Women's Mystery Writing and Migration in the African Diaspora
8: Sensuality: A Reverberating Force
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I needed sanctuary, even if that meant a screaming neon palace of flesh.
—Nanette Hayes (Rhode Island Red 155)
Sensuality is a likely endnote for this study because it courses through this genre so thoroughly that, at times, the reader does not know if she is thumbing through a mystery or a lusty romance novel. Certainly, there are numerous scenes of “bodice ripping,” accompanied by heavy breathing, but sensuality is not limited to play between willing bodies. For black female detective writers, it is a pleasurable, spirit-feeding energy that restores balance within a safe perimeter. Across the tradition, sensuality is the font of creativity, creation that can blossom even in environments with limited raw materials, time and critical feedback. It manifests most often during the practices of preparing and eating food, playing and appreciating music, serving up and laughing over raucousness, and, last but not least, lovemaking. Whether a comic or a gourmet, the primary stars in these novels turn to lush and fleshy corporeal rites to offset the tragedies that they observe and attempt to remedy. Hence, tragedy and recovery are cooperational. Ntozake Shange’s notion of a woman’s landscape/geography is most fitting here.1 According ← 159 | 160 → to Shange, a duality resides in the lives of women of color: the pleasurable and the dangerous occupy the same space. For instance, the greatest power can emanate from a woman who feels sexually nourished, but she must also contend with the possibility of domestic violence...
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