"She, the girl Yoruba, wrote: The world outside my house is white. And I am Black. And God is what?"
—- Taken from the novel, The Cotillion, or One Good Bull is Half the Herd by John Oliver Killens, Chapter 9, pg. 143
I’m currently reading this book. Ever since I read Youngblood, I have fallen in love with Killens’ work. Most of his works were out of print until small publishing houses like Coffee House Press released the Black Arts Movement Series of reprints. How sad if this treasure of a novel just died away. But I’m going to see to it that this book lives on because I got big plans for it, however, they will be revealed as soon as I handle the legalities.
Originally published by Trident Press in 1971 and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, The Cotillion is a brilliantly written satirical work that captures the conflicts between Black upper class society and social activists during the 1960s; at the heart of the book is the philosophical differences between assimilation and self-determination. Through an assortment of characters, Killens beautifully, and many times, hilariously, depicts the attitudes of Black people who believed integration was the salve for Black people’s wounds without regards to how that could affect the cultural fortitude of the people while the Black militancy pushed for cultural pride and dignity minus the need for white approval.
Then, there are those who are caught in the middle, such as the focal character of the story, Yoruba Lovejoy. Between her social climbing mother, Daphne, who has enlisted the young girl in a debutante ball, to the down-home candor of her father Matt Lovejoy and her militant boyfriend, Lumumba, Yoruba is left with a decision to make about what side she will choose.
Killens’ mastery of language is phenomenal. There’s a comfortable, flowing, personable tone to the narrative voice in this book. Sometimes, I get so caught up in the scenes he’s painting with his words that I find myself laughing out loud in the stillness of my home, happy that I’m not in public while reading this book.
So, yea, this book is pretty dope. You should read it too.
"From all sides pressure is put upon the Negro artist to deny his culture, his roots, his selfhood. How many black writers have you heard engage in this abject self-denial: "I am not a Negro writer. I am a writer who happens to be a Negro." But the truth of the matter is that we black Americans are all Negroes (African Americans, if you prefer) who happen to have become writers, painters, lawyers, subway motormen, doctors, teachers, ditch diggers, pickpockets, hustlers, or whatever. We see life from the vantage point of being Negro. A creative writer writes out of his particular frame of reference, which is the sum total of his life’s experience, and he had better come to terms with it as hurriedly as possible.
Yet from Hollywood to Broadway to Madison Avenue, I hear variations of the same refrain: “John, why do you insist upon writing about Negroes? Why don’t you write about people?” As often as I’ve heard that one, it never fails to jar me, laboring, as I have, under the illusion that Negroes are people. Another goes like this: “The thing I liked about your story, John, it was universal. It could have been about anybody.” Well— I submit that a story that could have been about anybody is probably about precisely nobody at all. Negroes are the only people in this world who are set apart because of who they are, and, at the same time told to forget who they are by the same people who set them apart in the first place.” pg. 28
—— Published in 1965
*John Oliver Killens is one of my all-time favorite writers. My favorite books by him are Cotillion & Youngblood.
The photo above is in connection to the last post of the bill of sale for slaves. This is an actual slab from an auction block that was located in downtown Memphis during that dreadful period of history. Memphis used to be a bustling port city because of its proximity to the Mississippi River. Slaves were transported by riverboat to downtown Memphis to be auctioned off. For several years, there was a street named Auction until it was changed most recently.
Official advertisement for Slave Auction in Memphis, TN. I saw this on one of my friends’ FB page and decided to share it here. I’m sure if many of you researched it, you would find similar articles in your respective American cities.
Never forget because forgetting is dangerous….