I still don’t know how they pulled it off. A white lesbian and a black gay male selected a book written for, about, and written primarily by black lesbian writers to teach for an honors class at a North Carolina university in the early 1990s. No matter what method they utilized to incorporate Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology into the curriculum, I am tremendously grateful. Their selection opened my eyes to a new level of thought and creativity presented by champions of prose, poetry, and perspective.
Home Girls hit shelves in 1983 and was re-issued in 2000. The anthology brings together women word warriors like Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Alexis De Veaux, and Jewelle Gomez to name a few. Writings are organized by topics, “The Blood -Yes, The Blood,” “Artists Without Art Form,” “Black Lesbians – Who Will Fight for Our Lives But Us?,” “A Home Girls’ Album,” and “A Hell of Place to Ferment a Revolution.” It even includes a photo album featuring some of the contributors and their families. For Lorde lovers, seeing a picture of her as a young girl with glasses holding a bouquet of flowers is a celebration of the brilliance yet to come.
The selections in Home Girls touch upon topics such as family dynamics when a mother’s lesbian identity is used as a barrier to seeing her son in “LeRoy’s Birthday” by Raymina Y. Mays, and how the world at large views and treats creativity in “Artists Without Art Form” by Renita Weems. The styles of the works vary. Cheryl Clarke’s “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community” is an annotated essay which cites James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones, and “Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman” by Michele Wallace. Chirlane McCray, current New York City First Lady, contributed a poem to the collection “I Used to Think,” and Jamaican author Michelle Cliff submitted an autobiographical essay titled “If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire.”
Since Home Girls was published, several black-lesbian focused anthologies have hit the shelves. But in order to appreciate the current selections, one must appreciate the past efforts that opened the door. This collection marked a ground-breaking achievement of noted lesbian- identified women of color writers coming together to give artistic voice to the experiences of so many. It is an achievement with an impact that cannot be understated. Reading through the work today, the reader will find the issues raised are still relevant today.
The strength of the anthology can also be viewed as it weakness. Due to the styles, which change from selection to selection, it can be a little distracting to read the collection straight through. The collection is like enjoying a chocolate sampler. The reader is given an index of stories and authors (just like most samplers) with a guide that says what piece is milk chocolate or filled with strawberry crème. The reader can go by the index or dive in taking a bite of this one or that one until finding a story, poem, or essay that hits the proverbial sweet spot.
A lot has changed in the world since 1983 when the anthology was published, and when I was introduced to it seven years later, though so much remains the same. There is a profound need for those in communities that are taken for granted (or taken advantage of) to give voice to their joy, pain, and ambitions. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology is a must read for those who wish to understand, to grow, and to learn. It is educational, enlightening, and inspiring. It is the one textbook I have cherished close to twenty years since graduating, and one I would recommend to the fullest.
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.