Sixteen principles for writing what Aurora Levins Morales calls medicinal history. Sixteen strategies to use when you are analyzing and reviewing the history you are being told. Because it isn’t that our stories are unknown. They’re there. They’re just left in the shadows, in the margins. Like so many of us are. And then our task is to pull them into the center and to tell untold or undertold stories. Who we center and how we do it in these stories changes everything.  I tried to do this in my book, not that I sat down with this list (which I didn’t even encounter until I was well into the final chapters) but I tried to do these things. I tried to shift the center, show myself, cross borders. I didn’t know that I was writing medicinal history but when it came time for editing and I had these principles in my mind it became more deliberate.

These strategies are in Aurora Levins Morales’ book Medicine Stories. Which I highly recommend because it will change your life.

It is hard work to be human.

It’s hard work to navigate the relationships we inherit (another phrase from Morales) and how our understandings of these relationships shift over time. Sometimes they shift with new information that alters perspective. Sometimes they shift as we grow in our comfort with complexity, ambiguity, and contradiction. Sometimes they shift because we do. Because previously hidden parts of ourselves come out of the darkness. And so our relationships change. Sometimes we come into a power we didn’t have before, maybe we gain access to some social position or cross some barrier and now we’re in a position of power. That’s something else that Morales writes about, our axes of power and oppression, because we all have them. We want to believe that we only have oppression and that our adversaries only have power but binaries are bullshit and you can write that down.

I love history. I love the power it has to shape our understanding of how we exist today and provide a foundation for what may yet be. When we shift our perspective on the stories we’ve told and we hold them up to the light we can see them in a new way and those new ways bring possibility. History is just the story we tell about how the past explains our present (surprise, that’s Morales too) so if we want a different future we need to look to the story we tell about the past.

Which is how I get to Michael W Twitty’s book The Cooking Gene. I did not take as many notes as I usually do when I read this book. Not because there weren’t things to think about, it’s just not that kind of book. It’s filled with stories and person and crossing of borders. Connection, context, ambiguity and discomfort. It is medicinal history and Morales would agree with me.

It’s hard work to be human. Even harder to be human in diaspora which is a profound disconnection. Forced again and again to forge new relationships. Our humanity exists in those ties between us, not just between us but between us and our other than human relatives: the land and the sky, the stars and the waters, the plants beneath our feet and in our hands. The food we eat which takes up minerals from the ground and connects us to place. Diaspora severs those bonds, bonds which Twitty finds rebuilt in the foods that emerged from enslaved hands.

Because we aren’t the only beings living in diaspora. Plant and animal relatives are also dispersed far beyond the places of their creation. We may call them invasive but as Jessica Hernandez points out in Fresh Banana Leaves, they did not come here on their own. With few exceptions, they are not the invaders. Many of them also arrived here in a forced migration, bent to the service of colonial masters. And there too Twitty centers women, finds an untold history, introduces Indigenous ways of knowing, crosses borders, and restores global meaning because his enslaved ancestors recognized the distant cousins of plants they knew and married them to plants they brought in secret creating dishes at once familiar and new. Creating dishes and language they passed on to their children, inventing a cuisine that, like so many gifts from Black Americans, became spun gold in the hands of others (to quote Twitty’s poetic prose).

It is hard work to be human. To be constantly excavating our past for keys to our future. The Maori have a saying: ka mua, ka muri. Walking backwards into the future. Twitty cites a Twi proverb: Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi: It is no sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten. The Anishinaabe talk about biskaabiiyang - returning to ourselves. And Morales reminds us that history is just a story. We can, in going back for the things we have forgotten, return to ourselves and walk backwards into the future armed with new stories about old things.

Hey everyone,

We are getting close to launch date, just under four months, which means it is time for me to create a launch team. Think about the books you have purchased over the last year. Chances are it was because somebody recommended it to you.

I want you to recommend my book.

What does that mean? That means I need a group of people who will champion the book in their communities. We are all organized somewhere, and even if you don’t think of yourself as an organizer you can begin wherever you are. Think about your workplace, your faith community, or your union. Maybe that book club your aunt belongs to. Do you belong to or work at a place that does land acknowledgements? That gives you a great place to begin the conversation.

In exchange for agreeing to help out you’ll get an advance copy of the book for free. Yes you will. Advance copies ship out on August 30 so it will be free AND you’ll have the book about 3 weeks before anyone else does. I’ll send you a list of things you can do in the days and weeks leading up to release day (September 27!!!) that are mostly online, like posting screenshots and reviews. I’ll give you graphics you can use.

I’m not asking you to organize an event.


If you wanted to. Well, the publisher has a form for that and if I can get there I will. Let me know if you want the form.

If you would like to be on the launch team respond to this email and let me know:

  • The city and state or province where you live
  • Your social media links
  • What kind of community or social group you are a member of (ie. church, soccer team, etc)

I’ll also need a mailing address to pass on to the publisher!

It’s been a long journey getting to this day.

Thanks for being part of it.

It's hard being human

medicinal history and the stories we tell ourselves