Showing 71 - 80 of 121 annotations tagged with the keyword "African-American Experience"

Recitatif

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

"My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick. That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s." Thus begins Twyla’s narrative of her long-term, intermittent relationship with Roberta, another eight-year-old who shares her failing grades and "not real orphan" status at St. Bonaventure’s, the shelter where they live for a few months.

The two girls become fast friends despite the discomfort occasioned by the situation, their problematic mothers (Roberta’s is hyper-religious and unfriendly; Twyla’s is pretty but childlike, an embarrassment to Twyla because of her casual clothing and behavior), and their racial differences (one is white, one African-American). They also share a defining moment, in which they watch bigger girls assault Maggie, a disabled woman who works in the institution’s kitchen.

The girls meet by accident four more times; as young adults in a Howard Johnson’s, where Twyla works and Roberta stops in with two young men on the way to the coast for "an appointment with Hendrix"; in a grocery store in Newburgh, the blue-collar town on the Hudson river where Twyla lives (Roberta lives in white-collar Annandale); at a picket line against a busing plan (Roberta is protesting the busing; Twyla ends up picketing for it); and finally in a diner on Christmas Eve. Each time they meet, they piece together what has happened in their lives, but also return to the defining moment of Maggie, arguing about what really happened and what role they played in the abuse.

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in the inner city

Clifton, Lucille

Last Updated: Dec-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This short poem contrasts perspectives of the places where two different societal groups live. What the larger (white) society considers the inner city is what the poet and her people call "home." At the same time the inner city view of "uptown" is of a lifeless place that has no particular appeal. The poet would rather stay where she is, in this "no place" and "be alive."

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turning

Clifton, Lucille

Last Updated: Dec-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A short poem about becoming comfortable with one's identity as a liberated black woman.

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What Would I Do White?

Jordan, June

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker conjectures on what it would be like to be white. Her question is a challenge and her examples are not flattering to whites. "I would forget my furs on any chair. / I would ignore the doormen at the knob . . . " and, finally, "I would do nothing. / That would be enough."

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Sapphira and the Slave Girl

Cather, Willa

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sapphira was a fashionable young woman in Winchester when she married Henry Colbert, a man beneath her station, and moved to a rugged backwoods village, where they have lived for more than 30 years. Twenty of Sapphira's slaves came with them. This caused somewhat of a sensation among the poor, non-slave owning population of the region, where even to this day the Colberts are admired but not well-liked. Henry successfully took over the village grinding mill, while Sapphira assumed the role of local granddame. They had three daughters, all of whom married and moved away. However, Rachel's husband died, and she returned to Back Creek with her two young children.

Sapphira and Rachel are lay nurses who often visit and comfort the sick. Sapphira appears to do this work out of a sense of noblesse oblige, but Rachel feels empathy for the sick and less fortunate. She sets herself above nobody. Rachel is also an abolitionist at heart (as, to some extent, is her father), but Sapphira is firmly convinced that slavery is not only necessary, but also moral. Henry, a rather ineffectual male presence in this story, has responded to Sapphira's haughty regime by gradually withdrawing. In fact, he has largely abandoned the Big House to live at the mill, which he justifies by claiming the lack of a reliable foreman.

Sapphira suffers from severe dropsy. Her swelling is so bad she can no longer walk. She is jealous of a young slave named Nancy, with whom she believes Henry is having an affair. Much of the novel describes Sapphira's attempts to get rid of Nancy, first by selling the girl in Winchester, and later (when Henry refuses to sell) by importing her ne'r-do-well nephew to rape and destroy Nancy. This doesn't work either, primarily because Rachel takes Nancy under her wing and arranges her escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Hurston's powerful, lyric second novel centers on Janie Crawford, an African-American woman who tells her life story to her friend, Phoeby. Janie, raised in rural west Florida by her grandmother, is forced to marry, at age sixteen, a landowner, Logan Killicks. Far from giving her stability and respectability, Killicks instead treats her like a mule. Her image of love and life as a beautiful blossoming pear tree that grew in her grandmother's yard is dashed by the harsh realities of this loveless marriage.

She leaves Killicks to marry Joe Starks, an ambitious businessman who builds and becomes the mayor of an all black town. Joe also treats her as property--as a showpiece to bolster his image in the town, and does not allow her to befriend any one else. When Joe dies after seventeen years, Janie is finally financially and spiritually independent.

She falls in love with a young roustabout, Tea Cake--a man who (mostly) treats her as an equal partner and who returns her love fully. Despite the townspeople's disapproval, Janie and Tea Cake leave the town to make their way in the Florida muck, working side by side as itinerant farm hands.

During a hurricane and flood, Tea Cake saves Janie from a mad dog, but gets bitten himself. Tea Cake later develops fulminant rabies and is too late to receive effective treatment. Tea Cake turns on Janie and she must defend herself. The novel closes back in the frame of telling the story to Phoeby, of teaching Phoeby about love: "Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore." Janie, reflective, mature, and strong, has gained wisdom from her life and suffering.

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A Lesson Before Dying

Gaines, Ernest

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In a rural town in Louisiana in the late 1940's a poorly educated young black man, Jefferson, is in the wrong place at the wrong time: he is in a liquor store with two friends when they murder the white storekeeper. Jefferson is unfairly convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair by a white judge and jury.

His defense lawyer, in trying to stave off the death sentence, labels him a "hog"--and it is this label that Jefferson's godmother wants disproved. She enlists the help of the narrator of the novel, Grant Wiggins, the plantation schoolteacher.

Wiggins agrees to talk with Jefferson only out of a sense of duty--he is an unhappy, angry man who dreamt of escape from his impoverished youth yet returned to his hometown after a university education to teach in the same one-room parish school he attended. Despite humiliation at the hands of the white sheriff, Jefferson's lack of cooperation, and his own sense of futility and uncertain faith, Wiggins forges a bond with Jefferson that leads to wisdom and courage.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Brown, anthropologist and Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, describes the life, religion and healing practices of Marie Therese Alourdes Macena Margaux Kowalski, also known as Alourdes or Moma Lola, a priestess of Voodou, who emigrated to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince in Haiti at the age of 24. What began as an ethnographic research project on immigrant Haitians, turned into a deep personal friendship between Moma Lola and Brown, and a privileged look at the practices and patients of a priestess, and at the socio-cultural lifeworlds of the Haitian community in Brooklyn and in Haiti between 1978 and 1986.

The book presents an intimate description of an alternative healing tradition through a number of perspectives. Brown alternates between a personal, an analytical, and a descriptive narrative of Moma Lola’s own history and her encounters with patients. In some chapters, Brown fictionally reconstructs the patient’s stories, so that the book is part traditional ethnography, and part fiction.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In the book’s Introduction, Dr. Cleaveland explains his personal need for real and fictional heroes. Seeing himself often as a victim of cruel childhood peers, he sought protectors and savored particularly the exploits of World War II heroes. His heroes, he notes, delivered him safely through childhood and adolescence.

Cleaveland describes seeing a documentary movie about Dr. Croydon Wassel in 1944; Dr. Wassel became his first personal hero. A book about Dr. Wassel was read by Cleaveland many times; later, as an adult, Cleaveland looked for the book again and set out to ascertain its authenticity. From extensive research he found Dr. Wassel to be far more courageous than he had anticipated--"studied, found not wanting."

The author was introduced to the story of Dr. Billie Dyer in 1992 through a collection of short stories. Dyer was a black physician who kept a diary during his eighteen months in service in the U.S. Medical Corp during the First World War. Cleaveland found a copy of the diary in the public library in Lincoln, Illinois and learned more about a new hero.

Other heroes he writes about were Dr. Woodrow Dodson, who served sixty years as a "domestic medical missionary"; and Dr. Lonnie Boaz, a black physician, the son of a victim of a hate crime, who became a well known ophthalmologist, husband, father, civic leader, and reformer after starting out as a painter, janitor, and army medic.

Cleaveland considers some of his patients to be heroes: Vera Gustafson, a World War II nurse whom he interviewed extensively, later adding historical information to her story; Paulette McGill, a childhood diabetic cared for by Dr. Cleaveland for twenty years; and an obese diabetic who became a "universal friend," teaching others about devotion and courage. Other patients were also deemed heroic, each for some special reason.

The longest story, saved till the last, is about Dr. Janusz Korczak, described by Dr. Cleaveland as the most heroic figure he knows of. Korczak was a Polish, Jewish pediatrician who devoted his life to improving the welfare of children in the Warsaw ghetto; he was deported to the Treblinka concentration camp with the children. (A movie that came out in 1990 dramatically tells this story.)

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This film tells the remarkable story of Vivien Thomas (played by Mos Def), an African-American fine carpenter, who found his way into medicine through the back door and changed medical history. Hired when jobs were in short supply to work as a custodian and sometime lab assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), a research cardiologist, Thomas quickly becomes an irreplaceable research assistant. His keen observations, his skill with the most delicate machinery and, eventually, in performing experimental surgery on animals, make clear that he has both a genius and a calling.

Though the relationship has its tensions (Blalock, as a Southern white man and a doctor, has some blind spots in the matter of mutual human respect, though he highly values Thomas’s skills) it lasts for decades. The two move their families to Baltimore, where Blalock becomes Head of Surgery at Johns Hopkins and, much to his colleagues surprise and to some of their dismay, brings Thomas in to perform groundbreaking open heart surgery on a blue baby. It is not until after Blalock’s death that Thomas is granted an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he continues to work in research until his own retirement.

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