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From the sureheaded playwright Lorraine Hansberry to genius Afroharpist Alice Coltrane, from lunch ladies who make monkey bread to grandmothers who fuss during commercial breaks, Black women are the supreme recipients of affection in these speakers’ lives. Sometimes the affection is broad—a seeing, a framing to preserve, it takes the form of insight. Other times it is a bit more complex—a curse word never uttered to the beloved’s face, pain lingering inside a shared experience of religion. Nikky Finney calls Lorraine Hansberry an “unforgettable insurgent, who always wanted to be in love,” and her speaker reads her while waiting “for an incapable lover to finally leave.” Jada Renée Allen honors that iconic line from Lucille Clifton, transforming it for her speaker's identity. E. Hughes’ speaker tries to understand her mother in perhaps the most expansive way—as a person and not just a parent, as a luminous young woman doing her best just before she enters an era of loss. These moments with our beloveds instruct and offer, as the scholar Kara Keeling writes, “time in which we can work to perceive something different or differently,” they bring us closest to what Hughes calls, “god’s
Hotbed 24You can’t prove it. Nobody can. Still I believe she never repeated herself. I have read her words while sitting down or standing up or flat on my back. I have leaned on pillows and read them over and over again and every time they sound different depending on the ache and altitude of my day and desire. I have stood under trees with her words and have sat on park benches with them too. I have read them while waiting for buses or trains or for an incapable lover to finally leave. There is something in her words for me every time. When I turned fifteen and the Off-Broadway traveling show To Be Young, Gifted and Black arrived in our small southern town, I listened carefully from the windowsill above the crowd. Later, in college, and even later than that, when I had even less money, I bought every spoken-word album that had ever been made with the high and low waves of her voice. I sat so close to my JBL speakers that I felt I had climbed inside the woofer with her hand in mine. And still, years later, after waiting and wanting to be first in line at the Brooklyn Museum to read her letters to The Lantern, I remember thinking that Lorraine Hansberry was always creating something new and never repeated herself. Her big booming South Side Chicago mind and Black diasporic radically determined heart only had thirty-four years of active duty. There was no time to repeat herself. But maybe I have been all wrong about this. Just this morning I think I have decided that maybe she did—maybe—repeat herself. Just once. Maybe in those pages that I read and reread at the Brooklyn Museum, where she reported that one of her favorite things was the insistent penetration of Autumn sunlight and then a little later in that other journal where she reported on that other favorite thing, the inside of a lovely woman’s mouth. Maybe Lorraine Hansberry, unforgettable insurgent, who always wanted to be in love, maybe just this one time she unknowingly, knowingly, possibly, perchance, perhaps (I know you didn’t mean to) repeated herself.