I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots: A Novel [NOOK Book]


A historic novel about a young woman forced to grow up quickly, and whose life—as well as those of her twin sons—changes with the current of the times

Beginning in the late 1950s, this novel tells the story of Marietta Cook, a tall girl growing up in Pine Gardens, a Gullah-speaking village in South Carolina. When Marietta’s mother passes, she heads to Charleston in search of her uncle—only to find a lover and return pregnant with twins two years later. She raises her sons back...

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I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots: A Novel

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A historic novel about a young woman forced to grow up quickly, and whose life—as well as those of her twin sons—changes with the current of the times

Beginning in the late 1950s, this novel tells the story of Marietta Cook, a tall girl growing up in Pine Gardens, a Gullah-speaking village in South Carolina. When Marietta’s mother passes, she heads to Charleston in search of her uncle—only to find a lover and return pregnant with twins two years later. She raises her sons back home in the low country before moving the family to Charleston, where she takes a growing interest in football and the civil rights movement. The boys grow huge and talented at the game, playing pro football in California. A new world and new travails await, but Marietta’s great resilience endures.
 This is the life of an extraordinary soul, and a novel with a beautifully vivid sense of place.  

A rich, passionate first novel featuring a strong and determined African American woman living in contemporary South Carolina. "Straight's portrayal . . . is nearly miraculous in its astonishing richness of detail . . . emotional honesty and . . . human thought and feeling."--USA Today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elegantly constructed and eloquently written, Straight's Aquaboogie second book is a coming-of-age novel of grand proportions. The story she tells is as monumental as its main character. In 1959, 13-year-old Marietta Cook lives with her ailing mother in the tiny, Gullah-speaking village of Pine Gardens, S.C. They eke out a precarious existence by gardening, fishing and selling handwoven baskets by the roadside. Marietta, who is descended on her dead father's side from a slave the townspeople remember as ``Africa woman,'' is far darker-skinned than anyone else in the community, and she is enormously tall. This--and her taciturn nature in a society where women fill their days with constant talk--makes her an outsider who is never fully accepted, not even by her family. When her mother dies, Marietta leaves Pine Gardens for Charleston ? ck. till now she's said to have been in Pine Gardens.// ok and participates briefly in the civil rights movement, an experience that resonates for her later, when she finds herself doing day work in the homes of wealthy white women. When she returns home, pregnant, a gruff yet loving aunt helps her to give birth to twin boys and becomes an uneasy role model. The novel follows the small family to the twins' adulthood, as they struggle to become professional football players. Throughout, Marietta is an impassive yet transfixing character who bears her troubles stoically, complex though they often are. Along with Straight's fluid prose and so as not to virtually repeat `eloquently written' above accomplished use of dialogue, this powerful book is remarkable for the dignity and integrity with which she infuses her characters and their lives. BOMC selection; author tour. June
Library Journal
In a daring and successful experiment, Straight depends almost exclusively on Gullah dialect to capture the brutishness of Marietta Cook's existence. Marietta survives poverty and single motherhood in South Carolina only to end up an outsider in gaudy L.A. Unfortunately, the deeper question of how black women define themselves when surrounded by racial prejudice and haunted by slavery falls by the wayside when Marietta moves to California. As the focus shifts to her twin sons, stand-out NFL players, the plot thins and becomes as predictable as a movie. Before this novel fittingly is transformed into a Hollywood blockbuster along the lines of The Color Purple , it undoubtedly will gather positive reviews and be in demand. It should be included in new fiction stacks and in comprehensive collections of African American, Southern, and feminist literature.--Rita Ciresi, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park
School Library Journal
YA-- Large, silent, 14-year-old, blue - black Marietta Cook leaves tiny Gullah-speaking Pine Gardens, South Carolina to seek her uncle and her fortune in Charleston when her mother dies. Learning the rhythms of the city, working for Frank in the fish market, going home to bear twins, working on a rice plantation, returning to Charleston and raising her boys--her life unfolds. Students can experience vicariously the community, family, and friendships that form the pulse of this woman's life from 1959 to her settling into her role as grandmother, California home owner, and perhaps, future bride in 1983. Time, place, and character are all well developed. A solid recommendation for students seeking a good story and a strong female protagonist as well as for those who need a book on black history.-- Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Straight (a story collection, Aquaboogie, 1990) here offers a first novel about a black woman and her two professional football- playing sons—in a debut notable especially for its evocation of place and its sure-handed use of patois. Marietta Cook, in 1959, is growing up in the low country of South Carolina, and Straight precisely textures the southern rural detail, ranging from shrimping and fishing in the swamp with a torn and mended net to gathering hanging moss. When Marietta's mother dies, she leaves Aint Sister (the patois includes syntactical and spelling variations as well as quirky naming—Tiny Momma, Baby Poppa, etc.) and goes to Charleston to look for her uncle. Instead, she finds Sinbad (one of those "Here and gone people") and eventually returns home pregnant with twin boys. Marietta works—doing heavy wash, chopping with her hoe—and pays attention to the young civil rights movement on TV until Aint Sister dies, whereupon she returns to Charleston with her two football geniuses and works as a domestic. She learns about football as well as civil rights, and her boys finally get drafted by the Rams. The scene shifts to a black community in southern California as the boys, Calvin and Nate, try to make the cut. Marietta becomes a veritable earth- mother—while Nate shoots up steroids—and, though she's out of her element in dealing with microwaves, structured playtime, and financial consultants, she not only survives but prospers. By story's end, she'll feel at home, upbeat, and at relative peace with the world. A little contrived or sentimental in patches, but affectionately evoking the rhythms and contours of two particular places. An impressivefirst—from a writer to watch.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480410879
  • Publisher: Open Road Media
  • Publication date: 8/6/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 326
  • Sales rank: 301,326
  • File size: 861 KB

Meet the Author

Susan Straight has published eight novels. Her most recent, Between Heaven and Here, is the final book in the Rio Seco trilogy. Take One Candle Light a Room was named one of the best books of 2010 by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Kirkus Reviews, and A Million Nightingales was a finalist for the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her novel Highwire Moon was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award. “The Golden Gopher” won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Story. Her stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Salon, Harper’s, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the Believer, Zoetrope: All-Story, Black Clock, and elsewhere. Straight has been awarded the Lannan Prize for Fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Gold Medal for Fiction from the Commonwealth Club of California. She is distinguished professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. She was born in Riverside, California, where she lives with her family, whose history is featured on susanstraight.com.
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Interviews & Essays

Big Ma's World
By Susan Straight

When I was a teenager, first dating my future husband, his grandmother owned a two-story white house on a busy corner, a block and a half from his parents' home. Daisy Carter rented rooms in the house, to various relatives and boarders, but the woman with her own separate apartment, with its own door and bathroom, was Big Ma.

That was what everyone called her. Her daughter was called Sis — she lived with her husband and two children a block the other way.

They were all close, the people on these three streets who'd come to Southern California from Georgia, as did Big Ma and Sis, from Mississippi, as did Daisy Carter, and from Oklahoma and Louisiana and Florida. Most often — as with Sis's husband, Floyd, and his brother, LB, also from Georgia — the men had served in the Air Force and were stationed here, and afterward never wanted to return to the segregated, impoverished, and violent South.

The first time I saw the woman called Big Ma, she was walking down the street toward my boyfriend's house, carrying a bucket and a newspaper rolled into a torch. He told me she'd light the torch, smoke out the wasps who'd built nests under the eaves of houses all along the block and then use the larvae to go fishing in the Salton Sea with his grandmother's husband, a short, stern man who'd been among the first black Pinkerton security men on the railroad in San Bernardino.

She was so tall — nearly six feet — and her skin was very dark, her expression somber. My boyfriend and his brothers and friends were very quiet when she approached.

Her son-in-law, Floyd Walker, had worked on aircraft at military bases for years; during his off hours, he cruised the neighborhood in an ancient truck, collecting cast-off produce for the pigs he kept on land near the Santa Ana River. After I was married, we took excess apricots and nectarines and even carob pods from our trees out to his pigs, and my in-laws would share in a pig with us in fall — we had fresh bacon, which my mother-in-law called streak-of- fat, streak-of-lean, and porch chops.

Big Ma and all the rest of the older women in the neighborhood were mythic figures to me when I was young. I was tiny and pale, so generic in my looks that people still ask me now whether I work at Wal-Mart or the post office, because they've seen me there, they say. Big Ma passed away, and so did Daisy Carter, and I was pregnant with my first child. I began to imagine them all the time, these woman and their heroic journeys from the South to Southern California, the tenacity and hard work that let them raise children and grandchildren here because they'd have education, and drinking fountains. This was the late 1970s and early 1980s — but they had come in the 1940s and '50s, when African Americans were dying still, over education and drinking fountains.

At twenty-seven, I began a novel about a woman named Marietta who grows up on an island just off the coast of South Carolina, near the Georgia border, and she was based on Big Ma, the image of that woman who was larger than life to me. I wrote at a card table in the back bedroom of the small white-painted house where my child would live, late into the night, while my husband worked the graveyard shift at a correctional institution.

The character of Marietta came to me because she was tall, stoic, and observant, and people were frightened of her size and serious demeanor. But the stories, of how hard it was to live on former plantations as sharecroppers, how people escaped through the military or through sports, had come to me from everyone in the community who told stories, at parties in the front yard of my in- laws' house, at local parks, at weddings and funerals.

I loved football, and was a sportswriter in college, and before I knew it, Marietta had twin sons who were so large and talented that they played football for the Los Angeles Rams, a team now gone but much loved here in the 1970s. Marietta survives with the help of older people in her community — just as I have, all these years.

They are all gone now, Big Ma, her daughter, Sis, her son-in-law, Floyd. But his brother, LB Walker, is eighty-five, and I see him nearly every day, because I drive past his house on my way to work, and we visit now and then. He came here, too, after being in the military, and he ran a popular nightclub just down the street from his house where Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner, and many others played in the 1970s and '80s.

Last summer, we sat on his porch for a long time while he talked about the old days. He was telling me about growing up on the farm, how hard he and his brothers and sisters worked, how his mother taught him and Floyd to sew and cook because they should be able to help out their wives, and that's why his restaurant was so good — because he learned to cook when he was a child.

Then he looked into his yard and told me that one day, he'd seen his grandmother's back. He came inside and she was changing her shirt, and he ducked away. But he said her back was covered with terrible scars, like the ones Americans see on historical photographs, from being whipped. "I never forgot that," he said. "Never did."

I had written about Marietta working on a plantation turned into a tourist site, and how she refused to let her sons play-act as slaves, and how a moment of violence comes close to replaying that terrible history.

Black history is American history, neighborhood history, family history. My three daughters know this story. They know the story of both grandmothers from the South — Daisy from Mississippi, Callie from Texas, though both died before they were born. Writing I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots was my way, I realize now, of making sure I had those heroic women with me, and us, always. I heard a woman say that phrase in my mother-in-law's kitchen one night, after a long party and a lot of dishes. It meant survival, a wry sense of humor, and my luck in being able to dry silverware and listen.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2002


    A good point of view of a black person????? What on EARTH is that supposed to mean. I know I'm not here to critique other peoples reviews...but this one I couldn't let pass. Right now I am reading one of her books and I found it very ummm.....strange...for a white person to write about African-American's as if they have been in thier shoes. So far I am not surprised nor offened (although I am on page 30). Lets see how this book develops later on. :)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2001

    I know Her

    This book is spectacular. The best part is that i kno Susan. She lives down the street from me. She is such a wonderful person and author. I recommend all of her books to people who like to read books.She has a good point of view of a black person.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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