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#8. Mari Evans

One of the reasons I posed topless/nude on the back of my books is a
line from a poem by Mari Evans. It goes: "I am a Black Woman..Tall
as a Cypress...look on me and be renewed." I love the idea of Black
girls and all Blacks looking at my breasts and feeling "renewal" due
to the health, sheen and dark beauty of my bare breasts--an intensely
Africanized image that was, for thousands of years, the SYMBOL of our
shared cultural Africanness. Regardless of whether they "sexualize" my
image or not...they will STILL receive the renewal that a mother's bare
breasts signify. It is "the circle of life", a food source...and in traditional
Africanist thinking...bare breasts represent TRUTH and spiritual integrity.

Mari Evans's entire book of poems from the 1960's, however, touched me
very deeply. The book is called "I AM A BLACK WOMAN". I absolutely love
it...my own first poetry collection "NILE RIVER WOMAN" is quite frankly
an updated, Nilotic "remake" of Mari's book.  Sadly, I don't believe it's
possible to get Mari's genius classic today. Not sure. But Each and every time that I see images of "Black Breasts"....I immediately whisper in my mind: "Look on me and be renewed."

I actually met Esther Rolle in person. It was like meeting an Authentic
West African Queen. She was so humble, sweet, open, motherly..her
eyes KEEN with amazing intelligence and spirit. And, most of all, she
was just...breathtakingly beautiful to my Sudanese eyes. For many
years before I met her in person, I had watched her on the classic
television series "GOOD TIMES". She was my favorite character on
the show because of the fact that her "untampered blackness" so
comforted the "lost, displaced" African in me. You just didn't see
images of BLACK Black women in media, and because she played
such a realistically noble and victorious woman, I watched everything
she did...from her "Touched by an Angel" cameo to "Mighty Quinn"
...if Esther Rolle was in it, I watched it for her.

I wrote a poem about Esther Rolle once:

                               Click here / Esther Rolle Poem

**Thanks to all those sisters who made it so popular!  Esther is one
of my mothers.


Gloria Naylor was for many years...the only writer (well along with
James Baldwin) that could somewhat rival/compete with the brilliance
of Toni Morrison's liteary works in my mind. My favorite book by
Naylor is "LINDEN HILLS"...just breathtaking and amazing to me; the
layers and the soulfulness. She dealt truth out so elegantly. And of
course, there are her better known classics "Women of Brewster Place"
and "Bailey's Cafe"....More recently, her semi-autobiographical telling
of the NSA (National Security Administration) harrassing & mentally
torturing her in the very important book "1996".  She's a genius literary
voice and remains one of my mothers, a HUGE influence on the way that
I tell stories and write books.


11. GRACE JONES (Jamaica)

Like many Sudanese people---I found it so hard to believe that Grace
Jones is from Jamaica. To us, she looks like an authentic pure NUBIAN

Most Black Americans don't seem to know what the Nubian tribe
actually looks like (Nubians live only in Sudan)--but they don't look anything at all like Naomi Campbell, Beyonce, Alicia Keys or Rihanna.  "Authentic" Nubians (not Half Arab, but "real" Nubians) are amongst the Blackest people on earth and are made distinctive from other Charcoal Sudanese due to their Sharp, Angular facial features.  Look at Grace Jones, and you're looking at
what a "real" Nubian looks like.

And...as a child first coming to America, the image of Grace Jones was
remarkably important and comforting, because to me--she was SUDANESE;
a Nubian--and world famous; plus daring! Her artistry as a singer
also impacted me enormously. She's incredibly "underrated" by the Black
community...but she made some of the most inventive and infectious
Soul-Rock-Reggae hits of the 1970's-80's and she wasn't bad as an
actress and all around cultural icon...an AUTHENTIC Nubian-looking
sex goddess.  Grace is one of my mothers.

Nowhere, in my mind, is the image of all womanhood better
represented than in this classic photo of Grace Jones:


Well, what is there to say about Mother Maya? She is WISDOM and
integrity and timelessness. I also love that she's like me--she never
went to school; college. She started as a Stripper...an unwed single
mom. Even at one point became a "Pimp" to use her terminology.
But look at who and where she is today. She was enormously inspirational
and eye-opening to me.  Her poems "Phenomenal Woman" and "And
Still I Rise" are among her classics...but it's one book, "EVEN THE
STARS LOOK LONESOME" that remains extremely dear and integral
to my spirit. I love her for so much. She's everybody's mother!