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Claude McKay was born in Jamaica 1889, and in 1912, after his first volume of Jamaican dialect poetry was published in Jamaica, he traveled to the USA, eventually settling in New York City and becoming a part of the Harlem Renaissance movement of artistic expression.
In Harlem Shadows (published 1922), McKay captures his shock and disappointment at the discrimination he found in the United States. Racial identity is a key theme throughout the volume, and I found these themes hidden in many poems. He also wrote poems that encouraged people to be themselves, and his personal voice gives these poems an urgency. He also poignantly captures his homesickness for his tropical home. And although he wrote Harlem Shadows almost a century ago, his search for identity and place in a busy foreign world is one that we can still relate to.
I am a white woman and a stay-at-home mom living close to where I was born, and yet McKay’s racial frustrations and calls for individuals to remain strong, as well as his longings for the familiar, resonate with me. McKay’s beautiful poetry is well worth reading and revisiting.
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How does a blind person understand the majesty of a cathedral? The narrator in Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” tries to describe it. His underlying epiphany, however, is not about architecture but about his own prejudices and stereotypes. He discovers in the end that he has been the one blind. He has not understood the uniqueness of the various people in the world, particularly the blind or otherwise disabled.
I first read Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” when I was in college, and as I pondered stories about the “little noticed” in life for my wallpaper reading project, I thought of it again. How often do the sighted consider the difficulties of describing a cathedral in words to those unable to see the grandeur? Likewise, how often do the -abled consider the similarities and personalities rather than the stereotypes of the “disabled”?
Having reread the story now, I don’t think it is a “wallpaper” story: it’s full of depth and it focuses on real issues that many might relate to. Carver provides some interesting parallels: the blind man’s lack of sight versus the narrator’s prejudice; the narrator’s ability to see the grandeur of a cathedral versus the wife’s ability to see the grandeur of the blind man. It is ultimately a touching story as well.
For those who may want a content warning, I should note that the friends do smoke dope together. It seems to me, though, that that scene is the beginning of the narrator’s understanding of his mistaken prejudices. As they visit and do “ordinary” (for them) things, the narrator begins to recognize his mistaken prejudice.
“Cathedral” is not in the public domain. I read it an anthology: Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, seventh edition (1999).
This post may contain thematic spoilers of My Lady Ludlow.
Lady Ludlow is the representation of the old aristocracy in England. She is a conservative who does not want to allow the lower classes to gain an education or to gain “rights” in the post-Revolutionary years. Beyond those that are her servants, she essentially does not want to even associate with the lower classes. Yet, her role as a widowed, property-holding woman puts her in a unique position. As situations arise that call for both economic development and her personal compassion, she learns to adapt.
The long novella My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Gaskell is not a sample of a well-polished work. Yet, the characters and setting that Ms Gaskell introduce seem to me to be reminiscent of the other characters and themes I’ve read about in the other Gaskell novels I’ve read, and I did like some of the characters. (more…)
I have so struggled to put Maru (by Bessie Head, published 1971) into context that I even reread the short novel (130 pages) before I attempted to write my thoughts.
My second read solidified my perception that Maru is a type of warped fairy tale, one especially with no happily ever after. Although the prince-like Maru marries the despised and hated woman of the town of Dilepe, Margaret is no Cinderella, especially since she loves someone else and considers Maru her equal, not her superior. The two of them have become outcasts in their small African society, and we know from the first pages that both suffer from their fates.
Here’s a semi-political book I read in honor of the U.S. presidential election today. Now, if only women could rule the world!
Why Woman Should Rule the World isn’t just another cliché: rather, in her well-researched social memoir of women, Dee Dee Myers shares what she’s learned about being a woman, both from her experiences as the press secretary to the U.S. President and from a life time of being a woman. While only 10-15% of her book is memoir, the social history Myers shares and the interviews she conducts with other successful women (in politics and otherwise) support Myers’s argument for why women ruling the world could change the world.
I thought, at first, that it would be hard to engage in a social and historical review of women in leadership, but I was pleasantly surprised. Why Woman Should Rule the World was a quick read and an enlightening book that illustrated how women are different than men – and why those differences should be celebrated, not ignored. (more…)