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The necessity of blacks' writing fiction about the South.

It is, I strongly feel, important for blacks to write fiction about the South. I say fiction because practically all of the books I've seen written about the South by blacks have been nonfiction, mostly black history. I am a history buff, so I know history is very important. Yet in wanting to learn about the everyday lives and thoughts of everyday people from any given society of any given people (and this includes black folks), nothing - I repeat, nothing - tells more about these people than does the fiction of the particular day. History written in 1991 rarely, if ever, captures the feel of 1891.

In getting this "feel" for the period written about, especially in trying to convey it to the reader, I've often had to defend my own writing. Much of my writing concerns the period when and where I grew up and the thoughts and language of the people of that place and time. This includes many colloquial expressions and thoughts (too many for my mother's - and other purists' - taste) of those I always wanted to write about, the people of the community where I grew up and whom I make no apology for, or feel "ashamed" of.

When I was growing up, and for many years afterwards, all the blacks I ever read about in American literature (by white and black writers) were "victims," purely one-dimensional characters. I knew we were victims ... yet knew we were much more. And this "more" was what I wanted to write about. For example, in the community of Morgan County, Georgia, where I grew up, people regularly visited the sick (and oftentimes would "sit up" nights with them). Following is a fictionalized version of mine of one such visit.

Chapter 14

Because of her surprising rejuvenation on life many folks suddenly began thinking optimistically about Luella, believing that maybe with the help of Cousin Claire, and God, she just might whip the Big C. But Luella was still a very sick woman and knew it. The pain was always there to remind her. Cousin Claire, following doctor's instructions, administered the sick woman her medicine daily and as the pain grew so did the size of each dosage, eventually causing the woman to act and feel dopey or high all the time, either making her sleep or talk her head off. Cousin Claire was always at, or not too far away from, her side.

Then, Lord, came that stormy night when from the pouring rain and out of the hot glare of a flash of lightning onto the Hemphill's front porch stepped the black-clad "Bertha the Buzzard."

Tall and lanky, Bertha's stock in trade was her long, sad, ageless face, which she carried around to every house of the sick in, and out of, the community where like a buzzard she sat, hovered, at the foot of the bed of the ill whom she'd come to console, watching and waiting. Yes, it was said throughout the region that when Bertha the Buzzard came, you were gone. Bertha the Buzzard left no survivors.

The folks had first been introduced to Bertha the Buzzard many years earlier - everybody had lost count as to exactly how many - when as a total stranger she appeared out of nowhere to attend a local funeral and, uninvited, sat herself right down amidst the mourning family on the front row of the church. Ever since that day a seat was automatically saved for Bertha the Buzzard on the front row of the church, and in the lead car following the hearse in every black funeral practically, in Muskhogean County - and she hadn't missed a burial. In fact, it was said, Bertha the Buzzard subscribed to several newspapers in the area, thus keeping a constant check on the sick and the dead, and she was also said to be in attendance at one funeral every week, at least, somewhere in the state. She was never seen out of her black mourning outfit, complete with hat and veil and at the funerals themselves nobody could cry, moan, wail, or sing as long, as loud, or as sad as Bertha the Buzzard over the loss of the deceased, whether she had known them in life or not. Lord, nobody could get, and keep, a funeral going like Bertha the Buzzard - nor end one like her, as she always saved the best for the last and many, often strangers to the family of the deceased, came from afar just to witness Bertha the Buzzard's final and special "up from the gut" crying song over the grave that oftentimes even choked up the praying-for-pay preacher. It made you want to die. Following this moving graveside performance, Bertha the Buzzard, always leaving them crying, would fly (via Greyhound bus) off in search of another funeral. Now, Lord, her never-ending journey through rain, shine, sleet, and slime had brought her to the foot-post of Luella's bed, where she now hovered.

Once Bertha the Buzzard had roosted in one's house there was no shooing her out - not even the pleading sweet smile and soft kind words of Cousin Claire worked - until she saw fit herself to fly off. "Just left the Funeral Home, Sister Luella,' came the ominous screech of Bertha the Buzzard from the thin lips of her long, sad-eyed, vulture face. "But they hadn't yet displayed the body of Brother Willie Youngblood who, God rest his soul, you know by now was called home by his Maker early yesterday morning while he lay sleeping. God is merciful! But, as we all so well know, the poor man was sick for a long, long time. It was just last year they bad to take off one leg. He was a diabetic, you know. Runs in the family. Essie Mae, his mamma, died from it. Lord, what a beautiful funeral she had. Her family spared no expense in having her put away. She left here decked out in such finery that I'm sure when God saw her approaching the Pearly Gates He went out to welcome her home Himself. They said Brother Youngblood was doing right nicely for awhile there and it seemed he might make it all the way back until he took a sudden setback and then the other leg had to come off. That's when I went to see him ...."

Thus sat Bertha the Buzzard that lightning-streaking-across-the-sky, thunder-thumping, rain-pouring-down, stormy night, digging up from the grave, digesting and reburying old bones until, finally: "Sister Luella, I hate running out and leaving you like this but I must be getting on before it's too late for me to stop in at the Home to see if Brother Youngblood has been put on display yet. Funeral services will be held on Sunday, you know. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, honey." The black raincoated, rainhatted, and galoshed Bertha the Buzzard, beneath her big black umbrella, stepped back out into the dark night's storm. Gone.

A week later, Lord, Luella, too, was gone. Amen.

This is a part of the South I learned firsthand by having grown up in it and which, as far as I'm concerned, is an important part of Black American culture and American history (the doings of everyday people) which hasn't been written about enough by black writers of fiction.

Despite being labeled Black Writers (and for some reason for years not included in the fraternity of the "Southern Writer"), we nevertheless are writers, and there's a whole heap of Southern black (many victimless) happenings out there to be written about ... moments that can be captured by the one with the greatest imagination, the fiction writer.
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Title Annotation:Black, South Fiction, Art, Culture
Author:Andrews, Raymond
Publication:African American Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:1276
Previous Article:Albert Murray: literary reconstruction of the vernacular community.
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