Repping Them Old Black Men


I’m still on the road, y’all, moving slowly toward Vermont, stopping for rest every now and then, sometimes one day, or sometimes for two or three. That’s why it’s taking me longer than the four days I had planned. This driving ain’t no joke.

I’ve been so focused on the trip that I just remembered that I have a story coming out this month in the 60th Anniversary edition of Shenandoah. I am so excited, because it is a special Flannery O’Connor issue and she was the literary soul of Milledgeville, Georgia; my people are from Eatonton, which is right up the road from there.

I am in the issue with the super-famous Joyce Carol Oates, along with some other seriously sassy people, like my friend Jake Adam York. My story is called “A Cheerful Tune,” and it’s about an old Black man named Albert Booker T. Washington the Third.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but I am fascinated by old Black men. It’s strange, because most old Black men I know are seriously sexist, but for some reason, that doesn’t bother me in the least. The sexism part is their complexity, what makes them, well, fascinating.

I know my love sounds strange, since I am a radical Black feminist, but I guess it’s because I grew up around these elderly brothers, and I know how to handle them in a way that both lets me keep my pride and my own voice at the same time, and how I handle them is still mannerly towards my elders. (You can thank my mama for my skills in old-school manners.)

There’s something about a brother who has made it to his seventies and beyond that just makes me smile, probably because it’s a rare event. I’m not trying to be funny here. This is the truth.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt of “A Cheerful Tune”:

“Mr. Crawford, you need this box,” Mrs. Gadsden said. “That’s why I’m trying to give it to you. Will you just look inside before you refuse it?”

He already knew what was inside: some nonfat dried milk and cans of nasty, thick peanut butter and a long block of government cheese. That cheese didn’t taste right, not like any cheese Albert had tasted before. It wasn’t real, which is why they tried to make poor people eat it instead of selling it outright in the grocery store to everybody else. The cheese had a greasy taste that you couldn’t get rid of, no matter how you seasoned it, and he didn’t care for baked macaroni or grilled sandwiches, which is the only thing you could make with that mess, and that kind of food repeated on Albert.

“No ma’am, Miz Gadsden. I got me a whole deep freezer of catfish. I got me some squirrel I done shot in there, too. No ma’am, I thank you.”

He was wasting time here in town. He needed to be at the river, fishing.  The line shaking on the water before sinking a bit, and his watching the end of the line for the slightest movement. Laughing softly at how he had the upper hand on those catfish—not too loud. He wouldn’t want to scare them away with words or laughter, but they liked his singing.  He knew how to stand exactly still and wait and hum.  Albert’s daddy had had some Cherokee in him, and he had known how to work roots. His daddy had known what certain dreams meant, and how to cure a sickness, as long as it wasn’t too far gone. How to bring a fish to him in the water.

The soft song for catfish, some kind of spirit tune.  It didn’t make any sense, that tune. No words, but his daddy had told him it was a song of permission, that you were asking the catfish to give itself over.

You can read the rest of this, but you gotta buy the anniversary edition, y’all. Here’s a link to order this 60th anniversary of Shenandoah. You know you want to cop that, because it will be the LAST print issue of Shenandoah. After this issue, they will be going to a web format only.

So, support a sister. And support good literature. And support them old Black men.

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