Two weeks ago, Andria Nacina Cole's story "Men Be Either Or, But Never Enough" was published as a Ploughshares Solo by Ploughshares literary magazine. I read it the day it came out, as soon as I got home from work that evening, and it affected me the way truly fine literature tends to: I couldn't function for the rest of the night, just sat with the thoughts and feelings it provoked. I urge you to head to Amazon or Ploughshares and cough up the measly $1.99 to buy this story. I guarantee it'll leave you wanting to read more of this writer's work, as indeed I'm eager for her to get a book deal and publish the collection I know will blow us all away. Maybe there's a novel in the works too? Hey a girl can dream.
So here's the thing about "Men be either or." There's good writing and there's great writing. Good writing is a
pleasure, great writing is precious. There are stories that make you
think, something I value highly. And there are stories that make you
feel, also a fine accomplishment. What we have here is that rarest
combination: great writing in the service of a story that makes you both
think and feel. This is true art. The craft that makes the art -- the
way Ms. Cole wields words, and the careful plotting with which she lays
out the story so that it unfurls, unfolds upon itself, opening up layer
by layer, guiding the reader deeper into the heart of it, the pain of
it -- well, the craft is breathtaking. I also have to say that IMO it
takes a special writerly skill to present a child's POV in a way that
somehow manages an authentic voice yet still stays in the realm of adult
Cole has a masterly hand with language, and not only in fiction. When you have some time, because, as with her fiction, her poetry demands intellectual and emotional attention so don't read it unless you can spend some time with it, you should also read her poem published in The Feminist Wire in 2013 "How To Forgive Abortion When You Are the Aborter." I must confess I'd put off reading this because, well, the title had me worried I wouldn't like it, my kneejerk reaction to the title being hey there's nothing to forgive. I should have had more faith in this sister who I well know is a fierce proponent of all things woman. And indeed this poem says it all, fiercely.
I am personally indebted to Andria Nacina Cole going back almost 10 years now. In the summer of 2006 she organized a women writers' conference in D.C. Called Flanked--the idea being that women would be at each others' sides, have each others' backs--it was an amazing experience. Not only was it all women, it was majority women of color, and the conference's whole orientation was toward supporting and empowering writers who would rarely find such support from the literary establishment. It was a privilege to take part in Flanked and I'm so glad my application was accepted. Now here's the crazy thing about it: Flanked was funded by Andria Nacina Cole, who'd won a Maryland state writing prize and used the prize money not for herself but to put on a conference to build up other women writers. Who ever heard of such a thing? At Flanked I met the very fine young writer Gimbiya Kettering, who's now been published in lots of tony literary journals and has a couple of novels in the works; Gimbiya and I became good friends and have kept up with each other's lives literary (reading and critiquing each other's work, writing each other recommendation letters and so on) and otherwise since then. So I got a smart, sharp, supportive friend out of Cole's selfless gift of Flanked. And in the years since Flanked I've gotten a chance to sort of get to know, well not really, not in person, but a little at least, virtually, online, at least, or at least to follow, admiringly from afar, Andria herself. Who always has something interesting to say, and whose writing I always look forward to.
This is a writer to watch. I have no doubt we'll see more great things from her.