Episode 11: "Night Song"
Okay, we know it's out of our time period but we couldn't do black romances without reading a Beverly Jenkins book:
Night Song by Beverly Jenkins - this is the first book by the First Lady of African American Romance, from 1994. Cara is a schoolmarm. Chase is a Buffalo Soldier. They do it. A lot. All over the house, y'all. All over the house. Also there are some murders.
There is no sexual assault in the present of this book; however, several characters tell the traumatic stories of their pasts under slavery and one does include rape. There's also a romance novel-y rape threat by the villain but it doesn't actually happen, and an equally romance novel-y miscarriage (no vivid details.)
For once, I really love the later edition cover (the banner above is taken from that one) - it's very romantic, like I don't dig the word "sultry" but when something is sultry you gotta call it sultry... but y'all, Chase's mustache is practically a character in this book and I don't see no mustache in that cover. So for that reason I've got to still give it to the original cover even though it's kind of "okay and on the downbeat I'll go left and you'll go right and I'll catch you and... oof you have to help!" Because, mustache.
Also, Ms. Jenkins would surely like me to point out that she has a brand new book coming out in May and you can pre-order it now: Rebel, the first book in her new Women Who Dare series. I like that because it sounds like a very wholesome set of books you would buy a niece, but in fact I bet these Women Who Dare dare to a) be amazing and independent and smart and resourceful and b) get it on a buckboard. Which I am 100% here for.
How Many Degrees From Kevin Bacon Is This?
Y'all, Beverly Jenkins ACTUALLY RESPONDED to a request from Courtney to share a few books that meant a lot to her or made an impact on her writing. We were totally terrified because she does not suffer fools and I don't want to get dog walked by a brilliant and powerful woman on Twitter, but she was super generous with her time and mentioned a few books we could feature. In her words: "Those old books were so rapey and lacked consent. Looking back they had so many issues, so not going to recommend those. Romance has changed for the better in the past ten years." She suggested these as good examples of vintage books that she enjoyed:
The Gift Shop by Charlotte Armstrong
"Until that fateful moment when the stranger appeared at her counter at the airport gift shop and slipped some-thing into one of the toy banks, Jean Cunliffe's young life was remarkably uneventful.
That same stranger was later found stabbed to death in a nearby phone booth, and Jean was taken for the wildest, most chilling ride of her life --a roller coaster nightmare of a ride with Death as the conductor."
Evidently this is really about a naked dude who lives in a piggy bank. Wait, maybe those are pants? Maybe it's a jumpsuit. Available on Kindle or widely available used
(If you read this post earlier, we had a different book here - Ms. Jenkins corrected us and I replaced it with the right one.)
"When Lucy Waring's sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, young English Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. She believes there is no finer place to be "at liberty" than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare's The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.
But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected - but all surrounded in mystery - throws Lucy's life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death - as well as romance - supplant the former tranquility. Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide... And without warning, she found she had stumbled into a nightmare of strange violence, stalked by shadows of terror and sudden death."
In print on Kindle and in paperback, and common used.
Cash McCall by Cameron Hawley
"This is Cameron Hawley's revealing novel of business and the associated worlds of law and finance. Cash McCall is a vastly intriguing man, a 20th century adventurer who carries on his successful buying and selling of companies behind a suspiciously secret screen of anonymity.
But this is more than a novel of high finance. It is no less an eloquent love story, a discerning journey into the hearts and minds of business wives. Above all else, Cash McCall is an intelligent commentary on the morals and motives of our time."
This is out of print and only available used, not as super-cheap as most of these but evidently pretty common.
Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
"LOVE IN A STRANGER'S EYES...
In town, they called her "Crazy Widow Dinsmore." But Elly was no stranger to their ridicule--she had been an outsider all her life, growing up in a boarded-up old house under the strict eye of her eccentric grandparents. Now she was all alone, with two little boys to raise, and a third child on the way.
He drifted into Whitney, Georgia, one lazy afternoon in the summer of 1941, hoping to put his lonely past behind him. He yearned for the tenderness he had never known, the home he'd never had. All he needed was for someone to give him a chance.
Then he saw her classified ad: WANTED--A husband. When he stepped across Elly Dinsmore's cluttered yard, Will Parker knew he had come home at last ..."
WANTED -- A HUSBAND. Y'ALL. I am so here for that. This one is actually available on Kindle or in print as a paperback, and commonly available used. (Is the modern cover boring? What do you think?!)
And Elizabeth Cadell - again, this is the most popular on Goodreads:
The Corner Shop by Elizabeth Cadell
"Tomorrow Lucille Abbey was supposed to be in romantic Paris with the handsome, correct London stockbroker who had asked her to be his wife. But at the last moment she had to fly to the huge country home of Professor Hallam to straighten out a tangled business problem.
By the time she got to Paris, the Professor's strange life had changed her own, and the romantic trip with her fiance turned into a nightmare of intrigue and suspense. Love was around the strange and shadowy corner in the dusty Paris quarter, too."
Available on Kindle or common used.
We are definitely going to do at least one of these in the future. Thank you, Ms. Jenkins - we are absolutely thrilled that you took the time to respond to us. You're the most famous person who has noticed us!
Kansas and the Exodus Movement
A really great aspect of this book (and a lot of Jenkins' work) is its focus on the Reconstruction era, which has always been undertaught and poorly understood by a lot of Americans, especially people like me who grew up in the South on Gone With the Wind and other books that had an agenda we didn't understand when we read them as children. Night Song is set in Kansas, in a new town populated by "Exodusters", African Americans who moved west into Kansas in the late 19th century seeking opportunities. As many as 40,000 Exodusters settled in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado, but I never learned about them in school. Did you? Tell us about it!
This is definitely the most historically accurate book we have read (not that that's a high bar) - it has a bibliography, and you know we love a bibliography. I've gathered some more materials here about the Exodus movement and African American westward expansion that I think are pretty interesting.
Kansas Memory - the Kansas Historical Society has a site with a ton of Kansas-related primary source material. There isn't a specific search on the sidebar about this movement, but there is one on Immigration and Settlement and on African Americans, and there is some absolutely fantastic stuff in there. You'll especially enjoy material on Nicodemus, the real life town mentioned as a nearby settlement in Night Song, and on the Buffalo Soldiers. If you're a teacher, the item information includes curriculum notes, so you're welcome.
Kansapedia with some good information.
Here's a good article from Prologue, the National Archives magazine, using sources surrounding the Exodus Movement as an example of ways to winnow genealogical information from records. It also discusses the Senate investigation of the movement.
The Library of Congress highlights some primary sources on African American westward migration in general and Nicodemus in particular. Here's a picture of the real first postmistress and schoolteacher in Nicodemus, Jenny Smith Fletcher. Who probably never got it on on a buckboard, but hey - you never know!
There's a Nicodemus National Historic Site - the National Park Service's website has some good information in their "Learn About the Park" section, but I really want to direct your attention to the links in their index and to their videos and photos because there's some great stuff in there. The Emancipation Celebration you see in Night Song has been celebrated there every year since 1878 and you can totally go!
The University of South Florida has done an oral history project with the National Historic Site to gather stories from residents about their families and community. You can watch videos of them at that link.
I'm going to put out a whole post by itself on other romances written by authors of color, because there is so much great stuff and I don't want you guys to miss it!