A great collection for anyone interested in great short fiction. I have read a good deal of the classics of African American fiction, including the devastating “Souls of Black Folk” and my favorite “Diary of an Ex-Colored Man.” This collection contains well known names, like William E. B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Alice Walker, but also many names that you may never have heard.
As I wondered why I had never heard of some of these very talented writers, I reviewed the introduction and, later, the ending notes on the stories. I was stunned to find that not only did many of these extremely talented writers receive no recognition, but we are not even at this time aware of the mundane facts about their lives---like the dates or even years of their birth. As I put this book down (figuratively, since I read this on my Kindle) I marveled that it was a struggle to even get these stories published in the first place. This collection is not only great fiction, but it is a remembrance and appreciation of the lives and talent of these great writers.
Many stories for me, as a non-African American, were an insight into the culture of the times in which the stories were written, starting from the late 19th century through the late 20th century and I am grateful for that as well as the sheer enjoyment of the stories. Thematically, the stories range from the dreamlike New Orleans streets of “A Carnival Jangle,” to the humorous “Uncle Wellington’s Wives” (which reminded me of Mark Twain) and “George Sampson Brite”, the African-American Jazz Age of “Muttsy” and the modern “Everyday Use” and The Drill.” I particularly enjoyed the dark tales of “Jesus Christ in Texas” which thematically reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” and the deeply chilling “Mammy.” A few stories left me a bit cold, but that is to be expected of any collection as tasted vary.
I also enjoyed the very generous endnotes. They provided insight into not only the stories themselves, but also the lives of the writers.