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Reading aloud, to children and adults

Rio Cortez is the bestselling author of picture books "The ABCs of Black History" and "The River Is My Sea."Paul Tran

The poet Rio Cortez, author of the bestselling “The ABCs of Black History,” may be best known to the youngest of readers. That should change with her just-published debut poetry collection, “Golden Ax.” Cortez’s poetry has been published in The Atlantic and The New Yorker. The Salt Lake City native lives in Harlem with her husband, the poet Brian Francis, and their daughter. Cortez will read at 11:30 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Provincetown Public Library as part of the Provincetown Book Festival.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

CORTEZ: Margo Jefferson’s “Constructing a Nervous System,” which is so brilliant and experimental. I don’t usually read memoirs but I picked it up because I’m writing a non-traditional memoir. I usually read literary fiction and a lot of picture books with my daughter.


BOOKS: What was your last best read?

CORTEZ: Ocean Vuong’s novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” It’s not a memoir but it feels like it. I cried listening to the audiobook of it. I listen to a lot of audiobooks because I have a 4-year-old. If I’m trying to read I have to squeeze in audiobooks while I’m cooking or driving.

BOOKS: Was it a natural switch to start listening to books?

CORTEZ: It wasn’t a totally wild transition because before my daughter was born I was in the habit of reading books out loud with my partner. I wanted him to experience a book at the same time I was. We had this intimate audio experience of books where we’d take turns reading out loud to each other so we could read a book at the same time. We loved reading Samantha Irby’s hilarious essays. We are both big fans of Danzy Senna, so we read her novel “New People” that way.


BOOKS: Do you have similar tastes?

CORTEZ: I would say so except I read more science fiction than he does. As a kid I read J.R.R. Tolkien, and then all the classic white sci-fi guys. When I read Octavia Butler that was the first experience I had of imagining Black people in another world or on another planet. There was something about that which was so wild and empowering.

BOOKS: What are your poetry reading habits?

CORTEZ: I always read poetry. It’s one of the genres of books, like cookbooks, I go back to a lot. I’ve been excited about Robin Coste Lewis’s forthcoming collection, “To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness.” Her collection “Voyage of the Sable Venus” is one of my favorite contemporary poetry collections. I also ordered one of Harmony Holiday’s collections, “Maafa.” There are so many good collections coming out this year.

BOOKS: When did you start reading poetry?

CORTEZ: I was introduced to it through John Singleton’s movie “Poetic Justice,” which came out when I was around 10. The first time I heard poetry is when Janet Jackson reads Maya Angelou’s poetry in that movie. I was so moved by it that I went to the library and checked out all the Maya Angelou books that I could.

BOOKS: Do you collect cookbooks?

CORTEZ: I don’t have an impressive collection but I do love cookbooks. My daughter loves them too. It’s a nice way to engage with her. We can look at the recipe together. I refer to my Ina Garten “Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks a lot. I also love “Jubilee” by Terry Tipton-Martin. I can’t execute most of the recipes but the beautiful writing and the way she ties the recipes to Black history really moved me.


BOOKS: What picture books do you have in heavy rotation?

CORTEZ: The ones we agree on are Faith Ringgold’s “Tar Beach” and Cozbi Cabrera’s “Me & Mama.” There’s a refrain between a mother and daughter that has a beautiful poetic quality to it that my daughter loves. Some picture books are silly or just bad, but some are surprisingly moving and profound. A lot of them use poetry as a device. Those are the books that I like the best because of the language. But my daughter keeps me honest. If a book is a little too poetic, she will start asking me about what are we doing tomorrow or if can she get a little bit of milk.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at