A singular achievement, Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes explores, with immense care, profound questions about loss, pain and beauty; private memory and public monument; art; complexity; and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. In a series of 248 brief and urgent notes that cumulatively gather meaning, artifacts from the past – both public ones and the poignantly personal – are skilfully interwoven with present-day realities and possible futures, intricately constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence.
At the heart of Ordinary Notes is the indelible presence of the author’s mother, Ida Wright Sharpe. ‘I learned to see in my mother’s house,’ writes Sharpe. ‘I learned how not to see in my mother’s house . . . My mother gifted me a love of beauty, a love of words.’ Using these gifts and other ways of seeing, a chorus of voices and experiences is summoned to the page. Sharpe practices an aesthetic of ‘beauty as a method’, collects entries from a community of thinkers toward a ‘Dictionary of Untranslatable Blackness’, and rigorously examines sites of memory and memorial. And in the process, she forges a brilliant new literary form, as multivalent as the ways of Black being it traces.