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On Reading


[Author’s note: There are all types of reading material and all reading time is well-spent. This information is specifically focused on books and how to study books. Thoughts on reading are never final; I may be adding to and editing this piece until I die.]

Do not undertake the acquisition of a book lightly. In fact, do not even pick up or buy a book that you do not sincerely intend to read. Books not only take up physical space but mental space. Now you are expected to do something with that thing you bought; that money you spent. When you buy or acquire a book, you are making a promise. Think of the book as a living being. You are now committed, at least until the last page of the book, to that being. In the acquisition of a book you are saying, “I may place you on the shelf, but you are there for a good reason. I will see you. Although you must wait your turn, you will have your time to shine. You will be lovingly handled, read, contemplated, marked, discussed, explored. What is inside of you will end up inside of me. I will not make you wait for nothing. You mean something to me.” If you are not going to read the book, why have it around? Ego boosting? One who has a well-curated bookshelf but does not read is only a fake.

Do not short-shrift the reading of the book. The reading of the book is the enactment of the commitment you have made to the book. Don’t attempt to read deeply in noisy or distracting places. Everyone knows you are not absorbing that Shakespearean play in the middle of a Starbucks. You are not contemplating moral philosophy while also watching television. Turn off your music. Turn off the tv. Go to a quiet place. Set yourself up for success by having something to sip within arm’s length. Have a pen or pencil nearby. Chew gum. I prefer the use of a bookmark rather than torturing the book with dog ears; that’s disrespectful. (Remember when I said to treat your book like a living being?) Bookmarks can be any flat material (even that Starbucks napkin), so don’t say you don’t have one. Proper bookmarks that have flat-edged stiffness are good to use for underlining so your annotations look less palsied. Choose active brain time to read as well. Sure, you can read at bedtime, but once you have determined you are falling asleep, you are no longer absorbing the material. Magazines are better suited for this purpose. If you only use reading in order to sleep, then you are not sincerely reading; you are using the text for an off-brand purpose. What you need is chamomile tea, not zombie-like meanderings through books.

Once you begin a book, commit to finishing the book. Don’t punk out. You can view the book as a challenge: You won’t best me! I have endurance! If the book evokes your fighting spirit, all the better. Don’t allow even the longest of books to intimidate you. YOU intimidate the book! If you are not on a timeline, who cares how long it takes you to complete the book? A page a day is for babies, but even three or six pages a day will eventually lead you to complete that book. Of course, it is best when the book absorbs your mind and you cannot put it down. In this case, you have found your genre and/or author. Find more books of like-kind because now you know this is your jam. The converse may be true. You may be reading a sci-fi paperback and early on you think this crap is really not for me. What are you going to do…give up? No! Finish that book if only to come to learn what you don’t like. It is difficult to argue against something you’ve never tried. When I find myself committed to a book I am not enjoying, I shift into viewing reading as a practice. I am practicing reading. I am practicing mindfulness. I am practicing patience. I am practicing reading aloud. I am expanding my vocabulary and knowledge. I am exploring what I don’t like. It sounds counter-intuitive, but we can’t constantly surround ourselves with only the things we like. We also learn from fully engaging in the things we don’t like. We are learning all the same.

Reading is The Great Escape. Don’t want to twiddle your thumbs in that waiting room? Take a book. Standing in line at the DMV? Take a book. Being told to take a nap but you are wide awake? (I’m thinking of my granddaughter here.) Take a book. Called for jury duty? Take a book. In jail again? (What did you do this time?) Demand your reading material! Reading is a tool to make certain periods of time that would normally be torture, fly by with the greatest of ease. We can’t all travel the world, but most of us can get to a library. We can’t all afford luxurious lives, but we can read about those who can. We can’t all be heroes, but we can find them in books. I know about so many things I’ve never experienced in real life because I’ve read about these things in books. In books, we can travel to far-away places and learn of ancient customs. We can envision people on the other side of the earth or aliens from outer space. We can explore imaginary worlds or knock around the thoughts of a crazy person. Being able to escape our current moment to experience the world through the eyes of others allows us a greater capacity for empathy. Perhaps there is a connection between an ancient sherpa’s quest for home and your own longings for your childhood abode. We can escape by reading more profound thoughts than we could ever think on our own. We can find words that represent images in just such a way to make us burst out laughing or crying. We can come across a set of ideas so achingly beautiful that we tattoo it on our arm…and it came about through words on a page!

Don’t judge yourself regarding the type of reading you prefer. Who cares? Like trashy romance novels? At least you are reading! Into manga or graphic novels? Historical war novels or biographies? Plays or sports writing? Children’s literature or Native American narratives? The topic is up to you; the exercise is the reading. When it comes to reading, there is literally something for everyone. Here is where your local library comes in handy. Walk right up to the closest librarian, plant your feet like Superman and say with all dignity, “I’m into dancing robots who farm but also use technology to learn about humans. Have anything like that?” They’ll come up with something, and it’s free! If some jerk comes along and says, “Ech…why are you reading that?” You could possibly deflect punching them in the nose by asking, “What are you reading?” If they don’t have an answer, you just won. If they do, then maybe you can discuss reading again in the future. You will just as often find people who say, “Oh wow! I love that book!” Instant friend. Books can bind people.

Some people are book borrowers (like those library visitors) while others are book keepers, like me. Both are excellent and most people are probably a combination of the two. People who frequent libraries perhaps seek a wide variety of reading material without having to give up money or space for the luxury of reading. They are discouraged from marking or dog-earring the books; they are merely a temporary keeper of the kingdom. They can start something, dislike the proposed journey and return the book the next day; no harm done. Book keepers are involved in a deeper commitment. They are willing to invest money and concede space to inanimate objects that simultaneously capture their hearts. They mark books. They highlight, underline, circle and write in the margins. They revisit the book and stick nameplates inside the front covers. I write short summaries at the end of each chapter. Lately, I’ve taken to writing not only my name inside the front cover but the season and year in which I read the book. I can picture my son or grandchildren one day inheriting the book and seeing what their grandma (or great-grandma!) marked in a book decades before. If I have enjoyed the book more than normal I make a note to myself to read it again in the future. Conversely, I may get to the end of a book and be so happy it is done! I don’t place a nameplate in those books; I give them away or take them to the Goodwill.

There are many different reading levels. You will hear of a child in third grade who “reads on a ninth grade level.” That means they are able to comprehend material above the normal reading comprehension for their age group. Try to diversify your levels of reading. Some stuff you read might be kind of dumb or just for fun. Some stuff you read is right at your level and you don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about unfamiliar concepts or words. Every once in a while, try to tackle a reading project that is a bit beyond your normal comfort level. You are pressed to do this in school, but don’t drop the habit just because you’ve graduated. Pressing your reading into territory just beyond your total comprehension stretches and exercises the mind. There may be so many words in a row that you don’t completely understand, but are you comprehending the broad overview? Are you able to understand the overall idea? You may not want to spend time looking up every word you don’t know while in the midst of this exercise because it would prove too time consuming (unless looking up the meaning of unfamiliar words is your new super cool hobby). In this case, read slowly and in smaller chunks. Write notes in the margin when you clearly understand an idea. Spend time simply sounding out the words and reading upper-level sentences out loud. It does feel strange to be exploring a world of words and ideas that seem abstract, but if we practice reading beyond our level every once in a while we become less stressed by the practice. There is no shame in saying, “I don’t understand half of what she is saying, but I’m trying.” 

On that note, don’t forget that you can always bring in outside reinforcements if you are not understanding what you are reading, or if you simply want to know more. If there is a concept that is not quite clear, you can always Google it! If you have completed a short story and now you are wondering how a certain theme works within it, you could use Google Scholar and type in something like “the role of domestic violence in the works of Zora Neale Hurston” and see what comes up. You could also use the search word “critique(s)” which will lead you to critics who have analyzed and written about the work. For example, in a Google, library or Google Scholar search box one could type: critiques on “the mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks. You may then be bombarded with different points of view pointing out different ideas of that one work. Filter through and see what you are looking for. The text is not simply the text; there are usually texts (or some sort of outside reference) about that text that expand upon and attempt to explain the original work.

Reading for School/Study

Once you have signed up for a literature course (in high school or college) see if you can acquire the syllabus or reading list right then. Ask the teacher or school which books you will need and find a way to get them. If you are reading older material, don’t forget you can find many works in full on the internet or through your school’s library or online resources. Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) has tens of thousands of works-in-full whose copyright has expired. Beginning the reading list and taking notes before the semester begins is a life-saver. We are unable to predict a future in which we may acquire a new job or experience a bump in the road that will throw off our reading schedule. Reading early safeguards against unforeseen misadventures.

Once you have received the syllabus, (a rules and to-do list for the semester) create a reading calendar. The best syllabi will have the reading pages listed for each entry. This will let you know how many pages are required per week/project. If the page numbers are not listed, go inside the book and, using the table of contents, jot down how many pages are involved in each reading. Only you know how much reading time you have per day or on particular days. Break down the number of pages into a per-day goal. If all the readings for the week add up to one hundred pages, you will have to read 14.2 pages per day over the course of seven days. In school, there is no getting around this. If you skip a day of reading, guess what? Instead of fourteen pages tomorrow, you will have to read 29. Now you are under pressure and you are not going to absorb the material as well as if you’d stuck to the reading plan. At the end of each week check to see if you have met your reading schedule. If not, you have to set your alarm earlier or stay up later in order to get the reading done. Mark the readings off in your calendar as they are completed; this will boost feelings of success and accomplishment.

Accept the challenge that while taking a literature course you must do the readings. This is not a sit-in-class-and-I’ll-probably-pick-it-up scenario. Your professor may focus on one work and not the others for the week. They may focus on answering questions rather than deeply exploring the text. They may discuss historical events or the backgrounds of authors rather than the text. In all of these scenarios, you have not gained a deeper understanding of the readings themselves just by being in class. Do not take a reading class unless you sincerely commit to the process of reading deeply.

When reading for school you are always reading for a purpose. If you are not given reading guides or questions to answer along the way, then you are reading in the wilderness out there on your own to decide what is and is not important to note within the text. Whatever situation you are reading for in school, always incorporate your reading tools. You should never just plop down with only the material. You must have a pen or pencil and notebook paper or computer to take notes. With the amount of reading you have to do for school, you are not going to remember everything. As you read, mark what you have critically determined to be the most important elements on the page. Train yourself to think of a page, section, or chapter like this: If a person asked you “What was _ about?” what would you tell them? Would your notes (without the book) sufficiently answer their question? Imagine even more pressure: you are in the classroom and the professor asks you, “So, what takes place on page 375?” Would you be able to answer the question from what you underlined or highlighted on page 375? What would your notes from page 375 reveal? In this particular situation there is a handy trick: as you are writing or typing notes from the reading material, note the number of the page you are on along the left-hand margin of your notes. For each new page of material, update the page number. This trick helps in many ways. Page numbers within your notes help you save time when you are searching for something specific, and the professor can never trip you up in class with the above question. When the professor asks about the plot twist in chapter five, you have noted “Chapter Five” at the top of a page along with the page number. Your notes reveal the unusual twist that happened in this section. Boom! You raise your hand.
You are taking separate notes in addition to your in-text annotations for three reasons: 1) it keeps you on-task while reading. Constantly going back and forth from the page to writing/typing notes keeps your thoughts engaged and your body alert; 2) knowledge of the material goes deeper into your brain if you not only read the material but also put the ideas into your own words by writing or typing reading notes; 3) you will study these notes for quizzes and exams. Once you have read the material and notated the most important information into your own words and notes, you have a way to go over and over the material for whatever may be thrown at you in the future. Many professors allow/encourage open-note quizzes or exams. How smart would you look without your book having taken excellent notes you can now use to pass the test? Score!

When you are reading elevated college material, you may come across various unfamiliar textual practices. Anthologies are collections of writings that are merely pieces of larger texts. For example, instead of the entire novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in the anthology you may get chapter one, chapter seven, and bits of chapters thirteen and twenty. The point with anthologies is to give you a broad overview of the best works in a certain genre or area of writing. To read the entire work, you’d have to buy or borrow it separately. Ideally, while reading anthologies you will come across an author or work that resonates with you leading you to go out and seek the entire work to read later on your own. For school purposes, you are merely learning more about the characteristics of certain types of writing performed during a certain time in history (sometimes associated with a particular country or geographical area). Because the works do not appear in full, you will see the word “From”, often in italics, which indicates that what you are about to read is not the entire work but selected pieces. You may also come across a series of asterisks running across a page. This signifies that at this particular juncture, the editors removed material from the original work and we are jumping ahead; something is missing. In addition, you will often find little numbers (in order) scattered throughout a work. These mini-numbers indicate footnotes which can usually be found at the bottom of the same page. Footnotes provide a reader additional information shared by the editors of the anthology or the author of the piece. The information may not flow in the body of the text or the information gives a definition, background, or historical information not needed in the body of the text. I prefer to stop at each footnote to read it right then. Afterwards, I go back and apply that new information to the sentence and context. Others view footnotes at the beginning or end of reading the page.

While reading for school pay special attention to the full names of authors, the full titles of the pieces, the year they were published, and from what country or area. For each new text, write the name of the author in large script at the top. Include their birth and death date. Before their works begin, there is often a biographical section that tells us about the author. Begin taking notes here. Where were they born? Did they suffer through unusual hardships? Did they have early success? Were they rich, poor, educated, or not? Was there anything unusual about their families like mental illness or extreme poverty? What writing characteristics did they come to be known for? What are two or three titles of their most famous works? What I search for is any biographical information that may have influenced their writing. What in their background can give us insight to their work?

Once you get to the text itself, note the full title of the piece. It may be long, but thems the breaks. (Yes, I meant to write that.) Pay special attention to lead sentences (the first indented sentence of each paragraph) that announce the topic of the paragraph. You don’t always have to notate them, but each new paragraph should move the story or material forward. Also, pay special attention to the last sentence of the paragraph. Pause at the conclusion of each paragraph. Do you understand what is going on? If not, go back and read it again. If you still do not understand the material, jot down a question (or place a sticky note) next to that page number in your notes. At the end of the paragraph, ask yourself if there is anything important to note. Sometimes a paragraph can result in a one-word note like, “war” and the next paragraph might be “famine” and the next, “farming.” If the author is simply describing an area during a certain time, you will still have noted the broad ideas discussed on that particular page. Not all paragraphs warrant a note.
Look for themes that seem to run throughout the piece. Themes can be many things, but a few examples are man vs. nature, the search for immortality, the downfalls of hubris, gender roles, naming and identity, rituals, social mores, the family, ritual, the domestic sphere, etc. Is there a unifying idea that each part seems to reflect? What is it and how does each part reflect that theme? Is there a recurring symbol such as decay or death? Why do you think this symbol continues to appear? Does something happen more than once like dreams or missed opportunities? Does society place rules and restrictions upon the people? What role does gender play in the story? Is religion playing a role?

Depending on your reading experience, you will encounter words you don’t know. Depending on why you are reading, it may be best to pause, click over to dictionary.com, plug in the word, and note the definition. This technique is needed if you are analyzing or writing about a specific idea or if you are required to know certain vocabulary. Pausing to look up words does not mean you are dumb; it means you are becoming smarter. If, time and again, you simply skip over words you don’t know then you will continue not to know them. How is this learning? An expansion of vocabulary is a byproduct of active reading. Note the definition in the margin of the text or in your notes. You could also set up a vocabulary page that you revisit from time to time just to learn new words. Many words have more than one meaning. You will have to study the context of the word to understand how it is being used. Use clues from the rest of the sentence to choose the best definition. The meanings of words also shift over time and can be used in different ways in different countries.
Slowly sound out unfamiliar words; don’t simply skip them. I like attempting unusual names out loud just to see how close I can get to actually saying it. I may be incorrect, but I’m trying (and no one else is around, so who cares). I became slightly irritated one semester in class while observing students who mumbled their way through the name Dostoyevsky. Not only did it hurt my feelings for one of my favorite authors, but they didn’t take the time to look at the name more closely. The name Dostoyevsky may look intimidating at first glance, but sound it out: Dos-toy-ev-sky. You can say all of those syllables and the name is spelled like it sounds. It is only difficult if you skip over or mumble through it because you didn’t take the time to try.

From time to time, read out loud. It doesn’t matter how slow your progress. Sometimes reading slowly is better if it means you are taking in more of the information. Reading quickly doesn’t make you smarter; comprehending what you read makes you smarter. You may be surprised how difficult it is to smoothly read text out loud. While your mouth is verbalizing the current words, your brain is listening to the information while simultaneously your eyes are scanning ahead for the next bit of information. I often see students attempt to skip ahead of the wording in order to read faster; that is not reading what is on the page. You are “reading” what you imagine is on the page. Take the time to complete each word and try to incorporate inflection and emotion. The more you practice reading out loud the smoother you will become. Sometimes hearing the words out loud helps you make sense of a piece. Sometimes you want to share a particular thought or image with someone else. Sometimes you just want to hear your own beautiful voice. Sometimes you want a challenge. You can’t read all material out loud all day; it tires the voice. You may switch between reading out loud for one page and reading in silence the next just to keep yourself in active reading mode.

As you take notes you are also asking questions of the text. Active reading is like a conversation between the text and the reader. Your mind is doing multiple things at once. You are performing all the tasks mentioned above, yet in addition, you are using the back of your mind (I call it the back burner) to roll around ideas such as: This has happened to me! Can this be true? The same storyline happened in my favorite show this year! I like this writer’s tone or style. I wonder if the author combined events to give us a representation of reality at that time. This female character is taking on the role normally given to men. There is a leap in logic here that I don’t think holds up. This part is ridiculous. This reflects in direct parallel to what is happening today. These behaviors seem to indicate mental illness. Ect. Some of those “back burner” ideas and sparks could later lead to an essay or class discussion. You are reading what is on the page, but you are also connecting what is there to other things in reality.

Along with these critical questions, sometimes you just have flat-out questions. I don’t understand what is going on, or how did the author get from here to there? Not understanding while reading will cause discomfort. That is okay. When we are in a state of not knowing, we feel unmoored, somehow intellectually (and slightly emotionally) out of control. Becoming a reader means accepting a level of discomfort that varies with the material. Sometimes we see the big picture but may get lost in the finer details. Sometimes a piece is just beyond our grasp…above our heads. This is why you have a professor. Write down your questions. Go to office hours. Use email. Google it! Good professors and teaching assistants love to answer questions of students who have read the material, taken notes, and really tried to understand. They see you putting in the effort so they are willing to explain further. Don’t be upset if they tell you that you are concentrating on the wrong stuff. Ask to be re-directed so you don’t waste further time. You can’t get your questions answered if you don’t ask the questions! I remember in one of my grad classes I came upon a piece of philosophy that, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand. It was difficult to even take notes because the ideas were so muddled in my brain. When it came to writing a response paper that week I asked the professor if, instead of writing the regular short response, I could draw what I thought was happening in the form of a diagram or map. He loved the idea and accepted the work. What I found most interesting was that the diagram formed a circle! The point is that I was engaging with the text and trying (albeit in an alternate form) to make sense of it.

Another way of attempting to comprehend the material is pretending that you will have to teach the material. (Sometimes professors actually assign this project.) Pretending that you have to teach the material really shines a bright light on close reading, note taking and comprehension. If you have thirty minutes to teach a short story, would you first give the class a handout? What would be printed there? How much time would you spend on the plot versus various themes or ideas within the text? What issues would lead to relevant class discussion? If you were to give a quiz or test, what questions would you include and how would you answer them? If you were to generate a reading guide what would it include? The teacher’s point of view is a simple yet effective brain trick to hyper-focus your attention.

The Literature of Slavery and Freedom: 1746 – 1865

Study Notes The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Third Edition Volume 1 pgs. 75-87

THE RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL MISSION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE

Impulse of African American literature is resistance to human tyranny. Sustaining spirit, human dignity.

Impetus for writing:

  1. They would articulate the spiritual and political ideals of America to inspire and justify the struggle of blacks for their birthright as American citizens.
  2. Demand fidelity to those same ideals from whites whose moral complacency and racial prejudices had blinded them to the obligations of their own heritage. The first AA writers in the US appealed to the traditional Christian gospel of the universal brotherhood of humanity as a way of initiating a discussion with whites that did not directly confront their prejudices and anxieties. Social significance.
  3. The least advantages of black Americans had feelings to voice and stories to tell to the public at large.
  4. Mastery of language, the essential sign of a civilized mind, to the European, implicitly qualified, a black writer, and by analogy, those whom he or she represented, for self-mastery and a place of respect within white civilization.
  5. Challenged the dominant culture’s attempt to segregate the religious from the political, the spirit from the flesh, insofar as racial affairs were concerned.
  6. To dignify black experience with spiritual significance and divinely ordained importance.
  7. The abolition of slavery and the promotion of the black man and woman to a status in the civil and cultural order equal to that of whites.

Exhorted their white readers like preachers, imploring a backsliding congregation to live up to the standards of their reputed religion and their professed political principles.

Explored through various forms of irony the chasm between white America’s words and its deeds, between its propaganda about freedom and its widespread practice of slavery.

Early: pointing out the inconsistencies between the Declaration of Independence and the simultaneous promotion of chattel slavery. Later: the right of AA to armed resistance to slavery was proclaimed.

SLAVERY IN THE AMERICAS

Slavery as perpetrated by the European colonizers of Africa and the Americas brought man’s inhumanity to man to a level of technological efficiency unimagined by previous generations. This era in the history of international slave trading is generally dated from 1501-1867. An estimated 12.5 million captives were conveyed from Africa to Europe and the Americas. To maximize profits from the production and export of precious metals, sugar, rice, rum, tobacco, cotton, coffee, and indigo in the Americas. Africans were viewed as strong. By 1820 African slaves constituted roughly 80% of all immigrants to the Americas since 1500. Only about 8% of the Transatlantic slave trade disembarked in North America. Sugar plantations.

The first people of African descent who came to North America were explorers. The first Africans in British North America were brought to work as laborers; indentured servants. By 1700 however, the expanding plantation economy of Virginia demanded a workforce that was cheaper than free labor and more easily controlled and replenished. By establishing the institution of chattel slavery, in which a black person became not just a temporary servant, but the lifetime property of his or her master, the tobacco, cotton, and rice planters of British North America, ensured their rise to economic and political preeminence over the southern half of what would become the US. Slaves were divested of his or her culture. The system of chattel slavery was designed to prevent Africans and their descendants from building a new identity except in accordance with the dictates of their oppressors. Instead of an individual, slavery devised what Patterson calls “A social non-person”, a being, that, by legal definition, could have no family, no personal honor, no community, no past, and no future. Absolute dependence on and identification with the master’s will. They could not even possess themselves.

SLAVERY AND AMERICAN RACISM

Insistence that enslavement was the natural and proper condition for particular races of people. Visual differences equaled internal differences. A sizeable school of racists writers in the first half of the 19th century in the US followed Jefferson in arguing that the AAs physical and cultural differences amounted to an intellectual, spiritual, and moral otherness that only slavery could manage and turn to some productive account.

RESISTANCE TO SLAVERY AND RACISM

Framers of the US constitution wrote into law several measures that protected slavery. “⅗ compromise”: counted as ⅗ of a person for the purpose of apportioning representation for a given district in the congress. Slaves could not vote, the ⅗ compromise did nothing but augment the size and power of the Southern block in the US House of Representatives. Antislavery advocates issued a call for the gradual abolition of slavery in the new republic.

Newspapers, public schools, churches, mutual aid, fraternal and debating societies were all used to share abolitionist ideas.

British textile industry, farming, and cotton in the 1790’s, wedded the South more and more tightly to slavery. The slave population in the South grew rapidly, from 700,000 in 1790 to 2,000,000 in 1830.

Nat Turner crystalized the impending crisis. Executed 60 whites. The Confessions of Nat Turner the leader of the most successful slave revolt in US history was hanged on November 11, 1831. The Virginia state legislature made slavery more repressive. Suspicions were heightened. The compromise of 1850 instituted the Fugitive Slave Law and balanced the power maintained between the North and the South. Compromise only intensified the feeling in each section that the opposition was gaining an unfair share of power.

RADICAL ABOLITIONISM AND THE FUGITIVE SLAVE NARRATIVE

A new generation of reformers in the North proclaimed their absolute and uncompromising opposition to slavery. Led by the crusading white journalist William Lloyd Garrison, these abolitionists demanded the immediate end of slavery throughout the U.S. Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society mobilized on all fronts. New departure in African American lit: the fugitive slave narrative which dominated the literary landscape. A black message inside a white envelope (often with white people writing the introduction). Slavery in the South to freedom in the North. Antebellum slave narrator portrayed slavery as a condition of extreme physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual deprivation, a kind of hell on earth. It followed a familiar structure. Reaching the free states but by renaming oneself and dedicating one’s future to antislavery activism. Slave narratives qualified as America’s only indigenous literary form. In 1845 the slave narrative reached its epitome with the publication of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. Immensely successful. The subtitle Written by Himself on a slave narrative bore increasing significance as an indicator of a narrator’s political and literary self-reliance. Trickster motifs, biblical allusion, and picaresque perspective. Mid-century slave narrative took on an unprecedented urgency and candor. Moral and social complexities of the American caste and class system in the North as well as the South. Jacobs’s autobiography shows how sexual exploitation made slavery especially oppressive for black women. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman: new models of female self-expression and heroism.

THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY RENAISSANCE

1850s and early 1860s: the first renaissance in A. A. letters. Spur intellectual independence and expansion of literary horizons in both form and theme. Models of black manhood. Travel books, mixing fact and fiction, sentimental image of the “tragic mulatta”, testing the limits of gender conventions in fiction, plays, serialized novels, slave revolutionaries, women’s fiction, socioeconomic realities of life for a black working-class woman in the North.

FOLK TRADITIONS

Genius of the spirituals rested in their double meaning, their blending of the spiritual and the political. Only in the next world would they find justice.
Animal tales: commonsense understanding of human psychology and every-day justice in this world. How the world came to be as it is, exploits of trickster figures, Brer Rabbit, who used their wits to overcome stronger animal antagonists. Power of mind over matter.

THE CIVIL WAR AND EMANCIPATION

In 1860 the first avowedly antislavery candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party, was elected in one of the bitterest campaigns ever waged in the U.S. In 1862 Lincoln finally permitted free blacks in liberated portions of Louisiana and South Carolina to form regiments. By the war’s end, more than 186,000 blacks had served in the artillery, cavalry, engineers, and infantry as well as in the U.S. Navy. More than 38,000 A.A. gave their lives for the Union cause. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862, which declared all slaves in the rebellious states to be free as of January 1, 1863, blacks in the North felt that, at long last, their country had committed itself to an ideal worth dying for. When the army of the Southern slaveocracy surrendered at Appomatox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, A. A. pressed for the enactment of laws ensuring a new era of freedom and opportunity for every black American. On Dec. 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished “slavery and involuntary servitude” throughout the country, was ratified by the newly united states of America.

This is Where I Leave You

by

Jonathan Tropper

New York Times bestseller A Plume Book 2010 339 pages

This novel had me hooked and in stitches from page one. How rare is that? The novel opens by describing the personality of the narrator’s family and how they deal with life. I could immediately relate to the crass, harsh, hilarious and real way the Foxman family does family. The patriarch has died which becomes a framing device for the story. While Dad was sick he requested the family come together and sit Shiva for seven whole days. For years they have actively avoided bonding family time and none of the four grown children are looking forward to all this togetherness. Each sibling has a lot going on including spouses and assorted lovers. We get to peek inside each life, but we are always in the head of Judd, the narrator, whose life is completely upside down. Even though the situations are not obviously funny, Tropper gives Judd such a twisted sense of humor that somehow you laugh even when you are not supposed to. On the other hand, Tropper can be very nostalgic and heart-felt when discussing family, sometimes even waxing poetic. The story is told in the present tense and is counted by the time on the clock so that, in effect, you are also sitting Shiva with the Foxmans. This novel is full of belly-laughs that will make you want to read out loud to your friends. What follows are my favorite bits (I like to call “the best bits”) and chapter summaries.

1 “If we sound like a couple of callous assholes, it’s because that’s how we were raised” (2).

“Dad didn’t believe in God, but he was a life-long member of the Church of Shit or Get Off the Can” (3).

[Story being told by Judd who has an older sister (Wendy), older brother (Paul) and younger brother, Phillip. Their dad has finally died after a long battle with stomach cancer. They will gather for the funeral. Judd has been having a tough time even aside from his father’s death.]

2 “…trying to look like someone trying not to look bored” (10).

“You get married to have an ally against your family, and now I’m heading into the trenches alone” (11).

[Judd and Jen are divorcing. They had met in college. Jen is sleeping with Judd’s boss and is pregnant. Judd and Jen were pregnant once. Still birth. You can tell Judd still loves her and is very hurt.]

3 “Because the thing of it is, no matter how much you enjoy sex, there’s something jolting and strangely disturbing about witnessing the sex of others. Nature has taken great pains to lay out the fundamentals of copulation so that it’s impossible to get a particularly good view of the sex you’re having. Because when you get right down to it, sex is a messy, gritty, often grotesque business to behold: the hairs; the abraded, dimpled flesh; the wide-open orifices; the exposed, glistening organs. And the violence of the coupling itself, primitive and elemental, reminding us that we’re all just dumb animals clinging to our spot on the food chain, eating, sleeping, and fucking as much as possible before something bigger comes along and devours us” (16-17).

[Margin note: No romanticizing here! Thank you for telling it like it is.]

“Naked men shouldn’t run” (24).

[Judd goes into gross, horrible and hilarious detail about the day he caught his wife and boss together in HIS bed. Now he lives in a cheap basement room and is somehow still spiraling downward.]

4 “…even as his ridiculous raincoat makes him stand out like a bloodstain against a sky the color of a dead tooth” (33).

[Father’s funeral.]

5 [After the funeral the extended family gather around the dinner table. Chaos ensues.]

6 [Judd recalling the first time he met Jen.]

7 “And as the room starts to fill with the first somber-faced neighbors coming to pay their respects, it becomes clear to me that the reason for filling the shiva house with visitors is most likely to prevent the mourners from tearing each other limb from limb” (63).

[In high school Judd and Alice lost their virginity to each other. Alice later married Paul and the brothers have had a rocky relationship ever since.]

8 [Judd escapes shiva for a short drive to pick Horry up from the store and take him home. Judd learns an old flame also works at the store. His interest is peaked.]

9 [First day of shiva finally ends. Judd listens to voicemails from pregnant Jen who wants to hurry along divorce proceedings.]

10 “There is nothing more pathetically optimistic than the morning erection. I am depressed, unemployed, unloved, basement-dwelling, and bereaved, but there it is, every morning like clockwork, rising up to greet the day, poking out of my fly cocksure and conspicuously useless. And every morning, I face the same choice: masturbate or urinate. It’s the one time of the day where I feel like I have options” (84).

[Judd’s relationship with his mother.]

11 [All the kids are giving Mom a “Dad” story but Judd can’t recall a time he had his dad’s undivided attention.]

12 [Mr. Applebaum is already scoping out the widow.]

13 [Judd is lonely and every woman in society has his attention.]

14 [Judd re-lives quitting his job when Wade was his manager.]

15 [Tracy is now competing with old school chums of Phillip’s. Judd puts in a good word for Horry’s independence.]

16 [Judd sees Penny who he had a thing with in college. They made a pact to marry by age 40 if they were both still single. Horry cannot live alone even though he desires independence.]

17 [Horry brought back a memory of a dog attack that Judd and Paul experienced as kids. Now Judd is dreaming about it.]

18 [Paul and Phillip finally go to blows and Jen appears out of nowhere. Will Phillip join the family business? Will Paul let him?]

19 [Judd sums up what sex is like after you’ve been married for years.]

20 “‘Please,’ she says. ‘Tell me what you’re thinking.’

“It’s an absurd request. Our minds, unedited by guilt or shame, are selfish and unkind, and the majority of our thoughts, at any given time, are not for public consumption, because they would either be hurtful or else just make us look like the selfish and unkind bastards we are. We don’t share our thoughts, we share carefully sanitized, watered-down versions of them, Hollywood adaptations of those thoughts dumbed down for the PG-13 crowd” (137).

[Jen comes to tell Judd that she is carrying HIS baby!]

21 [Judd recalling when he and Jen learned they had lost their first (and only) child. It led to the demise of their marriage.]

22 [Mom gives her input on her kids’ relationships then Paul decks Phillip to return the favor from the day before. Phillip drops the bomb about Jen being pregnant.]

23 [Judd visits Penny and they have a short skate holding hands. Phillip is cheating on Tracy. Dad’s death is starting to sink in.]

25 [Horry still has a thing for Wendy. Does she still think of him too?]

26 [Paul and his wife are trying to conceive and everyone knows it.]

27 [After a make out session with Penny in the pool, Judd calls Jen. Wade answers and doesn’t appreciate this late night call.]

28 [The crazy party in high school where Alice and Judd were going to make out but instead Judd gets kicked in the balls. Paul comes back to revenge his little brother, but Paul ends up being attacked by a guard dog owned by Judd’s attacker. The two brothers’ relationship has never been the same.]

29 “You can sit up here, feeling above it all while knowing you’re not, coming to the lonely conclusion that the only thing you can ever really know about anyone is that you don’t know anything about them at all” (188).

[Judd is accidentally electrocuted which brings forward a dad memory. He mourns with his mother.]

30 [The brothers sneak off during church service to smoke dad’s last joint. They accidentally set off the fire alarm.]

31 “Back when I lived with Jen, I had some friends. In the aftermath of our separation, Allan and Mike had met me for drinks and we’d all raised our glasses in agreement that Jen was a cheating bitch and I was the good guy here. I didn’t know it at the time, but that night was actually my good-bye party. Jen would retain custody of our friends and I’d be wordlessly discarded. A few weeks later, as I circled the multiplex parking lot, I saw Allan and Mike with their wives, leaving the theater along with Jen and Wade, all walking in standard formation, talking and laughing in the cinematic afterglow, like it had always been just so. I tried to tell myself it was simply a chance encounter, but it was clear from their body language that they were all together, and probably not for the first time. It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are. Friendship in the suburbs is wife-driven, and my friends were essentially those husbands of Jen’s friends that I could most tolerate. Now that I’d been sidelined, Wade had stepped in for me like an understudy, a small note was inserted into the program, and the show went on without missing a beat” (214-215).

[Jen wants to talk but Judd is having none of it. He makes mischief in his old house when no one is there. He is practically raped by his sister-in-law Alice who has been trying for 2 years to get pregnant with Paul. Later, Judd goes on a date with Penny and for the second time says nothing about Jen being pregnant.]

32 [Judd dreams a sweet dream of his father who heals him.]

33 [Wendy and Judd talk about life. Why did Linda (Mom’s lifelong friend) stay the night?]

34 [Old high school friends come to visit during shiva. Their lives have all turned out pretty mediocre.]

35 [Visiting high school friends prompt an impromptu batting round in the side yard where Paul hurts his ravaged shoulder and Boner gets hit in the face with a ball. Have mother and Linda been lovers for years?]

36 [Judd lets all the older women know he DOES NOT want to be set up with their daughters.]

37 “She is waiting in front of her building when we pull up, looking edible in a T-shirt, short shorts, and tennis shoes. She could be nineteen. She could be my girlfriend. We could be going out to the amusement park, where we’d kiss on the lines, hold hands on the rides, and share cotton candy. I’d win her one of those giant stuffed animals and we’d carry it around the park with us like a badge of honor. Afterward it would take up permanent residence on her pink bedspread, where she’s lie across ti while we spoke for hours on the phone” (252).

“A kid with a name tag and a digital camera asks us to pose for a picture with the cheesy plaster palace behind us. There are countless pictures of my family at various ages in just this spot. If we pulled them out of all the messy albums in the living room bookcases, you could probably track the steady growth of our family, like annual pencil marks on the wall to show how tall you’ve grown. Dad isn’t in any of the Wonderland pictures, because he was always the one taking them, with this old Yashica he’d bought when he first got married, because why the hell would he pay for a picture he could take better himself? As a matter of fact, you’d have to turn a lot of pages to find Dad in any of our albums. The inadvertent result of being the default photographer is that he was relegated to the role of a bit player in the actual recorded history of our family. There are entire years of our lives where he doesn’t appear at all” (253).

“Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it” (255).

[The last date with Penny.]

38 [Judd is having a moment with Jen at the hospital listening to their baby’s heartbeat when Wade arrives. He ends up arguing with both Judd and Phillip who ends up decking him. A bit of vandalism meets Wade’s car before the brothers exit the parking lot.]

39 [All the brothers are feeling quite beat up by their wives. They need a night off.]

40 “He sinks his teeth into every word, and they come out chewed” (276).

[The brothers go out but it was not the bonding experience they had imagined.]

41 “Down in the basement, I wash some of Boner’s foam spray off the mirror to better study my reflection. My bottom lip is split and swollen, my eyes bleary, my cheeks pale and puffy. I look like a corpse pulled from the river a week after the suicide. It’s time for a gut check. I mean that literally. I pull off my shirt, which is caked with just enough blood and vomit to represent a much wilder night than the one I’ve had, and step back to study my torso. The overall effect does not match the image I cling to in my head. My belly is not yet what you’d call a gut, but you can see where the inevitable expansion will happen. I have no real chest to speak of; you’d miss it altogether if it weren’t for the two hairless nipples pressed on like decals. Broader shoulders would create the illusion of fitness, but I am sorely lacking in that department as well. The overall impression is lean but soft, and getting softer. This is the package, ladies. Come and get it.

“I lie down on the floor to do some sit-ups and promptly fall asleep” (285-5).

[Drunk Judd gets a punch and an apology from Wade who is leaving Jen. He just can’t do the step-father thing.]

42 [Another dream of Dad who is cradling Judd’s future baby.]

43 “The whites of his eyes are vaguely pink, like something ran in the wash” (295).

[Tracy knows it’s the end of the line with Phillip. Horry lays girls who don’t truly know him. Alice apologizes for raping Judd. Lina leaves after a heated argument.]

44 [Mom comes out of the closet.]

45 [The kids discuss their mom being bisexual.]

46 [Shiva is over. Judd drives home to a long talk with Jen. He is ready to work on forgiveness.]

47 [Mom and Linda get to tell their story. Mom was the one bringing them all together…not dad’s dying wish.]

48 [All the kids prepare to return to the lives.]

49 [Judd goes to apologize and say good-bye to Penny.]

50 [I never summarize the last chapter. That is a prompt to go read the book yourself!]

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

By

Allison Hoover Bartlett

Riverhead Books  New York  2009

262 pages excluding notes

I like the way Bartlett sets up the story. She speaks directly to her audience and first describes what made her interested in tracking a rare books thief. It sounds almost like she is setting up a master’s thesis; she first states her driving curiosity and why which sets us on a journey together. The language is straightforward yet sometimes repetitive. She narrows in on a notorious rare book thief named John Gilkey whom she interviews multiple times. She gets to know him and tries to figure out his motivations. I did not feel the need to summarize every chapter, but there were some quotes and reflections on the love of books themselves which I really enjoyed. What follows are the quotes and reflections Bartlett used that captured my attention. If you are a book fanatic, you will enjoy this read. Numbers at the beginning of an entry indicate the chapter followed by the chapter title. My own reflections I will place in brackets.

[Dude! You are not going to believe this!]:

From Anathema in a medieval manuscript from the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona:

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner…let him be struck with palsy, & all his members belated…Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

[So badass]

From A. S. W. Rosenback, twentieth-century book dealer:

I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys halfway about the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.

[The book begins with a story of a borrowed book: the Krautterbuch. Referring to the book, Bartlett writes]:

My favorite remedy, though, is for low spirits. “Often we are missing the right kind of happiness, and if we don’t have any wine yet, we will be very content when we do get wine” (4).

[Prologue summary:

Introduction of the Krautterbuch, a book from the 1600s which was supposedly stolen from a library. The author speaks in first person and explains how this book set her on a journey.]

1  Like a Moth to a Flame

[This passage brought a tear to my eye because it so accurately describes the magic of becoming attached to a book.]

Walking by a booth with an impressive selection of dust jacket art, I heard a dealer say to a passerby, “don’t judge a book by its content!” I had read enough about book collectors before the fair to get the joke: Many collectors don’t actually read their books. At first, I was surprised, but having given it some thought, it’s not so shocking. After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books’ physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories–we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on.

For me, the most important book-as-object from my childhood is Charlotte’s Web, the first book I mail-ordered after joining a book club. I still remember my thrill at seeing the mailman show up with it at our front door on a sunny Saturday morning. It has a crisp paper jacket, unlike the plastic-covered library books I was used to, and the way the pages parted, I could tell I was the first to open it. For several days I lived in Wilbur’s world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte’s death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book. I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put off the inevitable end, my banishment from that world. I still do this. It doesn’t make sense, though, because the pleasure of that world does not really end for good. You can always start over on page one–and you can remember. Whenever I have spotted my old Charlotte’s Web (on my son’s shelf, then my daughter’s), I have recalled how it came to me. It’s a personal record of one chapter of my life, just as other chapters have other books I associate with them. The pattern continues; my daughter returned from camp last summer with her copy of Motherless Brooklyn in a state approaching ruin. She told me she’s dropped it into a creek, but couldn’t bear to leave it behind, even after she’d finished it. This book’s body is inextricably linked to her experience of reading it. I hope that she continues to hold on to it, because as long as she does, its wavy, expanded pages will remind her of the hot day she read it with her feet in the water–and of the fourteen-year-old she was at the time. A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of that fact.

[The author is most interested in the type of book thief that steals for the love of books. Gilkey is notorious. He says he will tell his story from prison.]

2  Half-truths

[The author’s first interview with Gilkey.]

3  Richie Rich

[Gilkey sees his book collection as a representation of himself. He wants to appear rich and cultured. He wants people to be impressed.]

4  A Gold Mine

5  Spider-Man

6  Happy New Year

7  Trilogy of Kens

In 1644, John Milton wrote: “For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

8  Treasure Island

9  Brick Row

10  Not Giving Up

11  This Call May Be Recorded or Monitored

Of having taken their lives, he said, “Every man must die, sooner or later, but good books must be conserved.”

12  What More Could I Ask?

13  And Look: More Books!

14  The Devil’s Walk

Afterword

From Warning written by medieval German scribe:

This book belongs to none but me

For there’s my name inside to see.

To steal this book, if you should try,

It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high.

And ravens then will gather ‘bout

To find your eyes and pull them out.

And when you’re screaming

“Oh, Oh, Oh!”

Remember, you deserved this woe.

[Man, these medieval book lovers were not playing.]

Ordinary People

by Judith Guest Ballantine Books New York 1976

This is a classic and an easy read with short chapters. The writing is not flowery or dreamy although when someone is experiencing disordered thinking the writing reflects what that might look like with few punctuation marks and fragments of sentences. The story deals with difficult family issues. The story and emotions are realistic. There are no easy answers if there are any answers at all. We learn that parental love can come in many forms, but it can also not be shown at all. Accidents happen, emotions and behaviors become twisted, people lose their shit and those around them don’t know what to do with that lost shit. Trigger warning issues of accidental death, suicide and mental institutions.

What follows is a plot summary excluding the epilogue; that’s for you to get to. The numbers indicate the chapter.

1 We meet young Conrad Jarrett fresh out of the mental facility and having trouble starting his day.

2 Calvin Jarrett is the father. Being abandoned as a child makes it even more difficult for him to parent a teen with mental illness. (The chapters alternate between these two characters’ points of view. The novel is written, interestingly, in the present tense.)

3 We learn about Conrad’s school life. All his friends are seniors but due to his illness he is still a junior. He has trouble feeling normal although he is trying to get back to his old routine.

4 Calvin doesn’t think it wise to go on their annual Christmas vacation. He doesn’t want any trouble. We learn that another son, Jordan, (older brother to Conrad) is now deceased.

5 Conrad sees a crazy local psychiatrist who appears inept. Conrad says his older brother died in a boating accident.

6 Calvin, the dad, seems every bit as lost as his mentally ill son. He has no idea who he is or what he wants.

7 Conrad attempts an afternoon date with Karen, a girl from the mental facility. She doesn’t feel mentally safe and leaves quickly.

8 Calvin drinks quite a bit. The neighbors are curious about Conrad’s situation. Beth (Conrad’s mother/Calvin’s wife) doesn’t want to discuss the topic at parties (or generally in public). Calvin misses hearing both sons in the house. We learn Conrad has slit his wrists.

9 Conrad is actually getting something out of seeing this wacky psychiatrist, Dr. Berger.

10 Conrad quits the swim team; he doesn’t like those people. They are too mean and he is too sensitive; too raw.

11 Calvin thinking about his law partner’s life and marriage.

12 Conrad successfully visits with a cute girl. He recalls a ski trip with his brother.

13 Beth finds out Conrad quit the swim team from an outside source. He quit a month ago and his parents didn’t know. There is a big family freak out. Conrad feels his mother hates him.

14 Dr. Berger’s genius is slowly being revealed.

15 Instead of talking about their grief, Calvin and Beth simply fight.

16 Conrad gets his looks complimented. He is starting to gain positive momentum. His psychiatrist is very helpful.

17 Calvin is now the one seeking Dr. Berger’s help.

18 Bumbling through exams and asking out girls.

19 Calvin’s business partner is worried about him.

20 Conrad’s date goes well. They set up another for the following weekend.

21 Calvin evaluates his fears and how he is most motivated to be safe.

22 Conrad gets in a fist fight with an asshole in the school parking lot.

23 Conrad tells his dad about the fight. Mom doesn’t even notice Conrad is waiting up for Dad.

24 Conrad’s new girlfriend is experiencing family drama. His own parents are out of town and he has to stay with his grandparents. His grandmother is a ball buster. (You can see where his mom gets it.)

25 Calvin and Beth on vacation at her brother’s place in Texas.

26 Karen is a girl Conrad was in treatment with. She has killed herself. This sends Conrad into a tailspin thinking about his brother dying on the lake and about electric shock therapy in treatment. He calls his psychiatrist and is driving to see him.

27 Conrad has a bad night but he makes it through.

28 Calvin and Beth can’t get through a vacation without fighting. Beth feels her son cut his wrists to show HER how much he hates her.

29 Everyone seems relieved to be home again.

30 Conrad has a girlfriend and they can discuss important things.

31 Calvin and Conrad discuss Beth and her leaving them. There are no clear answers and they’ll just have to be okay with that.

Epilogue

Western Echoes of the Harlem Renaissance: The Life and Writings of Anita Scott Coleman

Edited by Cynthia Davis and Verner D. Mitchell

In a preface margin note: It wasn’t her location, but the time period and the topics she discussed that made her a Harlem Renaissance writer. There was a west and east coast renaissance. After the preface the book contains an “Anita Scott Coleman Chronology.”

Introduction: Anita Scott Coleman in the Southwest

“…the issue of where an African American family should locate its physical, moral, and spiritual ‘place’ or home becomes an important theme in Coleman’s oeuvre.” She was able to share more with family than with the public. “…home is not a restrictive space or a domestic prison for women, or even an escape from racist reality, but a site of agency for the African American family. Home thus functions as both a response to and a goal of migration and diaspora…” (5). Coleman’s grandmother was marked as mulatto on the census, probably from Seminole heritage. “Coleman’s poem ‘Hands,’ like ‘America Negra’ and ‘El Tisico,’ weaves together family history, the theme of home and migration, and biblical allusion to explore important issues in African American history” (6). “…African American presence in New Mexico and Arizona, the race has contributed to the region’s development since the time of the first Spanish explorers.” Some became “linguists and translators of Native American languages” (10). The lived in a town that reminded me of the all-Black town where Jodi and Janie live in Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God. “American history, in its persistent attempt to eradicate the black presence in the West, not only ignores the participation of blacks in law enforcement, but edits out their connection with legendary American outlaws.” “…two African Americans rode with the posse that eventually killed [Billy the kid]. Blacks were actively involved in law enforcement.” “…25 percent ‘of the 35,000 mean who went up the trail from Texas with herds during the heroic age of the cattle industry, 1866-1895…were Negroes'” (Porter 347) (14).

“Coleman seems to have enjoyed an unusually close relationship with her parents, with whom she lived until their deaths. According to family members, Coleman enjoyed a privileged childhood under her mother’s watchful eye (Caffey; Green). While other children might ‘wallow at will in the dusty street,’ Anita, ‘in stiffly-starched gingham and ribbon bows in her hair…spend her time among the flower-beds, playing ‘a’leery’ with her rubber ball, or mimicking grown-ups with her dolls and tea set’ (‘…G’Long, Old White Man’s Gal…’). In turn, Coleman provided the same meticulous attention to her own children; her daughter Willianna started kindergarten in ‘a frilly white dress and spotless white soxs and shiny black shoes'” (W. Coleman 4) (16). Later, Anita employed her father’s use of irony as a way to treat issues of racism and discrimination in her work” (17).

Coleman graduated from high school. “Her parents encouraged her self-esteem and taught her to be proud of her race and to value character and spirituality over physical attributes, qualities she passed on to her children, grandchildren, and foster children” (Green). “Coleman’s characters are undaunted by hegemonic standards of beauty to which they do not conform and are blessed with strong, protective, and intelligent families” (19).

“Anne, in being willing to take ‘pot luck’ and chance her future with Jim, is rewarded with stability and love. Significantly, Coleman names the couple in the story after herself and her husband, James Harold Coleman. the initial encounter of the fictional pair does, in fact, resemble their meeting: Anita saw James walking down the street one day ‘and just decided he was the man she was going to marry’ (Green). Their relationship inspired a number of stories in which a privileged woman wisely, if unconventionally, chooses a man of sterling character but of lesser status. The positive male-female relationships in ‘Silk Stockings,’ ‘Pot Luck,’ ‘The Little Grey House,’ and ‘Bambino Grimke’ all originate in such intuitive, spontaneous, life-altering decisions as the one Anita apparently made upon seeing James. Like the couple in ‘Two Old Women,’ they may have courted for some years while James solidified his economic prospects. In October 1916, they married and moved in with Anita’s parents on the ranch” (20-1).

“Home is thus a site of empowerment for both men and women, and a shred entrepreneurial venture is a form of resistance to racism. In the same way that Coleman’s father and grandfather seem to have inspired Coleman’s older black male characters, so her husband appears to be the model for the younger generation who are sensitive, intelligent, and skilled. Unfortunately, they are also frustrated in their attempts to establish themselves professionally.” “Coleman’s mean are complex, nuanced, and believable” and they “behave in a variety of ways” (22). “The tension in Coleman’s stories arises from the reader’s connection to sympathetic male characters who must find their way out of unjust and discriminatory situations” (23). “Although the characters were rural Southerners, they expressed themselves in proper English, instead of in stereotyped dialect” (25).

“Not surprisingly, considering that he personally read and critiqued Coleman’s submissions to the Crisis contests, W.E.B. DuBois became an important influence on the content and style of her work. Although she apparently admired Booker T. Washington during her college years, her stories about the underemployment of skilled black men indicate that she perceived the flaws in the Tuskegee model. She would undoubtedly have read the 1914 editorial in the Crisis in which DuBois asserts that vocational training will never achieve Washington’s aims since there was never any intention on the part of white industry to hire black graduates of trade schools. In several of her stories, Coleman dramatizes DuBois’s critique of the Tuskegee model and the pointlessness of vocational training given the structural inequities in hiring practices” (26).

Coleman wrote stories of passing: “Three Dogs and a Rabbit” and “The Brat.” “Like Johnson, she explores passing as subversion and posits race as a social and economic construct. Coleman’s preoccupation with alienation and isolation, the psychic costs of passing, gives her work a particularly modernist affiliation. “The Brat” borrows Johnson’s trope of African American music as a ‘symbolic projection of a double consciousness’ (Baker 21). Both Coleman’s and Johnson’s protagonists agonize between embracing black culture through music and using music to disguise their origins. Music thus functions in Coleman’s text as both an escape from and a marker of race.” “Coleman thus sets the stage for a fairy tale of race, shape-shifting, and metamorphosis” (28). Charles Chesnutt has a similarly-themed story to Coleman’s: “The biblical allusion to Moses and Miriam, and Jennie’s sacrifice in giving up her child, underscore the terrible psychic cost of passing.” “Kane’s secret makes him ‘lonely, so lonely. His poor heart aches and he can’t tell why.’ Coleman then suggests that Aggie too is passing; after all, the reader only has Jennie’s word that Aggie is white, and of course she was mistaken in assuming that her friend Biddy was black. Both Aggie and David Kane, then, choose the white world but at great cost to their psychic integrity and emotional stability” (29).

“The second frame is Mrs. Ritton’s story. Accused of sheltering a ‘runaway Negro’ pursued by the police, she refuses to divulge the fugitive’s location; instead she tells the court that as a young slave girl (the courtroom gasps in disbelief), she made the arduous journey west with her owners. On the trail she protects a frightened rabbit being pursued by her master. Despite her own hunger and the beating received from her master, she hides the animal. The master’s son observes the flogging, and although he had always teased and annoyed her, ‘he changed from that day.’ The two eventually marry, and Mrs. Ritton’s racial identity is absorbed and obliterated in her social position until the day that she sees the fugitive and has a sudden flashback to the events of her youth. Phipps, although he ‘knew the fugitive was free, and making a rough guess at it, likely to remain so,’ is overwhelmed by the lovely woman ‘standing alone in the midst of all those hostile people, tearing apart with such simple words the whole fabric of her life.’ Even without knowing the surprise ending, one can see how Coleman approaches the theme of passing as a social construct and explores issues of miscegenation and racism in the legal system, all within the framework of a western ‘tall tale'” (31).

Since I’m a huge movie/tv buff, this next bit of information earned a margin note of: awesome! “Finally, the medium of film clearly shaped Coleman’s writing. While writing ‘Three Dogs’ Coleman worked as a script writer for Pathe films; she understood the syntax of film narration, including flashbacks, fast-forwards, dissolves, fades, visual symbols, compressed dialogue, and scenes that are both intimate and dramatic, all of which appear in her work. Coleman remained interested in writing for the media all her life; later she wrote television scripts, including one for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

“…it is possible that the story editors did not know her race. Coleman describes a similar situation in ‘Jack Arrives’ (1920) when a young black architect wins a contest but does not reveal his race until afterward, confident that his demonstrated talent will supersede any prejudice” (32).

“The Brat”

[random notes on this short story]

“A wild night, a blazing hearth, a rose-lit room, low, sweet music, an over-stuffed armchair and a companion; who can tell a tale of life, as she is–ah, there’s charm and warmth a-plenty.”

“Old Jennie, all twisted and bent with premature age, which wrapped her about like an ill-fitting garment…”

“A night for surprises indeed. Old Jennie esteeming me above my fellows. A pleasing surprise bobbing up to nod at me like daisies on a hillside.”

A wild child who reluctantly gives up her baby so that he can have a better life with white people. The separation has broken her heart and made her grow old. She never reveled her true identity to her son; she just visits once a year like she was his old servant. Eventually, the boy stops seeing her and she must let him go. He becomes a famous singer. he got his singing voice from his mom.

“Three Dogs and a Rabbit”

“The picture had to be finished, Gentleman. The rabbit, no the man–had to be protected. Thank you, Sirs. That is all.’

“Yes,” said Timothy Phipps, pensively. “I was the running black gentleman in the story–” he tilted his head a bit backwards and sideways and laughed. His laughter echoing–joy–joy–joy!”

An ex-slave woman who has a penchant for saving those on the run.

“El Tisico”

A story of patriotism for the U.S. The idea that if you are sick you want to go “home.”

“The Little Grey House”

Two lonely people come together in the little grey house.

“Cross Crossings Cautiously”

“Usually Sam was a cheerful creature. Work and love; love and work, that, boiled down to brass tacks, is the gist of all life…”

“Sam swung around like a heavy plummet loosed from its mooring.”

Did Sam come to a bad end because he was black? Did they take him from Claudia before she could see?

“Jack Arrives”

Dreams come true for Jack who wants to be an architect.

“Bambino Grimke”

The “nobody” finds a way to become somebody by collaring a grifter.

“Bambino: Star Boarder”

Grimke strikes again. Almost ran away with another man’s wife but forgot to show up.

“Rich Man, Poor Man”

Rich little Drusilla who thought she’d never work finally found a compelling reason to do so: love!

“Pot Luck: A Story Tue to Life”

“So if any of you expect Life, Life the capricious woman, to pitch her decorum to the winds and do a handspring for the sake of converting the child of a clod-hopping hodcarrier whose mate is a washwoman, into a finished musician or a distinguished linguist, you simply don’t know Life. It’s far more befitting her caprice to make the sons and daughters of musicians and poets the rag-pickers and scullery maids of tomorrow. If you notice, she takes generations in which to produce and only moments in which to destroy.”

“But a lady–bah, a lady–any female who chooses can be that. Take for instance, a little bit of natural inclination, a fair amount of right association, a smattering of education; and a knack at imitation, and you have it.”

People were surprised that she was so good at her job AND black.

We didn’t think Anne Borden would amount to anything since she didn’t take to education. She was loved by children so she ended up working with them and found love along the way.

“Two Old Women A-Shopping Go! A Story of Man, Marriage and Poverty”

“Tis a trouble men folks be,” offered one.

“But a sweet trouble ’tis,” proffered the other.

“Trouble ain’t never harmed nary one of us. What’s more, us wimens can make men folks what us choose to.”

“Deed so! Us ’tis what makes ’em or breaks ’ems.”

The wisdom of old women is heeded by a young woman who holds on to love while she has it.

“The Mechanical Toy”

“…an old dreaming sentimentalist, it mattered not, that Jonathan Connors was a black lad and Haven Addams a white one. He adored friendship wherever it was found…”

Jonathan saved all his earnings in hopes of going to industrial school. Haven came from money, so would spend what he had.

“They were very young and laughed a great deal and talked overmuch; because youth loves to flaunt itself and is never secretive.”

A prank kills an old man of fright.

“Love for Hire”

An old lady is becoming too chummy with her black house maid according to her children. The maid is so upset at her boss’s death because she might not be able to find another position that high paying. Ahh…so it wasn’t sympathy…it was loss of income she was mourning.

“…G’Long, Old White Man’s Gal…”

Mercy Kent is left a “good sized fortune” by an old white man.

“She hobbled towards the door, then turned and came back. She was like a little black spider in the midst of them, weaving a web with which to catch flies. And the flies, see them, flies will always be caught.”

They talk of white men never leaving black women anything if there weren’t some other exchange involved. There is a description of Mercy’s family growing up.

“There was rejoicing within the little white and green cottage, the sort of joy that bubbles over the rim and splashes down the sides, and makes little puddles about the bottom of the bucket and eventually forms into little rivulets to run here and there and everywhere.”

The black people of the town put down the black family that profits from working for a rich white man. Even with all her money, Mercy will never be accepted by her peers.

“Phoebe and Peter up North”

There is talk of looking whiter to change; to fit in. Peter gets what for when he calls his wife Phoebe a countrified thorn in his side.

“Phoebe Goes to a Lecture”

Birth control is discussed.

“Alright then, ” exclaimed Mayme. “Honey-child, that’s why I urged you to come, not that I thought you’d enjoy that especially, but get out, see with your eyes and hear with your ears, and give your brains an airing. That’s what city life is for, to put the ‘pep’ in living. You don’t need to think other people’s thoughts. Think up your own; but you can’t think looking inside yourself. You’ve got to look out. Do you get me? Then you won’t have time for such nonsense as loneliness.”

Phoebe gets out. She needs to broaden her mind, even if it only leads back home.

The poem “Hands” reminds me of my dad. When one does hard labor all his life these are the hands that are created. Working man’s hands.

The poem “Idle Wonder” Do we only imagine our pets and employees to be contented?

Silver Borne

Final book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

Phin, the bookstore owner, seems to be missing. Mercy has one of his books about the fae.

Someone (or more than one) from the pack is able to enter Mercy’s head and mess with her thoughts. She wants to learn more about this from Samuel, but he has called for Mercy’s help at the hospital.

Samuel tried to kill himself. His wolf has now calmly taken over until Mercy can figure out what to do.

An unknown named Daphne Rondo sent bounty hunters with a false warrant to bring in Adam. It didn’t work.

Is an unknown woman trying to kill Adam? She gave the kill orders AFTER she’d been missing for a couple of days. Adam knows Samuel is staying in wolf form and is breaking the rules to keep him safe.

I made a note that Briggs came up with a scent I think I’d like as a perfume: earth, forest, magic, wood fire, air and salt water. Make that burning sandalwood and I think we have a hit!

Where is the bookstore owner? Is the fae folklore book important? Is grandma at the bookstore good or bad? Will Samuel still want to kill himself if he turns back human?

Sam and Mercy break into the bookstore and learn it has been destroyed by Phin. They win the battle, but now Adam needs help.

Someone blew up Mercy’s house. Mary-Jo let it happen, but who was working with her?

Gabriel has been taken hostage by the fairy queen who wants to make an exchange with Mercy.

The word “slugabed” is used here which I’ve never heard. Self explanatory though.

Behind the scenes, Mary Jo’s boyfriend, Henry, has been plotting how to get rid of Adam who is the focus of Mary Jo’s romantic wishes. Paul and Adam are set to fight for pack leader.

Fights for control!!

We hear a long-ago story of Samuel and Alicia and how she was tormented by her father. “…scars do not bother me. They are the laurels of the survivor.” The fairy queen has tricked Mercy, Jesse and Alicia into her lair where she is keeping Phin and Gabriel.

Will the group be saved from the fairy queen? Will someone have to stay behind as the queen’s prisoner? Read the fifth and final book in the series of Mercy Thompson!

Bone Crossed

fourth in the series of Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs

Stefan reappears! Marsilia has come to collect on the debt for Mercy killing Andre. An old college acquaintance, Amber, comes to Mercy to help her with a ghost. Stefan is badly injured. He’s at Adam’s recovering. Mercy visits with her mom. Tim’s cousin engages a companion to help deface Mercy’s car shop. Tony is on the case.

Adam and Mercy are now a couple even though she is in constant worry over Marsilia coming to kill her and everyone she loves.

There was a trap set by vampires out to get Mercy. The trap instead turned one of the fae into an ice monster and people got hurt.

In order to turn down the heat in the city, Mercy goes ghost hunting at Amber’s.

Amber and her husband, Corban, know Blackwood as a business associate. Mercy knows him as “The Monster,”; the only vampire in the area. Mercy has no memory of receiving a vampire bit in the night. Is Amber having an affair with a vampire? Stefan? Blackwood? Amber definitely has a ghost problem.

Stefan and Mercy get Amber and her family to a hotel and they head home. Stefan and Mercy exchange blood so that Blackwood can be kept at bay. Vampire Estelle approaches Stefan to ask if he wants to join forces against Marsilia. He refuses.

They hypothesis now is that Blackwood wants to overthrow Marsilia for the Tri-Cities territory. Bernard and Estelle want Marsilia destroyed as well. Stefan will not agree to kill his leader, Marsilia.

Marsilia has her showdown. Estelle is killed, Bernard is allowed to leave. Stefan remains loyal to Marsilia then disappears. No werewolves were hurt.

Adam and Mercy make love. She is still having trouble making a pack connection. Corban shows up to kidnap Mercy. He says Chad has been taken. Is it Blackwood?

The ghost visits Mercy. Blackwood feeds from those whom he wants similar powers. Due to Mercy’s bonds to the pack and Stefan, Blackwood will have to keep her and feed on her over an extended period. The ghost is a vampire he killed when she confronted his behavior. Now the old lady ghost wants to feed on Mercy in exchange for information.

Mercy is becoming stronger through four types of magic: walker, fae, pack and vampire. Does the walking stick end up helping Mercy at all? Will Amber and Corban’s son be saved? Who will clean up this mess? Read volume four to find out!

Iron Kissed

third in the series of Mercy Thompson novels by Patricia Briggs

Zee needs help finding a serial murderer on the fae’s reservation. Mercy is trying to sniff him out. The smell that links all the houses was the rent-a-cop working the gate. Could he be involved in the killings?

Zee and Uncle Mike were on the scene of O’Donnell’s death but don’t know who killed him. Zee is in jail and needs a lawyer.

Mercy goes to the crime scene which O’Donnell’s ghost re-enacts. He says “mine” but Mercy cannot see who ripped his head off.

A magic raven appears then disappears with the magic walking stick. Through talking with Uncle Mike and online research, Mercy is trying to learn more about Zee and the magic stick. Zee is mad at Mercy for “secrets” being shared with the lawyer and police.

Some kids from school attacked Jesse. There will be consequences.

Tim at the bar knows O’Donnell and is part of an anti-fae hate group. Mercy is invited to the next meeting. Mercy has decided on Adam as her future love mate. He seems less controlling than Sam.

The magic stick is following Mercy. Nemane, the magic crow, can take the human form of Dr. Altman. She came to either warn or harm Mercy, but Samuel showed up just in time. Now Nemane knows the type of army Mercy has behind her. The fae are happy for Zee to take the fall for O’Donnell’s death. The others want to keep searching for the real killer. There is a building war.

Fideal is a fae monster who follows Mercy home with deadly intent. The wolf pack has to fight him off.

Uncle Mike, Samuel and Mercy talk about the killer being in possession of some magical items. Uncle Mike says to leave it to the police and the Grey Lords. Mercy doesn’t think they care enough to do a thorough investigation.

A shocking rape occurs by the same person as the killer. He wanted to collect magical fae items and he used an inside man to get them. What does Mercy do to her rapist? What does the wolf pack do before the police arrive? There is some interesting discussion about rape and the psychological issues involved. Mercy will deal with these effects for the rest of the series.

This concludes the three books I had on my shelf. I was having so much fun within the world of Mercy Thompson that I scoured the local bookstore then went online to order the last two books in the series.

Blood Bound

second in the series of Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs

Cory Littleton is a sorcerer vampire. Once Littleton feeds, the spirit of the demon retreats. Littleton has Stephan in a trance and now Mercy’s coyote self is trying to fight him. When Stefan was immobile and enchanted he was engaging in the feeding in his mind. Littleton can kill while putting a spell on another vampire so he/she thinks they did it instead. Daniel is a young vampire who’d been entranced and tricked before. In the altercation, Mercy appears to have gotten a bite from Littleton. Demons can inhabit others but they must be invited. A reporter confronts Mercy at work. She is saved by her friends. She is about to go meet the head mistress vampire to explain what she saw happen at the hotel. Stephan’s trial goes well; they believe him. Now they want him to track down the sorcerer.

Did someone within the seethe tip off Littleton that Stefan was coming to see him that night? Samuel is upset Mercy has been hanging with Adam. He tells her a story about a girlfriend in med school. When she got pregnant she aborted the baby and left him. Sam still mourns this loss.

Side story: Mr. Black has a daughter who is a werewolf. He doesn’t know how to deal and has come to Mercy for help. Warren is nearly killed and left for dead. Now Marsilia is turning to Mercy even though two vampires and two werewolves have not been able to take care of the problem. Stefan is believed dead. Mercy has now been tasked with finding the sorcerer.

Does Marsilia want to own the demon vampire? Mercy has been learning more about vampires. Adam and Samuel (and Stefan) are missing. Littleton pays Mercy a terrifying visit.

Mercy is trying to learn about vampires as she goes. Why is Littleton doing this in the first place? Who is the vampire who made Littleton? Mercy gets more clues about the sorcerer’s location.

Andre, Stefan, Ben, Adam and Samuel are all in the church with Mercy and Littleton. The demon is in full control. Stefan, Sam and Adam are in cages.

Littleton’s head is cut off and the body turned to ash by Mercy. Everyone is checked out at the hospital. Sam kisses Mercy.

Stefan shared the news that Andre’s trial was over. Because Marsilia still wanted a sorcerer vampire, she wanted Andre to try to make one again. Mercy is now searching for Andre. Will Mercy be successful in breaking the cycle that Andre hopes to perpetuate? Will Marsilia get in her way? Read the book for the harrowing conclusion!

Moon Called

first of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. It is interesting how certain people view themselves as particular readers. For example, if someone were to ask, “Are you into fantasy at all?” I’d say no. But…I LOVED the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit. Okay…so I can’t think of any others right off the top of my head, but this series by P. Briggs came in handy. After a semester teaching African American Literature which, as one can imagine, can be the heaviest literature of all, I needed something light; something that would totally shift my reading feels. This series was the perfect remedy. The chapters are not super short, but the books are regular sized paperbacks that feel low commitment. Beach reads for the young vampire set. The setting remains the same throughout while also keeping a core group of characters whose relationships grow over time. The romance plot evolves across the series and ends well. The Mercy character is a competent, strong and skilled woman; she makes you want to go out and do stuff. She is not a superhero, so she needs the help of her friends and pack from time to time. I sometimes wished she didn’t need the men in her life as much as she did, but this protagonist is likeable and action-oriented.

We open with werewolves in Washington state. The protagonist, Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson, is a skinwalker who can change into a coyote at will. Tony is an undercover cop. We are in a super natural world where werewolves form gangs and the Grey Lords keep the fae (fairy-like magical beings) in line. Mercy is alone as a skinwalker.

Mac is new to the shape shifter world. He and his girlfriend were turned. He was then captured for experiments and he escaped. They called Adam (the alpha of the local wolf pack) for help but someone else has arrived. People are after Mac. His girlfriend and one werewolf have been killed.

Check out this name: Elizaveta Arkadyevna Vyshnevetskaya. She is a crime scene cleaning witch. Mac (whose real name is Alan) needs to be taught, so he is paired with Adam who will take Mac into his pack. Elizaveta comes to clear the crime scene. Adam takes fingerprints from the unknown werewolf intruder.

There is disruption in the wolf pack. Adam is almost killed and his daughter is missing. They killed Mac and dumped him at Mercy’s door. Mercy takes Mac and Adam out of the situation to out-of-town friends.

We learn about some past relationships. When Mercy’s foster mother, Evelyn, died trying to shape shift, her foster father committed suicide a month later. Samuel, the love of Mercy’s life and a werewolf, never loved her but wanted her for breeding. She was sent away before that happened. Nonetheless, Sam had mourned.

“Livin’s easier than dyin’ most times, Mercy girl,” he said kindly, repeating my foster father’s favorite saying. “Dance when the moon sings, and don’t cry about troubles that haven’t yet come.” Adam, Sam and Mercy are headed back to search for Adam’s daughter, Jesse. They discuss what has been going on.

Warren and Kyle are lovers; one werewolf, one not. Sam, Mercy and Adam are back in town but in hiding. They need a lead on Jesse. [Yea for gay werewolves! I’d like to see this on tv.]

Samuel and Mercy are going with Stephen the vampire to speak with the vampire mistress. Does she know of any stray wolves in the area? Can she lead them to Jesse?

The meeting with the vampires is not going well.

[I am usually not interested in fantasy paperbacks, but this series caught my attention due to the covers which feature a young tattooed woman. I was doing tattoo research at the time, so I bought three of the five books later acquiring the last two. I thought maybe the tattoos gave her power or were magical in some way, but they are not. Nonetheless, here is what might be perhaps the only discussion of tattoos in the series:]

“My tattoo?” I asked, and he yipped–a very bassy yip. Just below my naval I had a pawprint. He must have seen it while I was scrambling into my clothes. I have a couple on my arms, too.

“Karen, my college roommate, was an art major. She earned her spending money giving people tattoos. I helped her pass her chemistry class, and she offered to give me one for free.”

I’d spend the previous two years living with my mother and pretending to be perfect, afraid that if I weren’t, I’d lose my place in my second home as abruptly as I had the first. It would never have occurred to me to do something as outrageous as getting a tattoo.

My mother still blames Karen for my switching my major from engineering to history–which makes her directly responsible for my current occupation, fixing old cars. My mother is probably right, but I am much happier as I am than I would have been as a mechanical engineer.

“She handed me a book of tattoos that she had done and about halfway through was a guy who’d had wolf tracks tattooed across his back from one hip to the opposite shoulder. I wanted something smaller, so we settled on a single pawprint.”

My mother and her family had known what I was, but they’d asked no questions, and I’d hidden my coyote self from them, becoming someone who fit their lives better. It had been my own choice. Coyotes are very adaptable.

I remember staring at the man’s back and understanding that, although I must hide from everyone else, I could not hide from myself anymore. So I had Karen put the tattoo on the center of my body, where I could protect my secret and it could keep me whole. I’d finally started to enjoy being who I was instead of wishing that I were a werewolf or human so I’d fit in better.

“It’s a coyote pawprint,” I said firmly. “Not a wolf’s.” [end]

Sam and Mercy flirt all the way home.

Bran (the werewolf king) and Mercy begin to consider David Christiansen as a suspect.

Bran wants to bring the werewolves public. The witches and Gerry’s lone wolves are against the idea. They’ve got Adam drugged and are holding his daughter.

The team has moved inside to save Adam and Jesse.

Who was behind all this and how were the loose ends tied? Read the last two chapters to find out!

Gwendolyn Brooks

1917-2000

[Study Notes]

Brooks wanted to write poems that called to all black people. Poems to teach, entertain and illuminate. She used elegant spare rhythms. Through activism, she showed her passionate commitment to making her work available to black people everywhere believing poetry was not the sole province of the privileged, educated few.
Born in Kansas and moved to Chicago where she spent most of her life. Published her first poem at thirteen in American Child magazine. Graduated from high school and was a regular contributor to the weekly variety column of the Chicago Defender. Attended Wilson Junior College and joined Chicago’s NAACP Youth Council. Got married.
Brooks had a child and met a pivotal teacher.
Won the Midwestern Writers’ Conference poetry award in 1943. Approached by Emily Morison of Knopf for a book of poems. A Street in Bronzeville was published in 1945. Followed by Annie Allen (1949), winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize. Maud Martha (1953); and The Bean Eaters (1960). Brooks’s poetry of this period is solidly based in the stuff of everyday life.
1967 was the year of the Second Black Writers’ conference at Nashville’s Fisk University. Brooks was exposed to cultural activists and artists who would fashion the outline of a new black cultural nationalism. Much of Brooks’s subsequent activity was inspired by her experience at Fisk, including the creative writing class that she conducted with some of Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers, a teenage gang. In 1968, she published In the Mecca, with its brilliant closing pieces: the “sermons” on the Warpland.
Brooks’s poetry has several distinctive traits: a stunning juxtaposition of disparate objects and words, masterful control of rhyme and meters, sophisticated use of formal and thematic irony, translation of public events into memorable poetic detail. A poet’s primary concern–to hammer out a portrait of and for African Americans–remained unaltered.
Fiction Maud Martha: a female subject’s ruminations before, during, and after World War II. One of the few works by a black woman writer written between the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era. Not marked by the ideological debates or ugliness of racism, classism, and sexism. Narrates the most difficult, or unspeakable, of human failings–those that occur on the level of intimacy. Generous, sensitive, and tough.

“the mother” relates the inner thoughts of a woman who has experienced abortion.

“The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock”: Federal intervention was necessary to implement school desegregation in Little Rock. The poem opens with a picture of domestic life in the suburbs. People going to church and performing their after-church rituals. Little Rock at Christmas, in summer, outdoor concerts, romance. The expected norms. Phone calls, polite manners. I got to Little Rock to find the news of school desegregation…but it’s so normal here. Then: the spitting, the throwing of rocks, garbage, and fruit. Girls and boys alike were engaged in this behavior. One of the little brown boys was bleeding. So did Christ.

“We Real Cool”: Running with the bad crowd at the pool hall. Drop out, stay out late, sing, drink, dance and die.

Realism, Naturalism, Modernism

1940-1960

[Study Notes]

Literary historians arbitrarily carve out the decades between 1940 to 1960 as “realism, naturalism and modernism” as an extraordinarily fertile moment in the development of African American writing. This era produced a rich and complex collection of writings and many diverse pieces for literary and cultural magazines although standard literary histories tend to obscure those writers.
The era produced serious novels, detective stories, pulp (or escapist) fiction, popular novels. There was also a confrontation of modern existence: atomic explosions, fascism, social revolution, the crumbling of colonialism, the death throwes of Jim Crow.
Authors and critics often engaged in bitter disagreements over the form and functions of African American expression, over the obligations of black writers to their reading publics, and even over how such publics were to be identified. The situation was no better overseas.
Realism refers broadly to a faithful representation of material “reality. Naturalism is a franker, harsher treatment of the power of the social environment cum jungle on individual psychology. Modernism is a break with the familiar functions of language and conventions of form.

War, Migration, Desegregation, and Social Revolution
We use World War II as the outer boundary of this period, during the second wave of the Great Migration. Many African Americans headed for economic opportunity in the major war industries or went abroad to fight. Truman created the Commission on Civil Rights in 1947. In 1954 there was Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education which desegregated public schools. In 1955 Alabama saw the Bus Boycott which began the “nonviolent protest movement.”
African American literary production from the 1940s to the 1960s is emphatically northern, urban, and set mainly in the black American culture capitals: Chicago, Boston, and Harlem. White youth copied the zoot suit vogue, along with many elements of bop, or hip talk. This language of hip, or the “new poetry of the proletariat” introduced a distinctly black urban idiom into the American language. Urban sensibility pervades the literature with the signs, sights, and sounds of the city. Setting the tone was Richard Wright’s 1940 publishing sensation Native Son.

Urban Realism
At least in strictly literary terms, Wright’s novel christened the 1940s decade. A book of the Month Club selection, Native Son made Wright the first African American writer to receive both critical acclaim and commercial success simultaneously. After him, other black writers began to be noticed.
Wright is credited with having set the stage for these successes and creating publishing opportunities for many black writers.
Native Son greatly transformed American culture and African American letters of the post-World War II era. Wright, along with Alain Locke and others, set a tone that black writers should no longer care for or serve their white audience. Their work should be focused on true self-expression for their own people about their own issues.
Wright used ingredients from Marxism, social protest, urban and secular ideas. Native Son shaped a radically new agenda and established for African American writing a new center of gravity, one that documented the gritty realities of urban living for black Americans filtered through the lenses of urban sociology and the conventions of naturalism.
Wright began investigating the Chicago School of Urban Sociology, especially its theories about juvenile delinquency and the urban environment. What forces and powers were at play in the social environment? He used his character of Bigger Thomas to show how the environment affects the mind, body, and spirit and this technique was seen as a form of social protest.
Social protest writing did not begin with Wright; it was there in the fugitive slave narrative, the abolitionist orator, poets, essays, pamphlets, letters, and in the novels of racial uplift. With the emergence of Richard Wright, black art and social protest were one and the same. Protest not only blended optimally with the aesthetics of naturalism and the reportorial practices of journalism and urban sociology but worked organically with a range of cultural activity–including grassroots organizing–underpinning a self-styled radical literary and intellectual movement.
Other writers have been associated with the Wright style. William Attaway’s Blood on the Forge, Chester Himes’s The Lonely Crusade and If He Hollers Let Him Go, Ann Petry’s The Street.

Ellison and Black Modernist Fiction
There was a burgeoning vision of integration as a social ideal that called for minimizing emphatically racial subject matter with an “integrationist” temper. There was a call for “non-Negro” or nonracial subject matter, especially in the novel. Black characters and black urban setting seemed no longer central. For most critics, though, the turn from urban realism had less to do with integrationist ideals than with the exhaustion of the mode itself.
It took the success of Invisible Man to further liberate those African American writers already chafing under the narrative straitjacket of realism and naturalism and thus breaking free of the pressures to protest injustice. Invisible Man had an experimental attitude and a commitment to social responsibility. It was the novel as artistic form and not primarily concerned with injustice, but with art.
Modernism was being explored before Ellison. There was much debate over his work.
Centering the plots of African American literary history, from 1940 to 1960, on the Wright-Baldwin-Ellison controversy and the paradigm of protest writing has resulted in a brotherhood narrative, which marginalizes women. Women writers were largely ignored.

Poetry
The poetry published between 1940 and 1960 challenges the debates about social protest. There were stanzaic forms and word collages, folk ballads, etc.
A confluence of poetic forms. Gwendolyn Brooks’s “folksy narrative” and conventions of Italian and English sonnet forms. Realism and naturalism. Global realities of war and the spreading shadow of fascism.
Extensive experimentation. The lyric, ballad, and sonnet.
Brooks’s studied attention to form and technical craftsmanship links her with melvin Tolson and Robert Hayden. The three are frequently grouped together as highly technical poets in the tradition of modern experimentalists.
Paragraphs on Melvin B. Tolson, WWII poetry and movement into the Black Arts Movement.

Drama
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun began the longest run on Broadway of any drama written by a black American up to that time, but throughout the 1930s and 1940s, blacks had demonstrated a talent for drama as theatergoers and ensuring sizable financial returns. The establishment of the American Negro Theater (ANT) in 1940 was a milestone in African American theater history.
A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics Award and anticipated many of the defining concerns of a soon-to-be black arts movement, which exploded in the 1960s. It took on a pan-Africanist, anticolonialist agenda.
In 1957 writers and intellectuals sought to establish the intricate connections between anti-colonialism and the movements for black civil rights for social and economic justice.

Prophets of a New Day
Malcolm X, the “fire prophet,” and one of the writers who would force social revolution “by any means necessary.” Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), whose signature poem, “Black Art, from his volume Black Magic Poetry, set much of the pace, form, and violent tone of the “new” black literature of the 1960s. Baraka’s had a desire for “killing poems” and “words as weapons” for art in the service of a struggle for human liberation.
The 1940s to 1960s brought forth the first full crop of African American writers. The writers of this period were bolder, more militant. Black readers in particular were summoned to confront new literary realities.

Langston Hughes

1902-1967

[Study notes]

Hughes helped define the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and wrote its finest first person account.
He was born in Joplin, Missouri, but moved around. Hughes came from a distinguished family, but his parents separated not long after his birth and he grew up lonely and near poverty in Lawrence, Kansas.
In Sept. 1921, aided by his father, he arrived in New York ostensibly to attend Columbia, but he really just wanted to see Harlem. The previous June, he had published one of his greatest poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in the Crisis, where his talent was immediately spotted by its brilliant literary editor, Jessie Fauset. Hughes lasted only one year at Columbia. He traveled, worked, and wrote poetry. By 1924, his poetry showed the powerful influence of the blues and jazz. In fact, his poem “The Weary Blues” helped launch his career when it won first prize in the poetry section of the 1925 literary contest organized by Opportunity magazine. Aided enthusiastically by Carl Van Vechten, who remained a friend all of Hughes’s life, he won a book contract from Knopf and published The Weary Blues, his first collection of verse, in 1926.
The style of Hughes endeared his work to a wide range of African Americans. His near-worship of black music as the major form of art within the race, was his adaptation of traditional poetic forms first to jazz, then to the blues, sometimes used dialect and radically different from that of earlier writers. His landmark poem “The Weary Blues” was the first by any poet to make use of the basic blues form.
Even more radical experimentation with the blues form led to his next collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927). He was fearless in his evocation of elements of lower-class black culture, including its sometimes raw eroticism, never efore treated in serious poetry. Many critics did not appreciate Hughes’s eroticism.
He stuck to his guns in defense of the freedom of the black writer. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” quickly became a manifesto for many of the younger writers who also wished to assert their right to explore and explicit allegedly degraded aspects of black life.
He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929. Charlotte Osgood Mason became his controlling, eccentric patron who later abandoned him.
Hughes’s politics took a sharp left and he published verse and essays in New Masses, a journal controlled by the Communist Party. He even visited the Soviet Union.
There was never a year when Hughes did not produce art in keeping with his sense of himself as a thoroughly professional writer. In 1934, he published his first collection of short stores, The Ways of White Folks. He was involved in theater and wrote a drama of miscegenation and the South called Mulatto (1935), which became the longest running play by an African American on Broadway until Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in the ‘60’s.
In 1940 he produced his autobiographical portrait of the renaissance, The Big Sea. 1942: poetry collection Shakespeare in Harlem. For another project he created one of his most beloved characters, Jesse B. Semple, or Simple, a Harlem everyman. In 1947, as lyricist for the Broadway musical Street Scene, Hughes earned enough money to purchase a house in his beloved Harlem, where he lived for the rest of his life.
1951: book of verse, Montage of a Dream Deferred. He kept up his schedule of prodigious output with versatility and skill. He loved being called the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race.”

Mother to Son [my interpretation]
Son, my life has not been easy. My life has been like a set of stairs with nails and splinters and torn up wood, but I keep climbing. Sometimes there was no light in this long tunnel. Now you can’t give up when the road gets hard. Don’t fall. Keep climbing like me.

The Weary Blues [my interpretation]
Black folks were playing a slow tune the other night in the low light. I heard the Weary Blues. That black man could make the piano moan. The blues were pouring out from this black man’s soul. He sang of being alone, yet still deciding to be happy. The second verse turns and says he can’t be satisfied, so much so that he wished he’d die. He sang far into the night. Once the stars and moon faded, he could sleep like a man who had poured out his troubles.

Harlem [my interpretation using his key words]
When you have to wait on a dream to come true, what happens to it in the interim? Does it dry up? Fester? Stink? Crust? Sag? “Or does it explode?”

Example of a reading response paper:

Tiffany Akin
Dr. V. Mitchell
English 7468
31 Aug. 2011

I have a couple of bones to pick with Langston Hughes. While reading his piece entitled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” I either tend to disagree with some of his statements or find ways to argue with others. Hughes bases his piece on something he heard Countee Cullen say about his own work: “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet.” There is a possibility that Hughes understands the statement to have a different meaning and only twists it to explore his thoughts along another line. The essay is based on Hughes interpreting Cullen’s meaning as “I don’t want to be a black poet, I’d rather be considered on scale with the white poets.” Granted, I was not in the room, but I believe Cullen’s statement could very well be misinterpreted or could otherwise have a different focus than Hughes examines. I take Cullen’s statement to mean: “I wish people would just view and appreciate my art without having to know my color.” How frustrating would it be to be an artist and have people ask, “So, is he/she white or black?” You want the audience to focus on your production, not your race. Basically, you are displacing the importance of the self and placing art on center stage; to consistently discuss the art in terms of the artist’s race takes away from the creation itself. To believe that Cullen wished for an audience to judge his work only on its merit is very different from Hughes’s view that Cullen was striving to perform as a white artist.
Hughes says that “[w]ithout going outside his race… there is sufficient matter to furnish a black artist with a lifetime of creative work” (41). Yes, agreed, but have you ever tried to tell an artist how to create? Have you ever tried to describe to an artist the boundary lines of his expression? “Yes, I want you to be an artistic self explosion… but do it like this.” It does not work. I ask why paint these boundaries? What if his visions for expression are universal? Of nature? Mechanical? Numerical? What if he does want to express in ways that are stereotypically “white”? Why not? It is the work of the individual artist to make himself a volcano of unique construction and to be true only to his inner vision; I do not believe this type of invention is bound by color. Should all black artists paint black people? Should all black singers sing “black” music? Should all black photographers capture only black life images? No; too limiting! No matter how much observers like Hughes would like to rally the troops in support of black artists doing black art, this vision is much too narrow and would kill much artistic expression if these rules were enforced.
Hughes is making quite a few other points but the one other I would like to debate is the idea of upward mobility. It is a fact that by way of the American media and Eurocentric Zeitgeist that we are all programmed, brainwashed, to think a certain way and believe certain things. As Hughes explains that “…the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtue” (40). I make the connection to American white girls growing up on T.V. and fashion magazines believing that to be tall, skinny and blonde are the ultimate goals. Woe to the girl who is short, chunky and brunette, for she is ridiculed and looked down upon by her more popular and good-looking peers. Hughes says that the American love for all that is white compels some African Americans to become “Nordicized Negro intelligentsia” (42), which is a pretty cool term, but within the realm of economics, is upward mobility a drive exclusively white? When Hughes states that the more cultured African American family spends more time “aping… things white” (41) he follows the observation with the line, “The father is perhaps a doctor, lawyer, landowner, or politician” (41). I disagree with Hughes implying that upward mobility comes with some disdain. The phrases he uses gives one the impression that African Americans should not seek to better themselves, drive toward more education and jump upward into a wealthier income bracket. I do not care what color you are or in what country you are raised, everyone wants their life to improve and become more comfortable over time. Just because another race is doing it does not mean you do not have a right to do it too. If I have a problem, even a lifelong problem with say, Philippinos, and I notice that they are excellent in calculus, I am not going to shun or stunt my drive to learn calculus because I do not admire the Philippino; it makes no sense. You hear the same argument taking place in the realm of underground rock bands. Many of their fans want the band to stay unknown so that they can keep the music all to themselves. If the band gains some sort of notoriety the fans will say they “sold out.” Guess what? The guys in the band want to eat decent food, live in a house and have enough money to raise a family, just like everyone else. I do not view it as selling out; I view it as striving for a decent living with decent living conditions which is an innate human desire not bound by color.

Zora Neale Hurston

1891-1960

One of the greatest writers of the century. Mules and Men (1935) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) are beyond question two of the finest achievements in African American literature. She liked to keep the specifics of her life a mystery and she was rather eccentric. Born in Eatonville, Florida, the first black township to be incorporated in the U.S. Being so, there was no racism and people felt free to express themselves. Her father was mayor and helped make the laws.

Her father was constantly cheating on her mother and Hurston’s mother died when Zora was thirteen. Hurston never got along with her stepmother so she took to the road where she helped an actress in a traveling theatrical troupe. Earned high school degree then took sporadic classes at Howard. She came to know some movers and shakers in the literary world who encouraged her to submit work. Migrated to New York.

Hurston then became one of the brightest young talents in Harlem. Her writings caught the attention of people who helped her publish and attend Barnard College.

While a student at Barnard, one of her papers was passed on to Franz Boas, a leading anthropologist, who encouraged her to take graduate courses at Columbia. She was granted money to follow her interests down south. 

She produced Mules and Men, generally regarded as the first collection of African American folklore to be compiled and published by an African American. The work opened to mixed reviews. She joined the Works Progress Administration in 1935 and then wrote Tell My Horse (1938). In the second book, she focused less on folktales and more on comparisons between American and Caribbean blacks, much to the dismay of audiences. 

During her research in the Caribbean, she completed her second novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her first novel was Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934) and was well received. The book was loosely based upon the antics of her father. Their Eyes Were Watching God celebrates one individual’s triumph over the limitations imposed on her mainly by sexism and poverty. The story explores how romance can blind women to the necessity of seeking emotional and intellectual independence as individuals in a complex world.

During the 1930s Hurston worked intermittently on musical productions. In 1939 she began working as a drama instructor at the North Caroline College for Negroes at Durham. It was during this time she produced her third book, Moses, Man of the Mountain. People couldn’t tell if she were re-telling a biblical tale, or making fun of it.

Her novel Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) was an experiment in which Hurston took on the role of a white woman. She didn’t like the rule that black people couldn’t write about white people.

In 1942 Hurston kept up controversy with her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. She had to take out some material regarding the hypocrisy and racism of whites before it was published. The book won the Anisfield-Wold award for its contribution to the amelioration of race relations. The critics felt Hurston wore rose-colored glasses when discussing the black woman’s role in America. She was being asked to write for many periodicals, but her views were often contradictory.

Even though there was lack of evidence, Hurston was arrested in 1948 for lewd acts with a minor. She was humiliated. For the last twelve years of her life, she never rebounded from this incident. She died poor and her grave went unmarked until the 1970s. Even though critics didn’t know what to make of her at the time, Hurston is still gaining an audience today.

Sweat  [short story. Combination Standard English and vernacular]

Delia Jones is a washerwoman. Most of the time she doesn’t know where her husband, Sykes, may be…usually with another woman. Sykes plays a prank on his wife by throwing his riding-whip over her shoulder knowing she will think it is a snake. He laughs when she is scared. He disparages the washing Delia brings home. He focuses on the wash being the clothes of white people rather than the money the washing brings in which they desperately need. He is unwilling to work hard enough for the both of them. Delia reminds him that it is her sweat that keeps them going. Sykes goes off with his other woman.

“She had brought love to the union and he had brought a longing after the flesh. Two months after the wedding, he had given her the first brutal beating.”

“Too late for everything except her little home. She had built it for her old days, and planted one by one the trees and flowers there. It was lovely to her, lovely.” Delia believed that someday, Sykes would get his comeuppance.

The town gossips know everything. They say Delia used to be a looker, but she’s been beat down for so long that it shows. Clarke spoke for the first time. “Taint no law on earth dat kin make a man be decent if it aint in ‘im. There’s plenty men dat takes a wife lak dey do a joint uh sugar-cane. It’s round, juicy an’ sweet when dey gits it. But dey squeeze an’ grind, squeeze an’ grind an’ wring tell dey wring every drop uh pleasure dat’s in ‘em out. When dey’s satisfied dat dey is wrung dry, dey treats ‘em jes lak dey do a cane-chew. Dey throws ‘em away. Dey knows whut dey is doin’ while dey is at it, an’ hates theirselves fuh it but they keeps on hangin’ after huh tell she’s empty. Den dey hates huh fuh bein’ a cane-chew an’ in de way.” 

Sykes goes around with his mistress. He makes sure Delia sees him buying his lover whatever she wants at the store. Sykes is even paying Bertha’s rent. Bertha will go to Delia’s house to ask if Sykes is around.

To amp up the abuse, Sykes captures a rattlesnake and keeps it in a box by the kitchen door. Delia and Sykes have gotten to the point where they can’t stand each other. 

One night Delia finds the snake in her laundry. 

[reader’s note: The entire story is setting up for a tragedy. I kept being worried that Sykes and Bertha were going to gang up on Delia, steal her house and bury her in the back yard or something. You gotta read the end! I was cheering and clapping. Just desserts for an evil man!]

The Gilded Six-Bits

[Question: Is there a chinaberry tree in every Hurston story?]

The story opens with a very house-proud description of a black couple’s yard and house. Everything, including Missie May, the woman, is scrubbed to a fine finish. It is a joyful Saturday ritual in which her husband, Joe, throws silver dollars in the open doorway before he hides and she chases him. Joe fills his pockets with fun things for his wife to find: candy, gum, soap, handkerchiefs. They have dinner and Joe says he wants to take Missie May to the new ice cream shop. They discuss Otis D. Slemmons who is a “fancy” man who opened the shop. Joe feels he doesn’t compare to a businessman like that. Slemmons has been telling people how much money and women he has. Joe wants to show off his woman to Slemmons. The ice cream shop owner compliments Joe’s wife.

Joe works the night shift and comes home every morning. They’ve only been married a year, but Joe is ready for children. He arrives home to find Missie May in bed with Slemmons! In the fight to get Slemmons out the door, Joe ends up with Slemmons’s gold watch. Joe, overwhelmed with feelings, put the money in his pocket without thinking and goes to bed.

Joe doesn’t throw her out but loses his fire. They don’t play, joke or touch. He keeps the gold piece he took off Slemmons in his pocket. It works like a void between the couple.

After months, they finally make love and Joe goes to work. Missie May finds the gold piece beneath her pillow. As Missie studied the gold, she found it was not true; it was a gilded half dollar. That is why Slemmons never allowed anyone to touch his “gold.” Did Joe leave the fake money there for her to find just like Slemmons had?

Missie May is pregnant. Joe is losing his health, but they are still making a go of it. They have a baby boy. Joe’s mother tells him the baby looks just like him.

Now the couple knows that Slemmons was a fake all along. They work hard, but take the misstep in their stride. Joe takes the fake money one day to the candy store where he hasn’t been in a long time. He shows the candy man the fake money and tells him of the loser he beat up to end up with it. He spends the (proper amount) of money all on candy kisses for his wife and baby. When he gets home he begins tossing silver dollars into the front room. 

Summary notes and possible class assignments on

“What White Publishers Won’t Print” by Z. N. Hurston

  • Whites lack of interest in internal lives/emotions of non-white peoples blocks understanding and increases fear
  • Lack of lit about the higher emotions of love life and upper class Negroes and the minorities in general
  • Publishers and producers only put forward those products that will make them money. Shy away from romantic life of Negroes and Jews
  • Public lack of interest–why?
  • Answer lies in THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF UNNATURAL HISTORY: built on folk belief
  1. All non-whites are simple stereotypes
  2. There are no internal workings
  3. Dedicated to the convenient “typical”
  • The public willingly accepts the untypical in Nordics, but feels cheated if the untypical is portrayed in others
  • Urgent to realize minorities do think–and about more than race. Internally like everyone else
  • Difference = bad. As long as the majority believes non-whites do not feel as they do they will continue the pattern of faulty thinking
  • We must believe we have something in common.
  • Evidence of high/complicated emotion ruled out which leads to lack of interest in romance without racial strife
  • “Reversion to type”: no matter how high we may seem to climb, put us under pressure and we revert to type–to the bush, the jungle
  • Necessary to know how the average behaves and lives
  • Literature and art should mirror nature

Possible teaching ideas for this work:

  • Thinking back on books you have been assigned so far, which cultural voices have you not heard?
  • Think about authors from other cultures. Choose a culture you know little about. Research authors that are well-known within that culture. Write a bio on this author which includes a picture and a list of their works.
  • Think about your own society: family, school, work. Who are the people you see frequently but do not know? Write an essay on what you may think of this person with the knowledge that you do not know them personally. We’ll follow by a question/answer session within class on what we think vs. what we know with classmates.
  • What is an issue that you have explored within yourself that you have never/rarely seen discussed through media?