Susan Straight Pens Black Fiction

You know, I thought the author of I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots was African American? Especially since her other novels, The Gettin Place and Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights, to name a few, feature casts of African American characters. Well, while perusing an African American book site, I noted that said author has a new book out. I go to Amazon and click her name for a photo and—surprise, surprise. She’s not a black woman at all. So, I did a little more digging and found an interview that highlights that I’m not the only one who held this belief! Here’s more:

Q: Family is central to your work, and so is African American life. When I read I’ve been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out all the Pots, which is about a very dark-skinned young woman, I knew nothing about Susan Straight, and assumed that I was reading a book written by a black woman. But you do not appear to be African American.

Straight: No, I’m blond and blue-eyed, and this happens to me all the time. Which is good, in a sense. This neighborhood that I grew up in, Riverside, California, was a military town and a steel mill town. So a lot of families in my neighborhood were African American. The dad came from Georgia or Louisiana or Mississippi or Oklahoma, and after he was stationed in Riverside, he never wanted to go back to the South, so he would bring his wife and kids and then have more kids. So everybody I grew up with in my neighborhood had parents that were born somewhere else, including mine. My mother was from Switzerland and my step-dad was from Canada. Everybody on my block was mixed, too. I had friends who were half Filipino and half white, and half Japanese and half black, half German and half black. I met my future husband in eighth grade. His dad came from Oklahoma and his mom migrated from Mississippi. We all went to school together from junior high on. I’ve been in my now ex-husband’s family for thirty years, and I’ve listened to their stories the entire time. I think that that’s one of the key things people overlook about being a writer-the ability to want to listen to people stories. (Read more . . . )

In the interview above, Straight also mentions that she once studied with James Baldwin. A definite reason to raise an eyebrow as you explore some of her other works. I haven’t read anything by Straight, but I’ve seen a couple of her books on my mother’s shelves. Great titles and covers. If you’re already familiar with Straight, you’ll note that her last few releases have focused on the same town and African American family. Her latest book, Between Heaven and Here, brings the trilogy that includes A Million Nightingales and Take One Candle Light a Room to a close.

In August in Rio Seco, California, the ground is too hard to bury a body. But Glorette Picard is dead, and across the canal, out in the orange groves, they’ll gather shovels and pickaxes and soak the dirt until they can lay her coffin down. First, someone needs to find her son Victor, who memorizes SAT words to avoid the guys selling rock, and someone needs to tell her uncle Enrique, who will be the one to hunt down her killer, and someone needs to brush out her perfect crown of hair and paint her cracked toenails. As the residents of this dry-creek town prepare to bury their own, it becomes clear that Glorette’s life and death are deeply entangled with the dark history of the city and the untouchable beauty that, finally, killed her.

If only more of her books were available on e-reader devices. Oh well.

Happy reading, y’all.

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