In honor of Women's History Month, I'm starting a list of the most memorable female characters in African American fiction. What female character stayed with you long after you finished the book? What woman would you want to hang out with if you could? Please add her in the comments. In no particular order, here's my list:
Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, because she may well be the 1st black feminist character in literature (Review from Color Online's BHM writing contest)
Cellie and Shug in The Color Purple Alice Walker
Lila Mae in The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, elevator inspector: "The man's lips arch up toward his nose and Lila Mae understands that he's never seen an elevator inspector like her before. Lila Mae has pinpointed a spot as the locus of metropolitan disaffection. A zero-point. It is situated in the heart of the city, on a streetcorner that clots with busy, milling citizens during the day and empties completely at night except for prostitutes and lost encyclopedia salesmen. It's a two-minute walk from the office. With that zero-point reference, she cna predict just how much suspicion, curiosity and anger she will rouse in her cases. 125 Walker is at the outer edges of the city, near the bank of the polluted river that keeps the skyscrapers at bay from the suburbs and quite a distance from the streetcorner: He doesn't like her...."
Sugar in Sugar by Bernice McFadden, a young prostitute starts a new life in a new home. "It seemed to her that getting ahead was something reserved for people that already had their feet placed one in front of the other. Sugar, well, she guessed she was just born with both feet turned backward, 'cause every step she took placed her one step closer to where she'd been instead of where she was trying to get."
Stella in How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan, for showing us age doesn't matter when it comes to love
Sethe in Beloved by Toni Morrison, the mother who murders who own child rather than see her a slave (Color Online's BHM review)
Lillian and Myraleen in This Side of the Sky by Elyse Singleton, for Lillian's open heart and Myraleen's fire. Lillian: "As a girl, I loved anything with wheels or wings--including Pontiacs, trains, bread trucks and hummingbirds--because they all had the power to get out of Mississippi."
Clare Kendry in Passing by Nella Larsen, the woman who passes for white (and even marries a racist white man) in this haunting story (go here for another great review)
Jean in Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair, a warm, funny coming of age story in which Jean realizes she's gay. "Mama says I'm at that awkward age, and that soon I won't just be arms and legs; I'll need a bra and a girdle. I can't picture myself needing a bra, as flat-chested as I am now. And to tell you the truth, I'm not too hot on having my behind all hitched up in a girdle. I have to help Mama into hers on Sunday mornings, and I feel sorry for her, all squeezed in so tight you wonder how she can even breathe."
Mudear in Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa, the mother who haunts her three daughters in life and death
Dill Smiles in Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks, the lesbian lover of the titular mother
Mattie in The Women of Brewster Place, the mother who spoils her son rotten and pays for it later
Blanche White in Barbara Neely's Blanche White Mystery series, a smart, humorous domestic worker solves crimes and gives voice to people rarely seen in literature
Keri in 72-Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell, the mother who goes to illegal lengths to try to help her mentally ill daughter. "I counted the pills in the bottles on my breakfast room table, the mood stabilizers and the antipsychotics, and counted them again. The television was playing in Trina's room. I knocked on her door and opened it before she responded. Watch your mouth, I told myself. Don't accuse her of anything."