Sometimes, I buy books just because I see them a lot. I try to visit different bookstores as much as I can, and when I do, there are some books that pop up in many or all of them.
Training School for Negro Girls is one of those books. I saw it in the curated display of several bookstores, and I finally picked it up and bought it last month. I didn’t really know anything about the book, didn’t even know that it was a collection of short stories…but I’d say it was worth the spontaneous buy.
As with most any collection of short stories, there were some I liked more than others. The opening story, Who We Are, reads almost like a ballad. The girls described in this story are girls I see everyday on the metro and streets of D.C. (where these stories are set, and where I also live). This story made me think about my own thoughts and internalize respectability politics when interacting with my people. Acker seems to borrow the flow of Gwendolyn Brooks as she breaks down the relationship that young (disillusioned?) girls have with each other and their surroundings in this short story.
The Ropes was another favorite. This story of a fifth-grade teacher who is from Southeast D.C. (but is she of Southeast DC?) reminded me of a few people I know. It reflects the kind of intracacies of racial politics and belonging that are typically lost on a non-Black person, unless they truly study and dissect the issues.
The titular story, Training School for Negro Girls, could be about quite a few of my Spelman sisters. Just sayin’. The social climbing, the embrace of Black (but not too Black) things, the blatant classism of Jack & Jill (I live for this shade!)…this story is something else. I laughed out loud more than a few times.
Honestly, though, I think Mambo Sauce was my favorite. First, Acker would be remiss if she didn’t mention DC’s signature sauce somewhere in this book. But more importantly, the back and forth cultural dialogue that the mere mention of Mambo sauce sparks is captured so neatly in this story, which also folds interracial love and gentrification into its pages. I can’t think of many short stories i have read that have more layers and more texture than this. There wasn’t a loose thread in it, despite its brevity.
An honorable mention goes to All the Things You’ll Never Do, as well. We have all encountered someone like this who is in a position of temporary power, but who lives a mostly powerless life. There are stories there, and this is one.
I do hope Acker writes a full length novel soon. I’d love to read it.