Thursday, April 17, 2008

Literary Starts

So, tonight was the launch party for our university's fifth literary journal, in which I have a couple of poems and a short story published. This isn't the first time I've been published in the school's journal, and actually I was the prose editor for the first one. It was a eclectic gathering of collegiate literary types, both students and faculty, with an opportunity for me to read, again, for an audience. More and more now I'm trying to take advantage of those opportunities to speak in front of people with the hopes of working through the fear. It's not a celebrated journal; my school is just a small, state university south of Atlanta. But besides it, my work has not been published anywhere else. So I just wonder, is this how the literary greats get their start, on small, obscure college campuses? Let's hope so.

One of the poems published was the one I began this blog with:

Summer, 2006

Twirling, whirling,
A rotund, spiral of rainbows
Culminating in a fuzzy, memorial blur of
Burning ashes dangling from waxy,
Bubble lips, stained with Crayola red lipstick,
Back porch bar-b-ques, chicken and ribs
Piled high on Mama’s good platters,
And, Uncle Poindexters greasy fingertips beneath
Her dress pinching her chubby butt.

She used to be a fat lady in a circus,
With all her deformities readily on display
In the bemused, clash of colors that Miss Millie patched
Together from the drapery of the old Majestic Theatre
In Jasper County, and the discarded
Sparkling, scraps of the skinny girl on the trapeze.
Sewn in too was the memory of Hillard’s
Bucked teeth, mocking her interest in him,
And, panties with the days of the week
Not in her size.


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Friday, April 04, 2008

The Genius of Ernest J. Gaines

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is one of those movies that whenever it comes on television, I watch it again as though I’ve never seen it before. I know everything that will happen before it happens and yet, when she shuffles her frail, 110 year-old body to that “whites only” water fountain in front of the Louisiana court house in 1960-something, the tears in my eyes are still unable to defy gravity; I cry like I’ve been spanked.

How often have you watched this movie or read the book with the assumption that “Miss Jane” had been a real live human being? Don’t sweat; you’re not the only one. It so happens we’re reading this classic, written and published in 1971 by Ernest J. Gaines, in my Contemporary Literature class, and apparently there are many who still believe that “Miss Jane” was an actual person. Even my well-informed professor was “not certain”, and people in the class gazed at me as though I’d blasphemed when I brought up the fact.

That, I think, is the genius of Ernest J. Gaines. In a 1978 article for Callaloo titled “Miss Jane and I”, Gaines talks about the “creation” of this character
“…The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is absolute fiction. By that I mean I created Miss Jane, and if I did not create all the events she mentions in her narrative, I definitely created all the situations that she is personally involved in”.
His “Jane” is a Bahktinian figure of epic proportions through which many black women slaves who never had a voice speaks to us decades later about the atrocities they faced, about their tenacity, their fears and triumphs. Indeed, for us “Jane” is most certainly real, and it didn’t hurt that Cicely Tyson’s portrayal of her has ingrained an image on our hearts and minds for all time.

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