Toni Cade Bambara has long been admired for her short stories. ‘‘Temperamentally, I move toward the short story,’’ Bambara has said, defining herself, like her protagonist Hazel Parker, as ‘‘a sprinter rather than a long distance runner.’’ In ‘‘Raymond’s Run,’’ the young Hazel Parker relates the events of two days in her life in which she prepares for and runs a race. The story first appeared in 1971 in an anthology edited by Bambara, Tales and Short Stories for Black Folks. A year later it appeared in her first collection of short stories, Gorilla, My Love.
Bambara’s story of Hazel’s race against the newcomer Gretchen, during which Hazel comes to a turning point in her relationship with her mentally challenged brother, Raymond, has been seen as a ground-breaking initiation story. Along with others in the collection Gorilla, My Love, it has been classed as among the first to place a young black female as a central character in the bildungsroman (a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character) tradition.
Critics have also praised Bambara’s compassionate portrayal of the African-American community, a community in which Hazel Parker takes center stage and speaks with her own voice. The vibrant idiomatic language and upbeat tempo, which are compelling features of the story, are characteristic of Bambara’s style. Her ability to capture, translate and play in and out of the voices and idioms of black communities has been widely admired. Through the use of voice as well as theme, ‘‘Raymond’s Run’’ emphasizes the importance of achieving selfhood for young black women within the context of community.