[By Crystal Boson]
As the alliterative title suggests, many of the works in the 100 Novels Project deal with religious and cultural practices that are associated with the distant, slavery mired past, or a romanticized and distant homeland that the protagonists have roots in but may have never seen. These practices fall under folk faiths and religion, land based practices of herb-lore and root-work, and ties to food and drink created in the “old ways”. The novels that most easily embody these ideas are Nalo Hopkinson’s, The Salt Roads, Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sowers, Colson Whitehead’s The Intitutionist, and Gloria Naylor’s Momma Day. While each of these works utilizes elements of folk faith and old cultural practices as mediums of liberation for the protagonists and fall under the genre of speculative fiction, there is something deeper at work within these texts. The inclusion of these practices combined with present or future landscapes and the use of technology and science does double literary duty; not only does it ground the narrative in a racialized past, but the works insist upon a future where authentic black expression along the lines of faith, practice, and spirituality are viable.
The above listed elements of old practices are often interpreted as backwards devices that keep the characters from gaining access to their cultural and societal franchises or viewed as part of a romanticized past that serves no productive purpose. The authors’ insistence on highlighting these practices and using them as methods for various forms of liberation for their protagonist casts these practices as viable ones within Black writing and cast them as legitimate for their characters. This is very much the case in Whitehead’s The Intuitionist; Lila Mae acknowledges but rejects the hegemonic use of mechanized evaluation in favour of a more spiritual way of understanding her very modern vocation. Even though her cohort at times ostracizes her, her method and insistence on the spiritual are ultimately proven to be the correct form of interpretation.
Rhetorical elements that highlight authentically Black religious and cultural practices need not be relegated to a romanticized past, nor viewed as a quaint, but no longer useful and authentic way to represent Blackness. These authors posit that there is room for them within the postmodern, and digital age. These seemingly old ways of practice serve as useful literary devices as well as cultural markers that keep the past and present practices rhetorically and culturally viable.