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First published in 1924, There Is Confusion was the first novel for poet and The Crisis editor Jessie Redmon Fauset. The novel examines the lives of some Black middle class (Fauset's specialty) residents of New York and Philadelphia trying to navigate the inevitable confusion present in their lives due to race and/ or gender. Fauset is not known for very colorful writing, which hasn't stopped me from being a fan of her work, but her stories are presented in a realistic fashion. Her characters are believable as they are flawed in various degrees. For example, Joanna Marshall is an average looking Black woman of some means thanks to her father's hardcore desire for success. The same tenacity was inherent in Joanna and somewhat to a fault. Joanna believes that not only should she be aiming for mega-success but also all Black people should be just as driven. Her life is consumed by it so much so that she believes success is more important than love and finds out the hard way that she may have been wrong. However, it's very important that Fauset wrote this female character as outside the box when it comes to goals and self reliance unlike her counterpart Maggie. Maggie's goal in life is typical for a woman of any color during the time: marriage. The real flaw with Maggie, though, is that she only partially realizes her abilities to be successful without depending on a man for financial security. Meanwhile, the major male character, Peter, struggles the most with simply wanting to be ambitious or just accepting the confusion that color brings and settling for mediocrity. He comes from a long line of "old Philadelphians" but now only their name survives their socioeconomic status as his father lost the sense of ambition held by his forefathers becoming shiftless and losing most of the family's material possessions. I found this novel very enjoyable and a good piece of social commentary on the state of the Northern middle class Black American of the 1920's.

Challenges:
African Diaspora
POC Reading


Thanks to the Classics Circuit for hosting this tour featuring the prolific works of the Harlem Renaissance.

 
 
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Page From a Tennessee Journal is the first novel from former Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Francine Thomas Howard. This is one of the first of previously self-published books being relaunched by the AmazonEncore program. I think it's a very fitting choice. Howard brings us into the lives of the white farm owning couple of Alexander and Eula McNaughton and the Black sharecropping family of John and Annalaura Welles. Set in rural east Tennessee in 1913, the story of these four people as individuals and as couples unfolds.

Alexander and John are both in love with the same woman yet neither knows how to appropriately show their affection without leaving her hurt emotionally and physically. And for one the love is forbidden which is the major source of conflict in this novel. The author's depiction of the lives of sharecroppers would make a good argument of why this practice was as detrimental to Blacks as, if not actually worse than, slavery. The squalid living conditions and unfair arrangements for payments and advances against labor were deplorable. Another social issue tackled is the marginalization of women. The status of the rural Southern woman was very bleak for both Blacks and whites. They both dealt with philandering husbands which was acceptable amongst their social class and being silenced. This was not news to me however, Howard's portrayal was like re-opening a wound and I was angered so much when this matter was brought up. John Welles angered me most with his self-righteous attitude even after he left his wife and children with nothing to seek his fortune. These women had to endure everything thrown at them while keeping up the dutiful, loyal wife routine without so much as an eye roll.  Eula does get her opportunity to use her voice in her journal even if it is only for herself. Annalaura even gets a bit of poetic justice in the end when she gets to make a life changing decision on her terms.

Reading this in two sittings, Howard's writing was well paced and never really hit any lulls. She has written great nuanced characters and the story felt like she was comfortable in the narrative as it's not forced. And I always applaud those who bravely take on whorehouses and Southern dialect without it all coming off as trite. Though it's hard for me to digest tales involving the disparaging treatment of women, it was worth it and deserves every accolade it has coming. Yes, I'm being prophetic. I do hope to see this also become part of the scholarly canon of fiction on women's studies. I highly recommend this entertaining and poignant debut novel.

I received a copy of this book from the author.

 
 
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Schuyler's 1931 satirical novel, Black No More, tells the story of Black insurance man Max Disher who undergoes a procedure that makes him the permanently white Matthew Fisher. This novel explores how race is a social construct that can be altered and manipulated by those with power to suit their needs.

From the commentary on the often caricatured features of Black folks being inaccurate and how dialect is regional not racial to the scathing criticism of such Black luminaries as W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP, George Schuyler wrote a brilliant and poignant piece that is unflinching in its attack on the idea of race. I found myself laughing out loud through most of the book especially at his satirization of Dr. DuBois as Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard and completely ripped his intentions as a "Race Man". The name alone is golden! Max, now Matthew, goes on to infiltrate a white supremacist group and marry a white woman he fell for while still a Black man. Everything about American society is turned upside-down as droves of Blacks flock to Dr. Crookman's sanitariums to experience "chromatic emancipation". It doesn't take long for the true whites to become frantic about issues such as Black babies born to seemingly all white pairings and for the Blacks who've "crossed over" to realize that white might not be right.

George Schuyler was a conservative Black author and journalist. He was also a big proponent of miscegenation as a means to eradicate the race problem in the U.S. He and his white wife were the parents of child prodigy and pianist Phillipa Schuyler.

Challenges:
African Diaspora
POC Reading


 
 
As we all know, February is Black History Month. I knew I'd want to do something special at BrownGirl BookSpeak to celebrate. Several months ago, I mapped out some glorious plans to host a challenge for this month with a Harlem Renaissance theme but decided to try my hand at hosting a year long challenge at the eleventh hour. As fate would have it, the Classics Circuit had also chosen the Harlem Renaissance as its February theme so I was more than happy to join. By the way, I love the concept of that blog in general.

The Harlem Renaissance is such an important period in literary history and history in general. The brilliance of the writing of the time, in my opinion, is the way it all showed that the Black experience was no longer monolithic or static. And neither was the writing itself. More attention to creativity through various writing styles became apparent while often still providing a social and political platform.

Be sure to follow the Classics Circuit Harlem Renaissance tour all this month. I'll be reading a few books from the period to celebrate Black History Month.


Tour Schedule
February 1, 2010   Shelf Love The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

February 2, 2010   Evening All Afternoon Cane by Jean Toomer

February 3, 2010   Daily Words and Acts Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

February 4, 2010   Paperback_Reader Passing and/or Quicksand by Nella Larsen

February 4, 2010   BookNAround The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories by Charles Chesnutt

February 5, 2010   A Striped Armchair The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson

February 5, 2010   Moored at Sea Overview: The relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude movement of the French Colonies that grew from it.

February 6, 2010   Joyfully Retired His Eye is On the Sparrow by Ethel Waters (autobiography) and the life of Ethel Waters

February 7, 2010   Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-Holic Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes or The Conjure Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

February 8, 2010   Sparks’ Notes Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset

February 9, 2010   The Zen Leaf Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston

February 9, 2010   Breathing Space The New Negro edited by Alain Locke

February 10, 2010  Books and Chocolate Passing by Nella Larsen

February 11, 2010   Laura’s Reviews Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

February 11, 2010   Musings The Ways of White Folks: Stories by Langston Hughes

February 12, 2010   Bibliosue Home to Harlem by Claude McKay

February 13, 2010   things mean a lot Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

February 14, 2010   eclectic / eccentric Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance by Bruce Nugent and an overview of African-American homosexuality during the Renaissance

February 15, 2010   Nonsuch Book Poetry of the Renaissance

February 16, 2010   Notes from the North The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

February 17, 2010   Becky’s Book Reviews Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

February 17, 2010   Notorious Spinks Talks Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance by Bruce Nugent and the movie Brother to Brother

February 18, 2010   The Things We Read Passing by Nella Larsen

February 18, 2010   Rebecca Reads Black No More by George Schuyler

February 19, 2010   Reviews by Lola Passing by Nella Larsen

February 20, 2010  Gimme More Books! The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

February 21, 2010   book-a-rama Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

February 22, 2010   1330v Ebony Rising: Short Fiction from the Harlem Renaissance

February 23, 20101  BrownGirl BookSpeak There Is Confusion by Jessie Fauset

February 24, 2010    Wuthering Expectations The Conjure Woman by Charles Chesnutt

February 25, 2010    Linus’s Blanket Stories by Zora Neale Hurston

February 25, 2010    Michelle’s Masterful Musings When Washington Was in Vogue by Edward Christopher Williams

February 26, 2010    My Friend Amy Quicksand by Nella Larson

February 27, 2010    Bookgazing Gentleman Jigger by Bruce Nugent

February 28, 2010    BookLust The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chesnutt
 
 
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A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a book signing taking place at one of my local bookstores and the author was a native of the city. When I read the description of her debut novel, I knew I'd attend and have to read the book.

Wench is a story of historical fiction set in the mid-1800's mostly in Ohio at Tawawa House, a summer resort popular among Southern white men for getaways with their enslaved Black mistresses. First, to learn the existence of such a place caught me by surprise. This is one piece of slavery's history I don't think I expected to ever learn about. The four women who inhabit Perkins-Valdez's debut novel are all very different and pretty well developed. Sweet's name is befitting her mostly soft disposition. Reenie is deemed the wise elder among the ladies, yet she's terrified of water. Lizzie seems to be the most complacent and comfortable with her relationship with her master, Drayle. Mawu is the newest mistress and comes in as intriguing with her African name and non-Christian beliefs. It doesn't take long for Mawu to instigate the idea of the ladies escaping to freedom.

At about a quarter into the book, we get some back story on the development of the relationship between Lizzie and Drayle on their Tennessee plantation. This is an important section as it reveals the complexities of Lizzie's feelings towards her master and how those feelings cause a tug-of-war for her when it comes to the idea of her being a free woman. Perkins-Valdez does a very nice job of incorporating this portion without it disrupting the story's flow and seeming unnecessary. The dynamics of Lizzie relationship with her children and Drayle's wife, Fran, are also revealed. It's Lizzie's role as a mother/ child-bearer, and that of the other women, that is almost paramount to their feelings toward seeking freedom. The last summer that all of the women are together at Tawawa House brings a number of tragedies that catapult them into various directions away from each other, but not in spirit.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez writes very clean and, sometimes, lyrical prose. Her characterizations are not as fully realized as I would have liked for other characters besides Lizzie, but ultimately this is Lizzie's story. I did, however, feel invested in these four women.  Though, I've not done any research on Tawawa House, I'm confident the essence of the setting have captured beautifully. Wench is an exciting debut as it's filled a widely unknown void in the history of American slavery and I'm looking forward to Dolen Perkins-Valdez's future writings.

Challenges:
African Diaspora
POC Reading