“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly”
Halfway through March, I have come to realize I cannot wait until next February to make a post about Black History Month. In the month of February, I read so many phenomenal books written by African American writers and felt this post needed to be made, even after the dedicated period we give for Black History. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “lightning makes no sound until it strikes” and I really felt I understood that line so much more clearly after reading the books that I did last month. One of the consistent themes I have seen rise in the African American novel, in particular, the African American Women’s novel is the deliberateness and attention when calling out something that is wrong. These women writers were making a point and the execution of that point is in the way they wrote their novels.
The first book I am thinking of is Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Jacobs is calling out for help. She makes this clear. She uses her role as a mother and the innocence of childhood to describe her life as a slave girl and goes even further by explaining that the horrific incidents she had to be confronted with were mere child’s play to what happened to other slave women, men, even children. It was the only slave narrative I read during the month but it set a precedent and a frame of mind for me as the reader that I kept in the back of my mind for other novels and books to come. The other novel that has yet to leave my mind since reading it is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. This novel is simply brilliant. Hurston’s ability to write not only in a specific dialect but to use that as a key factor in her writing is remarkable. She writes the story of a girl named Janie and her life through three different marriages. Hurston is taking the role of marriage in a black woman’s life and transforms it into a story of love, growth, and independence. The ending of the novel is piercing with detail and emotion and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to pick up this book. Lastly, I am going to be discussing some plays I read over the month of February and into the beginning of March. First, Georgia Douglas’ two plays, Blue Eyed Black Boy and Safe. Douglas’ plays are normally very short, consisting of only one act and usually being around 4-5 pages total. The impact, however, is masterful. Douglas speaks the truth in her writing and what happens to someone who is black. Her plays usually revolve around lynching and are specific enough without explicitly sharing all the gruesomeness. Douglas is definitely a realist and says things as they happened. Her plays are fictitious however are based on true events and occurrences that happened on a daily basis. The last play I read was Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun. This was the most modern of the African American works I read and it was hard to put this one down. The epigraph which was written by Langston Hughes from a poem of his called “Montage of a Dream Deferred” is brilliant and I read it a dozen times before even starting the play:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – /And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – /Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags / Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I mean… WOW! Just rewriting it for this post gives me the chills. The play is about a family trying to figure it all out, living in an old beaten down apartment in Chicago. The play brings up so many topics such as marriage, abortion, money, faith, etc. It feels as though you are sitting in the kitchen with all the characters and Hansbury does such a great job of calling out exactly what the problems are and the solutions to each.
To limit an event and a history to only one month is a crime. Black History Month should be extended and appreciated every month. The world would be a very different place without those writers, activists, and people who made a difference every day to get the world to be better and do better. As Marian Wright Edelman said so brilliantly, “education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it”.
***I also want to mention as an aside, I have temporarily disabled all social media relating to this blog. I am giving myself a break to focus on me and just SheBeShe without all the intervening social media. Stay tuned, more posts to come!***