Ordinary Notes (Hardcover)
A finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction
A finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award in Nonfiction
Named a Best Book of 2023 by The New York Times, NPR, New York Magazine, Kirkus, and Barnes and Noble
Critically acclaimed author of In the Wake, "Christina Sharpe is a brilliant thinker who attends unflinchingly to the brutality of our current arrangements . . . and yet always finds a way to beauty and possibility" (Saidiya Hartman).
A singular achievement, Ordinary Notes explores profound questions about loss and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. In a series of 248 notes that gather meaning as we read them, Christina Sharpe skillfully weaves artifacts from the past—public ones alongside others that are poignantly personal—with present realities and possible futures, intricately constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence. The themes and tones that echo through these pages—sometimes about language, beauty, memory; sometimes about history, art, photography, and literature—always attend, with exquisite care, to the ordinary-extraordinary dimensions of Black life.
At the heart of Ordinary Notes is the indelible presence of the author’s mother, Ida Wright Sharpe. “I learned to see in my mother’s house,” writes Sharpe. “I learned how not to see in my mother’s house . . . My mother gifted me a love of beauty, a love of words.” Using these gifts and other ways of seeing, Sharpe steadily summons a chorus of voices and experiences to the page. She practices an aesthetic of "beauty as a method,” collects entries from a community of thinkers toward a “Dictionary of Untranslatable Blackness,” and rigorously examines sites of memory and memorial. And in the process, she forges a brilliant new literary form, as multivalent as the ways of Black being it traces.
4-color art throughout
About the Author
Christina Sharpe is the author of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being—named by the Guardian as one of the best books of 2016—and Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. She is currently Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Department of Humanities, at York University, in Toronto.
"[Sharpe's] most liberating and poetic experiment yet. Made up of 248 individual notes, it is a deft blend of memoir, theory, archival documents and lyrical reflections on her daily life . . . The notes build in momentum and assemble themselves into a mosaic that holds the relentless terror of Black life as well as its undeniable beauty . . . If there’s an argument at the center of Ordinary Notes, it is that attentiveness and imagination are powerful restorative agents capable of reconstituting what has been broken down and targeted for obliteration." —Jenna Wortham, The New York Times Magazine
“Ordinary Notes makes full use of its form, finding in fragmentation a way to propose and to elaborate, eddying back and forth between cruelty and care, sorrow and joy . . . [Sharpe] seeks to open up space for different futures, despite the undertow of the past . . . extraordinarily moving.” —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"Both individually and in their totality, these entries exemplify what it looks like to care and be cared for, to mother, to be mothered and to mourn fiercely, and at all times to bear witness: to behold and be held by what beauty persists even within the enclosure of an anti-Black world." —Victoria Adukwei Bulley, The Guardian
"[The notes are] collected for the reader like a handful of gems—or, as Gwendolyn Brooks’s Maud Martha describes dandelions, 'jewels for everyday' and 'ordinary allurements' . . . Sharpe asks us to become better readers, motivated not by extraction and violence, but by regard and tenderness . . . This reading practice is key to what is perhaps the book’s most significant intervention: its form, which not only generatively extends Sharpe’s claims but also offers (and authorizes) new methods for doing scholarship. . . Sharpe converts the reader’s own modes of engagement, compelling us to zoom in as if on a poem, loop back as if circling a sculpture, slow down as if studying scripture . . . What a gift, what a composition of love for us." —Elleza Kelley, The Yale Review
"Sharpe casts her astute, critical gaze on monuments, exhibitions and other sites of historical memorialization, asking what they can tell us about the past, present and future of Black life and existence. Ordinary Notes touched me deeply. It is a book I will be referencing and recommending for years to come." —Vanessa Peterson, Frieze
"Extraordinary . . In this sui generis work, [Sharpe] devises a way to shape an articulate whole out of many parts: a document of the everyday nature of both antiblack racism and the 'Black notes'—ways of living, seeing and surviving—that disarrange it . . . The notes allow for a kaleidoscope of styles and tones; Sharpe moves between cultural criticism, literary inquiry, and memoir, with space to be detached, vulnerable, incisive, furious, intimate, confrontational, or abstract—as near or as far as she needs to be." —Megin Jimenez, Chicago Review of Books
"Christina Sharpe’s radical, profound new book . . . outlines new possibilities for reading, examining, interpreting, and being in the world . . . Section by section, Sharpe’s overlapping personal and critical writing becomes more liquid and intense. Her prose simmers, drawing language and narrative into a potent reduction: possibility . . . Ordinary Notes models a practice for those ethically, politically committed to people of color living freely in possibility and futurity." —Walton Muyumba, Boston Globe
""A collection or series of interrupted remixes, which return to their sources to master the ephemeral. They resemble the bent blues stutters trapped within footwork songs, which commit to their hysteria of loops until they are sculptures, pillars, then plundered by the same exegesis that brought them forth . . . Operatic . . . These notes travel through territories and crevices in the spirit, places so fractured that their only entrance code is a ruin." —Harmony Holiday, Bookforum
"Sharpe’s brilliant collage of materials probes how 'Black people make a life in beauty and in struggle' in the face of structural racism and precarity. In close and provocative readings of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Dawoud Bey’s black-and-white landscapes, Black Lives Matter protest video stills, Torkwase Dyson’s multimedia installations, and other notable public projects, Sharpe considers Black culture 'in all of its shade and depth and glow' . . . Ordinary Notes breaks out of the reductive conventions of academic scholarship in the pursuit of Black study . . . Ordinary Notes is a large book full of ideas, both ephemeral and enduring; in it, Sharpe offers much piercing analysis but also, in other cases, respects the mysteries of the everyday and the beauty that comes from them." —Omari Weekes, The Nation
"In this collection of notes, Sharpe writes about the cadences of Black life. These singular notes—about loss, memory, art, writing, culture, family, music, history, and more—build and blend and coalesce into a symphony that is both celebration and elegy. Like so much of Sharpe’s work, this book transcends and reinvents genre." —Laura Sackton, Bookriot
"[Ordinary Notes] it is not just beautiful or a testament to Black resistance. It is not just personal or academic. It is not even just an inventive form, but as a result of that form, Sharpe lets Ordinary Notes be all of these things at once, and yet somehow more than the sum of its already high-quality parts." —Brendan Buck, NewCity Lit
"[A] poignant and genre-defying triumph . . . The fragmentary dispatches are rich with suggestion and insight, generating meaning through juxtaposition and benefiting from Sharpe’s pointed prose. Moving and profound, this is not to be missed." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"With distinct lyricism and a firm but tender tone, Sharpe executes every element of this book flawlessly . . . It is a testament to Sharpe’s artistry that this incredibly complex text flows so naturally. An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness." —Kirkus Review (starred review)
“Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes is an extraordinary gift to readers, gathering between its covers all manner of reading, as it explores, with formal daring and analytical aplomb, history, society, politics, and culture, particularly where and when they intersect with Black lives, including the writer’s own. Among the many achievements here, these exemplary notes—which include a stirring recounting of the author’s intellectual and aesthetic formation, and a tribute to motherly and familial love in the face of this country’s and world’s relentless brutalities—show how one might combine memoir, memorial, literary criticism, political and cultural critique, and theoretical accounting in order to imagine a new model, suffused with grace, subtlety, rigor, and care, for how to read and think with and against, which is to say, to produce true and lasting knowledge.” —John Keene, author of Counternarratives
“Ordinary Notes is like an intellectual ice climb—you move along a careful series of handholds to cross a terrain that might otherwise seem impassable, and afterward, you are amazed at the passage. At once an act of careful attention and a juxtaposition of observations and questions, the result is a powerful vision of American life, drawn from the Black intellectual history and aesthetics that Sharpe has cultivated as the means to her own liberation, so that she might offer it to others.”—Alexander Chee, author of How to Write An Autobiographical Novel
“Christina Sharpe is a brilliant thinker who attends unflinchingly to the brutality of our current arrangements and the violence of antiblackness and yet always finds a way to beauty and possibility. With exacting detail, she conveys the heartbreak of the imposed order and the openings that reside in the ordinary and offers a method, a poetics for refusing and exceeding the given, for sustaining life, for breaking the colonial frame, and imagining what might emerge at the end of the known world. Ordinary Notes is an exquisite text. It demands everything of the reader and, in turn, offers us a vocabulary for living.”—Saidiya Hartman, author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
“Ordinary Notes is a long regard, a movement along the possibilities, and the stillness, at the heart of thinking. In these pages, we experience continuities but not endings, and every person is asked to face their present and to see and feel and think without innocence. Ordinary Notes will forever alter each reader who grapples with its disquiet and its beauty.”
—Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing