Breena Clarke: In Conjunction with my Research?
I am currently in the planning phase of my master’s thesis in creative writing. Surprised? I have to organize a committee, which is especially difficult since I have to bring in one member from another department (folks don’t wanna work with you if they don’t know you!), generate a proposal, secretly plot, plan, and organize the actual story . . . and do whatever my committee chair tells me to do. No complaints or anything. I’m actually excited about it all. A whole semester to work on my writing and my writing alone–well, kinda. Honestly, the time that I’m spending on here would probably be better spent doing a character sketch for a short story I’m working on (due next Thursday), but . . . I’m sleepy and I’ve decided that a blog post will take less thought and concentration.
One of my current assignments is to create a bibliography of historical fiction texts by black and white authors. I know a few names and titles off the top of my head, but since I need a lengthy list, the rest will be left up to research. Consider this a hint to anybody who reads this . . . all suggestions are welcome. Save me a little time and trouble, please.
Speaking of historical fiction, today marks the third time that I’ve bumped into Breena Clarke’s book online. So I guess I’ll have to post it here and add it to my bibliography listing. I hadn’t heard of the author before recent, but it’s my understanding that her previous novel was a 1999 Oprah Book Club selection. Good for her, right? Unfortunately, that novel doesn’t have many good reviews on Amazon. Tough critics maybe. As for her most recent publication, one reviewer notes “My husband and I read this book. Together, we gave it a “B”. If you only read one of this author’s book, this is the better one.” But then again, that was one of the briefer (weaker maybe) reviews.
Stand the Storm – Chapter One
A cruelly cold but bright sunshiny New Year’s Day was when her mam was sold south to satisfy a debt incurred by the master. She and her mam had shared some honeyed cakes during the slack days at Christmastime. Both had enjoyed laughter and some resting. And then on New Year’s Day young Annie’s pallet was placed alongside that of Knitting Annie.
“Slaves ain’t ‘lowed to have shares of nothin’—no chick nor child,” the woman said to the blubbering girl by way of consolation. “Master own it all.”
Female slaves on Ridley Plantation in this time were generally called by a variation of the name Ann. The young girl apprenticed to the older woman who knitted was known as Annie-that-sews or Sewing Annie. She was thus called to distinguish her from the slave women they called Cookananny and from her mentor, Knitting Annie. There was as well the one known as Field Annie, lovingly called Fela, who led the gang of women that cleared brush for planting and harvesting crops.
As Sewing Annie grew, her reputation was gained mostly upon her legendary skills at knitting rather than pure out-and-out sewing. But she kept the name Sewing Annie to thwart confusion.
Knitting Annie was the all-time leader on Ridley Plantation in production of knitted work. She far outstripped lengths accomplished by the eight other slaves who did knitting work and also Mrs. Clementine Stern Ridley, sister-in-law of the master and a needlewoman of repute. She also exceeded the production of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Brackley Ridley, the master’s wife, whose embroidery and tatting were considered of the finest quality in southern Maryland and whose hands seemed always to be occupied with threads or yarn. The closets in the main house were full of quilts, coverlets, counterpanes, and antimacassars, for the two Mrs. Ridleys assuaged their isolation with work on these favorite pastimes. Knitting Annie’s expert needlework put her around the table at quilting bee time, working elbow to elbow with the mistresses. They greatly esteemed her skills. And it was surely the consideration of this that lightened her travails.
Knitting Annie and Sewing Annie were installed in the ground-floor room of a plank cabin they shared with a changing group of two or three other female hands. There the needlewoman and her charge slept upon a plain bedstead fitted with a straw mattress and a feather mattress. Knitting Annie guarded their mattresses and commanded complete charge of them. The morning after Sewing Annie lost control of herself and made water on the bedclothes, Knitting Annie only grunted and soaked the clothes in a bath of her own concoction. The sheets and covers were pummeled to sweet cleanness and the girl was cajoled not to soil them.
Knitting Annie covered their bed with a sweet old quilt. This quilt was as plain as any other used by the slaves at Ridley, but its fineness was nevertheless indisputable. The back was made from feed sacks, as were all the others, but the top had a myriad of patterned pieces and bright solids of every kind. This was where scraps from whatever came to them as cloth ended up. Worn places were constantly, relentlessly patched, and it could perhaps be said the bedcloth—from patching—had metamorphosed from one thing to another. It was nearly a completely different coverlet than when it had begun, though it remained of one piece. It was old, old—had been done long before Knitting Annie was born. (Read more . . . )
Could be interesting (or not). Maybe I’ll find out for certain next semester.
Happy reading, ya’ll!