth of humanity, leaving us breathless, at times horrified, sometimes chuckling and often heartbroken. An array of characters so vivid — from “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons” all the way to “Marie” — we feel their joy and shame, their pain and resignation, and their connection to a persistent city much of the world never sees. Jones shows us that these lives do matter. We see the majesty of D.C. in the small interactions between its residents, and we come to understand that life is lived in each precious moment.

Melanie S. Hatter, whose books include “Malawi’s Sisters” and “The Color of My Soul”

The stories, sometimes called a “Dubliners” for D.C., are unsparing yet rich in detail and insight into the lives of African Americans living in D.C. Communal and family ties are torn as the city is gentrified, deepening the characters’ sense of displacement throughout the book.

— Aaron Beckwith, co-owner, Capitol Hill Books

“The Passover Guest” by Susan Kusel and Sean Rubin (illustrations)

(Neal Porter Books)

A stunning new picture book made me gasp over the beauty of Washington and linger over the pages. Set in 1933, the story follows the story of a girl named Muriel who meets a magician at the Lincoln Memorial and goes on to take part in a miraculous feast that brings her community together during Passover. From the cherry blossoms in bloom to scenes of the Washington Monument, the White House and the Capitol building, this book is a gorgeous celebration of the Passover holiday, as well as the vibrant Jewish community that has long made the D.C. region their home.

Hena Khan, whose books include “Amina’s Voice” and its upcoming sequel, “Amina’s Song”

“Henry and Clara” by Thomas Mallon


Henry and Clara Rathbone shared the box with President Lincoln and his wife on the day of Lincoln’s assassination. In fact, Henry was stabbed by John Wilkes Booth when he tried to restrain him after the shooting. What makes this book particularly appealing to D.C. residents is how Mallon uses streets and landmarks in D.C. that are as familiar and recognizable today as it must have been in the 1860s. We ride in the coach with the couple as they pass through Thomas Circle on their way to Ford’s Theatre. Thomas Mallon takes full use of the local geography.

— Mark LaFramboise, head buyer at Politics and Prose Bookstore

“Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston

(St. Martin’s Griffin)

When you hear “book set in Washington D.C.,” it’s easy to think “the White House, K Street, dirty politics, bad clothes, worse behavior.” But in 2019, Casey McQuiston gifted us with “Red, White & Royal Blue.” Yes, it has politics and a woman (!) in the White House, but also good clothes, great characters and so much charm. The question on the cover is: “What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?” The answer: the romance novel D.C. didn’t know it needed. It’s fun and frothy, with a dash of the passionate political activism that brings so many young people to Washington, and it reminded me that D.C. can be a glamorous city — even a sexy city — if you look at it through the right red, white and royal blue lens.

Karin Tanabe, whose books include “The Gilded Years” and “A Hundred Suns”

“The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” by Dinaw Mengestu

(Riverhead Books)

Customers (especially tourists, when we used to have tourists) often ask me to recommend a “D.C. book.” There are lots of wonderful potential answers, but my first response is always “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.” Dinaw Mengestu’s novel is the story of Sepha, an Ethiopian immigrant running a corner store here in the mid-1990s. It’s beautifully written with vivid characters, but the Logan Circle setting, on the cusp of gentrification, makes it a very D.C. story — a thoughtful look at the tensions between old and new, Black and White, and residents’ competing definitions of “progress.” Come for the gorgeous writing; stay for a story showing that Washington is not just the White House, Capitol Hill, or Georgetown. Our neighbors and neighborhoods are so much more.

— Emilie Sommer, book buyer at East City Bookshop

An impressive debut novel set in the gentrifying Logan Circle neighborhood of the mid-aughts, this is the moving story of an immigrant’s struggle for assimilation and acceptance, and the unlikely friendship that both will test and fulfill these desires.

— Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, co-founder, Solid State Books

“Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett

(Harper Perennial)

I’m invoking creative license in naming “Bel Canto.” Ann Patchett’s exquisitely told story does not take place in D.C., but it does take place in the residence of an unnamed nation’s vice president. His guests for the evening — diplomats, polyglots, artists, expats and business leaders — remind me of the people I’ve met around town. On occasion, I’ve mingled in embassies eating small bites from small plates with instrumental music floating in the air. I’ve listened to soaring voices, like that of Roxane Coss, fill the gilded hall of the Kennedy Center. D.C. being D.C., there were probably some in the audience who, like Patchett’s characters, revel in the fine arts almost as much as they revel being in the company of people who love the fine arts. And because truth is stranger than fiction, this year a group of terrorists stormed the Capitol looking for our sitting vice president. What transpired lacked all the elegance of Patchett’s novel but had Washingtonians duly riveted and eager for a peaceful denouement.

Nadia Hashimi, whose books include “The House Without Windows” and “When the Moon Is Low”

“When Washington Was in Vogue” by Edward Christopher Williams

Edward Christopher Williams was the first African American professional librarian in the nation. Between January 1925 and June 1926 he serialized his only novel in The Messenger, called “Letters of Davy Carr, a True Story of Colored Vanity Affair.” But it wasn’t until 2003 that the novel was “rediscovered” by scholar Adam McKible and published as a book. “When Washington Was in Vogue” is an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters from our hero, Davy Carr, to an old Army friend. Carr moves to D.C. at the end of World War I and rents rooms in the Rhodes home, where he socializes with the owner’s two daughters and attends a range of social events at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. As Carr is a little slow on the uptake, we see him fall in love long before he does, in this hilarious novel of manners — in which not a single White person appears.

Kim Roberts, co-creator of D.C. Writers’ Homes and editor of “By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital”

(Harper Perennial)

I was struck by this novel when it was “discovered” in the magazine archives and republished as a book in the early 2000s. It gives a vivid picture of Black Washington’s social elite in the 1920s in a fictional series of letters between a visiting scholar working on a research project in D.C. and a friend back in New York. I recognize many of the traditions that continue to characterize middle-class Black life in Washington. Long before social media, people have felt compelled to humble-brag, chronicle their every move and share it. I also recognized the tall skinny rowhouses, the homecoming games and dances, and society debates about respectability, privilege and colorism.

Natalie Hopkinson, author of “Go-Go Live” and “A Mouth Is Always Muzzled”

It’s a fantastic champagne glass of a Harlem Renaissance novel about the Black elite scene in D.C. in the 1920s. New York City wasn’t the only place where Black art and literary culture was thriving in the ’20s, and this is a wonderful book for anybody who wants to read more about D.C.’s gorgeous and diverse cultural history.

Amber Sparks, author of the short story collection “And I Do Not Forgive You”

“The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close


Theatrical presidents and quotable senators suck up all the limelight in Washington, but staff members, administrators and bureaucrats actually keep the government running. Jennifer Close’s comic novel “The Hopefuls” (2016) gives an insider’s view of what that world is like. Close knows from personal experience. When her husband got a job working on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, she stopped editing in New York and moved to Washington. She was happy for her husband and optimistic about the campaign but found the hyper-politicized culture of D.C. deeply annoying. Fortunately, she funneled all her irritation into “The Hopefuls,” and the results are pitch perfect. Everyone the narrator meets is a grown-up version of the most eager kid from high school student council. They all wear ID cards around their necks, speak entirely in acronyms and brag about their security clearance. The only currency these civil servants and campaign aides care about is access to People in Power. As funny — and true! — as “The Hopefuls” is, what makes it sing is Close’s tender portrayal of a marriage caught in the vice of this frantic, idealistic, infuriating town.

Ron Charles, book critic for The Washington Post and host of TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com

“King Suckerman” by George Pelecanos

(Back Bay Books)

It’s 1976. Our protagonists are just normal D.C. guys playing ball and living and working. When they run into trouble, classic Chandler or Big Lebowksi-style, the whole city takes center stage, showcasing Chocolate City as it unabashedly, divinely was. “King Suckerman” is a gripping crime story, one that doesn’t raise up criminals or criminality. Through the ’70s-era glory of music, cars, cultural life and early home-rule, you can see the roots of what the ’80s bring to D.C.

— Scott Abel, co-founder, Solid State Books

“Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of Chocolate City” by Natalie Hopkinson

(Duke University Press)

Either by movement — willing and not — or by birth, we all inherit a city. Many in the capital region have inherited one of the most dynamic cities in the world, one caught in the throes of an ironic post-Obama administration transition from being “Chocolate City” into being … something else. Many of those who make up the changing Washington have heard the recent demands of the Don’t Mute D.C. campaign, but fewer really understand the braided story of people, politics and music that brought us to this contentious moment. Natalie Hopkinson does, and she offers a compelling glimpse in her book “Go-Go Live.” Part memoir, part ethnography, part case study of Black American urban sociopolitical life, the book starts the party at the soon-to-be redeveloped Reeves Center (a.k.a. Club U), dances us on a steady groove through go-go’s displacement from U Street to Prince George’s County, from live shows and cassette tapes to radio and streaming. If you find yourself thinking earnestly about what we should be preserving of the D.C. we have inherited, you should definitely read Hopkinson’s book and then keep your ears tuned to the sounds it amplifies.

Kyle Dargan, poet and associate professor of literature at American University

The spirit of D.C. is in our music, and until we can go to live shows again, dive into some of the many books and films documenting D.C. punk and go-go. Start with the catalogue to Roger Gastman’s 2013 exhibition “Pump Me Up — DC Subculture of the 1980s” for a visual feast of go-go posters, punk fliers and street art that will dispel any notion that D.C. is an uptight government town. For a deeper understanding of the importance of Go-Go music in a rapidly changing city, read Natalie Hopkinson’s “Go-Go Live.” D.C.’s underground music scene has been thriving for over 40 years — check out Cynthia Connolly’s “Banned in DC” and Farrah Skeiky’s “Present Tense” for photos and interviews from D.C. punk past and present.

— Michele Casto, D.C. Public Librarian and co-founder of the D.C. Punk Archive

“This Shared Dream” by Kathleen Ann Goonan


To use cinematic analogies, imagine a combination of “Inception,” “Back to the Future” and “Jumanji,” set largely in D.C. and Northern Virginia. Kathleen Ann Goonan’s characters attend Dunbar High School, take in movies at the Uptown Theater and ride the right Metro lines. Yet this beautifully written novel’s 1991 D.C. isn’t quite ours: John F. Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and Martin Luther King Jr. is about to become head of the United Nations. At the heart of the thrilling and intricate plot — some of which builds on Goonan’s award-winning 2007 book, “In War Times” — is the depiction of a wonderful Washington family and a house where the jazz record collection and the children’s board games might hold the secret to altering history. Goonan grew up in D.C. and in recent years taught creative writing at Georgia Tech. To the immense sorrow of her family, friends and readers, she died Jan. 28 of cancer at the age of 68.

Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Book World

“Speak No Evil” by Uzodinma Iweala

(Harper Perennial)

Uzodinma Iweala introduces us to an original, evocative main character in Niru, whose complex humanity defies conventional expectations — and threatens to undermine his closest relationships. Like the city in which it takes place, “Speak No Evil” is alternately sparse and gilded, hauntingly elegiac and completely real, a confluence of identities and influences that is greater than their sum.

— Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Bookstore

“111 Places in Washington That You Must Not Miss” by Andréa Seiger

(111 Places)

A friend gave me this book as a gift last year. I was going to use it as a guidebook for taking trips around the city. I wanted to comfort the poet in me, find and touch my Walt Whitman. Being retired, I wanted to see the city anew and take in what I had been missing. However, the pandemic put an end to what would have been my summer exploring the city with new eyes. I wanted to return to Cedar Hill and visit the home of Frederick Douglass. I hoped it would be the nudge to begin reading David Blight’s biography of Douglass. Instead, this book with its beautiful pictures rests by my desk, asleep with its pages unturned. If I look to the future, I want this book to be my favorite, I want to celebrate a city that rediscovers not just its vibrancy but its breath. Sadly, a few weeks ago I walked down to Fort Stevens, a site included in the book. There I took pictures with my cellphone. I stood where Lincoln stood in 1864, watching Union troops defend Washington from a Confederate attack. I thought about the recent Confederate flag someone carried into the Capitol on Jan. 6. I wish it had been fiction. To hold Seiger’s book in one’s hand today, it is to think of all the things not to miss, and all the things to hold dear.

E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and literary activist