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A searing debut YA poetry and essay collection about a Black cancer patient who faces medical racism after being diagnosed with leukemia in their early twenties, for fans of Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals and Laurie Halse Anderson's Shout.
When Walela is diagnosed at twenty-three with advanced stage blood cancer, they're suddenly thrust into the unsympathetic world of tubes and pills, doctors who don’t use their correct pronouns, and hordes of "well-meaning" but patronizing people offering unsolicited advice as they navigate rocky personal relationships and share their story online.
But this experience also deepens their relationship to their ancestors, providing added support from another realm. Walela's diagnosis becomes a catalyst for their self-realization. As they fill out forms in the insurance office in downtown Los Angeles or travel to therapy in wealthier neighborhoods, they begin to understand that cancer is where all forms of their oppression intersect: Disabled. Fat. Black. Queer. Nonbinary.
In Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir, the author details a galvanizing account of their survival despite the U.S. medical system, and of the struggle to face death unafraid.
About the Author
Walela Nehanda (they/them) is Black, queer, nonbinary disabled, cultural worker, poet, and author of Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir (Penguin Teen). They have been featured as part of Out Magazine’s Class of 2020 consisting of 100 “groundbreaking, ripple-inducing, and culture-shifting people in the nation,” alongside the likes of Janelle Monae and Andre Leon Talley. They have been featured and written for publications such as TIME Magazine, SELF Magazine and Nylon Magazine. Walela has performed, provided keynotes, and given workshops at various academic institutions including University of Iowa, University of Southern California (USC), University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Chapman University, Cal Poly Pomona, Claremont McKenna College, University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), and many more.
Praise for Bless the Blood:
★ "Nehanda infuses queer Black disabled resilience and wretchedness into a poetic sinew that stretches, tears, and heals again and again...Shatters mirrors and windows to reveal the jagged shards of self-determination: 'gently volatile' and absolutely crucial."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
★ "A forcefully crafted collection of poetic and narrative storytelling with devastating impact"
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ “Nehanda is a gifted poet with a fiercely honest, achingly vulnerable voice. They reveal both the ugly and the beautiful, their anger (‘Concept: Coraline but Make It Black’) as compelling as their stunning love poems (‘Heaven Is at Grandma’s House’ is unforgettable) and odes (‘Nail Salon as Self-Care’)…Teens will recognize the inspirations for many of the poems, from bell hooks to Megan Thee Stallion, as they follow Nehanda’s journey to its cathartic, revelatory end.” —Booklist, starred review
★ "Nehanda crafts a gritty collection of poems and short essays that speak to the emotional, financial, physical, and social circumstances of illness and medical racism in America. ...Nehanda's writing is clear-eyed and lucid as it relates their numerous struggles and considers their own self-realization and determination to survive." —Shelf Awareness, starred review
"The importance of Nehanda’s debut memoir cannot be understated... This book should be in every classroom library, and in the hands of anyone fighting to survive." —The Poetry Question
"Bless the Blood is unlike any book I’ve read before. In a voice that’s utterly electric and completely new, Walela Nehanda explodes the tidy narratives of the typical illness arc. Equal parts prose and poetry, memoir and manifesto, this book rejects every trope of what it means to be sick and disabled. When in the throes of illness, it’s so easy to feel helpless, but Bless the Blood pulses with a power that’s contagious. Reading this book gives me the energy to take it on." —Suleika Jaouad, New York Times bestselling author of Between Two Kingdoms
"Walela Nehanda’s Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir cuts deep into the pain, everyday details, dysfunctions, dreams, and desires of being sick and disabled. Nehanda’s depiction of the medical industrial complex is spot on. ...A haunting and powerful read." —Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project
"With this stunning collection of poetry, journal entries, prose poems, vignettes, notes to self, notes to all the rest of us, it becomes clear that Nehanda's gift with words also serves as their lifeline to living with leukemia. Their refusal to sugar-coat, sanitize, sterilize, normalize, etc. is what makes this book genuinely more uplifting to me than most all illness and disability narratives. This reality, so masterfully delivered and coming from a young queer Black nonbinary person, makes it the only real successor to my beloved Audre Lorde's Cancer Journals I have ever encountered. Whether unpacking medical racism, economic hardship, or everyday ableism—whether investigating family bonds, community efforts, and the grace of our ancestors—Bless the Blood goes all out and truly deserves its own section, shelf, category." —Porochista Khakpour, author of Sick: A Memoir