Bambara, Toni Cade 1939–1995
Toni Cade Bambara 1939-1995
(Born Miltonia Mirkin Cade) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, editor, essayist, and author of children's books.
For additional information on Bambara's career, see BLC, Ed. 1.
Bambara was a well known civil rights activist, author of short stories and novels, editor of anthologies of black literature, and professor of English and African American studies. Focusing her artistic concerns on the African American community and the political and social issues affecting it, Bambara concentrated in particular on the welfare of black women. For Bambara, the duties of writer, social activist, teacher, and even student combined to influence her literary and political perspective. She made it her objective to describe the urban black community without resorting to stereotype or simplification. Critics agree that a deep understanding of the complexities of African American life informs all of her work.
Bambara was born in 1939 in New York City. She grew up in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Queens, and in Jersey City, New Jersey—culturally rich areas she has credited as major influences on her work. Bambara also found encouragement through the influence of her mother, who provided a nurturing environment for Bambara's emerging creativity. Bambara published her first short story, "Sweet Town," in 1959, the same year she received a bachelor's degree in Theatre Arts and English from Queens College. In the following decade she served as a social worker and director of neighborhood programs in Harlem and Brooklyn, published short stories in periodicals, took instruction at several dance schools, studied at a number of American and European universities, attended the Studio Museum of Harlem Film Institute, and directed a theater program and various publications funded by the City College Seek program. This wide variety of experience inevitably found its way into her fiction and influenced her political sensibility. In 1970 she changed her surname from Cade to "Bambara," a name she found as part of a signature on a sketchbook among her great-grandmother's belongings. During the 1970s she also traveled to Cuba and Vietnam, where she met with representatives from the Federation of Cuban Women and the Women's Union in Vietnam. She also taught at Rutgers University, Stephens College, and Atlanta University, and worked in production at Spelman College and WHYY-TV in Philadelphia, while she continued to write both fiction and film scripts. In addition, she often conducted workshops training community-based organizations in the use of video technology to enact social change. Bambara died of colon cancer in 1995.
Bambara's first attracted critical attention as the editor of The Black Woman (1970), a collection of essays that was envisioned as a response to the so-called "experts" who had been conducting studies on the status of African American women. The collection contains poetry, short stories, and essays by such distinguished African American authors as Nikki Giovanni and Alice Walker. Bambara's first two volumes of fiction—Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Sea Birds Are still Alive (1977)—are collections of her short stories. In the first volume, which contains the popular stories "Raymond's Run" and "Gorilla, My Love," Bambara focused largely on the developmental experiences of young people. Examining problems of identity, self-worth, and belonging, "Raymond's Run" concerns a young girl who excels as a runner and takes great pride in her athletic prowess; in the course of the tale she learns to appreciate the joy of sport, her competitors, and her ability to train her retarded brother as a runner and thereby endow him with a similar sense of purpose and accomplishment. Also featuring a strong-willed girl as a protagonist, the title story of Gorilla, My Love emphasizes themes of disillusionment, self-awareness, betrayal, and familial bonds. In 1980 Bambara published her first novel, The Salt Eaters. Written in an almost dream-like style, it explores the relationship between two women with totally different backgrounds and lifestyles brought together by the suicide attempt by one of the women. Through the relationships of these two characters, The Salt Eaters explores the possibilities for spiritual renewal and social change in contemporary society.
In 1996 Nobel laureate Toni Morrison edited Bambara's Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, which includes essays focusing on Bambara's interest in African American films and filmmakers as well as short stories that center on community and shared commitment, featuring politically and socially active women. "Going Critical" links the theme of environmentalism with feminism, as a mother prepares her daughter for the mother's impending death from cancer, allegedly acquired from exposure years earlier to nuclear fall-out. "Madame Bai and the Taking of Stone Mountain" involves racial bigotry and white supremacy, while "Luther on Sweet Auburn" contrasts complacency with social activism, as two old acquaintances meet again years later. Miz Nap, a former community youth worker, has turned her energies to the use of media, focusing on productions that advance the concerns of the community, while her younger acquaintance is complacent, confused, stuck in the past, and neither energized by nor even affected by the activism of the 1960s. "How did the sixties manage to pass you by?" Miz Nap asks him. In 1999 Morrison published another one of Bambara's works, the unfinished novel Those Bones Are Not My Child. A fictionalized revisioning of the murders during the late 1970s and early 1980s of black children in Atlanta, the novel centers on Zala Rawls and her search for her kidnapped son, Sonny.
Bambara's work has often been praised for its insights into youth and the human condition, its political focus, and its representations of African American culture and feminist concerns. In particular, Gorilla, My Love has been acclaimed for its realistic descriptions of the lives of young people and for its use of dialect. In the story "The Lesson," for example, collected in Gorilla, My Love, Bambara used dialect to reflect the main character's strength, self-assurance, and pride and to address issues involving social injustice, conformity, and ancestry. She also has been specifically praised for her examination of community and the changes that can occur there, which in her stories are often enacted by powerful, socially active female characters. In Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions the female protagonists use their tenacity and fortitude to better their communities. In stories like "Gorilla, My Love" and "Raymond's Run," these same traits of self-assurance, resilience, and independence are possessed by the young protagonists. In assessing Bambara's work, commentators have additionally admired her experimental narrative techniques, evidenced in particular in Those Bones Are Not My Child. Using techniques borrowed from film, Bambara, according to Shanna Greene Benjamin, used a "camera-like" perspective, in which the "narrative ‘eye’ seems to pan the city, fly overhead, converge on representative individuals and groups, and allow us to hear their voices." Above all, however, scholars have continued to note the link between Bambara's portraits of African Americans and her dedication to political and social activism.
The Black Woman: An Anthology [editor and contributor, as Toni Cade] (poetry, short stories, and essays) 1970
Tales and Stories for Black Folks [editor and contributor, as Toni Cade] (short stories) 1971
Zora (screenplay) 1971
Gorilla, My Love (short stories) 1972
The Sea Birds Are still Alive: Collected Stories (short stories) 1977
The Salt Eaters (novel) 1980
The Long Night (screenplay) 1981
Tar Baby [adaptor; from the novel by Toni Morrison] (screenplay) 1984
If Blessing Comes (novel) 1987
Raymond's Run (children's fiction) 1989
Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations (short stories, interview, and essays) 1996
Those Bones Are Not My Child (unfinished novel) 1999
Mick Gidley (essay date September 1990)
SOURCE: Gidley, Mick. "Reading Bambara's ‘Raymond's Run’." English Language Notes 28, no. 1 (September 1990): 67-72.
[In the following essay, Gidley offers an overview of "Raymond's Run," focusing in particular on the story's first-person, present tense narrative perspective.]
Toni Cade Bambara's "Raymond's Run" (1971), reprinted in her first collection of tales, Gorilla, My Love (1972), seems an exuberantly straightforward story: the first person, present tense narration of specific events in the life of a particular Harlem child, "a little girl with skinny arms and a squeaky voice," Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, usually called Squeaky.1 Squeaky is assertive, challenging, even combative, and concerned to display herself as she is—at one point stressing her unwillingness to act, even in a show, "like a fairy or a flower or whatever you're supposed to be when you should be trying to be yourself" (27). Above all, she's a speedy runner, "the fastest thing on two feet" (23), and proud of it. "I run, that is what I am all about," she says (28).
Squeaky's narrative records the movement towards a race she has won easily in previous years, the May Day fifty-yard dash. This year she is pitted against a new girl, Gretchen, and the organizing teacher, Mr. Pearson, comes close to suggesting that, as "a nice gesture" towards the new girl, she might consider losing the race (29). ("Grownups got a lot of nerve sometimes," Squeaky snorts.) Earlier, when out with and looking after her older brother Raymond—a boy with an enlarged head who is "not quite right" (23) and often lost in his own world of mimicry, games and make believe—Squeaky has to confront Gretchen and her "sidekicks" (25) in what she calls "one of those Dodge City scenes" (26) of verbal barracking and incipient physical violence, a showdown in which, though outnumbered three to one, she bests the opposition without needing to resort to fisticuffs. Similarly, on May Day itself, though it is literally a close run thing and there is marked suspense as she waits for the official announcement of the result, feisty Squeaky breaks the tape first. Even before the loudspeaker broadcasts her victory, honoring her with her full and proper name ("Dig that," she says), Squeaky grants Gretchen increased respect for such things as the way the new girl runs and then gets her breathing under control "like a real pro," so that at the actual announcement Squeaky can sincerely "respect" her rival and exchange "real smiling" with her (32). Thus one of the story's technical feats is the registration of Squeaky's enlarged awareness despite the use of the first person present tense, a perspective which does not permit the speaker—who, of necessity, is always limited to the here and now—any distance from which to reflect upon events.
Indeed, as several seminal discussions of narratological problems have insisted, this narrative perspective imposes much responsibility on the reader.2 All intimations must be disposed in and through the story, with the reader left to assess their import. Raymond, his nature and the burden he must represent to a young girl, forms one locus for such speculation. In the very first paragraph Squeaky tells the reader this: "All I have to do in life is mind my brother Raymond, which is enough" (23). And it is. Minding him, coming to terms with the insults his condition provokes, gets her into scrapes and actual scraps—"I much rather just knock you down and take my chances," as she puts it (23)—including the one with Gretchen and her two pals. And by the end of the story Squeaky is planning to quit running herself in order to concentrate on training Raymond—who, she has just realized, can also run. If she carries out such a decision Squeaky will not be just looking after Raymond but truly "minding" him: he will be considered, in her mind, no longer merely running alongside "and shame on [him] if he can't keep up" (25). That is, without making it the obvious center of concern, indeed without even fully focusing on it, the story charts Squeaky's acceptance of Raymond.
This in itself constitutes a closer, more intimate and charged issue than might initially seem the case. In a detail which could be taken primarily as an admission of vulnerability on Squeaky's part, a rounding out, so to speak, of her character, she confides that her father is even faster than she is: "He can beat me to Amsterdam Avenue with me having a two fire-hydrant headstart and him running with his hands in his pockets and whistling. But that's private information" (24). Later, in Squeaky's description of Raymond's running, he has "his arms down to his side and the palms tucked up behind him" in "his very own style" (31); this is a style which contrasts with Squeaky's running, arms "pumping up and down" (30), and is very much Raymond's "own," but it is also subtly reminiscent of the "private" image of Mr. Parker's relaxed arm racing prowess. Squeaky has always accepted her duty to mind Raymond, she has monitored him and even fought for him, but at the end of the story she ventures a step further: rather than simply knowing him as her brother, she accepts and acknowledges him as such—a child, like her, of the same father. She renders this explicitly when she declares him "my brother Raymond, a great runner in the family tradition" (32).
When Squeaky outlines her idea to make Raymond "her champion" she adds,
After all, with a little more study I can beat Cynthia and her phony self at the spelling bee. And if I bugged my mother, I could get piano lessons and become a star. And I have a big rep as the baddest thing around. And I've got a roomful of ribbons and medals and awards. But what has Raymond got to call his own?
This constitutes both full consciousness of Raymond and a catalogue of the relativities of their relationship. There is a sense in which the whole tale works similarly: while in her own unmistakable voice it undoubtedly and overtly tells the reader much of Squeaky's life, including her insistence on her own identity and authenticity (especially in comparison, say, with Cynthia's "phony self"), it is also, as its title indicates, the story of Raymond's run, Raymond's life.
Running, in fact, has an attested pedigree as a metaphor for life's passage, as in such semi-folk sayings as "life's race well run, life's work well done." Interestingly, this usage often includes an injunction to live the good life; thus Isaiah's prophesy that "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary."3 Saint Paul, as might be expected, was fiercer: "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us"4—a sentiment that the famous Victorian hymn "Fight the good fight" rendered into cliché: "run the straight race through God's good grace."
The May Day fifty-yard dash signals the childrens' situations precisely: as Squeaky zooms towards the tape, "flying past the other runners" (30), Raymond runs alongside, level with her, but literally "on the other side of the fence" (31). Just before Squeaky resolves to "retire as a runner and begin a whole new career as a coach with Raymond as [her] champion" (32), Raymond is imaged as "rattling the fence like a gorilla in a cage like in them gorilla movies" (31), and the reader intuits that Squeaky's determination is complex: she wants to bring him over the fence and into the race of life; she hopes to lay aside his impediments and grant him the good life; she also seeks to free him from his anthropoid but King-Kong-like status and enter him into the human race. Hence, too, the subliminal logic in the deft inclusion of the detail of the means by which Raphael Perez "always wins" the thirty-yard dash. "He wins before he even begins by psyching the other runners," Squeaky discloses, "telling them they're going to trip on their shoelaces, etc." (29). Raymond merely imitates his sister's performance—before the race, for instance, he bends down "with his fingers on the ground just like he knew what he was doing" (30)—because, until the hope at the very end of the story, he has been "psyched," psyched out of his own authentic identity and out of the race altogether. This narrative of Raymond's "first run" and his climbing of the fence "nice and easy but very fast" (31) towards Squeaky is the story of a humanizing love; its double focus takes in both of its two protagonists.
Yet just as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—which, with its mischievous young narrator, is structured similarly—ends ambiguously, so "Raymond's Run" has its further ironies. When on the last page of the book Mark Twain's youthful protagonist tells the reader that he is going to "light out for the Territory ahead of the rest,"5 the reader knows that Huck's perspective, however fresh and truthful, is limited: even if he gets there "ahead," civilization, with all that it entails, will catch up with him. Bambara's young speaker's aspirations must be seen as likewise shot through with doubts—perhaps more so. It may be, for example, that "with a little more study" Squeaky could "beat Cynthia" at the spelling bee, but even after the hoped for piano lessons it would be a very chancy business for her to become, in line with her stated ambition, "a star." One of the most telling effects of present tense first person narratives is the creation of such ironies: the reader must always question the teller's version of things. Seen in this light, Squeaky's ambitions may all be wishful thinking. The reader knows, too, that Squeaky's blackness will also be made to militate against her in the world beyond Amsterdam Avenue. Thus, for her, this year's May Day fifty-yard dash could well prove not the initiation but the apex of her achievements, the climax of her life's run. And, of course, if this is so, Raymond will never be coached to become a champion. The present tense—which by definition precludes a known future—is relentless: the story tells of his "first run"—and it is his first and only run.
Then again, perhaps such a fraught perspective does not grant enough credence to Squeaky herself, especially to her voice. The first words of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, given to Benjy, include repeated references to fences: "Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting…. I went along the fence…. They [the golfers] went on, and I went along the fence … and we went along the fence … and I looked through the fence…. ‘Here, caddie.’ He hit … I held to the fence and watched them going away."6 Benjy, the idiot Compson brother, clings to the fence, moaning and weeping for his lost sister, Caddie, whose image has been invoked by the golfer's call for his caddie. That sister had truly "minded" Benjy, had been his monitor, refuge and source of warmth. Caddie, indeed, was the representation of love for each of her three brothers. But, in that she was granted no narration of her own, she was also, as at least one critic has put it, the "absent center" of the novel.7 In "Raymond's Run" by contrast, Squeaky is not only very much present for her brother, but possesses a powerful voice of her own. Squeaky's voice—as is so often the case with Bambara's protagonists—is notable for its vibrancy and verve. The idiosyncrasy and sheer insistence of Squeaky's voice impinges on, even hustles, the reader in a triumphant exhibition of will. Interestingly, that will is expressed most explicitly in Squeaky's description of her usual pre-race "dream":
Every time, just before I take off in a race, I always feel like I'm in a dream, the kind of dream you have when you're sick with fever and feel all hot and weightless. I dream I'm flying over a sandy beach in the early morning sun, kissing the leaves of the trees as I fly by. And there's always the smell of apples, just like in the country when I was little and used to think I was a choo-choo train, running through the fields of corn and chugging up the hill to the orchard. And all the time I'm dreaming this, I get lighter and lighter until I'm flying over the beach again, getting blown through the sky like a feather that weighs nothing at all. But once I spread my fingers in the dirt and crouch over the Get on Your Mark, the dream goes and I am solid again and am telling myself, Squeaky you must win, you must win, you are the fastest thing in the world, you can even beat your father up Amsterdam if you really try. And then I feel my weight coming back just behind my knees then down to my feet then into the earth and the pistol shot explodes in my blood and I am off and weightless again, flying past the other runners.
This fleeting vision takes in much. In terms of space, the evocation here of beach and country gently reminds the reader of Squeaky's actual situation, one in which she may lie on her back, "looking up at the sky," but can only try "to pretend" she is "in the country." Because, as she sees, "even grass in the city feels hard as sidewalk, as there's just no pretending you are anywhere but in a ‘concrete jungle’" (29). (The notion of the "concrete jungle," which she has heard her grandfather use, further energizes the image of Raymond's entrapment in terms of "them gorilla movies.") Also, young as Squeaky is, the dream is reminiscent of a more innocent time (perhaps primordially so, with its edenic apples) of "choo-choo" trains and cornfields—before, that is, she took over the particularly heavy responsibility for Raymond from an older brother and before, in general, she became conscious of the burdens of humanity. And here, as it is in the verse of Isaiah quoted earlier ("they shall mount up with wings as eagles"), flying is an exalted form of running in which, as Saint Paul phrased it, "every weight" is laid aside. Indeed, she can "kiss the leaves of the trees" as she soars by. But if flying constitutes a glorified version of running, running itself serves Squeaky, "a little girl with skinny arms and a squeaky voice"—and may well serve damaged Raymond—as the most practical form of exaltation. And, when celebrated, tongued—embodied—in that thrusting, vital voice of Squeaky's, running becomes its own exultation.
1. Toni Cade Bambara, "Raymond's Run," from Gorilla, My Love (London, 1984); (a photoprinting of the first American edition, New York, 1972) 23-32. Subsequent page references appear parenthetically in the text.
2. See Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago, 1961); Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca, 1978); and Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Oxford, 1980).
3. Isaiah, XL, 31.
4. Epistle to the Hebrews, XII, 1.
7. See Carey Wall, "The Sound and the Fury: The Emotional Center," Midwest Quarterly 11 (1970) :371-87.
Margo V. Perkins (essay date 2000)
SOURCE: Perkins, Margo V. "Getting Basic: Bambara's Re-Visioning of the Black Aesthetic." In Race and Racism in Theory and Practice, edited by Berel Lang, pp. 153-63. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.
[In the following essay, Perkins examines Bambara's ideas expressed in The Black Woman and the stories contained in Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions in order to trace the development of her activist consciousness and her attempts to forge a new black aesthetic.]
Published in 1970, Toni Cade Bambara's The Black Woman continues to speak to many African-American women's experiences three decades later.1 This edited volume of critical essays, poetry, and stories by black women writers and activists is one of the earliest feminist challenges to the overtly masculinist discourse of late 1960s-1970s black nationalist struggle. Many young women who first picked up the volume in the 1970s found the work affirming and empowering. Its popularity created new spaces for critical dialogue around issues important to black women that had been largely ignored within both black nationalist circles and the predominately white mainstream feminist movement. Such issues included the impact of racism on black women's self-image, the intersection of race and class in black women's experiences (sometimes referred to as "double or triple jeopardy"), and the lack of self-determination for black women with respect to reproductive freedom and health care (the former circumscribed by black nationalist ideology equating birth control with genocide, and the latter by the unethical practices of a racist and sexist medical industry). The writings anthologized by Bambara additionally explored sources of tension between black women and white women, regressive gender role expectations and sexist double standards on the part of black men, and the too frequent tendency of nationalist rhetoric to equate black liberation with the right of black men to reap the benefits of patriarchal privilege.
Convinced that there was in fact a market for black women's writing in the early 1970s (after all, as Bambara quips, "I knew 800 million Black women all by myself"),2 she decided to put together what became The Black Woman as a way of "kick[ing] the door open."3 The volume became a harbinger of an outpouring of fiction and critical writing by black women during the 1970s and 1980s. Given the resurgence of interest today in 1960s political and countercultural movements and the relative dearth (still) of texts about black women's experiences in nationalist struggle, it is no surprise that The Black Woman has been reissued in the 1990s. As a text that transgresses silences around black women's experiences during that era, it is an important resource for contemporary scholars and a cautionary tale for young black activists today who tend to romanticize 1960s black nationalist praxis.
I speak at length about The Black Woman because Bambara first lays out in that anthology much of her own artistic vision and activist sensibility. Her preface and two essays in the volume lay a critical groundwork for interpreting her subsequent collections of short fiction—Gorilla,My Love, 4The Sea Birds Are still Alive, 5 and the posthumously published Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions 6 (a collection of short fiction, essays, and interviews). In The Black Woman one gleans Bambara's uncompromising commitment to a nationalist agenda that is patently feminist. Against society's schizophrenia-inducing expectation that black women define themselves in terms of either race or gender, and the tendencies historically of nationalist rhetoric to silence women's concerns and of (white) feminist discourse to erase black women, Bambara's fiction seeks to merge nationalist and feminist impulses in ways that work holistically to affirm all aspects of black women's identity. Focusing on connections between Bambara's theorizing in The Black Woman and the short fiction in her last volume, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, I wish to explore the evolution of Bambara's activist sensibility and her reworking of the nationalist aesthetic to create affirming and empowering models of black subjectivity.
To be sure, The Black Woman is not an unproblematic collection. Some of the essayists adopt postures that can only be described as protofeminist at best. Others entertain homophobic rhetoric that should make readers of the 1990s cringe.7 The volume is very much a work of its time. But its spirit is what interests me. In order to appreciate this spirit, some attention to the nationalist aesthetic as context is pertinent. As the civil rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s gave way in the late 1960s to the black power movement, nationalist ideology once again gained ascendancy in black America. This renewed push for self-determination had political as well as cultural dimensions.
The 1960s produced a vibrant black arts movement that sought to connect artistic endeavors with an avowedly political agenda. Artists and intellectuals of the period revisited a series of questions in their effort to define a new aesthetic. Among these questions were: What constitutes black art? Is there, in fact, such a thing? If so, what are its characteristics? Can an essential blackness be qualified? What are the functions of black art? Is all art produced by black artists automatically black art? By what criteria should this art be evaluated? And, finally, who is qualified to do this evaluation? Larry Neal, Hoyt Fuller, Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), Ron Karenga, and others called for art in the service of revolution. As Julian Mayfield succinctly put it, black art has to be about "the business of making revolution, for we have tried everything else."8
Unlike black literature of previous eras, the new black literature, which aimed at the consciences of black readers, Neal maintained, was less a literature of protest (in the tradition of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, or Ann Petry, for example) than of black affirmation.9 Accordingly, much of the poetry and fiction generated sought to empower black readers by celebrating aspects of black identity, heritage, idiom, and experience. In many ways more prescriptive in their formulations than black theorists of earlier periods, leading figures of the black arts movement of the 1960s also, unfortunately, dismissed art and artists deemed insufficiently black based on what now seem specious criteria. Representing one of the more extreme positions in the debate over the definition and role of black art, Ron Karenga proclaimed that the social function of any work of art was the single most important criterion for judging its worth. In his 1968 essay, "Black Cultural Nationalism," Karenga declared that
all art must reflect and support the Black Revolution, and any art that does not discuss and contribute to the revolution is invalid, no matter how many lines and spaces are produced in proportion and symmetry and no matter how many sounds are boxed in or blown out and called music.10
Implicit in Karenga's assertion is the notion of art as propaganda to (in his own words) "expose the enemy, praise the people, and support the revolution."11
Until Bambara lost her battle with cancer in December 1995, her writing consistently reflected her deep com- mitment to the ideal of literature in the service of revolution. She once remarked of her own craft, "I work to produce stories that save our lives."12 In the preface to Deep Sightings, Toni Morrison comments on Bambara's ability to infuse storytelling with liberatory politics:
There was no doubt that the work she did had work to do. She always knew what her work was for. Any hint that art was over there and politics was over here would break her up into tears of laughter, or elicit a look so withering it made silence the only intelligent response.13
Bambara's fiction in the service of revolution embraces black cultural ways of knowing, consistent with the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of nationhood): umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith, specifically in black people, and the righteousness of their struggle against oppression).14 Her audience is assumed to be other blacks to the extent that she makes no apologies or qualifications to accommodate the comfort level of readers and critics outside her own cultural frame of reference. To meaningfully engage her texts, then, readers and critics must do their homework. Other ways in which Bambara's fiction manifests black aesthetic ideals include her emphasis on the importance of history, self-knowledge, and racial memory; her internal gaze or focus within the black community (black people's relationships to white people and white society constitute the backdrop but not the focus of her work); and her skillful capturing of the rhythm, style, texture, color, and humor marking black linguistic expression.
In certain important ways, however, Bambara's artistic sensibility moves beyond these characteristics of the black aesthetic, which are found (in varying degrees of success) among other black arts movement writers' works, as well. What makes Bambara's fiction unique is that she manages to invoke the rhetoric of cultural and revolutionary nationalism while subverting its masculinist assumptions. These assumptions include the equating of nationhood with black manhood (in its most patriarchal form) and the casting of race as the sole issue relevant to the black liberation struggle. In her preface to The Black Woman, Bambara affirms many of the tenets of the nationalist aesthetic as articulated by Neal, Fuller, Baraka, and others, but she takes issue with some of the narrow-minded dogmatism and especially the implicit or explicit marginalization of black women. Arguing for a broader conception of what constitutes "the enemy," Bambara offers her own version of the new black aesthetic:
What characterizes the current movement of the 60s is a turning away from the larger society and a turning toward each other. Our art, protest, dialogue no longer spring from the impulse to entertain, or to indulge or enlighten the conscience of the enemy; white people, whiteness, or racism; men, maleness, or chauvinism: America or imperialism … depending on your viewpoint and your terror. Our energies now seem to be invested in and are in turn derived from a determination to touch and to unify. What typifies the current spirit is an embrace, an embrace of the community and a hardheaded attempt to get basic with each other.15
For Bambara, this "getting basic" involves black people holding each other accountable for what liberation means and for eliminating the counterrevolutionary sexist impulses that ultimately undermine the collective liberation struggle. Bambara challenges the related assumptions that women are ancillary to the struggle and that the personal is somehow separable from the political—that what is happening at the level of individual relationships has little to no bearing on the larger liberation struggle. In "On the Issue of Roles," an essay anthologized in The Black Woman, Bambara cautions (black men) to the contrary:
If your house ain't in order, you ain't in order. It is so much easier to be out there than right here. The revolution ain't out there. Yet. But it is here. Should be. And arguing that instant-coffee-ten-minutes-to-midnight alibi to justify hasty-headed dealings with your mate is shit. Ain't no such animal as an instant guerrilla.16
Bambara's dismissal of the notion of an "instant guerrilla" is a challenge to activists to not mistake style for substance.
Bambara's fiction repeatedly returns to the importance of self-work on the part of both men and women as critical prerequisites to effective revolutionary struggle. In "Salvation Is the Issue," an essay anthologized in Mari Evans's Black Women Writers (1950-1980), Bambara charges that "outrage at oppression can be a dodge, a way of avoiding calling a spade a spade and speaking directly to the issue of personal/collective responsibility and will, or speaking frankly about the fact that we participate in our ambush every day of our lives."17 Far from letting the powers that be off the hook, Bambara called for constant vigilance in order that black people might avoid, as much as possible, complicity with the power structure in their own oppression.
Reflecting her belief that revolution is built from the bottom up, much of Bambara's fiction takes as its focus the forging of transformative relationships (across gender and across generations) that create strong, cohesive (though not monolithic) communities that will ultimately be capable of overthrowing racist, sexist, and capitalist domination. Repeatedly, these transformative relationships are forged through individual characters' commitment to self-work. At least five of the six short stories in Deep Sightings reveal variations on this theme. All of Bambara's stories reflect a zero tolerance for sexism and chauvinism. Women characters are, furthermore, the doers and shakers in Bambara's fiction. Unafraid to "speak their speak," they are on the front lines of the struggle, warriors in their own right, helping to orga- nize the people alongside black men of like vision. Such portraits contrast markedly with idealized images of black women as muses or African queens (or alternatively, as mollifiers of black men's revolutionary rage) popularized in a good deal of the poetry and fiction by male writers of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, the three stories "Going Critical," "Madame Bai and the Taking of Stone Mountain," and "Luther on Sweet Auburn" all present women protagonists who are socially and politically conscious and take decisive action to transform their environments. Four principles of the Nguzo Saba are featured prominently in how the stories unfold: nia (purpose), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility) and imani (faith). That all three stories are set in the post-civil rights/black power eras (i.e., the early 1980s) implicitly stresses the continuing need to struggle against myriad forms of oppression and social injustice. All also suggest that this struggle requires characters to draw on spiritual as well as material resources.
The first of these stories, "Going Critical," is about the relationship between a mother (Clara) and her daughter (Honey) and the lessons Clara must pass on to Honey before she (Clara) succumbs to terminal cancer. Clara wants to be sure that Honey's inherited gift of foresight will be put to proper use once she is gone. Clara's battle with cancer is presumably linked to her exposure many years earlier to radiation during government testing of a nuclear bomb. In the story, Bambara connects environmentalism with a feminist agenda. Spiritual practices are invoked in the struggle not only to heal Clara of cancer but also to heal the debilitating social ills of the community and the pollution and poisoning of the earth. Honey's gift of sight, which Bambara asks readers to take for granted, is assumed as a common phenomenon in black folk culture. Clara must pass on to her daughter instructions on how to respect the power she has been given and to use this gift for the benefit of humankind.
In "Madame Bai and the Taking of Stone Mountain," the unnamed narrator must answer a spiritual koan put to her by Madame Bai, a Korean warrior-healer, who has been invited to present a workshop to members of the narrator's activist collective. In answering Madame Bai's koan: "Stone Mountain; what is it for?" the narrator discovers how to synthesize spiritual practice with political work in order to act on what she knows. The story is set in Atlanta during that frightening period in the early 1980s when a staggering number of black (mostly male) children in the city were mysteriously abducted and brutally murdered.
In the story, the narrator (an African-American woman) and her two companions, Tram (a Vietnamese man) and Mustafa (a Jordanian man), are accosted by a small gang of white bigots who first taunt and then physically attack Tram. The gang is outdone when the narrator and Mustafa, led by Tram, prove quite capable of physically defending themselves. Badly wounded, their assailants disperse and leave the three to continue along their way while struggling to recover their prior sense of peace. The narrator's eventual answer to Madame Bai's koan, "Stone Mountain is for the taking," symbolizes her will to fight back against the kind of bigotry and racial violence associated with the murder of black boys and the terror of white supremacists. Readers familiar with the history of Stone Mountain, Georgia, will recognize it as the birthplace of the modern Klan, which until relatively recently remained a stronghold for white supremacy. The narrator affirms the power of the people (here meaning not just blacks but all people committed to justice and racial equality) to reclaim this monument from its historical association with racial bigotry and intolerance.
The third story, "Luther on Sweet Auburn," is about an ex-social worker (affectionately nicknamed "Miz Nap" by the Brooklyn community she served in the 1960s) who encounters, years later, an acquaintance and former gang member, Luther Owens, from the Brooklyn neighborhood. The story contrasts the narrator's own continuing activism with Luther's complacency, stagnation, and squandered potential. "Luther on Sweet Auburn," like "Madame Bai," is set in Atlanta. Miz Nap has adapted her activist work, begun in the 1960s, to accommodate changing times. No longer a community youth worker, she is now a playwright, TV producer, and soon-to-be filmmaker who designs projects that give voice to the community's concerns. Contemplating the premise for her "new play in rehearsal," she notes, "theme of hostage-keeping in U.S.—slavery, reservations, ghettos, prisons, internment camps for Japanese, GIs in stockades for organizing, cities hostages of Big Business, the whole country kidnapped by thugs. Station manager not interested. Fine."18
When the narrator bumps into Luther Owens moments later, she is dismayed to realize in the course of their exchange that the spirit of the 1960s literally passed him by. Twenty years later, he not only has little to show for his life (which in Bambara's terms means: what have you done for the cause?), he's also talking the same jive (as the narrator comments: "all about need and you gotta and help me"). Weary of the tenor of Luther's conversation, Miz Nap cuts to the chase: "How old are you, Luther?" she inquires. "And how did the sixties manage to pass you by, you who were in hailing distance of Brooklyn CORE?" Implicit in the question is the idea of individual accountability and responsibility. In asking Luther's age, the narrator suggests that it is long past time for him to have gotten his act together. "Luther is confused," she thinks to herself, "Thinks I'm still a youth worker. Thinks he's still a youth. Thinks this is Warren Street, Brooklyn. That is, 1962."19 Having always assumed, by the narrator's demeanor and sense of purpose, that she was much older than he, Luther is surprised to learn at the close of the story that Miz Nap, at thirty-eight, is only five years his senior.
All three of these stories present women who are empowered, invested with a sense of purpose, and committed to uplifting their communities through progressive social action. The stories propose that activism continues to be an appropriate response to a range of contemporary issues. In "Luther on Sweet Auburn," the enthusiasm of black and foreign students gathered for a rally at Bethel Church to draft position papers and to organize around pressing issues provides the story's narrator with an (as she says) "in-the-flesh refutation of the apathetic myth, the movement-is-over propaganda."20 In Bambara's fiction, movement for social change never ends; it merely changes its form in an increasingly broad set of issues from environmental racism to xenophobia to nuclear armament.
Bambara's focus on the importance of self-work and individual accountability in the interest of progressive social transformation is complemented by an equally strong commitment to the importance of collective work and shared responsibility. To advance individuals without advancing communities is to achieve nothing at all in terms of social change. While concern for community plays an important role in all of the stories in Deep Sightings, Bambara's ethic of community is perhaps most vividly revealed in the stories "Ice" and "The War of the Wall," both narrated from the perspectives of children. Bambara's frequent use of child narrators reveals her respect for children's voices and often unique ways of seeing. Both stories emphasize the importance of intergenerational bonding. In the spirit of collective work and responsibility (ujima), all members of the community are responsible for and accountable to each other. The elders have a duty to provide the youth with a sense of who they are (through direct lessons, their own example, storytelling, etc.), as well as to nurture and instruct them in how to live ethically in this world. The young, in turn, have a responsibility to respect and care for their elders.
In "The War of the Wall," the child narrator learns important lessons about grace and tolerance from the actions of the adults in her community. In the story, the narrator is nonplussed by the arrival of an outsider to the community who has been granted permission to paint a mural on the wall adjacent to a barbershop on Talbro Street. Attached to her childhood memories of the wall as it is, the narrator declares the "painter lady's" effort to transform the wall an "act of war." The story illustrates the community's tolerance for someone different from themselves, as reflected in their capacity to embrace the painter lady (and her project) even as her lack of familiarity with the community's social mores and conventions causes her to inadvertently offend those who extend their hospitality.
The community's willingness, despite this, to grant her physical and psychic space to create additionally suggests their appreciation and respect for artistic work. At first vexed by the adults' failure to denounce the painter lady for her repeated social faux pas, the narrator is eventually pushed to rethink her assumptions about the woman and ultimately to expand her cultural horizons, when the finished mural is enthusiastically embraced by the community. Although the painter lady is an outsider, the community's reaction to the finished mural implies that she succeeds in creating a work of art that clearly speaks to, captures, or in some way validates the community that receives it. The respect she shows the community through her art is thus returned by them through their appreciation of the work.
In the final story to be considered from Deep Sightings, "Ice," the narrator is incensed when the adults in her community fail to act to save a litter of pups who die of exposure to the cold while she and her classmates are at school. When they return from school, the neighborhood children discover the frozen puppies and give them a proper burial. Of course, what the narrator does not appreciate is that the adults, who are necessarily preoccupied with the weighty responsibilities of work and providing for their families, are not focused on Lady or her puppies. The adults' concern for their children and the children's concern for the puppies are simply on different levels.
The adults nevertheless indulge the narrator's fussing and insinuations about the dead puppies because they recognize that her concern emanates from something that they agree is important to nurture: an appreciation for the value of life and a sense of obligation to protect and care for those who are unable to protect and care for themselves. The narrator eventually makes an important connection between her own concern for the pups and the way her Aunt Myrtle cares for Mrs. Blue, an elderly woman in the neighborhood. Spooked by the sight of Mrs. Blue, the narrator is reluctant to voluntarily visit the elderly woman despite prodding from one of her agemates. Self-congratulatory in her own concern for the pups later that evening, the narrator looks forward to telling her own children someday the story of how she and her peers did what all of the adults in her community had failed to do. In the process of spinning the story, however, thoughts of Old Mrs. Blue interrupt her reverie.
But what if my kids notice there's a hole in my story, I asked myself, a hole I will fall right through in the telling. Suppose they ask, "But, Mommy, didn't you go and see about the old lady?" So then I'll tell them how I put my boots back on and put them silly pot-holder mittens on too to carry one of Aunt Myrtle's casseroles down to Mrs. Blue. And with the moon pushing at my back, I'm thinking that maybe I'll sit with Mrs. Blue a while even though she is a spooky sort of person.21
The narrator realizes that if she wants to be able to tell the story, she must tell it right. And that means that she must also be accountable herself.
In interviews, Bambara described herself as an activist who sometimes writes. To be sure, her literary achievements constituted only one facet of a woman whose talents and interests were multifaceted. Whether working in literature or, later, predominately in film, Bambara was committed to creating art in the interests of social change. In an interview with Louis Massiah included in Deep Sightings, Bambara explains how the community that named her also shaped her approach to storytelling:
It was Grandma Dorothy who taught me critical theory, who steeped me in the tradition of Afrocentric aesthetic regulations, who trained me to understand that a story should be informed by the emancipatory impulse that characterizes our storytelling trade in these territories as exemplified by those freedom narratives…. She taught that a story should contain mimetic devices so that the tale is memorable, sharable, that a story should be grounded in cultural specificity and shaped by the modes of Black art practice—call-and-response but one modality that bespeaks a communal ethos.22
Bambara's artistic vision lends itself to stories that are constructed around a project of possibility. They are not only about what is but what might be. Pushing against the inertia of powerlessness and defeatism, she creates black women, men, and children who are fighters rather than victims, active subjects rather than passive objects. And while they don't always win their battles, the courage, resolution, and spirit evinced in the process present us as readers with a range of possibilities for thinking about how we choose to live our own lives.
1. Toni Cade Bambara, ed., The Black Woman: An Anthology (New York: New American Library, 1970).
2. Toni Cade Bamara, interview by Louis Massiah, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, ed. Toni Morrison (New York: Pantheon, 1996), 230.
4. Toni Cade Bambara, Gorilla My Love (New York: Random House, 1972).
5. Toni Cade Bambara, The Seabirds Are Still Alive (New York: Random House, 1977).
6. Toni Morrison, ed., Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations [by Toni Cade Bambara] (New York: Pantheon, 1996).
7. The term "faggot," for instance, is used uncritically several times throughout.
8. Julian Mayfield, "You Touch My Black Aesthetic and I'll Touch Yours," in The Black Aesthetic, ed. Addison Gayle Jr. (New York: Anchor, 1972), 29.
9. Hoyt Fuller (paraphrasing Larry Neal) in Fuller, "The New Black Literature: Protest or Affirmation," in Black Aesthetic, 329.
10. Ron Karenga, "Black Cultural Nationalism," in Black Aesthetic, 31.
11. Ibid., 32.
12. Toni Cade Bambara, "Salvation Is the Issue," in Black Women Writers (1950-1980), ed. Mari Evans (New York: Anchor, 1984), 47.
13. Morrison, preface to Deep Sightings, ix.
14. A brief overview of the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) can be found in, among other sources, Cedric McClester's Kwanzaa: Everything You Always Wanted to Know but Didn't Know Where to Ask (New York: Gumbs & Thomas, 1985), 3-7. Bambara's work embraces concepts (e.g., the Nguzo Saba) that were also celebrated by Ron Karenga and other cultural nationalists of the late 1960s and 1970s. However, Bambara was highly critical of Karenga and his cohorts for their virulent sexism.
15. Bambara, Black Woman, 7.
16. Bambara, "On the Issue of Roles," in Black Woman, 110.
17. Bambara, "Salvation Is the Issue," 47.
18. Bambara, "Luther on Sweet Auburn," in Deep Sightings, p. 79.
19. Ibid., p. 78.
20. Ibid., p. 85.
21. "Ice," in Deep Sightings, p. 77.
22.Deep Sightings, p. 249.
Shanna Greene Benjamin (review date 2001)
SOURCE: Benjamin, Shanna Greene. Review of Those Bones Are Not My Child, by Toni Cade Bambara. African American Review 35, no. 2 (2001): 338-40.
[In the following review, Benjamin presents a primarily favorable assessment of Those Bones Are Not My Child, praising Bambara's complex characterizations, particularly those of the children; her ability to elicit emotional responses from her readers; and her skill at utilizing multiple narrative perspectives.]
In the preface to The Black Woman, Toni Cade Bambara remarked that the work to be done in and around Black women's literature and feminism was "a lifetime's work." Certainly, Bambara's life and work stand as testimony to her steadfast dedication to the promotion of African American women's voices in literature, feminism, and film. Published in 1970, The Black Woman came to serve as one of the founding texts of that decade's emerging Black feminist movement. With Bambara's untimely death in 1995, the world lost an example of the literary possibilities that emerge when profound talent and otherworldly spirituality come together. Fortunately, in 1996, Toni Morrison published Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions —a collection of both published and previously unpublished "fiction, essays, and conversations" by and with Bambara. With this text, Morrison insured the enduring presence of Bambara's literary and critical voice.
In Those Bones Are Not My Child, Morrison continues her preservation of Bambara's legacy with another posthumously published work of Bambara's that, in a fictionalized account, revisits the painful era of what became known as the Atlanta child murders. Based on over a decade of Bambara's firsthand research into a series of puzzling disappearances and murders of Black youth in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bambara explores the ways in which government power and politics, communal paranoia, and personal suffering transform the Rawls family. Bambara focuses primarily on Marzala (Zala) Rawls, a mother of three whose son Sundiata (Sonny) was kidnapped. With the help of her estranged husband Nathaniel Spencer (Spence) and an eclectic mix of volunteers, Zala sets out to unearth the truth behind Sonny's questionable disappearance.
This novel should be of interest to scholars concerned with what happens at the intersection of history and literature, issues of Black masculinity, and the formation and function of grassroots political organizations, Vietnam, and trauma. Further, Bambara's novel opens a vital conversation about the function and limits of fiction revisioning history.
The prologue to Their Bones Are Not My Child postdates the novel's action, yet anticipates the distressed tone that runs throughout the book. Peppered with allusions to various political organizations and government agencies, the prologue allows readers to experience the development of Zala's paranoia, which began when Sonny disappeared almost a year earlier. In the first two chapters, "First Light and the Shape of Things" and "Connections: Convention Bucks, Investigation Flacks," Bambara takes us through the initial phases of Zala's search and chronicles her transformation from shocked mother to the empowered activist who confronts government agencies that trivialize Sonny's disappearance. The following pair of chapters, "The Key is in the Boot" and "The State of the Art," expound on Zala's efforts with more extensive characterizations of her two other children, Kenti and Kofi. These sections not only allow readers to follow the development of Zala's efforts, but they also expose the effects that her time-consuming search for Sonny has on the rest of her family. In "Foxglove and Tannia Leaves," Bambara offers a close-up of Zala's activist group as it lobbies for legal support, reviews racist films for insight into the minds of the kidnappers, and conducts searches of locales that may have been implicated in the homicidal rampage. "Bee Pollen and Oil of Evening Primrose" marks a dramatic shift in events, as the family strives to reconcile life before the kidnapping and after Sonny is found. The novel culminates with "Bones on the Roof"—a section that, while building on the familial tensions of the previous chapter, compels strong readerly responses yet provides no resolution.
Bambara uses a wide range of literary devices in Those Bones Are Not My Child, both traditional and experimental, which enhance the reader's aural and visual experience with the text. The most striking of these is her handling of narrative voice and her camera-like use of narrative perspective. Bambara manipulates the voices in the narrative from character to character, imbuing each with a distinctive tone that becomes increasingly recognizable in the course of the reading. To be sure, Bambara acts as a conduit for her text's many voices, from those of politicians to those of grieving parents. Her polyphonic approach validates each and offers a more diverse interpretation of these grim events.
Readers familiar with Bambara's work in film will notice how, from time to time, the narrative imitates a camera's movement. She grants some characters a sweeping glance from this "lens" while she portrays others with exacting close-ups. At some points, this narrative "eye" seems to pan the city, fly overhead, converge on representative individuals and groups, and allow us to hear their voices. This narrative is, at once, first- and third-person. What results is a panoptic montage that reconciles a narrative that occasionally appears disjointed.
One of the most compelling aspects of this novel inheres in the trauma implicit in its title: Those Bones Are Not My Child. Although a fictionalized account of the historical events, the novel transcends these textual boundaries to produce a story that conveys an eerie expectation of the worst in its outcome alongside a lingering hope for the best. Like Zala, who, with every ring of the telephone or knock at the door fears news of Sonny's death or anticipates word of his return, readers experience feelings of trepidation with each turn of the page. Ominous fear and suspenseful hopefulness plant themselves within the recesses of our consciousness. In implicating our responses this way, Bambara marries physical response to textual information—a feat that transforms an encounter with the book from readerly task to somatic experience.
Although Bambara succeeds in creating a significant revisionist historical document, her use of the details of her extensive research at times becomes a distraction.
In a non-fiction work, such details might have been expected, even demanded. But in a work of fiction they seem to push the novel beyond the boundaries of its focus.
The most moving insights to emerge from this novel come through the voices of Sonny's younger siblings, Kenti and Kofi. In some tense and touching moments in the story, Kenti and Kofi's poignant commentary conjures the cadence of the adolescent characters in Bambara's renowned collection of short stories Gorilla, My Love. But while Bambara's gift for painting children with depth, complexity, and tenderness extends to characters like Zala, Paulette, and Spencer, the sheer number of secondary characters in this novel makes it virtually impossible for her to give full attention to the development of others. One is left to imagine that, had Bambara lived to rework the narrative personally, she might have revised such shortcomings. Ultimately, however, Those Bones Are Not My Child stands as a testament to Bambara's facility as a writer as well as her willingness to push the limits of fiction, politics, and history.
Collins, Janelle. "Generating Power: Fission, Fusion, and Postmodern Politics in Bambara's The Salt Eaters." MELUS 21, no. 2 (summer 1996): 35-47.
Explores Bambara's metaphorical use of nuclear energy in The Salt Eaters.
Heller, Janet Ruth. "Toni Cade Bambara's Use of African American Vernacular English in ‘The Lesson’." Style 37, no. 3 (fall 2003): 279-93.
Detailed analysis of how the African American Vernacular English (AAVE) spoken by Sylvia in "The Lesson" is used by Bambara to underscore such themes as ancestral pride, the strength of women, social injustice, and the pressure to conform to mainstream society.
Ikard, David. "‘So Much of What We Know Ain't So’: The Other Gender in Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters." In Breaking the Silence: Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism, pp. 105-34. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.
Considers Bambara's "racial-gender politics" through an examination of her treatment of the male characters in The Salt Eaters.
Muther, Elizabeth. "Bambara's Feisty Girls: Resistance Narratives in Gorilla, My Love." African American Review 36, no. 3 (2002): 447-59.
Centers on the young, "feisty" female protagonists of "Gorilla, My Love" and "Raymond's Run," who embody "Bambara's prophetic envisioning of an activist future."
Additional coverage of Bambara's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: African American Writers, Ed. 2; American Writers Supplement, Vol. 11; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 5, 49; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 12, 14; Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1:1; Black Writers, Eds. 2, 3; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography Supplement;Concise Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 29-32R; Contemporary Authors—Obituary, Vol. 150; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 24, 49, 81; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 19, 88; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 38, 218; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules, Eds. MST, MULT; Exploring Short Stories; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers (eBook), Ed. 2005; Modern American Literature, Ed. 5; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Short Stories for Students, Vols. 4, 7, 12, 21; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 35, 107; Something about the Author, Vol. 112; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 116; and World Literature Criticism Supplement.