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Redwood and Wildfire Paperback – February 28, 2011
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One of many themes Hairston weaves into her tale of an Irish-Seminole man (Aidan Wildfire) and a young black hoodoo queen (Redwood Phipps) who flee backwoods Georgia for urban Chicago at the turn of the 19th century is the importance of itinerant theater in shaping America s evolving sense of itself.
From black-face minstrel shows to multi-ethnic horse operas like Buffalo Bill's Wild West, a unified cultural history was being forged, which this novel brings to life in vivid detail. Subsequent transitions from vaudeville to Broadway to movies locked iconic American performances into the group mind of audiences like a collective memory or dream. Using revelatory flashbacks and poetic asides, Hairston suggests such collective dreaming transforms people the same way herbal and psychological voodoo can. The fantasy elements featured in Hairston's narrative such as faith healing, telepathy, astral travel, and teleportation are implicitly compared to the Promethean wonders of the electrical pavilion at the 1893 Chicago World s Fair.
Music is rightly described as yet another magic power; a way of changing peoples' moods and even a person s destiny. Using their mutual genius for period blues and bluegrass, Aidan and Redwood follow their dreams of self-reinvention along the same hazardous Blues Highway survived by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith then transcended by Florence Mills and Josephine Baker. By the time this adventure ushers its characters into the pre-Code film industry, all that matters any more is transcendence: a physical and psychological transcendence of all obstacles to creative or social freedom. --Village Voice, Feb 23, 2011
About the Author
Andrea Hairston is a Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College, as well as the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. Her first novel, Mindscape, which was short-listed for the Philip K. Dick and James Tiptree Awards, was awarded the Carl Brandon Society's Parallax Award. Her plays have been produced at Yale Rep, Rites and Reason, the Kennedy Center, Stage West, and on Public Radio and Television. She has received many awards for her writing and directing, including an NEA Grant to Playwrights, a Ford Foundation grant to collaborate with Senegalese Master Drummer Massamba Diop, and a Shubert Fellowship for Playwriting.
Top customer reviews
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Running through the prose is the pulsing, visceral awareness of body; skin, color, breath, and blood, in all the characters.
We join Redwood Phipps as she loses her mother, grows up in the Georgia swamps as a colored hoodoo gal in a town where that makes her feared by all, and dances around half-Irish/half-Seminole Aidan who tries to make his own place in the world through a fog of haint-haunting and alcohol.
Both travel to Chicago where they find their own places as entertainers.
This is not an easy book to read; it's definitely for adults. You can't sit down and gulp it. The narrative is a bit opaque sometimes, either due to dialect or the author's fancy, I don't know, but even when the story takes us hard places, you can't give up on Redwood or Aidan or any of their hard-living and hard-used friends.
You read to pass through the hard times, to shake your fist at the boneyard baron and do a little hoodoo healing on yourself, no matter your own color or background.
I felt as if someone had taken The Color Purple and mixed it with some of the sad-tinged wonder of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude as I read Redwood and Aidan's tale.
Definitely something you should read, but only if you're emotionally prepared.
This Book's Snack Rating: A handful of pistachios for the sometimes-painful shell of race, violence, and discrimination you crack to get to the honey-sweet nut of Aidan and Redwood's magic inside.
Redwood is an artist--a singer, actor and (eventually) a film Director. Like her mother, she has a capacity for hoodoo which both helps her and hinders her. The book opens when she is a child and her mother is lynched, and it follows her as she grows into her abilities--to understand and influence animals and to make art. Her development follows a movement (with a couple of blues players) from a small town in Georgia to Chicago, then the center of the silent film industry. Wildfire, who loves her and eventually follows her to Chicago, is a conflicted and sometimes self-hating combination of Irish and Seminole. The movement of the novel involves the gradual maturing of their relationship, their capacity to heal one another, and to make an art that is adequate to their lived experience.
One can read the novel for various things. The plot itself grabs you and brings you along. But its language is extraordinary--I heard Hairston read a chapter aloud and was swept away. The book also gives a wonderful sense of the sound and feel of the South and the Midwest a century ago, and an introduction to the world of the silent film industry. Finally, while it sounds sentimental to say so, for all its violence and grittiness the novel is really a celebration of love and the possibility of human growth. In this way it's also like Mindscape. It's wonderful work.