These Hands I Know: African-American Writers on Family- Edited by Afaa Michael Weaver
REVIEW By Doug Holder
So often in contemporary literature we tend to pigeonhole writers into categories by ethnicity, race, religion, etc... What we forget is that good literature addresses the whole corpus of the life experience. It is limiting if we view novels, poetry and short stories as denizens of a particular literary ghetto. Poet, writer, and editor of this collection of essays concerning the black family, Afaa Michael Weaver, writes: "African-Americans like anyone else- experience personal trauma within the family, but a trauma that is also complicated by the symbiotic weaving of racism with the familal and personal losses."
The writing in this collection deals with personal, familial, and societal aspects of the black family, with an eye on the effects of racism on this fragile institution. The book examines family on a universal level, on a racial level, and on a personal level. Like most collections of this nature it is a mixed-bag. For instance, Harvard University's famed Afro-American scholar Henry Louis Gate's portrait of his extended family is informative but the writing was surprisingly flat and pedestrian for a man of his generous talents.
Many of the essayists in this work write about strong matriarchs. Gwendolyn Brooks in her piece, KEZIAH, reports of a mother who was not emotive but strong and up to the challenges of an often unforgiving world: "Keziah Corinne Wims Brooks was and is a courageous woman. It has never occurred to her that she should slink away from any challenges of life. The challenges of life-- the agonies, sorrows, the million and ten fustrations, perplexities...she has looked at with a calculating eye, has judged, has catalogued. She has tamed what had to be tamed, what could, what should be tamed." Brooks pens a compelling portrait of an iron-willed mother. The essays in this collection often reflect on strong women who are the glue that keeps disparate parts together.
On thing that " White America" has done to Afro-Americans is to make them ultra-sensitive to their skin color. It is interesting to read what trauma folks went through if they were just a shade too dark. Honoree F. Jeffers reports that her grandmother was less than proud of her Jeffer's mother: " My mother says that from the beginning mother was never proud of her. She was too dark, her nose to broad, her hair too nappy. Grandma found no pleasure in being the mother of a foolish dark girl..."
There is another well-done essay by Alice Walker that deals with the roles Black women and men play, that often painfully mimic the gender roles of white society.
This collection is an informative sociological, and literary study of the black family. More than a few of the essays far exceed the creativity of a standard expository composition. This work will appeal to many segments of a diverse society.
* This review appeared in Spare Change News.
Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Ma./Nov. 2002