The Listen Here! Short Story Reading Series rolls into its 8th week with readings at Manjares Fine Pastries, 838 Whalley Avenue (on West Rock Avenue), this Tuesday, April 27, 7 p.m. Our Theme?
“For Shame” Our Stories?
Antonya Nelson’s “Control Group” and Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson”
We didn't know so much about Antonya Nelson, but we should have. Nelson is a short story writer and novelist, and chair of creative writing at the University of Houston. , and has the laurels to prove it. This story was brought to our attention by one of our assistant editors, who knew it from a classroom assignment while she was attending Southern Connecticut State University. “Control Group” nicely renders the confusions of childhood and the striving for acceptance—the ethical compromises we make for that acceptance—every child seeks. Like any tale of shame that involves children, it deftly illustrates the pains to which adults go—and the missteps they may make—in trying to break the young of the habits of a "flexible" morality that in the end only serves to break them in an adult world.
In “The Lesson,” by Toni Cade Bambara, one of our favorite writers, that breaking is vividly rendered in the protagonist’s tale of a visit to a toy store. This story is told in the voice of a child whose own selfishness and cruelty have been clearly shaped by poverty and racism. And, yet, Bambara is utterly merciless in her refusal to permit these twin demons to justify her protagonist's unexamined insolence. The narrator’s creeping realization that there are possibilities of liberation beyond her “acting out” the stereotypes that circumstance has foisted upon her is what makes “The Lesson” a classic tale of the African-American experience.