Monday, June 05, 2006
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WM. MELVIN KELLEY TO MELVIN B. TOLSON
[William Melvin Kelley sent this letter to Melvin B. Tolson after the two met at the legendary Fisk Writers' Conference.]
Kelley, 842 East 224th Street, New York, New York 10466
Dear Mr. Tolson:
I am sending to you, in another package, a copy of my 2nd novel A DROP OF PATIENCE. I especially want you to have it. I have only known you a short time, but already I feel as if we have known each other for 300 years now, all our years in bondage. You are a part of my proud past---the past that my white man's education kept from me. You are a great man. And that word MAN is a very heavy word. Somehow in the James Baldwins and the Leroi Joneses I have never been able to find that MAN, and I didn't expect to find one at Fisk either, and I am moved that I did. Keep going; you're doing great.
I think that PATIENCE is a better, truer book than DRUMMER, though I am in a minority about that. DRUMMER was very easily accesible for more people, I see now, because I was still brain-washed when I wrote it. And since most of us are still brain-washed, I guess it works for them. I guess PATIENCE--like a good poem, I hope--is harder because it seems much simpler. Not at all to insult your intelligence, I'm going to tell you how to read it. I very much want you to understand it.
It is, I planned it as, an allegory of the history of the Negro in the US. Part One---the being abandoned and sold into slavery by our own people. Given into the hands of the white man. Part Two---out of that true slavery and into another kind, you might call it Uncle Tom Slavery. The illusion of freedom, but still slavery. Part Three---still another kind of slavery. The slavery of the small mind, of the brain-washed mind of limited goals, and finally breaking free of that. Part Four---the trip north and another iluusion of freedom. Still believeing in the American Dream and fame and money and all the rest. Part Five---Black people and the white man. If we treat him like a human being. He will treat us like human beings. The liberal of the north. And finally the betrayal of the liberal, who is too weak to keep his promises. Part Six---no more dreams now, no more illusions. The chance at the American Dream; the realization that it's a nightmare. If you take their money, if we integrate, the price may be too high. We have to look to ourselves now and maybe start all over again, loving ourselves.
Most people thought Ludlow was defeated, but he isn't. He's won, because now after all that time, all these years, he is master of himself, a free man.
Two more things: (1) You'll notice that Bethrah, Ludlow's little baby girl, is the same Bethrah who grows up and marries Tucker Calliban in A DIFFERENT DRUMMER. (2) The book has no visual imagery. Written through a blind man, the book is "blind" and is told completely through four senses, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Out of 80 reviews only 5 people saw that.
Well I hope I'll hear from you soon. And of course whenever you come to New York, please come and see me and my wife and baby.
William Melvin Kelley