26.7.13

A long time coming


It’s here.

It's taken a month to make its way through Amazon from somewhere in the US to me, but it's much longer still – perhaps twenty years - since I first started my search.

I first read an excerpt of The Living is Easy by Dorothy West in a 1963 edition of Black Voices – an anthology of African American writing. I’m no longer sure where I found Black Voices, this was sometime in the 1990s - the days of only two bookshops in Lusaka when my sister and I trawled through second-hand book sales whenever we could. A price penned in its title page reads 6,000 on a second-hand hard cover book that had already seen much better days, whether Ugandan shilling or Zambian Kwacha it was still expensive in its time.

This treasure trove is filled with the best of African-American writing as it would have looked in the early 1960s. This selection was made and went into print before the civil rights movement began its most intensive phase, before Martin Luther announced his dream. Short fiction, poems and excerpts of longer works by Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughs, LeRoi Jones, James Baldwin and Richard Wright among others fill its pages. Some of the writers contained in this tome I’ve never read of again while others have come to define African-American penmanship for me.

In this anthology, a twenty-page excerpt of The Living is Easy was dangled tantalisingly before me. In these twenty pages I was given a glimpse into the mind of fair-skinned, socially ambitious Cleo. Without flinching, Ms West describes Cleo’s prejudices against dark-skinned and poorer blacks, her resentment towards her daughter for having inherited her father’s dark complexion and thicker lips and to her obsession with rising above other blacks from the south and becoming a respectable Bostonian, surrounded by whites and affluence. Then I was introduced to Simeon who “they concluded, was much too race-conscious for a young man who had been brought up exactly as if he were white.”

There it ended.

A few almosts and nearlys made me certain I’d never find it, however here it sits, with a wee bit of summer sunshine left to savour it in.  

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