My last post generated a few comments that led me on an Amazon search. I read a few summaries and found a couple more books based on even more recommendations. I’d love to build a black short story collection that’s not based on anthologies. I mean, anthologies are cool and all, but I want to see what a single author can do on their own. Here’s what your viewer comments/recommendations assisted me to find:
White Rat by Gayl Jones – Originally published in 1977, White Rat contains twelve provocative tales that explore the emotional and mental terrain of a diverse cast of characters, from the innocent to the insane. In each, Jones displays her unflinching ability to dive into the most treacherous of psyches and circumstances: the title story examines the identity and relationship conundrums of a black man who can pass for white, earning him the name “White Rat” as an infant; “The Women” follows a girl whose mother brings a line of female lovers to live in their home; “Jevata” details eighteen-year-old Freddy’s relationship with the fifty-year-old title character; “The Coke Factory” tracks the thoughts of a mentally handicapped adolescent abandoned by his mother; and “Asylum” focuses on a woman having a nervous breakdown, trying to protect her dignity and her private parts as she enters an institution. In uncompromising prose, and dialect that veers from northern, educated tongues to down-home southern colloquialisms, Jones illuminates lives that society ignores, moving them to center stage.
Gayl Jones (b. 1949) – novelist, poet, playwright, professor, and literary critic. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, a state that surfaces in much of her work, Gayl Jones has forged an eclectic career, marked by periods of silence, and since the early 1980s, a withdrawal from public existence. Jones began merging academic and creative pursuits early in her life; she was writing stories while in second grade and, as an undergraduate at Connecticut College“The Roundhouse” also won the Frances Steloff Award for Fiction in 1970. By 1975 she had earned an MA and a DA in creative writing at Brown University and had published her first novel. (Her editor for Corregidora and Eva’s Man, the novel that followed it in 1976, was Toni Morrison, then at Random House.) (Read more . . . )
Holding Pattern by Jeffrey Renard Allen – Allen melds gritty urban life and magical realism in his first collection (after the novel Rails Under My Back). At times, the combination works-in the title story, full of contemporary slang, a character grows wings, but instead of ethereal white feathers, they are “dried up and brown and crusty, like some fried chicken wings.” In “It Shall Be Again,” more of a prose poem than a story, characters open their mouths to catch a “thick dirty” rain of pennies. Some stories lack cohesiveness, and although Allen isn’t attempting to write traditional pieces, the stories would benefit from coherency. Even in the weaker entries, though, Allen delivers striking images-two brothers chewing on wads of toilet paper, a scalp that looks like “watermelon meat chewed down to the rind.” It is these images, rather than particular events or characters, that leave the strongest impressions. Though scattered cultural references and spot-on dialogue root these stories mainly in the present, they have a distinct feeling of being outside of time.
Jeffrey Renard Allen – A graduate of the doctorate program in creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Jeffrey Renard Allen is the author of Harbors and Spirits (Moyer Bell, 1999), a collection of poems, and the novel Rails Under My Back (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), which won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Fiction. His other writing awards include: The 21st Century Award Chicago Public Library, The John Farrar Fellow – Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference 2001 and The P.E.N Discovery Prize-1989. A writer who believes in the power of teaching, he works at Queens College, the New School for Social Research, and is presently a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers.
I Got Somebody in Staunton by William Henry Lewis – In twelve graceful, sensual stories, William Henry Lewis traces the line between the real and the imaginary, acknowledging the painful ghosts of the past in everyday encounters. Written in a style that has been acclaimed by our finest writers, from Edward P. Jones and Nikki Giovanni to Dave Eggers, I Got Somebody in Staunton is one of the most highly praised literary events to take on contemporary America. In the title story, a young professor befriends an enigmatic white woman in a bar along the back roads of Virginia, but has second thoughts about driving her to a neighboring town as his uncle’s stories of lynchings resonate through his mind. Another tale portrays a Kansas City jazz troupe’s travels to Denver, where they hope to strike it big. Meanwhile, a man in the midst of paradise must decide whether he will languish or thrive. With I Got Somebody in Staunton Lewis has lyrically and unflinchingly chronicled the lives of those most often neglected.
William Henry Lewis is the prizewinning author of a previous story collection, In the Arms of Our Elders. His fiction has appeared in America’s top literary journals and several anthologies. He has been honored with many awards, including a prize for short fiction from the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, he was a finalist for the 2005 PEN Faulkner Prize for Fiction, and he is the 2006 recipient of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Fiction Honor Award.
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty – “I try,’ Eudora Welty writes, `to enter the mind, heart, and skin of a human being who is not myself. Whether this happens to be a man or a woman, old or young, with skin black or white, the primary challenge lies in making the jump itself. It is the act of a writer’s imagination I set most high.” This collection amply demonstrates Eudora Welty’s magnificent talent for inhabiting the inner world of her characters, whether it is a deaf-mute child, a beautician, a jazz player, or a murderer. The events and settings of these stories are varied, ranging from small-town Jackson to plusher New Orleans, from the Depression years to the Sixties, yet they all spring from a distinctive Southern sensibility, from the author’s response to the place where she has always lived, which she brings to life with the grace, strength, and intelligence of a born story-teller.
Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and lived a significant portion of her life in the city’s Belhaven neighborhood, where her home has been preserved. She was educated at the Mississippi State College for Women (now called Mississippi University for Women), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Columbia Business School. While at Columbia University, where she was the captain of the women’s polo team, Welty was a regular at Romany Marie’s café in 1930. During the 1930s, Welty worked as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration, a job that sent her all over the state of Mississippi photographing people from all economic and social classes. Collections of her photographs are One Time, One Place and Photographs. The headstone of Eudora Welty at Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi.Welty’s true love was literature, not photography, and she soon devoted her energy to writing fiction. Her first short story, “Death of a Traveling Salesman,” appeared in 1936. (Read more . . .)
Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana – Ugandan-born Baingana chronicles in her debut collection of linked stories the lives of three sisters growing up in Entebbe after the fall of Idi Amin. Though most of the stories take place in Africa, “Lost in Los Angeles” follows the principal character, Christine Mugisha, as she travels to California, where she grapples with a different breed of racism than she faces in her own country. The title story, “Tropical Fish,” follows Christine’s apathetic affair with an older, affluent white man who woos her with the many perks of his money. “A Thank-You Note” is a letter from Christine’s older sister, Rosa, to an ex-lover that angrily and poignantly recounts her battle with AIDS. Baingana’s characters are confined by a passivity and powerlessness (Christine likens herself to a plastic doll) rarely broken, though the collection ends on a hopeful note, as Christine rejoins her mother and sister Patti—Rosa has already died—thinking about how she “would have to learn all over again how to live in this new old place called home.” Baingana’s richly detailed stories are lush with cultural commentary.
Doreen Baingana – Received an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland and a law degree from Makerere University in Kampala. She lives in Rockville, Maryland.
Again, thank you for keeping me exposed. Happy reading, y’all!