#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 23

Day 23 – Favorite Poem:

Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy

And if you are addicted to sleep, a bay of fresh coffee may help.IMG_1467
If you are addicted to coffee, teach yourself to breakdance.
If you are addicted to dancing, polio will cure you.
If you hear that the last black man alive will be burned at sunset
find an underground railroad.
If you are addicted to railroads: try wearing undersized shoes.
No one knows where your mother has gone with her tax refund.
If you are addicted to shoes, move to a provincial village in Japan.
If you are addicted to Japan, try eating with no teeth.
If you are addicted to teeth, visit the wife beater’s widow
She will be upstairs awaiting your caress.
I often wake up horny. If you are addicted to masturbation, seek company.
If you are addicted to company, try starlight and silence.
If you are addicted to silence, find guard dogs, traffic or infants.
If you are addicted to infants, try reliable contraception.

Or try asking yourself, What’s wrong with me?

If you are addicted to contraception, try recklessness.

Try riding an unsaddled horse until you are thrown into a bed of gravel.

If you’re attracted to recklessness, try a spoonfed disease.

My mother loves imagining the day she’ll die.
If you are addicted to disease, visit an old world doctor.
If you are addicted to doctors, try war.

If you are addicted to sorrow, all my talk about loss is not lost to you.
No one knows why your father built the shed for his weapons.

Probably with some hellified form of addiction.

If you are addicted to weapons, please find the people who plan to burn

the last black man alive at sunset for me.

Or try learning a little history.

Obviously, I’m addicted to repetition. Which is a form of history.
If you are addicted to history, try a blindfold of razors or buy a Cadillac.
If you are addicted to Cadillacs, try poverty.

No one is addicted to poverty but if you are, try wealth.
If you are addicted to wealth, you’ll need money.
If you are addicted to money, you’ll need money. Try that.

 

Wench

I’ve wanted to get my hands on this book for quite some time and the Clutch 2013 reading group on 6751356Goodreads gave me the shove I needed.  Wench is the four-part story of Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu.  They are more than wenches.  In the beginning, before the novel really starts, Perkins-Valdez depicts the change in meaning of the word wench.  “In the middle ages the word wench simply meant a girl, maid, young woman; a female child, but in the United States from 1812-1832 a wench was a black or colored female servant; a negress and by 1848 the definition became a colored woman of any age; a negress or mulattress, especially one in service.”(Wench)  This sets the lugubrious tone of what is yet to come in the novel.

Tawawa House was a resort built in the free state of Ohio.  It was built for the white Northern elite to partake of the natural spring water which was deemed good for the health, but over time Southern slave owners began frequenting the resort accompanied by their slave concubines for the summer.  Here these women bonded with each other  in their own way through their condition of utter servitude.  At Tawawa House the women were subjected to all kinds of mistreatment, sordid situations, and persistent promiscuous sex in an animalistic way.  It’s obvious that the author is trying to show the backward thinking of the period,i.e. that slaves were like animals and extremely promiscuous.  “I felt that given the sexual servitude of my female characters, this word would most accurately evoke the set of cultural expectations they were entangled within.” (Wench About the author, p. 4)

Lizzie was the only one of the four that didn’t seem to understand her place as a slave.  She loved Drayle, her master, and she seemed to believe that he loved her.  It is very hard to imagine that to be true, but I believe this is the main controversy of the story.  At times she even imagined herself dressed as if she was a lady and tried to adopt their mannerisms.  The only time she thought of freedom was for her two children, Nate and Rabbit.  Mawu, however, was head-strong and determined.  She didn’t mind saying what was on her mind and it was clear that freedom was on her mind from the beginning of the story.  She spoke of how she tried to devise ways to discourage her master from sleeping with her.  Sweet was pregnant with her fifth child, the embodiment of motherhood, whereas Reenie was the oldest of the group, trying to hide herself anyway that she could.

Surprisingly, Tawawa House was not the only resort around but low and behold existed another resort not very far away for free coloreds.  The slaves’ first encounter with free blacks, other than the blacks working in Tawawa House’s kitchen, was a moment of freedom in itself, yet darkened by a large dose of fear.  It opened Pandora’s box.  In spite of the fear, the visit sparked a desire for freedom that never stopped growing.  It compelled them all to reflect on their individual situations.  It was like a disease seeping into their veins for which there was no cure.  How did this all affect them?  You’ll just have to read for yourself and find out.

The writing style was beautiful and sensitive.  The descriptions were detailed, realistic, and poignant.  In my opinion, the characters were endearing, but for me Lizzie was a total enigma.  I didn’t feel very sympathetic toward her as a character and I was always anticipating the worst to happen when she was involved.  Her character made me uncomfortable.  The controversy around Wench lies there.  Could there have actually been love between a master and a slave?  What kinds of horrendous stereotypes go through the minds of people today when they see white men and black women in relationships? And, why? Perkins-Valdez definitely has a way with words; so much so that there were scenes that made me want to cry.  Wench is heart-rending.

Perkins-Valdez has painted a story that focuses quite closely on slavery in a way that hasn’t been explored in literary fiction before.  This is mainly because of the taboo nature of the novel.  She was inspired to write this book after reading  the biography of W.E.B. Dubois where he mentioned slave masters taking their slave mistresses to a resort in Ohio.  So, Tawawa House really existed.  Although she could never find any documented specific stories about this place, she began to imagine what it would be like to be one of those slave mistresses.  It’s a known fact that these unusual arrangements were existent and widespread among slave owners, but the resort adds a new facet, which allowed her to explore and focus on the slave mistresses.

Unfortunately, I have to talk about what I didn’t like about Wench. There were two things in particular.  The first problem was sometimes when she switched topics within the story, it was sometimes done with no warning.  That threw me off guard at times and I found myself rereading certain passages.  The second real disappointment was the ending.  It fell totally flat for me, while leaving so many unanswered questions.  It was as if she had no idea how she was going to end  the story, especially since she’d worked so hard to spin an interesting one.  Perkins-Valdez wrapped the package up, but forgot to put ribbon and a card on it.  That really killed me.

This is Dolen Perkins-Vladez’s first novel.  She was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee.  She is a Harvard graduate and has written essays appearing in the North Carolina Literary Review and The Kenyon Review.  She is currently working on her second novel.

Title: Wench

Genre:  Women’s/African-American/Historical Fiction

Published:  2010

Edition:  Harper Collins Publishers – Amistad

Pages:  290

Language:  English

My rating:  * * *  1/2 

My favorite quote:  ”Don’t be afraid to say how you feel.  Learn a craft so you always have something to barter other than your private parts. ” (Wench, p. 288)

+2,365

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23. Silver Sparrow

   “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.  He was already married   ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother.” (Silver Sparrow, p. 3) Wow! What an incredibly powerful way to start this novel.  This story is set in the 80s in Atlanta in a middle class African-American neighborhood.  James Witherspoon has two wives and two daughters.  They live in different neighborhoods and have no knowledge of each other, until one day Dana becomes aware that she is the secret.  She is her father’s second daughter.  The story develops when a forbidden friendship between the two daughters leads to the truth and unfortunately destruction.

The story is recounted from the first person. Part 1 is Dana Lynn Yarboro’s story and the second part is Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon’s story.  They were about the same length in pages but I found the voice of Dana more impressionable and endearing.  The writing was delicate, powerful, and at times I felt as if I was eavesdropping on the characters.  The scenes are edifying and depict the emotions and characters deeply.  I enjoyed reading the story and it flowed delicately each page I turned.  Although, I found the ending a little frustrating, I anticipated it and was anxious about it.  Actually, there was something about the writing style that reminded me a little of Toni Morrison.  It ‘s the sentimental way that emotions and situations are described.

I gave this book four stars because it was a very interesting read from an African-American woman writer that many people may have not heard of before.  I happened upon this book while browsing a blog called black girl lost in a book.  You can check out her blog at http://naysue.wordpress.com/.  Silver Sparrow was on her notable release list and I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m glad I did.  Tayari Jones is an intelligent storyteller and has a bright writing future ahead.  She is a native of Atlanta and studied at Spellman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa.  She was also a winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction in 2003. While Silver Sparrow was her third novel, she also wrote Leaving Atlanta her first novel, which tells a fictionalized story of the Atlanta child murders that happened from 1979 to 1981.  Her second novel was called The Untelling and it recounts the story of a woman trying to overcome her difficult past.  I urge you all to take a look at Tayari Jones because we will surely be hearing more about her as well as reading more from her in the future.

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