Some Sing, Some Cry

Some Sing, Some Cry

by Ntozake Shange, Ifa Bayeza

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Groundbreaking and heartbreaking, this triumphant novel by two of America's most acclaimed storytellers follows a family of women from enslavement to the dawn of the twenty-first century.

From Reconstruction to both world wars, from the Harlem Renaissance to Vietnam, from spirituals and arias to torch songs and the blues, Some Sing, Some Cry brings to life the monumental story of one American family's journey from slavery into freedom, from country into city, from the past to the future, bright and blazing ahead. Real-life sisters, Ntozake Shange, award-winning author of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Ifa Bayeza, award-winning playwright of The Ballad of Emmett Till, achieve nothing less than a modern classic in this story of seven generations of women, and the men and music in their lives.

Opening dramatically at a sprawling plantation just off the South Carolina coast, recently emancipated slave Bette Mayfield quickly says her goodbyes before fleeing for Charleston with her granddaughter, Eudora, in tow. She and Eudora carve out lives for themselves in the bustling port city as seamstress and fortune-teller. Eudora marries, the Mayfield lines grows and becomes an incredibly strong, musically gifted family, a family that is led, protected, and inspired by its women. Some Sing, Some Cry chronicles their astonishing passage through the watershed events of American history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429959353
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/14/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 964,799
File size: 636 KB

About the Author

Ntozake Shange (1948-2018) was a renowned playwright, poet, and novelist. Her works include the Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, as well as Some Sing, Some Cry (written with her sister Ifa Bayeza), Sassafrass, Cypress&Indigo and Liliane.

Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and a Pushcart Prize. She was a graduate of Barnard and recipient of a Masters in American Studies from University of Southern California.

Ifa Bayeza is an award-winning playwright, producer, and conceptual theater artist. Her works for the stage include Amistad Voices, Club Harlem, Kid Zero, Homer G&the Rhapsodies, and The Ballad of Emmett Till, winner of the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Play and a 2007 Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference fellowship. A graduate of Harvard University, Bayeza is a board member of the SonEdna Literary Foundation. She lives in Chicago.

Ifa Bayeza is an award-winning playwright, producer, and conceptual theater artist. Her works for the stage include Amistad Voices, Club Harlem, Kid Zero, Homer G&the Rhapsodies, and The Ballad of Emmett Till, winner of the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Play and a 2007 Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference fellowship. A graduate of Harvard University, Bayeza is a board member of the SonEdna Literary Foundation. She lives in Chicago.

Read an Excerpt

Some Sing, Some Cry

By Ntozake Shange, Ifa Bayeza

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5935-3


The first orange light of sunrise left a flush of rose and lavender on Betty's hands as she fingered the likenesses of her children. There were tears she was holding back and cocks crowing, as well as her granddaughter's shouts, "Nana, you ready?" Betty sighed and closed the album reluctantly. Time had come for the last of the Mayfields to leave Sweet Tamarind, the plantation they'd known as home for generations. Talk was some carpetbaggers had bought all the land and paid the white Mayfields a smidgeon of what it was worth and left the poor blacks high and dry. A rough white man, whip and rifle in hand, had passed by a few days before, warning Betty and hers to be off the land by evening of this very day. So off they planned to be, not wanting to know another moment of the whites' wrath. The colored Mayfields were familiar with what that meant, and with no slavery to hold them back they were off to Charleston, where others awaited them.

There was nothing odd about two colored women racing the rhythm of cicadas and the tides at first light, busying themselves with order, a sense of the day to come and dreams of what it might bring, yet this day felt different. This day the cicadas were louder, purposely taunting Betty and her grandchild with their steadiness. Betty set her album down for a second and went to the window to be sure what she was hearing wasn't a band of washboards and gourds being played by some fool-ass folks with tongues in they cheeks. There was no one there. Only the density of Betty's imagination, the palms, some lily o' the valley and nightshade-snugglin' magnolia and giant oaks.

Well, music is not a bad omen, Betty thought to herself. Then she wondered did God mean for her to hear the glory of Gabriel in the morning machinations of insects, the breeze caressing dew on leaves left to themselves all the dark night, waves breaking how the drum popped if African Jeremiah wanted to change the gait of the ring shout, change the dancers' direction with three strong beats and a quick run of his palms on the face of the skin before beginning another rhythm demanding other movements, other oblations, and peace in the energies of the spirits spilling from his fingers to their bodies through the rings of soft clouds round the dawn moon. Sometimes the drums, fiddles, and washboards saluted the giant rose-orange sun, taking up the whole of the horizon like nobody had anywhere to go but to the center of the universe. Yes, the Lord's set the gulls to calling over the ocean's irrepressible going and coming, midst the cicadas' crescendo, to let her know to listen to this blessing, before she and Eudora made this wild — some would say this wild and thoroughly foolhardy — change in their lives. Moving to Charleston.

Why, on Sweet Tamarind everybody understood everybody else. The mélange of Yoruba, Wolof, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and a hint of English left the words of men, free or slave, soothing the air from mouth to mouth, left history in place, content with the comings and goings of her children. Nothing was lost, no one madly pounding gainst a vacuum of silence, nothingness that comes of being of nothing, nothing in particular. When she looked out from her tabby hut, oyster and clam shells cemented with sand thick enough to withstand the might of a cyclone, Betty saw the ruins of the Big House of Sweet Tamarind. She kicked something, not knowing what, thinking to herself, I got no call to leave here. I belong right up there. We all do. Belong right here where I stand.

And what was to become of the graves, the bittersweet memories of her mother, sisters who had been fortunate enough to pass over to the other world before the rigors of this island beat them down, smashed their spirits, left them but ghosts of themselves before it was time. She would have to go to their final resting place before she went anywhere. Sacrilege was not only the province of the white, but could fall upon the unmindful of any of God's children. This Betty believed with her whole body, her body knowing no separation from her soul, ever close to the breath, past and present, of all those whose blood was her own.

But she would have to hurry to pay her respects secretly and gather strength from the loved ones who were no more. Her grandchild Eudora had no sympathy for any who'd come before and had managed to find some joy in the throes of bondage, those who'd thrown away the rigid color codes and property laws to find warmth, love, passions too rich to suppress, so fertile that Eudora owed her own life to them. Perhaps it was this debt of her very being with which she was yet uncomfortable that led Eudora to reject all Betty held so close. Don't for the life of me know why. What for? She 'most white, ain't she? How could all of Africa get so deep in her granddaughter when Mayfield blood flowed just as readily in her veins? How's all this come to be? And if she not all niggah, why not rejoice in that? Eudora's cheeks had known the back of Betty's hand more than once for voicing her defiantly blasphemous thoughts. No matter. Both women were deeply rooted, like Carolinian cypress wondering and massive, to views of themselves that knew no connections other than the words Grandma and chile.

Slipping quietly from the house, Betty hid in her bosom her precious album of daguerreotypes and photographs from wandering carnival sideshow artists. She'd searched futilely for her apron pockets, but she wasn't in an apron. She wasn't going to be cooking in her very deliberate way in her own home anymore. She kept forgetting her future, but refused to forget her ancestors.

Betty swept by purple and white globe amaranth that clung to her skirts like weeping toddlers. She pushed further into the wooded areas she knew to be the resting places of her mother and sisters. Of course she didn't know for sure which of the mounds overgrown with wildflowers and weeds. Were wildflowers weeds? Betty'd asked herself that a thousand times. Was she a wildflower? Was her mother wild? Was she beauteous? Was she full of life like good soil, or empty like dirt? There's a difference tween soil and dirt. There's a difference from coming from nothing and coming from something simply not known. Betty's mother, Monday, was not known to her but she'd clearly come from something. It wasn't true that there was an emptiness. She felt her mother in the fiddle's melody, in the dried gourds ancient women shook until the spirits of somebody from somewhere drove secret sounds from mouths twisted in foreign shapes, squealing and growling a birth of a soul that had no choice but to shout. Then those shouts corralled the bent women and young heifers into a circle that shuffled along, weaving something like Spanish moss around some unseen skeleton the size of God's toe. Or she saw her mother possessed under the arch of God's foot, beating the air with her hips, the soles of her feet afire with the rhythm of the forbidden. Betty knew about the forbidden, therefore she knew her mother. She'd just picked a grave site and called to her. Ma ...

When the azaleas or camellias rose up from the earth for the white folks to pick and pretend love of nature, Betty'd covered her mother's grave with flower petals and danced the dance of longing that became sated only when her body fell, fingers digging for arms to hold her, digging for a womb to bury her tears. But the grasses cut her face, left her limbs grimy with wishing for the impossible. Yet Betty made that real enough to hold sacred, to hold as her beginnings. She sang her mother. Betty let her fine dark hair hang from her head like a mantle of audacity.

She sang her mother when leading other blacker ones through the marshes cross to a safe boat on the way from where she belonged. The darker ones weren't left suspect of their very being. Least that's what Betty imagined. She had to imagine a lot because once she was free and then she was not. Once she wore satin and the finest lace, then she washed someone else's. Betty tried to imagine a reasonable world. She found that harmony by the graves she chose to call her family. She was entitled at least to that. All the others had kin, some that died or were sold away, but they existed somewhere. They knew the smell of magnolias and dogwood blossoms. They knew the songs she sang with them to calm the spirits, to move God's foot in time to the gourds, especially the fancy dangerous ones that woke glory in the tiniest child, the oldest mammy, the fastest picker, chopper, all succumbed to the glory gourds in their gleaming colorful beads, their white feathers and blessed frog's legs. Betty let the music make her belong. She knew her mother. She knew her God danced.

That's what Eudora never found, a place she belonged, and now she was going to force the world to just accept her. Eudora could not bring herself to feel the fiddler's lyric, the gourd's invitations; her own limbs resisted harmony with anything that quelled the dissonance she knew to be herself. Betty jumped once, no twice, round and about the place where she knew her mother's bones waited for her words of love and reverence. She was saying good-bye in silence which broke her heart. Betty became the multitude of sounds and gestures she knew to be safe for those who'd crossed over. The music of a people tumbled from her till only sobs and a writhing body grabbed to hold on to her life. Betty rose weaker than she'd ever been when a child fell from her. Barely breathing she knew the song of her was, indeed, so much a part of her she'd be humming it in her own grave one day. So averse to silence she'd become, the butterflies were clapping bout her head, only no one else could hear them.

Her own daughters' graves were a bit more trouble to identify. Elma, so fair and pampered by the Mayfields she took to despising her mother and her mother's mother, simply disappeared one day. No more than seventeen, she determined that green eyes and silken hair made her ready for whatever the world had to offer. Heavens, no! Not the world of her mother and her mother's mother, but the world of the father, who thought her beauty set her free. Pity. How Betty saw her child's life or death depended on her mood when she looked at the clouds over the horizon. If the clouds were thick, white, billowing, Betty figured the white world was treating her daughter good. It was those thin fast-moving wisps of cloud that troubled Betty. Didn't leave enough for a soul to hold on to. The world was moving too fast and free with Elma, which to Betty signaled a mighty probability of stillness, the silence of the unmourned. And she'd just have to wait to get to Charleston to visit with her dear Blanche. Juliet, her youngest, was lost to her. Juliet, Eudora's mother, who simply had no song. She'd let love fly off with her voice and she had nothing to say to Eudora. Now Eudora was going to Charleston to set something straight that wasn't crooked, going to Charleston to make herself known to the world, when the world was full of young gals like her and dealt them no easy hand, no dance cards or honor.

Shame, Shame. She had to steal away, play half mad to get to the grave of her lover and owner, her master and partner, Julius Mayfield himself. How could he die fighting to keep his own enslaved, children he played with, inspected and vowed never to sell, but own was no contradiction. What kind of man had she shared so much of herself with, did he know she'd done that? Laid open her womanhood and soul as much as any wife anywhere ever had. Over and over she'd gifted him with healthy, never before seen children. Girls whose eyes suggested fog-laden dawns, whose skin was opalescent, whether bronze or ivory. Girls so wantonly free a sane soul couldn't conceive of them as some white's slaves. Yet they were property, like chattel or so much hog entrails, these girls, begat with joy sometimes, from power other times. Either way, how could he at the mere suggestion that she, Betty, the one who laid naked gainst the blond hair silken on his chest, whose legs entangled themselves with his arms and calves, have their mother re-enslaved because he, Mayfield, the planter, heard something about a wench close to him aiding troublemakers to make their way north? He'd heard. He'd heard her screams at childbirth. He knew her sighs of pleasure or terrible release from ecstasy. But what he'd heard from some anonymous white man or maybe a niggah was enough to take those same soft hands of hers that pulled the damp hair on his neck late in the night, holding on for a different kind of glory call, those same hands could now be shackled and set back to boiling lye, washing the undergarments of the white lady who thought she was his wife.

It was not right. It was not wrong. It was. Like stars are. There. Like men and women are. No different from rivers or ravines, caves, hills. Betty didn't care about notions that divided men and women from rocks and fish. It was. She was. Her children were blessings because she had them. She couldn't watch her offspring with disdain the way she'd seen other women look at their master's broods. The pain of carrying hatred round in her body, in the hair that flowed down her back, was too ugly to leave any room for her. She had to be because her girls were, because the wind blows and stars decorate the night, sometimes falling into the laps of lovers, the currents of twisting creeks, the moist black of dream, and the song of her mother. Crepe myrtle spread over the grave of the father of her children like her arms and hair use'ta cover them after the act. He never touched her mean then, with the stinginess folks assumed. There was no hate between them. There was a chasm of fate, cowardice, and the inevitability of men and women seeing nothing but one another, smelling nothing but the scent of the other. That's all Betty understood. It was enough for her to curl neath the flowing crepe myrtle and let the pulse of his breath calm her. He was good for that.

She carefully laid the pictures of their children over the granite carved with the letters of his name, Julius Mayfield, and told him all she could about each child because he would hear from her no more.

I'm still amazed how somebody standing way from me that I never seen before, with his head under some black cloth, bad luck there for sure, makin' poofs, puffs, whatever, some dusting of the sky with soot, with smoke, with my soul maybe, hope not. Stranger come and we give up hard-earned money to look at pictures of ourselfs. Like mirrors wasn't enough. Like the reflection of you in my eyes to your eyes wasn't the Lord letting our insides out into the other. There are ways to remember and put back together whatever it was you want to recollect. Seems to me a laziness come over folks preventin' them from going deep down to the gut of all they ever been and tellin' somebody, if somebody want to know.

Don't know why Julius was so taken with these here whatchu call em, oh, photongraphs, no daguerrographs. Oh, who in the Lord's world want to know what they callt? All I know is Julius went to Paris, France, as a young man and came back besotted with this newfangled invention. Done built hisself a black room to fiddle around makin' em, an invited every wandering 'tographer on the road to the house to make more, talkin' bout they "art" all night long. But I found a path through them black-and-whites thinner than pastry dough, less supple than bark, more costly than lace, I say I found me a way to put some blood life back in the still of my children's eyes, they limbs caught in the air like dead folks shaped the way a fool wan to remember, with they smiles pained or pushed way past a lie. Oh, yes, Saints be praised, I can read some life into these pictures, make my family come back to life. Only funny thing bout it, they still coming back in black and white, that the only true thing bout em. Black n white. Niggahs n peckawoods. Enough to make me find some dark funny in all this. Can't get through my children's eyes. If you can't make your way through black and white in a heap of entanglement and haints, good and evil, always nearby to help us, or at least me, find my way through what all I done or what done come up with me. No matter.


Excerpted from Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange, Ifa Bayeza. Copyright © 2010 Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Some Sing, Some Cry 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
02Butterfly More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The plot and characters are mesmerizing. I always wanted to see what would happen next. A great book.
Teesbaby More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend reading this book. It is an excellent reading and following five generations of women. A must read. Check it out!
BookNut10 More than 1 year ago
Awful book, so hard to follow. Jumps around too much. One one page a character had a baby and two pages later the child was three years old. Too many characters, not enough development. This would have been better as a series. Authors tried to do too much too fast. I read 150 page then gave up.
GeGee More than 1 year ago
Great story
BarbaraHouston on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I sang and I cried through this book -- and I have started it again as soon as I finished it the first time.. This novel is the history of an African American family from slavery through the civil rights movement. The audio novel is captures the music that colored the lives of these women ,,, primarily women. .The language is as musical as the actual songs. Sometimes, the novel is in third person, and other times in first person with so much pain that I listened with tears on my face. These authors also wrote "for colored girls ..." and this novel is a fitting follow-up. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. The one exception is the adult language and adult situations. which are appropriate to the plot but people need to be aware in advance.
Litfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I almost gave up on this book halfway through; I actually did take a break for a couple of weeks. I am so glad I went back and finished it.This is the multigenerational saga of an African American family, descended from both slaves and plantation owners in the Gullah islands of South Carolina. The authors themselves are of Gullah heritage, and I think that certainly lends a very authentic feel to the novel. The novel begins with the end of slavery and ends with the present day. Of necessity, it is long-- nearly 600 pages. Music and language help to tell the story not only of the family but of a piece of African American history. The authors have carefully studied the vernacular of the time, and the characters' way of speaking changes as time progresses, and as characters move from country to city and even cross oceans. Music, too, evolves with the times and provides a backdrop for two wars and the civil rights movement. The prose itself is often rhythmic and musical.The first half of the novel moves much slower than the second. About halfway through it felt a bit plodding so I put it down. I came back to it with some reluctance but once World War I and the Jazz Age hit, the pace picked up phenomenally and I couldn't put it down.What's most impressive about this novel, is that the family and culture itself becomes the main character. With a multigenerational saga, there is no single person who serves as a main character. I thought this would be a sticking point for me, as character development is vital to me in a story. But in spite of the short relationships with each character, I felt a deep connection to the family and to the larger themes that they represented in the novel. Most fascinating was the exploration of how various characters responded to slavery, oppression, racism, and other themes-- as the title states, "some sing, some cry." The intergenerational themes that arose within the family were also quite compelling.This is a refreshing and unique family saga, different due to the focus on music and vernacular, and the shifting language in the novel, that serve to really connect the reader to that particular time period and culture. If you can stick with it through the slower parts, the rewards are well worth the effort.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Starting shortly after the emancipation of the slaves, this fictitious family saga begins on the Sweet Tamarind plantation on one of the Carolina islands and covers seven generations as well as a good part of the world.Mah Bette considered herself wife to her master, Julius Mayfield, even as she was his slave, and she bore his children. This is the story of her life after emancipation and the lives of the generations that followed her. It is also a story of America and the ongoing battle for race equality.If you are looking for a fast-paced action adventure, this is probably not the book for you. If you are looking for an insightful tale of family, of struggles, and of victories, read on. The characters are very human, believable, and likeable, flaws and all. The authors did a wonderful job of describing the settings and the atmosphere of the times. While the book is fiction, inclusion of historical figures and events make this a story everyone can relate to. And throughout the story, there is song, there is music, always tying the family together.Initially, the dialect was hard for me to read, but that became easier as I got used to reading it and as the dialect changed with time to something that is more familiar to me. Ifa Bayeza included an interesting note explaining why the vernacular was written as it was. There were possibly a couple of anachronisms, like the use of duct tape in the 1920s. And were records made of ¿plastic¿ in the 20s? I don't know, it wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong.The book is beautifully written. There is a quote that I found especially powerful in the Advanced Readers' Edition, but it may not be the same in the final published version:They'd seen this look before. On the faces of Max Schmeling fans as the Brown Bomber was defeated, on the nightly news footage of Little Rock, in the press coverage of Emmett Till's mother walking passed her son's killers, alternately smiling and snarling at her. The hatred their son had just described he now wore on his own face. It was the look of hatred so deep, there is no passion, like strangling a man and not breaking a sweat.A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review.
nittnut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beginning with the end of the Civil War, it is a multi generational saga of an African American family, and a good piece of American history as well. The intermingling of American musical history gave the story added depth. As is to be expected of a book of this scope, there is a huge number of characters. I was surprised how easily I kept track of them all. The dominant force in the story is the women. All the women are strong, determined and passionate. I was occasionally frustrated with the earlier generations - these incredible, smart, strong women constantly falling for the wrong man - the men continually a disappointment. Finally, Cinnamon (5th generation) breaks the cycle and picks a consistently stable man. She is also the first woman in the line since the story begins who is not raped and left to deal with the results the best she could.I absolutely loved the way the authors dealt with the history of racism from Reconstruction through the present. I thought they were very down to earth and balanced in their treatment of an extremely sensitive subject. Having just read a book - [Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White] on the subject - I was really pleased to see many references in the story to black politicians and leaders from Civil War times to the present. I especially liked the line used in the section on the Civil Rights movement "I hear tell that during Reconstruction colored folks voted fine as a summer day. Had plenty of colored representatives - congressmen, even senators."I did have a hard time getting into the book I struggled for the first 150-200 pages, but after that, it was hard to put down. The language was beautiful, the story was interesting, but I kept hitting speed bumps. After reading Shange's "Note on the Composition" I think I understand why. Each sister wrote sections of the book, trading off. While the transitions were not distinct, I think it was enough of a style change to throw me off a bit. That along with the fact that both writers are playwrights, required a different style of reading. The book really is more sensory, it is probably fabulous when read aloud. Once I started to see pictures of the characters and hear them talking (sadly, about when they left the South and went North), it got easier.
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