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June 27, 2005

Cosmic Justice for Terri McMillan

Back in the early 90s when I was singlehandedly trying to engineer a black writers collective in NYC, the bane of my existence was Terri McMillan. Fresh from the Multicultural Wars, I and others like me were trying to explain to the world that there was more to black literature than Baldwin and Wright. For a quick moment, it looked like there might be a new flourish of creativity at a deep, black level. But..

But 'Terri McWriter' as we derisively called her, was sucking up all the oxygen in the black literary movement, and it wasn't helping that all the poetry slams in the world were getting covered most by MTV. Gangsta Rap was going bigtime and soon it became clear that highbrow black literature was most definitely going to take a back seat in the new world of black cultural production. I can't tell you how we used to whine and moan down at Nkiru Books in Brooklyn.

To add insult to injury, McMillan was blockin' a brother bigtime. All of her sorry-excuse-for-a-man characters became the new stereotype, adding to Gloria Naylor's Brewster Place complaints and the rest that old nonsense. (It's been a long time since I was single so I don't hold a grudge, but dayum!)

McMillan made McMillions on the backs of us non-dysfunctional brothers very much the same way Jerry Springer did. So there was some comfort in not having to take her seriously even though, if a white woman had written the same things, her head would be on a pike. You would think that the non-dysfunctionals would benefit, but in the end all she did was lower women's standards by showing them literary love despite their trifling men. Hmm. Maybe these wounds are getting fresher by the moment. At any rate, by the time Stella and her infamous Groove made the big screen, I had totally dismissed McMillan and paid her work no mind.

Isn't it rather funny to hear that was all based on a true story? And who's to blame? McMillan of course, for believing her own hype and that of her sob-sister readership, by saying there are no good black men out there. But it gets worse.

There's nothing much to do but suck your teeth and roll your eyes. Poor Terri. A victim of low expectations.

Posted by mbowen at June 27, 2005 07:08 PM

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Harsh but I understand how you feel, she did some serious damage to male female relationship.

Once you are married you forget how fucked up things are out there.

Posted by: Scott at June 28, 2005 08:39 AM

The single scene is unbelievably bad - and bearing that in mind, I can understand how McMillan would have come to terms with the may/decmber relationship and opened her heart to the possibility that this "kid" truly loved her - I understand your feelings in regards to the business of writing - but you skipped the heart of writing - the human experience and the broken heart :(

Posted by: darion at June 30, 2005 11:59 AM

Interesting how you feel that Terri McMillan is the cause of much damage to the male/female relationship, as opposed to folks (male OR female) who mess up in relationships. How is writing about these types of people more the problem than the actual perpetrators and offenders? It sounds like you felt that Terri owed you something and now you are reveling in her being dogged by a user as if it was her fault for not being clairvoyant and not seeing through his deceipt. One of her stories was based on her own life; the others were based on the realities of male/female relationships. If that was blocking game, one would wonder what you were doing for anyone to connect you to the type.

Posted by: T. jaye at July 5, 2005 12:27 PM

Well I look at this rather the same way some folks look at the Memin Penquin question. In the universe of symbols (and all novels and storytelling are symbolic) why would you pick one that's a bad stereotype?

It was a personal problem only the extent that I would expect women (and men) I socialize with to have higher standards, and it was surprising and disappointing to see how many shared McMillan's low standards. And yet as a representative of the new black literary scene, she was the star.

Terri McMillan is to books at BET is to TV. It's all real, but we do get to choose our reality.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 5, 2005 01:48 PM

Terri McMillan is a very nice lady. I met her during the '80's when the now-defunct Langston Hughes Society in Atlanta brought her here for a reading and autographing of her first book, MAMA. We had an informal dinner at my house afterwards and I'll always remember how she was amused--and not a little shocked--by some of my irreverent comments as she became fully engaged in looking at the photographs in albums on my coffee table. "I love looking at pictures," she said. And that she can so deftly describe a picture of life, connecting the images in ways that make us mat and frame them for hanging in our psyches makes her who she is--a very successful writer.

Posted by: Lydia Walker at July 13, 2005 09:18 AM