- Nappier Hair:In Brenda’s Own Voice, or Setting the Record Straight
Hello everyone. I’m Brenda. Carolivia Herron wrote the book, Nappy Hair, about me and how my Uncle Mordecai loved to tell stories in the backyard. It was back in 1997, we were having a picnic at my parents’ house in Washington, DC. Of course Uncle Mordecai was there telling all kinds of stories. Stories about hamburgers, stories about the school children running past his door in the mornings, stories about pullets—a pullet is a young chicken. I remember that was the first time I heard the word “pullet.” I was just eight years old then. Now I’m twenty-three.
Carolivia has asked me to explain how I feel about the whole controversy that surrounds this book concerning me and my nappy hair. I’ll explain how I feel and answer some of your questions. I keep hearing your questions from emails and blogs and Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes a prominent person uses the word “nappy” and I see the controversy on the television news and in the newspapers. And then some of you find Carolivia and ask her your questions, and she comes to me and we think through the answers. Well, here are my thoughts, thoughts that may or may not be answers.
Some Book History
First of all, it was the black folks at the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture (Washington, DC) who asked Carolivia to share this story with everyone. She was there sharing another book she wrote, Thereafter Johnnie, but that book left people so sad that she decided to share a happy story at the end. So she said, “Before I leave, let me share this story, ‘Nappy Hair,’ that was recorded at a family picnic last summer. It’s a story about little Brenda and her nappy hair.” That’s how it began. She read the story and folks began to laugh and shout! They weren’t laughing at me or my hair; they were reclaiming part of my and [End Page 188] their shared story about the historically communal and communally divisive “good hair” vs. “nappy hair” debate. Then they asked Carolivia, “How come you haven’t published this story? This is a really good story.” And one woman came up to Carolivia and said, “This story is about me and my hair. Nobody else in my family had hair like mine. I’ve got to have this book.” So those folks all wrote to Carolivia’s editor at Random House, and Carolivia herself sent in the book, and lo and behold, it was accepted for publication the first day it arrived in the Random House office.
I’m not saying that the letters had anything to do with getting the story published, but those letters were sent. So don’t you believe it if someone tells you that black folks don’t like this book and didn’t want it to be published. Black people, African Americans, demanded the publication of this book. Carolivia tells me that this is what happened when the book arrived at Random House. The administrative assistant, a black woman, opened the packet, started reading, and then started laughing so hard that the editor came out and asked her what she was laughing at. She handed him the manuscript. He read it and decided on the spot to accept it for publication. His name is Simon Boughton and he heads another publishing company today.
So Nappy Hair was published in 1997, sold about 13,000 copies in a year and a half—and then the trouble began. Ruth Sherman, a third grade teacher in Brooklyn, New York, used the book as a teaching unit during the fall of 1998 as a way of teaching reading and writing. Each pupil was assigned one page. At first, they just memorized their individual pages. Then they expanded their pages and the story by adding their own words and rhythms and songs, sometimes even adding a little dance to it. It was a success. By the end of October, every one of the kids could read and write, something...