Getting Mother’s Body

I’m going to be entirely honest here: this is the only Suzan-Lori Parks I’ve read, even though I enjoyed the hell out of this book and think you should pick up a copy immediately. It’s hard to put into words just how good the dialogue and narration truly is, so I’ll let Parks do it herself:

“Where my panties at?” I asks him.

Snipes don’t say nothing. He don’t like to talk when he’s in the middle of it.

“I think I lost my panties,” I says but Snipes ain’t hearing. He got his eyes closed, his mouth smiling, his face wet with sweat.

That’s how the book starts. And me, all of 20 years old at the time, could only read on in curious bafflement. I was in college, taking one of many literature courses. I was incredibly lucky to have an amazing professor–Dr. Elizabeth Preston at UW-Eau Claire–who went out of her way to teach incredible books and open our eyes to authors who weren’t all dead white guys. Suzan-Lori Parks was just one of many diverse voices I had the pleasure of being acquainted with. I still remember all the books we read because each one was so unique and amazing. Sherman Alexie. Sandra Cisneros. J.M Coetzee (OK, so one old white guy). Jane Hamilton.

There was a freedom in those classes, discussing each work and trying to apply different critiquing methods to each one. If I remember correctly (and I don’t know if I do, honestly!), I think we were simultaneously reading some short essays by Zora Neale Hurston. I remember being challenged by Getting Mother’s Body, feeling myself tripping over the dialect of the narration, getting frustrated sometimes because it took so long to read. I remember sitting in the library on the third floor in a comfy chair for hours on end, getting the reading assignments done. Most of all, I remember the enjoyment I got from taking this book slow, absorbing the dialect and empathizing with Billy Beade, the main character. Seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old pregnant black woman was an experience I never would have had in college without the dedication of such a fantastic literature professor.