Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Summaries of Short Stories by Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones has published two short story collections, Lost in the City (1992) and All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006) that each contain fourteen stories. Below, I have provided summaries of the stories from both collections.

Lost in the City
“The Girl Who Raised Pigeons” – Betsy Ann and her father, Robert Morgan, recall their life on Myrtle Street. They remember the time she raised pigeons, that she eventually set free.

“The First Day” – The unnamed narrator, a five-year-old girl, tells about her first day of kindergarten. Upon finding that she cannot be admitted to Seaton Elementary School. Her illiterate mother takes her back to attend another school which the girl likes.

“The Night Rhonda Ferguson Was Killed” – Cassandra Lewis, with hopes of accompanying her friend Rhonda in pursuing a musical career, drives some friends to Anacostia. When she returns to her neighborhood, Cassandra receives news that shatters her dreams.

“Young Lions” – As Caesar Matthews plan to con a mentally disabled woman, he remembers the events that led him into the world of crime. He, failing in his endeavor, find himself alone without friends or family.

“The Store” – The young unnamed narrator starts working at Penny Jenkins store. As he grows attached to the store, having a stable job, the owner decides to sell it.

“An Orange Line Train to Ballston” – On her way to work, Marvella Watkins and her three children regularly meet a man with dreadlocks, whom the children get friendly, while she fantasizes about a romantic relationship with him.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Summaries of Short Stories By the Big 7

By Kenton Rambsy

Below I have provided brief summaries of stories that I cover in my book written by the Big 7.

Charles Chesnutt
“The Goophered Grapevine” (1887) is about a character named Uncle Julius who tells the story of Henry, a man who would gain and lose strength based on the seasons, due to an accidental eating of some magical grapes.

“Po’ Sandy”(1888) is told from the point of view of Julius. When John and Annie decide to use lumber from an old schoolhouse to build a kitchen, Julius tells them about Sandy who was turned into a tree, and who’s haunting spirit is embedded in the lumber.

“The Sheriff's Children” (1898) is the story of a relationship between an illegitimate, biracial son and his father, the town's Sheriff.

"The Wife of His Youth" (1898) follows Mr. Ryder, a bi-racial man and head of the "Blue Veins Society", a Ohio social organization for colored people with a high proportion of European ancestry.

"The Passing of Grandison" (1899) follows Dick Owens who concocts a plan to take an enslaved man to Canada and help him escape to freedom to impress his girlfriend Charity Lomax.

Zora Neale Hurston
“Spunk” (1925) tells the story of three characters caught in a deadly love triangle between Joe, Lena, and Spunk Banks.

“Sweat” (1926) tells the story of a hard working washer woman, Delia Jones, and her abusive husband Sykes.

“The Gilded Six-Bits” (1933) follows how the married couple, Joe and Missie May, reconcile after her infidelity.

Richard Wright
“Big Boy Leaves Home” (1938) is about the deadly consequences four teenage boys experience after taking a swim in a noted racist white man's pond.

“Bright and Morning Star,” (1938) follows Sue, a proud elderly black woman who must save her son after his local communist party is compromised.

“Long Black Song,” (1938) deals with issues of infidelity between a married couple, Silas and Sarah.

“The Man Who Was Almost a Man”(1940) follows Dave Saunders, a teenage boy who believes owning a gun will prove his manhood.

Ralph Ellison
“Flying Home” (1944) follows Todd, a black pilot, a northerner trained at Tuskegee who crash-lands in rural Alabama and is rescued from redneck medics by Jefferson, an old black man exuding rustic ways and folksy tall tales.

“King of the Bingo Game” (1944) is about a unemployed, southern transplant he has gone to a northern movie theatre to play a bingo game with the hope of winning bingo money to pay the doctor bills for his ailing wife.

“Battle Royal” (1947) follows the introspective thoughts of a very intelligent, unnamed protagoinsts who is picked to give a graduation speech by the town's prominent white businessmen, after first participating in a boxing match.

“A Party Down at the Square” (1997) is the story of a white boy who witnesses a lynching while visiting his uncle's house somewhere in the Deep South.

James Baldwin
“Sonny’s Blues” (1957) explores the relationship between an unnamed narrator and his younger brother, Sonny.

“Going to Meet the Man,” (1965) follows Jessie, a white sheriff in the racially-charged post- civil war south, who is having sexual problems with his wife and is instead sexually attracted to African American women and is seemingly aroused by violence in the jailhouse.

Toni Cade Bambara
"Gorilla, My Love" (1972) is the story of Hazel, a young girl who feels that adults do not treat children with respect and honesty.

“The Lesson” (1972) is a first-person narrative told by a young, black girl named Sylvia who is growing up in Harlem who takes a trip to Fifth Avenue.

“Raymond’s Run” (1972) follows Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker (Squeaky), a long distance runner and caregiver to her autistic brother Raymond.

Alice Walker
“Everyday Use” (1973) follows the difference between Mrs. Johnson and her shy younger daughter Maggie, and her educated, wordly daughter Dee (Wangero).

“Nineteen-Fifty-Five” (1981) is Alice Walker's fictional account of the relationship of Elvis Presley and Mama Thornton through the fictional, Gracie Mae Still and Traynor.

"Advancing Luna--and Ida. B. Wells" (1982) examines the rape of a white civil rights worker by a black civil rights worker from the point of view of the black woman who is the victim's best friend.

“To Hell with Dying” (1988) revolves around a beloved neighbor, Mr. Sweet, and the many ‘revivals’ a neighboring family participates in to bring him back from the brink of death. 

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Pedestrians in Edward P. Jones’s Short Fiction

By Kenton Rambsy

For Jones, pedestrians are narrative vehicles, the means of transportation to homes, neighborhoods, stores, downtown streets, and corners. The various descriptions of routes that Jones presents explain how characters directly interact with the physical landscape of the city.

In “A Butterfly on F Street,” the narrator describes the protagonist’s movements, explaining that “Mildred had crossed to the island from Morton’s, going to Woolworth’s, her eyes fixed upon a golden-yellow butterfly that fluttered about the median.” In “Bad Neighbors,” a character notices a neighbor “walking alone down 11th Street,” and decides to separate from her friends and walk home with him.

In “All Aunt Hagar’s Children,” the unnamed narrator imagines himself coming into a large sum of money after a gold hunting expedition: “I saw myself walking down M Street, strutting about New York Avenue, my pockets bulging with nuggets, big pockets, big as some boy’s pockets fat with candy.”

Perhaps no African American short story writer has been as committed to pedestrians as Jones, as his stories are filled with characters walking and encountering different types of people on the city streets.

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Men in Edward P. Jones’s Short Fiction

By Kenton Rambsy

Edward P. Jones relies heavily on males as supporting characters. In Jones’s two collections, 270 of his characters are male. He presents a drug dealer, a retired mechanic, a bus driver, a homeless man, a moneylender, a drug addict, a taxi driver, and more.

Jones is committed to exploring public spaces in DC. Consequently, he shows men occupying street corners, traveling to and from different neighborhoods, working in downtown and other parts of town, and riding in cars.

Men characters are also more likely to be involved in troublesome activities. For instance, Young Lions” and “Old Boys, Old Girls,” which focus on one protagonist, Caesar Matthews, are particularly important for understanding the remarkable work that Jones does in geo-tagging and tracing the movements of a homegrown Black male character in two stories published over a decade apart.

“Young Lions” and “Old Boys, Old Girls” follow Caesar, a native of DC, as he falls into a life of crime and eventually prison. Together, the stories represent one of the most extended and detailed accounts of an African American male in short fiction. 

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Producing whiteboard nnimations on black poetry

In October 2022, I began releasing whiteboard animations focusing on black poetry and literary history. Whiteboard animations are illustrated video narratives, and after studying some of those compositions on various topics, I thought it would be a good idea to work with voice actors and designers to produce some on African American literary studies. 

I received the Stephen L. and Julia Y. Hansen Humanities Award in 2022, and I used funds from that award to begin producing the whiteboard animations. 

The compositions I've produced so far trace the publication histories of popular African American poems by Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Claude McKay, and Margaret Walker. I also produced animations focusing on poet William J. Harris, literary scholar and professor Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, and black poetry anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s. 


A Notebook on the African American Poetry Tracker

The African American Poetry Tracker is a digital resource that highlights the circulation of poetry in anthologies produced over the course of one hundred years. The Poetry Tracker illuminates the multifaceted publishing routes of poems by black writers. 



Checklist of whiteboard animations on black poetry

Here's a list of the whiteboard animations that I produced for my African American Poetry project: 

• January 30: The Beauty of Bareness


Women in Edward P. Jones’s Short Fiction

By Kenton Rambsy

Women characters play consequential roles in Edward P. Jones’s stories and are twenty-one of the protagonists of his twenty-eight stories. Jones depicts women characters across a broad age spectrum from young, middle-aged, to elderly.

“The Girl Who Raised Pigeons,” “The First Day,” and “Spanish in the Morning” make young girls the central focus. In “Common Law,” “His Mother’s House,” and “A Butterfly on F Street,” the women characters are middle-aged. And, in “Marie,” “A Dark Night,” and “Gospel,” the women are senior citizens.

Jones’s inclination to represent women characters at different stages in life allows him to further accentuate the diversity of representations in his stories. By and large, Black women short story writers showcase female characters, while Black men short story writers cast male protagonists.

Jones does more than experiment by occasionally presenting a lead woman character. Indeed, women protagonists are the norm in his works. 

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.