In our last post we learnt a little about Black History Month, how it came to be and what signifies the day. We also talked about how we ought to celebrate it and the different ways the celebration could take place.
As I’m a reader, I like reading best, even for a celebration. So, I chose three African-American writers at random, who coincidentally were all women and read them one after another. Also I make it a point to read about the authors once I finish reading their books so expect a few details about the authors in this post.
Here’s what I found in all those books that is going to mark this month different than others of this year:
Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison (Toni Morrison) was born in Lorain, Ohio on Feb 18, 1931 to a working- class black family. She became a Catholic at the age of 12 and took the baptismal name Anthony (after Anthony of Padua), which led to her nickname, Toni.
Before an American novelist, she was an essayist, book editor, and a college professor. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye was published in 1970.
Among all the 39 awards she won, one was Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and another was Nobel Prize in Literature.
The Bluest Eye is a world seen through all sides, the range it covers is humongous. Like all of Toni’s books, this too covers the very amoral aspects of a society. What is unique about it is that it does not only look at the atrocities of an amoral crime through the eyes of the victim but also through the eyes of the culprit itself. Of course a crime like incest, child molestation and racism cannot be justified but can be understood in bits and pieces although never completely enough.
The story focuses on all the characters equally because like a society, each has a significant part to play, but one character steals the show, named Pecola. She is that one character who has interacted with mostly all the characters of the society she was living in, like white women, pedophile, prostitutes, sexually related family members, victims of racism, etc. It’s this variety of connection to the world she was living in that she had to face some tragedies herself. The worst was desiring the bluest eye just like a white women which she believes will make her lovable for she cannot understand what other difference she had from those doll looking girls which rendered them sucker of love and admiration and her a portrayal of hatred, shame and oppression.
Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, US on Feb 9, 1944 to sharecroppers in a rural farming town. Along with being a novelist, author, essayist, poet, she was also an activist, teacher, editor and public intellectual who actively worked to solve the problems of injustice, inequality and poverty. Also, she was an active feminist and had a specific brand of feminism which included advocacy of women of colour.
Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. She was also a National Book Award winner.
The Color Purple is mostly about the male dominance over women. The beatings from a man is considered to keep women on track but that is only possible as long as the woman is weaker than the man physically or if the woman accepts those beatings as part of their lives and does not protest. But these beatings are not just beatings, they are the representatives of other more brutal physical, emotional pain and mental disability the men cause to women but are somehow not visible.
A character named, Celie, who is the main character had been a part of this victimization of male dominion in the worst way one can imagine. She surely, breaks free later from this chain of hurt and suffering when she meets and experiences friendships of woman who are not alike her but fascinates her as much. The three characters that greatly influence her are- her sister, Nettie, who runs away from her home and finds herself in Africa on a missionary work for the upliftment of native tribes; her daughter-in-law who is stronger than her male counterpart and simply can’t stand oppression for which she pays a heavy price; a singer, Shug, who is as charming as she can get and is unapologetically herself, even if it means indulging in the pleasures of man and being an unbiblical woman.
Marguerite Annie Johnson (Maya Angelou) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the U.S. on April 4, 1928. She was a writer and poet. She wrote articles, short stories, poems, songs, and music for movies. She continued the story of her life, produced plays, and gave lectures. She also wrote for television and acted on it.
On Maya Angelou’s 40th birthday, Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. It was because of her grief at his death that Maya wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The title of the book comes from the poem Sympathy, by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1924). It is the first of five books that Maya Angelou wrote about her life.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings follows her own life and comes under the genre, Autobiography. It starts from the very young years of her life until the end of her teenage years. During this time, a lot happened in her life, which changed her girlhood to womanhood. Through diverse experiences of her life, living with a strong working grandma, a crippled uncle; then moving in with her mother, a nurse in a city; meeting and spending time with his exuberant dad; moving out on her own and working odd jobs and sleeping in odd places; seeing her brother, the source of warmth and friendship grow into a man; facing tragedy of her life; getting introduced to books; questioning her sexuality and trying to find an answer to it in a simple yet to-be tragic gesture if not for her mother.
Our experiences make the person we are, each moment lived decides who we are going to be in future. Her diversely lived life gives us a chance to question and think back on our lives. It’s a story as true as it can get. It teaches us how some tragedies can actually bring goodness in our life if tackled properly. Everybody lives a life based on their character and everybody has a chance to prosper and to live a happy life, only the chance have to be grabbed.
With this, ends the list of the books I specifically read for Black History Month or African-American History Month. Feel free to choose any one of the books and dedicate the reading to this significant celebration. We are always one book away from knowing the unknown. I hope you have it in you to learn more by living the experience of these written stories. There is truth lying everywhere, it’s time we start exploring its dimensions.
I’m always up for a hearty chat on the books, if you would like to know more about any of these books, do not shy away from leaving a comment.
Here’s to the importance and significance of African-Americans who shaped the world we know today. Their struggles may not have ended completely but every step taken is a step taken towards a better world and I’m glad to be the part of the better world and would like to do more, even if it is as small as reading about the struggles of the oppressed and trying to understand and empathize with them.
Black History Month ends on 29th of Feb, use this inspiration to the best. Read more. Learn more. Share more.
Good-bye. See you on yet another post just like this.
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