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The title of this book comes from a character in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: the protagonist meets a woman called Kitty at a bar, asks what Kitty's short for, and it's Afrekete. Their love affair is short and indelible.

That particular episode, in excerpt, forms the first selection here, and the rest of the book is also run through with Lorde, bracketed at the other end by one of her late cancer poems, full of mentions, tributes, references back. In 1995 when this came out her death in 1992 was close, is a very fresh grief on these pages. I've read Zami, but not for a while, and the excerpt here is an amazing reminder of everything good about her work.

The rest of the anthology is also well worth reading. There are names I already knew-- Michelle Cliff, Sapphire, Jewelle Gomez, Jacqueline Woodson-- and names I didn't, Carolivia Herron, Jocelyn Taylor, Jackie Goldsby. There's fiction, both autobiographical and not, and poetry, and essays both memoir and otherwise; there's an interesting work of theory questioning why there weren't any theoretical responses at the time to the whole scandal surrounding Vanessa Williams when she was Miss America; there's a lot about relative skin tone here, what it means to be lighter, or darker, or to pass, and what that can do to a relationship between women. There's naturalistic work and not-quite-naturalistic work and one piece that is outright sfnal. There are looks at the interface between black gay culture and black lesbian culture, fraught or welcoming as the case may be.

My favorite piece is probably Carolivia Herron's 'The Old Lady', which anchors memory and place together in prose so perfectly wrought I want to frame it and hang it on a wall. The titular old lady walks around her town every day, and every step of it is a different recollection of a lover or a not-quite lover, and it shouldn't work and it works from start to finish.

My second favorite piece is Jocelyn Taylor's 'Testimony of a Naked Woman', a memoir about organizing a lesbian dance night with the money earned stripping at a Mafia-owned nightclub. Taylor is fascinated by the interface of politics and the body, power and empowerment, and uses theory in ways I haven't seen while never getting tangled up in jargon. (I am also made curious by one of her questions: why has the women's movement never seriously attempted political action towards the goal of allowing women to take their shirts off in public, as men can? Because it hasn't, and I would love to see some more untangling of the reasons, good and bad, why not.)

This is in some ways a very nineties anthology, a snapshot of that time: the theory is mostly second-wave, the theory of the seventies, and many of the writers here came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and are comparing political present experience with directly lived political memory in a way I don't think younger writers could. So this holds value for me in that way, too, that it's more than fifteen years old and some of the issues that get talked about a lot have changed and many haven't.

And it has also done pretty well in the recommending-writers-I-hope-to-find-more-of department, and for all these reasons I am glad of it. I should mention, mind you, that anyone who is triggered or bothered by mentions of fairly extreme violence or sexual violence should go into this braced, and tread lightly, especially with Cynthia Bond's 'Ruby', which is amazing but will jump up and down on any vulnerabilities a reader may have in that direction.


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March 2017

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