In Pat Greene: Her Story, Anondra “Kat” Williams has crafted autofiction by permitting Patricia “Pat” Greene to recall her life, lovers, and heartbreaks. Some chapters are named for and exclusive to a single lover.
In a way, this is a coming-of-age story because Pat relays (through a series of reflections and lessons) her emotional growth and the journey she took to achieve equilibrium. It took Pat several decades to realize her worth and truly understand and find love, but in late adulthood, she attains both, though the victory is accomplished through many personal, socioeconomic, and romantic stumbles.
Pat has a distinct, down-home voice and a tell-it-like-it-is attitude. In sharing her life story, she captures the realities of living as a poor Black lesbian domestic during the latter half of the 20th century in Michigan, a state that masses of Southern Black families relocated to during The Great Migration. And, Pat speaks for older Black lesbian women, a group not often captured in our stories.
I appreciate that in telling her life events, Pat acknowledges her own weaknesses and naiveté. She noted while dating and chasing love, and coding and masking sexuality, some relationships were sustained by falsehoods and intimacy. Often, she allowed herself to be used for no good reason beyond initial attraction, and engaged with women who didn’t have the capacity to love or value her efforts.
In her reflections, Pat covers social realities that Black and lesbian women faced during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, including the importance of house parties for Black gay communities and insight into the not-so-pretty occurrences among her in-group. Though she spends more time with some issues than others, Pat touches on colorism, racism, poverty, sexual assault, homophobia, and heterosexism— and how the latter caused problems in her relationships. For example, heterosexist ideals encouraged bisexuality for some, and bisexuality has been (and still is) a contentious issue within gay circles. During Pat’s young and middle adulthood, she witnessed women use “bisexuality” as a protective factor to ward off ostracism and corrective rape.
There are parts of the story that ring true and are wholly reflective of how Baby Boomers are experiencing the world today. For example, Pat noted, “I set my [Facebook] up down at the Senior Center.” As someone who works for a nonprofit that operates a Senior Center, I’m aware that many low-income Black women are introduced to Facebook and other social media via community-based programs, and how Facebook can help them mitigate social isolation— which is sometimes inevitable for many older adults— by allowing them to connect with dispersed family and old friends. Although Pat isn’t a socially isolated older adult, this is a reality that Black LGBT seniors face.
There are other parts that I wanted Pat to elaborate on. In the chapter “Life Happens,” Pat mentions the 1967 Detroit riot, but she didn’t linger on the emotional impact of this event for herself or her family, and more importantly, how it changed her purview.
To end, the story suffered from the lack of a formal edit, which undermined my reading experience. I’m a reader who takes in everything on the page. Adapting one of Maya Angelou’s infamous quotes, “I may not remember what a character did or said, or how a story began or ended, but I will never forget how the story made me feel.” The nuts and bolts of it all matter to me, and when they’re not constructed correctly, they become an irritant. Overall, Pat Green is an enjoyable story that contains a pivotal period of African American history, a period when being out + vocal + Black + lesbian could equate a lethal formula, and when life was trying for Black women no matter their locale or orientation. But, Pat triumphs by surviving the difficult periods (and people) and conveys a sense of healing in sharing her story.
Reviewed by: Lauren Cherelle
Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.