Nunez, Elizabeth 1944- (Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell)
NUNEZ, Elizabeth 1944- (Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell)
PERSONAL: Born February 18, 1944, in Cocorite, Trinidad; daughter of Waldo (a government labor commissioner and oil company executive) and Una Nunez; immigrated to United States; divorced; children: Jason Harrell. Ethnicity: "Caribbean, Black." Education: Marian College, B.A., 1967; New York University, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1977. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, classical music, opera, gardening.
ADDRESSES: Home—18 Victoria Dr., Amityville, NY 11701. Offıce—School of Liberal Arts and Education, Medgar Evers College, City University of New York, 1150 Carroll St., Brooklyn, NY 11225. Agent—Fifi Oscard Agency, 24 West 40th St., 17th floor, New York, NY 10018. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]
CAREER: Author, educator. Medgar Evers College, City University of New York, New York, NY, Distinguished Professor of English. National Endowment for the Humanities, director of the National Black Writers conference, 1986—.
MEMBER: PEN (Open Book committee chair).
AWARDS, HONORS: Independent Publishers Book Award, 1999, for Beyond the Limbo Silence; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 2001, for Bruised Hibiscus; Vera Rubin Residency fellowship, Yaddo; Woman of Distinction Award, YWCA; Sojourner Truth Award, National Association of Black Business and Professional Women's Clubs; Carter G. Woodson Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award; honorary doctorate in humane letters, Marian College, for contributions to the arts and education.
(As Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell) When Rocks Dance, Putnam (New York, NY), 1986.
Bruised Hibiscus, Amistad Press (New York, NY), 1994, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 2000.
Beyond the Limbo Silence, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 1998.
Discretion, One World (New York, NY), 2002.
Grace, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Brenda M. Greene) Defining Ourselves:Black Writers in the 90s, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1999.
ADAPTATIONS: Discretion and Grace have been issued as audio books.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Prospero's Daughter, a novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Elizabeth Nunez is a Trinidad-born professor of English who, since 1986, has directed the National Black Writers Conference, the panelists for which have included such notable black authors as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Derek Walcott, and many others. Nunez has also chaired the PEN American Open Book committee, which focuses on providing people of color access to the publishing industry. For her work in these areas, her teaching, and for her writing, Nunez has been the recipient of many awards.
Nunez has written a number of novels, including When Rocks Dance, which is set in Trinidad at the beginning of the twentieth century. It begins as the story of Emilia, a native woman whose lover is an Englishman. His wife is barren, and he wants Emilia to provide him with an heir, but she has three pairs of twins who die at birth. According to her culture, twins are bad luck and must be sacrificed if the errant woman wishes to have another child. When the fourth pair of twins is born alive, they are left in the forest to die. Emilia then has a ninth child, a girl she names Marina, who displays the strengths of all her siblings before her. She is beautiful, strong, and seemingly immune from the illnesses and pitfalls of life.
Bahadur Tejani wrote in World Literature Today that "the superspiritual child is fated to carry the burden of her mother's restless search for freedom and for land. Symbolically, she is to release her family and her people from the cycle of degradation, dependence, and perpetual rootlessness. Marina is to be the new flower child in an alien land which she must claim as her own. The community of black folk is aware of her significance as the first tentative symbol of its culture and watches her with keen interest to see if the flower will bloom or fade."
Bruised Hibiscus is set during the 1950s in Trinidad and begins with the body of a white woman being recovered from the sea. Nunez called on a real-life incident in constructing this element of the story, the murder of Paula Inge by her Trinidadian physician-husband Dalip Singh, who strangled her, removed her intestines, sewed her up, and threw her into the ocean.
In the novel, the death results in the reunion of two women who have not seen each other since they were twelve years old. Rose and Zuela saw something through the leaves of a hibiscus bush which has kept them apart since that time. Rose, a white woman, married an abusive black headmaster named Cedric, while Zuela, a black woman, married a Chinese man old enough to be her grandfather, and who treats her like a child, even though she bore him ten children in as many years.
Reviewing Bruised Hibiscus in the African American Review, contributor Sandra Adell said that Nunez "has greatly enriched the rapidly developing field of African diaspora literature. In this novel, Nunez weaves such a rich and well-crafted tapestry of legend, myth, and history that one cannot help comparing her to Toni Morrison."
Beyond the Limbo Silence is set in the early 1960s and offers a history of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the story of an emotionally fragile Trinidadian girl who is dropped into the white Midwest. Sara Edgehill and two other West Indian girls, one of whom still practices the Vodoun rituals of her ancestors, are in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on scholarship. Sara falls in love with one of the few other blacks at the school, Sam Maxwell, a law student and political activist who leaves her for Mississippi, where his colleagues, the real-life Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Earl Chaney, disappear.
Heather Hathaway, who reviewed Beyond the Limbo Silence in the African American Review, wrote that through a "small but complex community of characters, Nunez considers sociocultural issues relevant to both immigrant and race relations in the United States, including patterns of immigrant adjustment, regional blindness during the period due to the magnitude of racism in the American South, and variations in perspective between native-born and non-native-born blacks concerning the stakes of the Civil Rights Movement."
Discretion is the story of a man torn between two worlds, neither of which he can give up. Oufoula Sindede is a diplomat from an unnamed African country. Schooled in Western ways as a child, Oufoula is a Christian who learned to love Shakespeare and play tennis. He has a traditional marriage to his wife, Nerida, whom he loves, and a decades-long passion for Marguerite, a Jamaican-born painter who lives in New York City, and who refuses to engage in an affair with the married man. Over the twenty years since they first met, he has been unable to put her out of his mind. The story opens with Oufoula, at fifty-five, reconnecting with Marguerite.
Denolyn Carroll said in Black Issues Book Review that Nunez "threads the story with literary allusions and strong images. Yet at the core of the novel's appeal is its sense of realism. Nunez thus manages to engage an even wider audience without compromising her distinctive style."
Grace also features a male protagonist, Justin Peters, a black Trinidadian and Harvard Ph.D. who teaches at a small college in Brooklyn. Justin is criticized by Afro-centric colleagues for his concentration on the works of "Dead White Men," while his wife, Sally, a Harlem-born poet and teacher, tries to recapture her reason for living, while surviving memories of her physician father being killed by the Ku Klux Klan, and her mother's mental breakdown in the aftermath. The one thing the couple have in common is the love of their young daughter. Confused and depressed, Sally moves out of the house and in with a female friend. Justin is bewildered by Sally's actions and fears that she will ultimately leave him.
A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "adopting Justin's sage, reasoned point of view tempered by the Great Books he teaches, Nunez allows the narrative to unfold with understated elegance."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African American Review, fall, 2000, Heather Hathaway, review of Beyond the Limbo Silence, p. 552; winter, 2001, Sandra Adell, review of Bruised Hibiscus, p. 679.
Americas, May, 1999, Barbara Mujica, review of Beyond the Limbo Silence, p. 61.
Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2000, Denolyn Carroll, review of Discretion, p. 30; March-April, 2003, Denolyn Carroll, review of Grace, p. 43.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Grace, p. 1796.
Library Journal, December, 2002, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Grace, p. 180.
New York Times Book Review, December 28, 1986, Nancy Ramsey, review of When Rocks Dance, p. 18; December 27, 1998, Anderson Tepper, review of Beyond the Limbo Silence, p. 15; April 9, 2000, Jana Giles, review of Bruised Hibiscus, p. 35; March 10, 2002, Sarah Towers, review of Discretion, p. 9; March 23, 2003, William Ferguson, review of Grace, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, August 15, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of When Rocks Dance, p. 70; October 10, 1994, review of Bruised Hibiscus, p. 62; October 5, 1998, review of Beyond the Limbo Silence, p. 83; February 28, 2000, review of Bruised Hibiscus, p. 59; November 26, 2001, review of Discretion, p. 36; January 20, 2003, review of Grace, p. 54.
Sage, spring, 1995, Beatrice Stith Clark, review of When Rocks Dance, p. 73; January 20, 2003, review of Grace, p. 54.
World Literature Today, winter, 1994, Bahadur Tejani, review of When Rocks Dance, pp. 53-58.
Colored Girls,http://www.coloredgirls.com/ (January 7, 2003), Zakla, review of Bruised Hibiscus.
Tribes,http://www.tribes.org/ (January 7, 2003), S. L. Yung, review of Beyond the Limbo Silence.