Love is such a complex emotion it sometimes defies explanation. It can inspire someone to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone. For others, it prompts contortions to avoid causing pain or discomfort to those who they care about. It can make someone run toward a burning building or walk away from a life of comfort.
First Bloom-Stories of Blossoming Black Lesbian Love is a collection of stories edited by Saydeah E. Howard that provides literary examples of all the way love shows up. The authors represent differing cultures and set their stories within the borders of the United States. The one exception to this is “Of the Business of Choosing Dears,” which takes place in an African all-girls school.
While some of the stories sizzle with sexual energy that tease the reader to turn the page, others leave the reader wistful, and yes, sometimes saddened that love doesn’t indeed conquer all.
First Bloom joins a list of short story collections that give voice to women of color who love women. While others collections have covered wife-ranging topics such as family life, aging, or self-acceptance, the stories in this collection deal with a four letter word that can be a curse or a blessing depending on the context.
Three stand-out stories– which typify the journey the reader takes– are “The List” by Eva Drawoh,” “Cecily and the Boy,” by Fiona Zedde, and “Days Gone By” by Monique B.T. Thomas. In “The List,” the main characters are two schoolgirls (one Nigerian, the other American) who experience the awakening of young love in present-day Chicago. “Cecily and Boy” takes the reader back a century when a Harlem party girl meets her match in the form of a tuxedo-and-tails-wearing lover named Maria. The ecstasy of champagne-soaked nights captured in Zedde’s contribution contrasts with the somber reality in “Days Gone By.” The story of Nina and Mrs. Guilde demonstrates how life (as well as love) can be a cruel mistress, impartial to how and who it hurts.
As with any anthology, there are stories that soar, some that skim the surface, and some that frankly sink under promised potential not realized. I applaud the efforts of all the writers, but when you have a collection of writers from across the Diaspora, some things are bound to get lost in translation.
In her acknowledgment Howard states: “there can never be too many stories where Black and Brown LGBTQ folks are at the center and never too many times where we talk about love and heartbreak and hopefully love again.” This collection covers that path as the characters represent different eras, age groups, geographic locations, and even success at finding love. The characters are women of color who aren’t afraid to reach out to another woman in hopes of finding a connection that sustains. I recommend this collection to encourage others wanting to reminisce about their time reaching out only to find someone reaching back, and to give inspiration to those seeking the courage to venture out and invite love into their world.
Reviewer: La Toya Hankins
La Toya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. She is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Durham, NC. Hankins considers writer and fellow Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. member Zora Neale Hurston as her role model for her ability to capture the essence of the African American Southern experience and living the motto, “I don’t weep at the world, I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” You can connect with LaToya on Facebook and Twitter.