Rishika & Samantha

We’ll be kicking off a series of two posts to introduce our exco members this year! Leading the series will be Rishika and Samantha. Enjoy!

Reason to Breathe from the Breathing Series by Rebecca Donovan

by Rishika Gupta, President

This book gave me a reason to appreciate the breath of life and how blessed I am to have the parents that I have. This book explores the life of a young high school girl who keeps to herself, and does her best to blend in and not stand out: Emma. She would never allow anyone to see the scars on her body, blaming any apparent ones to a sporting injury or something else. The theme of child abuse is not even revealed until the first 10 chapters. Unlike other books which solely focus on a social injustice or crime, Donovan weaves in the theme into the fabric of her story. It is there, but it is not one of triumph over evil, it focuses on Emma’s struggle, of how she would survive. She was good with being with her art and her one friend. Her mom an alcoholic and her dad dead, she was forced to stay with her aunt, who regularly harmed her. Simply the writing of the book is so evocative that I felt what Emma felt. I felt her fear, her hurt, her pain. I have never felt more connected to a fictitious character.

The pain is countered by the love. As a hopeless romantic, you will root for Emma and her love interest, Evan for the entire book, and that will even compel you to finish the trilogy overnight. Evan is able to recognise and notice the girl who always seems withdrawn, but lights up when she put her brush on canvas. As an artist as well, I am able to further connect to the story. It made my love for art grow as well. The descriptions are enough for you to envision a non-existent painting, and revel in the effect colours as words can have. Moreover, this novel hence gives the reader a unique liberty in imagination. Even if you do not comprehend art, you might understand why art is so personal and why people are so passionate about it to study it and make a career out of it.

As for the romance, that is at the epicenter of this trilogy. With each novel, the love between Emma and Evan grows and evolves. In Reason to Breathe, we see a high school romance, in the second one, Barely Breathing, we see the break up and in Out of Breathe, we see the maturity and how both characters achieve their happy ending. This novel shows you how opening up to the right people can transform your life, and you could find a courage to do things which you think you might never had had. The story is still imprinted in my memory, and I could recall all the details from the book even though I read it almost 5 years back. I only wish I would forget so I could read it for a third time and re-experience this series and particularly the first book.

Poems by Langston Hughes

by Samantha Hui, Vice-President

Poetry can seem like nothing but a weird string of words that frustrates and bores. And poets can appear to suffer from an acute lack of self-awareness, mistaking melodrama and angst for cultivation and sophistication.

For the longest time I did not have any love for poetry. During literature exams, I would pick poems over prose pieces to analyse, simply to "whack" them for marks — with the efficiency of a child pulverising a pinata because they just wanted the goddamn candy.

But one day, a favourite vlogger of mine read out a poem that she loved in one of her videos. Too soon, the poem ended. Yet the words stayed in me, a spot of wonder that kept growing in my heart. The poem, I later learned, was by Langston Hughes. And it went:

Bring me all of your dreams, You dreamer, Bring me all your Heart melodies That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too-rough fingers Of the world.

The words were soft and beautiful, untouchably magical. For a moment, I tried to dissect the poem — the way I was taught to as a literature student. But I couldn’t. There weren’t any literary trappings that I could seize upon — with the pincers I was given as a lit student — to prise the poem open. The poem’s meaning shone simple, pure and true. I was fascinated.

I started to dig deeper to learn more about the poem's writer — Langston Hughes. He was a Black man of the 1920s. And so he bore wounds from the racism that pervaded the United States’ so deeply in those days. But still he wrote poetry. And his was one pair of hands that launched the city he lived in, into what is now known as the Harlem Renaissance — a flourishing of social, artistic and intellectual thought amongst African Americans.

Langston Hughes caught flack from the literary critics of his day — even those who were black —for the simplicity of his poems. But I love how he didn’t care. He was a poet of the streets. His poems were written to the catchy beat and the soulful melodies of played along Seventh Street — the home of jazz in Harlem. Everyday Americans uttered his poems to themselves as they went about their daily lives. His poems sparked a light in them, especially for his oppressed African American brethren.

Other than the poem I showed earlier, Langston wrote many other poems about dreams. (“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” ) (“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?… Or does it explode?”)

But this was not optimism blind to the horror of the African American experience in the United States. Langston Hughes wrote about dreams in defiance of American society’s expectation that black people should simply rot away in gutters. In his other poems, Hughes often explicitly champions Black pride against the dehumanising rhetoric of racists. For instance, he wrote in the poem "Poet to Bigot":

I have done so little For you, And you have done so little For me, That we have good reason Never to agree. I, however, Have such meagre Power, Clutching at a Moment, While you control An hour. But your hour is A stone. My moment is A flower.

More than the powerful punch of his poetry, what endears the poems of Langston Hughes to me most is the purpose he turned his poems to. He once said, “Words have been used too much to make people doubt and fear. Words must now be used to make people believe and do.” So who says poetry can’t challenge cruelty, and change the world? Even today, I am inspired by Langston Hughes.

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