Redbone: A Biomythography is a masterpiece of personal narrative mixed with strikingly dynamic storytelling through poetry. One of the things that struck me most about this book of poems by Mahogany L. Browne is how intimate it felt. Her writing has a way of sitting you down and demanding you to get comfortable. Although I live in Atlanta, I felt like I was reading this book in her Brooklyn living room with a cup of coffee and the sound of traffic sweeping thru a cracked window. I thought I was sitting down to read a bunch of poems, but as cliche as it may sound, you don’t really read this book– you experience it. You live inside of it, and it lives inside of you. It makes you think about your own family, it provokes questions about how you came to be that you may have never considered. After reading this book of poems I actually called my mother and asked about my own grandmother. I explored my genealogy in a way — from a lens that I never had. That right there is what good literature is, what a powerful narrative should be.
At times Redbone is a window, it ask you to sit and be a witness. At other times it is a wide open door, it invites you to sit Indian style inside of it as you to inhale the love and damage – the survival and carnage.
One of my favorite things about this body of work is how Mahogany defines and redefines ideas I thought I knew to be true. We explore what it means to be a victim. We explore what it means to be a black women carrying all of this world on her shoulders. The way she brings you into the struggle of a woman who has experienced so much: which makes her strong, tough, and a force within her own right. Yet, she renders abuse in attempts to be love. The protagonist Redbone reveals our humanity in what she accepts and encourages readers to explore their own truths, how hard lines switch between black-and-white to shades of grey.
It is the humanity in the words, the complexity in the story, the complexity of love and the psychology of victimization. It is the non-stigmatizing of addiction, the familiar side of it. It is both what the family was doing to itself, and what the nation was doing to the black family. It is layered, and rich, and human. Redbone is a woman, a black woman living in her blackness, she is not here for your pretty box of what a black woman should be, or what black women were. She exists in her own multiplicity, her story is hers written through the lens of her daughter and offered up to us as a bullet through the definition of what blackness or womanhood should be. It shoots through the stories offered to us from the mainstream, stories that has been defined by non-black women writers and producers that have largely locked black women out of telling their own stories.
The main character manages to be strong and soft, a victim and the author of her own fate, calloused but yet still in love and wanting to be loved. You are taken to a time when people made the best of what they were given, and much wasn’t given. You are able to see the good in the bad, and the bad in the good in a time where being black and alive was a struggle in and of itself.
If I had to say the thing I loved most about Redbone it would be the journey it takes you on. You know the dynamic that happens when you are reading a really good book and you have to put it down, but the characters stay with you? The story stays with you. You might be doing the dishes or feeding your kids and you can’t stop thinking about the story you are reading, the characters that are developing. Redbone is one of the few books of poetry that I have read that contains that dynamic. While I was at work I found myself wondering about Betty Sez’s life, wondering what events in her life molded her slick tongue. I thought alot about Grandma Coco and how religion molded so many black families, how much that identity matters to our larger collective story. I wondered about Bam, wondered if we would find out what made him violent wondered where his character would go as the book progressed on. I found myself thinking about the big house, about Alcatraz. I wondered if the house would smell like my grandmothers, If Bam’s hands were my grandfathers hands.
Often times when I write a book review I pull out some of the best parts from some of the best poems to really showcase the writer’s strength. This was almost impossible with Redbone. Every word builds on the one before it, every poem is important and necessary, every stanza is made of steel. The writing found in Redbone is gorgeous and I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy as this is a must have for any fan of writing, poetry, or just good story.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Mahogany Browne to talk about her new book:
MS – So Redbone is a story about your family, centered around your mother, why was it important for you as a writer to share these stories?
MB- It is important to me to share the stories of my family, because we have a clear understanding of what happens when you allow others to retell your history. A lot of the sauce is lost in translation and sometimes — it’s just revisionist as hell. So if not me, then who? And if several of “me’s” then we have an entire picture being painted. I am only speaking from my perspective — there are at least 30 other people that remember the story…A different lens and vantage point can offer a vivid (and maybe) slightly different story of the same moment.
MS – Redbone is a BioMythography explain to our readers exactly what that is, and why you took that approach?
MB – Ted Warburton defined “biomythography” as the act of “weaving together myth, history and biography in epic narrative form that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.” This was a definition of the term created by Audre Lorde in her book from 1982 Zami. And if we consider Audre Lorde and her sense of urgency to tell the thing to a world that refuses blackness and variations of womanness, then we should very well be ready for the type of revolution that will destroy the machine that gathers black people into a fist of silence. The machine that perpetuates only images of hypersexualized and bitter black women. When that machine is only a pile of ashes, we can learn black women (like all women) have layers. We are sexual beings. We are mothers. We are sisters. We pop shit in the hair salon. And pick women up from the floor of heartache. We love hard. And laugh hard. And drink liquor. And go to church. And prayer. And are prayer.
And sometimes, we are silent. And sometimes we are laughing. We are loud and unafraid of all our roundness and all our wombs vibrate like a chant of yes. Redbone is only one offering to the myriad of black women. I am prepared to speak for myself.
MS- What was the hardest part about writing Redbone?
MB – This story is about my mother so there is plenty of unpacking to do. My mother who fell to addiction after surviving domestic violence and after bouts of depression was my first lesson in how women break. It was a real lesson on what (and in my case who) gets left behind. I still have a hard time reading the poems in public. Because the truth is hard to hear. And those feelings, while in the air make it easier to understand who I am and how I became this fractured rib cage.
MS – In terms of the writing process for this book, did you have a special time to write? A special Process? how is your writing structured?
MB -I interviewed folks in my family. I kept it under wraps for several years. I thought they would keep it PG if I told them I was writing about it. I never knew it would turn into a book. I was just intrigued to hear the stories of how I got here. Like most of us must be. The difference is — I couldn’t sleep without typing out the stories. And then the stories turned to poems. And then it was 50 different stories. Sometimes, the same story revisited. And it was scary. I felt like a snitch. I sent the manuscript to several writing gurus for their eyes and honest opinions. And they returned it to me with edits and a resounding “YES” with different publishers to submit to. I also recorded most of the poems and made the first component available to the public an audio/visual offering of the Redbone manuscript into a poetry music and dance production. And this act propelled the necessity of the manuscript into orbit. It blew my mind how many people flooded the venues to hear Redbone: A Biomythography.
MS – What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
MB – Read everything. Write until it hurts. Write until you are afraid. Until you reach the fear. Until you walk through it. And write some more. Read everything. Experience life. Workshop with people that you trust. And workshop with people whom you do not know but could learn to trust. Sometimes this is harder than it seems. But even the person you dislike and distrust has a view that can spin your work on its head. Consider everything a work in progress. Be afraid of nothing. You were meant to be here.
To Find out more about Mahogany Browne visit her website below: