Black Chameleon: Memory, Womanhood, and Myth (TLA District 8 Fall Conference)
In the literary tradition of Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, this debut memoir confronts both the challenges and joys of growing up Black and making your own truth.
Growing up as a Black girl in America, Deborah Mouton felt alienated from the stories she learned in class. She yearned for stories she felt connected to—true ones of course—but also fables and mythologies that could help explain both the world and her place in it. What she encountered was almost always written by white writers who prospered in a time when human beings were treated as chattel, such as the Greek and Roman myths, which felt as dusty and foreign as ancient ruins. When she sought myths written by Black authors, they were rooted too far in the past, a continent away.
Mouton writes, “The phrases of my mother and grandmother began to seem less colloquial and more tied to stories that had been lost along the way. . . . Mythmaking isn’t a lie. It is our moment to take the privilege of our own creativity to fill in the gaps that colonization has stolen from us. It is us choosing to write the tales that our children pull strength from. It is hijacking history for the ignorance in its closets. This, a truth that must start with the women.”
Mouton’s memoir is a song of praise and an elegy for Black womanhood. With a poet’s gift for lyricism and poignancy, Mouton reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a preacher and a harsh but loving mother, living in the world as a Black woman whose love is all too often coupled with danger, and finally learning to be a mother to another Black girl in America. Of the moment yet timeless, playful but incendiary, Mouton has staked out new territory in the memoir form.
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