A HERSTORY TRIBUTE to MY LITERARY SHEROES
Bein’ alive & bein’ a woman & bein’ colored is a metaphysical dilemma I haven’t yet conquered.
During this 2016 Women’s Herstory Month, I pause to acknowledge, express my gratitude to, and appreciation for, the female literary giants whose offerings have inspired, uplifted, encouraged, entertained, and informed me. I am a published, and self-published, author due to their influence. I hope to someday gain entry to the pantheon where their reputations are enshrined in perpetuity.
My story, the chronicle of my saga, is inextricably intertwined with the lives and achievements of other women who composed, and published, their verities. I laud them as my Sheroes. Their legacies are a wellspring of comfort and inspiration. I embrace my craft – and calling – knowing they owned theirs and in doing so set examples worthy of emulation. I met each one as a reader caught up in the authenticity, lyricism, passion, and power of their prose. Their synergistic tales have empowered and liberated me. My original list comprised:
- Joan California Cooper, who made her transition since I wrote my first salute.
- Maya Angelou, who made her transition since I wrote my first salute.
- Flannery O’Connor.
- Alice Walker.
- Paule Marshall.
- Toni Morrison.
- Dorothy West.
- Gloria Naylor.
- Marita Golden.
- Tina McElroy Ansa.
Every literary writer ought to have heroes or Sheroes – authors whose literary legacies have made indelible impressions and earned cherished places in their hearts. There should be someone who ignited the spark which led to the moment when he, or she, spoke her, or his, desire to be a raconteur to the Universe. I feel certain my love of writing grew out of my passion for an engrossing saga. My journey to becoming a belletrist began as a fervid lover of prose. I’ve since become more prolific as a writer. I continue to ingest – and digest – an array of media across the spectrum of possibilities: it’s a habit I don’t intend to break. I owe it to myself to nurture my muse, stimulate my imagination, and slake the creative energy pulsing through my being.
Literary heroes serve a purpose: their creations become the beacons and motivators. Author biographies are valuable resources for aspiring inditers. Well-written accounts elaborate on the social, political, racial, psychological, religious, artistic, and cultural environments which molded them. They chronicle the people, situations, and life events which affected the inditer, contributing to his, or her evolution. When, and where they resided, their lifestyles, and how they went about becoming purveyors of the written word is illustrative of the eras in which they existed, revealing how they adapted – or rebelled.
I have identified male literary heroes, and am discovering differences between them and my Sheroes…in attitudes, manner of expression, and treatment of subjects. I’ve begun to study the role of literary criticism and its impact on the renown of female writers whose perspectives challenge images and depictions of America across the centuries. Edna Ferber and Pearl Buck are two examples. Both won Pulitzer Prizes:
- Ferber’s novel, So Big, received the award in 1925.
- Buck won in 1932 for The Good Earth. She was the first American female to become a Nobel Laureate and achieved this honor in 1938.
Both have faded into obscurity – victims of opprobrium masquerading as critiques. They had the audacity to challenge prevailing attitudes – in existence even today – toward US foreign policy, cultural insensitivity, and political ham-handedness, in the case of China, where Buck grew up. Ferber’s fascination with, and interpretation of American history, portrayals of women, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos, coupled with the real impetus for westward expansion earned her a reputation for being a middle- or lowbrow writer. She was the most successful female writer of the early Twentieth century and enjoyed a lengthy and lucrative association with Hollywood. She wrote Giant, Showboat, Cimaron, all novels adapted for film.
Womanist writers are routinely castigated, vilified, demonized, and ridiculed for daring to call into question repeated efforts to promote revisionist histories of the United States. Aspiring raconteurs ought to be conversant on the lives and accomplishments of the authors they admire, love, and respect. Female scribes have made – and continue to make – significant contributions to society in various genres. I am humbled, honored, and jazzed about having joined their ranks. I could not have done so without exposure to a growing list of sisters whose chronicles have remained staples of my life: literarily, socially, professionally, personally, spiritually, psychologically, culturally, and artistically. I own copies of their narratives – for my personal library is a source of pride. During this Women’s Herstory Month 2016, I want to thank:
- Louisa May Alcott, posthumously. I was introduced to her as a child. I read Little Women, Little Men, An Old-Fashioned Girl, and Eight Cousins. I especially loved Little Women, and while we’re on the subject, no, I’ve never seen the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson.
- Erica Jong. Fear of Flying, her sexually liberating, values-shattering, sometimes explicitly elaborated novel debuted in 1973. I really was a young woman at the time and while I didn’t fully understand all aspects of the story, I reveled in its freshness and I continue to appreciate her ability to shake up, engage, titillate, and shock.
- Terry McMillan. Waiting to Exhale – can I just say I loved it? After completing it I purchased a copy of Disappearing Acts. By the time Stella got her mojo working, How Stella Got Her Groove, I was hooked. I’ve seen all three novels in celluloid – all superbly acted, but I’ll take a good book any day!
- Dorothy Gilliam. She retired from the Washington Post in 2003 after thirty-five years as a journalist. She wrote one of the finest and most compelling biographies I have ever read: Paul Robeson: All American. It is a nuanced, elegant, and respectful recounting of his life.
- Valerie Boyd is a journalist, cultural critic, and author. Her beautifully written biography, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, sheds light and insights on this most enigmatic woman who died in poverty, and left me feeling bereft, grief-stricken.
- Patricia Cornwell. I first met Kay Scarpetta, the shero of many of Patricia Cornwell’s engrossing novels in Post Mortem and I’ve been a fairly consistent adherent ever since. Anyone in the market for tightly written, suspenseful mysteries should check out these tomes. To newbies, I suggest starting with her earlier manuscripts. Cornwell’s more recent Scarpetta tales are grittier and can be more difficult to digest than such titles as The Body Farm or Cruel and Unusual.
- Barbara Taylor Bradford. I picked up a paperback copy of A Woman of Substance in an airport gift shop. I was captivated by the story of Emma Harte and eventually read every novel in the series. And yeah, I admit it, I watched the miniseries, I couldn’t resist.
- Ntozake Shange. Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo, her lushly written story about three sisters, which she dedicated to all women in struggle, fascinated me. Are there any women who don’t, struggle, I mean? As I read and absorbed her novel, I felt a strong connection to Sassafrass.
- Pearl S. Buck, posthumously. I read the Good Earth, in high school, without learning anything about Buck’s life. I often wondered why she wrote about an Asian farm family – and in such a compelling way.
I am indebted to these women. They are more than Sheroes: they’re my truth tellers. I pay tribute to them by continuing the tradition of sharing the sagas given to me by the Universe. I cannot think of a nobler calling than the gift of being an author. Thank you, my sisters.