Thursday, January 17, 2008


Pearl Cleage's I Wish I Had A Red Dress
Make no mistake, I was reading this author's work long before she received the Oprah Winfrey stamp of approval and subsequently found herself being catapulted onto an even larger stage and before an even bigger audience.

Yeah, I probably first took note of Pearl Cleage's work via the essays/articles she used to write for Essence Magazine. Years ago, when I worked at the Memphis/Shelby County Public Library, had access to books galore, plus the free time necessary to read them, I devoured a couple of Ms. Cleage's books--Mad At Miles: A Black Woman's Guide To The Truth and Deals With The Devil And Other Reasons To Riot among them. I was drawn to and shared sister Pearl's, down-home, common sense, "Black womanist" perspective and approach to life. Of course, I later read and loved What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day well before Opie's people, the critics and all the other folks in the know "discovered" it.

So, I figured it would be more of the same when I first picked up I Wish I Had A Red Dress, which originally came out in 2001. I'm not exactly sure when I purchased the book , but it was years ago and at a library book sale, if I'm not mistaken. I do recall rushing home with it and diving right in, fully anticipating and expecting the thought-provoking enjoyment her work had brought me on every other occasion.

On that first attempt, I think I might have read all of 3 chapters, a total of 10 pages before I tossed the book, scratched my head and said, "Well, I don't know, Ms. Pearl. I am not feeling this at all. What's up with the Sewing Circle or rather Circus? Isn't that something tired, old ladies do? And, no, you did not start Chapter Two with an, umm, Good Lord, a 'self-pleasuring' sence? What the heck was that all about?!" (LOL)

Ever so often in the years afterward, I'd pluck the book from the shelves, flip through it and put it back. But something about that cover (the one with woman in a swirling red dress) and that title kept calling me back. So near the end of last year, I grabbed the book again and said, "I'll be dag if I don't at least get to Chapter 4." Lo and behold, I don't know what happened, but I couldn't put the durn thing down.

I fell in love with the book, the characters and all of the words of wisdom Ms. Pearl so expertly and strategically scattered throughout the story. After I finished reading, I went back with a pencil and just started underlining passages, among them, the one that's become my own personal mantra, particularly when I start to doubt or question myself, is: "What would a free woman do?" Don't you absolutely, positively love that?!!

Basically, the story centers around a young widowed and lonely social worker, who serves as a guide and a mentor to a group of lost and/or struggling, teenage girls and their babies. When the widow, Joyce Mitchell, is introduced by her best friend, who just so happens to be a minister, to a tall, dark stranger named Nate Anderson, of course sparks start flying all over the place. But before Joyce and Nate can properly hook up and do their own private little thing, they have to help the young ladies of Joyce's 'Sewing Circus' work out their issues with self-esteem, bad baby daddies and the like. At the same time, Joyce also has to work out her own unresolved issues with trust and grief. Some of my favorite characters in the book were "The Smitherman Twins" who reminded me of the loveable, old sisters from "Having Our Say."

Anyway, some of the other passsages I underlined in my copy of I Wish I Had A Red Dress include:

1) ". . . I don't think a group of people can survive if the women don't even have enough sense to raise their children."

2) "I'm a big fan of stating your intentions up front and clearly as possible. Saves a lot of confusion and wasted time later . . ."

3) "I think that for some men, using the word "free" and "woman" so close together seems such an obvious oxymoron that they assume it must be the setup for a funny story."

4) "The advantage of faith in moments of crisis and transition is that when the rest of us find ourselves swimming in guilt, fear, confusion and second-guessing, the true believer simply goes with the flow."

5) "If I could pick, I'd probably choose this one all over again, even though being black and female in a place that doesn't bring a whole lot of love to either group is probably not the most luxe life I could come up with."

6) "Is 'her p*$$y curves to my d!#k' really a compliment? And how can he tell, since it's a known fact that a vagina can snugly accommodate everything from a junior tampon to a baby's head . . ."

7) "Sister believes that the beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their proper names, so she's a fiend for the conscious use of language."

There were others, of course, but seven is always a good place to stop (smile). In any case, I recommend you pick up a copy of the book and see if you aren't moved to underline a few of your own favorite passages.

So again, to those of you who feel like sharing, have you ever had a similar experience with a book? You started out not being able to 'get into it,' but something happened. Time, perhaps? Your own personal growth? Life experiences? And blam! You picked up that very same book, months, even years later and you couldn't put it down? Tell us about it.


pjazzypar said...

That has happened with both books, music, and films. I think sometimes with have to reach a certain maturity through lived experience in order to appreciate some things.

Lori said...

I totally agree. For me this happens more with music and books, than film. Not sure why. But maybe it's time I gave "Beloved" the movie another try (smile).