My initial misgivings reared up on the first page, at the sight of the phonetically written passages of black dialect. It was unsettling to see—and therefore be conscious of—the editorial choice to print the maids’ voices in dialect. It seemed as though the snippy housewives of the novel weren’t the only ones diminishing the maids’ dignity; the book I was holding did, too.
I think the widespread ubiquity of these dangerous, capricious female figures has less to do with lust and mistaken sea creatures than with a stunning human capacity for metaphor. Water is necessary, urgent, everywhere; it gives rise to life.
My mother taught me to be open to art, not as something separate from life, but as itself alive and dynamic. She taught me that to be a reader was not simply a gateway to good marks but a portal to engaged citizenship in the world. These lessons I took with me through high school and college, but in graduate school I forgot.
Reverend King and Elvis and Mr. Crump are just our famous ghosts, the public phantoms we share. Like everyone else, Memphians have their own private ghosts. Mine is tall and skinny and bald and wears black glasses—the same ones that are back in style.
Entire islands dissolved. Old trees stuck in the river bottom shot up like gigantic spring-loaded spears. A twenty- to thirty-foot pulse of water pushed backwards up the river; ghost ships, their crews mysteriously missing, came floating back down.