2023 Book Ballot

Readers Retreat

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Winning book:
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

The Books | The Selection Committee

For Readers Retreat 2023, we will deepen our engagement with Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism and delve into the project of really imagining new ways of being, new ways to engage with natural environments, new ways to create community, and new ways to survive and thrive, to pause.  

Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism begins with the premise that there can be a future for Black and African-descended people and often provides a clear pathway towards Black liberation. Afrofuturism takes on recognizable systems of oppression and helps us see what’s possible in part by showing us more clearly what’s happening here, now, where we live. 


The Books



1. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi 

They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

-Macmillian Publishers 


2. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson 

The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways — farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends. 

– Grand Central Publishing 




3. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor 

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.

It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death. 

– Penguin Random House 


4. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon 

Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world. 

Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot—if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war. 

– Akshakic Books 



5. No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull 

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother has been shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

– Blackstone Publishing


The Selection Committee

Dr. Lori Banks (she/her) 
is an Assistant Professor of Biology, and a member of the Africana program committee, at Bates College. She holds a B.S. in Biology (Chemistry minor) from Prairie View A&M University and a Ph.D. in Molecular Virology and Microbiology from Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Banks’ scientific research has focused on drug discovery-related protein structure-function studies from a range of bacterial, viral, and cancer targets. Her current grant-funded research is focused on the development of novel antiviral compounds for the treatment of early childhood rotavirus infections. Other projects in her lab include understanding the mechanistic evolution of rotavirus NSP4 viroporin activity and utilizing laboratory techniques to address process improvements in the brewing industry. She also leads efforts within STEM education to increase the representation of historically excluded groups in the curriculum and the inclusion of STEM students with a range of identities. Aside from her faculty duties, she does scientific outreach work with Girl Scouts of Maine and Zeta Phi Beta, Sorority, Inc., around Northern New England. 

Ayesha Hall (she/her)  is currently serving as the District Social Emotional Learning and Equity Resource Coordinator for Lewiston Public Schools,Vice President of the Board of YWCA of Central Maine, and acts as a lead contributor to several local initiatives such as L/A Working Communities Challenge core Leader, L/A City Spirit Council’s Leadership Committee, and former chairwoman of the 2020 Mayoral Ad Hoc Committee on equity & diversity.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and achieved a Master of Science in School psychology while assisting and directing youth programs in the nonprofit sector of New York City. She’s spent the past 15 years offering mental health support to students and families through local schools and community agencies across a wide range of demographic settings throughout the North East in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Ayesha lives in Auburn Maine with her husband Coach Malik Hall, her son Malik Jr. and daughters Kayah and Asha. 


Spencer Traylor (he/him) is a co-founder and social studies teacher at the Next STEP Program of Lewiston High School and serves on the board of directors for Maine Youth Led Justice. He was born in Yorba Linda, CA but has been living in Maine since he moved to the town of Brownville in 2005.  Spencer graduated from Colby College with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and Middle Eastern Studies and has been living and working in Lewiston ever since.  When he’s not nerding out about fantastical Black folks doing magic, he can be found relaxing with his cat Pumpkin.