Discussion Topics

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Discuss how Velma’s mental illness in The Salt Eaters is the product of sexual bias and racial prejudice.

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How does the African American tradition of oral storytelling feature in Toni Cade Bambara’s works?

Through what specific actions do young girls in Bambara’s stories demonstrate their resistance to social norms?

Explore how truth telling is an important aspect of Bambara’s work.

Who are the social activists in Bambara’s fiction and what problems are they trying to remedy?

Other Literary Forms

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Before Toni Cade Bambara published her first collection of stories, Gorilla, My Love (1972), she edited two anthologies, The Black Woman (1970) and Tales and Stories for Black Folks (1971), under the name Toni Cade. Her 1980 novel, The Salt Eaters, was well received and won many awards. She was also an active screenwriter whose credits included Louis Massiah’s The Bombing of Osage Avenue (1986), about the bombing of the Movement (MOVE) Organization’s headquarters in Philadelphia, and Massiah’s W. E. B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices (1995). Her friend and editor, Toni Morrison, edited a collection of her previously uncollected stories and essays in 1996 called Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, and her final novel, Those Bones Are Not My Child, was published in 1999.

Achievements

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The Salt Eaters won numerous awards, including the American Book Award, the Langston Hughes Society Award, and an award from the Zora Neale Hurston Society. Toni Cade Bambara’s work on The Bombing of Osage Avenue led to an Academy Award for Best Documentary and awards from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and the Black Hall of Fame. Her other honors include the Peter Pauper Press Award (1958), the John Golden Award for Fiction from Queens College (1959), a Rutgers University research fellowship (1972), a Black Child Development Institute service award (1973), a Black Rose Award from Encore (1973), a Black Community Award from Livingston College, Rutgers University (1974), an award from the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club League, a George Washington Carver Distinguished African American Lecturer Award from Simpson College, Ebony’s Achievement in the Arts Award, and a Black Arts Award from the University of Missouri (1981), a Documentary Award from the National Black Programming Consortium (1986), and a nomination for the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award (1997).

Other literary forms

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Toni Cade Bambara (bam-BAHR-ah) is best known for her short stories, which appear frequently in anthologies. She has also received recognition as a novelist, essayist, journalist, editor, and screenwriter, as well as a social activist and community leader. Her stories depict the daily lives of ordinary people who live in the African American neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Harlem, and other sections of New York City and the rural South. Although she wrote in other genres, her short stories established her reputation. In Gorilla, My Love (1972), a collection of fifteen stories, Bambara focuses on the love of friends and neighborhood as she portrays the positive side of black family life and stresses the strengths of the African American community. These fast-paced stories, characterized by her use of the black dialect of the street, are full of humorous exchanges and verbal banter. The Sea Birds Are Still Alive (1977) is a collection of short stories that reflect Bambara’s concern with people from other cultures; the title story focuses on the plight of Vietnamese refugees at the end of the Vietnam War. Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, a collection of Bambara’s writings, most of which never appeared before in print, was published posthumously in 1996.

Achievements

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Toni Cade Bambara received the Peter Pauper Press Award in Journalism from the Long Island Star in 1958, the John Golden Award for Fiction from Queens College in 1959, and the Theater of Black Experience Award in 1969. She was also the recipient of the George Washington Carver Distinguished African American Lecturer Award from Simpson College, Ebony’s Achievement in the Arts Award, and the American Book Award, for The Salt Eaters, in 1981. The Bombing of Osage Avenue won the Best Documentary of 1986 Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and the Documentary Award from the National Black Programming Consortium in 1986.

As an editor of anthologies of the writings of African Americans, Bambara introduced thousands of college students to the works of these writers. She was a founder of the Southern Collective of African American Writers and played a major role in the 1984 Conference on Black Literature and the Arts at Emory University.

During the last fourteen years of her life, Bambara devoted her energies to the film industry, writing screenplays.

Bibliography

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Alwes, Derek. “The Burden of Liberty: Choice in Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters.” African American Review 30, no. 3 (Fall, 1996): 353-365. Compares the works of Morrison and Bambara, arguing that whereas Morrison wants readers to participate in a choice, Bambara wants them to choose to participate. Asserts that Bambara’s message is that happiness is possible if people refuse to forget the past and continue to participate in the struggle.

Butler-Evans, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. In the first book-length study to treat Bambara’s fiction to any extent, Butler-Evans uses narratology and feminism to explore Bambara’s works as well as those of two other important female African American writers.

Collins, Janelle. “Generating Power: Fission, Fusion, and Post-modern Politics in Bambara’s The Salt Eaters.” MELUS 21, no. 2 (Summer, 1996): 35-47. Examines nuclear power as a key metaphor in the novel, noting how Bambara raises ecological and ethical concerns about nuclear energy. Argues that Bambara’s nationalist and feminist positions inform the novel’s text as the author advocates political and social change.

Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. In the essay “Salvation Is the Issue,” Bambara says that the elements of her own work that she deems most important are laughter, use of language, sense of community, and celebration.

Hargrove, Nancy. “Youth in Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. A thorough examination of an important feature of Bambara’s most successful collection of short fiction—namely, that most of the best stories center on young girls.

Holmes, Linda J., and Cheryl A. Wall, eds. Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007. Collection of insightful essays commemorates Bambara’s life, her writings, and the importance of her contributions to African American literature. Contributors include Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Ruby Dee, Nikki Giovanni, and Audre Lorde.

Shinn, Thelma J. “Orbiting Home: Toni Cade Bambara.” In Women Shapeshifters: Transforming the Contemporary Novel. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Chapter on Bambara’s novels is included in a larger examination of how twentieth century women authors transformed the novel’s structure by combining the traditions of Romantic and realistic fiction.

Taylor, Carole Anne. “Postmodern Disconnection and the Archive of Bones: Toni Cade Bambara’s Last Work.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 35 (Spring/Summer, 2002): 258-280. Discusses Bambara’s self-referential storytelling in Deep Sightings and Rescue Misions, where the stories refer to their own creation, and in her last novel, Those Bones Are Not My Child, which refers to Bambara’s own life as a mother, writer, activist, and filmmaker.

Vertreace, Martha M. Toni Cade Bambara. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1998. The first full-length resource devoted to the entirety of Bambara’s career. Provides information useful for students of the author’s works.

Willis, Susan. “Problematizing the Individual: Toni Cade Bambara’s Stories for the Revolution.” In Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experience. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. Clear and informative essay analyzes Bambara’s work, focusing largely on The Salt Eaters while also commenting on her most important short fiction.

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