It’s Writer’s Wednesday and I am promoting the amazing contributors to this year’s second annual poetry contest! These women are not just writers but they are leaders in their own right and a great inspiration to me personally. They each have their own flava and style that I love. They are funny, inspiring, and driven. Be sure to check out their blogs to get to know them better!
“It’s life through my lens and I’m happy to share it with others.” – Dr. K.E. Garland
Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today, I’d like all of the women readers to thank Beatrice Kenner. Because of her, we can all breathe a little easier. Men, keep reading at your own risk. Or, go and get your wives and daughters, they’ll want to read this!
Some of the most common forms of protection for women during their cycles were grass, rabbit skins, sponges, rags, menstrual aprons, homemade knitted pads, or other kinds of absorbents. Usually, women used some form of a rag back in the day. This is why “she’s on the rag” is a popular expression used to refer to a woman who is menstruating. Then, here comes Mary to the rescue…
While she did not invent the modern version of the Maxi Pad, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner invented the sanitary belt, the first version of the pad.
Mary was born in Monroe, North Carolina on May 17, 1912 and came from a family of inventors. Her sister invented a children’s board game that explored family ties called “Family Treedition.” Mary’s father Sidney Davidson, patented a pants presser in 1914. According to historian and former U.S. Patent Examiner Patricia Sluby, a maternal grandfather of the daughters was a man of German and Irish descent who invented a tricolor train light. It’s safe to say that inventing things was in Mary’s blood.
Mary is known most for her invention of an early version of the menstrual pad. Many of us are too young to know what the sanitary belt was. The sanitary belt was an actual belt that was used to hold pads in place before the invention of self-adhesive maxi pads.
Mary invented the sanitary belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket but the company that showed interest in the pads rejected the invention because Mary was a black woman. For this, the sanitary belt didn’t come into widespread use until 1956, thirty years after its invention. Learning this has taught me the power of patience and how everything comes to be in its time. It may have seemed like a lifetime to Mary but eventually, her invention saw the light of day. Mary received five patents for her invention between 1956 and 1987.
While mostly known for her invention of the sanitary pad, Mary had other groundbreaking inventions like the toilet paper holder and the mounted back scrubber and washer for showers. Mary has been an entrepreneur from the start, operating her own floral business in Washington D.C. when she was not inventing things.
Adhesive Maxi Pads (an adhesive side that stuck to the lining of a woman’s panties, the modern pad) were invented in the 1970s so the sanitary belt did not last very long. Nonetheless, without it, someone would not have thought to make things easier by eliminating the belt and just going with the napkin. If you Google Sanitary Napkins (or talk to your mom or grandmother) you’ll learn that the belt was uncomfortable and inconvenient and while tampons existed, using them for younger women was considered sexually improper. (A pretty good article to study up on the evolution of pads can be found HERE.) But life happens in stages and good things come to be because someone took a risk on something others may not have found useful. Mary’s invention helped women who didn’t want to use tampons to get by and paved the way for all of the pads currently on the market.
Did you know there was a woman writer during the Harlem Renaissance named Nora? Yup.
One of the things I wanted to do with The Nora White Story project is to make everything make as much sense as possible. I know how important it is that everything fits the era to include names. Thus, I used names that were familiar with the time. Some of the names, like Nora, jumped out at me from the start. However, some of them were not so easy. To make sure everyone’s name (even minor characters) fit the time, I Googled the census data for popular names of the 1920s and scrolled through male and female names. So, who was Nora Holt?
Nora was a singer, composer and music critic. Born Lena Douglas in Kansas City, Kansas; Nora graduated from Western University of Quindaro, Kansas and later earned a Bachelor’s degree in music in 1917. In 1918, she earned her Master’s Degree in music at Chicago Musical College, becoming one of the first African-American women to complete a Master’s program in the United States. Her thesis composition was an orchestral work called Rhapsody on Negro Themes.
Nora was married quite a few times. On the fourth time, she changed her name from Lena to Nora when she married George Holt in 1916.
From 1917-1921 Nora contributed music criticism pieces to the Chicago Defender, a black daily newspaper. In 1919, she co-founded the National Association of Negro Musicians and then spent 12 years abroad in Europe and Asia singing at night clubs and private parties. Although composing over 200 works of orchestral music, one of the reasons Nora Holt is not well known is because her work was stolen. Upon leaving for Europe in 1926, she placed her manuscripts in storage when she returned they were gone. Only one piece survived because it was published prior to the theft and is called Negro Dance, (ragtime-based piano piece).
Holt moved to Harlem in the early 1920s, where she became an important part of the Harlem Renaissance. She became good friends with novelist and critic Carl Van Vechten.
(You can meet some of these historical figures when they make special guest appearances in my new novel, Renaissance: The Nora White Story which releases tomorrow. Today (7/14) is the last day to get it at the reduced price of $1.99)
Nora was also a teacher. She studied music at the University of Southern California in the 1930s and went on to teach music in Los Angeles for several years. Nora was well rounded. Not only was she a writer and musician but she also ran a beauty shop. Apparently Nora knew how important it was to stay fly :-).
In 1943, Holt took a position as an editor and music critic with a black-oriented publication Amsterdam News and went on to live a full life. During the early 1950s and early 1960s, she hosted a radio concert series called “Nora Holt’s Concert Showcase”. It ran to 1964 and in 1966, she was a member of the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal.
Just so you know, I fell for you first. Maybe it’s because that Logan boy and I shared the same name I was birthed with. I mean, back then I had never been to the deep south and I’m sure Stacey Logan knows more about the land than I do. Anyway, I was in 6th grade when we met. You didn’t know it then but you introduced me to black literature and I’m not afraid to claim that title or to separate black writer’s into a category of their own. How could our experiences not be likened to the Roll of Thunder? You were that seed planter for the rooted passion I now carry with me.
You always kept it real so Imma return the favor. You see my eyes hypnotized every young man who lusted for my lil sweet self. All fresh and new and walking all lady like. And then you came knocking at my consciousness like the Coldest Winter Ever but claimed No Disrespect. I’m sure we connected by way of the struggle. You see I was brought up in the Robert Taylor projects on Chicago’s south side so crack heads, rats, and hunger didn’t alarm me. I fell in love with the way you never sugar coated the truth and anyone whose been where we’ve been knows just how real your words are.
How long must the caged bird write before she sings? I can’t credit myself for coming up with that line. You showed me how a poet can use metaphors to write fiction too. Even though your memoir is all truth, your talent transformed it into something that can be considered just as poetic as phenomenal women. Your voice was passionate and strong and thundered like waves of air across the sky. Even in death is your memory, still that uplifting arm rising like dust and written down in history.
Speaking of poetry, ever since I heard you speak I wanted to write for colored girls. You brought me back to those Souljah days with your raw tongue. How it unfolded from the very bottom of your gut and lifted the skirt to every pain black women have endured since the days their slave masters told them that rainbows weren’t enough. You didn’t write the way that I was taught in school, you wrote the way that I spoke. Like when my friends and I crowded around de front porch and ma boyfriend waz whispering quite literally, sweet nothin’s in my ear. And I laughed stupid like “You pretty” was something revolutionary enough to show my privates for.
By the time I got to you my thoughts started to evolve into a wanting I couldn’t put my finger on. My mind had gone from reading for entertainment to studying the books I read. I was on a search for something deeper than cotton fields, magnolia trees, and project rats. By the time you came along I was reading in-between the lines and trying to find that thing called freedom. And I wondered just how deep I had to look for that Tar Baby.
As soon as I found out you were from my home town we bonded. Was real cool like besties from the low end on the South Side. Bonded like 47th Street and State, Bronzeville, or Englewood. You see your lyrics had depth like the deep south you was born in, but had that look about it that screamed Chi-Town. Simple poetry that spoke volumes. You taught me that if I loved him the right way, saw him the way I was supposed to, that a man became more than just a body.
This relationship of ours! I can read you anytime and Lewis will always seem like the same Ray Ray and Pookie we all know. You perfected the art of black family life and character development. Every book I read of yours sends me into that world and I’m just laughing and shaking hands with your people like they my people because they are. I have stayed up plenty of nights turning pages and laughing and trying to figure out just what it means to be A Day Late and Dolla Short.
A Love Letter to the Black Women Writers Who Liberated Me Read the title of an article written by Ashley Gail Terrell, a freelance writer from Michigan working on her first novel. Her post was inspiration for this piece.
I believe there are stepping stones to everything in life. That something that leads and guides us from one place to another so that we can reach the place we’re supposed to be. It can be anything from music, movies, television, people, places, things, and even books. Now, because of choice we do not always see these stepping stones for what they are; do not always notice the impact they are having in the moment in which we experience it and for some of us, perhaps we never will. But when I read this title, I thought back to the writers who I have come to love over the course of time and I began to meditate on how they have influenced my writing. When I was not yet where I am, spiritually, mentally, and physically, these writers (although not just these writers) became valuable launchpads on behalf of my writing today, sparking a flame of passion for the art that I still carry with me.
“Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? To such extent you bleach, to get like the white man. Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman.”
– Malcolm X, May 5, 1962 at the funeral service of Ronald Stokes in Los Angeles.