Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nessie Reviews ☆ Ebony Rising

Ebony Rising: Short Fiction of the Greater Harlem Renaissance by Craig Gable
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Release Date: February 1, 2004
Source: Library
Date Read: 7/11/14 to 8/11/14
600 Pages

Ebony Rising is the first comprehensive, gender-balanced collection of short fiction from the greater Harlem Renaissance era (1912-1940). This was a time marked by writing of extraordinary breadth and depth by some of the most famous authors in African American literary history. Among them were Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Dorothy West, and Claude McKay. Not surprisingly, these authors have received an unprecedented amount of critical attention, and their work remains popular to this day.

For this anthology, Craig Gable has selected 52 short stories by 37 writers (20 women and 17 men) representing a wide range of style, form, subject matter, and social awareness. To underscore the movement's growth and change, the stories are arranged chronologically by year of publication. Some will be familiar to readers; many more will not, for this is not the "greatest hits" of the Harlem Renaissance. Instead, readers will find a remarkable collection of fiction by authors famous and obscure--some who lived in New York City and others who never resided there. There are stories set in Harlem, but they are just as likely to take place elsewhere in the United States. Alongside traditional stories, there are examples of detective fiction, political satire, even science fiction, with a few experiments in narrative structure and form for good measure. The stories take up issues of race, marriage, parenthood, crime, politics, religion, work, abuse, old age, and death--in short, the stuff of life, and of compelling and lasting fiction.

When this summer started, I challenged myself to read a few books that were outside of my usual reading range. In addition, throughout the past year I have become increasingly aware of the importance of reading and listening to marginalized voices. Growing up I had always been vaguely aware of what the Harlem Renaissance was and its cultural importance for Black Americans but never really read anything from it. However after spending 3 or 4 days a week in Harlem for my job (I  go to school at Columbia University--just a couple blocks away), I had a burning desire to read and learn more about the area's cultural history. So when I stumbled across this 600 page behemoth in my local library I knew I had get my hands on it.

This was my first time reading an anthology so I can't really compare it as a whole work against other anthologies. That being said, the reason I picked up this particular anthology is because the editor, Craig Gable, made a point to include women, lesser known authors, and a variety of genres. I thought it would give me a nice wide scope of what Black American authors were writing. I also skimmed through the introduction, where Mr. Gable made a point to mention the importance of the works being arranged by date published instead of by authors. If anything, I liked this arrangement because it allowed me to see which fears and social circumstances changed or remained the same across these works.

This anthology is made up of 52 short stories, but, of course, some stood out to me more than others. One story that will always haunt me is "The Closing Door" by Angeline Weld Grimké. In it, a fifteen year old girl paints the picture of a beautiful, happy, ideal life with her with an aunt and uncle, Agnes and Jim Milton, that couldn't be more in love and are expecting a beautiful baby. However, the mood drastically changes as Agnes discovers that her favorite brother was lynched by a mob in the South. The woman who was once the epitome of joy and light is transformed into a ghost that lurks along the shadows. Once so happy to be a mother, she is now distraught at the thought of bringing life into the world when any "orderly, white mob" could murder her child and no one would think twice. The way Grimké tells this story is equally beautiful and heartbreaking and actually forced me to put down the book for a couple days just so I could soak it all in and realize just how relevant a story written in 1919 is today.

Me after finishing 70% of the stories
I'm not going to lie, a fair amount of these stories are depressing. Many of them involve characters who are trying their hardest to better their lives but continue to find themselves exploited or at the bottom for no other reason than the color of their skin. While lynchings are discussed, they mainly remain in the background giving you a glimpse into the world and the constant, yet normalized, fear that Black Americans once lived under. There's once sci-fi story written by W.E.B Dubois, where the entirety of New York City has been suddenly killed with the exception of Jim, a black man, and Mary, a white woman. It was interesting to see how it took the apparent erasure of society for Jim to be seen as a man once again. However, let it be said that there are also a few works in here that aren't too concerned with the racial politics of the day but are just as fun and interesting to read. There's also a murder mystery story that isn't too concerned with the social politics of the day and was just a nice distraction.

I highly recommend this anthology for everyone to read just because I think it is extremely important to read from authors that have been silenced or marginalized in the past. Some of the works in this anthology force you to face the parts of America's past that we so often try to forget. It's horrendously uncomfortable at times, but I still find it necessary, because you can't claim to know or love your country if you don't ever encounter it at its worse.

Take the Red Pill and read this book.

Vanessa is Val's bestest buddy, and she will be guest posting throughout the summer because she loves to read and write. You can also find her at her own blog, Musings of an Aspiring Writer.
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