The Power Of StoryTelling

The initial draft of this thesis concentrated mostly on islands, especially islands and their distinctive qualities. When I looked at islands from this angle, I realized why some people only saw them as tiny and undeveloped. However, the latest version of this paper aims to investigate how the Dominican Republic is one of those islands that too have been misrepresented when in reality it is majestic, culturally rich, and valuable. Furthermore, I will be focusing on the novel The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin. The reason for picking the third novel in the series is because of the way Hoa is telling the story. This is similar to what I am aiming to do with this paper, I am pushing to tell a different story about the Dominican Republic, one that has not been tarnished by the media. Additionally, the third book demonstrated to me as a reader the struggle that orogens faced personally. Orogens are repressed, dehumanized, and considered dangerous. Because of their misrepresentation and othering within society, orogens and islands are comparable.

The persecution and often misunderstanding of orogens is linked in many ways to how Western nations regard the Dominican Republic. For example, much of the headlines about the Dominican Republic focus on tourist deaths, botched plastic surgery, poverty, and the “dangerous” neighborhoods that surround the island. The article “11 U.S. Tourists Have Died in the Dominican Republic in 2019. Should You Cancel Your Trip?” it notes “The headlines about American tourists dying and have fueled speculation among travelers that the Caribbean country is an unsafe destination for travelers. Safety concerns began to arise in May, when three seemingly healthy American tourists suddenly died in the same resort within the same week. The FBI has confirmed that it is assisting Dominican police with the investigations. The State Department said there has been no evidence of foul play and no sign that the deaths are connected” (Martinez, Bates). Around this same time ​​Delta Airlines advised travelers with tickets to Punta Cana that they would be able to cancel or reschedule their flights “due to recent events.” These headlines that advise many Americans to rethink their decisions it sadly hinder the representation of the Dominican Republic. In this interpretation by the media, it urges people to see the “ugly” before truly looking underneath it all.  The labeling of the term dangerous can be applied to this situation as well as to the novel. Within the novel, we are met with Jija who was the husband of the main character Essun who also killed their son because he was a orogene. This scenario in the trilogy is mind-boggling but it also changed how I viewed the story as well. Jemisin made it clear to readers how tarnished the reputation of orogenes is by having a father kill his child with his bare hands. This left an imprint on me because within our society we are taught that parents are our shields of protection but this was proved otherwise in this novel. However, through Jija’s actions, he was reassuring the public that the world would be a better and safer place with one less orogene regardless of the orogene being his son. 

Hoa as the narrator of the novel and the one who is using his power to tell the story uses his interactions with Essun to illustrate the other sides of orogenes that are never focused on. He begins the novel by introducing Essun, “You are Essun, the sole surviving orogene in all the world who has opened the Obelisk Gate. No one expected this grand destiny of you. You were once of the Fulcrum, but not a rising star like Alabaster” (1). One thing Hoa does with this section introduces us to who Essun is. Through his introduction readers are met with a woman who was raised in the Fulcrum but was overlooked by many.  As Hoa continues we see Essun grow and develop, “And here, now, long free from the ordered, structures of the Fulcrum, you have become mighty. You saved the community of Castrima at the cost of Castrima itself; this was a small price to pay, compared to the cost in blood that the enemy army would have extracted if they’d won” (10). The emotions I felt while reading this section were pride and strength; throughout the novel, readers battled with defining Essun based on her behaviors and actions. However, after hearing Hoa’s version of the story, I was greeted by an Essun who had never given up. She fought for a community that struggled to welcome her yet she still protected it in order to preserve them all. The strength in Hoa’s narrative is crucial; via his portrayal of Essun as a human being, I was confronted with an orogene that seeks to preserve the human race rather than an orogene that needs to be eliminated due to their unwarranted power.

Based on Hoa’s introduction of Essun, I believe it is my turn to reintroduce the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic was inhabited by the Taino who called the island Quisqueya “mother of all lands”. The Taino people were people of culture, art, and traditions. As their society grew, they produced yuca, sweet potatoes, maize, beans, and other crops, reaching a peak by the time of European contact. Similar to the story we have heard for so long, Christopher Columbus settled on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the aftermath was catastrophic.  Due to European infectious illnesses, the Tanos was virtually wiped off. Other factors included abuse, suicide, family breakdown, and starvation. This wiping of the Taino during the European’s exploitation is similar to the Seasons within the trilogy. The Seasons were responsible for vast starvation, illnesses, and even death. The Dominican Republic’s story is ultimately fighting for freedom, something that is rarely mentioned. For instance, the Dominican Republic was a French colony from 1795 to 1809, from 1822 to 1844 it was unified with Haiti, and between the 19th century, the Dominican Republic was in constant wars with Spain, France, and Haiti. The story that unfolds is one where the people of the Dominican Republic fought for their independence and freedom. 

One thing I have the power to do is tell my audience the magical place that is the DR just as Hoa can retell his love for Essun. One story is one told by my mother. The journey of her youth:

The roads were long, sandy, and rocky, remember we had no sidewalks back then. I always had to look behind me to make sure no motorcycles were coming. On one hand, I had my bag that didn’t carry much and on the other hand, I had your aunt’s hand. My hair was in pigtails, I had on the school uniform baby blue top and navy blue skirt. Going to school was not the fun part but the part that I did love was coming back from school when the island was awake. Coming back to school my hair was always undone and I used to love running with my nearly unattached sandals.  The roosters would be out and roaming, the ladies with buckets on their heads used to sell a bunch of stuff, and every corner you turn there was a friendly dog. The warmth would slap my face, and the sun would beam on my face, but my legs kept running (Maria I Frias). 

Hoa, similar to my mother, told his version of his story. One that encompasses love and compassion, one that revolves around Essun. 

“I don’t have anything left now”.  Hoa says, “You have comm and  kin. You’ll have a home, once you reach Rennais. You have your life.”… Hoa says to your slumped back, “I can’t die.”…He’s saying you won’t ever lose him. He will not crumble away like Alabaster, You can’t ever be surprised by the pain of Hoa’s loss the way you were with Corundum or Innon or Alabaster or Uche, or now Jija. You can’t hurt Hoa in any way that matters. “It’s safe to  love you,” you murmur, in startled realization” (172).

What Hoa did in this section was humanize Essun. I did not see Essun the orogene I saw Essun the woman who has lost so much that is now afraid to love. Throughout the description of other non orogene characters in the novel, I was exposed to the hatred for orogene. Hoa allowed me to see the other side of the story. One where Essun feels lonely, abandoned, and scared. Hoa who is a stone eater illustrates that even though to some he is not alive he is present. 

Telling your story is essential in a world that seeks to erase many experiences. When I tell my story it is one that is filled with truth and magic. I told my version of the story about the Dominican Republic filled with my own experiences upon traveling there. A land that has gifted my family life and happiness. Hoa in a similar way informed me about the different stories one will hear depending on who you hear it from. The power a storyteller holds is incredible, we have the power to speak the truth, pass down generational stories, and keep our names alive even after it is our time.  

Say My Name

Sidney Smith’s 1820 short reading Who Reads an American Book introduces us to a new perspective on people’s interpretations of America’s first. According to Sidney Smith, a British writer, America has not introduced anything worth honoring or naming; instead, they are doing quite the opposite: taking the identity of others. Smith writes, “The Americans are a brave, industrious, and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character. They are but a recent offset indeed from England; and should make it their chief boast, for many generations to come, that they are sprung from the same race with Bacon and Shakespeare and Newton” (Smith). Although America was still a freshly established country when this written work was released in 1820, its ties to England were still strong. Smith admits this by assuring readers that people like Shakespeare have a significant influence in this country. However, is Smith wrong? Shakespeare’s work is regarded as the father of literature in America when we look at the famous literary canon. Shakespeare’s works are mentioned frequently in the K-12 curriculum. Even in colleges, there are classes dedicated solely to Shakespeare’s works. 

Smith’s words are regarded as factual because they include the names of well-known British authors. He asks, “Where are their Foxes, their Burkes, their Sheridans, their Windhams, their Horners, their Wilberforces?—where their Arkwrights, their Watts, their Davys?—their Robertsons, Blairs, Smiths, Stewarts, Paleys and Malthuses?—their Porsons, Parts, Burneys, or Blomfields?—their Scotts, Campbells, Byrons, Moores, or Crabbes?—their Siddonses, Kembles, Keans, or ONeils—their Wilkies, Laurences, Chantrys?” (Smith). Smith’s words reveal what I believe is part of the ugly truth in the United States; what are those names we choose to use concerning our history and discoveries. The concept of stolen identity is spread throughout Smith’s writing; we celebrate the work of Shakespeare but not of Maya Angelou; we celebrate George Washington as a hero but consider Malcolm X a criminal. But Smith’s questions in the year 2022 still stand, who are the people that make America honest and noble?  

As a Black woman who has seen and experienced racism, discrimination, and sexism and is a first-generation American, I am solely witnessing America’s hatred towards people of color. Sidney Smith writes, “Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave, whom his fellow creatures may buy and sell and torture?” (Smith). Sidney Smith’s work is essential in understanding who he considered important within his knowledge of honoring writers. When mentioning names such as Campbell, Paleys, Wilkies, etc., he says the names and honors those who have left their mark. When ridiculing the United States, his discussion upon enslavement is essential in grasping what I believe should be the United States’s need to say people of color’s names.  Enslavement occurred in this nation because of the need for control and power; people of color experienced enslavement in ways that can not be put into words. After enslavement was “abolished,” a new form of terror was constructed known as lynching. Lynchings were violent public acts done by white people in the 19th and 20th centuries, primarily in the South, to intimidate and subjugate Black people. Lynchings are often associated with images of Black men and women being hung from trees, including torture, mutilation, mutilation, and humiliation. Some of the victims were set on fire. Strange Fruit, written by Abel Meeropel and performed by Billie Holiday, depicts lynching as “Southern trees bear a strange fruit blood on the leaves and blood at the root Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” (Meeropel, Holiday). This piece is a haunting protest against racism’s inhumanity. Those strange fruits hanging from those trees were the lives of Black folks who were often wrongly accused by white people. 

Saying the names of the Black lives that have been taken from their families was an element of Percival Everett’s resistance and honor in his novel The Trees. The reality of the murder of Emmett Till is infused within this text is what captivated my attention. For instance, most of the main characters were of color, and through their reactions to the day-to-day events found in the novel, it became clear to me why saying people’s names is revolutionary. Everett writes “Granny C stared off again, “About something I wished I hadn’t done. About the lie, I told all them years back on that n***** boy” (9). Readers are unaware of the issue Granny C was alluding to when they read this scene. The phrase used to characterize the individual is discriminatory and demeaning, while also othering the individual. However, this particular section exemplifies a comparable aspect of Smith’s criticism of the United States. As he previously stated, this is a country where Black people were regarded as objects and exclusively property. Names are the weapon for visibility, recognition, and respect, it is only after the novel’s narrative twist that I was able to realize the novel’s significance. Everett writes, “Long time ago. It was their daddies who killed Emmett Till back in the fifties” (78). Emmett Till’s name has enormous significance because it reflects the harsh truth of the United States and its ongoing ramifications. Emmett Till was only 14 years old when he was murdered in the state of Mississippi by two white men. Many Black Americans were inspired to join the Civil Rights Movement after his death. Percival Everett was able to respect Emmett Till through his choice of words by not hiding his identity or the events that occurred to him. Saying his name was a noble act of resistance.

Saying someone’s name is highly significant, especially in the Black community. During enslavement, enslavers would modify and give enslaved people new names to which they had to respond to. Enslaved people were frequently marked with an enslaver’s last name to signify who they were forced to labor for. I was struck by Everett’s work because of the respect he paid to the victims of lynching. His work prompted me to see the default America has when it comes to honoring their successes and how the inventors are people of color who rarely receive credit for their work. For instance, Daniel Hale Williams was an African American surgeon and was the first surgeon to perform successful open-heart surgery. African American nurse Mary Van Brittan Brown, created a home security system in which the makeup is similar to those being used today. These are just a few examples of the way people of color have contributed so much to our society but are usually not recognized. By naming people like Dale Hale Williams and Mary Van Britan Brown, I am honoring those who came before me as well as those who are distinctive and deserving of recognition.

Ephemeral Realities

“It is because islands tend to form near faults or atop hot spots, which means they are ephemeral things in the planetary scale, there with an eruption and gone with the next tsunami. But human beings, too, are ephemeral things in the planetary scale. The number of things that they do not notice are literally astronomical” (150). Islands, too many, are defined as a body of land surrounded by water or classified as isolated. To me, islands mean home, shelter, community, and culture. However, the term that is essential within this piece is the idea of isolation. Within this quote, Jemisin highlights perhaps unintentionally the lives of many individuals that intertwine with justice. 

Islands in the year 2022 hold a lot of significance within our culture. “It is because islands tend to form near faults or atop hot spots, which means they are ephemeral things in the planetary scale, there with an eruption and gone with the next tsunami”. This quote can be directly proven in connection to natural disasters that occur on different islands. One example is the beautiful island of Haiti, Haiti has been exposed to different types of natural disasters. The article “Why Earthquakes In Haiti Are So Catastrophic” explains, “Haiti sits on a fault line between huge tectonic plates, big pieces of the Earth’s crust that slide past each other over time. These two plates are the North American plate and the Caribbean plate” (Jaclyn Diaz). Haiti sits on top of a fault known as the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system. As a result of the unease in the Earth’s crust, Haiti has been subject to various natural disasters, including earthquakes. The results of these earth are devastating, where many are found dead, homes destroyed, and people unprotected. And this is where the second half of the quote comes into play; “But human beings, too, are ephemeral things in the planetary scale” Upon understanding the destructive forces that can occur one understands the way human beings are temporary on space as ginormous.  

Islands within The Fifth Season hold a lot of meaning. In the beginning stages of the novel, Jemisin writes the quote used at the beginning of this paper that emphasizes the uniqueness of islands. This left readers with a lot of questions such as why is Jemisin focusing on islands? Are there people that live on islands within this novel? Etc. Jemisin left readers with a cliffhanger until the very end of the novel. Until readers are met with Syenite and Alabaster in chapter 22 where the Guardians have come to attack the island that at some point they have grown to appreciate. The arrival of the Guardians on the island shows the unfairness of attempting to forcibly eradicate and remove Corundum from his parents’ grasp. Corundum is considered as a need by the Guardians and the Fulcrum because of what he can provide. After reading about how the Guardians invaded the island, some people might wonder, “Who will restore this island?”

In recent years we have seen injustices and science connected. In 2020 Puerto Rico was hit by a devastating earthquake. However, hundreds of people are unable to pay for damage repairs to their houses. Others are skeptical of government inspectors’ claims that their homes are secure. The injustices are direct, we have a community of people impacted by an earthquake but the response of the government was very limited. For instance, Puerto Rico began to create camps for individuals who have lost their homes. Jenniffer Santos-Hernández, a research professor at the University of Puerto Rico who has visited the camps, believes the authorities have done little to offer temporary accommodation near people’s houses. She went to one neighborhood that is constructing one-room shacks with metal roofs that she described as looking like something out of a “shantytown”.

Works Cited 

Diaz, Jaclyn. “Why Earthquakes In Haiti Are So Catastrophic.” NPR, 16 Aug. 2021,

Jemisin, N. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, 1). Reprint, Orbit, 2015.

Robles, Frances, and Erika Rodriguez. “Months After Puerto Rico Earthquakes, Thousands Are Still Living Outside.” The New York Times, 8 Apr. 2021,

Folk Art = Folk Aesthetic?

When I sought up the definition of folk aesthetic, I landed across the term “folk art”. There was not a specific definition for folk aesthetic but for folk art it stated “FOLK ART is an expression of the world’s traditional cultures. FOLK ART is rooted in traditions that come from community and culture – expressing cultural identity by conveying shared community values and aesthetics. FOLK ART encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media, including cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal and more” (International Folk Art Market). You may have noticed that folk art is written in full capital letters, indicating a wish for those words to be seen rather than disregarded. Call & Response within their inclusion of so many different works creates its own definition of folk aesthetic and in turn is its own version of FOLK ART. One that incorporates originality, compassion, and information. 

Folk aesthetics represents people, culture, and art. Within the text Call & Response the folk people are people of color and the aesthetics shown are seen through their songs, stories, and the people. Call & Response uses the voices and pieces of Black people to illustrate their lives as everyday people. On the back of the cover page it has a illustration of the Tribes of the West African Coast in the era of the slave trade. What this does for the reader is that it sets the tone of the piece. Call & Response is an overall masterpiece of the pieces that Black individuals have contributed to society. This illustration of the West African Coast in the era of the slave trade highlights the various cultures that make up the continent of Africa. For instance, it highlights Ibo, Fons, Fulani, and Susu cultures. As a reader this left an imprint on how I view this text, before it was a textbook that I had to purchase for class but now it is a piece that represents the people that I call my ancestors. 

Within the use of songs readers are met with lyrics that represent the internal struggle that people of color were subject to. In the song We Raise de Wheat it states, “ Wee raise de wheat, dey gib us de corn; we bake de bread, dey gib us de cruss; we sif de meal, dey gib us de huss; we peal de meat, dey gib us de skin and dat’s de way dey takes us in” (241). This song illustrates the day to day life of many enslaved individuals, “we baker de bread, dey gib us dee cruss” in other words represents the labor aspect of these people. Many enslaved individuals cooked the meals their enslavers ate but as a return they were left with scraps. However, one other thing Call & Response does that highlights aesthetically is keeping the songs original, they use the words “dey” and “dee” that represents uniqueness in the way many people communicated.

The song used above is different from Gospel songs that are sung with guitar and piano. Call & Response acknowledges their dependence upon bodily rhythmic movement in illustrating Black worship, love, struggle, and faith. Take My Hand, Precious Lord by Thomas A. Dorsey embodies compassion. He sings “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night. Lead me on to the light, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” (804). Dorsey’s gospel song in many ways can be viewed as a story. He tells a story about being tired and weak but within the same lines talked about wanting to be led to the light and wanting to stand. This relates back to the song We Raise de Wheat where there is a feeling of weariness but also of possibilities. 

The use of short stories in this piece of art allows for folk aesthetics to highlight the realities of individuals that can be seen today. When reading Call & Response we can get sucked into the world of the past, we read about people, songs that are not recent, etc. But these short stories are key in understanding the lasting effects of culture. In the story Everyday Use by Alice Walker we are met with a family that showcases many forms of identity and art. One of the main characters Dee has reached a point in her life where she wants to claim her new identity, not the one that was given to her by her ancestors “enslavers”. However, it is the inclusion of the quilts that is connecting. The quilts to this family of three consist of connections to the past that showcase the progression of the future. Using Alice Walker’s work, Call & Response has demonstrated the concept of identity seen through quilts. These quilts are FOLK ART, they are rooted in tradition and culture while encompassing a combination of patterns and cloths. 

Call & Response can be looked at as a quilt. It has many layers of information, patterns that are seen through songs, short stories, rap lyrics, etc. And it embodies the concept of time, 20 years from now another college student might purchase this book and leave with their own interpretation that adds on to the significance of this quilt (Call & Response).