Poetry. African & African American Studies. Family reunions are special occasions, a time of connections, reflections, of meeting new members, remembering those no longer with us, more than a little gossip (a good reason not to miss one if you don't want to be the one talked about!) and (mostly) good-natured kidding, occasional recriminations and grievances aired or confined to knowing side glances, and perhaps most importantly, the chance to pass on and keep alive the history and lore of the family from one generation to the next. Grace C. Ocasio's FAMILY REUNION is all of these things, and in reading this book we are privileged guests at just such an event, invited to hear the stories of her relatives across multiple generations. Because this is an account of an African-American family, it is necessarily in part a chronicle of racism and injustice and thus a contribution to the poetry of documentary witness. There are moments of tragedy (a child permanently brain damaged by being dropped by a nurse at birth) and indignity (a woman denied a PhD by Harvard because of her race), but also triumphs (one man becomes a celebrated physician, and many in the family graduate from college and go on to successful professional careers—including the author).
These poems speak candidly of the experience of being Black in America. But that is not all that they do. What they reveal most of all is how this one family's story manages to be both uniquely their own and simultaneously universal, because we can all recognize ourselves and our own messy histories in these pages, whatever our race or origin. We've all encountered that uncle, that grandmother in our own families; we've heard the lectures (or given them ourselves) on hair and clothing, behavior and expectations, the suitability of suitors, all the friction at generational boundaries. Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded that we are all one family—however dysfunctional. To say that Ocasio does this with grace may be a pun, but it is also the truth. The book ends with a brief prose account of a family reunion that is hilariously chaotic, leaving the author with "hysteria welling in my throat." Well, that's family for you! But what a treat it is to get to know this one.
A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Grace C. Ocasio's second full-length volume of poetry, FAMILY REUNION, received honorable mention in the Quercus Review Press Fall 2017 Book Award Contest. She also placed as a finalist in the 2016 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award in Poetry and was a recipient of the 2014 North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Project Grant. Her first full-length collection, THE SPEED OF OUR LIVES, was published by BlazeVOX [books] in 2014. She has published poetry in Rattle, Court Green, Black Renaissance Noire, The Chaffin Journal, Minerva Rising, and many other journals. Her chapbook, Hollerin from This Shack, was published by Ahadada Books in 2009. Ocasio is a member of the Carolina African American Writers' Collective, and recently served as an adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.Author City: CHARLOTTE, NC USA