Civil rights era serves as backdrop for a woman's story

September 17, 1992|By Karin D. Berry | Karin D. Berry,Staff Writer

"I can't tell nobody. I can't never tell nobody. Not even God," she said. Eva sat on the sofa holding Jessie against her breast until the girl fell into a longed-for but tortured sleep. Three hours before Eva was due home the next afternoon, Jessie packed her things and left.

"And Do Remember Me"

Marita Golden In her latest novel, "And Do Remember Me," best-selling author Marita Golden tells the story of Jessie Foster, a young Southern woman who runs away from home to flee her abusive father and joins the civil rights movement in 1964.

"I see the novel as a woman's search over a long period of time for a way to be whole, to kind of shape a satisfactory vocabulary for her life, having been a victim of sexual abuse, of incest," said Ms. Golden, a native of Washington.

Ms. Golden, who teaches writing at George Mason University in Virginia, says the novel continues a theme she established in her three earlier books, "Migrations of the Heart," "A Woman's Place" and "Long Distance Life."

"The characters in my past novels and this one also seek to find some sense of themselves within the family and outside the boundaries of the family, too, and it's often in a political context," she said. Ms. Golden will read and discuss her work tonight at Pyramid Books.

"I started the novel in the midst of the civil rights movement as kind of a metaphor for this young woman's fleeing a situation when, in a way, a whole generation of people was seeking a new vocabulary for itself, a vocabulary that included freedom, equal rights, voting rights, a sense of empowerment." The book spans several decades and explores Jessie's relationships with her lover, Lincoln, and her best friend, Macon.

Writing about the civil rights movement had its own appeal for Ms. Golden. While researching her earlier books, she discovered that "you had this movement where ordinary people became this vast army who enacted incredible social change. Ordinary people. I found that to be a very dramatic story.

"It appealed to me as a storyteller. It really wasn't about politics as much as that the contours, the shape, the feel, and the sound of the civil rights movement is an inherently interesting dramatic story."

Jessie's friend, Macon, a college professor who married a fellow civil rights worker, finds that her relationship slowly disintegrates over the years.

"For them the movement was the peak moment of their lives," Ms. Golden explained. "After that they found that their marriage was very different, that they were very different and being in the movement required things of them -- levels of courage, levels of bravery -- that were not necessarily duplicated with the same intensity in their later lives."

Other writers such as Alice Walker ("Meridien") and Thulani Davis ("1959") have also written about black women's experiences during the civil rights movement, she said.

"I think that those of us in our early 40s who came of age in the dawn of the civil rights movement, post-black power [movement] in the '60s, may be at a point where we're looking back at the forces that shaped us intellectually and emotionally. Even if you weren't part of the civil rights movement, everyone who was born after the civil rights movement is an inheritor of its legacy," said Ms. Golden, 42.

Ms. Golden was a reporter-intern at The Sun in the summer of 1972, when she was a Columbia University student. But she found that while her journalism training gave her discipline, she was more suited to fiction writing. "I simply wanted to create stories that no one but me could write that were completely unique to my sensibility and it would give my imagination an outlet. And journalism didn't do that."

Nowadays, she says, she writes "everything." "When I feel the lTC need or the inspiration, I do journalism, I write novels. I just finished editing an anthology, a series by black women writers dealing with love, men and sex. I'm working on a screenplay for a documentary, as well as another novel.

"I see myself as a woman of letters. I see in my career using language in a variety of forms, to dialogue with the world around me," she said.

In 1991, Ms. Golden established the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for the best previously unpublished short story or novel excerpt written by a black college student enrolled in any liberal arts college in Maryland, Virginia or Washington. The winner receives $750 and the work is published in Catalyst, a literary magazine based in Atlanta. This year's first place award was won by David Anthony Durham from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In 1993, she said, the award will go national.

Book signing

Who: Marita Golden, author of "And Do Remember Me"

What: Reading and book signing

When: Today, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: Pyramid Books, Mondawmin Mall

Call: (410) 383-8800

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