ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
He knew these people like the fogged and sporadically lighted ghosts of
a highly intense and dazzling dream: they spoke fast and elaborate, retelling t
ales too old for him to comprehend; they sang and danced and showed-out;
and they gave him what they had, their money, their food, their love. It was
a good relationship: he loved them back in the uncritical way that we love
people when we’re young and the world is given to us
from short story collection, “hap & hazard highland”
By Keenan Norris
Wonderful the way it shone in the rusted chandeliers and Christmas candles they set on shelves and mantles, the greens and reds and little gold of it making the small, low-ceilinged house of narrow snaking halls, little rooms and crowded tension seem a little magical, in Touissant’s eyes. Golden and shaded luster. Needful nostalgic light. He could see the light in the steam and smoke that filtered from the kitchen, smell it burning behind the door like an unattended ache. People’s images misted over and their voices slowed and thickened with the hot old air. It was Christmas night, it was the family house, he was six years old and yet this world already seemed dark and distant to him.
“They did him dirty,” his gramps proclaimed, remembering his own dad, who was his son’s granddad and Touissant’s great-granddad, who had been dead the boy had no idea how long. “They did him dirty,” he intoned again.
“He was a criminal, how you expect he get done?” granny’s gummy voice rose up in tired opposition. Touissant had heard the story once for every Christmas in his life; how many times had she heard it? Hundreds, probably. She might even know its words by heart.
“They did him dirty: just ’cause he wadn’t tryin to fight in no World War they made like he hated his government ‘n chased him across the South to put him on the chain gang. It didn’t have nothin to do with no government, it had to do with he wadn’t tryin to die in Timbuktu. So one day he woke his woman up, said, ‘Love, this is one man won’t take it lyin down. You keep still now, get yo rest. Don’t fret over me now. I’m free ‘n plannin to stay that way.’ Then he left.
“He left his life in Lousiana, never looked back: if he had, all he’d ‘a seen would been them dogs ‘n federal agents on his tail. He told me how he evaded them slave catchers, ’cause that’s what they called ’em, slave catchers, by hookin on with these travel crews, then have hisself the time ‘a his fugitive life. Ain’t matter, white, black or green, them crews courted his services ’cause too many they boys was gone overseas ‘n not enough was comin back. So he’d get a train ticket for work in the next county, freight over there wit whatever work-crew, then sell the ticket for somethin ‘n get a new one so’s to keep hustlin. Always snuck away first chance he gotthem chasers on his tail. Seen the whole entire South that way. Womens e’rywhere, he tol’ me. So many husbands, boyfriends, lovers gone, they womens was lonely onto restlessness.
“So one night he was stopped in South Carolina, had got down to business with this beau-ti-ful bird, ‘n right while he’s obligin her, his ears commences to hearin this rustle-noise outside the house. Gets to thinkin it’s them dogs ‘n federal agents: he disengages from her, jumps out the bed, jumps out the window two-three stories down, ‘n what do you know, on the backside ‘a that broad’s house she been tendin her a graveyard! Her old man must had been a coffin-maker ’cause there’s all these empty coffins just a-sittin out brand new, all ‘n whatnot. So he scared as hell, you gotta understand: he jumps hisself down in one ‘a these coffins, closes the lid, ’cause, what’d he always tell me, Ain’t no James Hellens Freeman dyin in no Si-beria, or wherever it was they fought that mother.
“So he waits out the night, falls asleep in that coffin, ‘n when he wake up it’s darkness on all sides. But he knowin it gots to be light outside. Then he remembers the girl. He wonders what it is she do wit the coffins. He tries to open the thing but he cain’t, it ain’t openin near as easy as it closed. So he starts to flustration. It’s bad times now. He feels hisself gettin borne up ‘n there’s voices, man-voices talkin ‘n hollerin away, ‘n after a while they commences to singin them ol’ field songs. He thinks, they done took me back to slave times, oh Death. But then he gets a-hold ‘a his brain, realizes that he bein borne along by the chain gang. He can hear they chains a-rattlin, he can hear they voices a-singin, ‘n he can feel where it is he headed. So he musters all his strength, ‘n he wadn’t no small man, ‘n straight pushes that coffin-top clean off. Breaks it off like it were a feather or somethin. Now he in the open air ‘n the mens jus’ lookin at him like he Christ returned: don’t nobody touch him, not even the authorities. He jus’ walk off nice as you please. He come back, finds the girl whose daddy had had him such a lucrative venture, ‘n he tells her how he done lived through death. She laughs at his story, tells him the real news: e’rybody who was still alive had lived through the end-time, the Great War was over, it was safe to come out into the light again. So then he proposed to her, fell to his knees.”
“And then he divorced her. Moved on some more and finally married your great granny,” granny said; she nodded at Touissant and at his sisters and added, “Your gramps a storyteller, he know what to put in, what not to put in. But me, I done forgot my manners.”
“How did you forget your manners, granny?” Kia asked.
“Got old and got smart,” granny said.
“Isn’t gramps older than you?” Dea wondered, in her delicate voice.
“Yes and no,” granny said, “Yes and no.”
“Why yes?” Kia asked. She twisted her beatific face into an expression of sheer beatific puzzlement.
“Because he was born in ’27 whereas I’s born in ’32,” granny answered with thinning patience.
“Why no?” the twins asked in one voice.
“Because he ain’t made use of the head-start God given him.” She closed her eyes halfway and leaned back in her chair: “Don’t try to reason it out.” Her half-closed eyes were big and warm and sad, and golden-brown in the golden half-light. The skin around those eyes was worn and wrinkled, as if God had composed her face from old brown-paper bags or something else just as absurd. The twins counted the decades and the years on their hands and both girls came to the silent conclusion that their granny shouldn’t look so old at fifty-seven.
Touissant saw none of this. He was such a quiet, to-himself child that he could come and go and people would rarely notice his presence or absence. They only became aware when they wanted him for something. Since he was only six years old himself they only wanted him around to give him gifts and since poor people could only give each other so many gifts their awareness of him fluctuated with their income. He drifted in and out of the lives of his grandparents and aunts and uncles, and even his sisters, without much notice: they hardly knew him, not that there was much to know just yet, and he hardly knew them. He knew these people like the fogged and sporadically lighted ghosts of a highly intense and dazzling dream: they spoke fast and elaborate, retelling tales too old for him to comprehend; they sang and danced and showed-out; and they gave him what they had, their money, their food, their love. It was a good relationship: he loved them back in the uncritical way that we love people when we’re young and the world is given to us, before we grow up and look reflexively backward and measure our memories against our scars.
So he didn’t see the wrinkles around his granny’s eyes, he didn’t hear the weariness in her voice. Instead, he explored the house: its construction was that of a wooden snake, its head wide and crowded, its body a tortuous little tunnel of smaller pores and cuticles open and closed, locked and unlocked: these rooms were the site of his exploration. Some rooms were too uninviting even for his curious mind. A makeshift tool shed that he was afraid to step into for fear that he would bump into something and his gramps’s vast store of tools and supplies would come raining down on his little foreheadaside from the physical pain, how would he explain it when they heard the crash and came running?
There was a room across the way from the tool shed that was equally ominous, though he chanced entrance here: the room had no lights so far as he could see and he had to stumble around inside it to find its treasures. Old dismantled rifles, a baseball bat with an incomprehensible signature scrawled across it, black mote-crusted books that looked too ugly to open; magazines with naked women splayed in indecorous postures. Then, the grandparents’ room: a low bed and bedstand; a picture above the bedstand of them looking fine on their wedding day; a stained and tattered Bible opened to its first page where birth and death dates of Freemans unfamiliar to his eyes were scrawled one after the next, 1829-1857, 1863-1900, and so on. But the names were foreign to him. He felt that the dates meant more than the numbers and names that composed them, that the numbers and names were the vestiges of some older truth unknowable to him.
And there were more rooms, stretching off in seemingly endless succession. It was as if the house had been built up into the sky or down into the earth because looking at it from the outside there was absolutely no way that such a modest little place could accommodate so many rooms. And behind all the rooms, back at the very end of the snaking house, there stood a screen door and then the backyard. In the nights, the backyard looked haunted, the leaves of its trees over-wrapping it, branches splaying out like arms and hands to block the vision, grass grown high and wild to strangle strides.
There were animals living in that wild garden whose night sounds he could hear, sounds like songs, a singing that emanated out, an anguished music. His senses throbbed with it. He wanted to know what this night music concealed behind its dark veil. He reached up and began to unlatch the door. Unoiled, the knob gave out a metallic creak as he turned it.
Then he heard his mother calling for him: “Touissant. Touissant! Touissant!”
Her voice was an unwanted sunshine blinding him from premonition.
He let go of the door handle and headed back to the head of the house.
In the kitchen, closed away from the house outside, granny and her daughter Lady finished the Christmas dinner. Fried chicken, cornbread, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, okra, neck bones, pig ears and whatever the garden had given them: greens, tomatoes, hard cider and yams for dessert, though the doctors said that she had to be careful with the sugar and the butter nowadays with her heart condition and all. No more sweet potato pies, they advised.
Lady sliced the yams open and filled half with sugar and butter, half only with butter. Her eyes misted with the work. Granny had had to sit down from the heat and the effort and now it was only the daughter moving about the kitchen, from the cornbread in the oven and the cornbread batter on the counter, to the chicken glistening in its grease upon the stove. Only thirty-six years old, Lady already seemed spinster-like. Her boys were too grown and damn important to come all the way up from Los Angeles for the holidays.
And she had no man to fuss at either, which separated her completely from her sisters and stepsister, who spent their time before dinner corralling their men and young even as Lady prepared their meal. She had been in their place before, a grown woman at sixteen, a mother and a wife as a teenager, she had been immature; but now she was older and mature before her time. Soon she would be a grandmother and this fact helped to forge a deeper kinship between her and her mother: two women of age, experience and the kitchen.
Mahalia sang while they cooked. Granny sang along, loud and soulful. And now her strength returned to her and she stood again and picked the chicken from the greasy pans and laid it out on a serving platter. She seasoned the tomatoes then poured them through her fingers into the pans and turned the burners up to let them cook. She nodded at her daughter, “Close enough, chil’.”
She took the platter of chicken, cradling it against her breast so that it shone golden-brown in the half-light like a piece of her own body, and she kicked the door open and strode into the dining room, her traditional entrance. Eyes riveted upon her, the old matriarch of the broken back and bad feet, the final providershe still had something to offer her children and the children of her children. Even her husband was looking at her now, licking his full, gorgeous lips at her like it was ’45 all over again and she was the most beautiful girl in the room. Old man, she thought, you never learnt how to act; and all’s I share with you is my love, not my blood. And that love ain’t what it used to be.
Then Lady was behind her with the mashed potatoes, the cornbread, the peas, the greens; granny felt her presence, thought, The girl’s a whirlwind of activity, so young and so smart all at once, so different from the rest of these girls she’s sharing space with.
Bobby’s waify wife Lilly Jackson-Freeman hadn’t even sat down to the table despite the fact the food was being served. She still stood at the far edge of the living room her hands on her hips and calling for Touissant. All the rest were at least gracious enough to sit down to the table to be served, even if they lacked much common sense beyond that. But not Miss Lilly, she had absolutely no manners. Or maybe she had different-modern manners and she thought she was somehow above sitting down to eat.
“Lilly, come sit, baby. The boy fine,” granny snapped. “Unless you started sayin grace some new way. And what’s this tune y’all playin? Somethin bout Freddy dead? I ain’t tryin to hear that.”
“Curtis Mayfield, momma,” someone said.
“Say ‘Mahalia, momma.'” She laughed. “You start sayin that, I’a start listenin.”
After a moment, Touissant revealed himself, coming forth out of the dark recesses of the long hallway corridor and staring up at everyone with his wide uncomprehending eyes. He was just the smallest stair-step of a thing.
His mother took his hand and jerked him forward toward the table. She sat him down between his sisters, “so that at least you’ll notice and tell me the next time he slips off to go exploring where he shouldn’t.”
“I don’t know bout you, old lady,” gramps nudged granny, “I like what I’m hearin. This Mayfield can go.”
“You ever listen to them words, though? Listen at what he talkin bout: ‘I’m that nigger in the alley.’ “
Gramps shrugged his shoulders at her, who cares? Then he began to sing along to the next track, his rich Alabama baritone an interesting contrast with Curtis’ fast falsetto.
“That’s because that old man’s been playing the streets,” Bobby laughed, “Playing them for as long as he can remember.”
“Playing the streets?” Dea asked.
“Playing the streets?” Kia asked, a little shyly.
“Uh-huh,” her father said, chuckling. “You can play the street, or sing it,” he said cryptically. Then, to prove his point, he started singing too, matching and then overmatching his old man from note to note. Then other voices lifted, one and then the next until it seemed that the whole table had joined them in singing to the tragic-electric beat.
When the song ended, Lady said, “Bobby, your girls sing like two angelsbut could you please bless this food so we can eat it?”
Bobby took his cue. Closed his eyes, folded his hands: “Dear Lord, we thank you for bringing us here again this year for another wonderful Christmas in celebration of Your Son. Thank You for this food and all and whatnot”he opened his eyes momentarily and sneaked a glance at his son, whose eyes were wide open and bloodshot red”And Amen,” he concluded, opening his eyes and winking fast before the table could get in on their joke.
“Bobby,” his wife snapped, “your prayers are out of practice.” She looked down the table.
“Like he couldn’t wait to get to his food.” There was general, warmed-over laughter. “My girls sing like angels, now?” She looked over at Lady, her gaze a glittering bridge.
“Lord, do they ever!” Lady cried.
Several other family members seconded the opinion.
“Yes, they do,” Bobby said between mouthfuls.
Dea and Kia smiled simultaneously. “Thank you, auntie Lady.”
“It’s God’s gift, not mine,” Lady said.
“Don’t go gettin ’em all swole-headed now,” gramps chuckled. “I’ve heard better, younger.”
“Where at, old man?” Lady challenged.
“Back home, Alabama. All kinds ‘a singin down there. Shoot.”
“Shoot what?” Dea asked him.
“Shoot nothin,” gramps laughed.
“Nothing?” Kia asked.
“Y’all cute like some baby rottweilers.” Gramps shook his head. “Cute like I don’t know what.” He looked back to Touissant who sat wedged like something captured between the two girls. “But not all us tryin to be cutesy-pie singers, right, my man?” he added, speaking to Touissant with gravity, his voice lowering to an almost imperceptible hush and drawl. And Touissant could hardly make out what he was saying now except that it had something to do with singing, and with silence. “Some us got different callings,” the old man whispered.
Tone deaf, the twins had speculated, Maybe that’s what’s wrong with him.
Gramps raised his voice for the table to hear. “But Touissant here’s a man on his way to big doins, can see it in the way he carry hisself, that silent confidence.”
“Don’t you know it,” Lady seconded.
Soon, the whole table was echoing this sentiment: the child was the family’s young prince whether or not he sang and whether or not Curtis could touch his soul. Hed surely seen through this mere veneer and on to deeper better truths. This was how it came to pass that the boy’s dead vocal chords were recast in dreams and gold. And that he kept silent while the table went on and on about him while his sisters writhed in their chairs, only enhanced the effect: his dark and uncommunicative face became a clean slate for the family to etch hopes upon.
The record finished and granny tapped Lady on the shoulder, told her to get something gospel. There ensued a minor scramble toward the record player after which the Reverend James Cleveland began to melodically declaim God’s grace and unconditional love.
Somewhere well beneath the notes of the song, gramps kept on and on about his grandchildren: the boy would be tall and handsome and intelligent, the twins would be beautiful and fierce and might even sing as well as the field hands back in Alabama if they put their joint-held mind to it. The table, respecting his age and authority, nodded and solemnly agreed. This was their father pronouncing and predicting. It was one thing to listen to his scandalous stories, that was just silliness. You could take it or leave it. But on matters of the future, the man was not to be taken lightly. He had passed through the golden light and seen his children and now his children’s children passing too.
And he had moved on from morning and might-be into that weaker dying light, flicker and fall.
My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
When them stars begin to fall.
“ An’ y’all gon’ buy the biggest house on the block, I can see it now. I’ma be up with y’all in Highland, too, talkin bout, Dad only stoppin through, food ‘n shelter, ’cause you know a parent needs to recoup. Remember, Bobby, that one time I went ‘n catalogued all the money we had spent on you ‘n yo’ siblin’s over a whole entire year? You do remember that, don’t you? Well, when that degree comes through for you, you ‘n Lilly livin all high-mighty I don’t care how far away y’all live, I’ma find the appropriate conveyance ‘n take myself out there often as I can. Elderly folks gots to recoup. An’ I can see it right now, boy, I can vision it like Sund’y mornin: you two laid up all high-mighty, them girls singin like a whole entire church choir, our young prince here doin his princely things. Like glory, I tell ya.”
“That sounds so nice, Daddy Freeman,” Lilly sighed. While she was still sighing happily at the idea, she managed to shoot a look over at Touissant to make sure he hadn’t disappeared on her again, but he was sitting still staring straight at her. “I pray,” she said to gramps, “We pray. God willing, Highland’s where we belong.”
“Well,” he said, “don’t go puttin all yo’ eggs in God’s basket. Miracles ain’t jus’ for the takin.”
Granny slapped him across his chest. “Act right,” she snapped.
The reverend continued to sing God’s wonder in the background.
“All’s I’m sayin is these two got they degrees, Bachelor’s in this, Bachelor’s in that. I seen the ceremonies, I ain’t leanin on no luck.”
“Actually, my B.A. got me a job in the Music Department out there,” Bobby said. “But Lilly’s still going, about to get a Master’s.”
“Like I said,” gramps said.
“She’s got her editor-job, but she could go on to law school if she wants. It’s out there.”
“I just found my dream house, the place I’ve been wanting so long and he’s talking about more school.” Lilly cut her eyes at the table. “Uh-uh. It’s time to get paid, Bobby, and settle down a little.”
“She got her head on straight,” gramps said. “I always did like her for that. Somebody in this family got to bring some common sense.”
“Seein as you never did.” Granny sniffed.
“Nor Bobby here,” Lilly laughed conspiratorially. She was forever trying to win the woman over but couldn’t seem to do it.
“I got common sense.” Granny sniffed again. “I can tell up from down.”
“But what you know bout Highland?” gramps laughed.
“Time for dessert?” Lady wondered. Her face was a hard severe knot of a smile. Her relatives and step-relatives had never known how to carry a single thing off proper.
“YES,” the table agreed. They were past ready for their yams.
Lady excused herself and rumbled through the open kitchen door, where the yams had sat swelling with butter and sugar and readiness for some time now. She put them on plates three and four at a time and divided them into the sugared and sugarless. Then she returned like granny had through the kitchen door and into the golden light and anticipating eyes. The yams smelled that good.
Talk turned to the virtues of Bobby and Lilly’s new home.
Touissant took the opportunity to sneak off. He was out the dining room and down the dark hall before Lady even put the plates on the table. He could hear their metal clatter against the table’s old wood and the music the hungry family made: hoots and hollers and actual singing, for his was a family of singers and shouters and carriers-on,
Ooooh need a woman, child/
Dont wanna be like Freddie now
He could hear Dea and Kia’s angelic voices glide light and seraphic across the heavy, fragrant air. It was never hard to get away from them when they were concentrated on their singing: neither cared to look after him to begin with and they took advantage of all excuses not to have to. He was still too young to like them, to see them as sisters and not bridges connecting back to his mother and the table and dinnertime.
He expected to hear his mother’s voice sheer across the darkness anytime now, but it never came, and the night stretched on. He could hear a new record playing and the sounds of voices and feet in rhythmic motion. Apparently, they’d forgotten him this time and his solitude would be his to own. He tucked himself away in the unlit and unadorned room with the open Bible with the names and dates in it. He lay on the sheets of his grandparents’ old, creak-ridden bed and tuned the small, portable radio that sat near the nightstand.
There were men talking about Jesus on the first station he found. Jesus had not been a wealthy man. He had not prized wealth. Jesus, who was God’s Son, was without wealth. The conversation seemed circular. But if he twisted the knob a little to the left he could hear mariachis singing. And if he twisted it to the right he could hear a brave new sound wherein the singers didn’t even sing but simply talked over the beat as fast and clever as his gramps entertaining the table at dinnertime. Several stations over there was music without words, a stately gorgeous sound that moved so slow and precise he could hear its every tend and drift, violins to harps, to all the other instruments he was yet unable to identify.
He heard the sounds of Christmas night, but ever fainter. He liked it more this way, not quite so close. It wasn’t that he had anything against his relatives, he simply wanted some space from them. He wanted to hold them at a distance. Like the way they sounded now, intimate and distant all at once, like the sounds of yet another radio station.
Touissant fell asleep and only woke when he felt his granny tapping her fingers against his stomach. Her touch was rough: the feel of her hard hands reminded him of his mother’s infrequent touch, so that he wasn’t even sure if she meant to comfort or reprimand, the feeling was so mixed. He wanted her to explain to him what he should feel, but she was whispering to him in an inaudible register. He heard his gramps’ loud voice from down the hall, not his words, only the voice itself, commanding worldly baritone. It seemed to make an impression on granny, too, because now he felt her fingers squeeze him a little tighter and now he felt her climb into bed beside him.
“That old boy,” she said, “that old boy. Think he got all the stories in the world, don’t he now?”
Touissant didn’t realize that that was a question and didn’t answer.
“See, Two-saint,” she went on, “we all got our stories, e’ry life got its story, but only some be yellin our business in the street, you see what I’m sayin? Yo’ grandaddy, he gotta tell the world.” Her fingers had stopped on his shoulder. “But it ain’t who shout the loudest. That’s why I like you, Two-saint. Not too many people be quiet like you.”
She paused and he could hear a quick wind beat its Godlike and reproachful hand upon the low roof. He grew aware of the outside world, the night-darkened valley.
“You gon’ have yo’ own, baby, if you keep that quietness and don’t feel like you ain’t got you somethin important just ’cause you ain’t loud, carryin on.” Over the low and sagging sound of her voice he could hear them singing again: he wondered if his mother, who reminded him so much of granny, could sing; and if granny herself could sing. Neither seemed like a singer to him. In a way, they were more his sisters. “E’rybody got theirs,” granny said again. “E’rybody got stories. His old man was a criminal runnin from the law; my daddy, on the other hand, he was good, honest to the last degree, worked hisself to death out in them Alabama fields. I still remember his mule carryin him home…”
Keenan Norris has been published in the Santa Monica, Evansville and Green Mountains Reviews, as well as Rhapsoidia magazine, ChickenBones and other journals. His short stories were nominated for the Pushcart in 2004 and in 2005. The title piece of his short story collection “hap & hazard highland” will appear in Heyday Books’ Inlandia, an anthology of Inland Empire literature, in November 2006. He is currently marketing the book-length collection (which also includes “fresno gone”) to publishers. He teaches at College of Alameda and lives in Oakland, CA.
Street Lit Subjects, Controversy, Commercial Phenomenon & Art
By Keenan Norris, Editor
* * * * *
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
* * * * *
By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
* * * * *
By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy
This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literarySchool Library Journal
* * * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
update 13 January 2012