In the year 2000, long before “mindfulness” entered the popular lexicon, Rev. angel Kyodo williams exploded onto the book scene with an uncanny and unexpected combination: the wisdom themes of ancient Buddhism, framed as an invitation to modern Black folks and people of color: Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace was born.
The godfather of American Buddhism, Jack Kornfeld, presciently called the book, written by a 30-year old dharma student with no credentials or titles “…a classic.”
From the paperback press release:
Combining the universal wisdom of Buddhism with an inspirational call for self-acceptance and community empowerment, BEING BLACK: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace by Angel Kyodo Williams is a down-to-earth spiritual handbook for any American searching for self-acceptance and lasting personal happiness. BEING BLACK teaches us how a “warrior-spirit” of truth and responsibility toward oneself and others can be developed into the foundation for true freedom and personal transformation.
Williams grew up facing the challenges that confront African-Americans every day. In BEING BLACK she puts a timeless philosophy within the context of negotiating life as a person of color.
“There is nothing quite like this lean, honest, courageous . . . In writing BEING BLACK Angel Kyodo Williams has committed an act of Love.” —Alice Walker
With her eloquent, hip, and honest perspective, Angel Kyodo Williams shares personal stories, time-tested teachings, and simple guidelines for awakening our warrior-spirit. She invites readers from all spiritual faiths and backgrounds to step into the freedom of a life lived with fearlessness, grace, and fluidity.
As BEING BLACK explains, our “warrior” aspect invites us to see that any true personal transformation is an act of revolution. Our “spirit” reminds us that this revolution is about our lives, so we must be patient, open, and giving toward ourselves and others.
“What a pleasure to see this beautiful book burst forth with its clear, lively Buddhist teachings and African American Roots. Angel’s work is an important new step for Dharma in the West, her book is a classic—Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
The practical ideas and tools she offers provide a framework for creating the meaningful life we all want to live. They can give us direction for addressing our fears, hopes, challenges, and expectations, thus changing the way we understand our experiences and live each moment. “There truly is an art to being here in this world,” Williams says, “and like any art, it can be mastered. We can learn to honor our whole selves, just as we are, by just living, just doing, just being black.”
The book was critically acclaimed for its wisdom from icons, scholars, magazines, and reviewers of Buddhism, Blackness, and popular culture alike.
“More than just a paean to Buddhism, it is also a call for black Americans to look inward” —The New York Times
“Powerful and poignant prose…Williams offers a uniquely refreshing flavor of food for the soul…” —Black Issues Book Review
“The picture Williams paints becomes as vibrant as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream or as peaceful as Gandhi’s nonviolent action.” —BlackPlanet.com
“[Williams’s] personal story movingly demonstrates that pain can be a doorway to compassion and spiritual practice enhances the fight for social justice. Grade:A” —Girlfriends magazine
Even with the lovingly-chosen title-as-invitation of Being Black, the greatest virtue of the profound teaching came through. The most popular refrain of reviews? This is a book for “…everyone”:
“This is a book about claiming the strength, compassion, and integrity that dwell within everyone…readers of all colors and walks of life will find this an irresistible invitation.” — Amazon.com
“With subtle persuasion and highly readable prose, Williams advocates that a “warrior-spirit” of truth and responsibility is a good fit for people who “want to know how to be here in this life just as we are.” She has reached well beyond her stated audience, for to whom does this not apply?” —Publisher’s Weekly
“A hip and intelligent delivery…[Williams’s] book speaks to everyone.” —Shambhala Sun (now Lion’s Roar)
“There is freshness and wisdom here that conveys the black experience and Buddha’s dharma at once. A smart heartfelt introduction to Zen—enlightening for readers of any color. —Dr. Christopher Queen, Harvard University
“This book is recommended to all those who wish to live life in an open and honest way without the burdens of fear, anger, greed and ignorance.” —Impact247
Being Black even inspired and spawned a collection of conscious hip-hop songs with spoken interludes from the book. Featuring some of the most talented artists of the genre, the soundtrack to Being Black enjoyed popularity in both its formal (USA) and spiritual (Japan) birth places, including a coveted gold CD release in Japan.
As foreshadowed by Kornfeld’s praise, Rev. angel has gone on to become — as Library Journal said: “not the only, but…most intriguing African-American Buddhist,” one of a small handful of Black Zen teachers, a formidable wielder of dharmic wisdom, a vocal and integrated social justice activist, and an unflinching truth-teller on the topic of race, not just for Buddhism, but for society at large.
The fateful day of September 11, 2001, sent the entire book industry into a massive downturn — coinciding with when williams was to head out on the second book tour for the paperback follow-up on Being Black’s initial strong and positive reception. Now, owing to the power of her new book, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation, Being Black is witnessing a surge in interest and once again finding audiences both familiar and entirely new.