tagged with: Women’s History Month

This women’s History Month I would like to highlight female writers who hail from the Caribbean as a means of showcasing the contribution these women made to the world of literature.

First on the list is Rosa Guy (1925-2012), who was born in Trinidad (my native country) and immigrated to Harlem, New York. Her parents died while Rosa was very young, and she lived for a time with a relative who was a supporter of black nationalist Marcus Garvey. Rosa attended New York University where she studied theater and writing and at the American Negro Theater she studied acting.

In 1950, Rosa went on to cofound the Harlem Writers’ Guild, an organization that nurtured the works of prominent writers such as Paule Marshall, Audre Lorde, and Maya Angelou. When Rosa died in 2012, Maya Angelou said of her, “she was never afraid of the truth.” 

Indeed, while Rosa wrote for both adults and young adults, her books explored topics that were off-limits for young adults at the time — topics such as the tensions between African Americans and West Indian Blacks, unwanted pregnancy, and same-sex relationships.

Rosa wrote sixteen novels, the most successful one for adults being My Love, My Love: Or, The Peasant Girl (1985), a retelling of “The Little Mermaid” set on a Caribbean island. This novel was adapted into a musical and ran on Broadway for over a year while being nominated for eight Tony awards. Rosa’s work received the Coretta Scott King award, the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year citation, and the American Library Association’s Best Book Award.

Rosa’s work was not only limited to the stage or to writing. She became an activist in traditional civil rights and also in a Black nationalist literary organization, On Guard for Freedom. This group featured in a famous protest at the United Nations during the Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and actively supported the liberation of the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba.

If you read one book by a Caribbean author this women’s history month, make it one by Rosa Guy.

Angela is a blogger and author of Christian women’s fiction and Christian romance. Her latest release is Making Music Together.

We have all heard of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, but did you know that nine months prior to this incident a teenager refused to give up her seat for a white woman on a bus?

Associated Press; restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by policeofficer

The teenager, Claudette Colvin, born 1939, said the high school she attended in Montgomery, Alabama had observed Negro History Week in 1955, and she learned a lot about the Black freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. That day when she and her three friends were told to give up their seats for a white woman, Colvin, her history lessons still fresh in her brain, refused. In an interview with NPR, she stated, “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.”

For this act of defiance, Colvin was arrested and placed on indefinite probation. Although Colvin’s refusal to give up her seat came nine months before Rosa Park’s did, the NAACP did not acknowledge her as the one who started the Montgomery bus boycott. The reason? Colvin became pregnant at the age of 16, and the NAACP believed the face of an unwed mother was not appropriate to represent the movement, and so they chose to use Rosa Parks instead.

However, this did not stop Colvin from becoming an activist. She later joined three other women —Mary Louise Smith, Aurelia Browder and Susie McDonald—as the plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which legally put an end to racial segregation on public transportation in the state of Alabama.

Two things struck me as I read this story: 1) Colvin’s determination to defy the law came about as a result of her school having observed Negro History Week. At a time when pressure is being put on schools to ban certain books and to refrain from teaching African American history, I think this is significant. Browder v Gayle may never have come about had these young girls not been taught their history.

2) You may not always receive the recognition you deserve, but that should not stop you from joining with others who are fighting for the same cause you believe in. Most of us have only heard of Rosa Parks, and so we never stop to think of the thousands of unnamed persons who rallied behind the organizers of the boycott to elicit social change. Let us follow the example of Colvin and those who “believe[d] that a way will be made out of no way.” — MLK

If you love books and love wearing t-shirts then you may love to add one of these to your wardrobe.


Harriet Jacobs Wikimedia commons

A tribute to Harriet Jacobs

March is Women’s History Month. Sandwiched between Black History Month (February) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April), March is devoted to recognizing and paying tribute to women who, by their sacrifice and accomplishments, helped to shape our history. With this in mind, I searched for someone who would fit both profiles and came up with Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl.

Introduction to slavery

Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in 1813, but as a young child she was unaware she was a slave because her masters treated her kindly and taught her to read and write. It was only when she was bequeathed to new owners, that Harriet experienced cruelty and sexual exploitation. Her new master Dr. Flint tried to force her into a sexual relationship, but she resisted him and instead consented to a relationship with a white neighbor in the hope of being protected from Dr. Flint. Harriet bore two children and, in order to escape Dr. Flint and protect her children, hid in her grandmother’s cabin. It would be seven years before she escaped to New York where she reunited with her daughter in Brooklyn.

Harriet’s writing journey

Harriet began publishing her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in serial form in the New York Tribune, but her accounts of sexual abuse were considered too shocking for readers at that time and so the publication ended. Phillips and Samson, a Boston publishing house, offered to publish the manuscript in book form if Harriet could get either Nathaniel Parker Willis, writer and publisher, or Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist author, to write a preface. This didn’t work out and eventually abolitionist Lydia Maria Child agreed. Child also edited the book. In 1861, Harriet published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent, using fictitious names in the book to protect herself and her family.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Wikimedia Commons

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was a groundbreaking work at that time as it highlighted the cruelties of slavery and sexual assault against women. More than a century later, the contents of this book still resonate with women everywhere as we grapple with the increased incidents of sexual assault, separation of families and racial inequality in our society. I recommend this book as a gripping and sobering read for Women’s History Month.