IF MY BOOK: Dancing with Langston, Sharyn Skeeter

Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors shed light on their recently released books by comparing them to weird things. This week Sharyn Skeeter writes about her novel, Dancing with Langston, forthcoming in October from Green Place Books.

If Dancing with Langstonwere a round white doily, Cousin Ella would find it on the floor next to her dressing table in a Parisian cabaret. She would take a moment to admire the intricate detail of the hand-crocheted star in its center—a reminder of her aspirations as a dancer. Then Jack would bang on the door and tell her she was late for her performance. She’d hide the doily in her bag and rush out on the stage to shake her butt for the drunk patrons.

The next time she’d hold the doily would be when she’d pull it out of her bag, crush it in her hand like a ball to wipe her tears. She’d be in a Montmartre café, sipping red wine. Across the table, Langston would listen and stare at her face as she tells him she has to go home to Harlem.

For years in her Harlem apartment, Cousin Ella would launder and starch the doily, then arrange it at the top back of the sofa, right in the middle of her living room. When she would hold her salons, the doily would have the honor of hosting the heads of the artists and writers who passed through Harlem. Romare Bearden, Katherine Dunham, Jacob Lawrence, Cab Calloway, even Langston himself—and Doyle, Carrie’s father, after his post office shift. If the doily could write, how many stories would it tell!

Now, though, gentrification has come to her building and younger cousin Carrie is helping her move. As Carrie sorts Cousin Ella’s possessions, she sees the doily, browned with age and slightly frayed, and tosses it on the trash pile. But as it lands, she sees the beauty of its star.  Carrie picks up the doily and puts it in her jeans pocket.

Sharyn Skeeter is a writer, poet, editor, and educator. She was fiction/poetry/book review editor at Essence and editor-in-chief at Black Elegance magazine. She’s taught at Emerson College, University of Bridgeport, Fairfield University, and Gateway and Three Rivers community colleges. She participated in panel discussions and readings at universities in India and Singapore. Sharyn Skeeter has been published in numerous magazine articles. Her poetry and fiction is in journals and anthologies. She lives in Seattle where she’s been involved with Humanities Washington (Bedtime Stories) and ACT Theatre. Her grandmother’s Langston family and their oral history of Langston Hughes inspired Dancing with Langston. Follow her on Twitter at @SjSkeeter.
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