Thank You, Barbara Beckwith

I’ve been in tech hell all day. The computer decided to do its usual four-hour update/scan, and I’m having problems with Skype (story to follow). Now every web page takes so long to open I can finish half of War and Peace. Well, a bit of an exaggerations, but today is the perfect day to glom onto someone else’s words.

Barbara Beckwith, who campaigns against racism, sent me the following email after reading At Home Inside: A Daughter’s Tribute to Ann Petry.

Liz: “My mother did not want this book to exist,” That frank first sentence in your prologue to At Home Inside: A Daughter’s Tribute to Ann Petry tells a lot about your  book’s subject — and about you. Yes, your mother rejected biographers and others who wanted to about her, and wouldn’t write about herself, and yes, she destroyed her literary correspondence. But at least she left her journals behind, because they, along with your memories, have allowed you to tell the story of writer whose life deserves telling — and to share your own life as a writer’s daughter.

“I loved tunneling under the galley sheets” — as a writer, I can relate to your mother’s “creative clutter”– the papers piled on the floor, desk, chairs and tables. “I learned to read in self defense when I was about three” — I can see that your start as a reader and writer was driven by your desire to discover what as so fascinating about the books, magazines and newspapers that your parents spent more time with than with you. I’m glad that although your mother “vanished into the world created in her head” and often seemed emotionally distant to you, you still found yourself, in the process of writing this memoir,  “channeling my mother” and struggling “to separate her voice from mine.”

In my view, Ann Petry’s prize-winning novel, The Street, tells a story as profound as those by Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. It’s more significant to me (I am a white woman) because it tells “the other side of the story”  – a Black woman trying to make a living and a life for herself and her son in Harlem in the 1940s, when race and gender prejudice hemmed her in at every step.

I’ve since discovered that The Street was the first book by an African-American writer to sell a million copies. Let’s hope that your memoir will get people to re-read it or read it for the first time, and then to read Zora Neal Hurston, Paule Marshall, and Dorothy West, as well. And Liz: do save your journals.

Barbara Beckwith, Cambridge, MA

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2 Responses to “Thank You, Barbara Beckwith”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Raising a glass of wine to Barbara for her insightful comments! Raising a glass to Ann Petry for being a lone voice emerging from dark and violent times to educate us about the plight of her sisters. Raising a glass to Liz for telling us the story, in spite of her mother’s objections. The strength and courage of each of you is duly noted!

  2. lizr128 Says:

    Thanks, Betsy! Mom wouldn’t like the attention but she’d approve that her message continues to get through.

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