Afaa Michael Weaver
The Plum Flower Dance: Poems 1985 to 2005 (Pittsburgh)
Weaver grew up in East Baltimore, served a voluntary stint in the U.S. Army Reserves, and worked at the Proctor and Gamble plant for 14 years. He also wrote poetry on the side, and, like Lucille Clifton, the poems survived and thrived against all odds. These days, he directs the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center at Simmons College and counts the likes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. among his admirers. This collection, Weaver's ninth, is steeped in Chinese philosophy, but that doesn't mean the poet can't also riff about jazz greats ("Thelonious," "The Last Jazz Club," and others) and recall beatdowns administered by other Poets (in this case, a Dunbar Poets basketball team that destroyed Weaver's hapless Poly squad). It's a great mix, one that makes the book intellectually buoyant and down-to-earth at the same time.
Afaa Michael Weaver reads at the CityLit Festival Saturday, April 19 at 2pm.
The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories (Johns Hopkins)
This collection of charming short stories is populated by offbeat characters, including a teenage shot-putter, an operator of a salvage yard, an obsessive Yao Ming fan, an embattled rabbi, a president of the Ohio Association of Independent Pharmacists, and a Baltimore writer working on a science fiction movie in Buenos Aires. Although they appear to have little in common, they're held together by Apple's big-hearted warmth, understated wit, and completely believable plot twists. When each story pivots, it inevitably revolves around fully realized characters in plausible, but intriguingly unusual, situations. When the Jewish salvage yard owner fires a Muslim employee in "Indian Giver," the owner frames the decision in stark, black and white, terms. But readers would be hard-pressed to see it in those terms, thanks to Apple's brilliant characterization of the owner's wife—who inhabits a grey area that triggers empathy for both sides. The fact that Apple can pull this off, and do it in the span of a dozen pages, is truly remarkable. He also manages to resolve his short stories in ways that are both unexpected and satisfying, yet another sign of his mastery of the form.
Voices of the Chesapeake Bay (Geared Up)
Over the past several years, Buckley has been interviewing various personalities around the Chesapeake Bay watershed for Annapolis' WRNR. Culled from those talks, this book features interviews with various watermen, scientists, historians, farmers, activists, and bureaucrats. The scientists and activists have educational value, but the watermen and farmers are more entertaining. In fact, Buckley's talks with folks like Bunkie and Marybelle Miller and Daniel Firehawk Abbott function as more than simple interviews, they're insightful character studies.