We've selected our personal favorites from the year's best fiction by African-American writers in honor of Black History Month. While our choices include new works by veteran writers, an exciting group of first-novelists is featured as well as the work of an important but neglected member of the Harlem Renaissance. All of these writers explore the dynamics of family life, the hard choices and compromises women have to make, the burden and inspiration of legacies both sorrowful and affirming, and the need to redefine success. A pervasive sense of a society in transition, perhaps a culture in jeopardy, also shapes these powerful, poetic tales.
Cartier, Xam. Muse-Echo Blues. Harmony; dist. by Crown, 1991, $18 (0-517-57793-3).
A young composer is going through a dry spell and finds herself daydreaming at the keyboard. Her fantasies take us back to the jazz scene of the 1940s, where we peer into the lives of a woman and her sax-playing lover. Cartier exposes the politics of fashion and attitude and the tension between the sexes in both the present and the past. She has brought the power and emotion of jazz to prose and written a dazzling tone poem that sings, shouts, and wails the blues of African-American life.
Davis, Thulani. 1959. Grove Weidenfeld, 1992, $18.95 (0-8021-1230-7).
A poet, playwright, journalist, and librettist, Davis is now a novelist, debuting with a potent story about a small Virginia town swept by the storm of the integration movement. Narrated by Willie Tarrant, a 12-year-old girl, this drama of change and conviction parallels Willie's coming of age with the black community's growing demand for equality which results in protests, violence, and a boycott of white business. Davis artfully explores emotional and moral issues and celebrates the joy of right action.
Edwards, Louis. Ten Seconds. Graywolf, paper, 1991, $8.95 (1-55597-150-4).
Eddie, a 26-year-old Louisiana oil refinery worker, has a epiphany watching a high school track meet: 10 seconds of spontaneous insight into the clash between his dreams and reality. Edwards guides us through Eddie's starkly honest memories, regrets, presentiments, and fantasies about love, romance, freedom, responsibility, limited opportunities, and parenthood. His candid and poignant inner monologue reveals the conflicts of both African-American culture and one man's full heart.
Larsen, Nella. An Intimation of Things Distant: The Collected Fiction of Nella Larsen. Doubleday/Anchor, 1992, paper, $9.50 (0-385-42149-4).
A forgotten star of the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen wrote incisive, almost melodramatic fiction about African-American society. …