When I was 17, I started looking for something… else on my high school library’s shelves. Voracious reader that I was, I enjoyed the texts my teachers assigned, but grew dissatisfied. The required reading did provide me with examples of the type of thinker I might be, and I admired literary projects undertaken by authors like Hawthorne, Joyce and Eliot, Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Salinger. But, I had this history and culture that I wanted acknowledged and reflected back to me in similarly symbolic or abstracted form in rigorous, innovative texts by Black authors in addition to those by the white American and British writers whose work we studied. In my mind, those possible books were out ‘there’ in the vast ‘away’ far from Boca Raton, maybe in ‘New York’ or ‘Boston’ or ‘Philadelphia’1.
I went ‘away’ to Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C. And in the first month of my freshman year, I saw on a wire spinner in the university’s bookstore African American author Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye. In that place, the title read like a dare, so I bought the book. Reading it in my dorm room, on the first page I found this passage:
I was stunned and elated and vindicated2.
- From the beginning of the second chapter of the “Winter” section of The Bluest Eye: “They come from Mobile. Aiken. From Newport News. From Marietta. From Meridian. And the sound of these places in their mouths make you think of love…. You don’t know what these towns are like, but you love what happens to the air when they open their lips and let the names ease out.” ↩︎
- from Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Community-Sourced Narratives and a Praxis of Contemporary Art, my MFA Thesis, © Copyright 2014, 2016 Allison Bolah. All Rights Reserved. ↩︎