LaShonda K. Barnett
Writer, Ph.D. Candidate
Kansas City-native LaShonda K.
Barnett identifies as a writer and scholar. LaShonda grew up in
Park Forest, Illinois, where she discovered an affinity for
writing, reading, and foreign languages at an early age. Her
writings have appeared in numerous anthologies. In October of
1999, her first book Callaloo & Other Lesbian Love Tales
was published by New Victoria Press. She is currently at
work on her first novel entitled JAM! She has taught
Women's Literature and African American Literature at the
University of Richmond and Hampton University in Virginia.
LaShonda holds a B.A. in English Literature
and Language Studies from the
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI and an M.A. in Women's History from
SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE. An
SREB doctoral scholar in the
American Studies Program at the
College of William and Mary, her fields of specialization
include: African American Literature, African American History,
African American Performance Studies (specifically 'Jazz
Studies') and U.S. Women's History. Her dissertation is
tentatively titled: "'I Got Thunder (And It Rings)':
Afrodiasporic 'Voicing' in the Music of Abbey Lincoln, Cassandra
Wilson and Nina Simone."
LaShonda currently lives in Manhattan with her
When not writing or researching she explores the world's
Published in Celebrate! Key West.
January 7, 2000
Are you all ready? I'm about to start the new millennium by
saying the unsayable. Maybe I shouldn't, but I've been thinking
the unthinkable for a long time, and the beginning of the third
thousand years is as good a time as any to "fess up."
A new genre of writing has evolved over these past couple of
decades-- lesbian literature-- and the majority of it just isn't
all that good.
Are the lynch mobs en route yet? Soon? Well, it's darn
politically incorrect, I know, but it really is true. As
feminists, we encouraged every woman to know that her story is
worth telling. And cheered her on when she told it. And I agree
totally with that concept. Every woman has something important
and meaningful and real to say, and every woman deserves the
opportunity to say it. And women can and ought to learn by
listening to each others' stories.
But that's feminist psychology and feminist politics. Literary
standards are ultimately a thing apart from politics or
psychology; and when it comes to writing really good literature,
few of the popular lesbian authors today make the mark.
That's not to say, mind you, that their books aren't worth
reading. They are. Very much so. But their value comes from the
fact that the characters are lesbians, the situations are ones
with which lesbians are familiar, the problems, the
relationships are our own. That makes for interesting reading,
but not necessarily great literature.
The reason for my own personal courage in admitting this now is
that I recently stumbled upon a new lesbian author whose writing
did cause my literary antenna to stand up and start buzzing.
LaShonda K. Barnett, a 25 year-old graduate student at The
College of William & Mary in Virginia, has real promise. If her
first book, Callaloo, published by New Victoria Press, is any
indication of her talent, LaShonda is one writer we need to keep
our eyes on.
Callaloo & Other Lesbian Love Tales is an enchanting collection
of 17 short pieces written "...with the sole purpose of giving a
voice to the women we rarely hear," says the author, "...let
alone read about: like older, rural black lesbians, women with
health challenges, women whose daily lives meet the task of
coping with a grief that could consume even the strongest." If
that was LaShonda Barnett's objective, she succeeded admirably.
"Rituals," one my favorites, begins with Nella leaning
back "...in her second-hand rocking chair as she wiped sweat
from her brow with the back of her wrinkled black hand.
"Muriel, Nella's friend, sat on the same porch in a
relatively new wicker chair with bright floral pillows neatly
placed behind her small back." Can you see them? I could and
was immediately drawn into sharing a moment of their life
together. Barnett goes on to tell us "Both women were old. Both
women had been young once and in love with each other. Their
youth escaped them-- their love had not."
LaShonda, a native of Kansas City, grew up in Park Forest,
Illinois. She began writing as a child and "...was initially
drawn to writing because it was a way for me to construct
another reality. After I came out, " LaShonda continues, "I
had a difficult time finding lesbian literature that reflected
experiences like my own. It was not long before I began writing
the stories I was in search of."
Each of the vignettes included in this collection reflects a
small slice of life. Each is told from the view point of a
unique lesbian character. Yet each appeals to, and holds meaning
for, people of every shape, size, age, color, or condition.
LaShonda states that she "...is hopeful that my book reaches
a wide audience-- not just gays and lesbians. After all, our
experiences, our lifestyles are not different except when viewed
through the eyes of bigotry."
Callaloo n. (1) A leafy caribbean vegetable.
(2) The word has come to be used in everyday Creole talk to
denote the bringing together or a mixture - of food, of
language, of people, or of culture.
New Victoria Publishers, Norwich VT 05055
"I wanted to stay lost in the power, the beauty, the adventure,
the sensual journey of mighty woman love that LaShonda Barnett
has created with these stories. This book is a visceral glimpse
of Black Lesbian lives/a remembering and celebration that we've
long waited for!"
Sharon Bridgforth, author, the bull-jean stories (Redbone Press,
"LaShonda K. Barnett has gifts to give us-- sensual, historical,
loving. Callaloo, her first book, is the start of a wonderful
journey of telling."
Joan Nestle, author, Other Countries
Cover Art by Brenda Michelle Morris