This story is precisely why I started writing literary criticisms of works by, for, or about the ordinary extraordinary lives about women of color. We truly exist in all our wonderful forms and far from the stereotyped images that fill bookshelf space in some of the larger bookstores, this tale is one that resonated with me in my middle years.
Florence Ladd took a very realistic woman's story of discovery and decisions and made it feel contemporary, relevant, and universal.
This first novel was written twenty years go when the author herself was in her sixth-decade of life. That alone gives me joy in reading the book. This work also won the 1997 Best Fiction Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It is part of what I am calling the First Novel Series.
If you are a black woman, any woman frankly anywhere in the world, you need to read Sarah's Psalm. This is the story my soul has craved to read for in so many ways, it is my story.
Sarah Stewart Mangane could be my older sister, Colette, who has so much potential that she had to make strategic decisions to harness in a time when black women were told to wait or to support the black male, or simply that it wasn't her place to be heard on a global platform.
Written in a lyrical first person, Florence Ladd seems to have captured the emotions of every woman who put her talents and gifts on hold for the sake of spouse, family, and custom.
This story almost exactly parallels the days and events of my life, beginning just before my birth in 1964, it takes me through the tumultous years of the fight for Civil rights, the era of black respectabiity politics, the emergence of the black intellectual, and the pareallel life of those of the Inkwell and those of the revolutionary anger of Harlem burning after Dr King was assassinated. The story could have been written in 2016 about the Black Lives Matter movement and current season of discontent. All of the hope and dreams of a generation were often cast upon the shores, like her psalm, from whence cometh their help, anywhere but here.
Sarah's paraphrased psalm was a mantra she gave herself when she was a young girl, loosely based on the long known Psalm 121. Throughout the novel, she uttered it as a memory and reminder to rejuvenate her soul. She existed in the shadow of a great Senegelese literary mind during a time in the world when African writers were gaining traction on the world stage. Her psalm carried her through new life, breathing through disappointment, unimaginable loss, and renewal.
Ladd, in her prolific prose, admonishes us, me to know there is still time. Our lived lives are stories waiting to be told and cherished. We do not have to quiet our brilliance. The author herself, a D.C. native, is a well educated woman who penned her first novel in her 60s. In her retelling of Sarah's Psalm, I imagined I was reading a bit of Ladd's journey.
This novel is intensely womanist and African, filled with nuggets of proverbs that I will share with my New Generation daughters, coming of age in a time of great tumult, questioning of race, class, and gender place.
Florence Ladd has such a beautiful prose. It was easy to imagine myself sitting upon the high rocks, gazing out upon the ocean in Senegal, imagining myself rediscovering my purpose beyond conventional expectation. "Women know who they are through the work they do...European women live out their lives through the work of their husbands. Not African women. You are African woman."
Her lovely writing is as much a Black American tale as much as it is an African woman's tale. It connects the yearning of unfulfilled dreams and passion that can still be realized after life has been lived for others.
Tayé Foster Bradshaw is a Creole writer in the fifth decade of her life living in a St Louis suburb sipping lattes and gazing upon the possibility of existing outside her childrens' demands of her time.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
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