You are on page 1of 52

[ m o s a i c ] LITERARY MAGAZINE

JULIA deburgos
sunday YOU LEARN
LONG live the KING

SUMMER 2000 $4.00

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 1


4 ISSUES FOR $12.00
8 ISSUES FOR $22.00

Mosaic Literary Magazine

314 W 231st St / #470
Bronx, NY 10463

2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]


long live the king | 10

Books on Muhammad Ali
by Ron Kavanaugh

on the verge | 12
We interview three new novelists
who have written poignant books
dealing with race and sexuality.

Bernice McFadden | Sugar

by Pat Neblett
Myrlin Hermes | Careful What You Wish For
by Pamela R. Brown
Bil Wright | Sunday You Learn How To Box
by Nikki Terry

Sugar | 15
Careful What You Wish For | 17
Sunday You Learn How To Box | 19

profile | 22
Julia de Burgos by Tracy Grant

essay | 28
Caribbean women writers
by Marcia Douglas

Brown Stone Blues II
by Francks Deceus

Muhammad Ali
The Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961-1964
by Flip Schulke with Matt Schudel

mosaicliterarymagazine SUMMER 2000

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3

[ contents]

poetry | 20
Haiku by Lisette Norman
Black Woman by Jamila Harris
The Breakup: Chapter two by Jacqueline Jones LaMon

short story | 24
Kooraju by Pat Harewood

criticism | 30
Rone Shavers on the novel Tuff by Paul Beatty.

reviews | 32
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
The Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C.J. Walker,
America’s First Black Female Millionaire by Tananarive Due
Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez
Driving While Black:
What To Do If You Are A Victim of Racial Profiling by Kenneth Meeks
Father Found by R.M. Johnson
One Dead Preacher by Tony Lindsay
Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood by June Jordan
Whatever Happened To Daddy’s Little Girl:
The Impact of Fatherlessness On Black Women by Jonetta Rose Barras
White Teeth by Zadie Smith

the write stuff | 40

eBooks: by Maxine Thompson

4 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

toby press ad

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 5

[ m o s a i c ]



All correspondence should be sent to:
CYNTHIA RAY Managing Editor Mosaic Literary Magazine
DEATRA HAIME Reviews Editor 314 W 231st St. / Suite 470
LYNNE d. JOHNSON Literature Editor Bronx, NY 10463
RONE SHAVERS Contributing Editor email:
fax (603) 761-8150
Website: Mosaic Literary Magazine (ISSN 1531-0388) is
email: published four times per year by Mosaic Communications.
phone: (718) 432-1445 Content copyright © 2000 by Mosaic Communications.
fax: (603) 761-8150 Please do not send unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, poetry,
short stories or any other form of material for reprint in
Printing Services: Expedi Printing NYC, NY Mosaic. It will not be considered or returned.


a long day’s journey

In the grand scheme of things two years is not a long time, but in the magazine world it’s a lifetime. Mosaic
celebrates its two year anniversary with this issue. During this short, yet eventful, journey we have grown,
transformed, stopped and started publishing and hopefully succeeded in bringing to our readers a constant
stream of interesting features, profiles, interviews and honest critiques of some of the more popular and not
so popular titles published today.

Few journeys are made alone. It has taken the time, effort, advice and sacrifice of many folks to keep Mosaic
going and growing over these past years. Lynne d. Johnson has been has been a constant since the birth of
Mosaic––before I knew exactly what this magazine would become I discussed my ideas with Lynne. My
former partner, Jacqueline (Jacob) Barrow, who joined soon after the magazine was launched helped guide
the business end through the first year. Taura Ottey, Michael and Ishmael Best, Deatra Haime, Tracy Grant,
Troy Johnson, Kalamu ya Salaam, Cynthia Ray, Nichole Shields, Rone Shavers, Jennifer Hunt and George
Aponte/Expedi Printing have all been very instrumental in the success of Mosaic.

There have been many others, too many to mention––all the writers, friends, family and “advisors.” All of
whom I owe a great deal of thanks to.

Others doubted I could start a magazine with no publishing experience. Some quietly, some not so quietly.
But I still tried and still believe anything is possible if you try.

Ron Kavanaugh
Mosaic Literary Magazine
glenda taylor
success in men

take out “available

christmas 1999”
[ c o n t r i b u t o r s ]

Pamela R. Brown is an editor and freelance writer Howard University Bookstore in Washington, D.C.
living in Maryland. She has been published in Dialogue where she coordinates literary events.
and The Arlington Courier.
Jacqueline Jones LaMon is a poet and playwright
Marcia Douglas was born in England and grew up in residing in Southern California. Her poetry has been
Jamaica. She is the author of a novel, Madam Fate, published in The Drumming Between Us: Black Love
(Soho Press, 1999) and a poetry collection, Electricity & Erotic Poetry; her play, Beyond Definition, has been
Comes to Cocoa Bottom, (Peepal Tree Press, 1999) produced several times in Los Angeles County.
She teaches creative writing at North Carolina State
University, Raleigh. Ron Kavanaugh edits a magazine.

Tracy Grant is the author of Hellified and is a con- Pat Neblett is the author of Circles of Sisterhood : A
tributor to several magazines. His new novel, Deci- Book Discussion Group Guide for Women of Color.
sions, will be released this winter.
Lisette Norman is a writer from Harlem, currently re-
Deatra Haime lives in New York City and recently siding in Staten Island, NY. She recently completed her
made a new agreement to be a writer. first collection of prose and poetry, my cup runs over.

Kelly Haley is a Dayton, OH native. She spent twelve R. Flowers Rivera completed her MA at Hollins Uni-
years in the entertainment business as a music and versity and her Ph.D. at Binghamton University. She is
television publicist, before deciding to pursue her pas- an Assistant Professor of English at Northern Virginia
sion—writing. Currently, she is a freelance public rela- Community College–Alexandria. Her work can be
tions writer and aspiring screenwriter living in Brook- viewed at
lyn, New York.
Rone Shavers is a writer, editor, member of PEN Ameri-
Patricia Harewood is a Caribbean-Canadian poet and can Center’s Open Book Program, and a contributing
writer whose work has been published in newspapers editor to Mosaic.
in St. John’s (Antigua), Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa,
and in McGill University’s Heridan. Camika Spencer is the author of the bestseller, When
All Hell Breaks Loose and the forthcoming, Cubicles.
Jamila Harris is an English major at the University of Her contributions can be read in Eclipse, Mosaic,
Kentucky. and Our Texas.

Lynne d. Johnson is the literature editor of Mosaic. Nikki Terry is a freelance writer living in Fort Greene,
She also writes about new media, technology, and en- Brooklyn. She also has the prettiest Rhodesian Ridge-
tertainment and is working on a book about hip hop back in all the world.
Maxine E. Thompson is an award-winning writer.
Mondella S. Jones is a native of sunny Los Angeles, She has self-published two novels, The Ebony Tree and
CA where she spent five years as a first grade teacher. No Pockets in a Shroud, and a short story collection,
Currently, she is the assistant to the director of the new A Place Called Home.

8 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

About the cover artist

FRANCKS FRANCOIS DECEUS is one of the leading young

modern painters of his generation. He has garnered critical attention
for his innovative and passionate use of mixed medium and collage
on canvas. Victor Smite, curator for the Schomburg Center for Re-
search Into Black Culture remarked that Francks is ”a promising up
and coming artist, a painter whose work depicts a high degree of
sensitivity to social issues and his culture.”

His current collection includes the series, “Wheelbarrow People”

and “Live from Paris”. “Wheelbarrow People” is based on a memory
of Francks’ childhood in Haiti. The characters in the paintings reflect
a combination of traditional African wood carvings and Haitian iron
sculptures. Francks’ goal is
to communicate the
struggle, strength and per-
severance of the Haitian
people and ultimately the
triumph of the human
Brown Stone Blues II
36 x 46 mix medium on canvas
© 2000 Francks Deceus
Francks skillfully captures
the mood and the magic of
our lives and culture, lov-
ingly reminding us who we
are: mothers, fathers, chil-
dren, family. Through his
A Mali Anderson Mystery
work, Francks seeks to “inspire humanity and humbleness in all of
us”. He continually creates magic with concepts that can be traced
specifically to his Haitian imagination, although he recognizes the
combination of the influences of his art education and painters who
have come before him. Harlem’s supersleuth,
Mali Anderson is back!
Francks’ series “Live from Paris” is perhaps his most spirited work to
And she’s out to solve the
date. Inspired by a trip to Paris, he recaptures perfectly the music
murder of a singer in her
and spirit of Parisian night life. In this series of jazz related paintings,
Francks continues to build on his unique style of collage and further
fathers’s jazz band.
master his inspired use of color. The collage canvas may at time hold
anything: acrylics, oils, cloth or even something as unexpected as a With a consistent flair for
button. mystery writing, Grace
Edwards, the author of
Francks F. Deceus is a native of Haiti, currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. the bestselling book, No
Deceus Art Studio, 122 W ashington A
Washington ve. Brooklyn, NY 11205
Ave. Time to Die, takes us on
(718) 596-4229 another Mali Anderson
mystery ride.


[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 9

live America has always had it’s Black sports he-
roes; Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Althea
Gibson, and Joe Louis, to name a few, but be-

fore the 1960s most of these heroes stayed
quiet on social issues. Rarely did they speak
out against racism, war, or social conditions in

America. As long as they “played along” the
media and fans would support these Black ath-

Then comes Ali. Young, brash, and fresh from

beating the Russians and winning a gold medal
MUHAMMAD ALI in the 1960 Olympics––standing on the po-
dium waving the American flag as the Star
Spangled Banner played in the background.
America had welcomed him with open arms.
by Ron Kavanaugh Things change.

Three books have attempted, with varying suc-

cess, to give us a glimpse of “The Greatest;”
Muhammad Ali Ringside, Compiled and Edited
by John Miller & Aaron Kenedi, Introduction by James Earl Jones , Muhammad
Ali: The Birth of A Legend, Miami, 1961-1964 by Flip Schulke with Matt Schudel
and Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike


The first books, Ringside and The Birth of A Legend, are for the most part coffee
table books with text, sometimes extensive, accompanying each picture. Ring-
side is full of stock photos and articles that one may have seen and read many
times over. What is relatively fresh is the use of Ali’s fight posters. Some of the
posters are reproduced in Ringside along with the actual tickets and other para-
phernalia, including an autographed x-ray of Ali’s broken jaw, taken after his
match against Ken Norton. Unfortunately Ringside has the feel of a book that
was put together quickly. All the books take us from Ali’s start in the 60s, but
unlike the other coffee table book, The Birth of A Legend , which concentrates
on a specific era, Ringside takes us all the way to the present, and that may be
the problem with this book. It never truly focuses enough time or photos to do
one era any justice. Ringside has photos accompanied by text and quotes from

1 0 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

“notables” of the day. We have Leroi Jones commenting on Cassius Clay. “Clay is
not a fake, and even his blistering and playground poetry are valid; they demon-
strate that a new and more complicated generation has moved onto the scene...
Clay is definitely my man.” I longed to know what was omitted and replaced with
the ellipsis. Amiri Baraka (ne. Leroi Jones) has a way of breaking a topic down
and bringing it to a different level, but here we are given an edited quote that fits
perfectly into the allotted layout space. There are similar well intentioned quotes
by Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Reggie Jackson and other luminaries.

The book is divided into chapters, each decade from the 60s through the 90s
representing a chapter, with each chapter “written” by a different author. Alex
Haley, “The 1960s;” Norman Mailer, “The 1970s;” Joyce Carol Oates, “The
1980s;” and Peter Richmond “The 1990s.” There are no new articles, all the
pieces are “reprinted with permission” from the original source. The one saving
grace in Ringside is “The 1960s” chapter in which Alex Haley interviews Cassius
Clay. Here, Clay gets a chance to give well thought out answers in his own words
and we get a vivid reminder of what a young Cassius Clay was actual like.

I’m sure the publisher felt its effort’s noble, but I get the feeling that since
Muhammad Ali is now an American icon––carrying the torch and lighting
the flame in the 1996 Olympics––they felt a certain comfort and took a
chance, capitalizing on the new “Ali-friendly” country.


If photographs tell a thousand words you would assume we would be tired
of hearing Ali’s, but we are not. If you are like me, you still slow when you
see the photo of Ali, arms raised, over a defeated Sonny Liston. Or the same
Ali, defeated, slouched in his corner after his legendary fight with Joe Frazier.
But there are always more photos. Ali in the ring, outside the ring, in court, in
a mosque, training, suffering with Parkinson’s disease. So do we actually
need another book of Muhammad Ali photos? Yes.

Where Ringside fails, Muhammad Ali: The Birth of A Legend, Miami, 1961-
1964 succeeds. The first saving grace is its specificity to one place and time,
Redemption Song
the second is the photographer’s use of his own photos taken during three (top)
photo shoots in Miami, Florida. Photographer Flip Schulke captures a young Muhammad Ali:
Ringside (middle)
Cassius Clay when he was not the brightest star on the scene. Most of the
Muhammad Ali:
photos were taken at the Fifth Street Gym in Miami, while Ali was training for The Birth of A
his fight with Sonny Liston. (Continued on page 44) Legend (bottom)

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 1 1

[ o n t h e v e r g e ]



1 2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
Bernice McFadden Bil Wright Myrlin Hermes

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 1 3
Bernice McFadden |Sugar
by Pat Neblett

Jude was dead

Thus begins McFadden’s engrossing, and superbly written debut novel, Sugar; the book that has
readers everywhere exclaiming…”Girlfriend, let me tell you ‘bout this book I just read!” Who is
the author of this excellent novel? Everyone’s asking just who is Bernice McFadden?

McFadden, from a warm, close-knit family, was born thirty-five years ago in Brooklyn, where she
has fond memories of hearing rich, colorful stories told by family elders about life in the South.
These stories, peppered with her own creative imagination were the seeds of thought McFadden
would use years later to conjure Sugar.

Written with the down-home folksiness of Hurston, the provocative thought of Walker, and the art
of the master story-weaver Morrison, Sugar is a book about a prostitute—one with a good heart
who says she must have been born with her two feet pointing backwards because, “Every time I
take one step forward, I go two steps back.” Spiked with suspense, Sugar is also about narrow-
minded women and hypocritical men in the small, dusty, fictionalized town of Bigelow, Arkansas.
It speaks to the power of sisterhood. But more importantly, Sugar is about love.

The book is laden with haunting lines such as “I ain’t bad Ms. Pearl, I just ain’t had no crossroads
in my life.” Crossroads, McFadden explained, are the opportunities one has to make a choice in
the path you’ll take in life. She confided that the decision not to give up on writing Sugar, despite
numerous rejections, was a crossroad in her life.

After years of writing poetry for her own enjoyment, McFadden honed her craft at Fordham Uni-
versity. She credits excellent creative writing teachers there with teaching her the art of storytelling
and encouraging her to push forward. In 1991, McFadden turned a negative situation into positive
one when laid off from her job in the travel planning industry. Having more time to read, she
(Continued on page 42)

1 4 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
[ e x c e r p t ]

by Bernice McFadden
EP Dutton
Pearl was consuming her third glass of pike aid, and “I think that might be it for you, Miss Pearl. How
wondering why the name began to sound familiar to about a Coke?” Sugar said, not moving.
her. She thought hard and long about it, but could Pearl set the glass down between her legs and leaned
not remember. She forced her attention on Sugar, who her head back against the house. “Sugar, don’t it make
was smoking a cigarette. For the first time she realized you feel ashamed when you take off your clothes for
that Sugar did not have on one of her many wigs. Her everyone anti anyone?” Pearl asked, curiosity lacing
head was tied with a rag. Her face was absent of her voice.
makeup, which was a rare occurrence. She looked “No,” Sugar said quickly and shifted her body. She
normal for once, even fresh. Her scantily clad body was uncomfortable, knowing what the questioning was
seemed less threatening without all of the fixtures. In leading tip to.
this chaste state, Sugar looked more like Jude than “Umph,” Pearl grunted and shook her head.
ever before. Pearl looked away and tried to consider “It ain’t no big deal. You take your clothes off in
something else, but again her vision was drawn back front of Joe all the time. That don’t make you feel
to Sugar. The cigarette smoke sailed over to her and shame, do it?” Sugar said, a bit sarcastically.
invaded her nose. She coughed a little and fanned it Pearl had never disrobed in front of Joe, in fact when
away with her free hand. they made love, it was in the thick darkness of their
“You need to stop that,” she said, her voice lagging bedroom and her gown was simply lifted above her
a bit. waist. But that was so long ago; she had not been able
“Stop what?” Sugar said. to perform that wifely duty since Jude’s death. It had
“That smoking. You smoke too much and you don’t been fifteen long years of nothing more than caresses
wear enough clothes, either.” Pearl was speaking mat- and quick kisses, sleeping with even breath against a
ter of factly, her tone was less than accusing, just tot- neck and a hand settled into the curve of a waist. Joe
tering on the verge of drunkenness. and Pearl simply shared a bed now and not each other.
Sugar, realizing this, just rolled her eyes and looked Pearl did not respond.
back toward the fields. “I feel free when I ain’t got no
“Gimmesomemore to drink.” Pearl’s words spilled clothes on,” Sugar continued.
out like poor man’s pearls, strung together and worth- “How does being naked make you
less. feel free?” Pearl sat up now, wanting
Sugar looked over at her, and realized by the way to understand Sugar’s words.
Pearl was shoving the glass in her direction that she’d “I can’t explain it, Miss Pearl, it just
probably had too much already. (Continued on page 46)

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 1 5
Myrlin Hermes |Careful What You Wish For
by Pamela R. Brown
Careful What You Wish For opens with the return of a middle-aged Eleanor Blackmar to the small
southern town of her birth, Liberty. We are then transplanted back to 1949 to follow the story of
Eleanor as a young girl, woman, mother and wife and the transformation she experiences once
she encounters Natalie, a young mulatto woman who becomes her husband’s mistress and her
personal catalyst for change. Though the subject itself is not one that is foreign to the literary
world, it seems quite a weighty topic for a writer as young as Myrlin Hermes, a 23-year-old born in
California, then raised in both India and Hawaii, to tackle. Myrlin’s voice is filled with a youthful
enthusiasm and exuberance when discussing her debut novel, Careful What You Wish
For. However, her analytical nature and keen intelligence belie her years.

As a child, Hermes read “just about everything our local library’s small children’s section had”
from The Chronicles of Narnia to A Little Princess. Yet, she did not develop an interest in becom-
ing a writer until later in life. She did, however, “invent” elaborate scenarios for her friends to act
out with their dolls. In fact, Myrlin’s first love was the theater, which helps her in her writing by
letting her “get into the minds of her characters. “

She also draws inspiration from her favorite writers, “writers [who] share a love of rich lush lan-
guage”, such as Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. There is often an element
of magical realism to [these authors].” One senses these elements in Hermes’ own novel with its
vivid descriptions that are surreal, seemingly magical events. Hermes feels that it is her “literary
experience” that influences her work just as much as her ”actual experience.” “After all of the
Faulkner and Morrison that I’ve read, I feel that a small southern town is not all that unfamiliar to
me,” she explains.

Yet one might ask how familiar a 23-year-old is with the experiences of a young mulatto woman,
Natalie, in a southern town such as the fictional setting of Liberty. Hermes is only one of many
(Continued on page 42)

1 6 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
[ e x c e r p t ]

Careful What You Wish For

by Myrlin Hermes
Simon and Schuster

By the time they got home, Eleanor’s lipstick had stove. “He can’t be more than fifteen, you know.”
worn away except for a greedy-looking ring around Natalie licked cherry juice off of her fingers. “Romeo
her mouth. And the hat looked ridiculous in her was fifteen,” she said.
mouse-brown hair, especially with that plain navy “And I suppose he’s as true as Romeo, too.”
dress she was wearing. No wonder they’d gotten looks ‘Bout like them all.” Natalie grinned. “As true as
all the way through town-and Natalie, in that dress Romeo to Rosaline.”
that was barely a dress and her grandmother’s pearls! Eleanor gave her a look. Natalie was watching from
It was all so stupid, so childish. Eleanor turned away the corner of her eye to see if Eleanor got the joke.
from the hall mirror and pulled the hat from her hair They laughed together Natalie spit a cherry pit, which
“I expect supper will be late, now, too,” she said. fell short of Eleanor, landing on the kitchen floor
“What time is it? Five?” “Hey! None of that. I’ll never finish supper,” Eleanor
“Not too late.” Natalie yawned happily, stretching said, but her eyes were twinkling. She unwrapped the
like a cat. “Sun’s still up.” When she had met Eleanor leftover cold ham and began to dice it. “My grandfa-
in the train station, her clothes were disheveled and ther had an old bound edition of those plays. It was
her makeup smeared, but Eleanor couldn’t bring her- his mother’s. He used to read aloud to me.”
self to ask whether Natalie had seduced that boy, that She smiled, remembering her grandfather’s finger
child. moving across the thin, wrinkled page. He did voices
“No time for pie.” There were leftovers in the ice- for all of the characters, squeaking in falsetto for the
box. She could make a casserole. “It’s a pity, too, since ingénues, sighing soulfully for the young lovers, and
we have all of those cherries.” even now Eleanor could hardly think of the balcony
“Cherries?” Natalie was suddenly alert. “I didn’t scene without laughing. “I didn’t think anyone else in
know! If we have those, we won’t need anything else.” this town read Shakespeare.”
Eleanor smiled. “In the fruit bowl.” Natalie bounded Natalie shrugged. “I’ve been to college.”
ahead into the kitchen and by the time Eleanor Eleanor glanced up at her, unsure
reached the door, she was already sitting on the whether to envy or disbelieve her “I
counter, spitting cherry pits into her hand. Eleanor put didn’t think most colleges allowed
on her yellow apron and washed her hands at the colored girls,” she finally said.
sink. “Is that really all you want for supper?” Natalie had kicked off her shoes
Natalie nodded vigorously. “Joey bought me a ham- and her white, white feet poked out
burger in town,” she said. of the old black dress. She paused
Joey? That boy?” She put a pot of water on the (Continued on page 49)

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 1 7
Bil Wright | Sunday You Learn How To Box
by Nikki Terry

Roy Jones, Jr. may be the best thing in boxing and Muhammad Ali will always be the greatest,
but in the world of literature Bil Wright is definitely a champion on the rise. With his stunning
debut novel, Sunday You Learn How To Box, Wright should definitely be crowned the baddest
bad-ass around.

Wright’s style is elegant and plainspoken, sprinkled with heartfelt imagination. Readers will
understand why he has provided a true knockout of a book. Doodling with yellow pads and
pencils since a child, Wright says, “I love telling a good story about people readers want to
come back to. There is something so simple, primitive even, about telling a good story and it is
enormously gratifying to have it appreciated by the [reader].”

Sunday You Learn How To Box is a novel about Louis Bowman, a 14-year-old boy who struggles
with his sexual existence, while coping with the social ills of a housing project in Connecticut.
Louis’ mother, Jeanette Stamps, yearns for a middle class life with a home of her own, and for
a son who will “act” like other boys his age––in this quest Jeanette enlist Louis’ stepfather, Ben.
He initially ignores his wife’s desires, but finally consents to her demands that he give Louis
boxing lessons every Sunday, thus the title of the book. Along the way, Louis must deal with his
romantic crush on the neighborhood tuff, an encounter with a stranger on the train, weekends
spent with his grandfather in Harlem and ostracism from neighborhood kids.
Having been influenced by his guardian angels James Baldwin, Tony Kushner and Lorraine
Hansberry, one of the first effects you will notice about Wright’s style is the marvelous job he
does of making his characters clear and fresh. “What inspired me to write Sunday was a spirit
from something beyond,” says Wright. Hoping to capture the bond between a mother and
son, and at the same time create a story that explores the soul of a young boy’s sexuality,
(Continued on page 42)

1 8 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
[ e x c e r p t ]

Sunday You Learn How To Box

by Bil Wright
Simon and Schuster

The next morning I took the bike outside and down dering what kind of crimes he might be on his way to
to the other end of the projects where it would be commit.
harder for Mom to see me from the window, or even When I pushed through the bushes to Ray Anthony
the stoop. The day before had been humiliating, but it Robinson standing there peeing and smoking, it felt
had shown me something after all. I’d watched boys like I’d pushed through to the other side of the world.
of all different sizes and shapes ride my bike, some of He turned in my direction and aimed right through
whom I knew were as old as I was and couldn’t read the spokes of my front tire. My eyes followed the arc
or count. I understood the secret had to be in prac- back to where it came from, Ray Anthony Robinson’s
tice, not in intelligence. Now, I was determined. dick. It was long, wide and the color of these cookies
When I got tired of falling, I decided to hide out Miss Odessa used to give me for dessert when I spent
behind the bushes awhile to rest. Even though there the night. Almond Macaroons. Most likely, Ray An-
weren’t any leaves on them, they were too dense for thony was the color of Almond Macaroons all over,
anyone to see me. When I pushed the bike through to but I’d never thought about it until I saw his dick. The
the other side, Ray Anthony Robinson was standing way he looked at me, with his cigarette hanging from
behind the bushes, peeing and smoking a cigarette. his lips and his waist pushed forward at me, you’d have
Ray Anthony lived across the courtyard with his thought it was the most natural thing in the world for
mother in the 4B apartment building next to where us to be there, him peeing and me watching.
we’d lived in 4A before we moved to the bungalows. When he stopped peeing, he didn’t put his dick
Nobody was really sure how old Ray Anthony was, back in his pants. He spat the cigarette in my direc-
but Miss Helen, Mom’s hairdresser, said she thought tion, but he wasn’t trying to hit me with it. He started
he had to be seventeen at least. He didn’t go to high peeing again, aiming at his cigarette until the smoke
school and by law, you had to go until you were six- stopped spiraling up from it. I tried not to look im-
teen. Miss Helen said nobody she knew could remem- pressed.
ber a time when Ray Anthony had ever gone to school, “Who gave you the girl’s bike for
but she was sure he must have. She whispered to my Christmas?”
mother that Ray Anthony was “an out-and-out hood- “It’s not a girl’s.” It was hard to
lum.” Miss Helen was always calling somebody’s child sound as forceful as I wanted, watch-
a hoodlum, but I could tell from the way she said it ing him slowly tuck himself back into
that to be an “out-and-out hoodlum” was more seri- his pants.
ous than an ordinary run-of-the-mill hoodlum. So I “You gonna let me ride it?”
stared at Ray Anthony after that from my window won- (Continued on page 48)

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 1 9
By Lisette Norman

your tongue slides up my

thigh, leaving most of what god
gives you on my skin

2 0 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

the breakup
chapter two
by Jacqueline Jones LaMon

asses shift
hands wringing sweaty crying knowing hands
nails tapping butcher block surfaces
worn with scars and shallow trenches
disturbing the pepper
annoying the salt
breath heavy upon unbreathed breath
eyes lowered
empty dark and dripping
your lips are quivering, baby
Black Woman your lips remembering her lips
and tongue and teeth and
By Jamila Harris curly moist and fragrant hairs
so shamed and so fulfilled
We hard rock there is no other path around this piercing
Color pencil we chat about the job and weather
sharp-in yo’ face my fingers reach to touch your fingers
pu nanny whippin’ your fingers flinch then pull away
scented you scratch your head
in stream of unique releasing a memory embedded
collective awareness behind the ear in which she last left whispers
knit together and convulse involuntarily while you think
like hand-weaved netting of the second hour taste
sifting of digits on your right hand
sailing through waters LOOK A ATT ME
catch i am not going to make this easy for you
bones bottomed shore not going to pat your back
only to pass through or shake that hand
in-out-of not giving you a box lunch and carfare
pattern not going to run the tape
graciously inherit the right to birth WE CAN ALWAYS BE FRIENDS
pens-mouth i mean
fingertips-drums just how many times
shake-a-ray queens are you going to leave me
shake-a-ray the loose ends before i have been left
throw the cords
of life
and reel in the
cracked heads
jailed birds
breathe life into the dead eye
we need only to whisper/close
ears are formed open

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 2 1

[ p r o f i l e ]


by Tracy Grant

2 2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

Here at the opening of the 21st century, we live in a left her with little support in New York City, where she
word rich with cultural diversity. In literature, just as later moved. Toward the end of her life, she struggled
in other mediums, the most memorable work often with substance abuse and died penniless at 39 years
comes when creativity blends with keen social, and old.
sometimes political, observations on the part of the
writer. Masterful examples can be found in the work Today, de Burgos is finding notoriety she should have
of Walter Mosley, who draws from within to depict received decades ago. Her legacy is being kept alive
black American life, or Arthur Golden, whose Mem- through collections of her poetry that translators have
oirs of a Geisha provides insight into a seldom seen provided in English along with the original Spanish
part of Japanese culture. The poet who can be added versions. The most notable is Song of the Simple Truth:
to this list is the late Julia de Burgos, if for no other The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos (Curbstone
reason than for the manner in which her work and Press), translated by poet Jack Agueros. Agueros pro-
her life challenged the conventions of her surround- vides dual language versions of all of de Burgos’ work,
ings. As a woman, she was constrained by the social including ”The Voices Of The Dead: In China,” “Ay,
ills of her native Puerto Rico. Writing from the 1930s Ay, Ay Of The Kinky-haired Negress,” ”Between My
to the 1950s, she lacked the outlets available to a Voice And Time,” ”Poem For My Death,” “Canto To
Hispanic poet today. However, awareness of this bard The Free Federation,” “Long Live The Republic! Down
has spread far past her native country, and the spirit With The Assassins,” and many others. In Spanish Har-
of a unique poet is becoming more evident. lem, there is now the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center,
where young people and tourists alike can read and
Julia de Burgos was born in Puerto Rico in 1914, the learn about the poet. Similar cultural centers are ap-
oldest of 13 children, six of whom died as children. pearing in other cities, helping to expose de Burgos’
When the Depression began, her family was dispos- poetry beyond the Hispanic community and the se-
sessed of their land, but Julia found herself at the lect college classroom. As a contemporary of the Latin
University of Puerto Rico at the age of 17. She briefly American literary scene in 1940s Cuba, she surely
taught school after college, but soon became active would have had some perspective to offer regarding
in the movement toward Puerto Rican indepen- Elian Gonzalez and the struggles of the boy’s family
dence. Her poetry spoke to all of the causes she on U.S. soil.
found important; much of it is political in nature,
sometimes feminist, sometimes introspective, de- Sadly, de Burgos was very much ahead of her time. As
scribing her romantic misfortunes. She has been her work becomes more available to all audiences,
called the most important Puerto Rican poet of her so, too, will her spirit touch everyone who enjoys pas-
time, yet for years she was unknown outside of aca- sionate poetry, crafted from a woman, who, like all of
demic circles. Though she wrote over 200 poems, us, faced a number of challenging internal and exter-
her work drew little compensation, and her activism nal issues throughout her life. ★

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 2 3

[ s h o r t s t o r y ]

KOORAjU by Pat Harewood

I imagined him before he came. Sun-rusted hair locked out of pride and remembrance. His locks upright calling
most to label him “eccentric.” Kooraju was his real name.
I exalted in his presence. It was as if I found someone who, like me, had been waiting to make that connec-
tion. You know, like a soul mate from another lifetime. Someone who remembers where your moods come
from. His temperament was tart-sweet, like a mango crushed in your mouth, sliding down your throat making
you give thanks that you have lived to taste the fruits of another season.
But those days have passed on now. He too. Gone to another place where you can rest your head without
hearing those cars race by on the main road.

“Come and taste this,” he said, handing me a root of ginger he had picked up from the market. He was by the
fireside preparing our meal dressed in the very same clothes he had on when, through his mother’s legs, he re-
entered this world. I took a very small bite and contorting my face, quickly spat it out in my hand.
“So much for ginger curry... Lord have mercy! With all those pesticides they’ve put in the earth, they just
don’t make ginger taste the way it used to,” he lamented.
When he spoke like that, I always wondered about his age. He had told me seventy-two seasons, which I
worked out to be thirty-six years. But, there was something acutely ancient about his gaze, something which
took you back to the days of reciprocity, respecting elders and the rolling drumbeats of home.
When we first met in the shop, he had spoken, not as though he was reading my nametag for the first time,

2 4 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

but as though he had remembered me. the incense I had been burning that day. She accepted
“Give thanks for this reconnection... Jahmilka is an the answer as satisfactory, collected the sales and rushed
unfocused sister but undeniably generous and gutsy. back to her office.
Thanks for covering for me in front of the slave mas- “No, I don’t need the IN SENSE because I’ve got the
ter,” he began. balance outside and in. It’s more holistic, you dig?” he
I wanted to respond with the same conviction but cajoled approaching me in front of the counter.
had hidden that passion so deep inside that I could “I just came to ask you when you will have time to
no longer find it when I needed it most. reason. I mean, is the owner always in your face or can
“No problem man. Just be careful where you you ever just relax and talk to potential customers?’
smoke. Now, can I help you with some incense?” He laughed when I told him later how I had found
I had been working at a new age smoke shop in him too forward. While massaging my aching shoul-
the city, which sold tobacco and healing incense to ders, he told me that he was just addicted to my truth.
tourists. The owner was a Swiss doctor who had No approach would have been right anyway because I
opened the shop as an addendum to her practice. I had become so disconnected from self, he said. Any
managed it and she came by once a week to pick up man wanting to talk to a strange woman in this society
the sales and restock. He had come into the shop is believed to be trying to “pick up” and I would have
smoking from a pipe when the owner walked in, took just flowed with the stereotype.
one look at him and complained to me that she, “smelt Soon he was coming by the shop once a week with
marijuana.” I told her that it was a combination of all (Continued on page 45)

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 2 5






For information regarding advertising
please contact Ron Kavanaugh
(718) 432-1445 / fax (603) 761-8150

Write to:
314 W 231st St. / #470
Bronx, NY 10463

2 6 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

One-year subscription (four issues): $12.00
Two-year subscription (eight issues): $22.00

To subscribe visit:

or send your check or money order, along
with your complete mailing address to:
314 W 231st St. / Suite 470
Bronx, NY 10463


[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 2 7

[ e s s a y ]

caribbean women writing

at the frontier by Marcia Douglas

In the late 1980s, upon learning about a forthcom- Caribbean women have always written, albeit at the
ing conference profiling the work of Caribbean kitchen table. The publishing industry, driven by po-
women writers, Jamaica Kincaid asked, “Are there litical and economic concerns is constantly shining
many of us?” The conference was the 1988 First In- and it has been a struggle to have our voices heard
ternational Conference of Caribbean Women Writ- at all. Still, each generation of writers has paved the
ers at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA—an histori- way for a new generation of talent to follow, each
cal event which brought together women writers from of us standing on another’s shoulders. Gradually,
all over the Caribbean, providing a forum for many we have gained confidence, gathered momentum,
of them to meet each other and discuss their work reclaimed our voices, become a chorus.
as a group for the first time.
The chorus was humming, when, in 1990, as a
With the emergence of writers such as Opal Adisa graduate student at Ohio State University, I went in
Palmer, Olive Senior, Erna Brodber, Zee Edgell, search of other Caribbean women writers. I had re-
Dionne Brand, Marlene Nourbese Philip and cently made the decision to drop out of my Pre-
Michelle Cliff, during the 1980s, the volume of writ- ventive Medicine program and direct my energy to-
ing being published by Caribbean women had grown; ward writing poems and stories instead. My family
so much so that in the introduction to their 1989 and friends doubted the wisdom behind my choice.
anthology, Her True-True Name, Pamela Mordecai But I needed to be validated and was hungry for
and Betty Wilson would question, “whether these other Jamaican women like myself, who had taken
women had been writing much before that time and the writing path. Where were they? The bookstores
therefore whether what appears to be a sudden lit- had very little, but I finally found a few shelves in
erary blossoming may not, at least in part, be a flow- the campus library where the hum became louder
ering of publishing interest consequent on the and when, hallelujah, I opened Opal Palmer Adisa’s
Women’s Movement and the improved economic Bake Face and other Guava Stories, her pages broke
status of women, making them a market to be reck- out in tongues. I sat there reading on the concrete
oned with.” floor for hours. Here was a voice that gave author-
ity to my own. And there were others—Merle
There are no simple answers to the question posited Hodge’s Crick Crack Monkey, and Myriam Warner-
by Mordecai and Wilson. I do know, however, that Vieyra’s Juletane.

2 8 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

But why weren’t many of these writers available in ers such as Edwidge Danticat, Patricia Powell, Mar-
bookstores? Traditionally, the United Kingdom and garet Cezaire-Thompson and Nalo Hopkinson.
to a lesser extent, Canada, have acted as centers for
the publication of Caribbean writing. Britain has So there I was sitting on the floor of the library, the
been welcome and fertile ground for these writers, voices gathering strength—Michelle Cliff’s Abeng,
nevertheless, there is a sense that many have be- Olive Senior’s Summer Lightning, ushering me in—I
come locked in the “Caribbean Series” of large pub- knew I was in good company. Later, as I worked on
lishing houses such as Longman and Heinmann. the manuscript of what would become my novel,
These series have served as pigeonholes and many Madam Fate, I covered my walls with photos of these
talented writers have not always received the expo- literary mothers. I wanted them there to stare me in
sure they deserve, their work never crossing the At- the eye, challenge me to be more, do better—the
lantic. There is also the fact that regardless of which look every no-nonsense island mother gives to her
shore we are published on, serious critical attention daughter.
to Caribbean women writers has tended to focus
on a select few. “Are there many of us?” Each year, Jamaica Kincaid’s
question continues to be answered with both new
Still, this is gradually changing—simultaneous to the names and the rebirth of old ones being added to
emergence of the creative writers, there has also been the roster. Still, we have a long way to go. Inspired by
growth in the number of scholars. Here, the out- the work of one of my mothers, Marlene Nourbese
standing work of critics such as Carole Boyce Davies, Philip, I like to think of Caribbean women writers as
Carolyn Cooper and Vévé Clark comes to mind. An- at a frontier. Redefining “margin” space as “frontier”
other turning point came in 1995 when the Asso- space, Philip suggests that “marginality is in the eyes
ciation of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars of the beholder. The margin, she reminds us, is a space
was formed—an organization which celebrates Car- of silence and inaction, while the frontier is the site
ibbean writers and fosters critical scholarship in the of activity and battle. As an Afro-Caribbean writer,
field. Furthermore, in the 1990s, for the first time, this functions as a very useful and empowering per-
we saw a new development with an increased num- spective, reminding me that when all is said and done,
ber of works by Caribbean women being published we flower because we persist in flowering and we
in the United States, the latest wave including writ- write because we must write. ★

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 2 9

[ c r i t i c i s m ]


by Rone Shavers
Now, given the nature and tendency towards politi- through the author’s spewing an idealized vision of
cizing even the blandest aspects of African American how things should be, but simply as a work which
fiction, Paul Beatty’s Tuff is about as baited as books opens up an avenue of identification onto the world
come. Only because its location is East Harlem, the of disenfranchised youth. Those who read to expect
protagonist a young African American male who is something more, those who desire that Beatty articu-
obviously “at risk“— actually, only because the novel’s late their rage and resentment should look elsewhere.
author is black (and unfortunately, that fact is more Better still, they should write their own novels, inclu-
than enough to serve as its own political statement in sive of their own agendas.
its own right), Tuff’s average reader will do more than
expect racial polemic to drip from its pages, he or she How responsible is a fiction author to, and for, his
will want it, expect it even, desire to see a tedious, work? Ultimately, he or she is only responsible to his
chest-thumping African American righteousness work, to letting his characters breathe and live, speak
spelled out and screaming across every other line. and interact according to their own desires and whims.
The work is a birth to be nurtured, not the outside
Yet, unlike other readers and reviewers, I come not to environment in which it lives. I say outside environ-
bury Beatty, but to praise him for his efforts. That is, ment to mean reality, the world around the writer and
for branching out. A fictional work deserves to be often outside his or her sphere of influence. That is,
judged according to its literary merit, not its political unless a novelist begins a writing career already rich,
implications, and simply by giving voice to characters famous, politically connected, or some bizarre com-
who can be defined in political terms as “marginal“ at bination of the above, he or she can initially do little.
best, Beatty has done more than enough to fulfill his To assume that the novelist should be held account-
racial obligations to whomever would deign to need able for the potential dialogue his work engenders is
them. In regards to the struggles of black folk, the tale not only asinine, but to use to old philistine idiom, it
and character of Winston Foshay is about as apathetic makes an ass out of you and me. Please, leave the
as they can possibly come, but that should not neces- province of immediate politics to the poets, where it
sarily be viewed as a bad thing. In some ways, Beatty’s belongs.
novel must be read as pastiche, picaresque; intention-
ally written not to make the world a better place Like fashion, politics is fleeting, and Beatty should in

3 0 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

no way be held responsible for what one reads into In response to the
his work. To ask him to do so devalues individual re- view of Beatty’s
sponse, the very notion that reading can be an inti- novel as an at-
mate, personal act. I believe Beatty only created a tempt to write
world in which one recognizes that the differences from “the hood, “
between Tuffy and the reader are cosmetic at best. To one can only cry
rest as reductive as possible about it, Tuffy is human, foul. Such a read-
and although we as a species may not share every in- ing of Tuff, while
terest, we all have common interests that link us to- possibly well in-
gether. To demand, as other critics have done, that tentioned, shows
Beatty use even one fraction of the so-called “black an absolute mis-
experience“ to denounce some and uplift other seg- understanding and crass belittling of the many forms
ments of the population not only belittles this black of fiction and all that fiction itself can accomplish. In a
experience, but wholly commodifies it; rips any sort previous review, I described Tuff an “urban
of variegation from its nature and places it solely in picaresque.” It was described as such because it is a
one particular, standard little box. How many novels picaresque: A phrase originally used to describe me-
must we read—must we write—before we get over dieval Spanish novels (for example, Cervantes’ Don
the tepid sentiments of: “We are poor, we are unjustly Quixote), novels which were free-flowing, ribald, and
jailed, we are constantly discriminated against, and woe tongue-in-cheek, serving no greater purpose other than
is me“? Such a view is extremely outdated, if only due to illustrate the exploits of the “common“ man. The
to the fact that the truths to be found in such a state- same can be said of Tuff. Beatty is not responsible for
ment have lost all power; its potency spent through your political views, and neither is he responsible for
constant use, its case horribly oversimplified. And as the world around him. He can only seek, create, and
only one of a bevy of black writers writing today, present his own, alternative view. His work reflects that,
shouldn’t Beatty be allowed to write something other his characters reflect that, and his themes and tropes
than this selfsame notion, this rote party line that ev- prove it with ridiculous consistency. So then, why be
eryone seems to already know? Shouldn’t there exist upset because an author refuses to reinforce attitudes
something more? and information you already have and know? ★

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3 1

[ r e v i e w s ]

All About Love: New Visions

By bell hooks
William Morrow
Reviewed by Deatra Haime

Reading a work by bell hooks is like taking a trek up a

vaguely forbidding but promising mountain. She’s keenly
critical and works diligently to illuminate every aspect of
a subject matter, leaving very little room for other possi-
bility. In her new book, All About Love: New Visions,
she brings love into focus and attempts to give substan-
tial meaning to the often elusive but universally desired
emotion. Ultimately, she demands a new consciousness
in our orientation from the conventional romantic hooey.
This book, she says “... provides radical new ways to
think about the art of loving, offering a hopeful, joyous
vision of love’s transformative power.”
hooks’ main ideas center around a call to experience
love as an act rather than as an emotion. She begins by
borrowing a definition from the writer M. Scott Peck in
his book, The Road Less Traveled, Love is “the willing-
ness to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing
one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Keenly aware
of the vast change in realization required to live this defi-
nition, hooks painstakingly attempts to argue the benefit
of loving as spiritual practice.
Her method is to contextualize love (e.g., lessons we
learn in childhood, the necessity for honesty, the mean-
ing of self love, love as a value system, etc.), deconstruct
the myths and offer examples—mostly from her own ex-
perience—of how the honest, conscious practice of love
can both heal and transform. hooks also focuses a great
deal of attention on the effects of patriarchy on our con-
cepts of what it means to be loving and explains, “A com-

Butterfly graphic from the bookcover

All About Love by bell hooks, William Morrow
3 2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
monly accepted assumption in a patriarchal Driving While Black:
culture is that love can be present in a situa- What to Do If Y ou Are A V
You ictim Of
tion where one group or individual dominates Racial Profiling
another.” She then stridently argues against By K enneth Meeks
this idea and repeatedly suggests that men, Broadway Books
even more than women, need to deconstruct Reviewed by K elly Haley
and rebuild their concepts of love.
Though hooks’ vision of love is magnifi- Racial profiling is the subject of a new
cent, one of the problems with All About book by Kenneth Meeks, a veteran journal-
Love: New Visions is that, as a guidebook, it ist and managing editor at Black Enterprise
lacks realistic methods and seems mired in magazine. Driving While Black: What To Do
theory rather than practice. For example, If You Are A Victim Of Racial Profiling is
hooks is childless yet devotes an entire sec- timely in its publication, as this illegal but
tion on how to be a genuinely loving parent, regularly used method of crime control is
especially when it comes to discipline. Her making headlines—the Patrick Dorismond
suggestions reflect an ideal but lack a practi- and Amadou Diallo fatal police shootings
cality that comes from experience. Even more in New York City are two of the most re-
importantly, she speaks of her own enlight- cent incidents.
enment from a place of resolution rather than Meeks defines racial profiling as “The tac-
sharing the struggle of how she was able to tic of stopping someone only because of
evolve past the ways she was indoctrinated the color of his or her skin and a fleeting
into false perceptions and practices of love. suspicion that the person is engaging in
By representing herself as a finished product criminal behavior.” It is not uncommon to
rather than a work-in-progress, she offers little see young African- American men pulled
emotional inspiration to attempt change. over by police and spread against their
As is often the case with hooks’ work, her cars—it’s a way of life for people of color
ideas languish in a level of intellectualism that and this book strives to be a tool to combat
is ineffective if her intent is to mobilize the this age-old problem.
masses. Her audience may very well be the Divided into two parts, Driving While
proverbial “talented tenth” who requires a Black begins by focusing on this definition
kind of trickle-down theory of dissemination. and how it is used on a regular basis in crime
She seems unwilling to share her vision with prevention among law enforcement agen-
folks who can’t stand on the intellectual cies. Meeks also illustrates how the prac-
ground she stakes — which is unfortunate. tice of racial profiling plays an integral role
The fundamental problem with hooks’ in African-Americans’ everyday live. Citing
“new vision” is that she writes from a place over a dozen examples, ranging from a 1959
of hope and longing, creating a new love or- incident where a boy was accused by po-
der that seems utopian rather than modern- lice of stealing his own bike, to a young
day focused. The meditative nature of her black woman being subjected to a full body
work leaves an impression of “some day” search at an airport customs office for no
rather than an inspiring call to action that de- other reason than her “type” fit the profile
mands immediate movement and commit- of drug smugglers (i.e. black and female).
ment to change. Further examples include situations involv-

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3 3

ing taxicab drivers, store clerks and basket- nese immigrant three times her senior, and
ball players and illustrate just how entrenched Rosa, a White woman, married to a Black
the practice is in the United States. school headmaster who is paranoid that a
Part two offers investigations of various re- faithful Rosa is having an extramarital affair
ports, mandates—including the federal and that she is also trying to kill him. Both
government’s measures to stop the practice— women ache to be free from the physical,
news headlines, the Bill of Rights and relevant mental and economic abuse their husbands
amendments to the Constitution. It also of- dish out.
fers the names and addresses of organizations As adolescents, Zuela and Rosa witnessed
that can assist victims with seeking advice and a gruesome act as they hid behind a hibis-
guidance in fighting back, including form let- cus bush. In shame, both promise to never
ters to be sent to government representatives speak a word of what they saw as their lives
as well as examples of complaint letters. take separate paths, but a similar act, over
Driving While Black is chock full of vital two decades later (a woman’s body found
information, but the reader has to work hard gutted and defaced) brings the two intricate
to get through the extra clutter and redun- women back to each other through the
dancy in order to find the most critical—spe- memory and upsurge of emotions and cir-
cifically, what are a person’s rights, what con- cumstance. As the town of Otahiti attempts
stitutes a violation of those rights, and finally, to obtain answers for the murders, readers
what can be done when those rights are vio- will discover that the town not only suffers
lated. Meeks set a tall order for himself in from man’s oppressive viciousness against
tackling such an intricate issue. And to his women, but that the post-colonial town, is
credit, the research is impeccable, but some- dictated by the separation of class and race
where along the line, in trying to get this book on many levels. From a mother’s standpoint,
out while the issue of racial profiling is at the Zuela finds herself only brave when her
forefront of public debate, he neglects to children’s lives come into question and she
present his information in an organized and struggles to have the same strength for her-
usable manner. It is, however, worth weed- self, while Rosa dreamily fantasizes about her
ing through, especially if one is in need of husband’s death with no intentions of actu-
the resources he’s assembled. ally killing him. The pages of Bruised Hibis-
cus swell with the degradation of it’s char-
Bruised Hibiscus acters, yet allows them to create a founda-
by Elizabeth Nunez tion upon the rocky grounds in which they
Seal Press live, a voice reminiscent of Alice Walker’s
Reviewed by Camika Spencer Possessing the Secret of Joy.
The disappointing aspect of Bruised Hi-
A classic novel, Bruised Hibiscus is a book biscus is that the story is sometimes crippled
that eloquently fuses the lives of two women with an abundance of metaphoric descrip-
tied by love and fear. Taking place in the small, tion in moments when the reader simply
post- colonial, Trinidad village of Otahiti, wants to keep the momentum of action and
Bruised Hibiscus introduces us to Zuela, a dialogue. It’s like sitting by a campfire lis-
Hispanic, deep toned, young mother of ten, tening to an elder tell three stories within one
who is married to an opium-addicted, Chi- to make a point, but even this little complaint

3 4 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

is not enough to abandon Bruised Hibiscus. of winning. Ironically, she was also trying to
It is that enthralling. get his attention. She needed his help. Ricky
Without giving away the story or the plot had said he had a job for him, only he didn’t
of the book, the reader must know that the know it had anything to do with Sugar Greer,
journey of Rosa and Zuela is one that isn’t or protecting her from her ex-husband. Pro-
always easy to swallow, and at times it’s tecting Greer seems simple until Price learns
highly emotional and frequently relegates the that Greer’s ex-husband is Brother Yazz,
reader to saying things out loud either in pro- leader of the local Black cult, The New Day
test or support. Complex but revealing , Brothers, and supposed head of a well-con-
Bruised Hibiscus is a waterfall of truth that nected jewel theft ring.
has to be dug from beneath lies, distrust and Brother Yazz’s influence reaches across
deceit. Elizabeth Nunez has managed to the Chicago ghetto from drug addicts to
write a beautiful story from beginning to end white-collar workers. His connections run
that reminds the reader how powerful and deep. Brother Yazz comes from a respected
valuable memory is. It’s sensitive subject religious family. His father was the late Elder
matter has been mastered by the author and Pastor Owens, and his mother a revered
in line with When Rocks Dance and Beyond member of the community. Surely Brother
the Limbo Silence, Nunez has brought the Yazz is righteous. He had even rescued Sugar
past and present spirit of Trinidad to life with from prostitution and drug abuse, and mar-
brilliance, vivid imagery and tact. From her ried her.
heart, Elizabeth Nunez has created another For David, protecting a client is routine.
master work of literature. It’s his profession. But curtailing his carnal
passion for Greer is asking too much. She’s
One Dead Preacher no ordinary client. He had never protected
by Tony Lindsay
Tony anyone so beautiful. Could he resist? This is
BlackW ords Inc.
BlackWords where the plot quickens. Especially when
Reviewed by Kimberly Burgess Sugar, who he finds irresistible, moves in with
him to feel safe.
Don’t judge this book by its title. Tony Lindsay has woven an interesting plot
Lindsay’s urban mystery, One Dead Preacher around Price’s questionable past and The
is far from trite. The story introduces us to New Day Brothers. Even his ex-wife, Regina,
David Price, CEO and agent in his own se- reporter for the local newspaper gets in-
curity firm, as he creeps through the hard- volved. Price then finds himself trying to keep
knock Chicago hood in his pearl white eight his past and present out of unsuspected dan-
cylinder ’96 Fleetwood Brougham Cadillac gerous territory, while his late father’s words
to visit Ricky, a childhood friend, at one of ring in his head: “If you got one foot in the
his many business establishments—one of past and another in the future, you’re pissing
which is a gambling ring. all over today.” Somehow his adolescent
Surrounded in a game of craps by the behavior (allegedly murdering two rapists)
young thugs Ricky routinely attempts to con- comes back to haunt him, turning his firm
vert to a legal life, among them hustlers, gam- handle on Chicago into a karmic valley of
blers, and drunks, Price accidentally grabs borrowed time for deeds done in the past,
hold of Sugar Greer’s thick legs in excitement and guns still smoking. Lindsay’s One Dead

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3 5

Preacher, his first novel, is an impressive read the fatherless black man turned ill seed to
for urban drama seekers and puts a modern care enough about exactly how fatherlessness
twist on an old story. effects the black community overall.
While Barras wonderfully weaves self-nar-
Whatever Happened to rative with interviews of fatherless black
Daddy ’s Little Girl?
Daddy’s women and psychologist’s insight, there are
The Impact of FFatherlessness
atherlessness moments when the reader will be confronted
on Black W omen
Women with asking himself or herself whether being
By Jonetta Rose Barras fatherless has to affect one for the rest of his
OneW orld / Ballantine
OneWorld or her life? Not to belittle the negative im-
Reviewed by LLynne
ynne d Johnson pact that fatherlessness may have on the lives
of black women, but must these women
All too often sociologists, psychologists, measure the content of their character by
and the media pontificate about the effects what studies have shown to be the so-called
of fatherlessness on black males. These black norm?
males are stigmatized from the onset of their Many members of the black community
lives, singled out to become the dregs of so- often allow stereotypes to dictate their exist-
ciety. We are forewarned that because these ence. Barras’ intent to educate and inform
black males did not have a father in the rings clearly, but at the same time it provides
home, or a father figure, that without pre- excuses for who the fatherless black woman
ventive services their pubescence will be has allowed herself to become. Is it only the
filled with self-loathing, which in turn will fatherless black woman who is more likely
lead to drug dealing, killing, and a life in the to be promiscuous, non-trusting of men, fear-
penal system. Granted, the majority of father- ful of love, or an overachiever? Probably not.
less children can expect to live an impover- Barras’ work is definitely a guide for self-
ished life, but perhaps all the other predic- analysis, and a study for the fatherless black
tions are more hype and stereotype than fact. woman, as well as the father who has been
Is it because they do not have fathers that separated from his daughter. Without judg-
they end up this way, or does genetics, envi- ment or blame, Barras builds a strong case
ronment, and individual circumstance play for the fatherless black woman to further ex-
a more pivotal role in who a fatherless child amine her behavior toward herself and to-
will become? ward the men in her life.
These are questions one could ponder It’s been a long time that we’ve waited for
when reading Jonetta Rose Barras’ Whatever someone to stand up and discuss
Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl? The Im- fatherlessness from the perspective of the
pact of Fatherlessness on Black Women. Al- black woman. And, Barras does a pretty good
though Barras does an excellent job at ex- job, although sometimes a little too subjec-
amining the issues surrounding the plight of tively. This book most likely served as cathar-
fatherless black women—a subject that has sis for the writer, and it will touch the lives of
been virtually ignored—the reader may sway many women who search for their father’s
between moments of empathy or sympathy love in all the wrong places. But it leaves the
to wondering “who cares?” Perhaps we have reader wondering, “Why don’t you get over
been desensitized by the countless tales of it already?”

3 6 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

Soldier: A P oet’s Childhood
Poet’s out. Jordan’s ability to assemble her life into
By June Jordan vignettes may call to mind Sandra Cisneros’
Basic Civitas Books The House on Mango Street, however, Sol-
Reviewed by R. Flowers Rivera dier shuns the veil of naïvete, even going as
far as illuminating the subtleties involved in
Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood relates the be- identifying oneself as American Black versus
ginning of June Jordan’s life. The manner she an African-American whose home is outside
chooses to tell the narrative mimics the form the States. As I read and re-read passages, I
of most childhood memories—shards of knew that by sharing her story, Jordan was
beauty etched into our minds. Relying upon also giving girls—young ones and those of
a dizzying mixture of poetry and prose, this us in grown-up bodies—a way to reclaim that
memoir conjures the disparate images so wild streak that is sometimes forgotten along
many of us never take the time or the effort the way.
to recall, except maybe in passing. Jordan So many of us are ill-equipped, unable,
blends historical details (Father Divine and or unwilling to recount our formative years.
Harlem in the 1940s), blissful reveries (first This astounding poet and essayist provides
boyfriends and family trips to the beach and a means by which we can see the similari-
grandmothers who never let go of your hand), ties of childhood, then and now. A true griot,
and small confessions (“I never wanted and I she invokes the senses by which we define
never got a Shirley Temple doll”) juxtaposed ourselves. Hemingway wrote of “a move-
with plain old truth (“A really excellent way able feast.” Jordan reclaims this idea for all
to stop somebody from hitting you is to hit of us. Through her precision with words,
back”) to evoke what first appears to be, but for whole minutes at a time, Jordan jars each
is not, a bygone era. reader into remembering who we were.
The most remarkable aspect of this mem-
oir is the halting language and startling line White Teeth
breaks. By combining poetry and prose, Jor- by Zadie Smith
dan forces the reader to ponder images and Random House
conventions of American society that one Reviewed by T ara Betts
might otherwise overlook. Without didacti-
cism, Jordan casts the observer’s eye on the Zadie Smith’s White Teeth possesses the
process by which women instruct girls on rich detail and engaging dialogue between
becoming ladies. She also recounts the de- characters that makes her novel a refreshing
fining scars and beatings that accompanied and surprising first effort by this young au-
her childhood; shows her family’s sacrifices thor.
that enabled the ostensibly upward move White Teeth opens with Archie Jones try-
from Harlem to Brooklyn, but more impor- ing to commit suicide on New Year’s Day,
tantly, she makes sense of her parents’ com- 1975. After Archie’s failed marriage, he flips
plex relationship. Her controlling father un- a coin—Archie’s foreshadowing response to
derstood what it meant to be Black and fe- several turning points in the book. This
male in the United States but internalized simple act determines his journey into a car-
those stigmas, and her mother saw marital bon monoxide blackout. Then a butcher
passion as a luxury that she could do with- bangs on his window and shifts him into a

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3 7

newly printed lease on life. Archie drives detail. The fights between husbands and
on to meet Clara at a house full of hung over, wives, as well as young and old, are written
marijuana connoisseurs. like you’re the invisible third party— laugh-
Clara is a 19-year-old Jamaican and ex- ing silently at the silliness that family mem-
Jehovah’s Witness who lost her teeth and her bers create when they annoy each other.
faith. The two build a new home in North White Teeth is an impressive debut with a
London, where Archie renews his friendship bite that sinks into the complexities of an in-
with his World War II buddy, Samad Iqbal, creasing diversity of all communities of
who also married a much younger Muslim people of color. White Teeth visits the past
woman named Alsana. of these families, their arrivals in London, and
Samad works as a waiter, despite his im- leads us to their futures. Smith has given us
mobile left hand, and dreams of a better life the kinds of characters that you want to know
while fantasizing about the heroism of his what happens to—long after the book is fin-
great-grandfather, Mandal Pandein, in the In- ished. The conclusion has merely marked the
dian Mutiny of 1857-1859. As the two men end of a particular series of events in the lives
rebuild their relationship by hanging out daily of the Jones and Iqbal families.
at the Muslim-owned restaurant, Zadie Smith wrote the 449-page novel in
O’Connell’s, the neglected wives build their two years, so look forward to her dedication
own friendships and eventually have chil- allowing more memorable characters to
dren. emerge from her pen.
Magid and Millat are Alsana and Samad
Iqbal’s twins who are sent on diverging paths The Black Rose
when Samad sends Millat to “Bangladesh, By Tananarive Due
formerly East Pakistan, formerly India, for- One W orld /Ballantine Books
merly Bengal” until he is old enough to con- Reviewed by Mondella S. Jones
template law school. Magid becomes the
cussing, reefer-smoking, militant Muslim son Tananarive Due, critically acclaimed au-
bred from Public Enemy records, Mafia mov- thor of My Soul To Keep and The Between,
ies and rude boy subculture. brings to life The Black Rose, the compel-
Archie and Clara’s daughter, Irie, grows up ling story of Madame C.J. Walker, America’s
having sleepovers with Magid and first black female millionaire. Based on re-
Millat. She follows Magid throughout the search gathered by Alex Haley before his
novel, accompanied by her longtime crush; death in 1992, Ms. Due mixes factual
she also reads and longs to be thinner with events, moving dialogue, and fictional ac-
straighter hair to impress him. counts and characters to bring the reader
After meeting this crew, readers can see inside the life of a tenacious pioneer.
how the arguments can get sparked over Born Sarah Breedlove to former slaves on
clashing cultures, the alienation between a Louisiana plantation in 1867 just after
generations, and children growing up in cul- emancipation. Sarah soon experiences the
tures distinctly different from that of their woes of heartache. Her parents’ untimely
parents. Smith manages to tackle all these death takes her from a simple and sheltered
subjects with humor, a distinct ability to cap- world in Delta, Louisiana and forces her into
ture dialects on paper, and a gift for sensory the cruel working days of Vicksburg, Missis-

3 8 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

sippi. With her sister Lou, Sarah must ful to the spirit of Madame C. J. Walker and
struggle and fight to stay above ground. Her to the research and writing of Alex Haley.
employer, Ms. America Brown, owns her The Black Rose proves to be one of the most
own washing business with four employees. powerful stories of the year. Ms. Due’s ac-
Sarah is impressed by Ms. Brown’s intelli- complishments with her first work of his-
gence and skill and vows to follow in her torical fiction command respect and high
footsteps to become a successful entrepre- praise.
neur. After years of misfortune, Sarah feels
destined to the life of a washerwoman. Her Father FFound
life changes when she discovers her trans- By R.M. Johnson
forming hair care method. Simon & Schuster
In 1904, Madame C.J. Walker changed Reviewed by K elwyn W
Kelwyn right
the way African-American women would
view their hair forever. Her hair oil, along Father Found is an ambitious novel that
with the steel comb, revolutionized hair care continues the themes begun in R.M. Johnson’s
as we know it today. Noted as a “hair previous novel, The Harris Men. Johnson
culturist,” she once said, “...the Madame has said his debut was born of his desire to
C.J. Walker method is not just about slappin’ do something about the dearth of novels ex-
some grease on somebody ’s ploring the African-American male experi-
course teaches the totalment of colored ence of familial and other interpersonal re-
womanhood, so anyone who sees you will lationships. In particular, he chooses to fo-
know right off you are a woman of pride.” cus on the different ways black men are af-
Traveling around the country by train and fected by the phenomenon of fatherless
car, Madame C.J. Walker introduced women households and absentee role models.
from all walks of life to her system of “grow- “I hate you men!” begins Zale Rowen’s
ing hair.” For $25 she not only taught them presentation to a group of absentee fathers
a skill, but also a way of life. A “hair culturist” under court order to attend his lecture. Zale
could be on the path to self-employment. is the president of Father Found, a private,
She empowered black women with a sense proactive social services agency, whose lone
of pride during a time when women, black goal is to return estranged fathers to their
and white, were not treated as equals. homes and children. He proceeds to be-
Ms. Due also looks inside Madame’s hard little and berate his captive audience—
times, proving that money can’t buy happi- ”cowards” and “children” being among the
ness. From her daughter Lelia’s rumored nicer things he calls them. When the crowd
scandalous behavior to betrayal by her hus- turns ugly, reacting with catcalls and vocal
band, Madame C.J. Walker endured the all- recriminations, Zale silences them by
too-common emotional heartache that smashing a glass water pitcher.
comes with success. The narrative arc of Father Found is like
From its humble beginning to its lavish the water pitcher: half full, mostly wet, and
end, Tananarive Due has given us a won- eventually, like Zale’s life, shattered into a
derful story of one of the most compelling million pieces. We first encounter Zale Ro-
women of our time. With careful attention wen as an urban Diogenes, literally out look-
to detail, she has succeeded in staying faith- (Continued on page 44)

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3 9

[the write stuff]

THE NEW WAY TO PUBLISH by Maxine Thompson

Is the feel of a book in your hands soon to be a thing n Simon and Schuster and Random House also an-
of the past? Is flipping through pages and making a nounced each had teamed up with Microsoft to pub-
wonderful discovery over as we know it? Is the future lish books for hand-held devices and computers using
here and does it include you? Yes, the inevitable is new Microsoft Reader software.
here. If not you, then your children will be using elec-
tronic books also known as “eBooks” in the near fu- n Time Warner announced the creation of
ture., calling it “the first dedicated Internet
publishing venture from an American book publisher.”
After successfully distributing Riding the Bullet, via the Digital books will be sold from the site
Internet, Stephen King announced that he would pub- and through a network of online retail partners includ-
lish a serial story on his official website at ing and The pub- The Plant, a novel King started writ- lisher will accept unsolicited manuscripts through the
ing in the 1980s, but put aside for other projects, was sister site
made available via his website in installments begin-
ning in mid-July. Fans will be charged $1 per down- DO YOU STILL THINK ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING
load; each download is approximately 5,000 words. IS JUST A FLUKE?
King initially released Riding The Bullet as a The publishing industry doesn’t. Check out these news-
downloadable book and was “stunned” by the huge worthy bits on well-known corporations that are capi-
success of it. Nearly 500,000 copies have been sold talizing on the emergence of e-publishing.
to date.
n On June 6th software giant Microsoft and online
In a series of articles, Mosaic will look at the phenom- bookseller announced their
enon of eBooks and the effects it will have on how planned partnership to sell “paper-free” books that can
you read, what you read and the publishing industry’s be read on devices using Microsoft’s Reader software.
move into electronic publishing. Barnes and Noble customers will have the opportu-
nity to access thousands of eBook titles through their
SO YOU THINK EBOOKS ARE A FLUKE Reader software, an application that will have the abil-
n A blurb in the March 23, 2000 issue of USA Today ity to deliver an on-screen computer reading experi-
reported that eBook sales will hit $2.8 billion this year, ence. Deals have already been inked between
which is approximately 10% of all book sales, accord- Microsoft and such publishing powerhouses as Pen-
ing to the American Book Dealers Association. guin Books, and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. to con-

4 0 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
Not A Day Goes By by E. Lynn Harris

Liar’s Game by Eric Jerome Dickey

Satin Doll by Karen Quinones Miller

vert their print titles into electronic books.
Casting the First Stone
n Barnes & Noble, Inc. acquired a 49% ownership inter-
by Kimberla Lawson Roby
est in, the world’s largest publishing portal
on November 2, 1999. facilitates writers
Maintenance Man by Michael Baisden
or small publishers wanting to self-publish or publish short
print runs. It is Barnes and Noble’s first major investment
Sugar by Bernice McFadden
in a book-publishing venture. The relationship will pro-
vide a new era of opportunity for out-of-print authors who
will have their books circulated on-demand and for writ-
ers who can now have their books published within 30
books to
look for
days and earn higher royalties––by circumventing the “tra-
ditional publisher.”

It’s clear from all of the industry information now avail-

able that eBook publishing is serious business. What’s even Drop by Mat Johnson
better news is that for smaller publishers, eBook publish-
ing offers an opportunity to compete with the larger elec- Giant Steps: The New Generation of
tronic publishers like This site and
African American Writers
newsletter keeps you updated with eBook sellers, eBook
resources, eBook book clubs, and eBook bestseller lists.
Edited by Kevin Young

Sites such as The Running River, Rails Under My Back

views/index.htm, are devoted to providing, among other by Jeffery Renard Allen
resources, book reviews of eBooks. My company, Black
Butterfly Press has just launched five titles that are eBooks.
To say that I am excited at a chance to get a piece of the
Shadow Dancing by Louise Meriwether
American Dream (free enterprise) without losing my shirt
is an understatement. This activity, as well as print on Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinones
demand, has provided a panacea for both writers and
readers. ★
Dark Matters:
A Century of Speculative Fiction
From the African Diaspora
Edited by Sheree Thomas

Trading Twelves:
The Selected Letters
of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray
Edited by Albert Murray
and John F. Callahan
[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 4 1
bernice mcfadden
found herself saying, “I’m just as good a writer, if not there trying to get published and you just have to wait
better. Why can’t I get published?” Several months until your time comes around. And last year, well, last
later, McFadden had turned an unfinished poem she’d year was my time.” Despite her new celebrity,
written titled Lotta, into the four hundred page, McFadden is still just Mom to her twelve year old
thought-provoking novel, Sugar. (The published book, daughter, R’yane.
however, is a powerful two hundred twenty-nine Although a sequel to Sugar was not in her plans,
pages.) demands from fans caused McFadden to reconsider.
McFadden, determined to get Sugar published que- Unfortunately, with ideas for her next four books al-
ried every agent and publisher listed in The Literary ready outlined, the sequel, much of which will be the
Marketplace. A few replied saying, “There isn’t a mar- two-hundred pages edited out of Sugar’s original four
ket for a literary work by an unknown Black author.” hundred pages, won’t be released for a while.
McFadden was also rejected by every Black agent she McFadden’s second book, The Warmest Decem-
contacted. However, after being published, one Black ber, about the tumultuous relationship between an al-
agent was gracious enough to write a note of con- coholic father and his daughter, is scheduled to be
gratulations and expressed regret that she’d been one released at the beginning of next year. “Writing book
of those agents who had rejected her. two is very stressful,” she says. “You have so much
In early 1999, McFadden received a call from James attention showered upon you; on something you’ve
Vines, a literary agent, asking to represent her, and done. The level of expectation is so high, and I’m
within two weeks he had obtained McFadden a two- scared.”
book contract from Dutton Books. Not leaving Sugar’s A writer’s writer, McFadden validates belief that a
success to chance, McFadden says she, “Harassed ev- new generation of Black authors, skilled in the craft of
eryone by e-mail. I had announcement cards made writing, will continue our literary legacy. ★
up, went to Black-owned bookstores, called on the
old-girlfriend network. I did everything I could think
of.” Of writing a book, McFadden says, “Well, it’s like
my child. It’s mine, and it’s my responsibility. You can’t
depend upon anyone else. If you believe in what bil wright
you’ve written, then you’ve got to play an active role Wright admits that he did not want his story to be a
in promoting it.” McFadden’s aggressive marketing tragic one, but rather a snapshot of life told artisti-
paid off. Before the January ’99 publication date, Sugar cally. “Writing has taught me to be more daring and
was in its second printing, and three months later, the free,” he says.
sixth printing has since yielded over twenty-four thou- Aside from writing a knockout novel, Wright is a
sand copies in circulation. Since McFadden wrote talented poet and playwright. A graduate of New York
Sugar with thoughts of seeing it on the big screen, the University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he majored in
attention her novel has received from Miramax, Twen- acting, and received his Masters of Fine Arts in
tieth Century Fox, Penny Marshall’s production com- playwriting from Brooklyn College. His work has been
pany and Debbie Allen, each expressing an interest published in many anthologies including Men on Men
in producing the movie version, has her excited. 3 and Shade. His poetry is anthologized in The Road
“It’s like a fantasy! When things [first] started hap- Before Us, The Name of Love, Jugular Defenses,
pening, they happened very quickly,” exclaims a ju- The James White Review and Art And Understand-
bilant McFadden. “I know there’s a lot of people out ing. His plays have been produced at Yale University,

4 2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, Dixon Place, Nuyorican ics is “If I wrote solely from my own experiences, it
Café, and the Samuel Beckett Theater in New York would make for a boring, self-indulgent novel.” How-
City. Currently he teaches at Borough of Manhattan ever, as any writer, she uses material from her personal
Community College. experiences and the people she has known.
For the best seat in the house, check out Bil While Careful What You Wish For, has elements of
Wright’s novel, Sunday You Learn How To Box. ★ race interwoven in the plot, the major theme of the
work is that one can choose not to be limited by
society ’s expectations, a theme that touches
everyone’s lives.
Hermes’ future projects include re-working some
Shakespearean themes which will allow her to com-
bine her love of both literature and theater and a new
myrlin hermes novel whose main character is even “more different
white writers who are exploring the lives of fictional from herself”, a bisexual man in 16th century Europe.
black characters. Hermes’ response is that she “didn’t As long as the story is still interesting and intelligent
try to write a black character (but) instead thought and the writing rings true, Hermes will definitely have
about how I might feel and what choices I would an audience. ★
make” if she were this character. Hermes acknowl-
edges that “race is a part of a character’s experiences
and attitudes that shape both their choices and their
lives, but a character who is emotionally authentic will
ring true, whatever his or her race.”
Natalie’s character was also influenced by Hermes
studies of the literary cliché of the “tragic mulatta.”
She hoped to take this “inherently sexist and racist
myth” and invert it. To this end, she purposefully
makes Natalie both educated and articulate. We learn
later in the book, Natalie has been raised in a middle- nikky
class white household. This not only destroys the finney ursula
aforementioned myth but also made Natalie’s experi- rucker
ences closer to Hermes’ own, which made her “easier
to write about with authority. “ the
Hermes avoids clichés and stereotypes about char- big mango
acters unlike herself by writing “from inside the char-
acter, not outside.” She suggests to writers that are sharif
writing characters outside of their own experience, “If
a character’s reaction is very different than yours, make
sure you understand why.” slapboxing
Hermes says she has received more criticism for with jesus
“writing about the South as a Northerner than for writ-
ing about black characters.” Her response to her crit-

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 4 3

reviews long live the king
ing for lost children under Chicago’s street lamps. These photos are solitary in nature, intimate photos
Zale appears to be an anagram for “zeal” as Rowen of Ali eating, shopping for clothes, swimming, spar-
will leave no rock unturned in his fanatical crusade ring, and running.
to induce every wayward father home. For the most part the photos are unremarkable.
Zale is assisted in this crusade by Martin Carter What makes them memorable is there freshness and
and Frank Rames, two men he trusts without reser- candor. Even the photos taken right after Ali’s an-
vation—the first with his finances and the second nouncement that he converted to Islam are memo-
with his life. Father Found alternates between these rable for there shear plainness and beauty –– Ali sit-
three men, telling tales of their fractured lives and ting in a suit, ruffled shirt and bow tie that seemed
relationships, and concentrating on how, even as more suited for a Las Vegas act than a new member of
they devote most of their waking hours to Zale’s the Nation of Islam.
admirable cause, they fail their own wives, mates Overall it is always hard to get a look into someone’s
and children. life just by looking at pictures but, The Birth will give
This is an unsympathetic tale, told through the you a glimpse of Cassius Clay, before the birth of
eyes of three sad sack protagonists so self-centered, Muhammad Ali.
flawed and self-righteously cruel, they elicit little—
if any—empathy from the reader. It is telling that REDEMPTION SONG:
the one engaging male character, the one character MUHAMMAD ALI AND THE SPIRIT OF THE SIXTIES
you root for, is Mace, a vicious drug dealer and Zale’s For a serious study of Muhammad Ali and the
street-wise protector. 1960s I strongly suggest you read Redemption Song:
Father Found is also surprisingly misogynistic. Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike
From Frank and Martin’s wives, to Zale’s mother and Marqusee.
foster mother, Johnson’s men are por- With deep and penetrating detail for specif-
trayed as being beset by harlots, har- ics, the author gives us a near complete look at
pies and harridans. the era of Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali and the
I place R.M. Johnson in the wid- 60s as they parallel through this turbulent de-
ening ouvre that includes E. Lynn cade. With reference to many 1960s icons, in-
Harris and Bebe Moore Campbell. cluding Eldridge Cleaver, The Black Panthers, Bob
Each of these writers patrol the new Dylan and Louis X (Louis Farrakhan), Mike
buppie frontier, where the college Marqusee has given the reader more than a book
educated and the upwardly compen- on Ali, here we have a tome to a specific time in
sated learn new jack rules of love and history that revolved around Ali. Redemption
social warfare. Call it Social-Economic Fiction. Song makes lengthy references to the Civil Rights Move-
Johnson, however, doesn’t project the distinctive ment, Vietnam and Black Nationalism. The author’s
voice of Harris, and his characters don’t have the juice ability to weave what may have been perceived as dif-
squirted by Campbell’s often untidy prose. ferent unconnected forces during the same era is fas-
An accomplished writer, Johnson is blessed with cinating.
a prosaic fluidity. His seemingly effortless prose never It may be unfair to include Redemption Song in
sags or trips you from the narrative. In fact, it holds this group since the goals are more substantial in na-
you snugly, buckles you in and carries you long af- ture, but you will not go wrong if you add Redemp-
ter you cease to care if the lost men of Found find tion Song and Muhammad Ali: The Birth of A Legend,
redemption. ★ Miami, 1961-1964 to your library. ★

4 4 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

books, eclectic tapes and food that he had grown Wall Street. My brother training to find his self back
and cooked. I told him he couldn’t seduce me with where we all grew up in Canada. My youngest sister
his food. And he warned me as I chomped into his calculating the quickest way to graduate from high
first lentil nut loaf that the Maroons and the Mau Mau school so that she could do the thing she loved best–
had both used poison in food as a guerilla tactic to paint. My father reminiscing about the good old days
defeat their oppressors. before society retired him. My mother trying to be the
I swallowed my first mouthful and continued eating. strong Black woman that everyone thought she should
He told me things about myself. I stopped reading be.
trashy daily horoscopes and like my ancestors They were with me in spirit. I wrote them
started looking at the stars and the moon every alternate week censoring my letters
for signs. I tuned into my menstrual cycle depending on whom I was writing to. Dad
and started to feel the pull of the moon was the only one that really wrote regu-
on my temperament. larly but he was not the most exciting
“You are so moony,” he said as we lay writer, his letters an exercise in short-
on the tarpaulin outside his bamboo hut listing. Receiving them from the post of-
stargazing. I was upset that he had not fice, I would put them aside until the
taken the time out from work to celebrate my weekend when I had enough energy to
birthday. read them.
“And spoiled. You are very spoiled,” he chirped. Of his family, he spoke very little although he wanted
I tried to ignore him, tried to remember that as an to say more. All I knew was that he had been raised by
organic farmer, his rhythm was different to my city his grandmother in St. Vincent. His mother had left
beat. But I kept on coming back to the fact that I had the island to study nursing in England were she had
turned a quarter of a century and had not heard a died before filing for him. His father had been absent
word of congratulations from him. in his life though he had left sisters and brothers for
“The earth has had over a million birthdays. How him everywhere. Kooraju had moved to Antigua in
have we celebrated this great accomplishment?” he search of more lucrative work but had been appalled
remarked, “This life is a collection of birth days. Ev- by the barbarism of tourism.
eryday I give birth to something new, a pawpaw tree, “My family now is the community I cultivate,” he
a cashew tree, sorrel, string beans, okra, pumpkin, said half-talking to me, half-talking to his field of corn.
sweet potato, the herb of all herbs. The earth rewards He invited me to his grounds after our reasonings
me with her glorious multiple births.” became too deep as to discuss in my sterile workplace.
Just think of me for a minute, will you. I thought as “What part of your body do you love the most?”,
he rubbed my stomach trying to ease the pain of an- he asked one day while digging for cassava in his field.
other menstrual cycle. What about me? My needs. “I mean, the part that if you lost it would make you
My desires. My relationship with you. feel incomplete.”
“Touch my womanhood, will you?” I pleaded. “My heart,” I responded, embarrassing myself with
He put his two hands on my expectant breasts and my quickness.
rubbed them so gently. “Oh… That’s what makes me so enraptured by you.
I sighed in relief. Your contradiction,” he stated.
He became my family. Everyone else was away. I wanted him to explain himself but he told me that
Scattered. some things are better left unsaid. I wrapped my arms
My eldest sister chasing stock market dreams on around myself and began to weep. 0

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 4 5

We entered each other that night under the stars - He left me that night.
flesh on flesh. He was so sensitive afterwards. He “It’s either me or your babylon job,” he said. “How
wouldn’t even let me touch him. Why couldn’t we can you continue working like a zombie doing some-
just be friends? I asked. thing that you don’t want to do without destroying
What is just?, he responded. self. Free up yourself and follow truth.”
I circled his belly button with my index finger and When I went up the hill to his cultivation days later
he flinched. to tell him I had quit my job and was ready to work
There was no difference afterwards. No line that with him, it was already too late. Everything he had
we had crossed changing the nature of our relation- planted had been razed to the ground. The authori-
ship. It just continued to grow, as usual. And with it, ties had come in and the police had distributed the
the reasonings. herb he was growing amongst themselves. Not even a
“We should work together,” he said one day over a pumpkin remained in his patch. And I couldn’t even
calabash of homemade pumpkin soup. “There are so shed a tear.
few of us now concerned with the earth and her fruits, Folks told me they had extradited him to a prison
so few of us who want to work the ground, despite back home in St. Vincent, after cutting off his locks.
our memory of slavery. All the youth want is a job in a He stood trial for possession of cannabis indica, grow-
bank or with computers. But what will they eat? Dis- ing it with intention to sell and for squatting on private
ease? Put your precious energy where your heart is property. And there was nothing I could do except
JahmiIka, and help me. I’m a brother who can offer remember what had been.
you nothing but food for the body and the soul.” Months later, word spread that he had escaped from
I wanted to work with him. To be self-sufficient. I prison and was “roaming at large in the hills.” Five years
really did. I wanted to follow my heart, to say to hell later, they still haven’t found him and in all that time,
with this system and to fly in new ways, even to culti- he has only visited me again in my dreams. He says,
vate and to write. I saw the daily destruction, the ex- “Now is the time” and pushes me to move on with
cess of new cars and dream homes filled with cancer the part I love most.
patients. I witnessed the dependence on foreign food My heart. ★
and the amnesia regarding local herbal remedies. But
that mental slavery Bob had spoken of kept me sta-
tionary. I moved two steps forward and three steps
back. sugar
“What more do you need?” he asked one day as I do.”
grated a coconut for the curry he was preparing? “1 think it’s downright disgusting,” Pearl said, frus-
I didn’t answer because the joy was there, the peace trated because Sugar could offer no valid explana-
was there, the passion was there. Sure, he didn’t have tion.
a penny or the new bare necessities of this life - run- “Well...don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
ning water, electricity, a telephone, cable TV and a Pearl huffed. “I don’t know nothing about you,
PC. But, he was the healthiest and most hardworking Sugar. You live next door and we spend time together,
person I had ever met. And if this system didn’t re- but you still a stranger to me.”
ward him, Mother Earth certainly did. Sugar laughed. “Miss Pearl, I see you one of those
Thank you, she said in all her glory. Thank you for soupy drunks.”
cultivating me. Pearl scratched at her nose. “I ain’t drunk.” Her

4 6 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

words were slurred and she squirmed again against That was not true. And Pearl shook her head insis-
the warm feeling between her legs. “Tell me some- tently no, but she would not tell of what didn’t go on
thing, what you think your mamma woulda said ‘bout in her bedroom. She would riot.
what you do?” “Look here, I do what I have to to put food on my
Sugar stiffened at the words. They hit her like pel- table and clothes on my back and will keep on doing
lets. “Okay, Miss Pearl, I think it’s time for you to go it same as you.”
now.” She stood and stretched her long brown frame. Pearl raised her hands in defeat. She did not want
Any high she had was quickly seeping from her. to argue again, but she had Sugar angry now. Sugar’s
“Y-you think she woulda approved of you being a tongue flicked words at Pearl like a whip.
whore?” Pearl continued, oblivious to the anger that “The only difference between you and me, Miss
was building up in Sugar. Pearl, is you began your whoring life in front of a con-
Sugar flinched at the questions and swallowed gregation, dressed in white and with God’s blessing!”
hard. She did not want to discuss a mother she never She slammed into the house, leaving Pearl sorry
knew. for speaking at all. Pearl heard the glasses crash into
“She dead. How am I suppose to know what she the sink. The refrigerator door opened and slammed
think?” she said and bent down to snatch up Pearl’s closed three times and by the time Pearl’s foot landed
empty glass. on the last step Sugar was back on the porch, huffing
“I don’t think she wouldalikeditverymuch.” Pearl’s and puffing like a wild, angry boar.
bottom lip was stuck out and her head began to look “You right’ Miss Pearl, you don’t know me at all. I
too heavy for her neck. been on my own since I was fifteen fucking years old.
Sugar just smirked. Fifteen! And did you forget how I told you I survived?
“You think maybe she was a whore too?” The Have you forgotten!” Sugar’s anger had the best of
words fell effortlessly from Pearl’s mouth arid luckily her now. Pearl turned to meet Sugar’s enraged eyes
Sugar had sense enough to realize that Pearl’s words but she did not utter a word.
were only alcohol induced. “With my pussy, that’s how! Men pay to fuck, eat
“Miss Pearl, if my mamma was a whore then she and smell my pussy!”
did what she felt she had to do. I ain’t gonna judge Pearl blushed at Sugar’s use of language; she
her, cause I don’t want to be judged. Anyway, we wanted to throw her hands up to her ears.
whores ain’t all that different from the rest of you.” Sugar was spent, the anger was mellowing down
Pearl’s eyebrows went up. “How you figure that?” to simple annoyance now. Her breathing slowed and
“Well we all got working pussies. We all whores she sat down heavily on the steps.
in one way or another—” “I ain’t bad, Miss Pearl, I just ain’t had no cross-
“I ain’t no whore. I know that for sure!” Pearl ex- roads in my life is all.”
claimed. Pearl traced Sugar’s jawline with her hand. “Yes
“Yes, you is, Pearl, you and your mamma before you have, child, you just wasn’t able to recognize
you—“ them when you came across them.” ★
“I ain’t no whore!” Pearl was standing now.
“You lay down with your husband and in return
he clothe and feed you—keep a roof up over your Sugar
head. You stop laying with him, all those things dis- Copyright © 2000 Bernice McFadden
appear.” Sugar snapped her fingers for emphasis. Reprinted with permission of EP Dutton

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 4 7

sunday you learn how to box
He’d zipped his pants and I could look him in the beat me up, knocked me down and ridden over me
face. I’d never been this close to Ray Anthony before, on my own bike. I was sure he’d seen me coming,
and he’d certainly never said anything to me. It was sure that he’d waited till I could watch him, smoking
the first time I realized one of his two front teeth was and making bridges of piss in the air. But hoodlum or
chipped, just a little on the inside corner. He also had a not, he’d told me only once, without sounding any
big dent in his chin. more dangerous than my own mother, to let go of those
“No,” I said. If I’d thought about it, I might have handlebars. And I had. Without a fight, without even
been scared to say no to him. But it seemed like he thinking about fighting him.
didn’t expect me to say yes, he’d already figured out It might have been a half hour, it might have been
I’d say no, that wasn’t the point of him asking. He longer before Ray Anthony brought my bike back, but
walked closer to me and reached for the handlebars. by now, the time didn’t matter. Whatever happened
That’s when I saw his hair had a rusty, orange glow to had happened already, before he left. It’s the differ-
it. I didn’t like orange or red much. But Ray Anthony ence between when something begins and something
Robinson’s hair was unlike any other reds or oranges continues. You can’t compare the two.
I’d seen before. When he pushed the bike back through the bushes,
“Leggo,” he told me. there was sweat running down from his thick bush of
I smelled the cigarette on his breath, kept staring at rust-colored hair and he had a perfectly folded hand-
the chipped tooth. I was filling in the space to see what kerchief he kept patting his forehead with.
he’d look like if he got it fixed. “You want me to ride you now? C’mon. Get behind
“I can’t let you ride it. My mom will see. me.”
“I’ll go the other way. Leggo.” He was crazy. If I could get the bike away from him,
I’d already let go. Ray Anthony pushed my bike the only thing I wanted to do was run home with it
through the bushes. I stood in the opening and watched and tell my mother any lie I could think of to keep
him throw his leg over it easily without having to get a from coming outside again. The bike had attracted
running start. He was wearing shoes with pointy toes people I never would have spoken to or had anything
and buckles on the sides. Pushing off, he huddled over to do with. If I couldn’t lose it or give it away, I had to
the bars like the kids did when they raced each other. think of some excuse not to bring it out again anytime
Except Ray Anthony wasn’t racing anybody. He was soon.
just riding my bike wherever he’d decided to take it. I By the time I got home, Miss Odessa had already
watched his butt lifted in the air and the muscles in his called Mom and told her she’d seen me behind the
legs as he pumped the pedals. All I could do was wait bushes with Ray Anthony Robinson. Told her she saw
behind the bushes and hope he wouldn’t ride it in front Ray Anthony ride away from the bushes on a red bi-
of my house where Mom could see him, and that he’d cycle which by now the whole projects knew was mine.
bring it back. Soon. Mom asked me, “Well, what’s your story, Louis?” but
I started to feel the cold for the first time that morn- she was already in a mood to beat some behind.
ing. But I couldn’t move, playing the whole thing with “You gonna let everybody in the projects ride it but
Ray Anthony backwards and forwards in my mind. His you? I didn’t spend months cleaning behind white men
cigarette was lying a few feet away. That and his foot- for that.”
prints in the snow with the long, pointy toes were my “He made me.” I was looking at her, but I was pic-
evidence that he’d really been there. turing Ray Anthony Robinson with his chipped tooth,
But evidence wouldn’t matter anyway. He hadn’t his rusty hair.

4 8 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

Mom started with her fists. “No, today was your her neck, the little motion as she caught each cherry
fault. You can’t blame today on anybody else.” Then in her teeth and neatly spit out the stone.
she grabbed the broom. She turned it upside down “You got any Indian in you?” Eleanor asked.
and used the stick part on me as my sister watched, She took a cherry pit out of her mouth and shrugged.
looking troubled, but helpless. ★ “Maybe,” she said. “Bit of everything, I guess. In-
dian, Mexican. Maybe even Chinese. I don’t know.”
Sunday You Learn How To Box “You don’t know?” Eleanor raised an incredulous
Copyright © 2000 Bil Wright eyebrow. Natalie put down the cherries and slid off of
Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster the kitchen counter “You don’t know who your daddy
was, either How do you know you’re not ‘passing’
right now?”
careful what you wish for Eleanor looked up — was it impertinence? But no,
for a long moment. “Water’s boiling,” she said. those fierce yellow eyes were asking her to under-
Eleanor dropped the noodles into the water and stand. “Your mother didn’t tell you who your daddy
looked at her “How long have you been passing?” was?” she asked.
she asked quietly. “If you mean the woman who gave birth to me, I
Natalie looked up. “Beg pardon?” asked her She didn’t know,” Natalie said.
“For white,” Eleanor said. “How long you been “She didn’t know? What do you mean she didn’t...”
passing for white?” “He was wearing a sheet.” Natalie’s voice was flat
Natalie was quiet for a long moment. “That what and cool. The silence fell around them, cold and white,
I’ve been doing?” like snow.
“What do you call it?” “Dear Lord,” Eleanor breathed. The air around
“Staying out of the sun.” them was perfectly still, silent.
The grandfather clock chimed five times. Eleanor “Dear Lord,” agreed Natalie. She did not smile.
sighed and stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. Eleanor put down her knife. She knew that such
“So how long has it been?” things happened, it was true. Everyone knew, and no
“All my life,” Natalie said. “I didn’t even know why one spoke of it, just as it was not considered polite, in
myself until a few months ago.” She pushed her hair Liberty, to ask how some yellow girl came to be so
back behind her ears. “And I could have gone on,” light. But it was important to ask it, important to look
she said. “I was going to get married this spring, you your husband’s mistress in the face instead of turning
know. I didn’t have to tell him.” She looked up at away to hide in the hollow between ignorance and
Eleanor “I could have had your life.” guilt. Tears gathered in Eleanor’s eyes. “There’s too
“My life’s not so bad,” Eleanor said. She certainly much that goes on that isn’t talked of,” she said. Her
wouldn’t trade it for Natalie’s, would she? Wandering voice choked on the words. “That’s why whatever
from place to place, from lover to lover. It was a life made me ask John to bring you here did it. I didn’t
Evalie might have lived. If she had lived. Eleanor sighed know it myself I don’t even know what it was that
and picked up the celery. She broke off a piece of the made me do it, but that was why.” ★
stalk and crunched on it as she cut up the rest and
mixed it in with the ham. Natalie began throwing cher- Careful What You Wish For
ries into the air, catching them neatly in her mouth. Copyright © 1999 Myrlin Hermes
Eleanor watched her, the tautness in the tendons of Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 4 9

charles l.

5 0 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]

The Charles L. Blockson Literary Collective is dedicated to sponsoring programs and ini-
tiatives designed to promote family literacy within communities of color. Named after one
of the foremost African-American bibliophiles in the nation, the Charles L. Blockson Liter-
ary Collective was founded in 2000 by three independent literary publications, African
Voices, Anansi: Fiction of the African Diaspora, and Mosaic Magazine. The Collective is
based in New York City.

African Voices, a 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization, is dedicated to highlighting the art,
literature and history of people of color. Founded in 1992, the organization publishes a
national literary arts magazine that features poetry, short stories, book reviews, art and
profiles. African Voices sponsors poetry readings, forums, art exhibitions and other com-
munity programs.

ANANSI is the latest incarnation of a long and impressive line of literary achievements.
Introducing original short fiction by talented writers of African descent, ANANSI is an un-
apologetic celebration of black literature and its legacy. Dedicated to honoring the diverse
storytelling tradition of black writers, ANANSI is published four times a year.

Mosaic Literary Magazine is an exciting quarterly dedicated to covering all aspects of

African American and Hispanic literature. The magazine regularly features author inter-
views, profiles, book reviews and previews, feature articles, poetry and excerpts some of
the latest books.

[ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 5 1

children’s book fair
Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238 (718) 230-2100

authors, readings, free books and fun!


Directions: 2 or 3 train to Grand Army Plaza

5 2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ]