Lit Love: Anthologies and Short Essays

by Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

I love to take a peek inside the mind of someone else.

I have always been interested in the reality and perspectives of others, especially when it is one that is so different from my own. My love of reading is rooted in this desire to know.

With that in mind, I am recommending a quick list of books guaranteed to shake a few mental paradigms.

Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism
(Seal Press, 2002)

This was one of the first books I picked up about women of color and feminism that was not from the African-American perspective. The narratives in this collection illuminate struggles that are not always heard, even within the feminist community – Native American women, Desi girls, Islamic girls. Tackling topics from sexuality to sex work to abortion to gentrification, Colonize This! succeeds in humanizing issues that are often discussed only in the abstract.

[Side note: One of the Amazon commentators for this book left the following gem: "To think about racism is to be racist. People should think about other things." Wow.]

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down
(Simon & Schuster, 2000)

After scooping this up at a bookstore sale, I promptly devoured it in one sitting, and have spent the last four years loaning it out to any of my friends who happened to glance in the direction of my bookcase. Morgan’s work is refreshing, groundbreaking, and real. Her essays pop with ideas, including my two favorites, “StrongBlackWoman and the EndangeredBlack Man” and “Chickenhead Envy.”

In “StrongBlackWoman -n-EndangeredBlackMen…This is Not a Love Story” Morgan directly confronts a myth that many black women hold on to like a life raft in a churning sea: the StrongBlackWoman. Mythical and powerful, the stereotype empowers women but also hinders them – underneath the SBW banner, it is difficult to have your fears, pains, and vulnerabilities taken seriously. Other people, who willingly buy into this stereotype, see the SBW and just assume she can do all things, for all people, all the time – and then lash out if she dares to show a weakness.

“Chickenhead Envy” deals with the irrational but real pain women feel when confronted with the gold-digging stereotype that seems to have no problems with money, men, or status based ambition. Morgan cuts right to the heart of the matter, admitting that while it feels great to do for one’s self, that feeling of accomplishment fades when you see chickenheads reaping the immediate rewards of their craft.

Engaging, thought-provoking, and challenging, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost is a long time favorite of mine.

Border-Line Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass, and Cultural Shifting
(Rayo, 2004)

I saw this book on the shelves at my local library, and was attracted by the hot pink cover, displaying a photo of a skirt worn with some killer boots. Over the course of two days, I dipped into contemporary Latina reality. Divided into three sections, Border-line personalities confronts love, family, and reality through the eyes of Latinas in the know.

I’ll have to admit, a lot of things in this book went over my head. A large portion of the first section features writers who switch between Spanish and English, using colloquial phrases that the Altavista BabelFish couldn’t handle. But fair enough – I don’t speak Spanish, and I’m sneaking glimpses into someone else’s reality. This book was not written for me.

However, I still managed to pull a lot of enjoyment from this one. Carmen Wong’s story is difficult and touching, and Jackie Guerra provides a fresh perspective on being Latina in Hollywood. There were also some interesting stories about relationships, including the testimony of a Lesbian Latina, a stranded New Yorker’s quest for her lover during the 2003 blackout, and a girl learning her way around an adult relationship with her alcoholic father.

Highly enjoyable, highly recommended. (Unfortunately, the comments on Amazon are split 50-50. )

Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts
(Perigee Trade, 2005)

I adore this collection for not turning away from the rougher aspects of the African-American female experience. While the celebrity pages were a bit lacking (Melyssa Ford has rehashed her views on being a video model in the same way in three different publications), the narratives from real women were poignant and touching. There was a narrative from a generation 1.5 African-American teen who receives complements on her deep smooth skin and regal stature, but receives absolutely no play from African-American boys; a few narratives of the fear felt dealing with the street sex market; narratives about loving yourself in a larger size, including a fabulous reference to Miss Piggy as a role model for body confidence; the issues involved with being black and living abroad; and the rant from a light skinned woman with a yard-long weave on the hypocrisy that categorizes black hair politics. Sexual abuse and gender politics are also featured prominently in this collection. I plan on gifting this book to a few young girls I know.

YELL-oh Girls! Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American
(Harper Paperbacks, 2001)

I bought this book for my friend Hae for her birthday one year. However, I was quickly chastened as Hae blew through the book, and declared it boring – she was more interested in art books, and generally hates anthologies. Schlepping it back to Barnes and Noble, I bought her an art book but decided to hold on to Yell-oh Girls. Reading through the anthology, I realized I really didn’t know anything about the struggles of Asian girls in our society – even though two of my close friends in high school were Asian. They just never brought it up. Still, YELL-oh girls introduced me to a new type of struggle, that some would term “silent rage.” Featuring essays on dealing with fetishists, navigating school yard taunts, and learning to love your family dynamic, I credit this book clicking on my internal light bulb: I need to pay more attention to the struggles of others. Often times, they mirror my own.

The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom

I adored the Bastard on the Couch, because it was an anthology of men…talking about being men. Grappling with everything from divorce to abandonment to open marriages, it was refreshing to see these topics examined from a male perspective, without the assumption that the male perspective was the dominant perspective. Unfortunately, there were only a few men of color featured in the anthology, but hopefully someone will come out with another anthology that explores maleness with more diversity along both racial lines and color lines. That being said, it is still a good read.

Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation

Deconstructing Tyrone is a new favorite, which I quickly scooped up from the book display at Borders and happily plunked down the $15 for the cost of the book. Deconstructing Tyrone looks at masculine identity (as well as the masculine idea of femininity) from a more urban/hip-hop perspective. Told through the story and narratives of real life Tyrones (defined as the guy who helps out, the everyman; not the trifling antagonist in the Erykah Badu song), Deconstructing Tyrone examines homosexuality, masculinity, cultural expectations, and social conditioning, and still manages to be engaging and entertaining.

These books are some of my favorites, but there are a few gaps – I do not have any serious collections that deal with growing up Desi, Asian male masculinity, Latino male stories, or a mixed race anthology.

Recommendations/Responses?