By Lakenzie Walls and Howard Rambsy II
Nafissa Thompson-Spires's “Belles Lettres,” from her collection of stories Heads of the Colored People (2018) focuses on a pair of Black mothers of two girls at a predominantly white private school. The mothers exchange distasteful letters about each other’s daughters. The story, presented in the form of letters from the mothers, reveals the lengths they will go to uplift their own black daughter, even if it means belittling a rival’s child.
In one example of the subtle insults that they toss at each other, one mother writers, “Perhaps the kids at Fatima’s old school were bad influences on her? Why did she change schools after first grade anyway? That’s generally a bad sign” (39). In her response, the other mother writes that “Not everyone is suited for literary work. I’m sure you know that from your own writing struggles” (40). Comments like those persist throughout the story.
What stood out the most to you about the story? Why?
Responses from students:
The whole read was interesting, it went from 2 mothers talking about their kids to it becoming a shady and petty battle. The part that really stuck out to me is on page 44 when she says “ And yes , there is still a bit of the ghetto still left in me ....” it shows the letters getting more and more heated and unprofessional. --T. Long
Lucinda saying that Fatima has a more "African look" and saying that Monica displayed uppity Negress stood out to me (43). --P. Johnson