When I moved to an apartment complex in College Park, Georgia outside of Atlanta, I was excited to hear that a famous writer and a popular singer lived there. I never saw Toni Cade Bambara nor Peabo Bryson, but I felt that I had chosen well by moving there. It was scenic with a lake full of ducks and it had two large swimming pools and just knowing that there were a couple of artists in the midst made it that much more exciting!
A few years later, I did have the opportunity to meet Toni Cade Bambara. I met her at the University of Memphis at a speaking engagement the first time and I saw her again at a literary conference in Chicago. The first time, she was highly animated and hilarious. Her major collections of short stories are Gorilla, My Love and The Sea Birds are Still Alive. She also wrote a novel called The Salt Eaters and she is known for editing literary anthologies. She worked closely alongside Toni Morrison, who also started out as an editor.
I thought that she had written a two-sided book. One side was She and the other side was He. It is called back-to back binding, but I have tried to research that and have not found anything. This technique gave me the premise for developing my first novella, A Golden Leaf in Time Revised. Phoenix’s and Trey’s stories unfold simultaneously before they actually meet at the end of the book.
However, I truly enjoyed her short stories. She grew up in Harlem and she used a narrator named Hazel to tell about the neighborhood children’s ventures. I saw her read from the book, Gorilla My Love. She tells the stories with a sense of humor and as she read, we laughed so hard. She had the perfect intonations and emphases, which only the actual writer can do that well.
In the actual story called ‘Gorilla My Love’, the inner city kids have gone to the Saturday movie to see “Gorilla My Love,” or so they thought. That is what the marquee said. But when they got inside, another movie was shown and it had nothing to do with a gorilla and was not even for children. When the children started to protest, a large, wide female theatre attendant whom the kids called Thunderbuns ran up and down the aisles shining a flashlight in the children’s faces in an effort to make them calm down. It did not seem to work! Her descriptions had us in stitches.
I re-read ‘The Lesson’ also from Gorilla My Love. It was about this community woman who was trying to expose the children to other sides of life. Hazel, the narrator, is resentful and would rather be swimming. Yet she does have to ponder what she learned after they were taken downtown to a FAO Schwarz toy store. She remembered the prices of the toys and it made her think about poverty and wealth.
Ms. Bambara left us too soon, but I am so glad that I met her and heard her read her works. That is the beauty of the printed word. It remains and that is how I could easily revisit her works. I simply downloaded them and read them again. Nice!
Thank you to Toni Cade Bambara, another entertaining writer, whom I salute during this Women’s History Month!
Lynn March 10, 2015