| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Toni Cade Bambara
In a revealing essay called “Black English” (1972),
Toni Cade Bambara summarized those attitudes which by 1970 had become the
dramatic center of the fifteen stories included in her first short story
collection, Gorilla My Love (1972). One of those attitudes, that “language is
[as often] used to mis-inform, to mis-direct, to smoke out, to screen out, to
block out, to intimidate as it is to inform,” is one theme of the title story
of that collection; another, that “language certainly determines how we
perceive the world” (limiting or expanding it), is the thematic core of
“Playing with Punjab,” “Maggie of the Green Bottles,” and, especially, “My Man
Bovanne.” As superb a linguist as she was satirist, as splendid a storyteller
as she was cultural ecologist, and as crucial a thinker as she was intrepid
force for social transformation, Toni Cade, adopting the name Bambara, which
she discovered as a signature on a sketchbook in her great-grandmother’s trunk,
grew up like most of the narrators of her fiction, in an urban
neighborhood whose rituals shaped her critical imagination.
the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Queens, she
and her brother Walter (now a painter) cut through the pernicious urban miasma
which her fiction rigorously, often humorously, assails. Here in the “games,
chants, jingles” of her peers, in the eloquence of the Seventh Avenue street
speakers, in the elegance of the church-inspired club-inspired music of her
neighborhood, in the talk and humor at home, and in the “space” allowed her by
her parents, Walter and Helen (Henderson) Cade, who understood the necessity of
encouraging a child’s interior life, Toni Cade Bambara began to forge the
language characteristic of the folk-based music, poetry, and prose of African
American blues-jazz expressive modes. She completed a bachelor’s degree in
theater and literature from Queens College in 1959 and a master’s in modern
American literature from the City College of New York in 1963, studying,
subsequently, at the Commedia del’ Arte in Milan. She also studied filmmaking
is not surprising that during a period of tremendous political activism in
which she matured—the struggle for civil rights in America, the struggle for
the economic, political, and cultural empowerment of black Americans, an
international resistance of colonialism, a demand for political and cultural self-determination
in the Caribbean and on the continents of Africa and Asia, and a vigorous
protest against war and nuclear weaponry—many young African American
intellectuals, like Toni Cade Bambara, found a common cause. Still, her
personal voice continues to find its deepest resonance in the cadences of the
womanly themes of re-creation and renewal found in “My Man Bovanne,” the story
which opens Gorilla My Love. The pervasive melody harmonizing her work and
embracing the specific emphasis of recent African American women writers is the
theme of “a certain way of being in the world,” nowhere more fully
orchestrated than in her novel, The Salt Eaters (1980), and in her second
book of short stories, The Sea Birds Are Still Alive (1977).
Eleanor W. Traylor|
In the Heath Anthology
My Man Bovanne
"Black Theatre," Black Expressions: Essays by and about Black Americans in the Creative Arts
The Black Woman: An Anthology, edited, with contributions by Toni Cade
Tales and Stories for Black Folks, edited, with contributions by Toni Cade Bambara
Zora, WGBH (television script)
"Black English," Curriculum Approaches From a Black Perspective
"The Johnson Girls," Soul Show, NEA (television script)
Gorilla My Love
The Sea Birds are Still Alive: Collected Stories
The Salt Eaters
The Long Night, ABC (television script)
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Text of Bambara's short story.
In Praise of Toni Cade Bambara
A biography, a text of Praise to the Writer, and video files of Bambara performing a reading.
Perspectives in American Literature
Paul Reuben's site; offers a list of primary works and secondary resources.
Vigilance and Heart-Cling
An essay on Bambara by Toni Morrison.