Toni Cade Bambara, the scholar

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This book. Is. Absolutely. Brilliant.

“The Salt Eaters” is one of those books that took me years to read. For some reason, I always seemed to begin to read it and after the first few pages I had to put it down. Part because I couldn’t grasp the concept of what was going on and because I had too much going on in my life. See, this book demands you be abandoned when you read it. After finally reading the book, I realized it was difficult to read because it was personal. It felt like a conversation I would have with my girlfriends. It was “an older book” that was still relevant. It gave me the feel of a Zora Neale Hurston book or Toni Morrison. It is time bending and revolutionary.

I was introduced to Bambara around the time I began to consume myself with literature from black women. The summer going in to my sophomore year of undergraduate school when I sat on the library floor and found Sanchez, Shange, Giovanni, Walker, Brooks, Jordan, Clifton to name a few. I was a theatre student, who also loved poetry, scouring for material to perform and interpret for auditions and competitions. Bambara was one of the names that kept coming up so I kept her on my list of authors that “changed the game”.

Those who know me know that I am a thrift store book shopper. I never buy used books for over $3.00 and one day (years ago) I came across this book:

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Of course what attracted me was the cover, but inside were essays by all the women I had been self educating myself about. This book was Bambara’s first book, The Black Woman: An Anthology, in which African American women of different ages and classes voiced issues not addressed by the civil rights and women’s movements. I realized I needed to pick up a Bambara book and get to know her creatively. When I asked around what book to read first, everyone said “The Salt Eaters”. I remember trying to start this book for like two weeks until I justified with myself that this book was like “Meridian” by Alice Walker and “Song of Soloman” by Toni Morrison… I just didn’t get it. I put Bambara down and would come back to her a few times after that and could not get in to it. But when I did, it was a “game changer” for me!

Her novel “The Salt Eaters” centers on a healing event that coincides with a community festival in a fictional city of Claybourne, Georgia. In the novel, minor characters use a blend of modern medical techniques alongside traditional folk medicines and remedies to help the central character, Velma, heal after a suicide attempt. Through the struggle of Velma and the other characters surrounding her, Bambara chronicles the deep psychological toll that African-American political and community organizers can suffer, especially women. This material and subject matter was simply not being published. A brilliant and wise story!

Fast forward years later to 2018 and I sit in one of my grad school classes and on the book list is Bambara’s “The Black Woman”. All in time… all in time things will make sense and connect themselves. I am sitting in a setting where Bambara is being discussed as a scholar, black feminist and a creative. The most important thing, neither one was considered more important than the other. In my studies of Africana Womens Studies, interrupting the duality of women’s scholarship is a language encouraged for others to perceive and understand that black women scholars are shift makers and are both.

Today I honor Toni Cade Bambara on her birthday! Do yourself a favor, make sure you have these titles in your personal library:

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