Biomythography in “A Spectral Hue”

The poet Audre Lorde created the word “biomythography,” and the book that bears this subtitle, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, freely mixes the memoir with the mythic in new and inventive ways. I love how the word honors the fact that we’re all made of fact and fiction, and mythic tropes sometimes intrude on our more mundane, prosaic existence.

A Spectral Hue isn’t an (auto)biography, but I see bits and pieces of my personal mythology woven throughout the text. Subconsciously, I’ve drawn from stories that my family told, and fused them with fiction. The novel is a ghost story in more than one way.

Echoes of my mother’s life in Philadelphia show up in Iris’s story; I modeled the house Iris grew up in on my grandparents’ Ridge Avenue home. My aunt, Mom’s sister, told me about her visions, which were adjacent to, if not exactly, psychic. (She could guess people’s astrological signs, and was correct all of the time without knowing their birth dates). The “gay gang” Violet Rage is a thinly veiled version of the true DC ‘gang’ of gay black kids called ‘Check It.’ Family vacations were frequently held on the Eastern Shore—we went to Ocean City as kids. The whole area influenced and inspired the fictional town of Shimmer. The botanica in one of the chapters is in my neighborhood. 

In my author talk on February 29 at the Petworth Library, I will discuss some of the other influences of the novel, focusing on the artistic parts. The DC Colorfield movement and the DC outsider artist James Hampton were all inspirations. To me, visual art is magic itself. Gazing upon it takes me to another world. It changes my mood, deranges my senses. The play of color, light and shape has an almost synesthetic affect on me. Outsider Artists, at least the ones I researched, believed that their art was a message or a portal to elsewhere. Spirits spoke to them through their chosen medium, and within their elaborate worlds they imbedded pieces of themselves. Henry Darger’s collages are filled with clues about his troubled childhood. Shards of his life are embedded in the stories of the Vivian Girls.  Hampton’s private “angelic” language is deeply informed by his Baptist upbringing.

I hope to see some of you there!

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