Hey so YAY for Black History.
BHM is important to talk about because it supports efforts of reclaiming a sense of self for everyone.
We all need to make room for knowing about the Past to help understand the legacies we carry with us. Intergenerational magic exists for all of us, but the West suffers from a bout of extreme white supremacy – in so many ways but most definitely inside culture and media.
As such, one way of changing this reality is to give more attention to reading Black made and Black centred stories, and to learn what we can while we may.
I finished 2 books and can share some of my interpretations… Okay, let’s do this!
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
The story is about a Black woman, Celie, living in the South who survives incredible sexual abuse and racist bigotry. Pretty awful shit. It is told through letters, between Celie and her sister who both hope desperately to be reunited again one day.
Alice has a way of using words so that they can really take your breath away with her pacing and sentence structure. As well, the characters all really felt like actual human beings to me, all people I could have easily met in life. She makes this look easy, which is ironically enough very tough to do.
So overall, I found it very good! I really enjoyed this book for a number of reasons.
First, it is epistolary – as in, the story is told entirely through a series of letters to different characters in the novel. It offers a different way of telling what happens and I often found myself getting so engrossed into the story that I forgot this was a character recounting the events afterwards.
Second, I have my own epistolary story in the works and really appreciated seeing Alice’s way with words using that style of storytelling.
(My work-in-progress novel is in a trilogy of books, the story of which is following a character’s experience in the After Life, both Heaven and Hell. I can’t say more than that right now, beyond it is a Group 2 story in my mind, so should be finished in a few years.)
Third, she tackles some tough subjects full force. That is its own disadvantage of being read by more people (or at least schools that have banned it), but the story is made much more real by its honesty. Some of the events or descriptions of terrible things are told so bluntly, with such punch, that it really made me feel something. So yes, she is a very good writer in style, which helps in her tellings of horrific dealings.
Dawn by Octavia Butler (1987)
The story, a first in a trilogy called Lilith’s Brood, is a dystopian post-apocalyptic fantasy – set right after a nuclear war (between Russia and the USA) our Earth becomes unlivable, but luckily for the few survivors – of the now nearly extinct humans – they are saved (some might say abducted) by aliens called the Oankali, which are basically these really bizarre species and look a lot like something from our own Ocean deeps.
The story is told mostly from the main character’s point-of-view, Lilith – she wakes up some few hundred years later, realizing she has been abducted from Earth, and then has to undergo this intensive treatment by the aliens who are entirely their masters aboard the enormous spaceship that is both a prison for the surviving members of humanity – refugees of Earth essentially. I don’t recall if Octavia ever shared how much humans had actually been taken, although I was imagining around a couple hundred in all.
So I’m happy to say I also found this a smart interesting story to read.
First, I am not alone in saying how influential this author was and continues to be in all things science fiction fantasy Black inspired women writing queer-friendly literature. This legacy alone makes the book feel more powerful in your hands, like you reading it is very much causing a change inside your consciousness. So that’s fun.
Second, this book is a classic example of Afrofuturism, showing a future filled with competent and real Black characters, among many others in the book. She creates a realistic account of if we were abducted and if aliens acted this way, what would happen? If humanity became an endangered species, could we save ourselves or are we doomed to drive ourselves into extinction?
I am very much in agreement with Octavia’s representation of alien life being more organic than most depictions of extraterrestrials. Their bio-ship and the things the Oankali prioritize as a society seem very real in the places that Octavia gave attention in the story. Basically, I could very much imagine the world she was showing with words.
Third, I personally am fond of writing that incorporates themes of outcasts coping with not fitting in, and the strangeness of Octavia’s Oankali aliens were great – they seemed very developed to me in believability with nothing cliche “alien-for-the-sake-of-being-alien” about them. I don’t think people need to enjoy the creepy horror-eqsue parts of fantasy (and this is a fantasy, not a science fiction) to read this, because the humans in the book are repeatedly revolted by the alien’s appearance and I don’t think you can truthfully imagine the stuff of deep space without being pretty disturbed by what we would find out there (ahem, cosmic horror).
Okay, that’s it.
Anyone else read either book and have something to share?
What did you read for BHM?
See you in between the lines!