Master poet Honoree Fanonne Jeffers discusses her fiction debut, “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.” Ailey Pearl Garfield, its protagonist, explores who she is, where she comes from, and why something within her has made her a historian. Set in Chicasetta, Georgia, this novel explores how its place and people came to evolve. A political and historical novel with a multiracial family in the south, joy in the midst of inherited sorrow, reverie in music, and so much more there’s a second episode.
This episode originally aired on September 2, 2021.
Excerpt from The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers.
It’s time for the grocery store, ’cause Mama ain’t gone eat folks
out of house and home. Isn’t. But Coco don’t want to go to town.
Doesn’t. She wants to stay with Miss Rose to help make preserves.
She promises she will be well behaved and try not to be rude.
Then, we are in the station wagon, I’m sitting between Lydia and Mama.
I’m full of breakfast, and my mama and sister smell real good,
like grown ladies do. I’m happy listening to the radio, but then that
white lady sees us at the Pig Pen. She don’t know that Lydia is with us. Doesn’t.
Lydia don’t look like none of us. Doesn’t. Daddy’s got brown eyes, but he looks like a white man. Mama’s dark like chocolate and little and pretty. She makes her hair straight with a hot comb and blue grease. I’m dark, too, but not like Mama. I got red in my skin under- neath the brown like my granny. Coco’s eyes and skin match, like caramel candy. Her nose is wide like Mama’s, and she’s real short, too. Her hair’s like Mama’s, and it grows real long. Lydia’s hair is long, too, but won’t hold a curl. But in the back of her head, she’s got a kitchen. It grows in curls like mine. That’s how you can tell that she’s a Black girl. She’s got a gap in her teeth like Mama’s too. Her skin is light but not like Daddy’s. She looks like she went out in the sun and stayed a long time and got a tan. But Mama says Black folks don’t get tans. We already got some color. And Mama don’t care if folks are ignorant about her children. Doesn’t. She carried all of us in her belly and we belong to her and we should love her very much.
It’s cold in the store. When Mama pushes the cart up the aisle, the white lady waves at us. Mama waves back and says good morning, and the lady and her cart come our way. She’s old like my granny and has a pink shirt and a jean skirt. Her brown shoes are ugly. I don’t like those shoes.
The white lady says, “You are so good with children.”
Mama says, “Thank you, ma’am. I try my best with these two.
There’s another one at home.”
“How long have you been in service?” “Ma’am?”
The lady touches Lydia’s shoulder. “This one won’t need a nanny soon, and my daughter has a little boy who’d just love you. Let me give you her number. She’ll pay well.” The white lady puts her hand in her purse and pulls out a pencil. She puts her hand in again and has a smooshed piece of paper, and Mama frowns, but then she smiles. She says Lydia is her daughter. They have the same teeth, but Lydia is getting braces next year.
“Gal, you’re funning me!” The white lady shakes her finger close to my mother’s face, and I say, “Ooh,” ’cause you ain’t never sup- posed to put your hand in somebody’s face. Aren’t.
Excerpted from “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. Copyright © 2021 by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.