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Why I read the Training School for Negro Girls
I ran across this book online, and honestly the cover is what got my attention. That and the title…intentionally retro, I’m sure, and definitely provocative.
That is really what got me…that and the fact that one of my libraries had it available online, which as I write somewhere in the midst of the Coronavirus quarantine, is what has put a lot of books on The Lois Level recently.
Why you should read the Training School for Negro Girls
The Training School for Negro Girls goes down surprisingly easily, if that doesn’t sound too clichéd. Actually, I kept thinking that it was a Young Adult book, but it isn’t.
The book is organized into two sections, called “The Lower School” and “The Upper School”. The stories in the former are about girls, and the latter, adults.
The first story, WHO WE ARE is jarring. It’s about the obnoxious groups of teenagers that you see on public transportation, but these girls are Black. And they are deliberately trying to scare people. I didn’t “like” the story much…I suppose you aren’t meant to…and I wasn’t sure I was going to like a collection if that story was representative, but it isn’t. The characters in the rest of the book are nearly a world away, metaphorically speaking…the entire collection is set in Washington, DC.
Who We Are excerpt from LitHub. Listen to the song below for background music or an introduction….
Through these stories, readers are given a peek into the lives of a range of female characters who live in a city with a historically vibrant Black community and culture yet still deal with issues of race, femaleness, and of course, humanity.
There is more to DC than tourists and politics.
Note on the title: For many Americans, the phrase “training school” connotes an educational institution that caters to people who are not considered able to benefit from an “education”. “Training” is the most they can hope to accomplish. I have never heard this term associated with the schools that were only for Black people that we once had although I’m sure they existed. I remember it’s being used for developmentally impaired people, but for anyone the term is now outdated.
Many universities that have the term “agricultural” in their name were probably started to cater to Black Americans because a college to teach agriculture was less threatening to White Americans. Many of these universities retain the term “agricultural” in their names out of a sense of pride in their roots.
Camille Acker explains more about this concept and how she got this idea in the interview below.
In Conversation with Camille Acker from Lumina at Sarah Lawrence College
Who is Camille Acker?
Camille Acker is from Washington, DC. She holds degrees from Howard University and Mexico State University. This is her first short story collection.
If you love Michelle Obama (and who doesn’t?) read The Lois Level’s Loved Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”? Try these for great reads about real African-American women.
Stories We Really Liked:
“Cicada” is about what happens when your parents push you out of your world into one that isn’t quite your own. Your parents know what is expected in that world, and you do too, but still, those who “belong, belong” are going to try to pull you down at every turn. And then, what do you know, you turn out to fit in an unexpected way.
That’s what I got out of this story. Your take might be completely different…tell me what you think.
This story tells a truth about teaching: you have to be a grown up. In your mind. You have to know the difference between yourself, as the teacher, and the students. If you can’t do that, don’t teach. You are not helping the kids, no matter what you tell yourself.
Oh yeah, and what goes around comes around. If you are going to take advantage of a bad situation, as a student does in this story, the “underprivileged” card, or any card, is only going to get you so far.
“Mambo Sauce” is about reconnecting to your roots with food. Well, not really, but it does center on a Washington DC tradition: Mambo Sauce. Or Mumbo Sauce, depending on whom you ask.
This story does include one of the cattiest, meanest insults I think I’ve ever read, and it was directed by a character I like toward a character I don’t, particularly.
It’s one of those moments that none of us wants to admit we have or ever have had: when some insecurity or internal tension rears its ugly head, seemingly out of nowhere.
What I like about this story is that it’s about a character trying to sort out a complicated situation to understand who she really is and what she wants out of life. And there isn’t anywhere for her to place blame. No one to scapegoat so she can get out of making the choice. And it’s a good thing she can’t, because then she won’t be happy, but how do you figure out who you are when there is no apparent mold?
More by Camille Acker:
Baby Boom is one of the first movies that I owned (on VHS, gotten through a “get 13 for 1 cent” offer) when I got my first VCR right after college, in 1989. I still love this movie, and Acker aptly explains why.
Really, what in the heck does “having it all” mean anyway?
About the Cover Photo