Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange

234934Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange is a fantastic book full of beautiful, fluid language and the much needed representation of African American women. It centers around three sisters and their mother, providing a slice of life account of each of their journeys. Each woman is shown in her connection to female ancestral spirits as well as featuring her in her own agency in present day. Interspersed as part of the book’s narration are letters from their mother, dream sequences, journal entries, and recipes as dishes prepared in the text of the story.

Indigo is the youngest (and my favorite) and she practices magic, so her section includes spells. She lives at home with their mother in Charleston, South Carolina, and the book opens with her getting her first period. She starts out playing with dolls but ends up as a skillful violinist, admired by neighbors and strangers alike, in addition to Uncle John and her male peers, fellow Jr. Geechee Captains.

Sassafrass is the oldest sister who makes art of her woven tapestries and her delicious food dishes. She struggles to find herself while dealing with an abusive partner and his disrespectful friends who write lewd poetry “praising” (hypersexualizing) black women’s bodies while hypocritically dating only white women. Her story explores her intersectional identity and her longing to make something lasting. She moves from Los Angeles to stay with their middle sister, Cypress, in San Francisco.

The narration demonstrates how Cypress throws lavish parties and is willing to have sex with but not be tied to any particular man in a relationship, unlike Sassafrass. Cypress ends up moving to New York to pursue her dancing career, and there meets and falls for another female dancer, Idrina. Cypress enjoys being part of an all-female dance collective, telling stories of women’s bodies through their powerful performances. The romance crashes when Idrina’s lover returns from a long trip in Europe, and Cypress drowns her sorrows for a time frequenting late night bars, until she is reunited with Leroy, a friend she had tried to set Sassafrass up with back in San Francisco. Cypress’s story flows naturally through the feminist and civil rights movements of the time.

This book is so beautifully written, a summary cannot begin to do it justice. Just hearing the storyline is light years away from experiencing this deeply spiritual and artistic book for yourself.

Reading Challenges
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