Sunday, November 21, 2010

32. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by August Wilson

Wilson, August. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. New York: Penguin Group, 1985. Print.
111 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a play written about Ma Rainey and her blues band. The first thing I questioned as I was reading it was is it really a play? Does this not cross into the genre of musical as well? The cover of the text is labeled “play” but music plays such an important role through the entire story that I think it could also be considered a musical. I love it when texts move across multiple genres!

Ma is in Chicago with her band recording an album. In the process of recording audience members are exposed to tension between various styles of Black identity. The dramatic ending leaves audience members with a vivid image of the turmoil and pain certain characters’ face in trying to “make something of themselves” in an unjust society that does not always function in their favor.

Ma Rainey is a powerful lead vocalist. The majority of her band members respect her authority. Slow Drag, the bass player, especially shows her respect: “Don’t nobody say when it come to Ma. She’s gonna do what she wants to do. Ma says what happens with her” (Wilson 1.1).

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom explores many topics one of them being the topic of art. What is art and art’s role in society? Ma Rainey states, “White folks don’t understand about the blues. They hear it come out, but they don’t know how it got there. They don’t understand that’s life’s way of talking. You don’t sing to feel better. You sing ‘cause that’s a way of understanding life” (Wilson 2.1).

The text also explores the blurry line between truth and fiction. In several instances, characters’ would tell the same story but in slightly different ways. This worked to illustrate the ways in which “truth” can be quite subjective.

3.5 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: DONATE (donated to a library)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

31. "Pepperland" by Mark Delaney

Delaney, Mark. Pepperland. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2004.
181 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Pepperland is about Star, as she calls herself, and her journey to healing from her mother’s death. Star and her mom were especially fond of the Beatles and John Lennon. Each chapter title is also the title of a Beatles song which was a creative move by Delaney. Star finds a letter that her mom wrote to John Lennon when she was a teenager and it becomes Star’s mission to deliver the letter to John Lennon herself when he performs in her hometown.

I had hesitations going into this novel but once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are painted so delicately and accurately I felt like I knew them like I know one of my friends. I was hesitant because I often find that stories about healing end up being unrealistic and impossibly linear. I was very impressed with this text’s ability to realistically illustrate the way a young woman might go through the grieving process. Her process wasn’t linear, it was messy, and moving, and beautiful.

Delaney is very good at tackling complex ideas and translating it into something young adults can understand and access. For example, when approaching the idea of art as a healing tool, Delaney writes, “Every intuition tells me that great art, like Dooley’s has to peel away the outer layers, because it’s the only way to get to the places where we’re all the same” (Delaney 49). Here we have a complex idea laid out clearly for the reader.

This novel is an example excellent writing within a genre.

5 darts out of 5