Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women, edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah was born in Ghana, viagra 60mg and emigrated with her family at the age of six, in the mid-1970s. Her full-length memoir, Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey through Depression, was published in 1998 and immediately hailed as groundbreaking, being that it was the first work published by an African-American person dealing with depression. Since then, in addition to her writing career, she has been an advocate for mental health education, especially for Black women. Ms. Danquah has an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College and has been published in a rather impressive list of magazines, journals, and newspapers. In addition to that, she has edited two collections (this one and Becoming American) and has written quite a bit of fiction.

This is, as the title says, a collection of new fiction and memoir by Black women (published since 1990; capitalization is the editor’s). It includes, as Ms. Danquah says in the introduction, younger authors: generally under 40 at the time of publication. The table of contents is fairly long and complicated, since many of the works are excerpts from longer pieces, so I will provide a link to the Google Books version of it: here. I had not heard of any of the authors prior to reading this volume, partly because the women included are all younger than the Alice Walker-Toni Morrison-Maya Angelou-Gloria Naylor bunch. Many of them were born after Dr. King was assassinated, and all of them have received acclaim as writers from many different sources.

Easily my favorite story in the book was Itabari Njeri’s memoir excerpt, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” from Every Good-bye Ain’t Gone. It’s about her relationship with a man who was willing to say anything to get into a woman’s bed, and while she certainly succumbed to his charms more than once or twice, eventually she found out that not only was he cheating on her, but he’d gotten two women pregnant in the same very short period of time (she was one of them). Her revenge — half of which was publishing this story — is sweet and well-deserved. If the author hadn’t indicated that it was memoir in her intro, and if the main character hadn’t had the author’s name, I would have assumed it was fiction, because it’s such a well-done tale.

A lot of the other memoirs are the same: I wouldn’t have known they were memoirs if the main character hadn’t shared the name of the author. It demonstrated for me the fluidity of the form; I’d barely read any memoir prior to this, and I think I had the idea that it was a drier form, more like a biography than fiction. Except for the first entry, which is an excerpt that reads more like a personal essay (on how the author could come to fall in love with a murderer), the fiction is nearly indistinguishable from the memoir. I say that, it should be noted, as a compliment: I love fiction in all its forms because it tells a story, and so do the memoirs of these women.

One thing that the editor elucidated in the introduction but that also stuck out to me in all of the stories was how disenfranchised these women writers felt, as in school they never read any books or stories written by someone who looked like them. I am about ten years younger than most of these women, and I went to a standard decent city public high school where about twenty percent of the students weren’t white, in the late 1990s, and I still can only think of two volumes that I read in four years of English class that weren’t written by a white man. (Black Boy, by Richard Wright, and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I do understand that the latter brings up racial issues, but the author is white and a white man is still the hero.)

It’s rather sad that things haven’t changed all that much in such a short period of time. I do know that I noticed the lack of class-read books written by women, and I did a report on Sylvia Plath to counterbalance this, but it’s still unfortunate that we didn’t read any of the aforementioned authors: Maya Angelou, who read a poem at the presidential inauguration when I was in elementary school; or Alice Walker or Toni Morrison, both of whom have won Pulitzers (the latter also won the Nobel Prize in Literature). To top it off, any of the stories in this volume would have fit incredibly well in the short-story fiction/nonfiction collection we called our English textbooks, and these are second-generation authors.

All that having been said, though, I am painfully aware that me noticing that we didn’t read enough books by women pales in comparison (no pun intended) to a young woman of color realizing that we read no books written by women of color. Overall, though, both experiences indicate a need for greater diversity in the books chosen for classroom use on a high school level. It’s almost amazing that so many young women of color had enough inspiration to become authors, in the face of overwhelming whiteness and maleness. The fact that these women, in general, decided to write realistic fiction or memoirs is quite telling: more than anything, it seems that they are compelled to tell their stories, the stories that are left out of American literature almost entirely. This collection comes highly recommended, but it is not a light set of stories. While some are more enjoyable to read, and even have happy endings, even those remind the reader of so many points that one might miss with a standard education. It will definitely cause re-evaluation of one’s own experience, but I wouldn’t have skipped any of these for the world. 5/5 stars.

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