Black Girl/White Girl

( 11 )


In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade's college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year. Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, "enlightened" college—and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs. But fifteen years later, while reconstructing Minette's tragic death, Genna is forced to painfully confront her own past life and identity...and her deepest beliefs ...

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Black Girl/White Girl

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In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade's college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year. Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, "enlightened" college—and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs. But fifteen years later, while reconstructing Minette's tragic death, Genna is forced to painfully confront her own past life and identity...and her deepest beliefs about social obligation in a morally gray world.

Black Girl / White Girl is a searing double portrait of race and civil rights in post–Vietnam America, captured by one of the most important literary voices of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

“Masterful…Black Girl/White Girl is another success for its author.”
Lisa Page
Oates is deliberately provocative with this intellectual exercise about America's racial dilemma, but where is she going? She seems to suggest that the left is deluding itself, but surely the left is more nuanced than this when it comes to race, and we'd expect a novel to explore that nuance rather than oversimplify it. Oates dares to ask, how well do we know each other? But in her attempt to explore the duality of American racism, her truth is one-dimensional, even as it makes for fascinating reading.
— The Washington Post
Elissa Schappell
Joyce Carol Oates has never been shy about peering into the darkest corners of American culture. Her best books—Blonde, Zombie and Black Water—showcase her fascination with violence, her almost vampiric ability to tap into the subconscious of her troubled characters and her taste for appropriating real-life tragedy. Oates's latest offering, Black Girl / White Girl, is no exception.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In 1975, racial tension still runs high at Genna Meade's mostly white Schuyler College in Pennsylvania. Her outcast black roommate, Minette Swift, is a D.C. preacher's daughter; Genna is descended from the college's founder. Minette misses home desperately; Genna, in contrast, avoids her "hippie" mother's phone calls while yearning for a visit from her absentee father, activist lawyer Maximilian Meade. Despite their differences, the girls muster an effortful friendship, due to the near-fetishization of black culture that Genna's parents have inculcated in her. When racist incidents begin to plague Minette, Genna tries to protect her, but Minette lapses into an antisocial, dangerous depression. Meanwhile, Genna has her own problems-she's gradually piecing together clues to a mystery whose solution may lie far too close to home for comfort. Eventually, Minette's downward spiral prompts a shocking epiphany for Genna that will alter the course of her family's life. Oates bravely grapples with the fallout of the Civil Rights movement, the early '70s backlash against Summer of Love optimism, and the well-intentioned but ultimately condescending antiracist piety of privileged white liberals, but this anecdotal novel feels slight compared to her best work. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The amazingly prolific Oates follows High Lonesome: Stories 1966-2006 with a short tale of fractured relationships and psychological horror. Narrator Genna Meade meditates on the long-ago, terrible death of a 19-year-old girl who might have been-maybe should have been-her best friend. On entering tony Schuyler College in the mid-1970s, Genna, a liberal and well-meaning prep-school grad, is looking forward to rooming with devoutly religious African American scholarship student Minette Swift. But the girls have little in common, other than an uncomfortable shyness with each other and uneasy relationships with adored but flawed fathers-Minette's dad is a charismatic minister, while Genna's dad is an attorney notorious for defending anti-Vietnam War radicals. The girls' tentative moves toward friendship and loyalty are undermined by the stresses of their first year of college and a series of hateful encounters that ends in tragedy and grief. This dark, suspenseful portrayal of fatal failures to communicate may prompt more than one reader to ponder the state of our society's moral condition. Recommended for most fiction collections.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

What promises to be an investigation into the death of her college roommate becomes a slowly unraveled look at the life of narrator Genna Mead (then 19 years old), the radical politics of the Vietnam era, hidden racial conflicts at a liberal white college, and the disconnectedness of people who live together. Oates fills the story with repetitions, stomping and sighs, and the sense that the more one should know, the less one really does. She does so both subtly and heavy-handedly as the continual reaffirmation of the people and places closest to Genna are always identified by name, function, and relationship-as in the echoing phrase "my roommate Minette Swift." Very well read by the always capable Anna Fields, the novel may seem to be an expanded short story at times, but, overall, it is a compelling look at layers of secrets. Recommended.
—Joyce Kessel

Kirkus Reviews
Oates's billionth is a brooding analysis of racial relations and white liberal guilt, which partially echoes her eerie novella Beasts (2001) and earlier major novel Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart. It's a fragmented "text without a title," composed in retrospect by Generva "Genna" Meade, recalling her undergraduate years at prestigious Schuyler College, founded by a member of the truculently progressive Meade family. Genna's story details her unequal relationship, in the mid-1970s, with her standoffish black roommate Minette Swift, daughter of a Washington, D.C., minister, and a scholarship student who's defiantly not grateful for the "favor" white society has bestowed on her, and the college's endless tolerance of her academic failures. Genna's awkward efforts to bond with Minette are rudely rebuffed, as is her dismay and shock when ugly racially based insults rain down on her roommate. Genna's distracted urge to do what's right is also tested by her relationship with her counterculture-vulture parents: unstable pill-popping mom Veronica, and her father "Mad Max," a left-wing attorney notorious for supporting and funding protest demonstrations and suspected of complicity in a terrorist bombing that left a black security guard dead. In other words, the deck is tightly stacked. And Oates misses no opportunities to underscore and overstate her characters' ingrained attitudes (Max's abrasiveness, Minette's sullen religiosity), runaway emotional states (notably Veronica's) and utter incompatibility. There is some power in Genna's desperate wish to identify with Minette, and thus prove to herself her own liberal goodness-and in the tragic outcome of thewhite girl's insistent intimacy with the black girl. But Oates shifts the narrative abruptly in the closing pages, revealing the real "text" Genna has been writing, and the bitter small victory she wrests from it. It's jarring. Characteristically strident and forced-and it's a real shame. This could have been one of Oates's better books.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061125652
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/29/2007
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 663,212
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Rosamond Smith
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 16, 1938
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lockport, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Read an Excerpt

Black Girl/White Girl

By Joyce Carol Oates


Copyright © 2006

Joyce Carol Oates

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-06-112564-4

Chapter One


Ohhh God.

I was wakened by this cry. I was wakened instantly.

It must have been Minette, my roommate. On the other side of
my bedroom door. Minette Swift, in the outer room. This wasn't
the first time I'd been abruptly wakened by Minette talking to
herself, sometimes scolding herself, or praying. Ohhh God was
one of her half-grunts/half-moans.

Immediately I was out of bed, and opening my door.


My roommate was standing with her back to me, oblivious of me.
She was standing very still, as if paralyzed. Her head was
tilted back at an awkward angle and she was staring at the
window above her desk, where a crack had appeared in the upper
half of the pane. Minette turned vaguely toward me, without
seeming to have heard me. Her eyes were widened in wordless
panic behind her childish pink plastic glasses and her lips
moved soundlessly.

"Minette? What's wrong?"

I had to suppose it was the window. There was a shock in
seeing it, a visceral reaction: where no crack had been, now
there was an elaborate spiderweb crack that looked as if the
slightest touch would cause it to shatter and fall in pieces
on your head.

The previous night, we'd had a "severe thunderstorm watch" for
most of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which had included
the 1,200 acres of land on the banks of the Schuylkill
belonging to Schuyler College where Minette and I were
freshmen. Local news bulletins had reiterated the warnings for
hours and when Minette and I had finally turned out our
lights, the worst of the storm appeared to have passed.

Each of us had a small bedroom that opened out onto our
sparely furnished study room. Each of us had a college-issued
desk and each desk was positioned precisely beneath a window
built into perpendicular walls. It was the larger of the two
windows, Minette's window, that had been damaged in the night
by the fierce gusting wind.

At least, I assumed that the damage had been done by the wind.

But Minette seemed frightened, wary. She must have heard my
question and must have noticed me standing only a few feet
away but she ignored me, staring and blinking up at the window
in the way of a stubborn child. Minette was one whom emotion
gripped powerfully, and even as emotion faded, as adrenaline
fades, still Minette seemed to wish to cling to her state of
arousal. Coming upon her at such a moment was to feel not only
unwanted but also invisible.

I thought She has forgotten she isn't alone. I should have
turned tactfully aside as I'd learned as a young child to turn
aside wishing not to see the eccentric behavior of adults,
sparing both them and me.

I'd been born in 1956. My mother had liked to speak of me as a
love child of the 1960s, the decade that had defined my
parents' generation.

Minette spoke softly at last. It was like her to reply in a
near-inaudible murmur to a question after so long a pause
you'd forgotten what you had asked.

"... got eyes, you c'n see."

Meaning, I could see perfectly well what was wrong: Minette's
window was cracked.

I said, "It must have been the storm, Minette. Don't get too
close, the glass might shatter ..."

I hadn't meant to sound bossy. It was my mother's eager
blundering way.

Minette sucked in her breath. Gave the belt of her bathrobe a
tug, to make sure it was tight enough. (It was. It was very
tight. Minette's belts and sashes were always as tight as she
could bear them.) She said, again softly, but laughing, as if
the fearful humor of the situation had to be acknowledged, "I
wasn't going to, thanks! I'm not some damn old fool." Behind
the lenses of her pink plastic glasses Minette's eyes shone
beautifully vexed, as if I'd suggested she might perform an
act not only dangerous but demeaning.

Minette had to be upset, she'd said damn. Minette Swift was a
minister's daughter and a devout Christian who never swore and
was offended by what she called "swear words" in the mouths of

In Haven House, as at Schuyler College generally, in the fall
of 1974, Minette Swift was often offended.

I told Minette that I would report the cracked window to our
resident advisor Dana Johnson. Wiping at her eyes, Minette
murmured a near-inaudible "Thanks." Her nappy hair gleamed
like wires in the sunshine pouring through the window moist
from the previous night's rain, and the smooth eggplant-dark
skin of her face was minutely furrowed at her hairline. I
would have liked to touch her arm, to assure her that there
was no danger from the cracked window, but I dared not
approach her, I knew it wasn't a good time.

We were suite mates but not yet friends.

While Minette was using the bathroom in the hall, I dragged my
desk chair to her window to examine the crack. It did resemble
a cobweb, intricate in its design, lace-like, beautifully
splotched with jewel-like drops of moisture and illuminated by
the stark sunshine. I felt the temptation to touch it, to see
if it might break.

I pressed the flat of my hand against the crack. Stretching my
fingers wide.

Still, the glass didn't break.

Several feet beyond the window was an old oak tree with thick
gnarled limbs. One of these had split in the storm and hung
down broken, its pale raw wood like bone piercing flesh. I was
reminded uneasily of one of my father's photographs, on a wall
of his study in our home in Chadds Ford: a framed glossy photo
of a young black man who'd been beaten by heavily armed Los
Angeles riot police in April 1968 following the assassination
of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The young black man
lay on filthy pavement streaming blood ...


Excerpted from Black Girl/White Girl
by Joyce Carol Oates
Copyright © 2006 by Joyce Carol Oates.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014


    Anyone on?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013


    Okay Cc. If you truly love him. I just want what's best for you. *he walks away with his head down softly crying*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013


    This is 10. Go to 2 res. Before this one

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013


    Min is diffrent from urs

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    A fazer

    Walks in

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014


    So where r u and aiden talking.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2013


    If they get on at the same time then ill know because that doesnt just happen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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