Shame On Me: an anatomy of race and belonging

 
9781911617969: Shame On Me: an anatomy of race and belonging
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'What are you?'

Tessa McWatt knows first-hand that the answer to this question, often asked of people of colour by white people, is always more complicated than it seems. Is the answer English, Scottish, British, Caribbean, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, French, African, Chinese, Canadian? Like most families, hers is steeped in myth and the anecdotes of grandparents and parents who recount their histories through the lens of desire, aspiration, loss, and shame.

In Shame On Me she unspools all the interwoven strands of her multicoloured inheritance, and knits them back together using additional fibres from literature and history to strengthen the weave of her refabricated tale. She dismantles her own body and examines it piece by piece to build a devastating and incisively subtle analysis of the race debate as it now stands, in this stunningly written exploration of who and what we truly are.

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Review:

‘This remarkable meditation on beautiful, human bodies formed by the violence of slavery and by colonial shame resists categorisation, even as it shows up the ways in which categories of race and identity are no more than empty methods of social control. Reading this book I felt a profound sense of relief: that someone as wise as Tessa McWatt had the compassion and courage to write it. Though she doesn’t spare us, her ancestors or herself, as she travels from British Guiana to China, India and Scotland, we must go with her: and realise the power of recovering female lineage, and realise that there is no centre, except the one we ourselves can make with all the various stories we contain. It is a deeply moving, urgent and important book.’

– Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young

‘Heartstopping and wise, exquisitely written, compellingly told, Shame on Me rises to a crescendo of such beauty and grace in its final chapter ― a call to activism and resistance ― that it left me breathless with the intensity of my own listening.’

– Rebecca Stott, author of In the Days of Rain

‘A brave indictment, both passionate and reflective, of the category of race and the prison that identity can become.’

– Lisa Appignanesi

‘There have been many books about race and identity in recent years, but none quite like this one. Shame On Me is part memoir, part essay, and partly a challenge to think beyond the current parameters of “identity” in our contemporary world. Told from the perspective of a writer whose own inheritance confounds established identities at every turn, it is a perceptive, poignant and deeply profound meditation on how the race-thinking of the plantation continues to structure our sense of ourselves “all the way down”. It is an essential intervention on behalf of those of us who wish to confront and overcome the resurgence of racism today.’

– Anshuman Mondal, Professor of Modern Literature at UEA

Shame on Me is one of the most moving and intellectually profound books of its kind. As an ‘anatomy,’ it operates with surgical precision upon the necrotic legacies of race, affirming kinship and solidarity against the ongoing violence of silence and denigration. Courageously intimate and beautifully written, it is everything I admire in Tessa McWatt.’

– David Chariandy, author of I've Been Meaning to Tell You

‘Poignant, provocative, beautifully written, Tessa McWatt's new memoir Shame on Me is an important, original and deeply thoughtful book. McWatt asks the toughest, most searching of questions about race and belonging and offers answers that surprise and challenge us. I loved it.'

– Jill Dawson, author of The Language of Birds

‘A remarkable achievement, both for the brilliance of its ambition as well as the realisation of it. McWatt's heritage is wide-reaching and encompasses the bloodlines of both oppressed peoples as well as their oppressors. By taking parts of her body – eyes, ass, hair etc – and assessing their cultural significance and currency, she examines her life's experience through personal and global history, trying to make sense of her place in the world. Beautifully written, beguiling and audacious – a triumph.’

- Henry Layte, The Book Hive

‘Her prose is lyrical and haunting ... McWatt forcefully demonstrates how we all have a stake in dismantling the status quo and creating new paths towards true freedom: “a place outside both the master’s house and the field”. Shame on Me is a tale of our time, yet also timeless.’

– Shu-Ling Chua, The Saturday Paper

‘Powerful and provocative.’

– Sunday Life

Praise for Higher Ed:

‘[C]ombines campus novel (historically a distinctly white-male genre) with a Zadie Smith-like sense of a thoroughly multicultural London ... satirises with sharp wit the precariousness of academic life.’ – The Age

About the Author:

Tessa McWatt is the author of six novels and two books for young people. Her fiction has been nominated for the Governor General's Award, the City of Toronto Book Awards, and the OCM Bocas Prize. Her most recent novel is Higher Ed (Scribe/Random House Canada), and she is the co-editor, along with Dionne Brand and Rabindranath Maharaj, of Luminous Ink: writers on writing in Canada (Cormorant). Her forthcoming books include Where Are You Agnes? (Groundwood Books), a picture book for children based on the life of abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin. She is one of the winners of the Eccles British Library Award 2018, for her forthcoming memoir: Shame on Me: an anatomy of race and belonging. She is also a librettist, most recently working with British composer Hannah Kendall. McWatt is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

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