June 8, 2003 - BHAK & BHAS Bludenz: Soul Kiss by Dominica RPCV Shay Youngblood

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Dominica: Peace Corps Dominica: The Peace Corps in Dominica: June 8, 2003 - BHAK & BHAS Bludenz: Soul Kiss by Dominica RPCV Shay Youngblood

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Soul Kiss by Dominica RPCV Shay Youngblood

Soul Kiss by Dominica RPCV Shay Youngblood

Shay Youngblood
Soul Kiss

"I am interested in transformation, sparked by generational influence, how traditions are passed on in different cultures, how an individual's actions can create global, political and social changes. I write as a call to action, using Theater as a verb." - interview in Creative Loafing, 1995

Youngblood wrote Soul Kiss, she says, because she "wanted to investigate a taboo subject: the ways in which children and parents eroticize each other and the consequences of such behavior."

At the novel's beginning, 7-year-old Mariah Kin Santos, having completed a long trip from Manhattan, Kan., to a small town in Georgia, is left in the care of two spinster aunts. Mariah, the offspring of an intense, brief affair between Coral, an emotionally fragile nurse, and Matisse, a talented but unstable painter, initially refuses to believe her mother has abandoned her. So she waits for her mother's return: "Not a day passed that I did not expect her to walk into the room as if she had never left."

After a difficult start, Mariah and her aunts come to form a surprisingly harmonious threesome. Soft, round Faith teaches Mariah to play the cello; strong, fierce Merleen teaches her to drive and to garden. Living with Faith and Merleen -- who aren't only sisters but also lovers -- Mariah quickly falls into their routines of home cooking, good manners, churchgoing, and hygiene. At age ten, she discovers her mother's trunk with all of its secrets, including information about her father, a painter living in Los Angeles.

Days grow into weeks, months into years, and Coral remains nowhere in sight. Mariah becomes a headstrong, sexually curious adolescent who finds comfort in music and poetry. Over the years, her aunts occasionally reveal news of Coral, who travels from one city to another, in and out of drug rehab.

At 14, she deliberately causes enough trouble for her long-suffering aunts that they agree to let her head west to stay with her father. Mariah boards a bus for California. There she meets her father, an enigmatic man with talent to burn and little hope of harnessing it. Mariah discovers her father knows nothing about being a parent, much less the progenitor of an almost-grown woman who bears a startling resemblance to the woman whose naked image he has obsessively explored on canvas. Mariah, unaccustomed to the company of a man, has no notion of the appropriate boundaries of familial love. In their small West Hollywood apartment, Mariah develops a weird sexual life bordering on incest: She masturbates to her father's porn, wears his clothes when he's out, and has orgasmic dreams about him. When both he and she sense that things are getting out of hand, Mariah returns to Georgia, where she finally resolves her feelings about her long-absent mother and takes solace in the healing power of language.

Shay Youngblood was born in 1959 in Columbus, Georgia. She received a BA in Mass Communications from Clark-Atlanta Univesity in 1981 and an MFA in creative writing from Brown University in 1993. In addition to writing, Youngblood has worked as a public information assistant for WETV in Atlanta and as an agriculture information officer with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republican. Ms. Youngblood has received recognition as a poet, playwright, and a fiction writer. She has also written, produced, and directed two short vidoes, and written the screenplay for Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery, which was optioned by Sidney Poitier for Columbia Pictures. In addition to awards for playwrighting, she has received recognition for her fiction, garnering a Pushcart Prize for her short story, "Born with Religion". She has taught creative writing at the Syracuse Communty Writer's Project, and playwrighting at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institution for Women and at Brown University. Ms. Youngblood currently lives in New York where she teaches Creative Writing at the New School for Social Research. She is a member of the Dramatists' and Authors' Guild, the National Writers' Union, and the Writers' Guild of America.

* Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery 1988
* The Big Mama Stories 1989
* Communism Killed My Dog 1991
* Talking Bones 1992
* Square Blues 1992
* Black Power Barbie in Hotel de Dream 1992
* Amazing Grace 1995


* Shakin the Mess Outta Misery
Susan Smith Blackburn Playwrighting Prize, Finalist, 1989
Hollywood NAACP Theatre Awards, Best Playwright, 1991
* Talking Bones
Kennedy Center's Lorraine Hansberry Playwrighting Award, 1993
* Square Blues
21st Century Playwrights Festival, Edward Albee Honoree, 1993
Paul Green Foundation, National Theatre Award, 1995

Critic's opinions

Soul Kiss is both Mariah's realization of her burgeoning sexuality and her resignation to the sadness and abuse she must endure in search of a love that stays.

Although the quiet and respectable Aunt Merleen and Aunt Faith earnestly try to provide Mariah the structure and advantages that her mother, Coral, could not, Mariah's ability to love and connect with others is stunted. In her heart, she is an abandoned child. Like an animal orphaned before weaning, Mariah hungers for the intensely physical, symbiotic relationship she had with Coral and is drawn to women, on whom she gets crushes and with whom she feels complete.

Saturating her writing with haunting eroticism, lyrical description and complex characterization, Youngblood gets inside the soul of an acutely isolated girl and takes the pulse of her desire to break out of that solitude. - Publisher's Weekly

This first novel by playwright and storywriter Youngblood is a young girl's tale of sadness and longing. It's also an erotic odyssey that seems to trace the narrator's incipient lesbianism to her misplaced feelings for her parents. More mournful than soulful, this melancholic narrative is a decent addition to the literature of race and sexuality (with homage paid to Alice Walker et al.). - Kirkus

Mixing gritty realism with over-the-top fable-telling, Youngblood brings brash originality to what might otherwise be a standard loss-of-innocence scenario. In truth, this would be an inspired gift from any dad (or mom). - Weekly Wire

Soul Kiss is a sensously written, haunting novel, infused with longing, about sexual awakening, the pull of memory and the need for relationship. - The Women's Press

Soul Kiss is also about language as a liberating force. Mariah accomplishes her troubled quest for self-knowledge primarily through her engagement with words and phrases. From childhood on, Mariah has coped with various challenges by collecting and consuming words, reveling in their beauty and power, literally swallowing them whole. When Mariah takes control of language -- writing poems in a notebook, confessing her deepest hurts and desires to her Aunt Faith -- she finally becomes free to experience the world as an adult. "It is as if the weight of a thousand stones has been lifted from my chest," Mariah says. "I am light as a page in a blank book. I feel empty, but somehow whole."

Youngblood has fashioned a memorable novel in Soul Kiss, one that transforms a young girl's odyssey toward adulthood into an erotic, complex and compelling journey. - Salon Magazine

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Story Source: BHAK & BHAS Bludenz

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