Podcast: Almah LaVon Rice

Lez Talk Books Radio Presents: Almah Lavon Rice

Rice contributed to the recently published collection Solace: Writing, Refuge, and LGBTQ Women of Color. She has been published in various anthologies, including the revised edition of does your mama know?: Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories. Her journalism has garnered a National
Ethnic Media Award from New America Media and recognition on Utne Reader’s “Great Writing” blog.

Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology

Home GirlsI still don’t know how they pulled it off. A white lesbian and a black gay male selected a book written for, about, and written primarily by black lesbian writers to teach for an honors class at a North Carolina university in the early 1990s. No matter what method they utilized to incorporate Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology into the curriculum, I am tremendously grateful. Their selection opened my eyes to a new level of thought and creativity presented by champions of prose, poetry, and perspective.

Home Girls hit shelves in 1983 and was re-issued in 2000. The anthology brings together women word warriors like Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Alexis De Veaux, and Jewelle Gomez to name a few. Writings are organized by topics, “The Blood -Yes, The Blood,” “Artists Without Art Form,” “Black Lesbians – Who Will Fight for Our Lives But Us?,” “A Home Girls’ Album,” and “A Hell of Place to Ferment a Revolution.” It even includes a photo album featuring some of the contributors and their families. For Lorde lovers, seeing a picture of her as a young girl with glasses holding a bouquet of flowers is a celebration of the brilliance yet to come.

The selections in Home Girls touch upon topics such as family dynamics when a mother’s lesbian identity is used as a barrier to seeing her son in “LeRoy’s Birthday” by Raymina Y. Mays, and how the world at large views and treats creativity in “Artists Without Art Form” by Renita Weems. The styles of the works vary. Cheryl Clarke’s “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community” is an annotated essay which cites James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones, and “Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman” by Michele Wallace. Chirlane McCray, current New York City First Lady, contributed a poem to the collection “I Used to Think,” and Jamaican author Michelle Cliff submitted an autobiographical essay titled “If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire.”

Since Home Girls was published, several black-lesbian focused anthologies have hit the shelves. But in order to appreciate the current selections, one must appreciate the past efforts that opened the door. This collection marked a ground-breaking achievement of noted lesbian- identified women of color writers coming together to give artistic voice to the experiences of so many. It is an achievement with an impact that cannot be understated. Reading through the work today, the reader will find the issues raised are still relevant today.

The strength of the anthology can also be viewed as it weakness. Due to the styles, which change from selection to selection, it can be a little distracting to read the collection straight through. The collection is like enjoying a chocolate sampler. The reader is given an index of stories and authors (just like most samplers) with a guide that says what piece is milk chocolate or filled with strawberry crème. The reader can go by the index or dive in taking a bite of this one or that one until finding a story, poem, or essay that hits the proverbial sweet spot.

A lot has changed in the world since 1983 when the anthology was published, and when I was introduced to it seven years later, though so much remains the same. There is a profound need for those in communities that are taken for granted (or taken advantage of) to give voice to their joy, pain, and ambitions. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology is a must read for those who wish to understand, to grow, and to learn. It is educational, enlightening, and inspiring. It is the one textbook I have cherished close to twenty years since graduating, and one I would recommend to the fullest.

Reviewer: La Toya Hankins

La Toya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. She is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Durham, NC. Hankins considers writer and fellow Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. member Zora Neale Hurston as her role model for her ability to capture the essence of the African American Southern experience and living the motto, “I don’t weep at the world, I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” You can connect with LaToya on Facebook and Twitter.

Here Comes the Sun

So much can be said about Here Comes the Sun, a story that weaves beautifully written prose through the ugliness of colorism, religion, racism, homophobia, servitude, and neocolonialism— along with other social inequities that plague the Diaspora, particularly in early 1990’s small-town Jamaica.

The novel opens with 30-year-old Margot, a prostitute, employee, daughter, sister, mistress, and lover, though she compartmentalizes her identities in a web of secrets, lies, and deception. Margot will do whatever is necessary to ensure her 15-year-old sister, Thandi, is provided with a top-notch education, which, for Margot, is the only way Thandi can escape the horrors that accompany being raised in their impoverished community. Thandi, however, is crushed by the weight of her sister and mother’s expectations. Margot and Delores see Thandi as their future cash cow and the panacea to their family’s struggles. Both are so hell bent on what lies ahead they miss the self-hate and unhappiness that Thandi battles every day.

They overlook Thandi’s reality for many reasons, including their addiction to money (which provides “quick fixes” but no long-lasting, positive effects). Delores expends much of her efforts on maintaining a shield and barely making ends meet. In doing so, she trades her love for harsh words, emotional abuse, and narrow-mindedness. Meanwhile, Margot meanders through different worlds and beds. Margot believes she is sacrificing her soul for a larger payoff, and she is indifferent about the trail of damage she leaves in the wake of her pursuits. Margot’s lover, Verdene, is only one among their village who’s burned by Margot’s selfishness and hypocrisy. Verdene loves Margot, but can’t move beyond her loss, guilt, and loneliness to protect her own interest and heart. Ultimately, Margot achieves what she’s been striving for. She reaps the spoils of her labor, although it comes at a hefty price.

These four characters exhibit a range of strength. But their tenacity is overshadowed by their individual demons. Each woman is trapped by other people’s expectations and deeply scarred by emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. For some, the sexual violence may be difficult to read; more specifically, the generational rape and the sex between males and underage females. Women’s bodies and worth are reduced to men’s pleasure and fleeting monetary gains. Sadly, Black women’s bodies have been and continue to be used like rags, and this is reflected in the story. Because of the heaviness of the sexual abuse and prostitution— in addition to the intertwining familial dysfunction and sociopolitical issues— you may find yourself asking, “Where’s the silver lining?”

I’m not suggesting this story shouldn’t be slathered in the grittiness that Jamaican or any cluster of Black girls and women face. After all, intergenerational and intra-communal exploitation is real. However, at many points during the read, I wanted breathing space, for the overlapping subplots to be streamlined… simplified… for the focus to remain on the main characters, their central conflicts and motivations, and, maybe, the finality of their journeys. I felt distracted by the pockets of commotion from other characters, which detracted from what I wanted most— for at least one of the four women to find peace in the storm of survival and victimization.

It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge that Here Comes the Sun is a meaningful addition to the shelf of stories that feature a same-sex relationship among Black women—in this case, Jamaican women. On the same note, I can’t neglect that the story is replete with sadness and pain. Regardless of your reading taste or tolerance, the book is worth the sitting.

Reviewed by: Lauren Cherelle

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

 

I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde

I am Your SisterEvery once in a while, the BLLC Review  will feature a brief, academic-ish review of a non-fiction Black lesbian text. This is our first offering.

I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde is in part inspired by the opening of the Audre Lorde Papers housed at the Spelman Archives at Spelman College, where co-editors Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Johnetta B. Cole have been faculty and administrators. The Arcus grant that funded the processing of the archives also established the ZAMI project to: “increase the public awareness and understanding about African American gay and lesbian experiences; explore the marginalization of racial issues in the GLBT movement;… and other activities to combat homophobia in the Atlanta University Center community and other historically black colleges and universities; and contribute to the production of scholarship on Lorde” (Guy-Sheftall 2009, 255).

The volume has several goals as articulated in Rudolph Byrd’s introduction:

  • To honor the life and legacy of Audre Lorde.
  • To elevate the importance of Lorde’s published essays and other work, which have served as a catalyst for theorizing by scholars and activists in relation to questions of identity, difference, power, social movements, and social justice.
  • To publish selections from the unpublished writings by Lorde.
  • To recover some of Lorde’s prose writing that has been out of print. (2009, 4-5)

What Guy-Sheftall, Cole, and Byrd suggest in their reflections on Lorde and her work is that “each of us has multiple identities” and Lorde reminded us of that each time she introduced herself as “black, woman, feminist, lesbian, mother, teacher, warrior, poet” (2009, 236). Indeed, throughout the text Lorde is referred to as a Black lesbian feminist, and as the sister outsider. Why are the authors privileging these identities? For two reasons: The terms bring to mind Lorde’s collection of essays, Sister Outsider; and also because the term “illustrates the ways in which Lorde reclaimed and transformed overlapping , discredited, and marginalized identities—black, lesbian, feminist—into a powerful, radical, and progressive standpoint” (Byrd 2009, 5).

Likewise, the introduction traces a brief history of Black feminist thought, and gives us snippets of Lorde’s Back lesbian perspective on the civil rights movement, second wave U.S. feminism, the Black Nationalist movement, and the gay and lesbian movement. Lorde had something to say about it all. We also learn about her battles with cancer, her trips to the Caribbean, and the homophobia she experienced at the hands of Black intellectuals. I Am Your Sister is important because we need to rethink how we hear and don’t listen; see, but look through, past, or around; identify and dismiss.

In the years since I’ve become re-acquainted with Lorde and her work, I’ve come to understand that my fierce commitment to self-definition, to speaking boldly, to embracing difference, and to uncovering racism, sexism, and homophobia wherever I find it, are also hallmarks of Lorde’s work and life. Read this book, and discover why Audre Lorde’s work is so important to our Black lesbian literary history.

Reviewer: S. Andrea Allen

S. (Stephanie) Andrea Allen, Ph.D., is a native southerner and out Black lesbian writer, scholar, and educator. She is the author of a collection of short stories and essays, A Failure to Communicate, (BLF Press 2017), and is hard at work on her first novel. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.

 

Blue Talk and Love

*This review first appeared on the Lesbrary*blue-talk-and-love

As soon as this book was released I knew I had to have it. Stories about Black queer women written by a Black queer woman? Yes, please! I was a little worried that I wouldn’t connect to them; they are all set in and around New York City, a place I’ve only visited once as a kid. It is a testament to Sullivan’s skill and talent that I was immediately drawn into this book. Not only that, her vivid descriptions of various part of New York made me feel as if I were right there with her characters. Indeed, I could smell the smoke and coconut oil in Earnestine’s father’s hair in “Blue Talk and Love,” the second story in the collection.   Still, the specificity of the locales might alienate some readers as it draws in others.

The first story in the book, “Wolfpack” is drawn from real-life events: the trial and subsequent conviction of several young Black lesbians charged with stabbing the man who had threatened to rape them. The story begins with a directive: “This is a story that matters, so listen.” Those of us who remember this event are immediately drawn into this story, which retells the events of that summer night from several perspectives. The voice that resonated with me the most was Verniece’s (oddly spelled two different ways in the story). She tells her story with a quiet resolve: her desire to become a mother, her love for her girlfriend of two years, as well as her constant battles with her mother over her sexual orientation. “Wolfpack” is heartbreaking as well as anger inducing. Black lesbians are all too familiar with how attempts to protect ourselves from harm are often met with backlash. The judge that sentences these women suggests that they should have ignored the “I’ll fuck you straight,” as if those words didn’t imply an impending action. Sullivan does a wonderful job of transporting us back in time to that summer night, and in doing so, begs the question, what right do Black lesbians have to defend themselves from bodily harm?

Another favorite is “A Magic of Bags.” Sullivan transports us to a starkly different section of New York, that of the upper-middle class world of the Harlem Grange Homeowners’ Council, where “Most of the Grange’s young people spent their free time hopping subway turnstiles on the way home from their private schools, smoking looses in Riverside Park in feeble defiance of authority, plotting futures with one-another, most of which ended with masters’ degrees from MIT and expensive wedding receptions in opulent hotels downtown.” The story’s protagonist, Ilana, is alienated from this world, even her mother tries her best to maintain her place in it. Ilana is large and strange (she carries a bag of broken baby dolls wherever she goes), and sees herself as gifted, although it is not altogether clear the specific nature of her gifts. The story meanders a bit, as Ilana’s main purpose is to cause trouble for folks that she sees as victims of “horizontal thought.” This includes her mother, the women in the neighborhood, and her one friend, DeShawn. Still, Ilana’s keen observations on the trappings of domesticity and upper middle-class Black life are what make this story so interesting. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, as I feel that Sullivan might have missed an opportunity to push Ilana out of her comfort zone.

Other stories in the collection include “Saturday,” where eight year-old Malaya is forced to attend a weight loss support group with her mother because she has fallen off of the program wagon. Malaya daydreams of French fries and eats cold Chinese food in her room at night, yet often dreams of one day waking up “with a lightness and a spring.” Me-Millie and Me-Christine are the conjoined twins in “A Strange People,” sisters searching for a show that will accept them after their former slave-owner dies. The story offers keen observations on race, (dis)ability, performance, and desire in the 19th century.

Most of the stories in this collection focus on Black and brown bodies, queer in their orientation, size, ability, and often a combination of all three. Sullivan reminds us that fat queer bodies are often the objects of ridicule and pain, but that they also are sites for joy and self-acceptance. We want, no NEED, more from this writer.

Reviewer: S. Andrea Allen

S. (Stephanie) Andrea Allen, Ph.D., is a native southerner and out Black lesbian writer, scholar, and educator. She is the author of a collection of short stories and essays, A Failure to Communicate, (BLF Press 2017), and is hard at work on her first novel. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.

The Gilda Stories

the-gilda-storiesVampires in literature are often portrayed as pale male creatures lurking on the edge of society seeking to seduce and destroy. It is rare to find a novel that reflects vampires of color, vampires who are women, or vampires who are same gender loving. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez is a well-written exception. The series of vignettes focus on a black immortal journeying across centuries gaining perspective on life and how to live.

The book opens with The Girl in 1850 Louisiana. She is a teenage slave running toward freedom when she is confronted by a man seeking to take her back to her dreadful existence, but not before he takes a taste of her womanhood. She fights back and kills him. That act of defense sets in place a series of events that finds her rescued by an elusive figure–a white woman she comes to know as Gilda. The woman takes her to a safe haven, a brothel that she runs with a Native American woman known as Bird. Gomez handles her evolution into a woman with a deft hand, describing how The Girl matures and realizes the situation with Bird and Gilda isn’t typical. She doesn’t fear the truth when it is revealed how Bird and Gilda have remained untouched by the passage of time. The description of how The Girl becomes Gilda in the farmhouse where she was found years before is crafted in a way that puts to shame other literary descriptions of how vampires are created. Gomez describes the process in a way the reader can understand the perspective of all three women: Gilda, whose decision will end her cycle of living; Bird, who isn’t ready to let go of the one she loves; and The Girl, who is ready to live her new existence. When the process is done and the new Gilda is ready to move forward, the reader is prepared to go forward with her.

The Gilda Stories takes the reader on a journey from the San Francisco Bay, South Boston, off-Broadway and even through the jungles of South America. Along her journey, she blends into the fabric of society as a singer, author, and beautician. Gilda finds friendships and foes, gives life and participates in the destruction of one of her own tribe members. The beauty of Gomez’s writing is that each scenario can stand alone in capturing the time Gilda occupies. The supporting characters Gilda encounters feel authentic and fleshed out. Gilda creates and finds a family with those who predate her as well as two she brings into the fold. The fact of her sexuality is never trumpeted, but the reader understands her physical attraction is toward her own.

The Gilda Stories is often placed on the shelves of must-reads of lesbian literature. It holds the reader’s interest in a way few can. After reading it, I am left yearning for more stories about Gilda’s travels. While the overall journey was satisfying, some of the transitions seemed a little bit uneven as she moves from one time setting to the next. Also, adding in details of the social climate of the time would have been welcome. In one passage she talks about the racism Black people faced during the early part of the century, but those details were missing in later passages. It would have been interesting for Gilda to comment on the evolution of how Black women are treated by the greater society over time.

For years I’d heard about The Gilda Stories and was pleased to finally read it. I look forward to re-reading it and sharing it with others.

Reviewer: La Toya Hankins

La Toya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. She is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Durham, NC. Hankins considers writer and fellow Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. member Zora Neale Hurston as her role model for her ability to capture the essence of the African American Southern experience and living the motto, “I don’t weep at the world, I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” You can connect with LaToya on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Next Girl and Other Lesbian Tales

the-next-girlThe Next Girl and Other Lesbian Tales by Tawanna Sullivan is an eclectic short story collection with a little something for everyone. I live for short story collections, so I was excited to discover this writer. I use the term “discover” loosely here, because Sullivan is one of the founders of Kuma2.net, a website that focused on publishing Black lesbian erotica back in the early 2000s, so she’s been writing for quite some time. While I was familiar with the website, I’d never read any of Sullivan’s work.

The Next Girl is a collection of previously published work, so if you’re already a fan, you might recognize some of the stories. If not, I think most of you will enjoy what this writer has to offer. The first couple of stories are erotica, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure that they fit in this anthology at all, since the remaining stories are a range of horror, mystery, and general fiction. Still, sex sells, and it’s also clear after reading the collection that sexy stories are Sullivan’s bailiwick.

One of my favorite stories in the collection is also one of the strangest. “In Remembrance of Her” focuses on Laura, a woman whose partner Nia was murdered the previous year. It’s full of secret societies, creepy plantations, and quite possibly werewolves. Another favorite is “Cat and Mouse,” also a murder mystery. Although I liked this story, particularly the protagonist’s relationship with her cat, Mr. Scissors, I was bothered by the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but know that it left me a little confused and unsatisfied.

Other stories in the collection include “The Getaway,” a murder mystery of sorts; the title story, “The Next Girl,” which reminds us that the grave you dig for someone else might be the one you find yourself buried in; and “Operation Butch Ambush,” an interesting comment on butch/femme stereotypes. While promising, the story felt rushed and unfinished. I think Sullivan missed an opportunity here, and ended up perpetuating more stereotypes rather than dispelling them. Or maybe that was the point.

Sullivan’s writing is clear and unencumbered with fluff, just the way I like my prose. However, a few of the stories felt incomplete. As a lover of short stories, I also understand how difficult they are to write. Still, at least three of these stories ended in the middle of a scene or with an ellipsis, a clear indication that there might be more to the story. Not only is that frustrating for the reader, it’s also a sign that perhaps the writer wasn’t sure how to wrap things up. Interestingly, the two flash fiction pieces in this collection felt more complete than some of the longer stories. Go figure.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection, and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a short, fun, Black lesbian read. Sullivan is good, and while the erotica is probably her best work, I’d love to see her do more with speculative fiction and horror.

Reviewer: S. Andrea Allen

S. (Stephanie) Andrea Allen, Ph.D., is a native southerner and out Black lesbian writer, scholar, and educator. She is the author of a collection of short stories and essays, A Failure to Communicate, (BLF Press 2017), and is hard at work on her first novel. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.

The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens & Ghosts

thecherokeerosebookcoverAbout twelve years ago, I was sitting in an undergrad communications course listening to a roundtable discussion on race. I was mostly silent, waiting for the class session to pass, as students spouted their opinions (and misconceptions) about race/racism. I will never forget the Black student who sat opposite of me because she proclaimed that she was not African American. She was of mixed race, Cherokee heritage. I rolled my eyes, insulted that her Blackness was not enough, also annoyed by once again hearing a Black girl tout Cherokee roots she could not trace. I will also never forget her because she died a few years later.

The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens & Ghosts, written by Tiya Miles, conjured those memories, which sat dormant for many years, as well as mentions of Indian roots from my relatives through the years. Why do we, a poor family from the rural South with sharecropping roots, have an affinity for Indian foremothers and forefathers we cannot name, but little pride for the ancestors who survived the middle passage and were stripped from their native lands?

I don’t ride the fence with my racial identity, and neither do many of the main characters in this novel. Regardless of whether my roots sprung from one or multiple continents, I’m okay with the unknown, okay with simply honoring the links that led to my birth. But for others, those unknown branches create holes and haunting questions that influence their paths in this world.

The paths of protagonists Jennifer “Jinx” Micco, Cheyenne Cotterell, and Ruth Mayes intertwined during their searches for truth, riches, and adventure, leading them to the Chief James Hold plantation in North Georgia’s Blue Ridge territory, once the heart of the Cherokee nation.

Part I of the novel (Our Mothers’ Gardens) opens in 2008 with Jinx, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation historian, columnist, and part-time librarian. Jinx penned a story in her local tribal newspaper about Mary Ann Battis, a mixed-race Creek educated by Christian missionaries.

Jinx takes pride in her research skills. As noted in the story, “she [doesn’t] deal in sanitized history.” Her friend Deb, however, feels that Jinx’s article was shortsighted in her interpretation of Mary Ann’s motivations and loyalties. Deb asks Jinx to travel to Georgia to kill two birds with one stone: to find out more about Mary Ann Battis— a member of their tribe— and to possibly retrieve historical tribal documents from the Hold House.

This is when Jinx meets Cheyenne, a proud debutante from Atlanta who is determined to win the historic Hold House (the plantation manor and a former museum) at auction. Cheyenne is shallow and self-absorbed in many regards, yet astute in her dealing and aspiration for the property.

Ruth, a magazine writer, is sorely unaware of what lies ahead when she jumps into her car and travels to Georgia to kill time and write an article about the Hold House. Once these women are brought together under one roof, mysteries, revelations, and romance unfold in both practical and supernatural ways—which leads to Part II of the story (Talking Leaves).

Here, Miles uses historical figures to weave fact with fiction and infuse readers with the beauties and horrors of the Hold Plantation and the cross-cultural bonds of women living in early 19th century Cherokee country. This part of the story is told through the diary of Anna Gamble, a Moravian missionary sent to the plantation to lead multi-race and Indian heathens to Christ.

Anna reveals that James Hold, the richest and most influential Cherokee chief, was a cruel man who committed atrocities that provoked revenge and murder— a man whose evils against his slaves and wives created a plantation that “was obsessed with emotions of the past.”

By Part III (The Three Sisters), readers will appreciate the multiple layers that illustrate the relationships between Cherokees, free Blacks, missionaries, and slaves— and the influences of Cherokee slaveholding, religion, racism, U.S. and tribal governments, colonization, and capitalism. And when all of this is mixed together, we are reminded that the present can never be unraveled from the past, no matter how much falsification has taken place.

There are a lot of characters to keep up with throughout the novel. (I haven’t mentioned the supporting characters; some help drive the plot). And, a large portion of Part III felt romanticized to me because the characters’ lives (both past and present) wrapped up nicely—as if the writing recipe couldn’t be muddied a bit. Here, I have to note that the author is a historian. But, to me, the facts drove the fiction, which makes chunks of the fiction feel excessive.

Also, Miles could have used Part III to complete initial aspects of the story. For example:

  • Deb and the tribal community’s reaction upon learning the full history of Mary Ann Battis.
  • Cheyenne—the character who experienced the greatest transformation—could have had more weight beyond being a vessel for the past, and her transformation could have been mirrored in her personal life (i.e., her family and friends).
  • Address the multiple acts of vandalism that occurred at the manor.

The African diaspora and Native Americans share a long and painful past, and Miles uses the convergence of Jinx, Cheyenne, and Ruth to convey one thread of 19th century American history. The Cherokee Rose pays homage to the spirituality, resiliency, and legacy of both African and aboriginal women— a legacy that Black women should not abuse today to lay claims to their “baby hair” or colorful genealogies.

Overall, The Cherokee Rose is a hard-hitting cultural lesson that will linger in my character repository and digital bookshelf for years to come.

Reviewed by: Lauren Cherelle

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

A Return to Arms

a-return-to-armsI’ve always felt that a sign of a good read is one that elicits emotions in the reader. There were several times when I teetered between anger and delight as I read A Return to Arms. The character, Kanaan, brought up (past) anger because I’ve encountered men like him—particularly in social circles aimed at Black audiences and social awareness. My delight stems from a deep appreciation for sistahs like Toya, Folami, and Nina who “walk the walk and talk the talk”—women who, unlike me, remain consistent in their action and community support and are wholly connected to communities that skirt the margins of society. Dedication to eradicating social injustices in our communities should be praised and supported in a myriad of ways. Therefore, it is nice to see this call-to-action and a division of the present-day movement reflected in fiction through Black lesbian leads and a pocket of Black culture.

I enjoyed the duality of the sociopolitical struggle and the roller coaster struggle in Toya and Folami’s relationship. These characters shared similar fervor and challenges, which, in Folami’s case, left her caught between love and allegiance. I, like a lot of readers (I’m sure), found myself invested in Toya’s achievements and growth; therefore, a large part of me is screaming for Greer to give me more. However, I’ll be patient (and content) and simply appreciate what has been presented.

If I had a magic wand and could ask the author to change something—if I had a re-do— I would extend this story by a few thousand words to answer many of my lingering questions. For example, how did Toya land in St. Petersburg? Why does she have an affinity for community organizing? And last, but not least, who the hell was paying for all the stuff (e.g., posters, paint) that supported their activities?

A Return to Arms is a welcome addition to the Black lesbian literary canon.  It joins a growing list of literature by Black lesbian writers that aims to represent the richness of our lives, as well as the particularities of our struggles as Black lesbian activist-artists. I look forward to seeing what Greer does next.

Reviewed by: Lauren Cherelle

Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.

When She Says Yes

when-she-says-yesWhen She Says Yes is a collection of erotic stories spanning ten years. The work showcases a medley of stories, including “Tattoo,” the first story Zedde published, to several in-between stories, and the recently published tale, “Kiss of the Rain Queen,” which opens the collection. Well-selected, the stories are an offering of tantalizing tales of Black lesbians caught in the throes of passion.

Zedde does a masterful job of creating settings that bring her scenes to life. In “Kiss of the Rain Queen,” the story takes place in a magical land on the Serengeti. In this setting, Princess Hasnaa, of Izana royalty, comes to life, wearing a ciwaya, Hausa for a garment that covers a married woman’s breasts. This Hasnaa travels across the grasslands on a luxurious palanquin carried by servants. The vividness of Zedde’s settings whet my reading appetite and transport me further into the story’s heartland. In “Love, Zora,” Zora Neale Hurston is skillfully sketched, from her cocked hat and lit cigarette to her camaraderie with dapper, fey-looking men and Langston Hughes in La Maison Haitienne in Harlem, New York. Djulie, the Haitian waitress Zora woos, finds herself in A’Lelia’s Black Renaissance erotic hot rooms, falling for the charismatic author.

Fiona Zedde’s fiction hums with magic, her style vibrant with sensuality. In “Kiss of the Rain Queen,” though the sun is bright in the sky, the air smells of rain, “a seductive and wet scent” Hasnaa only experienced a few times in her father’s village. Heat caresses, never burns. And the Rain Queen actually impregnates Hasnaa, who feels life quicken inside her. In “Fast,” Bridgette “Jette” Peoples drives honeys to climax in her ‘68 Mustang until a mysterious, mocha-hued woman with a blood-red mouth strolls out of the feral darkness of a sleepless night to race Jette’s heartbeat.

Typical butch/femme unions are absent from this collection. Femmes fall for other femmes. A young androgynous lover commands her older, gorgeous mate in bound lovemaking. Separated Jamaican lovers, Alva and an unnamed narrator, find themselves in a passionate embrace after twelve years apart, finally ready to make a life elsewhere. In “On the Run,” dykes realize after eight months that they yet love morning quickies. Natalie, Maya’s former physics teacher, opens to her passion for the younger woman, until her crazy ex-wife reappears. Kai has her way with red-haired Mandla, the woman her ex left her for. And Cecily of the gorgeous legs goes butter soft for a boy, who is all-girl underneath.

When She Says Yes is a stout contender with other collections of lesbian erotica. If one has never read a Fiona Zedde story or novel, this collection will be a juicy appetizer to her other works. If one is already a fan, this work will measure up to her body of existing work. The collection is a sumptuous addition to my digital library. It is a plunge into soft arms and unquenchable lips. Undoubtedly, it sets the stage for passion.

Reviewer: Claudia Moss

Claudia Moss’s work has recently been anthologized in the following collections: First Bloom: Stories of Blossoming Black Lesbian Love and Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction.  Connect with Claudia on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.