Kelly Virella: So has anyone read “Salvage the Bones,” last year's National Book Award winner? If so, what did you think? I just finished the first chapter.
R.L.N.: I have not, although I should considering I have every intention of [s] macking down Jesmyn Ward next time I see her.
S.T.: Hard to read (subject matter, not technique/style). Her descriptive voice is so far ahead of the game, that I felt I was receiving a master class in psychogeography. The way she uses place, in relation to character...it was too emotionally heavy to read again, but I'm glad I read it.
N.H.J.: I have. I found the language beautiful if at times overwrought. It was a book that weighed heavily on the soul, pleasurable but taxing.
T.R.: it's on the list
Tarrell Campbell: I am actually using it in my dissertation (hoped to get an interview with Mimi). I found it a fascinating read, with regards to catastrophe literature. I am exploring the male characters as developed from a female authors point of view. will update you on my findings
M.F.: Tarrell- I'd like to read what you write about catastrophe lit; AND if you happen to write on that male character development by female authors, I'm interested in checking that out too. -MF.
Tarrell Campbell: Okeedokee...I will get something together that I won't feel ashamed to share in public...give me a minute.
interested…in showing their [black men’s] errant natures [and desire to] resurrect black manhood by complicating his nature beyond his ordinary depictions, even those mistakenly chosen for himself. [For example, the representation of the] complications [of some] black male characters developed by black women writers, [such as Paul D in Beloved] interrogate some of the inner reaches of [black feminism] to aid in creating the discourse of a black masculinity responsive to feminism’s political and social impetus. (17-18)
To begin, let us all develop common ground regarding the word queer. In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler does an excellent job of explicating the word queer and its changing use. In describing the use and meaning of the term in her analysis of Nella Larsen’s Passing, Butler declares:
the periodic use of the term “queering”…where queering is linked to the eruption of anger into speech such that speech is stifled and broken…the sudden gap in the surface of language [referred to] as “queer” or as “queering”… it seems…did not [always]…mean homosexual, but it did encompass an array of meanings associated with the deviation from normalcy which might well include the sexual. Its meanings include: of obscure origin, the state of feeling ill or bad, not straight, obscure, perverse, eccentric. As a verb-form, “to queer” has a history of meaning: to quiz or ridicule, to puzzle, but also, to swindle and to cheat…forbid[den]… to mention…race: described as “queer”… When… a passing black woman… hears a racial slur against blacks… “from [the woman’s] direction came a queer little suppressed sound, a snort or a giggle”…something queer, something short of proper conversation, passable prose…[a] longing to travel to Brazil is described as an “old, queer, unhappy restlessness”, suggesting a longing to be freed of propriety… queering is what upsets and exposes (Butler 176-177)
Lastly, I believe that Naturalistic literature and catastrophe/disaster literature function similarly. Audiences are asked/expected/guided to understand the actions and motives of characters in light of the extremely powerful structural forces that control the milieu in which the characters find themselves in the literature. With that perspective in mind, to what degree has disaster literature become a tool, in the twenty-first century, in exposing, that is queering, structural inequities and inequalities that exist in the United States? More specifically, in the South – with regards to black men? How do such structural forces delimit the practice of middle-class patriarchal masculinity for black men? How does the literature reflect such a delimiting structural force?
I remember when I first met Jesmyn “Mimi” Ward. We were both undergraduate students at Stanford University; we both did our Work Study under the stewardship of Dr. Ewart Thomas and, then Ph.D. student, Dr. Angela Cole in the university’s psychology department. I never would have thought that over a decade later, I would seriously, in the manner of a scholar, research and investigate and analyze imaginary worlds and people created by little ole Mimi. She is little no more. She has earned her place as a literary giant. Her voice is powerful. Her voice is welcomed. Her voice is queering. And in these days, these times, when so many men are destroying themselves, their families, their spouses and mates – in the furtherance of living up to and adhering to the criteria of middle-class patriarchal masculinity – exposure of the queerness associated with such criteria and exposure of how men may mistakenly choose concepts of masculinity that are indeed harmful, may be exactly what is needed. And for that Mimi, we – men – say: thank you!