Black Love in Literature

Through the month of February, I read three books by three different black women writers, partly in the name of Black History Month and partly because I needed to wash my mind clean of the consciousness-slime I had bathed in previously reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Here’s the list of books I read in February: First, The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Second, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. And third, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. And wow, what a trifecta this was.

I set out to read books I haven’t read previously, because if I’m honest, my ratio of POC written books to white written ones is skeletal, and that’s a pretty serious problem for someone who aims to be an ally (full disclosure, I am a white, settler-descended American, who grew up in the middle class – so my bias of ignorance, subconscious patterning, etc. may show up in this post. If you catch me at it, please call me out if you got time and energy for that).

This short list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is available in the world of POC lit, or even black lit for that matter, but reading these three books back to back like this had a very powerful effect on me. While they’re quite different in scope and style, there was one theme that threaded its way into each that have changed the way I feel in the world: love as service.

I’ve encountered this idea before, but there’s nothing more powerful than experiencing it directly through the heart, which Walker, Morrison and Hurston powerfully convey in each of these novels.

In all of the romantic, white-written literature I’ve read, nothing is juicier, more moving, or more inspiring than this. What meaning does love have for us as a noun? Why is romance equated with flirtation – hook, line and sinker – in white literature? Where is the substance? How could it possibly last without a motor, without love in action, as embodied by Celine, Shug Avery and Nettie, or Milkman and Sweet, or between Janie and Tea Cake?

What a gift, to understand the power of shared, active love, and its ability to kindle and rekindle again and again – in Eros, but also in platonic love, and broad, society-sweeping, being love. Apply it in romance, apply it in partnership, with your children, your parents, the grocery store clerk, and everybody out there who’s ever been shafted by the racist (sexist, ablist, homo/trans/fat-phobic, indigenous hating) system running amuck on this beautiful Earth.