Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thoughts on The Why of Black Female Literature

I have been reading and reviewing black female literature for the past couple years.

Why do I do that?

The journey to black female literature started almost accidentally in a way.

I was at the book store indulging my passion.  I love to read and I also love to purchase the books that really interest me, I want them on my shelf.

My eyes scanned all the books in the "African American Section" and landed on a few authors I hadn't read yet, namely Bernice L. McFadden and Breena Clarke.  I picked up those books.  I enjoyed what I read and like someone thirsty for water, kept going back to the well.

A few years later and having discovered even more books, one thing I noticed was that the publishing houses were also filling the shelves with what I consider soft porn, erotica, and "urban" lit trash they were passing off as literature.  That stuff was just short of being chick lit and romance novels that are just fill-in, maybe beach reads, but nothing to be considered for thoughtful prose.  The more of these "novels" I saw, the more I wanted literature, a quest for thoughtful dialogue and well planned paragraphs.  I'd had enough of the half naked women on the covers of the books.

The other reason why I read and review black female literature is that I know the power of the arts to shape opinion.  I wanted to discover and help my audience discover the wealth of writing portraying black women in a positive light.  I didn't want any more of "the Help" and other somewhat patronizing works that really didn't delve into the depth of modern black women's lives.

I think Zora Neale Hurston in her 1950 essay, "What White Publishers Won't Print" summed up my thoughts regarding black female literature in 2012.  She wrote, "I have been amazed by the Anglo-Saxon's lack of curiosity about the internal lives and emotions of the Negroes, and for that matter, any non-Anglo-Saxon peoples within our borders, above the class of unskilled labor." (The Prentice Hall Anthology of African American Literature, p. 973).  Her discourse goes on to talk about publishers wanting to make money (true) and their assumption that the public already knows all they need to know about people of color, after all, they are on display daily, so there is no need to dig deeper.  She further offered that there was an assumption that black people did not have emotional lives, love lives, or romance, anything involving reason, choice, feelings, and living fully.  It is 2012 and sadly, a lot of the same assumptions take place.

Black female literature is a release for me, an opportunity to explore the deeper side of women like me.  Even with my admiration of the the authors and books I've been able to find, I'm still dismayed that there aren't a lot of stories about modern women.  I live in the 21st century, in the year 2012.  It does get tiring reading about slavery, the antebellum period, the Jim Crow era, the great migration era, of the Civil Rights era as if black women simply stopped living beyond 1968. Perhaps that is the story for me to write.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Gathering of Waters

I've always heard the phrase, "if these walls could talk" anything we were someplace something significant happened or in the place of history.

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFaddenThe new book by Bernice McFadden took that one step further and let the town, Money, Mississippi take on her own persona and tell a story that stretched through generations and wound through historical events, much like that mighty river pulsated and pushed through several states and spilled out her waters at times unexpected.

She, while her "gender" is not identified, to me, she could be nothing else that a very observant female who absorbed the nuances of stories and events, tied it all together, and understood the lines of life that connected it all.

Money, Mississippi, most of us only know of that place because of the 1955 brutal murder of young teen, Emmitt Till, visiting his southern relatives, a "sophisticated" boy from Chicago.  The historical context of 1955 and the stirrings that had started almost 40 years prior with the trickle then the flood of migrants up north, the growing unsettling of things happening up south in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta, were all sitting around like still birds in the trees, watching the events take place.

Money took us back to the beginning for you have to understand the origins of a thing, in this case a spirit, to understand the resulting middle and ending.  She told us the who and why of events that before were only lines in the history book, except to those who lived through them, like the 1927 Mississippi River flood or the 1929 Stock Market Crash.

McFadden is both lyrical and poetic in her prose, her keen understanding of each story.  She was able to give voice to the racist murders of a teenage boy and made us feel the evil that drove the murderous rage that was insatiable.  She was able to reach into the tender teenage heart broken by tragedy and numbly walking into a new life. McFadden helped us weave together the lines and verses of what seems like inconsequential events.

This was a work of literary fiction that absorbed the feelings of events and gave them the story that only the grave, the spirits, the winds, and the waters could tell, she gave them life and helped the reader walk away with an understanding that can only come by going back to reach to now.

I would be remiss if I did not lay caution to some of the colorful language used when describing the antics of the spirit that jumped from unsuspecting baby to dead boy brought to life, if you are a little squeamish with the occasional description of the coupling act or "f" word, skip this book, however, if you can appreciate her literary telling of life that pulsated along the pace of the mighty river and the backdrop of events that changed a childhood or two, check out this book.  I picked it up from my county library for something to read on my recent roadtrip, I wasn't disappointed.

Like the gathering of waters, The Gathering of Waters flows, ebbs, pulsates, breathes, and reminds us that what is, once was, and what is going to be, may have already happened.

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