of Marie Laveau during my second reading of Voodoo Dreams:
A Novel of Marie Laveau. I was mourning the loss of an unexpected
pregnancy, juggling the pressures of dissertating and in a very
troubled space; I was in need of healing and spiritual intervention.
Marie appeared to instruct me on how to summon her spirit should
I ever be incline to do so. She performed the ritual herself
to insure that it would be done correctly. She marked the sandy,
rocky earth with three circlesa smaller one drawn inside
the one that preceded it. She told me that when I was ready,
I only needed to stand in the smallest circle, as she did, and
add one last step: invoke her name loudly and clearly.
Voodoo dreams, indeed. Jewell Parker Rhodess novel tends
to have that sort of effect on its readers. When talks
of women and voodoo arise, Jewell Parker Rhodes is an integral
part of the conversation. Author of three novelsVoodoo
Dreams (1993), Voodoo Season (2005) and Yellow
Moon (due in August 2008)which center around the legend
and legacy of Marie Laveau, the historical Voodoo Queen of nineteenth
century New Orleans, Rhodes has carved a niche for herself in
the space of women and spirit work. Rhodess voodoo series
offers a culturally specific perspective on why Marie Laveau
is heralded as one of the voodoo foremothers [of] the human
past (Fandrich 3).
her writing, Rhodes gives voice to the Laveau women much in the
same vein as Maryse Condé did for Tituba in I, Tituba,
Black Witch of Salem (Trans. 1992). Both women writers hark
back to historical women of spiritual power and act something
like an amanuensis for these iconic, conjuring women, but to
what end? Rhodes resurrects and even reconstitutes the
Laveau women in her literature, paying homage, perhaps, to an
ancestral past. Her stories certainly tell the other side
of history through the prisms of womanhood and an often-misunderstood
priestess-hood. Above all else, Rhodess novels give credence
and cultural acknowledgement to the African-based spiritual tradition
of voodoo; through the use of voodoo imagery, healing rites,
an occasional zombie and possession by the deity Damballah,
the relevance and reverence of voodoo by people of African descent
In a continually
expanding discourse on literature, women, and voodoo, Rhodess
is a valued opinion. She is both a participant in the scholarly
dialogue and a contributor to the literary corpus. Her work moves
beyond academia, however, exposing the history of New Orleanss
most infamous voodooienne to all who care to take it in.
Voodoo Dreams was adapted as a stage production in 2001
and the dance theatre Voodoo Queen, to be performed in New
York in 2009, takes its inspiration directly from Rhodess
voodoo novels. As a fan, scholar, and teacher of her creative
work I was pleased when I was offered the opportunity to engage
Dr. Rhodes in a conversation about voodoo queens, African vampires,
and her own reflections on women and voodoo:
KMS: This special issue of Women Writers is focused
on Women and Voodoo. As a writer, an African American woman,
what meaning or association is invoked when those two words are
paired togetherwomen and voodoo?
JPR: Strength, sensuality, divinity, and nurturanceall
come to mind when I think of women and voodoo. For me,
a voodooienne, has a strong self-identity. She had
the ability to proclaim, I am, in the most
profound and heartfelt way. Knowing oneself well is the
bridge to the divine. Not that a voodooienne is,
herself, a god; rather, she is capable of experiencing a relationship
with the spiritualas in the miraculous in this life and
beyond known boundaries.
Sensuality/sensualness is often linked to stereotypical images
of the exotic and carnal pleasures. But sensuality,
needs to be reclaimed as a word indicative of being in tune with
all ones senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound) as
a means of perception, knowing worlds. Voodoo is
of the spirit and of the body. Possession, then, is the
perfect metaphor and fruition of this spirit/body connection.
Spiritual and physical intuitiveness/knowing have
enabled women, across generations, to nurture themselves, their
families, and their communities.
KMS: The spirituality of black womenboth
alternate and orthodoxas a subject has found its way into
fiction (like Voodoo Dreams), film (Eves Bayou),
and even scholarly writing. Why do you suppose peoplereaders,
writers, students, artists, etc.are so drawn to the idea
of women and spirit work? What attracted you to research
and write about women and voodoo, for instance?
JPR: Living an authentic, meaningful life
is humanitys highest pursuit. Women, historically,
have been denied this through repression and slavery, patriarchy
and misogyny. Black womens spirituality is the armor
against these ills as well as the agent for freedom. I
stumbled upon Marie Laveau as an accident in a Time/Life cookbook
and on my website: www.jewellparkerrhodes.com,
I have an essay on How I Came To Write Voodoo Dreams.
That essay was written decades ago, but the sentiment remains
trueI was writing to save my life. I still remain
convinced that my life was changed by a woman of color (Marie
Laveau)a woman who despite the restrictive bounds of racism
and sexism in nineteenth century New Orleans, was able to
be in that world, to do good, and to claim and assert her
spiritual grace. This is not to say that Marie Laveau was
perfectexcept, in her perfection as a complicated
human. Voodoo, unlike other religious systems, doesnt
require us to be saints, just human. What a gift!
All that I am is GOOD. As a young woman and
now as an older woman, I still feel the healing balm of those
words each and every day. If Marie Laveau can be in the
nineteenth century, I can certainly be in the twenty-first.
Society, I believe, can seek to blind women to the gifts of
womens community. When I was writing Voodoo Dreams,
I remember being struck with the profound understanding that
my grandmother, who raised me, had been a conjure woman.
She had been a spiritual black woman as impressive as Marie Laveau.
I always valued and loved grandmothershe taught me dream
interpretation, holistic healing, and numbers and signs, that
the world is alive and the dead are never gone. Grandmother
made me feel spiritually connected to world. She told me
storiesglorious, conjure stories. For example, she
told about an aunt who brought her mother back from the dead
so she could hit the numbers. The mother gave her daughter
a number but then slapped her, marking her face, declaring, Never
call me back for anything as silly as the numbers.
The mark lasted for months on my aunts face and she learned,
said my Grandmother that money wasnt a good enough reason
to seek help from the dead. Grandmother was teaching me
through the story that when she died that I could call on her
for helpbut it had to be for important soul work, not materialism.
Grandmother always had wondrous sayings: Do good and itll
fly right back to you; A bird with a crooked wing
means sorrow; Scratch the wall, somebody die.
With each saying, Grandmother added a story. So, not only
did Grandmother teach me about conjure, she taught me about the
power of narrative. She taught me how to live and also taught
me my profession.
Grandmother and Marie Laveau were/are kin. I say, are
because, for me, both women still exist. Will always exist.
My Amazon short, A Granddaughters Memories
and Porch Stories: A Grandmothers Guide to Happinessare
both about my grandmother and the spirituality and conjure woman
perspective that she passed on to me.
Grandmother died when I was a college junior, and just after
I had discovered Marie Laveau and written a short story called,
Bayou Teche, about a northern girl in an abusive
relationship calling upon her grandmother to conjure the power
of Marie Laveau to save her. This story was the start of
my fourteen-year quest to write the novel, Voodoo Dreams.
In my novels, there is always an older black woman who serves
as a conjuring guideif not as literally as Grandmere in
Voodoo Dreams, then, more metaphorically, like Miss Wright
in Magic City, who in a mourning ritual helps heal a community
of women. For me, the line of women is importantI
dont believe it is accidental that I found Marie Laveau
just before my grandmother died. Nor is it accidental that
I felt Marie and Grandmother guiding me as I wrote. Nor
is it accidental that I did my last and best draft of the novel
as I was pregnant and mothering my daughter.
Women hand sight down through the generations.
Mother to daughter, I wrote in Voodoo Dreams.
I believe this. But while the line of women
seems linear, I also envision it as a circle. In the book,
The woman and child formed a circle with Marie in the
center, its heart. And around their circle, the other passengers
formed circles around circles until they all clung together weeping
and singing and praising the core of their multiplying circlesMarie
Laveau possessed by Damballah.
Community, motherhood, ancestral connections are all necessary
for spiritual empowerment. I believe women understand these
values and, perhaps, that is why they are particularly called
to spirit work. Whether one is a mother or not, the capacity
to carry life in your womb parallels the potential for a religious
connection with spirits. It is no accident that women most
often tell family/cultural talesperhaps, its because
growing life in your womb reminds you of the woman who, in turn,
carried you in her body. The line goes back to Eve,
I write in Voodoo Dreams. Spirit work links, connects,
KMS: In your writing, is it a conscious decision to have an
elder woman always as an ancestor figure?
JPR: Creating the ancestor figure
was entirely unconscious. For the longest time, I didnt
even realize that Grandmere in Voodoo Dreams was my grandmother,
too. Later, when I began thinking about writing a memoir
about my grandmother, I discovered that I had created a historical
lineage of black ancestral women throughout all my novels.
Even Anna Douglass in Douglass Women becomes the
ancestral figure. She dies, but before she dies she tells
her lifes story to her daughter. She conjures a bond
of powerful self-awareness and self-love that she hopes will
be as transformative for her daughter as it was for her.
KMS: The African American root worker, voodoo
queen, or as I like to call her, conjure woman, has a long history
as an archetype. We have seen her characterized in the writings
of Olaudah Equiano, Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice
Walker, and many others. She appears in such films as The
Devils Daughter (1939), Daughters of the Dust (1992),
The Skeleton Key (2005), and Pirates of the Caribbean:
Dead Mans Chest (2006). She has been lampooned
in popular culture for decades. She even appeared in an American
Express television advertisement, conjuring Kobe Bryants
jersey for the New Orleanss Hornets! Should scholars
and cultural critics be paying more attention to this figure?
Why do you suppose she keeps rearing her head in the material
culture of America?
JPR: As an archetype, the conjure
woman certainly has power; but, popular culture still tries to
marginalize her power. I think this is particularly related
to the slave trade and the routes between Africa and the Caribbean
and America. Louisiana created its Code Noir law that specifically
required that slaves from Haiti be baptized Catholic. This
was a direct response to voodoo and how African-based religions
were misinterpreted. Add in gender, and the fear becomes even
more powerful. Even popular songs project a conjure womans
power as emasculating. But when women artists, women of color
engage the archetype, the image reveals a more nuanced portrait
of power (political, social, personal, and spiritual).
However, if women/artists of color have accepted (consciously
or unconsciously) white- and male-projected, race-based fear
of the conjure woman, then their art can also promote, in varying
degrees, a stereotype. It is transgressive to portray the
conjure woman as an inherent good. To me, the conjure woman
can be a mirror of societal relations and cultural assimilation.
For example, in the novel, after the words, The line
goes back to Eve, I write, A woman who sinned.
Marie, in the novel, learns that there is no sin attached to
being a woman. In voodoo, the snake in the Garden of Eden
isnt evil; rather, the snake (in voodoo, Damballah, a fertility
figure) offers knowledge with the apple. In voodoo, knowledge
is always a good. Yet, even today, there
are women who believe in this Christian tale of Eve as a sinner
who should have remained ignorant. Even though the tale is re-inscribed
as a Fortunate Fall; there are still women who cant
help but believe that a conjure woman is negative and an evil
When the conjure woman is trivialized or demonized in popular
culture, we should ask ourselves, why? A conjure
woman, in my view, is something to strive toward
spiritual figure to become.
KMS: Do you have a personal relationship with
Voodoo? That is, are you a believer?
JPR: I am a believer; but I do not
believe I have ever experienced an authentic ceremony.
Iknow they exist, but I havent been part of one.
I think this is indicative of how racist America projected its
fears of slave uprisings on African-based religious ceremonies.
In turn, black America became strategically aware of how playing
on white fears, one could achieve degrees of liberation.
Racism added a material and commercial value to an experience
that should have remained only spiritual. The nineteenth
century Marie Laveau was birthed from this confluence of influences.
My novel, Voodoo Dreams, asks, Where is the center
of belief? Inside the person experiencing the miracle
or outside with eyewitness verification? For me, the answer
always is and always will be inside the one experiencing
the miracle. Thats why in the novel, DeLaviers
newspaper article about Maries miracle of walking on water
is flat compared to the fictional experience of readers feeling
Marie walking on water. If my novel works, it approximates
the power of a voodoo ceremony. In other words, the readers
believe in their internal feelings about the power of voodoo
and DeLaviers truth, written for a newspaper,
no less, is unnecessarily validating of the experience!
We are witness to our own miracles.
So, I have experienced, first hand and inside-myself, miracles.
I am a believer.
KMS: Ashé!! In a previous interview, you
discussed how you worked late into the night while composing
Voodoo Dreams and alluded to sensing another presence,
perhaps Marie Laveaus, in the room. Do you believe that
Marie is pleased with your rendering of her legend? Do
you think that by invoking her name and history in your writing,
that she is somehow present in the text?
JPR: Yes, I do believe Marie is pleased
and was present during the novels creation. Voodoo
Dreams was rejected a dozen times, took a year for St. Martins
to accept it, and when Hope Dellon, my editor, did she offered
that she had no idea who would buy the book and, therefore, could
only offer $4,000.00. The novel has been selling for nearly
fifteen years; there are many international editions; and, last
year, I signed a contract for a Turkish edition! And next
January, two German artists, will be creating a dance based upon
the novel in New York. What accounts for this power?
Marie Laveau was with me as I wrote the bookespecially
in the final drafts, when I stripped myself bare and opened my
heart and soul and tried to answer the question: What would
it have felt like to have been a woman with spiritual gifts in
a world that actively denied those gifts? That is
why I wrote a novelto get at the passions and feelings
of how Marie was able to navigate this world and hold onto her
spirit and not corrupt her self and her faith. All my passionall
that I was capable of giving at the time, is in Voodoo Dreams.
Marie and my grandmother were beside me, nurturing me, each step
of the way. Because of that, my life was forever changed
spirit was forever changed. A novel, unlike a nonfiction
book, attempts to make readers feel, as well as take Maries
journey through the book. This experience, I believe, has
a special power. As far as I know, no other novelist has
approached Marie with full acceptance that, of course, a woman
could make miracles! Have authentic spiritual gifts.
I believe readers feel Maries journey and they feel
my journey, my passion to save my life, and to resurrect and
find redemption in Maries. If readers let go of suspicion,
I believe, they, as me, are taken on a wild ride in the novel
that ends in triumphant celebration of conjure women and all
In one sense, there is no good reason for why I, a Pittsburgh
girl, should write about Louisianas Marie Laveau.
Except there was, as I discovered, a connection with the African
disapora and how I was raised by my grandmother
how I, as a girl
as a girl of color needed to affirm myself.
When I finished Voodoo Dreams, I became a woman
Parker Rhodes. It didnt matter if the book was ever
for, I had triumphed
I had followed Maries
journey, my grandmothers life journey, the journey of all
women to love themselves in a world that often alienates, demeans
them. I, and all women, have the potential to make miracles
and walk on water every day. All we need to do is believe.
KMS: Please allow me to qualify my previous question.
I ask about Marie being present in the text because after reading
your work, particularly Voodoo Dreams, colleagues, students,
and reading friends alike have all reported a heightened sense
of the supernatural and very intense dreams--- present company
included! How do you respond to such reader response as the author?
Surely, this is not the first you have heard of such spirited
responses to your work!!!
JRP: No, I havent heard from women
reporting intense dreams or a heightened sense of the supernatural.
I hear from lots of praise from readers about the experience
of reading the book, but they dont necessarily mention
personal, spirited responses. Lots of time
I hear from women who wont read my book because of the
title or the cover art. I find this sad, especially when
women of color tell me they fear my book with its superstitious
stuff! Im sad, because I believe these fears are
rooted in nineteenth century racism. I ask these women
do you believe that you can have a personal spiritual connection
(Holy Ghost, etc.); do you believe that music (drums, in a historic
sense) can enhance spirituality? Do you believe the world
is alive? Filled with the known and unknown? That our ancestors
are spiritually connected to the living? And that healing and
loving our community is a great good? Most often, they
answer yes. And I respond, Thats voodoo.
Every country in which African slaves landed, you can find commonalities
of beliefSanteria, Rastafarian movement, Haitian Voodoo,
black churches throughout America, all draw from the well-spring
of West African religions.
KMS: How do you react to hearing about Spirit
working through your novels?
JPR: I am thrilled. To be clear,
I was enthralled when I was writing the book. I felt I
was Marie. She was me. Magic happened. Conjure inspired.
The final three years writing Voodoo Dreams changed me;
this writing took place, for the most part, between 12:00am and
dawn. In those hours, spirits moved through me. I
felt a desperate need to tell the tale right, in all its emotional
power and complexity. However, there was one scene that
I didnt write when I submitted the manuscriptnamely,
the scene when Marie is incarcerated after a riot is begun in
her name. My editor, Hope Dellon, said she felt there was
a scene missing. She was right. It took me three
months to write the jail scene where Marie is pregnant, overhearing
the brutal rape of a quadroon woman. After this scene,
Marie fully accepts and understands her responsibility to her
community. Unfortunately, my soul was scarred writing that
scene, and I, like Marie, had to work myself toward healing.
KMS: I have taught Voodoo Dreams in both
undergraduate and graduate courses and inevitably the subject
of stereotypes arises. Students are sometimes taken aback by
your unapologetic depictions of the more horrific,
less romanticized aspects of the religion
of animals, Jacques as zombie, the ecstatic, ravenous sexual
behavior during spirit possession, etc. How do you strike
the balance between creativity and showing reverence for a tradition
such as Voodoo, which has a long history of misrepresentation?
Is it important for you to maintain such balance?
JPR: In Voodoo Dreams, there are
authentic and inauthentic rituals. This was on purpose.
I wanted to explore the pressures on Marie to corrupt her faith.
First and foremost, there is racist oppressiona wider society
that thrills and is fearful of dancing,
possession, and sacrifice. Marie confronts as a New World
Voodoo Queen, these people and, I believe, she became complicit
in promoting the master narrative stereotype. Marie was
at the historical crux of African-American assimilation and acculturation.
So, if theatricality, flamboyance frightens/awes the master society
to leave you alone
to grant you freedoms, why not cater
to base, inauthentic desire? This is a survival/political
strategy that doesnt deny the real, intimate power of a
Chapter One of Voodoo Dreams is, purposefully, not
an authentic ceremony. It is my dare to readersif
you can read past Chapter One, I will take you on a journey
the negative voodoo stereotypes, explain why Marie was complicit
in promoting them but, at the same time, demonstrate that her
spiritual powers were real. It is the African American
tricksterthe double consciousness, perhaps
had to have functioned on two planesnamely, one, the plane
of how do I encourage a sexist/racist society to allow
me freedoms, to leave me alone? and two, how do I
fulfill my commitment, to being spiritual and serving my community?
Some readers say that Voodoo Dreams promotes stereotypes.
I say that theyre not reading carefully enough or else
misunderstanding my intention. My novel is about political/social
survival while balancing/maintaining authentic grace. Marie
had to battle the society-at-large as well as blacks who had
accepted racist notions of African-based faiths. John,
as the antagonist, is the perfect example of how the New World
corrupted the faith and how, he in turn, is locked in an us/them
battle. Despite John, Marie finds real freedomdistinguishing
between real spirituality and ceremonies skewered to non-believers
and folks of color who saw the practice of voodoo as merely a
political and commercial tool.
Zombies can be created; there is a science explanation for
how someone can be drugged into a death-like appearance.
So, there is a reality to this stereotype. In the
novel, I deal with the reality to heighten then tension and pressures
on Marie to be inauthentic.
I have never believed that sexuality is a negative.
Racist perceptions twisted the worship of slaves (especially,
dance) into sexual/lewd connotations. But to be sexual
is to be human. In Voodoo Dreams, Marie is seduced
by Johns knowledge of her family history (of which she
is ignorant, and, thus, vulnerable to manipulation) and, like
many young women, enthralled by his ability to make her feel
sexual. Yet, Marie, as with religion, learns to celebrate
her capacity to be a sexual being. Johns power to
move her sexually is insignificant compared to her womanly capacity
to feel and to be a sexual being. This is what deserves
celebrating. John cant negate Maries spiritual
or sexual power because they are hers. The
emphasis should not be on how someone else makes us feel; rather,
we should be awed by our human ability to feel, to be sexual.
KMS: We also see in this novel, Marie working
through a number of obstacles in order to come to terms with
her identity. One of her struggles is reconciling how Catholicism
and Christianity at large subordinates women, removing them from
any direct connection to divinity:
She looked closely at Father Christophe. Pale
skin, a shaved circle on his head, a coarse tunic. He was
remarkably unintimidating. It was the setting of painted
saints, gold filigree, and custom and ritual that made him seem
more powerful. But a man is all he is, thought Marie.
A man like DeLavier. Like Jacques. Why should he,
or any man, have the power to condemn her? Even Christ had been
a man once. (Rhodes 111)
What role does Catholicism play for you and your characters
embodiment of women and voodoo?
JPR: Catholicism is heavily rooted in patriarchy.
In general, the belief is that only priests can serve as intermediaries
between parishioners and Christ and women are, in general, handmaidens
to serve the faith. Yet, a conjure woman needs no male
intermediary to feel spirituality. Voodoo argues that all people,
not just priests, can have a personal relationship with god(s).
Interestingly, many non-Catholic faiths believe this, too.
The passage you cite reflects that men are just thatmen,
subject to fault and flaws, and, yet, nonetheless, unfairly given
societal preference and power over women. In Christianity,
womens stories and womens gospels often have been
suppressed. Some women are granted sainthood, be it a small
ratio compared to men. Marie is recognizing that Christianity
cant be relied upon for a non-biased response to her religious
KMS: It would seem that Marie is struggling with
a more complex case of double consciousness, to use Du
Boiss term. Would you agree? She not only has to deal with
being a woman of color in racist America, but she also has to
negotiate her Catholic and Voodoo identities. Why was it
so important to bring that particular issue to the surface of
the novel and allow readers to take the journey of self-discovery
JPR: Youre absolutely rightMarie
is involved in complex cultural negotiations. It is important
to note that despite these negotiations, Marie is successful
in ensuring the survival of African-based spirituality in her
community. But I also hope that understanding these complex
negotiations will make readers sympathetic to Maries promotion,
at times, of voodoo as theatrical performance. The era
she lived in, the societal issues she dealt with were overwhelming,
yet, she managed to survive/thrive and, though, some would argue
her legacy continues today as a mixed blessing; I would argue
that she is a triumphant heroine. Not perfect but a human
heroine who, despite great odds, ensured that a powerful, affirmative
image of black womens spirituality was sustained.
KMS: The image and actions of Grandmére
echo that of Zora Neale Hurstons Nanny in Their Eyes
were Watching Godparticularly in the way that both
elder women wish to marry off their granddaughters for their
own protection. I have read that Morrison is a great influence
for you. Does Hurston figure into your literary ancestry?
Is this comparison of grandmothers a reflection of Hurstons
influence or simply coincidental? Is anything in a novel
JPR: I love Hurtson. Though I dont
believe Hurston, in recording oral anecdotes about Marie Laveau
in Mules and Men, uncovered the whole truth of Marie.
However, I dont believe the whole truth was
Hurstons intentionrather, she captured the truth
of oral tales and individual/cultural perceptions. My novel,
I hope, captures an emotional truthadding another
layer of empathy and understanding of Marie.
I do agree that Grandmere echoes Nanny in Their Eyes Were
Watching God. Marriage is a social contract that recognizes
husbandss patriarchical power. Grandmere and Nanny
have bought into this notion of marriage because society has
taught/encouraged them to do so. Janie and Marie are bolder,
bigger, and more alive than that!
KMS: Speaking of Morrison, in Rootedness:
The Ancestor as Foundation she warns against the failures
of generations of women: Pilate is the apogee of all that:
of the best that is female and the best that is male, and that
balance is disturbed if it is not nurtured, and if it is not
counted on, and if it is not reproduced. That is the disability
we must be on guard against for the futurethe female who
produces the female who produces the female (344).
Both Voodoo Dreams and Voodoo Season deal with
the succession of the Leveau/Levant women. Do you think
that a line of women, devoid of love and healthy relationships
with men of various relations, is doomed to failure? Does
Morrisons statement resonate with the women of your imaginative
It would seem that the imbalance Morrison speaks of could
be attributed to the inhumanity of the slave trade
between male and female bonds has already been disrupted! There
are certainly repercussions and perhaps psychological wounds
to be nursed, but there is something redemptive about the female
line. It insures future lifelines, generations who can
continue to work towards restoring that balance, no?
JPR: Morrison seems to be referring to
the Jungian notion that within each of us is an anima/animus
or vice versa if youre a man. I believe that Marie,
by the end of Voodoo Dreams, and, I believe, that by the
end of my contemporary trilogy about Marie Levant, the Marie
Laveau descendent, that she will become, too, a kind of Pilate/pilot.
I think, though, that the languagewe must be on guard
against for the futurethe female who produces the female
who produces the femaleis problematic. I believe
being female is, it self, a whole that can involve (and here
is the problem with gendered language again) male and female
characteristics. I think it is interesting that no one
would say we should guard againstthe man who produces
the man who produces the man. But, if youre
talking about a totality of humanity that includes various unique
shadings/manifestations of anima/animus, then we can be
biologically different (male/female), be unique, without suggesting
that one gender is inherently deficient or better. We all
have the potential to experience the full range of humanity.
Unfortunately, we are often mis-educated into a narrow
range of so-called appropriate behaviors. Thats why
Marie as a powerful force is transgressive to society
as we know itbut, I dont believe she is transgressive,
an outlaw in terms of being a womanin terms of her humanity
which, by nature, includes a spectrum of feelings and characteristics.
As you suggest, Kameelah, perhaps Morrison is suggesting that
there is a balance within Pilate that somehow has been lost within
her daughter and granddaughter. Balance, for
me, is less problematic in terms of language and I agree, we
all need emotional balance in order to be whole. But I
still dont think femaleness is a problem.
In Song of Solomon, the daughter and granddaughter become
more narcissistic, more insular in their perceptions and life
(and as I recall, this withdrawal from life stems from abusive
relations with men!). Is slavery somehow responsible for
the black mens abuse? Certainly, a cause and effect
case can be made for Milkman. Ultimately, though, it will
be a woman and a womans/childrens song/tale that
gives him the keys to redemption. This will provide him
with the spiritual milk to sustain him.
Womens lives extend across the generations; inextricably,
we are linked woman to woman, linked by the power and potential
to create life in the body and with words. Mothers/midwives/
women have and have always had the power to
birth and rebirth themselves, and their sisters and daughters
(literally and metaphorically). Women also birth fathers, husbands,
and sons. Yet, why, amazingly, has western culture, for
hundreds of years, privileged men? Clearly, by wounding
women, they wound the image of the conjure woman, particularly,
in popular culture. Nonetheless, women are intimate with
blood and bloodlines
and it is this intimacy and nurturance
of successive generations that will, I believe, aid us allmale
and femaleand help us create human relationships based
upon mutual respect and mutual understanding.
Women having healthy, romantic relationships with men is another
complicated matter. For nineteenth century Marie, I didnt
think it was possible for her to have a good relationship in
the context of the world she lived in. In my contemporary
trilogy, however, I believe Dr. Levant has healthier relationships
(Reneaux in Voodoo Season and Parks in Yellow Moon).
But one dies; the other, eventually, leaves. I have hope that
in Hurricane Levee Blues, Levant will have a sustained,
satisfying relationship. I think in the twentieth-first
century, it should be about time!
KMS: You are currently working on a trilogyVoodoo
Season, Yellow Moon, and Hurricane Levee Blues.
Can you tell us more about your concept for this trilogy
and if women and voodoo are the focus of the forthcoming novels?
Yellow Moon is due in August. What can readers expect
from this novel?
JPR: I had always wanted to do a sequel
to Voodoo Dreams. Preferably, about the early twentieth
century and Storyvillle. But the eras were too close, the
influence of Voodoo Dreams too great. So,
the trilogy, intended to stretch me as a writer, was also intended
as a contemporary mystery series with appropriate genre conventions.
On Voodoo Seasons publication date, the levees
broke in New Orleans. I really felt that Marie was saying,
Gotcha. My mystery series became complex in
a new wayespecially, since Maries descendent is a
doctor in Charity Hospital. So, how can I not write about
Charity and the impact of Katrina on the poor, black community?
Race/gender/class core issues in Voodoo Dreamsare
in the forefront of the series in a new way. Yellow Moon is
awash with rain; there is my awareness that the hurricane is
coming, and the levees will break. Levants journey
during the trilogy is to confront the horrors in Katrinas
wake. Will her spirituality help her? I believe so.
In each book, Levant is becoming more self-aware, stronger, and,
if the descendent of a woman who walked on water cant save
souls, then who can?
To be honest, thoughI dont know the ending of
Hurricane Levee Blues. Writing always changes things.
Characters behave in unexpected ways. There is the possibility
that Levant will break, even though I dont want her to.
I am fully aware that despair might overwhelm Levant when she
realizes that shes fighting similar race/class/gender battles
that Marie fought nearly a hundred and fifty years ago.
KMS: I noticed that your website previously listed
Voodoo Jazz as the original title for part two of the
trilogy. What prompted the change to Yellow Moon and what
is the significance of that title?
JPR: When I thought I was going to
write a sequel to Voodoo Dreams, I planned on writing
about how jazz became a secular version of voodoo during the
turn between the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries. Amiri
Baraka writes about this in Blues People. When I
jumped to contemporary times, the title stuck but my agent and
editor didnt like it. So, instead, I incorporated
the Neville Brothers song, Yellow Moon. The
song is romantic, but I particularly focused on the lines: Yellow
moon, yellow moon, why you keep peeping in my window? Do
you know something I dont know? I linked the
links between moon (feminine/nature symbol), perception,
and knowledge (which includes the spiritual). Also, from
Voodoo Dreams, yellow is a color of disease, warning
even resonates with the historical yellow fever outbreaks of
New Orleans. In Yellow Moon, the world and Marie
are both sickening because of the wazimamoto (an African
vampire created as a response to colonialism). A yellow
moon also means death, according to my grandmothers tales.
So, Yellow Moon, as a title, seems to be appropriate for
a novel that is a bridge between Levants self-discovery
of her spiritual heritage in Voodoo Season and her needing
to be a fully realized Voodoo Queen in order to have any chance
of surviving spiritually, physically, and psychologically in
Hurricane Levee Blues.
KMS: Which texts concerning women and voodoo do
you consider a must read? Are there any up and coming novels
or authors writing about African diasporic religions/experiences
for whom we should keep our eyes open?
JPR: Martha Wards Voodoo Queen The Spirited Lives
of Marie Laveau is extremely good as is Joseph Murphys
Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Disapora.
In fiction, I, like you, love Gloria Naylors Mama
Day. These are all old texts. There is
one novel that I read in galleysThe Accidental Santera
by Irete Lazo. Its a warm and funny bookrevealing
another perspective on spiritual/spirited women and our sisters
in the Latino community.
Fandrich, Ina Johanna. "The Mysterious Voodoo Queen Marie
Laveaux: A Study of Power and Female Leadership in Nineteenth-Century
New Orleans." Dissertation. Temple University, 1994.
Morrison, Toni. Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.
Black Women Writers, 1950-1980. Ed.
Mari Evans. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1984.339-45.
Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie
Laveau. New York: Picador, 1993.