Sunday, May 31, 2009


Do you ever get the feeling you're reading far too aggressively? So aggressively your collected notes seems the length of a Bible? So aggressively you wonder if you'll ever finish?

As I comb through Revolutionary Road again, I continue to happen upon things I at first missed. I can't say whether my reading has been a journey through a mine field or treasure trove - either way, I tread attentively, so as not to, at my peril or fortune, overlook anything of great consequence.

That's where I am.... so expect an influx of posts this week. THERE'S SO MUCH TO SAY.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Forgive me, blog, for I have lapsed. It has been sixteen days since my last post, but presently I will be back with MANY things to say about Revolutionary Road, Max Jamison and all I've read during the last two and a half weeks.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The fear of writing!

Do first drafts always read like excerpts from The Young Visiters? Or is it just me?

I'm exaggerating, but by how much I'm afraid I can't yet tell.

read The Young Visiters by 9-year-old Daisy Ashford here

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The writing reader vs. The reading writer

I'm stuck. For now, I'm a writing reader. I read great writing and write (here) about what I feel makes each piece great - in hopes that these studies will (soon) make me a reading writer, someone who can take what she has observed and apply it to her own work.

If the writer is an artist, the writing reader draws from sight, from a model... and I'm still studying anatomy, trying to locate the bone and muscle structures under the flesh of the thing. The masters have the biology internalized and have moved forward to establish unique styles. Master writing readers can each interpret the same model brilliantly, but the resulting works remain distinctive to each writing reader's own hand.

The reading writer draws from her imagination. She may refer to the rudiments of form when conceiving a work, and her art remains true to life, but is based on no one model. Her subjects are fictional.

I'm struggling to find the point where figure drawing, portrait painting, interpretation end - and illustration, conception, TRUE creation begin.

Analysis and observation are fine (and very instructing) for now. But I'm a fiction writer at heart.

Literary Present Tense

Does anyone else in the world have TENSE ISSUES????

As I reread some of my posts - some from as recently as yesterday - I realize that the tense issues I've always noticed in my writing are, when I don't take care to curb them, as prevalent as they ever were.

This 'literary present tense' doesn't come naturally to me.


...So if you're reading this blog, try to overlook whatever inconsistencies in tense you may encounter. I'm *fixing* them now.

"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present."
Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale
Grey Gardens

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The absence of men in Kristin Hunter's An Interesting Social Study

Read An Interesting Social Study HERE and Susan Glaspell's Trifles HERE.

"I know how things can be--for women. ...We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things--it's all just a different kind of the same thing."
--from Trifles by Susan Glaspell (1916)

There are only three characters in Kristin Hunter's short story - a young, African-American woman, "the new resident", approximately 30 years old, and two older Caucasian women, Mrs. Powell and Corinna - and this story of learned acceptance over evening drinks would be complicated in the presence of men.

While talking on an open porch on the mid-1960s Cape May shore, the new and old residents find common ground and can judge each other (or learn not to) more accurately once they discover they're not so different.

Corinna mentions to the new resident that when she “was growing up, girls weren’t supposed to train for careers. [They] went to school to become young ladies. The schools [she] went to, National Cathedral and Finch, were mostly finishing schools.” Upon reflection, the new resident, who had completed her undergraduate studies at Spelman, a Historically Black University for Women, realizes Spelman is little more than the same, all three with their weekly tea parties and frivolous social engagements. The new resident, in disclosing her Bryn Mawr graduate studies, also gains the respect of Mrs. Powell who "went to Spence" and doesn't think anyone learned "a damn thing in those young-lady schools, especially in the South".

It's relatively simple for the three women to overlook their separating circumstances and find commonality, but among men, the new resident's approval might not have been as easily earned. Though the three women are divided (superficially) by class, race, wealth, and age, they're still, in a sense among their peers.
The new resident said softly, almost to herself, “I wanted a quiet place to work on my thesis this summer. That’s why I picked Cape May. Besides, I heard it was a pretty town.”

“Well, you came to the right place if you wanted quiet,” Mrs. Powell said, pouring herself another double slug of whiskey. “This town is so damn quiet it gets my nerves sometimes.”
In Susan Glaspell's 1916 drama, Trifles, a woman is suspected of killing her husband - and when two female neighbors accompany officials to the home in search of proof, the two find all they need: proof that the suspect had been oppressed and emotionally abused by her husband (manifested in erratic sewing, a canary with a snapped neck, the cessation of the woman's singing, for which she had once been known in the community). For this, they suppress the evidence against her, secretly repairing her stitchwork and stealing the canary's corpse, pardoning her crime because they, a jury of her peers, understand the stagnant oppression, the "stillness" she must have had to endure.

Similarly, the three women on the porch at Cape May during that mid-1960s summer, "a strong tide seem[ing] to have scattered the varicolored bodies of bathers as randomly as shells," couldn't possibly condemn one another for being of a different race, or for the sins of their forefathers. They find in each other friendship, understanding, hope - understandings that in the presence of men, would have been more difficult to achieve.

...And male characters would have elongated and complicated the fairly simple narrative. Its 8 pages could have easily become a novel with the hurdles the women would have had to overcome in reaching the same end.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An Interesting Social Study by Kristin Hunter

This is Becca's Book Blog's 29th post - but only its 2nd concerning a Black author, its 8th concerning the work of female authors... which is a shame - as I'm a young, Black woman.

I'm now making a point to write about Black and female authors - with an emphasis on the intersection of the two conditions - a space in which I reside, happily.

First is a short story published in 1967 by Kristin Hunter, "An Interesting Social Study". I couldn't find the story reproduced ANYWHERE online, so I've typed and posted it on an auxiliary blog started for this very purpose.

Read An Interesting Social Study HERE.

A micro-reading of An Interesting Social Study may turn up more than a few issues... the overuse of adjectives and adverbs and prosaic repetition of dialogue structures ("she said", "she inquired", et al, et al), but besides, there is much to love in Kristin Hunter's story of an evening drink between old and new acquaintances on a porch in a 1960's Jersey Shore town, Cape May.

The story's young female protagonist is never named, only referred to as "the new resident", and is the only character whose thoughts are explicitly revealed to the reader. There are two other characters: Mrs. Powell, who is quickly established as the director of the story's coming action, whose "tone less of invitation than command" is not to be refuted, whose invitations are so coveted as to resemble "the instant fulfillment of a wish in childhood", whose "booming voice of authority" delivers "incontrovertible orders" to all around her. And her longtime friend Corinna who, by Mrs. Powell's declaration is "dumb", a "one hundred per cent fool", and who "accepted Mrs. Powell’s tyranny, as if [it] were divinely ordained circumstance."

What isn't immediately obvious is that Mrs. Powell and Corinna are White and the new resident is Black. The initial physical descriptions of Mrs. Powell and Corinna are as follows:

[Mrs. Powell was] an unusually tall and bony woman with a magnificently lined face which depicted, clearly as a graph, a mixed history of pleasure and pain...

[Corinna] was a plump woman of vague shape and features, with wispy dyed-red hair; like her hostess, near sixty; and dressed, like her, for a city luncheon, in a silk suit, polished straw hat, and quantities of pearls. Except that Mrs. Powell's hair was uncompromisingly short and gray, and her pearls were real.

Corinna refers to local blue collar workers as "colored" early in the story, which was not cause for alarm in 1967, when An Interesting Social Study was published, but it's clear that her referral establishes "colored" as other. The new resident, once she's sufficiently inebriated by Mrs. Powell, reveals that she'd done her undergraduate studies at Spelman College - a Historically Black Women's College. When the races of the women become apparent, the story finds its footing.

The setting, Cape May in summer, and its signs of social progression, not unlike in Yates' Revolutionary Road, mirrors the reluctantly changing attitudes of its inhabitants. In Revolutionary Road, "three swollen villages had lately been merged by a wide and clamorous highway called Route Twelve" - and along this new highway, commercial properties, "KING KONE, MOBILGAS, SHOPORAMA, EAT," spring up - all while the sly elitism of young, suburban families prompt resentment toward any lingering signs of what was once an uncouth rural town. Similarly, in An Interesting Social Study, both Cape May's new and old residents can feel a shift in the town's culture:
...There was no longer any clear pattern of segregation on Cape May’s beaches. A strong tide seemed to have scattered the varicolored bodies of bathers as randomly as shells. But last night she had noticed the stately old hotels floating at the edge of the water like giant ghost ships, empty, yet lit from stem to stern. They had given her an eerie feeling, and she had turned her back on the ocean wind and hurried home, shivering.
The tide of change brings integration to the historically relaxed, carefree shore town, and also, by Mrs. Powell's admission had divide it into "'two towns... the old summer people, and the new summer people. The old people... kind of wooden-headed and slow, and it takes them along time to make up their minds about new thing." The old people like Cape May's old hotels, their ghostly, stately manner, leave the new resident unsettled - her first encounter with Mrs. Powell described by the narrator as awkward, stiff, uncomfortable... understandable as Mrs. Powell herself "looked monumental and splendid as the old beach front hotels, and as lonely." Lonely because Cape May's newer, younger residents seem "to be flocking to the ugly new nightclub down on the beach instead," - Mrs. Powell because her position of near omnipotence ("The new resident thought... Before this evening is over, you’ll know everything about me too. That’s probably why you invited me up here on your porch. You make it your business to know everything.... And I’ll bet you’re the one who tells all the other old people what to think. I’ll bet you run the whole town by yourself...") in Cape May is also one of isolation.

In this seaside town, these women, from different places, separated by decades, generations, are able to find common ground - each providing the other with what she seeks in her visit.

In this strangely colored twilight that falls on the southernmost point on the Jersey shore, the newest resident’s hands, as they caught the arms of the rocker were tinted a soft mauve, while the faces of the older women, who had already spent a month in the sun, were deeper variations of the same shade.
The new resident's studies to be a social worker lend themselves to aiding Mrs. Powell's blatant alcoholism, as Mrs. Powell herself suggests. More tangibly, the shells the new resident collected on the beach the day before the action of the story began are, at the end of the story, suggested as the antidote allowing Mrs. Powell's stagnant furnishings to more accurately reflect the town's spirit. We learn that Mrs. Powell was raised in the North (explaining her progressive attitude?), that she's the great-grand daughter of her state's most profitable slave owner and trader, the daughter of a state senator, "the most important lady in Cape May." But she plays down her own attributes, her wealth, her legacy "with a deprecating wave of hands".

We learn in Mrs. Powell's willful sloughing of legitimate claims of class, birth, and education that people, disparate in origins, can converge peacefully, meaningfully... An "old relic" and a "new resident" - Corrina, whose harmless ignorance foils Mrs. Powell's willingness to accept change - find one another, put history aside, and in a summer, on a porch, drunk, head together toward the future of their town.

I'm reminded of a recent post from Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence:

I’m rereading a favorite family history, Bowen’s Court (1942) by Elizabeth Bowen. As she chronicles the fortunes of one Anglo-Irish family, we slowly realize we are witnessing the fall of an entire civilization into modernity:

“And to what did our fine feelings, our regard for the arts, our intimacies, our inspiring conversations, our wish to be clear of the bonds of sex and class and nationality, our wish to try to be fair to everyone bring us? To 1939.”

In this case... To 1968.

Mrs. Powell's final dialogue to the new resident, the story's closing lines:

“I have a lot of interesting old relics around here, if you like history, and I’m the biggest old relic of them all. Although I don’t care much for history, myself.”

What a refreshing read! I have 4 anthologies of the best short stories and poems by Black Writers and look forward to enjoying them as much as I have Kristin Hunter's An Interesting Social Study.

But I plan to finish Revolutionary Road first!

Next Post: The absence of men in An Interesting Social Study