“Children, I said to her. For the first little while, they not exactly human, you don't find?”
Nalo Hopkinson

Monday, July 26, 2010

Martha Southgate: A Writer For My Generation!

I went to the internet to look for contemporary black literary writers and literature. I could not find any.

One of the local librarians suggested that I search the fiction collection for books with the red, yellow and green African American stickers.  Those stickers usually annoy me because I think they unnecessarily separate writers based on ethnicity, but this time I was glad.  I found a writer who composes stories that makes plain the complexities of the African African comtemporary experience.

Books such as The Bluest Eye or Passing tell the stories of my parents' and grandparents' generation.   Their experiences contributed to who I am, but because of their sacrifices my life experience is not the same as theirs.  Martha Southgate writes with clarity and insight about the circusmstances of life after the civil rights movement.

Southgate's first novel was 1996's Another Way to Dance.  It is a bildungsroman in which Vicky, a girl who loves ballet, learns to deal with the confusion surrounding not fitting into her environment, her parents' divorce, and how to realistically see herself and other people.  In other words, she begins the process of becoming a educated black woman with choices.

The Fall of Rome was published in 2002. It is the story of three people who are different on the outside but struggle on the inside with some of the same kind of pain. All three try to understand how and why they ended up where they are and what to do about it.  The novel is set at the Chelsea private school for boys in Connecticut.  Jerome Washingon is comtent to remain the only black teacher at Chelsea.  He teaches the classics of Roman history and Latin. Jana Hansen is a white middle-aged, divorced English teacher seeking to escape the chaos and disapointment of the Cleveland public schools.  Rashid Bryson is of the few African Americans students at Chelsea.  He came to escape the grief of his home and to obtain a better education than the one offered to him by the public school system of New York city.  These three people affect and one another in expected and unexpected ways.

Southgate's next novel was Third Girl from the Left.  It was published in 2006 and is the story of an an African American family that hinder and help  one another.  Angela was brought up in Tulsa, Oklahoma by her mother Mildred and her pharmacist father.  She had an older brother and sister.  Mildred never fit into the conformity of Tulsa.  She also never told Angela how she felt, but she did take her to the movies.  When Angela grew up she decided to leave Tulsa for Los Angelos to pursue an acting career.  It did not turn out the way she wanted.  Not conforming was different but did not bring  satisfaction. Her parents, who did love her, could not help but be disappointed in what she had chosen, and Angela became estranged from her parents, whom she did love, for many years even missing her father's funeral.  None of them could speak the truth to each other.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It does to me.  I think I will have to read this book again.

I went to Barnes and Noble looking for Martha Southgate books.  There were none to be found.  So I went to a used book store in Towson, MD named Ukazoo.  They had all of them.
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