black women produce the proverbial “milk” for the race? Is this our destiny; or our choice? Should the morality of an oppressed people be measured with the same stick as that of their oppressors? Or is conventional morality as immoral as Denver remembers: “Grandma Baby said people look down on her because she had eight children with different men. . . . Slaves not supposed to have pleasurable feelings on their own; . . . but they have to have as many children as they can to please whoever owned them. ” Beloved’s questions will not be answered easily if at all. But they are questions that are simply good to ask every once in a while, and think about. Does the healing of victims necessarily begin after the haunting and debilitating guilt and pain, or is that process one that is sought, fought for, and won? Can the atrocities of slavery, with their attendant angry spirits be “laid down” by the riverside or buried in the earth after a period of mourning? Or should the universal black community heed Baby Suggs’ last words and expect nothing from the oppressor save hatred and inhumanity? If there are flaws in Beloved as there invariably will be in any reverently human work they are casualties of a story too truthfully rendered. There are, for example, a few passages in which the imposition of the present tense calls undue attention to itself. But, as one creative writer reminded me, sometimes the narrative manipulates the writer, and rather than loose the magic, the immediacy of the moment, the writer follows its lead. I also found the novel’s ending less strongly written than its beginning chapters. I was promptly reminded, via one of those word-ofmouth, somebody-brilliant-said-it quotes, that perhaps endings are especially difficult to write because there are precious few as real and finite as the last page of a book. Whatever its small flaws, this novel, Beloved crafted by the author who brought black women so painfully close to themselves and their communities with The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby will be read and reread for a long, long time. Maybe quietly, after a few dollars have been made along with the beds, or after the dishes have been washed and there’s a moment before the delicate cycle of germinating memories and realizations begins anew. And if the story is told as passionately by someone else since there is nothing new about the peculiar pains of loving African-American mothers, daughters, and men Beloved will still make us want to unbraid, combout, and re-plait our understanding of a time, a place, and a gathering of spirits we cannot and should not forget. IF CALVIN HERNTON IS guilty of any sin of literary criticism, perhaps it is excess of love. Hernton’s The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers, which should be finding its way to the shelves of better bookstores in mid-September, is considerably more than a book of criticism on black women authors. It is a manifeSto of solidarity and genuine love for a group of writers and their work. Calvin Hernton conjures up names of black women writers long buried in America’s past. Writers he describes as Renaissance Women: “at once poets, novelists, mothers, scholars, workers, professors, intellectuals and activists,” these are writers never resurrected during the Black Power/Black Revolution/Black Arts Movement of the ’60s. Until 1970, when Toni Cambera published her anthology The Black Woman, it was black men who claimed for themselves the role of interpreters of the black experience. Hernton reminds us that women, like the five authors thoroughly discussed in his work, also participated in the civil rights and Black Power Stephanie Roth is an editorial intern at the Observer. movements and interpreted through their writing black reality. In 159 pages, Hernton covers a lot of ground, even devoting one chapter to Langston Hughes’s “Feminist Writing of a Male Poet.” Others include: . “Who’s Afraid of Alice Walker,” “The Significance of Ann Petry,” “Black Women Poets,” and “The Oral Narrative Tradition.” THE SEXUAL MOUNTAIN AND BLACK WOMEN WRITERS By Calvin C. Hernton New York: Doubleday & Co., 1987 159 pages, $16.95 This is not an esoteric work the term semiotic doesn’t appear once. Nor is there a need to compute the virtually mathematical formulas of the new criticism. That is not to say that The Sexual Mountain is not a disciplined, rational, intellectual approach to criticism; it is all of those and involved and compassionate as well. Images conveyed by quotation of the artist’s work and the language used by the author himself create strong impressions not generally encountered in a book of criticism. “Water breaking” describes the advent of an important era in women’s writing, just as it signals the beginning of labor in childbirth. Hernton borrows the term “womanist” and uses it naturally throughout the book, as in Alice Walker’s definition: ” . . Usually referring to outrageous, audacious courageous or ‘willful’ behavior. . . . A woman who loves other women .. . appreciates and prefers female culture, women’s emotional flexibility . . . and women’s strength . . . committed to survival of entire people, male and female.” The sexual mountain of the title is inspired by Langston Hughes’s “Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual darkskinned selves without fear or shame,” Hughes wrote in The Nation in 1926. “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.” BEGINNING WITH the premise that the world of sexism is an exact copy of the world of racism, the author explores racist ideology and sexist ideology and does indeed find them equal. He defines a world of “geometric” oppression of black women where a combination of racism and sexism create an often unbearable burden. But it is the sexual mountain that stands before black women, obstructing their ways to full human lives and weighing them down with its A Womanist Manifesto By Stephanie Roth THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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