Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writings by Women (Reading in My Life), IV

So, I see that this list of Writing by Women has turned into something of a Personal Life Review: The Reading of My Life.

I certainly wouldn't recommend without reservations Gone with the Wind, for instance, but it did impact me when I was thirteen in 1974. (I tried to read it recently and couldn't stand it.)

Also, they're mostly all works of fiction from before 2000, when I stopped reading so much fiction, which is all I ever read before. I started to work in nonfiction publishing for teens in 2001, and I needed to read a lot more nonfiction, but I also started to prefer it, which is a classic mid-life change of taste.

To catch up a bit, I just requested from the library a bunch of more current novels by women, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Edwidge Danticat and others from the list of 100 Books by Black Women.
I don't have much patience for novels these days though---should probably look for more nonfiction by women.

Back to my list...

I. Alice Walker: Meridian (1976) and The Color Purple (1982)

I read these two novels around the time they came out, when I was fifteen and twenty-one years old.

Looking back, I suppose they served as a sort of antidote to GWTW. Not that I hadn't seen how racist GWTW was even when I was thirteen, but I hadn't read much about black women by black women before Alice Walker.

Before that, I'd read Maya Angelou's memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), and the famous play A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry, both of which I'd read in an elective high school class, Minority Literature. But mostly I'd read black men––Richard Wright's Black Boy, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

There was Toni Morrison, of course (The Bluest Eye, 1970, Sula, 1973)--but when I was young, Morrison baffled me, while Walker's stories were much easier to read…and had happier endings.

And here's the thing, as those of you who were there remember:

African American women writers (especially novelists) weren't much published before the 1970s, or they were republished in that era with the rise of feminist publishing, so then I read Zora Neale Hurston, for instance, along with new writers, such as Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976).

Also: typewriters! Here's Walker (b. 1944) at work:

As I mentioned, I've been editing the Wikipedia entry for Toni Morrison, (done for now, but had some back-and-forth yesterday with fellow wiki-editors who rightly questioned one of my subheadings---it's cool how that system really works!), and it's been a trip to my own past--the 1970s (when Morrison was first published and was working as an editor who published other black women) being a wild ride for women and feminism...

Sometimes I hear people saying nothing's changed, but when I remember what there was even available in print to read, I can't agree.

Yeah, so, for the purpose of this list, I chose Walker as most influential on and inspiring to me when I was young (haven't read her since)--and not primarily because her novels educated this white girl about race, though they did, but because I LIKED reading them and took strength and encouragement from them that I could live an independent life--back to that theme of creating one's own authentic life.

One more book today:

II. Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit (1985)

Along those lines, there wasn't anything much, and certainly not with happy endings, about lesbian women before, say, Rubyfruit Jungle (in an earlier list--pretty outdated now, I'd say). But the thing with Oranges is that it's a book I'd happily reread--in fact, I did last year, and enjoyed it all over again. It's a funny look at the horrors of childhood, and sexuality is just part of of it.

My favorite bit is when the girl makes a diorama for school. While other children make fluffy Easter scenes inside shoe boxes, she, the daughter of a disturbed evangelical mother, creates an apocalyptic scene in miniature.

My parents weren't religious, but I had a mother who put her unmet longings into my Halloween costumes--one year I was  Parisian street sweeper, wearing one of their real blue uniform jackets my mother had hunted down in Paris, and carrying the fireplace broom...

Did I mind?
Well, kinda---I remember looking with longing at the boxed Halloween costumes at K-Mart, but as Winterson catches so well, while you may dislike feeling weird among your peers, your parents claim your instinctive loyalty when you're little, even if they send you out in the world dressed in their delusions...

Some of the covers of the novel [via]:

. . . And now I am going to work on my resumé--I met with a job coach yesterday who inspired me to get going on that. I am too prone to being passive when I need to act, so... to work!


ArtSparker said...

I feel you on the Halloween costumes - slightly different issue in that I wanted to design my own costume which included a monster mask and I was told that a gypsy and a fairy were my two options.

Fresca said...

Those who control Halloween costumes control the world!
Well, or control our small child experiences...
Luckily we get to try, try again as adults (some of us).