"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.