Mar 252013


“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” – Flannery O’Connor

Mary Flannery O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was born in Savannah, Georgia.  Writer of two novels and 32 short stories, O’Connor’s writing often reflected her Roman Catholic faith Southern upbringing, drawing from regional settings and grotesque characters to examine questions of morality and ethics.

When she was six years old, O’Connor had her first experience with celebrity: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

Regarding her emphasis of the grotesque , O’Connor said: “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”  Her texts often take place in the South and revolve around morally flawed characters, while the issue of race frequently appears in the background.  Most of her works feature disturbing elements, though she did not like to be characterized as cynical. “I am tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic,” she writes. “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism… when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.”

She said: “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

O’Connor died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39, of complications from lupus, and was buried in Milledgeville, Georgia.

(Thanks to Wikipedia and The Writer’s Almanac for today’s references.)

Feb 112013

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender. She is best known for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Walker is also noted for coining the phrase “womanism” (in her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)), which examines the particularities of race, class, sex, and gender as they impact the lived experience of black women and women of color.

From “Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet tirelessly continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world.”

Feb 072013


Mabel Hampton (May 2, 1902 – October 26, 1989) was a Black lesbian pioneer who inspired many during her 87 year stay on this planet. Born in in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Hampton’s mother died when she was just two months old. She grew up in the care of her grandmother, surrounded by chickens, hogs, a garden full of roses and vegetables, her maternal aunt, and of course, friends. She formed fond memories of North Carolina during this time and was forced to leave this haven of safety when her Grandmother died when Mabel was just 7 years old.

Hampton took the train to New York City where she went to live with her aunt and uncle. Treated poorly in that family and raped by her uncle, at 8 years old Hampton walked away from their home and set out on her own.

Between the ages of 8 and 17 Hampton lived with a white family in New Jersey, was wrongfully imprisoned for prostitution, and eventually found work dancing in an all women’s troupe that performed on Coney Island. For Hampton the 1920’s were a time of dancing in all black productions, private parties with Jackie “Moms” Mabley and other Harlem Renaissance figures, and living amongst other dancers and lesbians. Mabel Hampton was “in the life.”

Hampton left the chorus lines as work dried up, claiming that “I like to eat.” She began a career of working as a cleaning woman for white families. Mabel Hampton is perhaps best recognized as a major contributor to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Through out her adult life she collected all matter of memorabilia, letters, and records documenting her history and the world around her as a black woman and as a lesbian.

In 1932 Mabel Hampton met Lillian Foster. The two quickly fell in love and remained a couple until Lillian died in 1978. For 45 years they, along with various friends, formed a household that weathered World War II, the Civil Rights era, and the Stonewall Rebellion. Perhaps most interesting about Mabel Hampton is how integrated a life she led. She was surrounded by her lesbian contemporaries, volunteered for the New York Defense Recreation Committee collecting cigarettes and refreshments for soldiers during World War II., and was her community’s air raid service warden in 1943. Despite her meager salary she attended performances by the National Negro Opera Company and regularly contributed to the Martin Luther King Memorial Fund and later to gay organizations.

Mabel Hampton clipped articles, kept letters, and later donated her treasures to the Lesbian Herstory Archives so that she could be “a part of going on.” She marched in the first national gay and lesbian civil rights march in Washington, appeared in the films Silent Pioneers and Before Stonewall. She inspired members of the gay and lesbian community in New York, and through her gifts to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, shared her tremendous history with the rest of the world. In 1984 Mabel Hampton addressed the crowds at New York City’s pride parade. She said “I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people.”

(This Bio is a summary of Joan Nestle’s Kessler Lecture (November 1992) entitled “I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman.” The original essay can be found in A Fragile Union, Cleis Press, 1998. Summary created by Erin Sexton-Sayler.)

Feb 052013


Zora Neale Hurston (January, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Best known for her 1937 Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston had wrote four novels and more than fifty published short stories, plays, and essays.

In the words of Katie Geneva Cannon: “In both her life and her work Hurston embodied a sensitized candor in relation to the short, invisible ethos as well as the expressed moral values emanating from within the cultural institutions in the Black community. Unlike most other writers in her time, Hurston emphasized the unique cultural heritage and wholeness of Black life. . .
. . .She used ‘folk language, folkways, and folk stories’ as symbols to measure the intrinsic values of the Black oral/aural cultural tradition. In order to refute assumptions of genetic racism and to vindicate the Black community in the face of the oppressive slander of White supremacy, Hurston used a presentational method to document the culture, history, imagination, and fantasies of Black people.” (Katie’s Cannon, p 79)

Feb 042013


Ida Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was a journalist, newspaper editor, and an early leader in the civil rights movement.  She documented lynching in the US, showing it as a means for control or punishment.  Her parents died of yellow fever when she was young, but she went on to a remarkable career in journalism. She frequently wrote with passionate resistance about the friends and neighbors she saw lynched for no reason in her own town. She became invested in securing women’s rights and marched in the famous 1913 Suffrage parade in Washington DC, insisting that she and other women of color must march alongside the white women, and not in separate ranks. Later in life, she became one of the founding members of the NAACP, opposing even Booker T. Washington for not being extreme enough. She continued to fight for equality of race and gender until her death. (thanks to Wikipedia for some background info)