THE GILDA STORIES (1991), by Jewelle Gomez, may or may not comprise the first fictional appearance of a sympathetic, black, feminist, lesbian vampire, but it's certainly a groundbreaking pioneer in that niche. The protagonist, originally known simply as "the Girl," begins life as a slave in Louisiana. We first meet her in 1850 as a runaway hiding in a barn, where she stabs to death a bounty hunter who tries to rape her. She's found by the vampire Gilda, who welcomes the Girl into her home, a New Orleans bordello. After the Girl's transformation into a vampire and the death of Gilda, the Girl assumes her maker's name. Thus her change frames vampirism as completely positive; it grants her not only freedom and power but an identity. The second Gilda gathers a vampire family-of-choice around her. They avoid killing and treat the consumption of blood as sharing rather than predation. Their psychic gift of empathy enables them to demonstrate in action the theme stated by the author herself: "We take blood, not life, and leave something in exchange." The novel follows them across two hundred years of history as the country changes around them. From antebellum Louisiana, the story travels to Yerba Buena in 1890, Missouri in 1921, and on through the twentieth century to various locales (in the years 1955, 1971, and 1981). The two final chapters leap into the future settings of 2020 and 2050. The chapters are fairly self-contained, since each one starts afresh in a new setting.
As one of the Amazon reviews puts it, in her long life Gilda deals with "African American culture, the civil rights movement and feminism" as well as "sexuality, racism and environmental issues," all from the perspective of an outsider observing human society. The 25th Anniversary Edition includes a foreword (about the background of the novel's conception) and concluding author's note by Gomez, plus an essay by poet, scholar, educator, and indie-press publisher Alexis Pauline Gumbs, "Blood Relations: Gilda and the Stakes of Our Future."
Margaret L. Carter
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