Book of black erotica avoids stereotypes

November 12, 1992|By Karin D. Berry

"Erotique Noire/Black Erotica," is an uneven book that manages to celebrate the sexuality of black people and avoids stereotyping black men as well-endowed studs and black women as exotic and wanton.

This stuff is hot. "Erotique" is filled with strong, frank language about sex. Co-editor Miriam DeCosta-Willis, a professor and director of graduate studies in the African-American studies department at the University of Maryland College Park, wrote a too-long introduction overflowing with cutesy double entendres.

The playful tone Ms. DeCosta-Willis attempts is more successful elsewhere in "Erotique." Sample these chapter titles: "Love Juices and Other Squeezables"; "Swimming in Your Wetness"; "Ooohwee, Baby, You Feel So Good."

The 80 contributors include some well-known authors -- Alice Walker, Terry L. McMillan, Gloria Naylor, Chester B. Himes -- who submitted excerpts from previous books.

But the lesser-known writers are more creative and daring. The "Three-Token Stradivarius" by R. Pope (the nom de plume of "Erotique" co-editor Roseann P. Bell) is a hilarious first-person account of a woman who indulges in a fling with a younger man, a neighbor's nephew. And "Plain Wrappers" by Constance Garcia-Barrio, about a mail-order catalog owner, is amusing.

But other entries fall short. Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power," a call to women to embrace the sexual part of themselves as empowering (I think), was too convoluted. Also, there was an interesting but shallow analysis by Francoise Pfaff, "Eroticism in Sub-Saharan African Films."

More intriguing was Charles L. Blockson's "African-American Erotica and Other Curiosities: 'The Blacker the Berry, the Sweeter the Juice . . .' ", in which he describes his collection of erotica by and about blacks, with some items and books dating to the 18th century. I wish excerpts from those works had been included.

The most thorough effort was written by Sandra Y. Govan, an associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, who tackles the sexual myths about blacks head on in "Forbidden Fruits and Unholy Lusts: Illicit Sex in Black American Literature."

Erotic art and photographs by artists such as James Van Der Zee and Romare Bearden precede each chapter. There's even a 1930 photograph of young, scantily clad (what else?) Josephine Baker, taken by George Hoyningen-Huene.

Judging from the high number of excerpted works in "Erotique," it looks as if we could use some more writers of black erotica. The biographical "Notes on Contributors" are almost as interesting as their work. I hope we hear from more of these writers.

This collection's main, but minor, drawback is that by including so many authors -- straight, gay and lesbian, Caribbean, Afro-Hispanic, African -- "Erotique" ends up as a tantalizing, provocative overview.

Karin D. Berry is a copy editor for The Sun.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Erotique Noire/Black Erotica"

Editors: Miriam DeCosta- Willis, Reginald Martin and Roseann P. Bell.

Publisher: Doubleday.

Length, price: 439 pages. $27.50.

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