I recently committed myself to reading one short story a day. The problem with that is I can’t decide which short story collection to choose from. I mean, I stood in front of my books for quite a bit of time just lost–and my silly self continues to purchase more.
Today, I grabbed one anthology and read a story by a well-known African author, but found the selection to be a bit of a snooze. Then I spotted Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing on my shelf. I read a good portion of this book this summer and decided maybe I should dedicate myself to finishing it—especially since most of the stories were enjoyable reads. I even created a key in the table of contents section so that I would know which authors were worth researching for future book purchases. But I guess my key wasn’t as accurate as I thought, because I still couldn’t figure out which story I read last.
When I finally came to Connie Porter’s “My Mama, Your Mama,” an excerpt from Imani All Mine, the Ginkgo Bilbao kicked in. I remembered. Here’s the opening:
I been inside me to the place I ain’t never wanted to show. That’s what I was thinking to tell Bett-Bett when she asked me why I wasn’t in school this past week. I say to her I been sick. Which is good enough for her to know about my business. I don’t need her digging up some bone and passing it around. Last thing she need to know is the truth. That I missed school because of him.
I ain’t saying his name. I ain’t never, ever going to say it. I won’t ever put it in my mouth. I don’t even want it in my mind, because it’s all connected to his face. And the day I seen his face in the cafeteria three weeks ago, I thought I was going to die right there, holding a tray of tacos and fruit cocktail. I seen him coming right at me from the snack line where you pay with money, not lunch tickets. He had a whole tray of fries and he ain’t even see me. But I seen him and dropped my tray on the floor and run out the cafeteria. I ain’t stop running until I got to the lavatory, even though this security guard started chasing me, screaming, Where you think you going? What you done did?
But he couldn’t come in the lavatory. Wasn’t nothing but these girls in there combing there heads and look at theyselves in the mirror. I went in a stall and locked the door and I had to shit real bad. I usually can’t go in a public place, but I couldn’t hold it and I even sat down on the seat. Then this lady security guard come banging on the door of the stall I was in. Who in there? she ask.
I say, I’m sick. Can you just leave me alone? I ain’t done nothing. I’m sick is all.
She sick, I hear one of them girls say. Hell, she smell like she dying. Then they laughed and I heard them leave. I was so embarrassed.
The security say, What you was running for? You know you ain’t supposed to be running in the building.
And I’m thinking, Why she standing out there smelling my shit and asking me stupid questions? But I just say, I had to go.
She say, All right. I’ll let you off this time. Next time you getting detention.
One Amazon reviewer notes that “you have to put [Connie] Porter in the same company as Salinger and Steinbeck.” However, based on the book excerpt/summary alone, I would put it right in with Sapphire’s Push–minus the illiteracy and incest. Like Sapphire, Porter is also forced to deal with questions of creating a character that most might categorize as stereotypical. Her response:
Tasha is far from being a stereotype. Tasha’s general description does fit that of thousands upon thousands of black girls, and this is partly the reason why I wrote this book. I grew up very poor. I’m one of nine children who were raised in a housing project, went to public school, public universities. I feel truly blessed because of my upbringing. Never have I lost sight of the fact that as a child, because of my class and color, some people actually did stereotype me as doomed to fail. Not only me, but also every child my mother gave birth to, every child on my street, on my block, in my neighborhood. Of course, I’m talking about a time twenty-five, thirty years in the past, but I don’t feel much of a shift in attitude today. (Source)
And just in case you read the provided excerpt and are prepared to dump Porter into the ghetto/urban fiction category, here’s a little something that you should know about her:
Connie Rose Porter (born in 1959) is an African-American author best known for her books for children and young adults. She was the second youngest of nine children of a family living in a housing project. She went on to earn degrees from SUNY Albany and Louisiana State University. She has since taught English and creative writing at Milton Academy, Emerson College, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She was a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was a regional winner in Granta’s Best Young American Novelist contest. Porter’s debut novel All-Bright Court (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991) portrayed life in a northern urban “slum” community during the late 20th century. She then began work on a series of children’s books about a pre-teenage girl named Addy Walker, who escaped from slavery in North Carolina during the American Civil War and learned the life of freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pleasant Company Publications (now owned by Mattel and operating as American Girl) published eleven of her “Addy” books between 1993 and 2003 as part of its American Girls Collection Series and in conjunction with the Addy Walker doll, which was the first non-white doll of its American Girl Collection. Porter returned briefly to a more mature and modern subject matter in 1999 to write the novel Imani All Mine (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) about a 14-year-old mother struggling in a present-day inner-city world of poverty and danger.
Happy reading, ya’ll.