Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Memorable female characters-a list for Women's History Month

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."


Karen L. Simpson said...

Lila Mae in The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. Wow, that book changed my whole view of what "fantasy" could and should be.

Bernice L. McFadden said...

Sula (Toni Morrison)

Gal (Ruthie Bolton)

saraphen said...

Tashi from Alice Walker's "Possessing the Secret of Joy," who endures the physical pain and life-long emotional trauma of female genital mutilation.

Lisa said...

Why Shay and Nona from "Orange Mint & Honey" by Carleen Brice, of course!

Tyhitia Green said...

Jessica and Alex from My Soul to Keep. Too many more to name. It's late and I'm tired...lol. ;-)

Color Online said...

Dana from Kindred by Octavia Butler

Shori from Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Amabelle from The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

All incredibly strong women who knew their own flaws and pain.

Carleen Brice said...

Nice adds!

Claudia said...

Awesome list! Here are my contributions:

Denver from Morrison's Beloved for her courage as the first generation of black women born in freedom.

Octavia from Gaines's "The Sky is Gray" for her strength as a single mother raising a young black child in a tough world.

Sylvia from Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson" for her fearlessness.

And Bessie from Wright's Native Son because if WE don't remember her, no one else will!!!

Melanie Harvey said...

I'm adding to my reading list now. Color Online beat me though-- Dana from Kindred invaded my life from the first words and she has never left. But then, that's true of most women the wonderful Ms. Butler created.

I've spent more time in the AA section than a lot of white women--my neighborhood library branch is geared toward the neighborhood. Still, the separation reminds me of the feeling I had as a teenager when I moved into adult fiction, as if someone might tap me on the shoulder and say: Hey, are you supposed to be over here?

Sally said...

Indigo! From Sassafras, Cyprus & Indigo by Ntozake Shange.

blackbookblogger said...

I love Octavia Butler's women characters - so strong and powerful, even in vulnerability.

I really enjoy Ava from What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day.

And Kim McLarin's women rock, particularly Hope in Taming It Down.

I could go on and on - what a good list to create ...

Carleen Brice said...

Great additions! Hope y'all come back and help with the next list too. You know...I haven't read every novel by a black author and feel in danger of repeating the same books over and over so I thank you for your input!

Blackbookblogger, You're right: McLarin writes some very interesting women.

susan said...

"Indigo! From Sassafras, Cyprus & Indigo by Ntozake Shange"


Color Online said...

Genna from A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot.

Check out my interview with Zetta discussing her novel at Color Online.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy all of Francis Ray's female protagonists.

Her contemporary romantic heroines are professional women with goals and a moral code. Her women's fiction heroines sometimes are not the nicest people to begin with, but they learn and grow.

My very favorite woman character in her work, however, is the Mom in her Graysons series. Widowed young and with five children, she got her doctorate and made a life for herself and her children. She kept her faith and firmly but kindly guided her children to become strong, honorable and caring adults.

I encourage you to try Francis Ray's stories if you enjoy a happy ending!


Carleen Brice said...

Here's an interesting one I'm just thinking of: Patty Canon in Song Yet Sung by James McBride. The white slave stealer. I wouldn't want to hang out with her, but she sure is a memorable character! A woman even white men were afraid of in the 1850s. Too bad she used her powers for evil.