Book Review: Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South
Publication Date: Apr 15, 2003
List Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
Imprint: Beacon Press
Publisher: Beacon Press
Parent Company: Unitarian Universalist Association
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Book Reviewed by Thumper
Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South, is a collection of
essays by Trudier Harris, based on her memories, observations and opinions that
came from being born, raised and reared as a Black woman in the South. Written
with elegance and grace, Summer Snow is an open love letter to her Alabama home,
perfumed with bittersweet recollections and a lingering love that is still
evident despite the passage of time. I draped Harris’s words around me like a
warm fuzzy blanket on a cold wintry day and snuggled in. I loved it.
Summer Snow is comprised of 17 essays, each shining like a brand new penny. A lack of space prevents me from professing my love for all 17 essays. Limiting me to focus on a few of my favorites. The first essay, My Mother’s Creation, is wonderful. Black Nerds, Cotton-Pickin’ Authority, and Porch Sitting as a Creative Southern Tradition all exhibit Harris’ keen observations, where she holds a mirror on the black community, and focuses on the overlooked, yet in-plain-sight aspects of life. The writing style, subject matter, perspective, indeed, every component of Summer Snow combines to form a nugget of mouth watering literary candy. And Lawd knows, I gots a sweet tooth!
It was while reading My Mother’s Creation that I knew I was in for a treat. The story reminded me of one of the opening lines in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield:
"To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I am born’"
My Mother’s Creation is the beginning of Harris’ life in the South, telling the story of how her mother decided to name her Trudier, even before the she was born. The piece also served as my introduction to Harris’ writing style, which is compellingly infused with the humor and the charm of a natural storyteller.
Black Nerds discusses how some folks in the black community tend to treat and regard individuals who have excelled in academia or other intellectual fields. The pursuit of education is fine if it is directed toward the pursuit of better, higher paying employment. But, if the yearning for higher education is for the sake of more knowledge, this goal is often misunderstood. The treatment black nerds receive from community and family differs radically from the favorable regard directed toward a black All-State basketball player. I have seen it with my own eyes, and got the scars to prove it. I can testify that Harris ain’t conjuring up no tales with Black Nerds. I felt personally validated and glad to know that I’m not the only one.
Cotton-Pickin’ Authority is another dead-on observation that is expressed with a good deal of humor and accuracy. The basis for this essay is how folks who once picked cotton at sometime in their lives, use this memory as a yard stick to compare against a person’s painful experiences. The complainer should be grateful that they don’t have to pick cotton. "Boy, you thank that football practice was hard? You ought to be glad you didn’t have to pick cotton like I did", so said my father—who was born and raised in Georgia. That cotton pickin’ yardstick can also be used to whack an ungrateful child or person over the head in order to elicit the proper amount of guilt and obedience, because the cotton picker had to pick that cotton so the ingrate could eat/sleep/have a roof over his/her head. Harris hit the nail on the head with this one. While I was reading this, all I could do was laugh, nod my head and "Amen" Harris’ assessments.
Porch-Sitting as a Creative Southern Tradition had me longing for those summer and fall nights when I would sit with my grandmother and aunt on my grandmother’s front porch. Harris remembers and longs for the social interactions that came from folks sitting and youngsters playing, on front porches up and down the street. While I was not born or raised in the South, my parents and grandparents were. Believe me, I know all about the social significance of the front porch and porch sitting. Memories of spending rainy summer days, or orange-red fall evenings on my grandmother’s porch came flooding back—even having to get an old broom that was no longer fit to sweep the kitchen floor, a pail of water, and Cheer detergent to clean my grandmother’s porch. *LOL* Those ol’ days really were good.
Not all of Harris’s compositions are intended to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings. Harris made strong, powerful, thought-provoking statements on the racism and sexism of the South in essays: Dental Charity; "Would you go out with a white boy for five dollars", The Staying Power of Racism. Harris continues to write with the same graceful, lyrical, eloquent voice that generates fond and loving memories — but add to this the force of a speeding, out of control locomotive. I can think of no better testament Harris’ writing mastery than this.
My favorite essay, in the entire collection, is The Overweight Angel, which reads like a short story. Harris now shifts gear from observer to storyteller. Aun Sis, along with her niece, Cut’n Coot (what a name!) are the neighborhood gossips, with a hurtful, vindictive bent. One day, hateful Aun Sis meets her match in a teenage girl named Sary. I adored this piece and was completely mesmerized by it. If Zora Neale Hurston and Mark Twain ever had a daughter, her name would have to be Trudier Harris.
I can go on and on, in my praise of Summer Snow. I had not read any of Trudier Harris’ books nor had I heard her name before I picked up Summer Snow. But believe me, I won’t ever forget it. Summer Snow is a gem. If the stars are in correct alignment, Summer Snow is destined to become a classic.