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Lorene Cary

April 22, 2011

Read the Full Essay

This week, Lorene Cary released her third novel " If Sons, Then Heirs." As in all her writings Cary brings together a combination of personal experience, historic relevance, complex weavings of African America family life, heritage and redemption. Carey is also a cultural activist, a professor and a mother. She founded the Art Sanctuary 13 years ago and it has become an important point of convergence of African American cultural expressions in the region. In this essay recorded in 2009, Lorene Cary explores how it all started.




I believe in connection. 'Only connect!" E.M. Foster wrote. "That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted and human love will be seen at its height..."


I found connection first in my childhood full of ferocious love relationships and asthma. All of this felt like too much. Sometimes when the asthma got bad we rushed to the hospital. I felt as if my nose and mouth were connected to my lungs by one of the whistling cocktail straws in nana's cupboards.


With asthma, the harder I tried to pull air, the harder it was to exhale. I remember making the decision a couple of times, to stop trying. I knew that not trying to breathe would disconnect me from the life I know and people I loved. But sometimes I let go anyway. It felt as if someone had opened the back door to our apartment and a group of people were on the other side of the screen as if it were a barbeque in the dark with grownups I didn't know, talking quietly as if not to wake me. I could see the latch still connected, under the knob.


Truth to tell, sometimes human, social input was more than I could take in , so learning to read was a great relief. I loved the slow interiority of it. Connection at elbow length, and the confirmation, as theologian Martin Buber writes that "the world is not presented to man in experience alone." reading let me connect to the divine through people alive and dead.


At 13, I met Caesar marching north through Mrs. Tignot's Latin class: Omnia Gallia in tres partes est, and the language became a transparent narrative of Rome's perfect domination. I read Baldwin in the library and felt the double-testosterone tick of men in love. I found Mein Kampf in the library, then Anne Frank, and cried all the way home raging at all the millions who died with God's name on their lips as they dropped to the floor of the chambers. How Could they believe? How could I?


Years later, I heard of a brilliant autistic woman who could not stand human touch, but knew the value of it, and made for herself a "a squeeze machine" to apply deep pressure to both sides of the body with foam padded panels. Reading and writing were my squeeze machine, especially in a violent world and as a black woman in America reading and writing let me take in violent disagreements without losing my humanity. During the presidential campaign I read that a man thinks that Barak Obama will tear up the White House and plant watermelons. " All real living is meeting: Buber says. I commit to helping one more kid in North Philly read and live.