(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Rivers of Eros, set on the South Side of Chicago in 1971, is the story of Clotilda Pilgrim and her efforts to protect her grandchildren and to help them achieve happy and successful lives. It is also the story of her inability to understand herself or to cope with the difficulties of her own life. Clotilda is a middle-class widow who sews and takes in boarders to earn a living for herself and her grandchildren, Adeline (Addie) and Lester. Clotilda lives with an ever-present sense of guilt and responsibility for the tragedy that took her daughter’s life and that may destroy the lives of her grandchildren.

As a young woman, Clotilda seduced her sister Pearl’s husband, Chester, and had a daughter by him. Years later, this daughter, Ruby, was violently murdered by her husband, Zack Parker. Zack had mistakenly believed that Ruby was having an affair with Sonny Greenlee, a mechanic who worked in his garage. Addie, a young child at the time, witnessed the murder. She is plagued by nightmares and refuses to talk about her mother.

Clotilda is determined to shield her grandchildren from violence and despair. She has problems dealing with Addie, however, because she is afraid to discipline her granddaughter. Addie is headstrong, defiant, and searching for excitement in her life. She finds it with Dunreith Smith, the married brother of her friend Thelma. Dunreith, who has grown up on the streets, is an alcoholic, a drug user, and a womanizer who is often in trouble with...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bell, Bernard W. The Contemporary African American Novel: Its Folk Roots and Modern Literary Branches. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004. Complete history of the African American novel and its practitioners. Places The Rivers of Eros in the context of such literary movements as critical realism, modernism, and postmodernism.

Bender, Robert M. “The Fiction of Cyrus Colter.” New Letters 48, no. 1 (Fall, 1981): 93-103. Discusses Colter as a writer reminiscent of Anton Chekhov.

Clarke, Graham. “Beyond Realism: Black Fiction and the Language of the Real Thing” Black American Literature Forum 16, no. 1 (Spring, 1982): 43-48. Discusses African American identity and racial conflict in The Rivers of Eros, especially in terms of language.

Gibbon, Reginald. “Colter’s Novelistic Contradictions.” Callaloo 14, no. 4 (Fall, 1991): 898-905. Analysis of characters, discussing the use of open-endedness in the representation of life and conflict and the difficult choices faced in Colter’s novels.

O’Brien, John. “Forms of Determinism in the Fiction of Cyrus Colter.” Studies in Black Literature 4, no. 2 (1973): 24-28. Discusses Colter’s use of elements that create an atmosphere of determinism in his work.

Rao, E. Raja. Beyond Protest: A Critical Examination of Contemporary African American Fiction. New Delhi, India: Academic Foundation, 1993. Situates Colter in the “aesthetic tradition” of African American imagination, emphasizing the work’s literary character rather than seeing it as a vehicle of protest.

Shafer, Fred. Introduction to The Rivers of Eros, by Cyrus Colter. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. Good biography of Colter as an individual and as a writer. Discussion of how Colter creates characters.