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Black History Month Feature: Every Hard Sweetness by Sheila Carter-Jones

 As Black History Month comes to a close, this is your friendly reminder to read the work of Black authors year-round! Finish February or start March by snagging Sheila Carter-Jones' forthcoming collection, Every Hard Sweetness, recommended by BOA's fantastic spring 2024 intern, Jaenid Ayala! 


In a time where we have become desensitized to Black voices & Black trauma, Every Hard Sweetness is a reminder that there are still stories left to tell, still narratives that have been forced to remain unfinished. Sheila Carter-Jones creatively composes a song which so many African American families have not had the chance to sing. From the beginning to the end, Carter-Jones grabs us with every word as we are left hanging on to every morsel of history that she gives us. Using a combination of photography & poetry, she masterfully leaves her audience awe-struck and their hearts pierced by stories of navigating girlhood, grieving her father, and building yourself up in a world that consistently attempts to break you down.

I went into this reading with no idea of what I was going to receive & left with vulnerable stories that I will forever hold close to me. Sheila Carter-Jones lets us into a world in which history has silently crossed off its page. Being an African American studies minor, I believed that this collection would leave me captivated but had no idea just how speechless I was going to be left. From the beginning to the end, I held onto every word and wondered how different America would look if these narratives were given the chance to be taught in our classrooms. Even as Carter-Jones talks about her experiences with girlhood, I believe this book offers a little bit to everybody. While it would be impossible to choose a favorite, I will leave you with the poem that captivated me the most, for its ability to creatively weave together two narratives that seem like they have no connection. 


A jar of formaldehyde at the back of the room

is labeled Bullfrog. Kingdom: Animalia Phylum:

Chordata. Class: Amphibia. The biology teacher 

stands in front leading a review. Holds

up each organ of a frog’s dismembered body.

Clasped in tweezers, each part dangles. 

I don’t know yet how men are classified

at the state hospital for the criminal

insane. I only know that my father is

there. I don’t know that men are labeled.

Race: Black/Negro. Gender: Male.

Attitude: Threatening. Mental Capacity:

Twelve-year-old. Notes: seems to have 

his own philosophy about his place in

society. Diagnosis: Schizophrenic.      

On the day of the test the frog is spread

around the room. Each piece of its innards

stretched on a bed of cotton is held taut

with straight pins to keep it from shriveling.

Clipboard in hand, I walk to each station.

Identify the organ or glob of flesh. A white

boy behind me pokes the hard edge of

his pressed particle board into the small of

my back. He pushes to see my answers.

I don’t know yet the answers institution 

officials give to questions about the

death of a man. That when his body is 

exhumed it is empty. All of the internal 

organs gone. Even his brain. Official

cause of death recorded–heart attack.

I record answers on my paper.

The white boy is breathing on my neck.

I hold my clipboard up for him to see.

After he copies liver, I erase it. Write

Heart. After he copies stomach, I scratch it.

Write large intestine.

I don’t know yet that the guards kick a man

in the stomach so hard he shits himself.

His abdomen cramps for five years. For

three months he pisses blood.

When the bell rings I erase testes.

Write brain.   

I don’t know yet that my father will be 

systematically erased for six and a half

years. That he will rewrite his life as 

he reorients his body to–not pinned


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