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On Toni Morrison and Ntozake Shangé

20 May Posted by in Margie Adam | Comments Off on On Toni Morrison and Ntozake Shangé
On Toni Morrison and Ntozake Shangé

Part 7 of a conversation between Feminist icons Margie Adam and Jewelle Gomez:

JG: I really like writing about anything before the 60s – partly because there aren’t that many people alive who will complain. But also because there’s still a level of hope that people of color have. It hasn’t all devolved into cynicism and ugly gold jewelry. The sixties were the pinnacle of that hope but after that, it seems there was so much bitterness and rather than striving to be bigger and better, it seemed like the male portion of the African American community was striving to be like the people who exploited us. The goals became: make money, treat women badly and avoid connecting with the progressive impulses that would move the world forward.

MA: That’s very poignant in a way. There’s a line in your play, “We’re black – everything we do is spiritual.” It seems to me that there is a kind of stereotypical black spirituality which somehow makes it ok for black people to continue tolerating a racist society – as if African Americans have a special line to God that helps them able to accept oppression on some special magic level. On the other hand, what you say in the play – in that single line – about African American spirituality as a unifying construct is quite different. What I’m hearing you say is that somewhere in the 60s, after the pinnacle of hope, there was a fading of that spiritual connectedness.  Would that be accurate?

JG: I would say that.

MA: There was an institutionalizing of the black church, hooking up with democratic politics but that’s not the same.

JG: That’s not spiritual. There was a loss of that righteous energy that used to connect black people to each other.

MA: Are there other female African American writers who understand that as well? Maybe Toni Morrison?

JG:  I think Toni Morrison definitely understands that.  That’s one of the reasons she can write so well about earlier African American history. I think she’s grounded in that core sense of spiritual connection that Black people had to have with each other in order to be bigger and better…

MA: …and hold on. It seems directly connected with community. I am reminded of the acceptance speech she gave on receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. I believe her subject concerned the matter of the White Gaze. Her point was that to live in a world defined and circumscribed by that gaze is to have one’s own spirituality drained. That’s certainly true for women as well, being at the affect of the Male Gaze in virtually all circumstances and therefore drained of one’s three-dimensionality.  For African Americans to have to live in relation to and feel it necessary to find their legitimacy in relation to that gaze is also to compromise and drain off their own unique spirituality.  That’s what I think you’re saying.  Is there anyone else in your circle of African American lesbian feminist writers?


JG: Ntozake Shange had a sense that there was a way for her to capture the beautiful energy women had with each other and that African Americans in general had with each other. She didn’t do it by going back in history as much as creating a dramatic place that existed just for her. “For Colored Girls….” existed in a very particularized place. Her other plays that followed it also were realistic but not realistic. Even when she adapted “Mother Courage” it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. She was able to place it in another world. Not like she put it on another planet or anything but there’s something about her writing that is other-worldly. I think she does that as a way of showing in sharp relief what Black people are all about.

MA: I’m thinking of Terri MacMillan because she has been such a popularizer of a particular African American female experience.

JG: Of a certain type. It’s very grounded in bitterness which is one of the things that holds her, I think.

MA: That’s interesting since she’s one of the more recent successful African American female writers. She’s post-60s, as you were saying.

JG: And her work carries the anger I was talking about.  She is also one of the funniest writers – she captures that humor.

I know that other ethnic writers have a similar need to find the place where they are most themselves. Is there some period or place or some idea where that community feels most itself?

MA: So what you’re saying is that it is this period – from the 50s to the early 70s where the most forward momentum and hope, the strongest sense of possibility existed and was activated within the Black community.

JG: Yes.

Editor’s note: I am thrilled to publish a conversation between Margie Adam and Jewelle Gomez exclusively on Epochalips. These two have influenced our generation by paving the way as feminists and out lesbians in the early days to continuing to share their gifts with the world today. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 , Part 5  and Part 6.

Margie Adam is currently fully engaged in her “third act.” Having completed a PhD Program in Psychology, she has entered private practice as an integrative counselor. She is also a singer-songwriter-pianist and one of the early organizers of Women’s Music, a Second Wave feminist cultural initiative fueled by lesbian passion. Her song, “We Shall Go Forth!” resides in the Smithsonian’s Political History Division. She is associate producer of two films, Radical Harmonies: A History of Women’s Music and No Secret Anymore! The Times of Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon. Margie’s counseling practice is based in the San Francisco-Bay Area, and extends world-wide with telephone technology. Her focus is on creating a safe, empowering, and joyful environment for women in transition to explore esp. sexuality, recovery, aging, and/or completion of projects.

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.   Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website:

©2013 Jewelle Gomez & Margie Adam. All rights reserved.

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