Monday, March 20, 2023

Cultural Geo-tagging Toni Cade Bambara’s short stories

By Kenton Rambsy

Homegrown city dwellers serve as critical vehicles in regards to cultural geo-tagging in short fiction by Toni Cade Bambara. The protagonists navigate streets with confidence and describe locations in their immediate environment with ease. Three of her most popular stories—“Raymond’s Run,” “The Lesson,” and “Gorilla, My Love”—come from her 1972 collection, Gorilla, My Love, and feature homegrown Black girl characters as the protagonists.

Her stories do not include dramatic acts of violence like stories by Hurston, Wright, and Ellison. There are also no intense scenes of interracial or intraracial conflict. Instead, Bambara’s stories place smart and confident children at the center of unfolding events in New York City. Her narratives focus on knowledge-building events, while demonstrating the developing social consciousness of Black child characters.

She situates her compositions in a variety of settings, including street corners, public parks, taxi cabs, movie theaters, apartment homes, and a toy store. Taken together, the diversity of settings in Bambara’s northern short fiction outnumbers the locales presented in southern stories by Chesnutt, Hurston, Wright, Ellison, and Walker. New York City apparently gave her abundant sites, routes, and smaller environments within the larger environment to explore.

The sense of place and knowledge of physical environments possessed by the characters are integral to the quality and quantity of geo-tagging that takes place in the stories. The widespread circulation of Bambara’s stories contribute to the important presence of urbanites in African American literature.

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

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