(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Two Wings to Veil My Face is a cleverly woven tapestry of a novel detailing the family chronicle of the Witherspoon family. Ranging in time from the slavery period into the twentieth century, the novel focuses on the history of one family but in so doing draws parallels with the saga of all African American people.

The novel takes the form of an oral reminiscence interlaced with dialogue, sermons, dreams, and incantations. Nathaniel writes down his grandmother’s memories and forms a link between the great folk and oral traditions of the past and the modern period. Sweetie Reed’s “backwater time” is a fantastic interwoven tale of slaves and masters, betrayals, rapes, and racial violence played out against the backdrop of African American survival in the United States. The novel depicts the family’s origins in slavery, the illegal miscegenation of its forebears, and its survival against all odds.

The initial chapter sets the scene of Sweetie Reed’s bedchamber as she is visited by her son Arthur and her grandson Nathaniel. Thereafter, the novel unravels a fresh interpretation of the past, filtered through Sweetie Reed’s inexhaustible and detailed memory. Inspired by her special brew of sassafras tea and brandy, Sweetie Reed lies in bed and summons up mystical revelations in poetic prose. She allows the voices of her ancestors to speak through her, giving different viewpoints on key episodes from the past.


(The entire section is 573 words.)