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Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations.

In the next-to-longest piece in the posthumous collection Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, a piece entitled "How She Came by Her Name," Toni Cade Bambara gives a description of herself that perfectly captures the writer behind the selections in the volume. She says, in this memoir in the form of an interview: "I never thought of myself as a writer. I always thought of myself as a community person who writes and does a few other things."

Indeed, the selections represented here seem chosen to limn the author's life in the resistance - as community activist, producer, editor, writer and teacher of film, as well as the powerfully innovative writer of the short-story volumes Gorilla, My Love, and The Seabirds Are Still Alive and the novel The Salt Eaters.

The book does contain six previously unpublished short stories. Several feature a character who is an artist, a painter, though this fact may be incidental rather than central to the story. In "How She Came by Her Name" Bambara offers a tantalizing insight into the presence of painters in the stories. In noting her identification with artists, though she was a science major in college, Bambara says: "That lifestyle was more my thing. I liked the smell of linseed oil and turpentine, mainly because one of my spirit guides comes to me that way, namely my mother's mother; that is, her 'visitations' are heralded by those odors - she painted."

The longest piece in the collection is a retrospective look at black independent filmmaking, entitled "Reading the Signs, Empowering the Eye." Its subtitle, "Daughters of the Dust and the Black Independent Cinema Movement," describes its subject. Using the 1991 film as a "historical marker," Bambara reflects on twenty years of black independent filmmaking ushered in by the UCLA Film School rebellion of the 1960s. The essay focuses on the development of black American women filmmakers, but includes commentary on multicultural films by men and women. As the appreciative preface by Toni Morrison notes, Bambara came to prefer film as her medium around the time of the Atlanta child murders. She became committed, as Morrison puts it, "to help rescue a genre from its powerful social irrelevancy."

The volume also includes a lengthy critique of Spike Lee's School Daze. Bambara condemns the film's homophobia and sexism but acknowledges that, like all Spike Lee films, its demand for "active spectatorship" forces the audience to engage the important issues about class and color which it raises.

The title piece, "Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions," about the author's growth into resistance and the forces in family and neighborhood that shaped her, offers illuminating analyses of why resistance groups succeed and where they fail when they try to "assimilate" instead of resist the models of the dominant culture. The essay circles back to the subject of black independent films. It ends with a provocative speculation about the potential of the newer films to address their work to other people of color rather than to white audiences, thus obviating the need for the "victim portraiture" that has sometimes characterized them. This piece, together with the more personal memoir "How She Came by Her Name" and the final selection in the book, "The Education of a Storyteller," will recall for admirers of Bambara's earlier short stories the richness, suppleness, and tonic humor of her voice.

Sandra Cookson Canisius College
COPYRIGHT 1997 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cookson, Sandra
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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