A New Yorker Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction 2023
Winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction 2023
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.
‘Both formally daring and manages to be profoundly courageous in the tradition of Dionne Brand and Margo Jefferson.’ Guy Gunaratne, Guardian
‘An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.’ starred review, Kirkus
‘A truly unique, artful, and thought-provoking account of both the history of what it means to be Black and what is required of us today. An immense collection of necessary notes on Black existence.’ Dipo Faloyin, author of Africa Is Not A Country
‘What incredible generosity of deep listening, what presence on the page.’ Victoria Adukwei Bulley, author of Quiet
‘In Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes we find a decoding (but not an excuse) of the devaluation of Black bodies in architecture, literature, painting, photographs, exhibitions and archives of the past and also how it feels to be the object of that constant devaluation. Each precise note accruing added meaning from the last, the sum of which is much more than its parts. With the spirit of her discerning mother ever present this is essential reading for all.’ Roger Robinson, author of Home is Not a Place
‘Ordinary Notes is like an intellectual ice climb – you move along a careful series of handholds to cross a terrain that might otherwise seem impassable, and afterward, you are amazed at the passage. At once an act of careful attention and a juxtaposition of observations and questions, the result is a powerful vision of American life, drawn from the Black intellectual history and aesthetics that Sharpe has cultivated as the means to her own liberation, so that she might offer it to others.’ Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
‘Christina Sharpe is a brilliant thinker who attends unflinchingly to the brutality of our current arrangements and the violence of antiblackness and yet always finds a way to beauty and possibility. With exacting detail, she conveys the heartbreak of the imposed order and the openings that reside in the ordinary and offers a method, a poetics for refusing and exceeding the given, for sustaining life, for breaking the colonial frame, and imagining what might emerge at the end of the known world. Ordinary Notes is an exquisite text. It demands everything of the reader and, in turn, offers us a vocabulary for living.’ Saidiya Hartman, author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
‘A long regard, a movement along the possibilities, and the stillness, at the heart of thinking. In these pages, we experience continuities but not endings, and every person is asked to face their present, and to see and feel and think without innocence. Ordinary Notes will forever alter each reader who grapples with its disquiet and its beauty.’ Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing
‘Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes is an extraordinary gift to readers, gathering between its covers all manner of reading, as it explores, with formal daring and analytical aplomb, history, society, politics, and culture, particularly where and when they intersect with Black lives, including the writer’s own. Among the many achievements here, these exemplary notes – which include a stirring recounting of the author’s intellectual and aesthetic formation, and a tribute to motherly and familial love in the face of this country’s and world’s relentless brutalities – show how one might combine memoir, memorial, literary criticism, political and cultural critique, and theoretical accounting in order to imagine a new model, suffused with grace, subtlety, rigor, and care, for how to read and think with and against, which is to say, to produce true and lasting knowledge.’ John Keene, author of Counternarratives
‘Profoundly moving. It does important work on so many levels. Sharpe’s work always changes me in some way and that is the highest gift that art can give. I will refer to the individual notes in this magnificent collection for years to come.’ Tessa McWatt, author of The Snow Line