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Look Inside | Reading Guide
Aug 10, 1993
| ISBN 9780345383952
Jun 27, 1995
| ISBN 9780345401120
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Aug 10, 1993 | ISBN 9780345383952
Jun 27, 1995 | ISBN 9780345401120
"Intriguing…A thoughtful, intelligent work…The novel traces the yeasr from he ’50s to the ate ’80s, from Eisenhower to George Bush….She writes with simple eloquence about small-town life in the South, right after the start of the great social upheaval of he civil rights movement….Campbell has a strong creative voice."THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLDChicago-born Amrstrong Tood is fifteen, black, and unused to the ways of the segregated Deep South, when his mother sends him to spend the summer with relatives in rural Mississippi. For speaking a few innocuous words in French to a white woman, Armstrong is killed. And the precariously balanced world and its determined people–white and black–are changed, then and forever, by the horror of poverty, the legacy of justice, and the singular gift of love’s power to heal.
"ABSORBING…COMPELLING…HIGHLY SATISFYING."–San Francisco Chronicle"TRULY ENGAGING…Campbell has a storyteller’s ear for dialogue and the visual sense of painting a picture and a place….There’s a steam that keeps the story moving as the characters, and later their children, wrestle through racial, personal and cultural crisis."–Los Angeles Times Book Review"REMARKABLE…POWERFUL."–Time"YOUR BLUES AIN’T LIKE MINE is rich, lush fiction set in rural Mississippi beginning in the mid-’50s. It is also a haunting reality flowing through Anywhere, U.S.A., in the ’90s….There’s love, rage and hatred, winning and losing, honor, abuse; in other words, humanity….Campbell now deserves recognition as the best of storytellers. Her writing sings."–The Indianapolis News"EXTRAORDINDARY."–The Seattle Times"A COMPELLING NARRATIVE…Campbell is a master when it comes to telling a story."–Entertainment WeeklyYOUR BLUES AIN’T LIKE MINE won the NAACP Image Award for Best Literary Work of Fiction
Bebe Moore Campbell was the author of several New York Times bestsellers: Brothers and Sisters; Singing in the Comeback Choir; What You Owe Me, which was also a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001; and 72 Hour Hold. Her other works include the novel Your Blues Ain’t Like… More about Bebe Moore Campbell
My Blues, Your Blues, We All Got BluesBy Janine Yvette GardnerThe realities of racism effect each individual living in America in adifferent way. Whether the person realizes it or not, racism plays a partin how people view each other, how they treat each other, and how theylive amongst each other.Although the civil rights era seems a distant memory to those of uswho were born years after it took place, the historical event of the EmmettTill murder and trial still represents many social issues that continueto occur within the United States of America. A young black boyplays a childish game that involves speaking to a white woman and receivesthe ultimate punishment for stepping outside of and threaten-ingan accustomed way of life. The symbolism of this case is reflectiveof the role men and women, both black and white, willingly or unwillinglyplay on the stage of the American South circa 1955 and hencepresent American society as a whole. The boundary lines that distinguisha black man from a white man, the inability to choose what yousay and to whom you say it, puts unjust limitations on manhood. Theracist attempts to justify and protect white womanhood and simultaneouslyremove any identification of black womanhood proved to be amajor factor in the institutionalization of Jim Crow laws, segregation,and racist theories. At the age of fourteen, Emmett Till decided totake control of his manhood by refusing to consent to the laws of theland that prohibited black men from having any interaction with whitewomen. By taking control of his manhood, Emmett sacrifices his ownlife. Although his killers were found not guilty within the court of law,all of us are guilty of harboring feelings that are influenced by racialprejudice. Whether we choose to act on those feelings or choose to rectifythem progresses the kind of world we live in. All of us have personalpain to share. Arguably, some experiences garner more hurt thanothers do, but the common thread is that pain is pain. Human beingshave to learn from each other’s experiences in order to create an environmentthat is fair to live in for everyone. We can at least make stridesin the creation of this kind of society. There is a lot of work involved,and it is authors like Bebe Moore Campbell that remind us of whathappens when we don’t get involved. A critically acclaimed writer,Campbell’s works span several years of social injustice and unrest.<i>Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine</i> comes out of a place that was very significantto Campbell. Only five years old when the Emmett Till case tookplace, Campbell creates a fictionalized account of the murder, trial,and what happens to all the parties involved after it was all said anddone. The underlying theme of this story is that each character, nomatter how evil or good, has had his share of hurt and is allowed a certainamount of compassion and love. After all, we all have had ourshare of blues.A Conversation with Bebe Moore CampbellJanine Yvette Gardner: The tragic fate of Armstrong Todd readsidentical to that of Emmett Till. Was that moment in America’s historythe influence for this novel? If so, why?Bebe Moore Campbell: Absolutely. It was an event that haunted me. Iwas five when it happened. It was a historical event that was close tomy own time. It haunted the entire black community. It was really oneof the first publicized lynchings. Usually lynchings were clandestineaffairs, very secretive. No one ever came forward. Here you had thekillers after the trial confess to the murders. The fact that the boy wasso young and the courage of his mother in making sure this wasn’tsome anonymous crime that no one ever heard about made it uniquein black history. I think it catapulted us into the Civil Rights Era, becauseI don’t think that it was a coincidence that, let’s see that was inAugust, and then by December Rosa Parks was refusing to give up herseat on the bus.Q: Lily Cox appears to be a one-dimensional character on the surface;a white female who is subservient to her husband and is content withbeing that. Yet, there is some complexity to her. What message areyou trying to convey to readers about white females in the segregatedSouth and the role they played (conscious or not) in the institutionalizationof racism in America?A: Well, usually what happened in the American South is that the subjugationof white women and harsh activist racism went hand in hand.White women were the excuse in many instances for the acting out ofracism’s harshest punishment to preserve and protect white womanhood.Black men were lynched, and so many of the times they werelynched is directly because they were accused of raping white womenor indirectly because they challenged white authority in a way thatwould move them closer to being a sexual threat to white men. [For example]opening up a store that competed with a white man that putthem in a position to earn more, which put them in a position to bemore attractive to white females.Q: So what role then would we as African American women playin that?A: Well, we were raped, of course, with impunity throughout slaveryand the post-Emancipation Proclamation Era. Until the Civil Rightsacts of 1964, it was always open season on black women. Our honorwas not taken seriously, which put black men in a position of alwaysfeeling ashamed that they couldn’t defend us unless they werewilling to pay with their lives. We were the loose and easy targets ofracialized sexualization, while white women were put on a pedastal,which made the comparison more stark and made white women moredesirable.Q: So many characters make up this beautiful story. Which characterdid you enjoy getting to know the most and why?A: Probably Lily. Lily is the one I expected least to empathize with. Isaw the real life husband and wife. The wife was responsible for accusingEmmett Till. Her name was Carolyn Bryant. I saw footage of thetrial of J.W. Milam and Mr. Bryant; they were half-brothers and theywere the men who killed Emmett Till. The part I saw was when theywere found innocent, and when the judge made the pronouncementthey (Carolyn and Roy Bryant) kissed. It was an erotic kiss to me.What I thought was that this was a woman who was proud, saying tothe world "I got a man who will kill for me." I wondered what was beneaththe surface with her. What makes any woman need to say to theworld "I got a man who will kill for me"? So when you go down a littledeeper you see the molestation, a childhood that is deprived of anything. . . there have been more Miss Americas (or at least that use tobe the case) from the state of Mississippi than any other state. Theyhave really raised their women to be beautiful ornaments for a verylong time. Here is a woman (Lily) who is damaged at an early age andthen is brought up in this society where women are second-class citizens,these butterflies in a cage. So that was Lily. Then she runs intothis black woman, Ida, who has a personal sense of independence, personalsense of soul, and she envies that because she realizes right awaythat she doesn’t have it.Q: As an African American female, I often slip into the mindset thatour problems, our blues, are a lot harder than those of white females.The title Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine suggest that someone feelshis or her life is harder than someone else’s. Whose "blues" is the titlereferring to?A: I meant for the title to be ironic because I feel sometimes our bluesare equally as hard as the other person’s. I certainly feel that ourblues are intertwined. In other words, Lily’s blues of being a subjugated,molested white baby girl directly feed into Armstrong Todd’sblues of being this murdered black boy which feeds into his mother’sblues which feeds into Clayton Pinochet’s blues of being a helplesswhite male. So it goes back and forth.Q: I have noticed that you have used an event in American historythat is the product of racial tension as the backdrop for at least twoof your books (Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, Brothers and Sisters).What did the writing of this book teach you about yourselfand did it effect or change your perspective on race in America?A: I think it taught me that my capacity to be generous to characterson a page is only an introduction to my capacity for healing and forgivenessin real life. And I still, as a human being, have a lot of work todo in that area.Q: At the end of the novel, the younger generation is seeking wisdomfrom the older generation. Family has always been important to theAfrican American community. Despite the chains of slavery and theinstitutionalization of racism, we somehow find a way to persevere byusing our sorrow as an inspirational tool to keep moving forward.Why end the book this way?A: Well, I wanted to end it with the realization that there is hard workthat still has to be done. The hard work of Wydell going on a twelve-stepprogram to shake his addiction. The hard work of his son W. T.moving away from delinquency and becoming a responsible adult.The responsibility of helping that young man shape his life wasWydell’s; the responsibility of putting the family back together [wasWydell’s]. So there is still a lot of work to be done. A lot of hope thatit could be done, because the tools were in place. W. T. poses thequestion to his father, Wydell, "What did you useta sing?" Well ifsinging a song was what got you right and got you through then dothat. "That" being symbolical of more than music but of religion,belief in a greater power, all those things. Do those things that willmake you whole. Attempt to do those things that will make youwhole.Janine Yvette Gardner is an editorial assistant for Black ExpressionsBook Club and an associate editor for Black Issues Book Reviewmagazine.
I was talking to a well read New York radio personality the other day, and she mentioned thatthis book is one of the classics of African American literature. I know that for many Bebe MooreCampbell fans, this is their favorite of her works. Whenever I hear of someone wanting to reada novel that’s just loads of fun but also a real work of literary merit, I recommend YOUR BLUES.That readio personality was absolutely correct.
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